We’ve just had a wonderful weekend at Lanoux. Well on the way to Andorra and Spain, the reservoir at Lanoux is high up (7261 feet) in the Pyrénées Orientales. It’s a natural lake, enlarged by the creation of an immense barrage that enables it to produce quantities of electricity for the area and for industry in the Ariège. Building this barrage must have been quite an undertaking – it took 20 years from 1940-1960: up there, it’s a good 2 ½ hour walk down to the nearest road (though they did have a cable car, since removed), and the winter months are given over to deep snow. And of course there was a world war on in the 1940’s. We stayed in the refuge used by the construction workers at the time, a simple structure with a dormitory of three storey bunk beds, a large kitchen-living room, two hole-in-the-floor toilets, and … one washbasin just inside the entrance. Everything we ate, everything we needed, we had to carry up – and bring any rubbish down again. But our two days there were memorable. Why?
Was it the landscape? Our walk from the valley floor began with wooded green meadows, and as we climbed, we saw lakes, crossed 20 or more streams, and followed the course of a dozen others. Higher, the landscape became starker with slatey outcrops that reminded us of the Lake District or North Wales, though on a much bigger scale. Even though it’s June and the weather was warm, we soon reached what was left of the snowfields. We were surrounded by peaks higher still than we were, such as le Carlit, over 9 ½ thousand feet high
The flowers? Early June is a wonderful time to do this walk. The azaleas aren’t quite out, but we saw Alpine & spring gentians, both a brilliant royal blue, orchids, sempervivum (joubarbe), vividly yellow gorse, creamy rock roses and saxifrage, tiny pink and white moss campion, delicate mauve violets, bilberry flowers, even a few late daffodils
The animals? Lower down, we spotted a herd of isards (Pyrenéan chamois) bounding across a meadow where semi-wild black Merens horses grazed. Near our refuge, there were chestnut horses too, with their leggy young foals. We spotted distant mouflons, and on the way down from Lanoux, marmots chasing and playing on the rocky grass.
The water? The lake itself is sternly beautiful, set among the slatey mountains of le Carlit, and the area is criss-crossed by deltas of streams and rivers, with splashing cascades as the water tumbles down the mountain sides. There are ponds and lakes at every turn, and in every distant view.
Friendship? Weekends like this are the chance to nourish existing relationships, as this weekend with our Laroquais friends showed. Up at the refuge though, we were joined by a group from Toulouse, who’d come, like us, to enjoy the empty countryside and to spend time together. They all knew each other very well, and could have resented our intrusion: but instead, we shared some very special moments. We pooled our food and drink, ate their homemade pâtés, and drank their homemade apéros. We talked, laughed, played silly card games, and the next morning, went walking together. So now we have some new friends too.