Cold. Pale thin fog baffles the contours of the hillsides, and those of the distant castle at Coustassa. Glimmering frost bristles the short maquis grass beneath our feet. A watered lemony sun high above us attempts to burn winter away, and eventually does so.
That’s when we have our first view of Bugarach, the imposing thick-set mountain which dominates this part of the Aude, because it stands alone, rather than as part of a range, and today is pretty much thatched in snow.
Bugarach has been in the news for a while. Here’s BBC’s ‘From our Own correspondent’ back in July 2011:
‘According to an ancient Mayan calendar, at some point towards the end of 2012, the world will come to an end.
It is not clear how that will happen, but apparently humanity does not stand a chance – except for those who seek shelter in the area surrounding Bugarach.
Just 200 people live there all year round, but doomsday believers and spiritual groups are convinced the village has magical powers, thanks to the local mountain – the Pic de Bugarach.
For years, rumours have circulated on the internet that extra-terrestrials live in the mountain, and come the apocalypse, the top will open and they will emerge with spaceships, and rescue the local inhabitants.’
Although it’s quite hard to entertain the idea that the mountain might be some sort of underground UFO car park, there are plenty of people who have done so, and with great fervour. Here’s today’s Daily Mail, which has been talking to Jean-Pierre Delord, Mayor of the tiny village of Bugarach (pop. 176).
‘On Wednesday, he will close the village for five days to anyone who doesn’t live here or isn’t already booked to stay, and draft in hundreds of police, military, firemen and Red Cross to ban any gatherings, shut off the mountain and arrest anyone silly enough to try flying over it.
‘What if tens of thousands of people turn up?’ he says, throwing his arms up in the air. ‘I have no way of knowing what will happen. I have no crystal ball! I don’t care if people want to chant naked or talk to the trees, but I have to protect my villagers. I am responsible for them.’’
He’s not over-reacting. Local house-owners have been able to rent out their homes for the period in question for astronomical prices, and even camping spots are going for 400 euros a night. For most locals though, the whole thing is at best a nuisance, at worst a real headache. The nearer we get to December 21st, the more people descend on the area, and the police and army are already involved in keeping order.
We enjoyed our views of Bugarach, as ever. We spent time pretending to look for UFOs and generally mocking the New-Agers who are so convinced by the end of the world as we know it. Then we got on with the business of enjoying our walk in the here-and-now. Here are some photos of our day.