Les demoiselles de Caraybat, daffodils and gentians: revisited

This hasn’t been a week for writing for fun, as while I was having a good day in London on Monday, Malcolm ended up dialling 999, and is now in Harrogate Hospital after a heart attack. I wasn’t told until well on the way home, which may have been as well, as there was nothing I could have done. He’s awaiting transfer to the much bigger James Cook Hospital in Middlesbrough. But there’s every reason to assume that all will be well.

So I’ve picked out this post from six years ago, from our days in the French Pyrenees to re-blog. Who doesn’t love a good yarn, spring flowers and spectacular views? It cheered me up, anyway.

April 2013

Les demoiselles de Caraybat, daffodils and gentians

Once upon a time long ago in Caraybat, when times were hard, the men of this small village had to look far afield for work.  And they went to Spain, for the hay-making season.  Hawkers came to the village, and pedlars.  They found a village with no men.  They took advantage.  So did the women.

When the hay-making season was over, the men returned, and the women spied them returning over the distant mountains.  Suddenly ashamed and frightened, they fled to the hills.  God, in vengeful and Old Testament mood, was displeased.  As the women reached the summit, he turned each one of them to stone.  And there they are to this day, les demoiselles de Caraybat, a petrified reminder of a summer of sin.

A few of those demoiselles hide themselves behind the woodland trees
A few of those demoiselles hide themselves behind the woodland trees

We remembered this legend yesterday when I took our Laroquais walking friends to Caraybat and the dolomies to discover those daffodils I’d been shown on Thursday.  I was quite chuffed that not a single one of them had previously known this special spot, and we had a pleasant hour up on the rocks, picnicking and enjoying the last days of the daffodil season.

We followed the walk I’d learnt about on Thursday, and then we finished our day by going to the plateau above Roquefixade to see the gentians there.

Gentians above Roquefixade
Gentians above Roquefixade

Sadly, it was by then rather cold and windy, and most of the gentians had sensibly folded their indigo skirts about their faces and tucked themselves away to wait for a sunny day.  We’ll wait too.  And when the sun comes out properly, we’ll be back.

Snow shoes at Scaramus revisited

I wrote this post six years ago, when we still lived in France.  Winters were winters there, as what follows testifies …. though there too, they’re no longer the affairs they once were when our Ariègeois friends were small, when schoolchildren marched to school down head-high channels excavated into the snow.  This winter here in England, we’ve celebrated the occasional crisp frost, and a couple of days of snow, quickly melted.

This is the Real Thing.

Scaramus, Plateau de Sault, Aude: February 17th, 2013

It’s only 7 o’clock, but  I can’t see me having a late night.  We’ve had a day of ‘raquettes’ – snow shoes.  Gosh it’s exhausting.  You strap great oval saucers of plastic, webbing, and toothed metal to your feet and spend some minutes feeling like an ungainly baby taking its first uncertain footsteps across the endless wastes of the living room carpet.

Booted and spurred.

But equilibrium returns, and without these cumbersome contraptions, how else would you walk across the undulating white snowfields of the Plateau de Sault, with views of snow-sculpted hillsides nearby, jagged snow-crusted peaks beyond?  How else could you enjoy the sound of the satisfying crunch and crack as feet break through the crisp crust of the surface snow?  Thank goodness for that icy layer.  We found our 5’ long batons, plunged deep below the surface, wouldn’t touch the frozen ground beneath.

And with a bright blue sky, a hot sun enabling us to walk wearing T shirts and summer hats, what better way to spend a February Sunday?

Click on any image to see it full size.

Little Donkey: an Everyday Story of Country Folk

Goodness.  Who’d be a British citizen at the moment? We’re in need of good cheer.  And I’ve found some, in a post I wrote from Laroque in November, seven years ago.  Times were much simpler then …. read on.


Little Donkey:  An Everyday Story of Country Folk: November 26th 2011

Every now and then, in among all the banns of marriage and planning notices on the information board at the town hall here in Laroque, there’s a poster about a stray dog that’s been found.  Not cats or hamsters. Just dogs.

Last week, though, my eye was caught by this:How does anyone lose a donkey?  And what do you do with it whilst you put out an appeal for the owner?  ‘Oh he’s fine’, said Thierry, our Community Copper, ‘We’ve put him to work in the office in the Mairie’.  I decided against saying the obvious, that he would be bound to be doing a far better job than the Mayor.

Image from Unsplash.

It took a week for his owner to show up.  He – the donkey that is – had an exciting time.  First of all he was rounded up by the three blokes who first spotted him in the road just outside town, but who had no idea how to set about the job.  Then he was frisked for tattoos or identity chips.  None.  Next he was sent to stay with our friend Henri’s donkeys (Thierry was fibbing about the office work).  That had to stop when Henri’s female donkey got all excited at the new arrival and came on heat.  Then he went to stay with the vet’s partner.  He escaped.  Amateur detectives all over Laroque and Lavelanet tried to find out where he came from.  Eventually, after a week, his owner showed up, really rather cross.  ‘Why didn’t anyone think to get in touch with me?’

There we are.  That’s our excitement for November over.

Image from Unsplash.

For non-British readers: Little Donkey is a Christmas song much favoured by UK muzak producers at this time of year.  One reason to avoid shopping there during November and December.  Whereas ‘an everyday day story of country folk’ is ‘The Archers’, a daily radio soap opera full of story lines such as the one above.  It’s been a permanent part of the BBC schedules since 1951.  You could join the fan club.

Getting in touch with my inner French paysanne

Beatswell Wood.

I was walking back from my friend Claire’s through Beatswell Wood the other day when I noticed it.  A fallen branch.  A nicely rotting fallen branch.  Then smaller branches, conveniently broken into wood-burning-stove like lengths.  My inner French peasant knocked urgently at my brain. ‘You can’t leave those!’ she said, in perfect English. ‘Fuel for free!  Whaddya mean you’ve got no bag?  What are arms for?  Get on with it!’

And it’s true.  No self-respecting French country person – man or woman – would think of leaving for a walk without a just-in-case (‘au cas où’) bag.  Here’s an account of what we used to do in France, especially in autumn.

Yesterday we were better prepared.  We both set forth, equipped with large strong bags, just big enough to collect stove-length pieces of wood, or ones dried out enough to break in two.  A stout thick branch each – to be sawn up later – completed our haul.  Kindling sorted.  A day or two’s heat sorted.  Well, you know what they say about wood, and about how it heats you several times?  We aren’t woodcutters.  But we do gather it, then stack it, then burn it.  That’s three times.  That’s good value.

The path to the woods.

Click on any image to see it full size.

Ragtag Tuesday: Rugged rocks

We both had an affair on holiday. It was a delight while it lasted, and when it ended, as it had to, there were no hard feelings. We’d like to do it again.

We both fell in love with the Corrèze in the Limousin. As far as the eye could see there were majestic rolling hills: forested, green, largely uninhabited other than by the occasional herd of Limousin cattle. Settlements were well-ordered and charming towns and villages, often demonstrating a history dating back to the Middle Ages and beyond. Of course we were smitten.

Then we continued on to our old stamping ground in the Ariège. Not all of this département is actually in the Pyrenees, but the mountains are always visible. And as soon as we saw them again, we knew our affair was over.

The foothills of the Pyrenees – the Plantaurel – from our friends’ house in Laroque.

The Pyrenees tug at our hearts like no other landscape. The gentle foothills are given added character by the backdrop of the mountains. We used to watch for the first flurries of snow on the peaks, maybe in September, while we were still in t-shirts.

When we lived in Laroque, this was our view from our roof terrace, and my daily joy as I hung out the washing there.

Anyone living in the Ariège could name the peaks, count them as their friends – Le pic de Saint-Barthélemy, le Pic des Trois Seigneurs, Montségur. Locals would tell you, every spring, exactly how little snow should remain on the high slopes before you could plant your spuds and beans. They would be the ones to relish the mountains in every way. They’d grab their snowshoes as the snow deepened to enjoy a silent walk in the crisp, cold empty landscape.

No snowshoes here. Just a rugged, snowy walk near Montaillou.

They’d know where to look for alpine strawberries in summer, and have secret places that they wouldn’t tell their closest friends about where they’d gather mushrooms in autumn.

They loved the rugged beauty of the mountains as we did, from the majesty of the snow-covered peaks, to the riot of wild daffodils, then gentians in spring, to the muted soft green palette of the hillsides at dusk on a summer’s evening, to the rich russets and golds of the autumn woodland.

I can’t visit the mountains though without being aware they demand our respect. They’re mighty, rugged and visually stunning. As we gaze at lines of rock, crumpled in geological eras long past, as we look at tumbled boulders lining the valley floor, or delicate but dangerous sheets of scree, they remind us that, compared with them, we are here on earth for a very short space of time. They have witnessed civilisations and religions rise and fall, harboured refugees from war and conflict, provided impenetrable barriers to would-be conquerors and generally put us in our place. It’s this combination of love and respect for them that draws me and moors me to them. Mere hills and plains simply can’t compete.

Today’s Ragtag Daily Prompt is ‘Rugged’.

Click on any image to view full size.

The road north……

We left Barcelona.

Past Monserrat….

We drove north through the Pyrenees, both in Spain and in France…..

Used the mirrors to glance back and back till we could no longer see the mountains……

Through the edge of the Lauragais, south of Toulouse…..

….reaching Cahors by the evening.

Much of the next day was spent in the flatlands of central France, in the Touraine…..

And now we’re with friends in Normandy, on the border of both Mayenne and Manche.

Which landscape would you choose?

Inspired by the Middle Ages

Mediaeval encampment at the Château de Lagarde.

Our third address in France was within a couple of miles of a splendidly ruined castle, Lagarde, commanding wonderful view of the Pyrenees.  And on Saturday, there was an event which commanded our attention from 10 o’clock in the morning, till 10 o’clock at night when it closed (we did pop home several times, but always came back for more).  I took masses of photos so I could share the day, but readers of my last post know why I no longer have the camera.  These shots are courtesy of my phone.

The distant Pyrenees.

It was an inspirational day.  Dozens of enthusiasts from all over southern France came to share their knowledge.  All were dressed authentically: linen was the material of choice – no cotton or polyester need apply.  They brought history to life, demonstrating the labour-intensive nature of making chain mail armour, for instance.  A chain mail tunic represented 400 hours of work, and cost as much as a farm.  Attack someone dressed in one and you wouldn’t kill him.  Far better to demand a ransom from the family of such a rich man.

We met a pilgrim on his way to Compostela, a shell at his belt.

A pilgrim on his way to Compostela.

We watched fighting spinning and weaving, musicians and dancing.  There were thrilling demonstrations of horsemanship.

A procession towards the end of the day.

As night fell, the medieval world fell away.  Jugglers and acrobats quite literally played with fire, and the event concluded with the most exciting and memorable firework display we have ever seen.  I got some rather good pictures.  Nobody will ever see them.  Grrr.

It brought the Château de Lagarde  to life.  We had an inspirational glance of the life of a bygone age.

Château de Lagarde

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is ‘inspire’.