The weekly photo challenge posed by WordPress is taking a week off. I don’t have to. I thought I’d add to the piles of photos clogging up the internet showing snow. Snow in the garden, out by the lake, up a mountain, shutting down the motorways, whitening city streets ….
We woke up this morning to bitter cold. Minus One Celsius. This will make my American and Canadian readers laugh. Look at this post from my blogging friend Kerry. Where she wakes up it’s -32, and steam is rising from the frozen lake. She’d better not read this. Where she is, nobody ventures out, not even – especially not even – the cats.
This is snowy weather British style. Just a couple of inches. Just enough to snarl up the transport system and fill the airwaves with ‘Is your journey really necessary?’ type warnings. It’ll probably be gone tomorrow.
Back in France, in the Ariège, the very best way of getting out into virgin snow and becoming at one with a pure, glittering white winter landscape was take yourself off to the nearest mountain, strap on your snowshoes and walk through the fresh crisp air as if you were the only person in that particular bit of world. It was hard work though, and after the first hour, I’d had enough.
Three years on, and the memory of the pain, sweat and general exhaustion of the entire procedure has faded. I remember instead the vivid sunlit skies and startlingly white and unspoilt snow. And sometimes there were shadows: clear silhouettes mirroring, yet enhancing the world above the glistering mantle.
This week’s WordPress Photo challenge is ‘shadow’. The challenge is now issued on a Wednesday rather than a Friday. I think I’ll now usually respond on Saturday, not Sunday.
…. which is, being very roughly translated, our pot-luck picnic on the Resistance trail.
Jean-Charles has long wanted to get us up to Croquié, a village high above the road between Foix and Tarascon, for a walk with a 360 degree panorama of the Pyrenees, and a very moving monument to some of the Maquisards who died fighting in the French resistance in World War II. This really was the last Sunday we could go, and the day was glorious: hot, with clear blue skies and views for miles and miles in every direction.
Neither Malcolm nor I is particularly on form at the moment, so while our Laroquais friends yomped up a semi-vertical path, deeply slicked in mud, we went part-way up the mountainside from the village of Croquié by car, and then walked on up by road (a road, however, closed to cars) to meet the rest of the group.
Our first destination was the Monument to the Resistance. This site, with views across to the mountains dividing us from Spain, far-reaching from west to east, was chosen as a memorial site not because it was a war-time battle ground. Instead it was a training school for resistance fighters from France, Spain and beyond. There are no barracks, no lecture-halls, no buildings of any kind. Instead the men led hidden existences among the forest trees and rocks. And now there is a fine memorial to them. Singled out were two men who died in nearby Vira (the area where we walked last week) a Maquis stronghold, one who died in our neighbouring town of Bélesta, and one who died following deportation. There is a statue to these men, who are nevertheless depicted without facial features. In this way they stand representative for all the men – and women – who died whether through fighting, by acting as liaison workers, or by offering essential support by giving shelter, clothing and food. Individuals did not pass over to Spain from here: the border is too far away. Instead they were driven to one of the freedom trails such as those near Oust and Seix. Petrol? It could be organised, albeit with difficulty. A key man ran a garage.
First glimpse of the monument.
A better look at it
This is the view those figures have
The sculptor of this monument is Ted Carrasco. A native of Bolivia, pre-Columbian art is a clear influence on his work. He seeks always for his pieces to be in harmony with the environment in which they are placed. His monumental granite figures look over to the Pyrenees which were the scene of their fight against fascism and the Nazi occupation of France.
Time to move on, however. Our path took us slowly upwards through forest, along a track which became increasingly snow-covered and tough going. However, it was only 3 km. or so until we reached the top, where there’s a refuge dedicated to the memory of its original owner, Henri Tartie, known as ‘l ‘Aynat’ – the elder, in Occitan. The original structure is tiny, but served as shelter to many a Maquisard . Now it’s a wood store, because a newer concrete annexe has been added with cooking facilities so that hardy mountain walkers can rest, make a meal, and warm themselves up.
The way up to the refuge.
Jean-Charles gives us a short history lesson outside the refuge.
The modern extension and its ‘facilities’.
A cheerful picnic.
This was our view.
And this , on the way down.
We commandeered a circular concrete table outside, with apparently unending views of those Pyrenees, and somehow squeezed all ten of us round. We unpacked our food: as ever there was wine to share, rhum baba à l’orange, galette charentaise, biscuits – all home-made, of course. Malcolm and I knew it was our last walk with our friends. The fine views, the fine company, the cheerful conversation had a predictable effect. We became tearful. But so grateful that this walk was a bit of a first. Extra-special views, extra-special weather for March, the chance to get close to an important slice of Ariègeois history, and our extra-special friends. We shan’t be with them next Sunday: there’ll be too much to do. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Yesterday, I changed my mind. But nobody led me into a darkened room…..
I had my reasons after all. I was unlucky last year. I probably will never have the chance to do raquettes ever again. My Thursday walking friends wouldn’t set the bar too high. Everyone raves about the Plateau de Beille as a winter sports playground ….. These all turned out to be excuses rather than reasons.
A very mild winter means you have to climb pretty high this year to be sure of snow. The Plateau de Beille is high. 1800 metres and rising. The snow appeared at the roadside only during the last kilometre or so of a very dizzy 10 mile climb upwards. And when we arrived, the car park was packed, and every school child in the Ariège seemed to be there, muffled in ski-suits and excitedly fastening on skis. Which was fun to watch, but we were relieved that once we too had got booted and spurred, in our case with raquettes, and yomped just half a kilometre or so, we were in the wild and wide empty spaces .
Children arriving: all togged up
Children get away from a day at their desks.
And that’s where it all could have gone wrong for me. We came to a signpost: ‘Pas de l’Ours. 11km’. ‘Eleven k? With raquettes? I don’t think so.’ I was not alone in protesting. Anne-Marie and I wimped out and chose a 3 km pathway, and had a fine time chatting as we soldiered up an admittedly steep slope, safe in the knowledge that this challenge would quite soon be over. Resting at a cabane at the top, we were surprised to be joined by our friends. It seemed their journey had taken a different route to this point, and whereas we had 2 km to complete, they still had 10. Three of them had a bit of a think. ‘We’re coming with you’. And that’s what they did. We waved the other six goodbye and arranged to meet in three or four hours: slow stuff, snow-shoeing.
The B team set off.
Nearly at the end of the journey.
We had a fine time. We got back to base in time for lunch and watched the children on the nursery slopes and the huskies drawing sleds as we ate our picnic in the bright cold sunshine.
Then we discarded our raquettes and rucksacks, dumping them in the car, in favour of a snowy walk to see the views. It became windy. It became cold. It threatened to rain. But we weren’t on an 11km. route march, that was the main thing.
Can you see 3 different sets of animal tracks?
Perfect prints. But of what?
When our friends re-joined us, they announced that they hadn’t been either. They’d found a short-cut and taken it. Cheats. But it just shows. This raquettes lark isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Little and not-very-often seems to be the way forward. But next time, I’ll stay at home.
Click on any of the circular images to see the whole photo, and a miniature slide show.