Our village formerly held an annual car rally. This wasn’t a race with souped-up vehicles – fortunately – but a “rallye touristique”, i.e. following a circuit between checkpoints around the commune. The event faded, as these things do, but a local association, Caylus Notre Village, revived it this year. The rally was in support of their project to restore the village’s unique lavoir (wash-house).
The SF and I took part. This could have led rapidly to divorce, but we agreed on a strict division of labour. He would drive, since I have a tendency to drive into things, and I would navigate, since he never knows where places are. We named our team “La Lune” in honour of our lieu-dit (locality).
We duly turned up at the starting grid, la Place du Lavoir on Sunday. We took the ancient Mercedes, figuring that our other car was too large and low-slung for some of the roads. The list of instructions was elaborate. Clearly, a lot of work had gone into the organisation.
All 19 teams were required to follow prescribed routes between eight checkpoints. Too many – or too few – kilometres on the clock at the end would result in deduction of points. The route was designed to pass as many historic features as possible, including many of the 13 churches and chapels in the commune.
At each checkpoint, we were handed an envelope containing three questions about that locality, directions to the next checkpoint, two pieces of paper with letters on that we would have to form into a phrase at the end and a small sealed packet only to be opened in case of emergency. You lost points for opening the latter.
This wasn’t all. To gain further points we also had to:
- Take a photo of a bread oven, lavoir, mill (windmill or watermill), pigeonnier and gariotte (shepherd’s hut).
- Count the number of church bells visible.
- Carry out other tests at certain checkpoints: place boules within a circle, hit a badminton shuttlecock back and forth for at least five exchanges and score on a dartboard. The SF and I scored nil on all of those.
Competition was fierce and teams attempted to put each other off. At Lamandine, we had to answer a question about where we were. “Vous êtes à Lalbenque,” another contestant said to us.
We learned a great deal about local history and saw bits of the commune we didn’t know existed. The inhabitants of some hamlets looked on bemused as more cars drove through in an afternoon than normally would in a month.
It took us four hours to get around the whole circuit. When we arrived back at the salle des fêtes, yet more tests awaited. The first involved going 10 metres on a bike as slowly as possible. I let the SF do that. The second involved putting a puzzle back together within five minutes, having seen it for only 15 seconds in its completed state. We failed.
We did, though, solve the rébus (word puzzle). It read, “Merci d’avoir participé à ce rallye.” You had to find an additional word, lavoir.
Après l’effort, le reconfort
After all this effort, we were ready for the apéritif followed by dinner. The French are very good at organising communal meals. Around 100 of us sat at long tables in a convivial atmosphere to enjoy melon and ham, sausages and salads and gâteau à la broche (a local cake).
Meanwhile, the judge was doing the serious business of checking the teams’ answers. The SF and I came 14th out of 19 with 59 points out of a possible 100, but then it’s not our language and there were only two other non-French teams. One of those cheated by bringing a dictionary. They know who they are.
Plans are afoot to do this again next year. You might argue that it’s not very environmentally friendly. But many of the teams would probably have spent Sunday driving longer distances to grandmère for lunch or for an outing. So the effect is probably neutral in the end. We thoroughly enjoyed it, anyway, and will certainly take part next year. We had better brush up our sporting skills, though.
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