On the path of Cathar shepherds – revisited

This is the last entry in my re-blogging season.  I’ve enjoyed browsing through my memories: this was why I created my blog in the first place – as a diary and travel journal.  I think that I’ll continue to re-post, maybe once a month, to allow memories to resurface, and perhaps give them a fresh audience.

This particular walk is one we’ll never forget, ever.

2nd April 2012

On the path of Cathar shepherds

Yesterday we walked through Montaillou.  It might seem a tiny and unremarkable village now, but it’s the place that’s maybe done most to contribute to our understanding of turn-of-the-14th century village life in the Languedoc when religious strife between the Catholics and the Cathars was at its height.  This is a big subject: it deserves more than passing mention: a future blog maybe.

I’d read le Roy Ladurie’s book on Montaillou more than 30 years ago,and never dreamed that I might one day live in what the tourist offices are pleased to call ‘Cathar Country’.  So it was the shepherds of Montaillou I was thinking of as we began our Sunday walk.  They would come to the annual fair at Laroque d’Olmes, a good 40 km from where they lived.  They would drive their flocks long distances for good pasture, and as national boundaries meant little in these mountain zones, their fellow shepherds whom they met in their travels would sometimes be Spanish.

First view of Montaillou.

We too were climbing out of Montaillou.  The paths seemed unchanged through the centuries – short springy turf with early spring flowers pushing through. Pale pink and white blossoms busting open.  Narrow streams cutting deep channels through the turf.  Thick forest climbing the slopes.  Patches of snow made the going a bit tough from time to time.  It was warm and sunny, the slopes were steep and sometimes hard-going.

Ever upwards…and the snow’s still on the ground.

Then suddenly…suddenly, and so unexpectedly, we reached the top of our first climb.  Around us, to east, south and west were the snow-covered peaks of the Pyrenees, glistening white against the blue sky.  Above us, skylarks called and swooped.

Later, Danielle remarked that she felt as if at that moment she’d received a special gift: that perfect view, the clean clear air, the singing birds which were the only sounds.  She voiced, I think, what we all felt.

We hadn’t reached our highest point: we climbed onwards, always with those snow-capped mountains at our side.  And then we were on top: handy rocks provided seats and shelves and we unwrapped and shared our lunches, lingering in the sun, drinking in the views for well over an hour.

The perfect picnic spot.

 

Ready to start walking again.

Soon after lunch, we turned our back on the snowy mountains.  As we faced the hotter, drier Pyrénées Orientales, the equally high peaks there weren’t covered in white.  Our path was downwards now, and soon we had to pass the ski station above Camurac.  Built long after those years when snow could be relied upon throughout the winter, it was an area of scalped earth, snow machines and all-but-redundant chair lifts.  My Montaillou shepherds certainly wouldn’t have recognised it.

The walk draws to a close.

But then it was forested paths again, open pasture and spring flowers.  We finished the walk passing a collection of horses, Thelwell style ponies, and appropriately for Palm Sunday, a couple of friendly donkeys.  A good day.

Friendly donkeys.

23 thoughts on “On the path of Cathar shepherds – revisited”

  1. Oh dear, so sorry for you, just catching up after Easter with your shocking news. Hopefully now Malcolm’s finally back home you can both recuperate. That must have been a week from hell with all the worry and hours of driving backwards and forwards. I suppose that is the downside of centring expertise in key hospitals, but thank goodness for the NHS and the emergency services. Wishing you plenty of fine weather so you can both be out in the garden even if strenuous hiking is temporarily off the menu.

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  2. Yes, hooray for the NHS. And though James Cook Hospital is scarcely next door, we wer delighted that this centre of excellence is available to us. Driving is becoming a bit of a pain. So the garden is a welcome refuge indeed. Hope your new outdoor space is developing nicely.

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    1. It really was. A really special day. On another note, I’ve just finished Owen Shears’ The Green Hollow’, and reviewed it on Goodreads. A remarkable book. Thank you for putting it my way.

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  3. You’ve done a lot of amazing walks so to say this one stands out must mean a lot about how terrific the experience was! The views are incredible–I love that payoff, after a long climb.

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  4. You have moved me to re-examine some of my past posts. I had forgotten many of them, and think most readers may have also. Think I will look them over once more, with an eye to re-sharing. Thanks for the reminder of those things I have already done!

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  5. On top of the world, up there! Just breathing 🙂 🙂 I occasionally look back and read posts with some surprise. I wrote that? So much has happened! Perhaps I need to revise/take stock but daily life propels me on. Probably foolishly 🙂

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      1. Doesn’t matter. I’d already made a mental note to include it, Margaret, but I sometimes forget if I don’t do it there and then. Rainy day today so I’ve been cleaning up after the decorator and catching up on here. 🙂

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  6. What an inspirational place. Great to revisit such special experiences and endorse how special they indeed were, and to re-share them too. Also a lovely way to contribute to your recouping now that Malcolm is home and mending. Hope that your spring is also bringing its own little enchantments when you have a chance to be outdoors.

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    1. Outdoors was the place to be over this last week. Summery, if worrying weather. But good for Malcolm’s convalescence all the same. You ought to re-run some of your posts too. Wonderful material just waiting for a second airing!

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      1. Too summery too soon is a worry on the one hand but enjoyable nevertheless. Good to get that warmth into one’s bones and good for the spirits too. Just what the doctor ordered!
        I certainly am considering doing some re-runs. Thanks for the good idea!

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  7. This, to me, is a bit like when I read my hand-written notes I did during the years of my terrible first mariage…. On the one side I am truly shaken by the ‚wisdom‘ I expressed at that difficult time and on the other, by re-reading I feel elated: So many memories pop up – and strangely (it must be my nature) – the bad ones are all but forgotten and only the goo ones stay.
    The one sentence I cannot really fathom: You heard birds singing on that peek???? Really? How high was the altitude? Normally it‘s just a heavenly quiet when you climb these heights. Not that I would know nowadays – I‘m staying well away of any such extortion! 🙂

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    1. Honestly, Kiki, I can no longer remember the altitude. But probably not so very high really in the context of the Pyrenees. And I promise you we heard those larks. It’s a really vivid, special memory. As you say, the heart has a way of remembering the good times rather than the bad.

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