We enjoyed a couple of days downtime at the campsite in Reyrevignes, and being the only van there it was great to have sole use of the free Wi-Fi.
Yesterday morning we drove south to Rodez, stopping off at the local Intermarche on the way to do the laundry. We took the last of the six spaces in the free aire at Rodez, and then went for a walk up the steep hill to the town centre. It’s quite a scruffy town, and being a Sunday everything was closed so there wasn’t anything to see or do. It does have to be one of the worst French towns for the number of pavement sausages though, it’s a miracle that neither of us trod on any.
This morning we set off for an aire just the other side of the Millau Viaduct. Said to be the highest bridge in the world, it was designed by UK architect Sir Norman Foster. We were in the area last year but travelled underneath it rather than over it. This time we’d be driving across it, and were looking forward to some spectacular views over the Tarn Gorge.
Sleet began to fall as we left Rodez, turning into a snow a short while before joining the A75 – the main north/south motorway connecting Paris to the Mediterranean coast.
Reaching an altitude of 900 metres the snow began to fall heavily, settling on the ungritted motorway. Driving up a rather steep incline, traffic on the inside lane ground to a halt as a lorry had become stuck near to the top.
When there was a gap in traffic coming up the outside lane, I went to pull out but nothing happened – we too had become stuck, going nowhere with our front wheels spinning around on the ice. That meant only one thing – we’d have to fit the snow chains which we’d bought in Italy this time last year, hoping to never have to use them.
Donning our fluorescent yellow vests – compulsory in France – we retrieved the snow chains from the garage. The next problem was that we’d never taken the chains out of the box, let alone studied how to fit them. The instructions were just diagrams only, and not terribly clear, but we worked out how we thought they should fit and had a go. With a bit of improvisation we fixed the chains to the front wheels and got back in the van, freezing cold and with numb fingers.
The chains worked like magic. When a suitable gap occurred I pulled the van into the outside lane, which had just been gritted, and drove us past the many vehicles still stuck in the inside lane. It was very bumpy driving along with the snow chains on, so the maximum speed we could drive was about 30 km/h and there was a long line of traffic crawling along behind us, but we didn’t care! After about 10 km we were able to pull in on the hard shoulder, where the road had been properly gritted.
Once we’d removed the snow chains we continued along the motorway and before long we were at the peage for the Millau Viaduct, and €12.40 later we were driving onto the bridge. Unbelievably the road was covered with ice and snow, and clearly hadn’t been gritted for some time, but we were able keep the van moving, a safe distance from the car in front, though we had to change lanes to overtake a Dutch car towing a caravan which had become stuck.
Once we’d crossed the bridge the road became a bit easier. The snow continued to fall heavily though, leaving us with no option but to continue to Montpellier. If the highways people were struggling to keep the motorway moving, the chances were that the roads around the aire would have been like an ice rink.
As the motorway descended in altitude the snow turned into rain, and the road thankfully cleared. A short while later we arrived at the aire on the outskirts of Montpellier. The weather is atrocious – pouring down with rain and blowing a hooley – but we’re just thankful that we made it here safely. We’ll be here for about three nights as we have the van booked in for a brake check on Wednesday. Once we’re done here, we’ll be heading to Spain.