Posts Tagged ‘train de l’Ardèche’

Vélorail News

February 8, 2015


We are delighted to learn that the ever popular vélorail is expanding its service for the 2015 season.  The section of line which runs through the Doux Gorge is already somewhat over-subscribed, with up to five velorail and three steam train runs a day in the high season, all competing for the same stretch of track.  We have always felt that the continuation from Boucieu to Lamastre is as yet under exploited, since it is only used by the Tuesday market train and for a few extra runs from Tournon to Lamastre in July and August.

The re-opening of the line has been a great success; but this summer there was inevitably a bit less of a buzz after the triumphant first season in 2013.  Le chef, invaluable as he undoubtedly was to the smooth running of the operation in those first hair raising months, seems to have proved to be a little too independent-minded for management and there was a parting of the ways at the end of that year.  We were also a bit anxious that one of the operators, Kleber Rossillon, might have been a bit distracted having been awarded the prestigious contract to operate the Grotte Chauvet in the south of the Ardèche, which is set to open in April this year, but it seems that our fears were unfounded.  A second steam locomotive has been rebuilt and will be ready for service at the start of the season and 25 new pedal cars have been ordered for the vélorail service.  These cars are manufactured by a small local company just 30 miles to the south of us, which is particularly satisfying.

Ready for the off

So the new pedal car experience will start at Boucieu, where passengers will take the vintage Billard diesel train up to the 45th parallel of lattitude marker (a source of great local pride) from where they will pedal back down to Boucieu on a route crossing four viaducts, two notable bridges and a level crossing.  To get an idea, click here and then on the green arrow.  Then, to get a feel for the route as seen from the market train, click here (Markus loves his little film . . . so we hope you like it!)

velorail new section 2

La Ballastine

August 31, 2014

A friend was staying last week with her car and we were finally able to try out La Ballastine.  This walk, which has been on our to-walk list for a long time, follows the disused railway line between Le Cheylard and Lamastre, and takes its name from the ballast or chippings which were laid between the sleepers and the rails.  The walk is 21 km in length and impractical without a second car since for some unfathomable reason there is no bus service between the two towns.

postcard ballastine 2

Our little railway line, happily chugging away again since last year, was once part of a wider network linking the interior and high plateau of the North Ardèche with the Rhône valley and the rest of the world.  The endlessly twisty roads and tracks which criss-cross the hills and valleys of the Vivarais  had made commercial expansion difficult and the coming of the railway opened up a new market for timber, textiles, wheat, potatoes and tobacco, which could be transported from Lamastre down the Doux valley to Tournon and from le Cheylard, via the valley of the Eyrieux, to La Voulte sur Rhône further south.  Both lines opened in 1891, followed in 1903 by extensions linking Le Cheylard with St Agrève and Lamastre.  The engineering skill and manpower involved were impressive although in certain sections the gradients proved to be almost insurmountable.  The pull up to St Agrève at 1,080m for instance required two locomotives, which frequently had to be dug out of snowdrifts in the winter.  This section of the Chemin de Fer du Vivarais was almost never economically viable.postcard snowdrift

In its heyday before the Second World War the line carried over 600,000 passengers and more than 150,000 tonnes of freight annually.  After the war, road improvements and the increase in road haulage led to an irreversible decline and all the lines closed in 1968.  Only our section, between Lamastre and Tournon reopened a year later as a privately run tourist line.

Leaving le Cheylard, at an altitude of 440m, the track rises steadily in a perfectly calculated uniform gradient to 620m, its highest point, at les Nonnières, where it passes under the village in a tunnel over 300m long.  From there it descends to Lamastre, which is located at 380m.  Here we are on the Lamastre side of the Nonnières tunnel, ready to begin our descent, with a photo from earlier times.

The weather was perfect for walking and we had a great day.  The climate and vegetation is very different in the upper valley of the Eyrieux where the walk starts from what we are used to in the Doux valley.  The hills are steeper and thickly clad with coniferous woodland and there are great views across to the highest peaks of the Ardèche mountains and the distinctive outline of the Gerbier du Jonc, the source of the Loire.

There is something very evocative  about walking an entirely artificial route like this one which was created with such skill and effort.  As we passed through cuttings we could appreciate the heavy labour that had carved them out of the rock.  The tunnels are impressive and the many viaducts are beautifully crafted from dressed stone and edged with railings in uniform style all along the line.  Many of these viaducts are immensely high and must have been spectacular when first built, although now they are half hidden by the woodland which has grown up around them.

Once past les Nonnières we followed the river Sumène through a gentle, fertile area known as the Golden Valley and famous for its apples.  There are also pear and walnut trees in abundance and we were glad to see that this is going to be a very good year for autumn fruit and nuts.

The line frequently runs close to farms and tiny hamlets, most of them still inhabited and each with its well-tended kitchen garden.  How life must have changed for these farmers with the arrival of the train!  We imagined the groups of people with their baskets of produce waiting at the little halts to go down to Lamastre on market day, no longer a jolting journey of several hours over the tortuous cart tracks, which were dusty in summer and eroded by the winter rains.

postcard ballastine 1

As we approached our destination and the track levelled out the Sumène was also reaching the end of its journey since it joins the Doux at Lamastre.  We could picture the passengers gathering their belongings together and preparing for a busy day in a bustling atmosphere, so different from their usual quiet routines at home on the farm.  With people to meet, deals to be made, news and gossip to be shared over a glass or two of something the time certainly must have passed pleasantly.

We really enjoyed this walk and are already planning to try out another section down the valley of the Eyrieux from le Cheylard.  It is around 25kms and friends of ours have just done it on their bikes as a round trip.  Their reward was a stop in St Sauveur de Montagut at Terre adélice, makers of the best ice cream in the whole wide world never mind the Ardèche and a favourite with our Walksweekers.  Can’t wait!

The Year in Pictures

December 14, 2013

2013 was a great year at les Sarziers.  Changes, renewals and some memorable events made for a very special twelve months.  January kicked off with the new Doghouse roof and the final touches to the restored garden.  In the Spring we welcomed several Walksweeks groups who enjoyed fantastic weather and perfect walking.  Then there was the usual buzz of the Ardéchoise, which passed through Arlebosc for the first time this year.  The big event in June was the return of the Mastrou and the start of our regular Tuesday trips to Lamastre on the market train.  July saw the publication of Welcome to the Free Zone and all the excitement and events associated with the launch.  But the absolute highlight of the year was without doubt the wonderful celebration of 25 years at the house with Jazz aux Sarziers on August 4th.

We have lots of exciting plans for next year – watch this space!

We wish you all a very Happy Christmas and a wonderful New Year and we hope to see you soon with us at les Sarziers.

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Le Train du Marché update

August 20, 2013


Compare this picture with the scene on July 9th, the first day of the traditional Autorail service to Lamastre market, and it is obvious that things have changed!  In fact, on the second Tuesday we waited and waited for the train to show up, together with a young couple from the campsite, who told us they would have given up if they had been the only hopefuls at Arlebosc station.  Eventually, to our immense surprise, this is what hove into view!


It transpired that when the staff came to open the station at Tournon, there were already 220 people ready to board the train and emergency measures had to be deployed.  Le chef instantly decided that there was only one solution and hitched the new panoramic cars to the BB404 diesel locomotive and set up off the valley.  By the time they reached Arlebosc they had 250 passengers on board.

The following week we were 350 and for the last two Tuesdays the train has been at full capacity with over 500 passengers in eight cars.  Within a week a new platform and temporary toilets had been built at Lamastre station to cope with the unexpected influx of visitors and overhanging branches along the line had been trimmed back to protect the passengers in the open sided carriages from nasty scratches or worse.  Lamastre hardly knows what has hit it as the crowd streams over the bridge into the market and, just before twelve o’clock streams back again to the station, carrying bags of melons, baskets of saucisson, local cheeses and peaches, along with inflatable boats and fishing nets for the children to play with in the river once they get home.  We have made new friends on these Tuesday excursions and frequently meet old friends who have come up the valley from Tournon, or even from further afield.  There is no doubt that everyone is thrilled to have trains back on the line again.

Have a look at the great little film that Markus took of the journey from Arlebosc to Lamastre to get an idea of this fabulous experience.  (Markus is concerned that you won’t click on the red text, so if you didn’t:  CLICK ON THIS! )

PS.  Assiduous readers of this blog will remember our initial encounter with le chef and his dalmation at the start of our adventure with the sleepers for our garden project.  We have now got a measure of the gigantic engineering undertaking which he has been supervising for the past eighteen months and our admiration for him knows no bounds.  He seems to be everywhere at once:  driving the train, answering questions from interested passengers, topping up and turning the locomotive or giving a saucepan of water to the geraniums outside the station in Lamastre.  And we are delighted to discover that his faithful (though somewhat smutty) companion is always at his side.

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L’Autorail du Marché

July 9, 2013

On July 2nd, as promised, the Mastrou made its inaugural run from the new station at Tournon – St Jean de Muzols to Lamastre.  Packed with dignitaries and elected local and regional politicians (collectively refered to in French as les huiles) and drawn by the restored Mallet 403 steam locomotive it puffed and whistled its way through the gorge and then along the gentle valley of the Doux, proudly flying tricolour flags.  We were there to cheer it on from Arlebosc station, with a trumpet fanfare from Markus as it sped past.

But what really excited us was the promised return of the autorail diesel train which used to run on market days.  We remember this as a real institution.  It  would stop on request at any station, halt or wayside cherry tree to pick up country couples with baskets, as well as summer visitors from the campsites along the route.  The return journey was always animated, the baskets now full of provisions for the week and everyone swapping the news and gossip they had picked up at the market.   The husbands, who had been brought along to help carry a heavy gas bottle or a crate of live chickens, had had time to catch up with their friends over a glass or two and everyone was looking forward to lunch.  The train gradually emptied out, depositing its passengers as close as possible to their homes before chugging off down to Tournon.

For the moment the steam trains are not coming up as far as Lamastre, so no one was sure whether the market train would really run, and no one seemed to believe us when we said we proposed to flag it down at Arlebosc station (which Markus insists on referring to as Arlebosc Central even though it is no such thing!)  We arrived at what we had calculated to be an appropriate time and reflected whilst we waited that the station could do with a sweep out, a bit of weeding and a lick of paint – maybe a project.  Then two chaps turned up and, obviously taking us for a couple of townee lunatics (one dresses up for market day in Lamastre), assured us that there would be no train.  We held our ground however and they regaled us with great stories from the past, including a rather improbable account of an encounter between the autorail and a cow on the line in which the former came off worst.

Here she comes!)

And then . . . . toot toot toot . . . . we heard it approaching round the curve over the viaduct!  Markus took photos whilst Kate confidently held out her arm, basket much in evidence.  The train slowed, stopped and, to everyone’s vast surprise the conductor got down, sold us our tickets (4€ return each) and we piled on board.  It was standing room only by this time.  She told us that she had 114 passengers in the two cars, which is the maximum she is allowed to carry.

 Hold tight please!

The ride takes twenty minutes and is truly enchanting.  The landscape is still completely unspoiled and the track winds along the course of the river, past farmsteads and through orchards and meadows just as it always did.  It was this journey that started off our love affair with the Doux valley one magical May day twenty five years ago and nothing has changed.

Arrival at LamastreWe pulled into Lamastre on time at 10 am and walked from the station over the flower decked bridge into the bustling market.  We had the perfect amount of time to get everything done before leaving again at 12 noon.  As we approached our stop the conductor called out “la gare d’Arlebosc, une minute d’arrêt!”  We wished everyone bon voyage and bon apétit and made our way home, vastly pleased with our morning.

It is wonderful to have our train back and, although the service is still a bit limited we feel very positive about the future of the line.  At all events, we shall certainly be at the station with our basket next Tuesday to take the train in to market.

LeTrain de l’Ardèche – J-42, the countdown

May 22, 2013

The Mallet 403 locomotive

Hooray! “Le Petit Train”, or “Le Mastrou” as it was affectionately known, is back! After five years of silence along the line, we will once more be able to hear it cheerfully toot-tooting as it chugs up and down the valley. We are told that it is destined to become the most successful tourist train in France and in order to live up to this ambition it has been renamed Le Train de l’Ardèche.


The autorail

In 2008 a group of our “Walksweekers” travelled on the last train from Boucieu to the Rhone Valley passing through the spectacular Doux gorge. As they approached Tournon station, with the locomotive flying black flags, they were alarmed by what they took to be the sound of machine gun fire, but which turned out to be firecrackers that had been placed on the track and were detonated by the weight of the engine. This we were told, was the traditional way of marking a sad episode on a railway line.

On the 2nd July 2013, after two years of work and 13 million Euros of investment, the train will be running again. Most of the track has been replaced and new ones laid in the stations, overhanging rock faces have been secured, the line has been fenced in, engine sheds and an entirely new station have been built from scratch. The disintegrating locomotives are being restored, carriages modified, new carriages imported and lovingly refitted. Work has continued at a steady pace  during the last few years regardless of snow, falling trees and floods.

It is D Day minus 42, or as the French say, 42 days to le Jour J. Will everything be ready in time?


Still a few metres to go . . .

Here are some pictures we took in the last few days. Judge for yourself!

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