Our walk today was one out of the Bear Grylls children’s book series, as we tracked the hooves and smells of sanglier (wild boar), who had passed ahead of us on the muddy and leaf-strewn tracks through the hills.
For the second time, we joined a Saturday afternoon walk under the auspice of the Haute Vallée Randonnée walking group, this time starting from the nearby village of St Ferriol, a short drive from Quillan.
Our new word of the day is covoiturage – car sharing. Opting not to take our own car to the start point, we met first at the train station in Quillan, and shared transport with another walker, Marie-Jo, an early childhood teacher from Chalabre. This is definitely the way to meet people.
We headed out of town in fine but windy weather on paved country lanes, before diverting across neighbouring fields with uninterrupted views across the plains towards Limoux.
Not far along the road was the entrance to an olive grove. It looks like they might make olive oil here. I must come back and investigate. I wonder if this place is for sale… LOL.
If you look closely you can see the griffon vulture wheeling high above us in the photo below. This area is the stamping ground of this majestic bird, a native of the Pyrenees. They nest in the cliff faces around many of the nearby hills.
Not far in to our walk we had the opportunity to take in the magnificent views over the valley, from an early high point at the Belevedere du Bac.
From there we could see picturesque Campagne sur Aude down below us, not far as the crow flies. A lovely wee village. Not our destination this afternoon though.
The views were spectacular in every direction, and the autumn colours still evident, thanks to the calm weather this year, and despite this last week’s impressive thunder and lightening storm. Apparently the leaves wait for the real cold before they fall – it has been a very mild autumn.
In the photo below, you can see the Pech (peak) de Bugarach, cloaked in mist behind me, at centre right. The tiny village of Bugarach is a magnet for walkers and spiritualists – and the pech is the focus of attention from end-of-the-world believers. There’s certainly something mysterious about it.
Our loop took us around the hills above medieval Campagne sur Aude, pretty on the Aude river bend in the valley below. There’s a house I must resist in this village. Must. Resist.
The marked paths and roads make for mostly easy walking. There’s no hurry. Everyone walks at their own pace, and there are lots of stops for people to catch up.
On the way, Tom spied tracks in the mud. They were of a decent size, and there were several sets. Tom thought he knew what it was, and he was later proved right. Read on.
It was only a gradual climb towards the more prosaic Pech de St Ferriol, but it was a good way of warming up in the chilly weather. By the top we were rosy-cheeked.
From the Pech, we had a good view back to St Ferriol, nestling on the pass between lower hilltops. Beautiful countryside. Splendid isolation. This particular area is heavily forested, and it is a larger than normal distance between villages.
We could also see all the way to the larger settlement of Quillan, in its natural amphitheatre. Home! What a magnificent setting it is.
It was a great chance to get a bird’s eye view of the two new lakes the Ville de Quillan is creating on the northern edge of town, to help encourage tourism. One will be for water sports, and one for fishing and they are to be ready for next Spring. They will change the landscape, if nothing else. It’s interesting to get a good perspective on the scale of the site, from above.
Popping down from the wind-blown tops, we stopped for a gouter – a short afternoon tea break. People had brought their own drinks and snacks, but there was some sharing going on. One of the organisers had brought home made dried quince paste squares. Yum. Tomos had been busy collecting me a bunch of wildflowers along the way and, what with his walking stick as well, was hard pressed to find a free hand to eat!
As we descended towards the finish, the sun was starting its own descent. It is now starting to get dark earlier, and is full night by 6pm. The low sun illuminated the hillsides with a soft glow, highlighting the oranges and golds as it set. Glorious.
As we rounded the last hillside, pandemonium suddenly broke out in the bush above us, with the sound of manic barking accompanied by terrified squeals and the rustling of shrubbery. Sanglier! As we stopped, we spied a pack of dogs racing across the hillside above us, on the scent, target in their sights.
There was no sign of men with guns, but the hunters can’t have been far behind. It was entirely possible the panicked boar might break across the path at any second. The crazed bush rustling was close. It was mildly frightening. I contemplated throwing myself on top of Tom if necessary, but he has more Bear Grylls skills than I do, and he was the one with a big (walking) stick. I’m ashamed to say I may have ended up hiding behind him, if necessary. Thankfully it wasn’t.
As we beat a hasty path down the hill, with the board, dogs and guns behind us, our end point, St Ferriol, was in sight, this time approaching the village from below, to close the loop of our three hour walk.
St Ferriol is pretty, perched on the hillside, with a church and castle, town hall and cemetery.
The lead walker in our group approaches on the path from below the village. A beautiful country scene.
A wayside cross marks the finish line. What a beautiful country. What great people. And we already have another walk lined up. Proper registration can wait, apparently.
Good night, and God bless from the Pyrenees.