(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?

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.

Ragtag Saturday: The Cleveland Coast

Older people like coach trips.  Allegedly.  They sit in a coach, gossip, have a nice cup of tea when they reach their destination, then they go home again.

On Thursday, fifteen people from Ripon U3A (Walkers’ Division) did exactly that.  Except that in between the gossip in the coach and the nice cup of tea, they fitted in an eight and a half mile walk along a section of the Cleveland Way.

Staithes seen from the cliffs.

We started at Staithes, once a busy fishing port, now a picture-postcard-pretty holiday destination.  It nestles at the foot of imposing cliffs, and our walk began with a good hard yomp to get from sea-level to cliff top.  This was the first of several yomps up steep paths cut into the hillside at an unforgivingly steep gradient.

The first of several climbs – and not the hardest.

And what goes up must come down, as we discovered towards lunchtime at Runswick Bay, and later still at journey’s end in Sandsend.

Runswick Bay at low tide.

All this would have been arduous enough.  But there was a stiff breeze.  This developed, as the day wore on, into a searching wind: the sort that blows any attempt at conversation far out to sea, turns pockets inside out, and rips scarves from shoulders.  A few forays past farms offered slight shelter.

By the time we arrived in Sandsend, the wind was arguing with the sea too, which rose up, roaring and seething and hurling itself against the breakwaters.

Stormy seas at Sandsend.
The view across to Sandsend and Whitby.

Did we complain?  We did not.  This was scenic walking at its best.  Violets and primroses scattered our path, and striking barriers of yellow gorse imposed themselves between us and the cliff edge.

Eight and a half miles of this kind of treatment was just about enough though.  We were good and ready for tea and home-made cake at Wits End Cafe, and continued our gossip in the coach on the way home.

The sea: our constant companion for the day.

Here is my entry for today’s Ragtag prompt: Coast, and for Jo’s Monday Walk.  As ever, click on any image to see it full size.

Botany and a bus ride

It seemed to be a long time before we found the right bus going at the right time to a terminus in the right place – beyond Málaga’s city limits. But we got there. La Concepción Historical-Botanical Gardens.

We quite enjoyed hiking round its Mediterranean landscapes, and visiting a desert-scape of giant and vicious looking cacti. We took a long forest walk with spacious mountain views one way, and a panorama of Málaga the other … and sadly, the motorway grumbling and roaring only just below. We agreed the place was lovely, worth exploring… but just a little under-loved and under-resourced.

We had lunch outside in the sunshine, and thought we might go home.

Thank goodness we didn’t. We had circled the outer edges of the gardens and failed to explore its heart. Here were subtropical glades, bamboo forest, tumbling jungle waterfalls. Shady, mysterious, quiet and only disturbed by birdsong.

Two Country Mice had a very enjoyable day.

A Spanish candidate for Jo’s Monday Walk. It’s Thursday but never mind.

Jo’s Monday walk

Ragtag Saturday: Frosted fields

It was -3 degrees in the night. It was still -3 degrees, at nearly nine o’clock in the morning. But I started my walk anyway. Right here in the garden, next to this hellebore.

Here were the pleasures of scrunching through crisp, frosty grass.  Through small puddles, frozen solid.  Watching long shadows extend the trunks of trees across the width of a field.  Sheep doing their best to scratch a breakfast from the hoary grass.  Bracken with delicately rimed edges.  A car on the roadside, blinded by Jack Frost’s artwork.

The sun rose and despite the cold, quickly burnt off the chilly white from the fields. The newborn lambs, which I’d hoped to spot in West Tanfield had been kept indoors – I could hear their plaintive bleating in  barn.  Instead – winter blossom, catkins, and a sky-blue sky.

This is my contribution to Ragtag Daily Prompt: Frosted.  And though I walked on a Wednesday, posted on a Saturday, to Jo’s Monday Walk.

As ever, to view any image full size, simply click on it.