Shadows and reflections: Driving in Daglan

Scraped bumpers, broken wing mirrors and dented side panels are among the most common design features of cars and trucks in the Greater Daglan Area. It’s small wonder.

In fairness to the village planners of the Middle Ages, it was difficult to foresee the coming of the automotive age — not to mention specific inventions like the crossover and the mini-van. So medieval streets were not particularly wide.

You’ll see that when you visit Daglan. In fact, one of our Toronto friends who drove here last fall from the Bergerac area in a rental car said that when he entered Daglan, he thought he was going the wrong way on a one-way street — and he’d been here before.

To give you some idea of how narrow the streets can be, here’s a look at my car headed away from our home, passing between limestone block houses on either side. You’ll understand why I always pull in the wing mirrors when I go through this passage (an electronic switch in the car makes that easy to do).


My VW has several whopping inches to spare!

Pulling in wing mirrors and driving cautiously are two of the most obvious strategies for driving in Daglan (and other medieval villages in France). But there are more sophisticated strategies — involving shadows and reflections. To get an idea of this in action, take a look at this section of Daglan’s main street, heading south and approaching the 8 à Huit convenience store. The secret is to watch the windows of those houses on the right, and to look for reflections.

Empty street

See those windows on the right? Watch carefully.

If you see red lights, that means that a car is ahead of you and is braking, and thus is going in the same direction as you are. But if you see bright lights, that means a car’s headlights are heading your way. See what happens as a car approaches from the other direction:

Opposing car.

Stand by: Here it comes!

Now we’re headed for a bit of a snug fit, as two cars try to get through the same space in opposite directions:

Two cars

Looks like the start of a stand-off.

Many times, by being patient, and pulling over as far as you can without scraping off your car’s paint, you can get by. That usually works if we’re dealing with two normal-size cars, as we are in the photo below:

Cars passing

It looks like they just might make it.

It’s a success! No scrapes this time.


No scrapes, no dents -- it's another successful passage!

But things get more difficult if the vehicle facing you is a truck, tractor or bulldozer (and believe me, we get all of those vehicles and more). Very often I’ve had to back up carefully until the road becomes wide enough to let the bigger vehicle move past.

Watching for shadows cast by moving cars is another useful strategy. For instance, cars often move quickly down the sloped street leading from the Freytet building supplies store just outside the village; if you are trying to emerge from the main village parking lot (near the cemetery), your left-hand view is pretty much blocked by a house with lots of bushes. But if you inch forward and watch the road to your left carefully, you can often tell if a vehicle is approaching because of the shadows it casts. Even so, you’ll want to move cautiously.

A final note: Remember that Daglan does not have sidewalks, so you’re sharing the road with pedestrians. At this time of year, these pedestrians includes a lot of tourists with a lot of kids, who wander in and out of shops without remembering that they’re stepping into traffic. And on Sunday mornings — the time of our weekly market — it’s pretty much a free-for-all in the village square, with pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, cars and vans. Just be patient.

This entry was posted in Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Shadows and reflections: Driving in Daglan

  1. Lesley says:

    We have a narrow blind bit on our village main street. It’s funny how you develop a sixth sense that someone is going to meet you coming the other way. Of course, they are nearly always going too fast and, more than often are not, visitors to the village or France. Good driving techniques are always based on Observation.

  2. John Ison says:

    My wife must never visit Daglan with a vehicle.

  3. Loren says:

    Funnily enough, the morning after I posted this piece, a truck with a long load got stuck between two houses on the main street. Quite a line-up of traffic developed. Fortunately, we were leaving Daglan in the other direction (towards Gourdon, to catch a train) or we would have been stuck too.

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