The Principality of the Brothers Grimm revisited

The other day, I wrote about the rather mysterious and enchanting places which are Britain’s temperate rainforests. I’m not sure if France’s Labyrinthe Verte also qualifies, but it’s a very promising candidate. Here’s a post I wrote some eleven years ago, after we’d walked there.

THE PRINCIPALITY OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM: AND STONE SOUP

Sunday. We went to Nébias in the Aude. Just outside the village, you’ll find the Labyrinthe Verte, a natural maze, with winding pathways through a forest, where rocks and plants have created a bewildering array of natural passageways which are both beautiful and fun to explore. These paths are cut deep through limestone, often at shoulder height.  Somehow, we’d never visited.  But today, thanks to the Rando del’Aubo, our walking group, we did.

It’s been a lovely bright spring day today, but the forested labyrinth is never really sunny.  Trees, their trunks and branches bearded with feathery fronds of moss and lichen, crowd the limestone crags and fissured passageways.  Deprived of light and space, they assume crippled and fanciful shapes, or else aim straight for the sun, their thin trunks competing with each other for a place to establish their roots.  It’s not eerie however.  On this warm March day, we wouldn’t have been surprised to meet an ethereal band of fairies whirling through the dampened glades: on a bad night in November, perhaps a gnarled and wicked hag from the tales of the Brothers Grimm.

Every time of year has its own magic apparently.  On the coldest days of winter, the mosses and lichens are white and crisp with frost, making the forest fit for a Snow Queen.

At lunch time, since we were in France and eating’s important, the darkened passages unexpectedly cleared.  Suddenly, beneath blue skies and bright sunshine there was a fissured limestone pavement, providing surfaces and seating for our lunchtime picnic.  Which Malcolm had somehow left behind.  The members of the group magicked their very own version of Stone Soup for him. Do you know this tale?

Once upon a time, there was great famine throughout the land. Villagers squirrelled away any tiny amounts of food that they had. One day, a soldier came by, asking for a place to sleep for the night, and perhaps a meal. The villagers explained there was no food. ‘That’s alright, I have plenty. I have a magic stone that cooks delicious soup for me every night’. And he hauled a great cauldron from his pack, set a fire, filled his pot with water, and reverently placed a stone – also in his pack – into the water. Eventually the water simmered. The soldier tasted it. ‘Delicious!’ he pronounced. ‘Now, if anyone happened to have a carrot to add, it would be even better’. A woman in the crowd hurried home and found – two. The soldier declared the soup even tastier, but if anyone had some cabbage…? Then …. an onion? …some celery? … potato? The butcher found some scraps of pork and everything went into the pot. Before long, the soup was delicious indeed, and everyone filled their bellies. But the soldier wouldn’t sell his stone: no, not for any money.

On this occasion, within half a minute Malcolm had more food then the rest of the group put together. A mustardy ham baguette, some home cured sausage, a chunk of bread, a chocolate pudding, and apple…. The power of working together!

The afternoon was different.  Walking away from the enchanting and enchanted labyrinth, we came to more open country, where we passed first farmland, then the edges of forest with tracks showing where wild boar and deer had recently passed.  Finally, we climbed, and had views across to the mountains and the walks we’ve enjoyed there on other Sunday rambles, finishing up listening to the lively splashing of a waterfall.

7th March 2011

The featured image is from the archive of La Dépêche du Midi, our local paper when we lived in France.

Monday portrait of a young cow

This shot was taken in the Corrèze, a rural part of France where the cow is – er – queen. The header photos shows that within living memory, oxen were still used as tractors. This area still has the feel of somewhere that time has forgotten. Happy souvenirs of a wonderful holiday of walking in gentle countryside with the ancient town of Corrèze as our backdrop.

I dedicate this post to Becky, for her Walking Squares, and to Brian of Bushboy’s World, who’s rather fond of cows.

Buses and planes, boats cars and trains …

The best way of travelling hopefully? Let’s see.

A bus can be fun, but that’s strictly for local exploring. Unless you can get yourself to India and hitch a lift in God’s Own Palace … Though you’re much more likely to be catching the long-distance bus whose driving seat I feature here …

Air travel has lost its sheen, since Airport Security and Queuing became a A Thing, not to mention those CO2 emissions of which we’re now so horribly aware. Even so, there is something thrilling about watching the changing landscapes of the earth far below, and cloud formations too.

You could take to the water, and sail to your destination near or far…

On the way to Rotterdam

Car travel gives you the opportunity to please yourselves and follow your noses, and even to get off the beaten track, but again … all those emissions.

My own favourite way to get from A to a distant B is by train. I sit, I watch the world go by. I read. If I’m lucky, there may be coffee on offer. And the journey eases the transition from home to away by gradually introducing fresh landscapes, fresh outlooks. There’s something discombobulating about leaving – say – foggy England by plane and arriving two hours later – say – in sunny Spain. Here’s the TGV from Barcelona to Paris. It says it all …

Station architecture may be inspired, whether from the Golden Age of Steam, or assertively twenty first century.

All things considered, I can’t agree with the disconsolate boredom of this particular passenger. By the way, you, get your feet off the seat!

Or … there’s always the motorbike … as spotted in their dozens and dozens outside Mysore Station.

Bike park outside the Station

All the same, modern travel with all its advantages can seem busy, stressful. Sometimes, we might just want to exchange the traffic jam for something rather simpler.

John has provided this week’s LENS-ARTISTS CHALLENGE #215 – Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and the places they take you.

Of Gargoyles, Griffins and other Graven Images

This week, Ann-Christine is urging us, in Lens-Artists Challenge #214 to indulge ourselves and our readers with Favourite Finds in our collections of photos. Well. Where to start? What to choose? I’ve settled on those things that we sometimes notice as we glance up above, or find ourselves gazing at, such as drainpipes or old walls in city streets: we’ll see everything from … well, let’s have a look …

Click on the image to discover where to find it.

The featured image is from the Millennium Clock in the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

Summer Travel: it’s worth it in the end

This is turning into a Sunday Thing. Experimenting with different types of poetry. But with added photos. Always with added photos. This week, as my contribution to Tanka Tuesday‘s task – to write a 4-11 (the clue is in the name: 11 lines of 4 syllables each – last line repeats the first) I thought I’d focus on summer travel.

Summer travel

was always fun.

But now passport

control (Brexit!);

Covid control;

train strikes and queues;

airport queuing – 

make journeys long

and so irksome.

Worth it though – for

summer travel

And to prove that travel’s always worth it, here’s my photo gallery. There’s just one problem. Most of these photos were taken in January, in February, in March … you get the idea – any month but August …

… Should have travelled by elephant …?

Temple elephant, Thanjavur

PS – the header photo was taken at l’Albufera, near Valencia, Spain.

Butterflies III: Half an Hour of My Life revisited

It’s time for Flashback Friday again, and as butterflies have so far been in fairly short supply this year, I thought I’d return to a happy moment in France, in August 2013, when we had friends from England to stay …

Butterflies III: Half an Hour of My Life

There we were at Roquefixade, showing our favourite walking destination off to two of our Harrogate friends, when a butterfly discovered me.  Then another.  These two creatures played round my wrist for more than half an hour before finally dancing off into the sunshine.  They made our day.

I’m thinking they’re the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus).  Any dissenters?

And if you’re wondering why this post is called Butterflies III, here’s why …

In the same month, I wrote about a Butterfly Bonanza, and at the end of July, about the rare Mountain Apollo

For Fandango’s Flashback Friday

Monday Portrait meets Post from the Past

With what joy we greeted the lizards we encountered on our recent Balkan Journey! How we miss the companions who shared our daily life in France, during the summer months, at least.

Here‘s what I wrote about them, ten whole years ago:

Summer’s arrived: well, this week anyway.  So from before breakfast until long after the evening meal we’re spending as much time as we can out in the garden.  And we have plenty of company.  Lizards.  Common wall lizards, podarcis muralis.  They are indeed spectacularly common here.  We have no idea exactly where they live, but there are plenty who call our garden ‘home’.  We’re beginning to get to know a few.

Easily the most identifiable is Ms. Forktail, she of the two tails.  She’s the only one we’ve been able to sex conclusively as well, because we caught her ‘in flagrante’ with Mr. Big behind the gas bottles recently.  And then the next day she was making eyes at a younger, lither specimen, and the day after that it was someone else.  She’s lowering the moral tone of our back yard.

Then there’s Longstump, who’s lost a tiny portion of tail, and Mr. Stumpy, who hasn’t got one at all, though it seems not to bother him.  Redthroat has a patch of crimson under her chin.  There are several youngsters who zip around with enthusiasm and incredible speed.

Longstump

In fact they all divide their time between sitting motionless for many minutes on end, and suddenly accelerating, at top speed and usually for no apparent reason, from one end of the garden to the other, or vertically up the wall that supports our young wisteria. On hot days like this  (36 degrees and counting) they’ll seem to be waving at us.  Really they’re just cooling a foot, sizzled on the hot wood or concrete.  Sometimes you’ll see them chomping their way through some insect they’ve hunted, but often they’ll step carelessly and without interest over an ant or other miniature creepy-crawly in their path.

‘Our’ lizards on their personal sun-loungers

Mainly they ignore one another, but sometimes there are tussles.  These may end with an uneasy standoff, or with the two concerned knotted briefly together in what could scarcely be described as an act of love.

Happy hour for Longstump

We could spend hours watching them, and sometimes we do.  But there is still a bathroom to build, a workroom to fit out, and a pergola to design.  The kings and queens of the yard have no such worries.  They can do anything: they choose not to.

From the Pennines to the Pyrenees

You’d have to have been following me a long time to know why I call my blog ‘From Pyrenees to Pennines‘. I began writing it in 2007, to record our big adventure in moving to the foothills of the French Pyrenees, to a small town, Laroque d’Olmes whose glory days as a textile manufacturing centre were long over, and where we were (almost) the only English . There we stayed till 2014, involving ourselves in local life from politics to choirs to walking groups, and falling ever deeper in love with the Pyrenees which formed the background to our lives.

Through the walking groups we came to know the mountains in every season. The abundance of meadow flowers and orchids in the spring: the relief from lowland heat in the summer: rich autumn colours that could compete with any on the planet, and deep snow in winter. We welcomed the physical challenge of yomping upwards to some high peak or plateau, and earning our panoramic picnic, and learnt to respect the mountains’ moods.

Here’s a selection of virtual postcards, which may help explain why the Pyrenees will always remain for us our Special Place.

And finally …

The view from our roof terrace. Going up to hang out the washing was no hardship.

For Karina’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge #188: A Special Place

Celebrations aren’t just for Christmas …

We’re asked to celebrate celebrating this week, in the Lens-Artists Challenge. I’ve decided not to focus on Christmas, but instead take us to a small town in France, in the Pyrenees – to Seix – in June, where every year, like so many other mountain settlements, they celebrate Transhumance. Here’s what I wrote in June 2011:

CELEBRATING TRANSHUMANCE IN THE HAUT-SALAT

Transhumance.  It’s that time of year where here in 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.