Follow the blue line

Spring has arrived in earnest in Languedoc, and I think it is high time that I shared some of the marvels of nature with you – all too soon spring will turn into summer :)!!

Earlier this week, I went for a walk with my camera and a couple of friends.  The walk started on what had been the old road which connected Saint-Chinian with Cebazan.  Have a look at the map below – I parked the car at the “purple” crossroads, where you see 241.  Here is a link to the map at Geoportail, in case you want to explore a little more.  The purple line which loops around and passes 229 and 277 follows the walk we took.

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The markings along the walk are in blue, hence the title of this post.

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And here is the first of many plants which are in full flower right now: euphorbia.  I will try to give you plant names wherever possible, but my knowledge of wildflowers is somewhat limited.

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Not long into the walk there are some spectacular views of Cebazan in the distance.

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The scenery is beautiful!, Unfortunately, the camera does not really do it justice.  More flowers along the way: a different type of euphorbia, and my first sighting, this year, of cistus flowers, and spanish broom.  The long spears are the buds of spanish broom, just before it bursts into flower.  Another week or so, and the hillsides will be covered with fragrant, yellow blooms!

Here is another view, down the valley, in the general direction of Cebazan.  These are the ruins of a rather large building, with the walls of a tower still standing.  There’s a little window in the attic part of the tower – it might have been for a pigeon loft.  If you look carefully, there’s a rim of slate all the way around the outside, perhaps to stop rodents climbing up the walls?

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Here is some wild thyme, with almost pure white flowers.  Usually thyme flowers are pink. I wonder if it has to do with the mineral content of the soil?

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The next part of the walk involved a long-ish climb over a very rocky track.  It was almost as if someone had poured a huge amount of limestone rocks down the side of the hill.  In all likelihood, the stones were cleared from the surrounding fields in times gone by, and simply piled up, forming a river of stone.

At the top of the climb we rejoined a more level path, and although this shrub was not flowering, its berries looked lovely.  The plant is a juniperus oxycedrus, and whilst the berries are not the juniper berries used to flavour gin and various other European dishes, they are comestible if used very ripe.

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Next we came to a beautiful capitelle, one of the shelters built from only the stones found nearby, and without any mortar!  This is the capitelle marked on the map, just above Le Bousquet.

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I had walked past the capitelle in February, and made a mental note to come back when the almond trees were in flower, but somehow the note got mis-filed.  🙂  It is still very pretty with the trees just leaving out.

The path then rounded a corner, and became more open as it passed through some vineyards.  Seeing the vine leaves emerge always cheers me up no end!

More flowers to be seen – none of us knew this plant, and I still don’t know what it is – the leaves are almost like those on an apple or pear tree, only smaller, but the flowers bear no resemblance.  If any of you know, please write the name in the comments box below.

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The path rounded another corner, and there was another capitelle, I guess it’s the second one, which is marked on the map, although there are a few others along the way, some of them half fallen down.

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There was an extra attraction to this capitelle – I am not going to hazard a guess as to what make this might have been. 🙂  The body is still very strong – these old cars were incredibly heavy!

The view from the gap in the wall is just wonderful, and it includes my favourite little hut in the middle of the vineyards:

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A semi-abandoned field yielded lots of interesting wildflowers: a tassel hyacinth, two kinds of dandelions, an orchid (cephalantera longifolia), and a clover like flower (anthyllis vulneraria).

Further along there was an asphodel, all by itself:

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This unknown tree or shrub was flowering in an amazing profusion!

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This thyme plant has the more typically pink flowers!  Can you spot the bee?

 

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The almonds are already well advanced:

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And the judas trees are still in full flower:

The path was heading towards the spot where the car was parked.  But there were still some surprises, such as the plant below.  It looks like an orchid, but if I remember from the botanical walk in Cruzy last year, it is a parasite, which grows on the roots of another plant.  Hence the brownish colour, as the plant cannot make any chlorophyll.

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There must have been a fire on this field, perhaps only last year.  The view into the distance is absolutely amazing!

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A little abandoned building along the path…

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… a beautiful blue iris…

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… and some fragrant lilac…

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… and then the path led back to the car!  Except for the climb up the rocky “river” the walk is very easy.  There is a way to bypass that climb, look out for the thin orange/brown line on the map.  At normal speed the walk takes around an hour to complete; with lots of stops to take photographs it took 90 minutes.  On your next visit to St Chinian you should try this walk.  It is well worth it!!

 

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Wildflowers aplenty

A couple of Sundays ago, friends invited me to join them for a walk in Saint Pons de Thomieres.  It was to be a little adventure, followed by a picnic, and since the weather was hot we decided to leave early in the morning.  We were going to attempt part of the walk which loops around Le Lauzet, as on the map below.  You can find maps like this on http://www.geoportail.gouv.fr – it’s a great site for exploring the area in detail!

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We parked the car in the car park in front of the Cathedral in St Pons – if you want to find out a little more about the church have a look here and here.

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From the car park we walked along the narrow back roads, until we came to Rue du Truquet, and that’s where the climbing started!  Soon we took a turning onto Chemin du Coustou, looking back every so often to admire the view as we climbed higher and higher.

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Chemin du Coustou is fairly steep, so onwards and upwards we went.  Once we were past the last house, the road turned into a track, and we started to see the most wonderful wildflowers.

You can see how the view of the town was changing as we climbed ever higher up the mountainside.

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We passed some impressive stone walls, patinated by time, and looking as though they had been there forever.

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And still more wildflowers to be discovered!

The track turned into a path and vegetation drew closer, but it looked well-trodden, so we carried on.

We were all very excited when we found this orchid!

Its name is Himantoglossum Hircinum, or the Lizard Orchid – most impressive!!

The flowers we saw after that paled a little by comparison 🙂

But then we happened on a small meadow, completely covered in white flowers – what a stunning sight!!  You can just make out the path!!

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We were still climbing, and at the same time discovering new flowers!

St Pons became ever more distant as we neared the top of the mountain!  The views were glorious, and we could hear the church bells ringing down below, calling the faithful to mass!  There is a video below (e-mail subscribers, please visit the webpage to view the video), to give you an idea of how wonderful it was.  Make sure you turn up the volume! 🙂

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As we were getting closer to the top we realised that we had been on the wrong track for some time – we’d suspected as much – and now the track disappeared altogether!!  But we found ever more wildflowers, including a Cephalanthera rubra orchid!!

After we scrambled across some woodland, and walked past several patches of earth which had been newly dug up by some wild boar (we kept looking out for them in all directions), we finally reached the regular path again, and soon found ourselves with the most beautiful panorama laid out in front of us.

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The vegetation on the top of the mountain seemed to be somewhat different to what we had encountered further down, and we saw many plants and flowers we had not come across on our climb.

This bee was having fun on one of the cistus flowers – it seemed to be almost drunk on nectar!  There’s a very brief clip of it after the photograph.

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We were now at a spot used by the hunters during the hunting season, and there was a small shelter, with a makeshift table and a few chairs.  Perfect for a brief rest and a drink of water.  A little bug decided to pay me a visit – he really was tiny, but such a wonderful verdigris colour!

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We were now on the path which is marked on the map (see top of the post), and found ourselves very close to the marble quarry.  So we took a little detour, for a quick peek – but only a very quick peek, since it is really closed to the public!!  The piece of marble on the signpost was a hint, I guess, that we were walking on a marble mountain!

The path led us through a bit of woodland – most beautifully dappled with shade.

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And still there were new flowers to discover!!

Just before we got to the quarry we passed this butterfly sitting on a flower.  He was not at all shy and, to my surprise, stayed on the flower as we walked by.

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Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary) on Scabius

On the way back he was still in the same spot – highly unusual I thought, so decided to take a closer look.  It turned out that he’d fallen prey to a spider, who had perfectly camouflaged itself by imitating the colour of the flower.  Look closely at the pictures and I think you’ll see!  What cruel fate for the poor butterfly!

Heading back to St Pons, we were watching out for the yellow markings which are painted on trees and stones along the path, to keep us on the right track!

The town soon came into view, but seen from a totally different angle than when we had started our climb.

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… and we were back in town!  On the way down we realised where we went wrong – and how wonderful it was that we missed that turning to the right.  We’d have never seen all those wonderful views and wildflowers!!

And just to finish, here are some quirky images of St Pons, taken on our way back to the car.

Thank you, Pam and David, for sharing this beautiful walk!!  And the picnic?  We had that once we got back to St Chinian, in my potager, sitting below the wisteria. 🙂