Another good swimming spot, suggested by my local acquaintance, is the lake at Arques, just 25 minutes’ drive from Quillan.
Signposted from the village, it’s just a short drive on a narrow unsealed road to the lake, which is in a beautiful setting, bordered by woods. Apart from a low-rise, reasonably unobtrusive camping village, there’s no development of any sort, although the lake appears man-made.
The water here, in contrast to the river hole at Couiza, is murky (though clear at the edges), and the bottom of the lake sludgy in parts, but this makes the water noticeably warmer and the swimming no less enjoyable.
‘C’est nickel’, said my French acquaintance when describing this swimming spot, which is an expression I’ve always rather liked. This was the first time I’d heard it used on this trip.
There are grassy banks to sit on, a scattering of picnic tables, and plenty of places to park. The bottom of the lake inclines gradually before dropping off more steeply and is perfectly safe for children. You can also see libellules flitting around – another favourite French word of mine.
We all went in for a dip except Stephen – even Nick stripped off and despite not being that skinny, enjoyed dipping… There were a handful of other families doing the same when we were there, though it was not the hottest day by a long shot.
We also took the opportunity to visit the castle – or donjon – at Arques. Unlike the other ones we’ve seen recently, this one is sited on a gentle rise rather than a rocky outcrop. That did not appear to make it any more vulnerable though; unlike its craggy counterparts, it was not conquered even once, despite marauding troops laying siege to it on more than one occasion.
The view from the top of the tower is wonderful.