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.

Something old, something new

Lac de Montbel from La Régate
Lac de Montbel from La Régate

Our new friend Jenny-from-Bilbao came for a flying visit late last week, so we did a quick Cook’s Tour of some of our favourite spots.  Roquefixade, of course, Montségur: and then on a bright Autumnal Saturday morning, we finished off by a quick look at our local lake, Montbel.  It’s a man-made reservoir, actually, but it looks as though it’s been there forever, and fish, herons and humans all appreciate its cool expanse of water as a change from all those hills, mountains, rivers and streams.

What a difference a day makes.  Sunday sulked.  It rained in the night, it rained in the morning, grudgingly cleared up, then spent the rest of the day teasing us with odd showers which never quite decided whether to go for a full-blown drenching, or merely hang around as damp atmosphere, cloaking the landscape with fog.

So our planned walk from Croquié, with its promise of stunning views as our reward for a stiff climb was abandoned.  Instead we met at 1.00, we hardy types, and Jean-Charles proposed what I thought was little more than a walk round the block.  ‘Just up to Tabre, along the ridge and back’ he said.  Well, Tabre is the next village along, Mirepoix direction, so that sounded easy enough.  So off we went, along a bosky path, through Tabre, up a hilly climb to great views back to Laroque.  A long and often muddy forest track took us past further views, over the Douctouyre valley, and circled us over and past the next village along from Tabre, Aigues-Vives.  Down we climbed again, and took paths through fields back to Laroque.  A fabulous walk, all 15 km or so of it, and almost every step of it previously unknown to us.  And we pride ourselves on having got to know our patch pretty well.  Thank goodness for local friends who carry on helping us to discover even more.

The path home from Tabre
The path home from Tabre

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?

‘Not all those who wander are lost.’* But we were….

On Sundays we walk, with our friends from Laroque.  This time though, Malcolm and I were cramming in something else too: an afternoon birthday party right at the other end of the Ariège.

This was the plan. Walking Party A (which included me) set off at 8.00 a.m. to do a walk from Lieurac to Roquefort-les-Cascades, where we were to meet Party B (including Malcolm) for lunch. Party B consisted of the temporarily halt and lame, as well as Marcel, whose bread hadn’t finished baking by the time we left.  ETA for us all, 11.30.  At which point M & I would have made our excuses and left for the birthday party.

We did fine, we keenies in Walking Party A.  We walked past Rapy, Ilhat, Tanière, glad of the frequently wooded and well-signposted paths, and all went well till Bac d’en Haut.  There was a choice of routes which we discussed at length as we studied the map and made our choice, though we agreed it was an obvious one.

View towards Rapy
View towards Rapy

In due course it became clear that it was not obvious at all.  Instead of climbing up about 250m, then descending, we went on up…. and up… and up.  We’d been due to meet Party B at about 11.30, but midday came and went, 12.20, 12.30, 12.40… and then we came out of the woods to be confronted by a sight just behind us to the right. Roquefixade, a beauty spot really rather a long way from Roquefort-les Cascades.  Even if you’re a crow.  But if you use the paths, or even worse the roads, it’s absolute miles (19 km. actually.  It involves doing the two longer sides of a triangle).  We rang every member of group B who had a mobile.  Nobody responded.  We concluded there was ‘pas de reseau’ but wondered why at least one of them didn’t get into a reception area and ring us.

My view from the back of the van.
My view from the back of the van.

In the end, one of our group rang her husband, and he came to take some to Laroque to collect a rescue car, and others of us on to Roquefort. He didn’t drive a comfortable family saloon.  Oh no.  Our walking companion Corinne had that.  He had the bright yellow van he uses for hunting.  Behind the front seats was a compartment prickly with fresh straw where he and his fellow-hunters accommodate any wild boar they succeed in catching.  I was one of the ones who … er …. drew the short straw and travelled in the wild boar compartment.

By the time we climbed aboard it was…. 1.40.  By the time we reached Roquefort, it was well after 2.00.  By the time the rescue car arrived with the remaining walkers, it was well after 2.30.

Meanwhile I rang our hostess and warned her we might not be able to get to the party.  It didn’t take too long for ‘might not’ to become ‘can’t’.  Hot, sweaty, and with no time to go home for a shower, I don’t think we’d have been entirely welcome.

So we stayed with our friends from Laroque.  A picnic lunch, then home for that shower, before going round to the home of Michel and Annick, who have a pool.

P1050494

A refreshing swim, an ‘auberge espagnole’ (pot luck supper) and a glass or two of wine soon helped us reframe our day of not-very-brilliant navigating skills into a yarn that will no doubt go down in the annals of the group. It was just a shame about that party.

'Auberge espagnole'
‘Auberge espagnole’

*JRR Tolkein: ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’

June is the new May: a springtime nosegay

We’ve all had it.  Months and months of horrible weather.  Especially rain.  Even now, when things are slowly picking up here, we expect to have all kinds of weather within a single day.  Beautifully hot skin-warming sun may be followed by lashing winds, summer showers, or deluging  heavy downpours.  Glance up at the sky, and it will be in turn a cloudless azure, or bright blue patched with blowsy puffs of white cumulus.  Or it may be grey, or even black.  If the clouds aren’t coursing lazily across the heavens, they may be tearing across the sky so swiftly that they’ll have disappeared from view if you glance away only for a few moments.  The rivers are still full to overflowing.

June sky from Roquefixade
June sky from Roquefixade

Farmers are in a mess.  They’ve only just begun to cut their hay, when normally they’d be onto their second harvest.  Seeds have failed to germinate in the cold and wet.  Often they haven’t been planted at all in the sodden and waterlogged fields.  Preparations to take cattle and sheep up into the highland summer pastures have had to be postponed, with snow still on the ground at higher levels.

At last though, we walkers are once more getting out and about.  We choose our routes with care, because thick sticky mud has made some of our favourite walks unuseable.  Where we can walk though, spring has at last sprung. Familiar paths have become narrow passages edged by massed armies of knee-high grasses, shocking in their vibrant greenness.   And our favourite spring flowers that by now should be sun-shrivelled and long past their best romp across meadows and pastureland, and spread across their favourite sun-warmed stones.  Here are a few that we’ve enjoyed finding  in the last days and weeks.

UPDATE:  After she’d read this post, a kind friend, AnnA, wrote to a botanist friend of hers enlisting help in identifying the flowers I’ve shown.  Here’s some of what she said. Reading from the top, left to right:

2. Globulaire rampante – Globularia repens (Creeping Globularia)

3. Hélianthème – Helianthemum Alpestre (Alpine rock rose)

5.  Perhaps from the Linacée family.  She needs a photo of the leaves.  Watch this space

6.  Céphalanthère à longues feuilles – Cephalanthera longifolia (Sword-leaved Helleborine)

8. Oeillet – Dianthus – (Dianthus).  She needs more info. to help her be more precise.

She’s asked to see more of the leaves, and to be told as well where the flowers were found and at what altitude.  There’s such a lot to it.  I had no idea and am so grateful for all this help.

Gentians for a May morning

GentiansRoquefixadeApril24th2013 047

May Day here in France is the day when the French like to offer lilies of the valley. It’s been so cold and wet these last few days that ours in the garden are still tightly in bud. But the other day, we did see gentians.  Turning their vivid blue faces to the sun, they were marching up the sunny sides of the slope at Roquefixade.   I’d like to share some with you.

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 peddlers.  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.