Sunday. We went to Nébias in the Aude. Just outside the village, you’ll find The Labyrinthe Verte, a natural maze, with winding pathways through a forest, where rocks and plants have created a bewildering array of natural passageways which are both beautiful and fun to explore. These paths are cut deep through limestone, often shoulder height. Somehow, we’ve never visited. But today, thanks to the Rando del’Aubo, our walking group, we did.
It’s been a lovely bright spring day today, but the forested labyrinth is never really sunny. Trees, their trunks and branches bearded with feathery fronds of moss and lichen, crowd the limestone crags and fissured passageways. Deprived of light and space, they assume crippled and fanciful shapes, or else aim straight for the sun, their thin trunks competing with each other for a place to establish their roots. It’s not eerie however. On this warm March day, we wouldn’t have been surprised to meet an ethereal band of fairies whirling through the dampened glades: on a bad night in November, perhaps a gnarled and wicked hag from the tales of the Brothers Grimm.
Every time of year has its own magic apparently. On the coldest days of winter, the mosses and lichens are white and crisp with frost, making the forest fit for a Snow Queen
At lunch time, since we were in France and eating’s important, the darkened passages unexpectedly cleared. Suddenly, beneath blue skies and bright sunshine there was a fissured limestone pavement, providing surfaces and seating for our lunchtime picnic. Which Malcolm didn’t have with him. The members of the group magicked their very own version of Stone Soup for him. A mustardy ham baguette, some home cured sausage, a chunk of bread, a chocolate pudding, and apple….within half a minute, Malcolm had more food then the rest of the group put together.
The afternoon was different. Walking away from the enchanting and enchanted labyrinth, we came to more open country, where we passed first farmland, then the edges of forest with tracks showing where wildboar and deer had recently passed. Finally, we climbed, and had views across to the mountains and the walks we’ve enjoyed there on other Sunday rambles, finishing up listening to the lively splashing of a waterfall.