I’ve been attempting to find a way of joining in the local walking group and this last weekend I had a perfect opportunity thanks to a special organised walk for Telethon, all welcome.
Tomos and I joined the easy two-hour walk, starting from Quillan and traversing small surrounding hills and fields in a loop below the Man’s Nose, and towards Brenac before returning to our start point via the rail line from Limoux and Carcassonne.
It was a gorgeous day, the walk was perfect, the company convivial and I would love to do more – but the degree of bureaucracy around joining the walking group may yet prevent us.
Starting at the back of the railway station, and after registering, the large group of perhaps 40 or more walkers headed north out of Quillan, through residential streets and pathways, until we reached the edge of town, halfway up the hillside, and were rewarded with spectacular views over Quillan and its surrounding basin.
The organiser noted that this autumn has been particularly colourful due to the long period of calm, dry weather that has seen the leaves stay on the trees later than normal. Certainly this is evident in the hillsides and woods around the town.
The path meandered through farmland and woods as we tracked away from civilisation. Inevitably in walking at different speeds at different times you get to walk alongside different people, and this leads to conversation. It’s a great way to meet other members of the community and to speak French. A great diversity of nationalities was represented in this group and speaks to the tolerant and welcoming community here: in the course of my conversations alone I met Quillanais, other French citizens, Danish and Afghan women, English, Dutch, and a former factory worker from the neighbouring village who, with his beekeeper wife have not strayed far from the immediate territory – something he professes to regret, with hindsight. I even met a couple and her sister from a small nearby village who have been to New Zealand – more than once – and who have a relative currently living and working in Queenstown.
The woodland paths are picturesque and in reasonable shape. If you know what you are doing, you can go a long way on these interconnecting pathways.
At one point the track becomes muddy and precipitous and the pace slows to a bottleneck. No problem – no one is in any hurry.
The range of autumn colours here is much broader than I have ever seen. From green to brown through every possible hue of yellow, gold, orange and red.
The path curves round and through fields, all in sight of the foothills of the Pyrenees. Much of this area looks like it is in private ownership for farming.
There was plenty of opportunity for stops, allowing time for the slower walkers to catch up with the leading bunch. Tom had fun climbing and exploring, and digging for fossils.
One particular section of wood was quite magnificent in its autumn splendour. It would have been pleasant to linger here a while, but unfortunately this was not a stopping point, though we did get to sample some low-hanging fruit – arboises – in passing.
At one of the narrower points, a tractor unexpectedly arrived, and the local farmer greeted us warmly. We spotted the smoke from his engine before we saw him emerge from the woods.
All too soon the walk was over and all that remained was to follow the railway line back to the start point, where one of the organisers had laid on the most amazing afternoon tea spread in his garage – huge plates of crepes, baguette and pate, soft drinks and hot coffee.
This walk was everything I had hoped for – a chance to get out of the house, explore local countryside, meet more locals, and speak more French.
I would love to do more walks, but it is not proving straight forward to join the local walking group. It seems it is the local branch of a national organisation, to which you have to pay for an annual membership. No part memberships are possible, and are limited to individual or family (strictly two adults and one child). Payments are only accepted by cheque, not cash. Personal liability insurance is required along with proof of fitness to walk through a current (last 6 months) medical certificate. Two ‘free’ walks are allowed, but after that, you can’t join in unless you have a membership.
I hasten to point out that the local organiser phoned me to explain everything, was very friendly (and slightly apologetic about it), and was willing to make an exception for cash (and to allow flexibility on familial membership numbers), but it may all prove just too hard for the sake of two more months. This seems a shame.