Today’s organised walk took us around the plateau above Brenac, following the sun as it moved from its highest point in the sky to set below the distant hills, leaving us in the increasing cold and returning to our cars in the encroaching twilight in the space of just three hours.
We started the walk from a track off the D road from Brenac to Fauruc across fields and round a small wood. This plateau is the stomping ground of griffon vultures. One of our fellow walkers remarked that he had been up at this spot at daybreak and filmed an estimated 40 vultures circling. Forty! What a sight that must have been. There is said to be a vulture ‘feeding ground’ nearby.
Out on the wild heights of the Aude back country, as we approach a fence line, we spy a lone walker descending the hillside. His path intersects with ours. The chances of meeting anyone out here are slim, let alone anyone you know, let alone when you’re not a local. “Nigel”, I call as he approaches. “How are ya?” “Jennifer”, he replies with a grin “Fancy seeing you here!” It’s a fellow antipodean, an Aussie working in the neighbouring valley. Streuth!
The terrain is scrubby, and the plateau is covered in sweet-smelling thyme. In May it is possible to come up here and gather flowers for tisanes, herbal tea infusions.
A tree grows naturally in celebration of Christmas, complete with spider’s nest ‘angel’ atop.
The sun’s rays cast a magnificent glow over the surrounding countryside, and the early view from the plateau was spectacular, down to the Rouvenac valley on our left, and to Brenac and further to Quillan out to our right.
We pass cows, grazing in splendour. If only they knew what good fortune they have to chew the cud with such a vista. Perhaps they do. They certainly looked very chilled out.
Retracing our steps back from the edge of the plateau, we descend on a well-worn path to the small hamlet of Les Sauzils. Small, but big enough to have had a church, chateau and its own school, at one time. It looks like an idyllic spot for those fortunate enough to live here.
The village has the requisite motley collection of roosters. There’ll be no trouble waking up here!
Even the local graffiti in Les Sauzils is somehow artistic and in keeping.
The wood is carefully and artistically stacked in a purpose-built ‘cupboard’.
A large natural Christmas tree, perhaps cut from the surrounding woods, has yet to be decorated.
The former school is in private ownership and has been renovated. The large ground floor room front left was once the classroom, and the room at right the school kitchen. The upstairs was the teacher’s accommodation. If you have ever seen the delightful film Etre et Avoir, this is just the style of one room village school that featured.
The church is delightful and immaculately cared for. Arriving in the village we knocked on the door of the house closest to the church and were given the key so we could visit.
Such is the situation of Les Sauzils, high in the hills, without any street lighting and little pollution that it is recognised as a good spot for star gazing. Driving up here at night on the narrow roads without additional lighting would be an adventure in itself. Once the sun goes down it must be pitch black.
Nothing remains of the castle but the ruins of its stone wall and an enticing orchard garden.
Leaving the village, we are greeted by several families of donkeys, each accommodated in their own well-maintained stables, with manger. It’s right out of a Christmas tale.
For those who can’t afford to live in the village, how about this cute wee spot. Au naturel. Beats a camping spot.
Despite the fact that most of the leaves have now dropped from the trees, the autumn colours remain, in faded glory. We climb steadily back up to the plateau and the relative warmth of our waiting cars, on leaf-strewn paths, to the braying of hungry donkeys from both sides.
And at the last, we pass the aforementioned vulture ‘feeding ground’ where the local farmers leave out their dead sheep to satisfy the hunger of the ever present birds. Most of the carcasses have been stripped to the bare bone, but some tasty morsels remain for the eagle-eyed.
And so the walk ends, just in the nick of time as the sun sets behind the hills. Soon it will be dark night, and I don’t want to be caught up here in the bush with nothing but an itorch on a fading phone battery.