“If you go out in the woods today you’re sure of a big surprise”No, it’s not those teddy bears. Rather, a man in uniform may stop you and even slap a €135 fine on you. So what’s going on? Explains reader and veteran woodland walker Joe Mihell: “We all know that across the summer especially there’s a big risk of forest fires and they’re often caused by sheer carelessness on the part of visitors, often townies with no countryside savvy. For that reason access to forested areas – anywhere from Les Maures to Mercantour – is restricted at this time of year.”
Many places where you can walk
So how do we know what are no-go areas? “Sometimes you’ll come up against a barrier and then you’ll see colour-coded signs: red means access only up to 11h00, black means keep out and orange indicates you’re free to walk. Take these signs seriously. Those fines are no joke. On the other hand, there are still many places where you can walk and these are kept under careful surveillance by forest rangers (gardes forestiers) and gendarmes. If you’re in doubt call up the local gendarmerie. It’s not much fun planning a walk and then finding you’re in a restricted zone.”
Joe Mihell added some more advice: “Watch out for vipers, France’s only poisonous snake. They love the dry season and lurk amid rocks and bushes.” He’s been bitten twice himself. “Actually, vipers are rather timid and won’t attack unless they feel threatened. If you do get bitten – they deliver a double whammy, two small wounds – you won’t die but sometimes the reaction isn’t too pleasant. Aches and pains, vomiting, rapid heartbeat, but all this usually passes quickly. If you feel really unwell get to a doctor and when in the woods you should carry an antiseptic with you. And one other thing: don’t try to suck out the venom – that’ll make things worse.”
Know of an interesting walk?
If you’re thinking of exploring our region’s wooded countryside – and there’s a lot of it – try a useful local English website www.rivierarambling.fr and our local English bookshops have some useful guides for walkers. If your French is up to it, the Conseil Général in the Alpes-Maritimes publishes Les Guides Randoxygène (www.randoxygene.org) available free at tourist offices. Less practical, but diverting, I’ve been reading Geoff Nicholson’s The Lost Art of Walking (UK: Harbour Books). This extols the pleasures (and health benefits) of footing and recounts some notable exploits such as that of Phil Gough who not long ago walked from Land’s End to John O’Groats stark naked. He was, unsurprisingly, stopped from time to time. Nicholson likes strolling graveyards, as I do, and recalls finding Spike Milligan’s epitaph: “I told you I was sick.” And by the way, if anyone discovers a really interesting walk this summer, do let us know.