Sunday Rando – French style

It’s time for my monthly trip to the archives.  And an opportunity for me to remember, as I stare out at the rain sodden garden, that the grass isn’t always greener…..

November 14th 2014

Sunday Rando

7.00 a.m. Sunday.  22 Ariègeois radios were switched on for the day’s weather forecast.  ‘It’ll be an exceptionally sunny and hot day for the time of year, throughout France.  Temperatures in the south will reach 23 degrees in some places.’  22 satisfied listeners, members of the Rando del’Aubo, switched off their radios…. without bothering to listen to the end of the forecast.  Instead they turned to the more important business of packing their rucksacks for a rather heavy-duty walk an hour and a half’s drive from Mirepoix, la Forêt d’en Malo.

François talks us through the walk. This is it, in cross section.

With a stiff climb of 700 metres in prospect, a 14 km. walk isn’t a stroll in the park.  But the payoff as you emerge from the forest is an extraordinary panorama of the Pyrénées, jagged teeth of rock emerging from the thickly forested mountainsides: especially lovely in autumn as the trees turn from yellow, through ochre, to magenta and crimson.

As we drove eastwards, the cloud and mist descended. We parked, we walked, we climbed, we scrambled and we struggled for three hours as the mists became ever damper and more clinging, and an unexpected cold wind whipped across the mountain side.  And at the top, this was our view.

We hadn’t listened to the end of the forecast you see.  What we should have known that our little patch of south eastern France was a little bad-weather cold spot.  There we were bang in the middle of it.

As we finished our walk, the weather lifted a bit, and gave us a small taste of what we should have enjoyed.

Later, back at home, our smug families and friends recounted how they’d spent the day in shorts and tee shirts.  Maybe they’d had a little bike ride, a gentle stroll in the sunshine, a drink on the terrace in the hot sun……

 

(Almost) all is safely gathered in…

Regular readers will know I’ve got into the habit, once a month or so, of revisiting an old post. And I’m reminded of what October used to mean in France. Blackberrying’s over now in England (the devil spits on the fruit as soon as October kicks in, didn’t you know?), but my inner-Frenchwoman has been squirreling away scavenged apples, pears, mushrooms – even a few unimpressive walnuts. It all reminds me of France, where foraging is a way of life…

October 25th, 2012

‘All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin’ *

Autumn colours mean it’s harvest time for foragers.

I’ve written before about the ‘au cas où’ bag: the carrier you always have with you on a walk, ‘just in case’ something tasty turns up and demands to be taken home and eaten.

Well, at this time of year, it isn’t really a case of ‘au cas où’ .  You’re bound to find something.  A fortnight ago, for instance, Mal and I went on a country stroll from Lieurac to Neylis.  We had with us a rucksack and two large bags, and we came home with just under 5 kilos of walnuts, scavenged from beneath the walnut trees along the path.  A walk through the hamlet of Bourlat just above Laroque produced a tidy haul of chestnuts too.

Yesterday, we Laroque walkers were among the vineyards of Belvèze-du-Razès.  The grapes had all been harvested in the weeks before, but luckily for us, some bunches remained on the endless rows of vines which lined the paths we walked along.  We felt no guilt as we gorged on this fruit all through the morning.  The grapes had either been missed at harvest-time, or hadn’t been sufficiently ripe.  They were unwanted – but not by us.

The walnuts we’re used to in the Ariège are replaced by almonds over in the Aude.  You have to be careful: non-grafted trees produce bitter almonds, not the sweet ones we wanted to find.  But most of us returned with a fine haul to inspect later.  Some of us found field mushrooms too.

Today, the destination of the Thursday walking group was the gently rising forested and pastoral country outside Foix known as la Barguillère.  It’s also known locally as an area richly provided with chestnut trees.  Any wild boar with any sense really ought to arrange to spend the autumn there, snuffling and truffling for the rich pickings.  We walked for 9 km or so, trying to resist the temptation to stop and gather under every tree we saw.  The ground beneath our feet felt nubbly and uneven as we trod our way over thousands of chestnuts, and the trees above threw further fruits down at us, popping and exploding as their prickly casings burst on the downward journey.

As our hike drew to an end, so did our supply of will-power.  We took our bags from our rucksacks and got stuck in.  So plentiful are the chestnuts here that you can be as picky as you like.  Only the very largest and choicest specimens needed to make it through our rigorous quality control.  I was restrained.  I gathered a mere 4 kilos.  Jacqueline and Martine probably each collected 3 times as much.  Some we’ll use, some we’ll give to lucky friends.

Serious business, this scavenging.

Now I’d better settle myself down with a dish of roasted chestnuts at my side, and browse through my collections of recipes to find uses for all this ‘Food for Free’.

Jacqueline, Martine and Maguy’s chestnut haul.

* Two lines from an English hymn sung at Harvest Festival season: Come, ye thankful people, come’

A contribution to Six Word Saturday, and Jo’s Monday Walk: it’s more than one walk Jo.  Extra value?  Or disqualified?

How Not to Lead a Walk

Day sack, walking poles: what could possibly go wrong?

Get up, bright and early.

Get washed, dressed, and have a hearty breakfast.

Make sandwiches and pack day sack.

Check map: I’m leading today’s walk!

Put boots and walking poles in bag.

Put bag and day sack in car.

Drive to Ripon rendez-vous.

Welcome walkers, who all car-share to start of walk – not my car.

All get booted-up and ready to walk …..

… Except me.

The boots in my bag are not mine.

They’re my husband’s.

Stare at battered canvas sneakers I wore to begin the day.

Realise these won’t do for a country walk.

Thrust map and walking route into press-ganged hands.

Wave walkers a reluctant goodbye.

Trudge along the road, back to Ripon.

Not recommended.

My boots …..
…. Malcolm’s boots. Not exactly identical, are they?

My contribution to Six Word Saturday.

Two Reservoirs: the Back of Beyond

The view from the dam of Scar House Reservoir.

You don’t have to go very far in Yorkshire to feel remote.  You don’t even have to get beyond the reach of the man-made.  Those adjacent reservoirs in Nidderdale for instance, Angram and Scar House, both built to supply the City of Bradford with fresh water: Angram in the 1890s, Scar House in the 1920s.  They’re off the beaten track, isolated.  You’d never guess that when they were being built construction workers had their families with them on site: a shop, a place of worship, a school, all built for their use.

Now the construction workers are long gone, and their community too.  Only the odd foundation stone remains. The area feels remote, reached only after a long drive down a narrow B road and one belonging to Yorkshire Water.  It’s home to a rich variety of wild life.  Walkers love to tramp its walking routes, relishing the emptiness, the silence, the bleak beauty of this spot.

Walking by Angram Reservoir, Even the distant view of the dam doesn’t change the feeling of remoteness.

Debbie from Travel with Intent is responsible for this post.  Because of her, I’ve joined her Six Word Saturday Challenge, and been led to the Friendly Friday Photo Challenge: Remote.  Thanks, Debbie!

Moors and hills and rugged coast: walking Northumberland

Several of you commented on my coastal pictures from Northumberland, remarking on how relaxing the whole thing must have been. Well …. it recharged the batteries alright … but not by lying down on the beach with a good book. Certainly not.

Only birds sunbathe here……

We were at Nether Grange, an HF hotel, with our walking group. And we were there with other walkers – some in groups, others not. At Nether Grange, walking is what you come for. That and good food eaten in good company. We’d opted for guided walks. Three levels of difficulty are offered each day so there’s no excuse not to get involved. I chose one of each, so finished the week with 15.3 km, 12 km and 17 km. walks under my belt.

Moorland near Etal.

This is hill country. The Pennines, the backbone range that bisects northern England becomes the Cheviots as it marches towards Scotland. In the car you’ll swoop thrillingly up and audaciously down those hillsides. They provide a backdrop to the area which is at once dramatic and bucolic.

On foot, you’ll get to know about those slopes….. actually, we weren’t often faced with gradients that had us gasping, panting and begging for mercy. But we rarely had a long level stretch either. And our leaders were there to encourage, chivvy along, provide good humour and background notes on all kinds of topics … as well as read the maps, so we didn’t have to.

We walked moorland tracks, bouncy with springy turf nibbled short by sheep. We crossed hillsides bright with golden gorse. We tracked through woodland carpeted with bluebells.

A woodland glade … no bluebells this time.

We passed Ford Moss, an extremely ancient raised peat bog where we excited the residents: Exmoor ponies charged with grazing the vegetation and keeping it in trim.

Exmoor ponies going for a gallop.

We passed farms with shire horses and hissy geese.

And on the last day, we walked the local coastal path: St. Oswald’s Way. The section between Alnmouth and Craster-where-the-kippers-come-from is characterised by craggy cliffs, and are home, like the nearby Farne Islands, to many thousands of seabirds such as kittiwakes and fulmars. Here’s what the zoom lens on my new camera can do.

Cliffs and Dunstanburgh Castle seen from afar. The next three shots zoom in ….
Craster: cottages, a safe harbour, and a few tourists.

Our group, the 17 km one (10 1/2 miles to the non-metric) finished just beyond Dunstanburgh Castle. It was built in the 14th Century by the Earl of Lancaster, who was openly hostile to King Edward II – never a good idea, because the king had him executed in 1322. This fortification was built to make a bellicose statement, in an area crowded with castles. Now it’s a ruin, and an impressive one. We slogged to the top of the keep for the views, marvelling at the extra-thick walls as we climbed.

Leaving the castle behind us.

We finished the day, and our three days of walks, with a paddle. Gotta have a paddle. Or ‘plodge’ as the locals call it.

Plodging towards home….

With thanks to our walk leaders Chris, Helen, Paul, Richard: to Reuben and Team Nether Grange, and to our own Mike and Angela for organising the holiday.

And this is also an entry for Jo’s Monday Walk.

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.

Omelette de Pâques revisited

It’s Easter weekend.  For my continuing re-blogging festival, an Easter themed post seems in order.  Let’s try this one from 2010…..

April 2010

Omelette de Pâques

Come to the Ariège on Easter Monday, and you won’t be too far from a community omelette. Communes and clubs all over the department seek out their biggest frying pan, get hold of dozens of eggs, sugar and rum, to make this sweet confection to round off, with any luck, the first barbecue of the season. Why? Nobody in our walking group could tell me, and Google wasn’t much help, but it does seem to be an ancient tradition dating back to….ooh, 1973 at least.

Anyway, the Rando del’Aubo have made this an annual event for some years now. For the last couple, it’s been rainy and cold. Not this year though. Down at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a few pictures of our walk between La Pène, an Audois hamlet on a delightful small lake, and Monthaut, which is a hill….higher up. It was a great way to work up an appetite.

Because the weather was warm, sunny and spring-like, we relaxed at the lakeside after our walk, chatting and enjoying those woodsmokey smells of a barbecue coming to life. Apéros first: Muscat, suze, pernod, whisky…all the usual French tipples, with nibbles to stem our hunger. Then grilled pork, grilled Toulouse sausage, bread (and wine of course), Coulommiers cheese, vanilla or chocolate pudding. And then we still had to find room for the all-important omelette.

Since the beginning of time, it’s been Marie-Therèse’s ‘job’ (good French word, that) to make the omelette, and of course it all ended in noisy recriminations because there were too many cooks all muscling in, breaking eggs, beating eggs, heating the pan, greasing the pan, measuring the rum. Half the raw egg mixture tipped out onto the grass, and Etienne and Danielle dashed off to every farm they could find to buy another….. 4 dozen.

Finally, it was done. Really, this omelette is scrambled egg with lots of sugar chucked in at the end, and flambéed with rum. Once a year is quite enough.

It wasn’t the end of the party though. Oh no. We couldn’t go before downing glasses of Blanquette de Limoux, an Alpine eau-de-vie, then cups of coffee (with madeleines, in case we were still hungry). And as a final touch, Easter eggs.

We came away suntanned and rather full, at the end of an Easter Monday that was one of the first really hot and sunny days of the year. A taste of things to come?

 

My contribution to today’s Ragtag Challenge: egg.

And a Malcolm update:  He’s out of hospital now with lots of medication and check-up appointments.  Looking good!