Temperatures in France were maintaining a steady, swampy 37ºC which required more thought to living in the car. For the drive from Germany to Annecy, where we were meeting Sam's parents, we decided to employ a policy of lake hopping; regular wild swimming would keep us clean(er), entertained and more importantly, keep us cool(er). We sketched a route through the islands of blue on our trusty Europe map and set off (or sweated off) in confidence in our cunning plan.
Predictably we were thwarted almost immediately, but in a rather lovely way. On arrival at Étang de Lindre, we pulled up and found ourselves looked down on by many curious eyes; not people, who were strangely absent, but big black and white storks (incidentally, a group of storks is termed a 'mustering'). They had built big, messy nests on provided platforms as well as any other lofty structure, and regarded us regally. Consequently, the lake was a reserve and natural fish farm and swimming was not permitted - understandably. We hung with the storks for a bit, and then in the public toilets which were cool and very clean, and then moved on to lakes new.
Our next lakes, the neighbouring Étang de la Blanche Chaussée and Le Petit Étang were also occupied, not by doleful, long-nosed storks but by dastardly campsites that had sprawled all around the shores. We looked on, hot and grumpy, at the families splashing around in the water. Eventually we found a plausibly free beach and spent a triumphant hour in the - admittedly warm and murky - lake, interrupted only by the appearance of two men who were collecting a toll. We swiftly applied ninja tactics and made our escape. Our self-satisfaction only increased when we stumbled upon a crag further down the road, a big heap of sandstone, named Le Kronthal, fully bolted for climbing. Alas, luck never lasts - in this case broken by the duel realisation that we couldn't even put a hand on the hot rock without sweating miserably, and the surprise manifestation of a colossal thunderstorm that broke with vigour as we trundled onwards.
When travelling pretty cluelessly you get used to remaking plans, and on this occasion we quickly decided to head for a climbing spot called Lac Blanc, a double win for sport and refreshment. It was located at a town called Orbey, which proved infuriatingly un-signposted despite being on both our national scale maps, and which we only found through a petrol-costly process of road deduction. It was on these wanderings that we happened upon a site called 'Le Linge', a memorial to the fighting here in World War I.
We walked around as the sun sank, taking the time for this beautifully preserved and informative site. 30,000 men died here in three months of conflict; the vicious, rusty shards of metal and barbed wire still ensnare the area but are now softened by young pines, flowers and bracken, gradually reclaiming the land. It was awe-inspiring, and left us reflective.
The Lac Blanc was everything it promised, and less. The inky blue lake seated at the top of the mountains was an epic location to discover and made a tranquil sleep spot. However, the hike to the climbing was hairy, and the rock itself underwhelming (although it could have been wonderful, but we didn't try it due to the aforementioned approach...pansies), and the lake was apparently rendered dangerous to swim by a hydroelectric project. Nice one, EDF. We had a quick, illicit dip anyway, and set off for what would prove to be rather a long day.
The KOB, our trusty steed, had been making some intriguing noises since before we left, and in the spirit of an easy life we had ignored them. It chose this last leg of the drive to Annecy to make it known that we had a problem, emitting increasingly insistent whines and groans, initially only when braking and laterally all of the time. The brakes continued to work after a fashion, but it was a horribly unnerving drive, especially during our brief, and wasted, trip through Switzerland; when driving through Lausanne we were treated to the echo of the grinding off every hard surface, structure and parked car, as was everyone else by the stares we received. We finally shrieked into Annecy and spent the night at a picnic site down the road from the campsite, shaking off the trauma of eight hour's straight driving, avec aural menagerie.
We made it, unscathed but possibly a bit more hard of hearing than before. Safely settled into the campsite we could relax, only to discover that Sam's Dad was more than happy to take a look, and subsequently service the damage that had been done. Thanks Daddy.