Mont d’Olmes: local playground for skiers. You wouldn’t travel any great distance to spend a holiday here, but for locals, it’s the ideal winter sports spot. It’s a wonderful area for walkers too. We’ve only just begun to discover the wealth of footpaths, mainly across truly ‘sauvage’ slopes, with views downwards to Montségur, Roquefixade, and northwards almost, it seems, as far as Toulouse.
It’s alright waxing lyrical though. For many people living in the area many years past, and until the early years of the 20th century, these slopes were the places where they came for long hours each day, working both on the surface and by crawling through narrow airless tunnels, mining talc.
Talc? Yes, that stuff you sprinkle on babies’ bottoms. That stuff those Olympic gymnasts plunge their hands into before taking to an overhead bar. That stuff that apparently still has many industrial uses, notably in the ceramics industry and for plastics paints and coatings. This soft soapstone was found here on Mont d’Olmes and is still mined in nearby Luzenac. Here though, all that is left are the gashes in the mountainside where the workings once were, and a few ancient trucks once used to transport the material down to civilisation.
Come and take the path we took last Sunday. We walked in more or less a straight line, up and down hill after hill, as the path became increasingly rocky and impassable. Our reward was the occasional handful of raspberries or bilberries, then a lunchtime picnic by l’étang des Druides. No, sorry, l’étang des Truites. Whatever. Nobody seems to know which name is correct. Some say the person making the first map of the area misheard and wrote ‘truite’ – trout – instead of ‘druide’. We saw no trout. We definitely saw no druids. But we had a jolly nice picnic. And I paddled. And then ruined a perfectly good day, in which morning chill and mist had given over to hot sunshine, by falling flat against the rocky path, cutting open my face and chipping three teeth. I hope the druids weren’t lining me up for some kind of sacrifice.