Revisiting Transhumance in the Haut Salat

I struggled to decide what to re-blog from our years in France this month.  June then was an opportunity to get further away from home to walk and to explore.  Should I take you for a snowy walk to the heights of Lanoux?  Or on a horrifyingly vertiginous expedition?  Maybe le Cap du Carmil?

In the end, since we’re getting a bit fed up with being socially distant these days, I thought we’d go off and have a bit of a knees-up over in Seix.  Come with us.

June 13th 2011

Transhumance in the Haut Salat

Transhumance.  It’s that time of year where here near the Pyrénées, the cattle and sheep are moved from their winter quarters down on their lowland(ish) farms up to the lush summer pastures in the mountains.  They’ll stay there till Autumn, and then be brought down again.  And each time, it’s the excuse for a party.

On Saturday, we joined in, and went over to Seix to meet friends who live there.  The Transhumance celebrations in Haut Salat last three days, but we made do with Saturday morning.  We nearly arrived late – very late – because we found ourselves behind a herd of cattle making their steady way along the road.  Overtaking’s not an option: the cows commandeered this route hundreds of years ago.  But we managed to zip down a side road and make a detour.  A whole hour later, after coffee with our friends, the herd reached the edge of Seix and passed their door….

…and finished their long walk into town.  We went too, and arrived just as the last flocks of sheep were arriving, to be corralled like the cattle, at the edge of the town square.  For a while, and probably much to their relief, they were no longer centre stage.

Instead it was jollity of the traditional kind. There were processions of large solemn plaster effigies, local bands.  Dancers from Gascony, the Basque country, the Landes made sure we all had fun, and Malcolm and I even joined in some Basque dancing.  Stars of the show for us were the shepherds from the Landes.  Theirs is flat, marshy country, and they used to keep their eyes on their roving flocks by ranging round on stilts.  But this was a day for dancing, and that’s just what they did, up high on those stilts.  Have a look at the photos.

We went off for lunch at the end of the morning.  But there was more celebrating, more meals to be shared, particularly by those farmers and country people who over the centuries have welcomed the fellowship of Transhumance as a break from the routines of an often lonely life.

39 thoughts on “Revisiting Transhumance in the Haut Salat”

  1. This reminds me to some extent of the morris dancing that John used to do in the summer months, but sadly not this year. It also reminds me of the many processions we’ve seen while travelling in the south of France and the Basque country. We even joined in once and have photos to prove it, if only I could find them.

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    1. I’d love to see John dancing on stilts 😉 Missed you on Tuesday, which featured my Grand Quiz. I think Victor won, but we weren’t counting. Now Joyce, you know lockdown is supposed to be our time for doing a Grand Sort Out. No, me neither …

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  2. Beautiful traditional costumes, fun and games . Just what I needed on this very grey damp day. I’m intigued by the name ‘transhumance’ I see trans ‘cross/move’ and ‘humans’ – yet it refers to the seasonal movement of the animals … 🤔

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      1. I hated Latin too, Peter – but my mum was a Latin teacher! But it allows us both to realise that the humance bit does indeed refer to ground or soil, and that transhumance is therefore about moving across from one place to another. It seems to date, as a term, from as long ago as 1901!

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      2. Thank you, Peter! My four years of Latin are etched in my mind as periods of gloom and mute rebellion. I hated it with a passion! Which I am very sorry about now because what little I managed to absorb has certainly been of use over the years. But not in this instance! Mystery solved 😊

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  3. A fine pair of clogs straight out of a fairytale. I do love to watch a spot of Morris dancing, but your post made me wonder did we used to have similar colourful traditions such as these Transhumance celebrations here in England?

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    1. I didn’t think transhumance had ever been A Thing in the UK, but apparently it was practised in Cornwall and the Lake District, where sheep were moved between summer and winter pasture. I don’t know if it was the occasion for a party though. I hope so.

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  4. Thank you, Margaret for taking us down to your wonderful memory line.
    I remember visiting Salat some years ago, and they were having a food festival.

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  5. I would love to see this somewhere, so thanks for showing me what I can expect!
    I had never heard of it until I was in Arles a few years ago. The Nouveau Pont has a special “undercarriage” to allow the sheep to cross the Rhone during transhumance.

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    1. I’ll go and have a look. Oh yes, I see what you mean. WP seems to automatically close comments after a while, I’ve noticed. It is indeed a perfect place. It was one of our go-to days out.

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  6. I believe they do the same festivities in the Alps when they bring the cattle up and down the mountains depending on the seasons. I always wonder if the cows mind those heavy noisy bells but I guess they get used to them!

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      1. Don’t think you are alone . . . . .my Saturday book trip has put me off going into town. Far too many people not social distancing and not a mask in sight 😦 I just have this horrible feeling the numbers are going to go up again this month.

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