Here I describe my run-walk outing with a local companion into the spectacular hills above Laval.
Mr D, a neighbour of ours, generously offered to show me some of the harder-to-find tracks up into the hills above Laval. I had already done a fair amount of exploring myself but had not found the route I guessed would be there. I sought a track, or at least a marked route, connecting Laval with Quillan in the Pyrenees in southern France. Laval is not far from Quillan as the crow flies and my guess was that there would be in the hills an alternative to the 6 km on the flat road route. Last week I took the Sentier Cathar route marked on our walking map, but that is not ideal. It involves 2 km on the D109 road up the valley, then the track from there up to the ridge is very muddy. It would be a better path in the summer or when it’s cold enough to freeze the mud.
Our walking map shows no direct route but yesterday Mr D pencilled on the map some routes that he knows. This morning we tackled those routes. We crossed Laval’s footbridge, turned right and jogged along the track for a couple of minutes. Out of politeness, I let him lead from the outset. At a spot that would be easily missed, we left the stream-side path and headed uphill through the scrub. Mr D began running – running! – up the hill. I may be partly to blame as, in an effort to instill a tiny dose of intimidation, I had mentioned that I was training for the Carcassonne marathon. I saw straight away that this pace was beyond me. I wanted to call out to slow down but I could not immediately think of the French words for that and of course running uphill leaves little or no spare breath for communication in any language. After a short distance he noticed that I was falling behind, and he stopped, ostensibly to admire the view and wait for me, but more likely because he needed a rest. In hindsight I saw that his ridiculous sprint was just a matter of pride. I had made my point by mentioning the marathon and he had responded by showing that he could run uphill. One-all. We left the score at that as, conveniently, his dicky knee soon played up and we mostly walked the rest.
This is an ancient trail, Mr D told me. He recently restored it enough to pass: he cleared vegetation and added colour route markings. As we went higher up, it became more a marked route than a path, but was not too difficult. We reached the col between Bitrague and the peak above the quarry. The track there is part of the loop track around Bitrague and I know that track well from last year’s exploring. We went up the track to the Col de Pidou, also known as Col Bitrague. We then headed south-west, away from Quillan, but instead of taking the main Sentier Cathar, we followed a ridge route, Route de les Trois Quilles, that is not marked on my map. The views from the peaks on that route are spectacular in all directions: St Ferriol, Rennes le Chateau, Serres de Bec, Defile de la Piere Lys, Belvianne and Cavirac, La Forge, Quillan, the cliffs above Quillan, and the St Bertrand valley.
Mr D tried to tell me stuff as we went. I asked lots of questions as they occurred to me. We mostly talked right past each other but pretended to understand nearly everything. I was amused to hear weeks later via a third party that Mr D thought I was a “very intelligent” person. If only he knew how little I understood!
Rejoining the Sentier Cathar and descending towards the D109, we had to get past plenty of mud after recent rain. This is the track that, as I mentioned earlier, would be better in dry weather. He led me off the main track down through the bush on a route that he has marked orange. This led us down towards Laval. Much of the mud on this section of track was caused by rutting pigs. There must be lots of pigs around there. There are water-filled holes where the pigs wallow and nearby trees that have the bark rubbed off at pig height. He said the pigs wallow in the mud then rub up against the trees to remove parasites. I was pretty muddy by that stage but I determined to hold on for a hot shower for parasite removal. He told me of a time when he was mountain-biking down this route and came across about 10 pigs in a clearing. The startled pigs were squealing and rushing all over the place, as was he.
At one point on that orange route we heard voices in the bush not far off. There are people who live in the bush, he told me. They live in a caravan or something. No, he doesn’t know them. I was thinking Deliverance. We moved on quick-as.
At the valley floow the St Bertrand was up and too wide to jump so Mr D suggested we keep our feet dry on a detour route. We detoured up and north-east again. We eventually came to the allotments across from Laval and returned across the footbridge to our starting point.
8.3 km, 1h26m.