When Meeting Other People Was OK

Ariège, Blogging challenges, France, Walking

It’s that time of the month again, when I re-publish a post from our years in France. This one made me sad. It reminded me of times when people could simply be together enjoying each other’s company; where kindness and friendship were easy to demonstrate; and when an affectionate hug was nothing to fear. Kindred spirits. Ah well…

Walking for the Masses

October 10th, 2010

Walking near Mirepoix

The French love walking – as in hiking.  The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre is an immensely popular organisation with all age groups, and with a somewhat younger image than the British Ramblers.  The French walk alone, with friends, in groups such as ours, Les Rando del’Aubo, and …..on mega-rambles.

We first came upon the mega-ramble when our own group went along, a couple of years ago now, on a walk organised by the FF Randonnée Midi- Pyrénées group.  We and about 800 others.  It’s something of a military operation.  Breakfast is offered, refreshments along the route, which has to be signposted beforehand and cleared afterwards.  Photocopied maps are handed out, and when it’s all over, there are exhibits to mooch round, apéros to drink, trophies to award (the oldest walker, the person who’s travelled furthest to participate, that sort of thing).  There’s often a sit down meal on offer too, though not that day.

Interesting, but walking with dozens – hundreds – of others isn’t really our thing. This means we quite often sit out the Sunday walk, because these occasions happen pretty often.

The poster advertising the day

Today, I made an exception.  In France, basic health care is free, but most people chose to top up by insuring themselves with a Mutuelle, which covers all the bits the system doesn’t pay for.  To publicise themselves, and various health charities, the Mutuelles of the Ariège organised a walk near Mirepoix today, and they needed our help.

Early this morning, under the covered market hall in Mirepoix we set up tables, prepared healthy breakfasts (breads, cheese, fruit juices, dried prunes) and registered walkers.  Some people waymarked the route, others acted as marshals, and lots of us got to walk as well. Only 171 walkers today.  Why would we be so public-spirited?  Perhaps this picture tells you why.

Sitting in the main square in the sunshine, enjoying the meal we were offered as a ‘thank you’ for our work earlier. We’d have done it anyway. A good day.

Something else though.  Sitting down with everyone after it was all over, I reflected how far we’ve come.  This week, Malcolm’s been in England, so apart from exchanging English/French conversation on Tuesday for an hour, and enjoying lunch with an English friend on Friday, I’ve spent the rest of my time walking or eating with friends, shopping, singing, going to the gym and all the rest, entirely in French (well, I’ve done some hard labour at home too.  But I only had myself to talk to).  Over two years ago, when we first sat down for a communal meal, we could see people’s eyes glaze with fear as they thought they were going to be stuck with that English couple.  Could we speak French?  Well, yes actually, but both easy chit-chat, and more serious discussion were difficult for us in a noisy group situation.  Today I was happy to be the only foreigner in the group: instead of fearing me, it was ‘Is that chair next to you free?  May I sit with you?’

#Kinda Square

Six Word Saturday

Trusty’s Hill and Rutherford’s Monument

Blogging challenges, Scotland, Walking

This composite image of my walk was automatically generated by Google. I think it’s grasped the sweep of this landscape quite well.

A sortie to find some carved Pictish stones on what might once have been a royal fort, followed by a climb to visit a local landmark, the obelisk to the Reverend Samuel Rutherford seemed like a plan for a late afternoon last week.  It was only a three and a half mile walk after all.

What I hadn’t taken into account was that this is rough, undulating landscape, and entirely beautiful.  It demands we take the time to stand and stare.  So I did.

Trusty’s Hill proved to be a chance for a first viewing of the Rutherford Monument, as well as an opportunity to peer at Pictish carvings.  This site was the site of an ancient fire so fierce that the stone there vitrified.  The hill might, round about 600 AD, have been a citadel. It was certainly a fine vantage point from which to view  what could once have been the lost Scottish kingdom of Rheged.

The view from Trusty’s Hill

Onwards to the Rutherford Monument, built by grateful parishioners to honour the memory of a priest who, though an academic, a thinker and a teacher, cared for his flock in practical as well as spiritual ways and who was constantly at odds with the establishment to the extent that he was awaiting being tried for treason at his death.  These days, there’s a Millennium Cairn, detailing all the ministers of Anwoth and Girthon since 1560 , and a trig point on two adjacent hills.  All three provide splendid views to the Fleet estuary far below and the hills beyond.

Then it was down, down through a wooded trail to reach Anwoth Church, now roofless and ruined, before coming back to Gatehouse of Fleet along a quiet county track.

 

Jo’s Monday Walk

2020 Photo Challenge #39

Up-Beat Memories of First Lockdown

Blogging challenges, North Yorkshire, Walking

In her Photo Challenge this week, Jude asks us to look upwards, and shoot our subject from below.

Somehow this instruction reminded me of the first period of lockdown, when staying isolated and close to home was fresh and new: when we country-dwellers had the small pleasures of watching the spring unfold.  Each day’s main event was watching the subtle changes in the nearby verges and fields, and in the trees and clouds.

With no job-plus-childcare to juggle, no worries about actually losing an income, this simple period, when the spring weather was almost unfailingly sunny and warm,  was a time of some happiness.

Since then, things have fallen apart somewhat.  Compliance, and confidence in the government’s competence and probity plummets, and nobody regards the prospect of  a long hard winter ahead with anything  better than disaffected resignation if they’re lucky, real fear if they’re not.

For one day only then, let’s look upwards – and backwards – to the  spring 0f 2020.

2020 Photo Challenge #38

Wild-ish Walking in Wensleydale

Blogging challenges, North Yorkshire, Walking, Weather, Wensleydale, Yorkshire Dales

The red tops blazed next week’s news: ‘A September Scorcher! 30º!

Anyone living north of Watford Gap, or west of Slough knew better than to believe it, because only south-east England counts if you’re a London-based hack.  We Yorkshire types needed to read the small print to discover that northerners could merely expect pleasant warmth, a gentle breeze and no rain whatsoever.  Which was fine for a Sunday walk in Wensleydale.

On the way over there, it rained.  Getting ready for the walk, it rained.  The wind snatched urgently at our waterproofs and blew our hair in our eyes.  Mist rose from the valley bottom.  Grey cloud descended and thickened.

We didn’t mind.  The rain soon stopped: it was warm, and those grey skies made for moody, atmospheric scenery.  But our friend Gillian, who’d planned the walk, doesn’t know the meaning of the word ‘stroll’ and had us battling boggy paths, and huffing up rough pastureland on semi-vertical hillsides.  We took it in good part.

But what rewards.  We had the constant backdrop of the Wensleydale hills.  Semerwater glittered at us from a distance: but close up, insistent waves rushed constantly towards our toes.

We had a march along a Roman road.  And at the end, blue skies, sunshine, and a relaxing cup of tea on the village green at Bainbridge.

 

This week’s photo challenge is to make use of empty, unoccupied space in our pictures : to make it part of the story.  As I walked yesterday, I tried to use negative space: in this case, mainly the sky.

Lens-Artists Photo Challenge  #114 – Negative Space

And another walk for Jo …

Jo’s Monday Walk

 

 

Howardian Hills

Blogging challenges, North Yorkshire, Walking, Weather

Early morning mistiness: looking across to the Howardian Hills.

We’ve just come back from a weekend in the Howardian Hills – that slice of Yorkshire that includes Castle Howard, where that iconic TV series Brideshead Revisited was filmed in the 1980s.

For farmers, it’s a wealthy little corner of the county, with fertile fields offering a steady income in return for careful husbandry.  Well-constructed farm gates at the end of tidy tracks are handsomely buttressed by smart stone gate posts.  Crops stand to attention and weeds show their faces only at field margins.  Agricultural labourers are no longer tenants in those postcard-perfect villages.

Trees neatly marching across a hill crest.

Our late August break was not accompanied by late summer weather.  Although it didn’t rain, skies remained sulky and black.  Wind bustled and gusted fiercely against our faces.  The temperature hovered at 11 degrees all weekend.  Perfect for this week’s Photo Challenge, for which brightly luminous blue skies contrasting with the golden hues of harvest simply Would Not Do.

This month's final assignment - Experiment with using two or three Complementary colours. Try to make one or two colours the focus of the image, and use the other colour to enhance the overall image.

I’ve taken images from fields, from distant vistas, and from the one abandoned ruined grange we came across, where farm animals still grazed in the grassy yard. I’ve played around with colour contrast: aiming to make my results what my eyes thought they saw, rather than what my camera knew it saw.

This is what my eyes, not the camera saw.

I liked the only splash of colour here: those orange beaks.

2020 Photo Challenge #35

A Bleak Walk is Just Perfect

Blogging challenges, Nidderdale, North Yorkshire, Walking

I love bleak.  Typically rolling English countryside is lovely. And you can’t beat a verdant Daleside vista, criss-crossed with dry stone walls dividing its pastureland, its river along the valley floor edged with trees.  But here in Yorkshire, every now and then, I have to have my fix of bleak.

And one way to do this is to go over to Angram and Scar House reservoirs, both constructed in Nidderdale during the inter-war years last century, to provide water for the citizens of Bradford. Here are slopes, sculpted by long-gone streams and the often savage weather. These hillsides are covered in thin, tussocky grass – and not much else. Few trees.  Few buildings – the odd hunting lodge or barn.  But there are sheep, and birdlife too.  One of our memories of walking here was once seeing a small meadow pipit struggling to feed ‘her’ baby, a cuckoo fledgling three times her size.

My friend Sandra and I went there this week.  The day was perfect.  Not too hot and not too cold.  Briskly breezy.  And as we arrived , the reservoir was as blue as we’ve ever seen it, almost cobalt in its intensity.  We planned to walk our way round both reservoirs.

Scar House Reservoir

Which way though?  Clockwise?  Anti-clockwise? Sandra counselled clockwise, and Sandra won.  That way, we’d get a slightly boring bit of track over and done with.  We’d get the wind-in-our-faces over and done with.  And most importantly, we’d get the squishier, less managed paths of Angram Reservoir over and done with.

It’s rained a lot lately, so walking round Angram involves some wet pathways.  Not muddy, just paddleable.  Juncus grass lining the route offered the odd springboard to drier grassy ground.  But with water to right of us, bald barren hillside to left of us , the route is easy to see.  And each reservoir terminates in a stout dam, each worthy of  walk in its own right, and in Angram’s case, with water tumbling to its sister reservoir below.

Finally we left our wet pathways behind, and joined the springier drier turf pathways of Scar House Reservoir where sheep kept us company.

But even though we knew from the car park that we weren’t alone, we felt that this particular expanse of hillside, sky and water was ours and only ours for the six and a half mile walk in the middle of nowhere.

Scar House Reservoir

 

Jo’s Monday Walk

Six Word Saturday

A Greener Shade of Green …

Blogging challenges, North Yorkshire, Walking, Wildlife

… or a bluer shade of blue …

The beach at Filey.

… or a whiter shade of pale …

A bee among the eryngium.

… or simply hoping to look exactly like the surrounding grasses.

A curlew in Colsterdale.

 

That’s Jude’s Photo Challenge this week:

This week's assignment - Find a monochromatic scene consisting of varying shades of a single colour.

2020 Photo Challenge #22

All of these shots were taken under a Yorkshire sun.

Lens-Artists Challenge #109: Under the Sun

In Search of a Druid or a Trout – Revisited

Ariège, Blogging challenges, Pyrénées, Walking

It’s re-post a Golden Oldie from France time.

August 27th, 2012

In search of a druid – or a trout

Mont d’Olmes: local playground for skiers.  You wouldn’t travel any great distance to spend a holiday here, but for locals, it’s the ideal winter sports spot.  It’s a wonderful area for walkers too.  We’ve only just begun to discover the wealth of footpaths, mainly across truly ‘sauvage’ slopes, with views downwards to Montségur, Roquefixade, and northwards almost, it seems, as far as Toulouse.

It’s alright waxing lyrical though.  For many people living in the area many years past, and until the early years of the 20th century, these slopes were the places where they came for long hours each day, working both on the surface and by crawling through narrow airless tunnels, mining talc.

Le lac de Moulzonne glimpsed through the trees at 8.00 a.m.

Talc?  Yes, that stuff you sprinkle on babies’ bottoms.  That stuff those Olympic gymnasts plunge their hands into before taking to an overhead bar.  That stuff that apparently still has many industrial uses, notably in the ceramics industry and for plastics paints and coatings.  This soft soapstone was found here on Mont d’Olmes and is still mined in nearby Luzenac.  Here though, all that is left are the gashes in the mountainside where the workings once were, and a few ancient trucks once used to transport the material down to civilisation.

Come and take the path we took last Sunday.  We walked in more or less a straight line, up and down hill after hill, as the path became increasingly rocky and impassable.

Our reward was the occasional handful of raspberries or bilberries, then a lunchtime picnic by l’étang des Druides.  No, sorry, l’étang des Truites.  Whatever.  Nobody seems to know which name is correct.  Some say the person making the first map of the area misheard and wrote ‘truite’ – trout – instead of ‘druide’.  We saw no trout.  We definitely saw no druids.  But we had a jolly nice picnic.  And I paddled.

And then I ruined a perfectly good day, in which morning chill and mist had given over to hot sunshine, by falling flat against the rocky path, cutting open my face and chipping three teeth.  I hope the druids weren’t lining me up for some kind of sacrifice.

August 2020, PS.  Don’t worry.  I’m fine.  The chipped bits, which were only small, have smoothed down nicely.

Jo’s Monday Walk