with Gill Williams
Today Mike and I decided that we had been sticking to the grindstone for long enough, sorting out the pool, clearing the garden, mowing lawns and generally being virtuous, so we packed our sunglasses and headed for the hills.
One of the loveliest places round here is the Donezan so we headed towards it, up through Axat and the Haute Vallée of the Aude. This valley is a series of precipitous limestone gorges, with wonderful deciduous forests, with ash, maple, beech and elm covering the sides of the gorges and the Aude, so full of water again, rushing briskly down stream, feeding the several power stations on its way.
The wild flowers have never been better – the yellow of wild snapdragons and the blue of wild columbine decorated the cliffs and in the grassy banks we saw flax, purple orchids and even gentians and Pyrenean pinks on the higher ground.
It was a switchback trip – up the winding Aude Valley to Gesse, where we stopped at a fish farm and bought two lovely trout for five euros (sold cleaned in a biodegradable plastic bag)
Talking to the manager, I found that their main business was raising fish to “repeupler les rivières” – thus ensuring that there were plenty for fishermen to catch, but they also sold to restaurants and markets, and had a nice little hut for retail sales. You could even catch your own if that appealed. Not to me, but I accepted the offer to have them cleaned – just because you know how to do something does not mean you MUST do it.
Soon after we left the Aude valley and took a splendid narrow and winding road up a side gorge and through several tunnels. We met a car coming down and had to back down to a lay-by, where we stopped another car coming up. Fun!
We topped out near Aunat in the Pays de Sault. This is a high village with lots of charm, surrounded by alpine meadows, with herds of white milking cows, and potato fields.
We then went on (D20) to Rodome (which is crossed by the Grande Randonnee 7) and went down again into the Rebenty valley, upstream from Belfort de Rebenty. Along the D107 for a bit and up again on the D20, by a very unpromising turnoff which took us along another gorge and up again to another plateau near Camurac (the ski station). We turned right on the D613 and came down gently (ish) through yet another series of hairpin bends, to Belcaire.
Here we stopped at the excellent Hotel Bayle for coffee – we have had several enjoyable meals there in the past – which was enlivened by the umbrellas at the tables suddenly taking flight, blowing over us and into the hotel entrance. They have a very nice dog – vaguely collie, which comes to talk to you.
We went on towards Quillan, with a side foray into Rocfeuil to inspect the camp site – which was immaculate – with a view to having a walking weekend there. Rocfeuil is a very old village with great archways into courtyards and beautiful jettied houses.
Then we came down the incredibly long and winding hill from LePeyre and across the Col de Pradel on the D117 into the town. I always love this stretch as it commands the most amazing views – the Pech de Bugarach, Rennes le Chateau, the Aude valley where it begins to open out below Quillan, the little villages like Belvianes and Ginoles.
There will be a hill climb contest at the Col de Pradel on Sunday, closing the road from 1400 to 1900 hours – Mike rather wishes we could go but we are already booked elsewhere.
At Quillan we bought a baguette, as it was nearly seven, and headed up the familiar valley to home, where I cooked the trout in butter with almonds, and ate it with home-grown potatoes and broad beans, and sorrel sauce, made with leaves from the garden.
Mike’s schadenfreude was deeply satisfied by Barcelona’s victory over Manchester United and we settled down for the night. It had been a perfect day – hard work in the morning, and then the drive through beautiful scenery.
Instead of being caught up in our usual routines and responsibilities, we had been appreciating the beauties of the Donezan and Pays de Sault in spring – a treat which we would otherwise have missed. We must remember more often to find time to “stand and stare”
© G P Williams