I’d half written this post in my head before we even set off for our weekend away. It was going to be all about how, despite my pretty high-maintenance vertigo, I managed to defeat my terrors and have a day’s climbing up vertical ladders and swaying bridges, inching along narrow paths high above the vertical drop to the bottom of les Gorges de la Carança.
We went there, I did all of the above, and astonishingly, I was never once gripped up by that all-too-familiar fear which prevents me from peeking over the edge of any castle battlements or church towers I’m foolish enough to ascend.
It was the Rando del’Aubo who proposed this overnight trip, high up into the Cerdagne region of the Pyrénées Orientales. It’s a gorgeous area of high steeply sloped and densely forested mountains and wide deep valleys, green and fertile. This is Catalan France, with a strongly Spanish feel, where Catalan is written and spoken almost as much as French, and the cuisine is very different from our homely Ariègeois farmyard and hunter’s fare.
We were tourists on our first day – that’s for a later blog. Sunday was the day of the gorges. A spectacular drive from our overnight accommodation, a few decisions to take about how much clothing to wear (early in the day, it was already hot), and we were off.
I wish my pictures told a better story. It’s hard to convey the grandeur of the scenery, to show how very vertical and high the gorge sides are, and therefore how nerve-wracking parts of the walk were. We enjoyed our six hour day, but it’s possible to spend two days exploring the area. We were merely amateurs.
We spent much of the morning scrambling up craggy paths alongside a tumultuously noisy stream: and then there were scary catwalks clinging to vertical rock faces; ladders and suspension bridges, high above the water, often almost enveloped in the trees. It wasn’t till the afternoon that we walked the Cornice, the narrow walkway hacked into the (vertical, of course) rock face – with a 400 metre drop to the bottom of the gorge. The rewards, if you don’t frighten yourself to death by looking down, are the views of the peaks; craggy, splintered rocks of grey, white and ochre; of stunted and deformed trees clinging and growing with unexpected vigour to tiny fissures in the rock; the plant life, similarly finding footholds in this very challenging environment, and the butterflies, fluttering in huge numbers everywhere we looked.
It was a wonderful experience: for the views, for the physical challenge of the roughy-toughy climbs and descents, for the feeling of risks overcome. Yesterday too, we felt very lucky to have spent the day there. It was hot, but pleasantly so in this forested place at an altitude of not too far from 2000 metres. As we drove homewards and the temperatures increased, we realised just how unbearably hot and sweaty we’d have felt if we’d just stayed at home and loafed around the garden.