This afternoon Tom and I go exploring up the hill above Quillan’s old castle. Despite the sunshine, I wear many layers of clothing. You can’t be too careful at this time of year. Tom is more lightly dressed. More sensibly dressed, as it turns out.
We start by going up Rampe du Chateau. This leads us onto Rue de Bitrague. Now we go offroad.
We pause at a flat area where two local walkers are also stopped. They are taking cuttings from a shrub. I ask them what it is. They explain that it is not for eating. For decoration only. We talk a few minutes. One of them says he has a cousin in Australia. He looks at me like there’s a chance I might know him.
While I butcher the language in my questions about the shrub and cousins, Tom props up a stick with stones. He says it’s a solar compass and if we wait 15 minutes, he will be able to point north. We don’t wait; we head on up the track.
We are not sure where each path leads and which paths connect. We later discover there is a circle track that loops the hill. That loop track is what we have found our way onto. There are sign posts at some intersections and markers on trees to help with navigation. We hope to reach the top of the hill, so when we see a side track leading uphill and marked Sentier du Balcon de Quillan, we are tempted. Tom does a recce and says it looks promising. Up we go.
We reach the top of the smaller hill. It has great views over Quillan. In a few years the best view of the castle will probably be obscured by trees. Balcon de Quillan turns out to be not the shortest route to the main hill (Pic de Bitrague), but we don’t mind at all.
At the saddle between the small and large hill, there are cypress trees and shrubs with red spiky berries that Tom says are edible but not very nice.
We discuss the dangers of wild animals in these parts. We hear a rustle in the undergrowth. He asks me to sing loudly to warn any boars of our presence. After I start singing, he changes his mind and opts for loud clapping instead.
At the saddle we re-join the main loop track, although we do not realise it. We see a woman with a dog on the track ahead. Time to ask for directions. Earlier on the walk I have managed to converse in French with local people. Now it’s Tom’s turn. I encourage him to try asking for directions. But before we catch up to her, she sees us and calls out ‘Tom! Hello! How’s your book coming along?’ They know each other from the local walking group. We fall about laughing. I know this is our comeback to Jen’s report of unexpectedly meeting someone she knows on a track near Brenac last week.
Following her directions, we follow the loop track for a while then head up left to the peak. I am still wearing many layers of clothing but in the afternoon sun, it is hot walking up the hill. I insist on only walking, despite my companion’s eagerness to bound up there faster. I’m too hot! I strip off some layers but now I have to carry shirt, jersey, jacket, hat, gloves, camera and drink bottle in my arms. I want to remove polypropylene undergarments but I suspect my companion would ridicule me if I do that.
At the peak we feel a welcome breeze. This is the first wind I have felt since leaving Wellington two weeks ago.
I know I may need my hands free on the descent so I need to wear all my layers again. We wait a few minutes to cool off and drink some water. That’s better!
The loop track is great – I can’t wait to come up here again.
It’s getting gloomy as we descend towards the town on this winter afternoon. A near-full moon is rising. Tom runs ahead. I let out a wolf howl. He comes back up the track. ‘Dad, there are wolves!’ Gotcha!
Back down past the castle and home. This has taken us two hours. Best walk I’ve done in ages.