About a year ago, someone suggested ‘Les Collines du Vent’ – the Windy Hills – for one of the Sunday walks with our Laroque walking group. The appointed day came, and it rained – a lot. We re-scheduled. The day came again, and it rained – a lot. We re-scheduled. The day came yet again, and it was foggy, a real pea-souper: the kind of fog that almost any Frenchman confidently assures us blankets London every day of the year (any Frenchman who’s read Charles Dickens that is).
And so it went on for five or six attempts. Today though, it didn’t rain. Nor was it foggy. In fact it was sunny until we left the Ariège and approached our destination in the hilly countryside in the Aude outside Castelnaudary. Then it became rather grey, though not menacing enough to stop us in our tracks. What DID nearly stop us in our tracks was the wind. The countryside here is rolling and open. The idea of any walk in the area is to get up there and stride from hilltop to hilltop. But that wind! It gusted and blew. It snatched us off-balance. It whistled through our trousers and tried to grab our hats. And it was only doing what it apparently does almost every day of the year. No wonder our path led us past a windmill during the afternoon.
The weather brightened, and we had wonderful all-round panoramas. Sadly we couldn’t quite see the Pyrenees: distant mists saw them off. And in the early afternoon, we had evidence that we really were the tough guys we thought we were, battling through that wind. We were overtaken by a battalion of the French Foreign Legion in training. Though admittedly they were all additionally burdened by enormous rucksacks that must have weighed 40 kilos. And guns. If you’ve read ‘Beau Geste’ you will remember that this band of soldiers is recruited from foreign nationals who wish to serve in the French army (don’t ask….). Coming from different countries, different cultures, the men are put through very challenging training designed to build their esprit de corps. We noted that Marcel, our leader for the day was putting us through a similar programme. Though at the end, he offered us a large slice of the Galette des Rois which he himself had made. We’d already had our usual lunch time bonanza of wine-and-cake-sharing. But nobody refused this last additional treat. We felt we’d earned it.