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.

map

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

P1150999

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.

IMG_1736

 

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

IMG_1739

 

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?

P1150964

 

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?

IMG_1755

 

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.

IMG_1761

 

 

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.

IMG_1764

 

 

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.

P1160025

 

 

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.

IMG_1785

 

 

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:

IMG_1795

 

 

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:

IMG_1800

 

 

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

IMG_1814

 

 

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

 

IMG_1806

 

 

The almonds are already well advanced:

IMG_1815

 

 

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.

IMG_1821

 

 

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

IMG_1824

 

 

A little abandoned building along the path…

P1160072

 

… a beautiful blue iris…

IMG_1826

 

… and some fragrant lilac…

P1160068

 

… 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!!

 

Hey, “Mr. Blue Sky”

I’ve been wondering how to follow up last week’s Cassoulet – until it hit me just now – we’ll go for a walk, of course!!

There’s a great walk from St Chinian to the chapel of Notre Dame de Nazareth – why don’t you join me?   Put on your sturdy walking shoes, and bring some water, and perhaps your camera?

We’ll walk to the end of Rue de la Digue and on until we come to the Croix de Treize Noyes, which remembers a tragic episode in St Chinian’s history:  In 1875 a flood swept through the village and killed all 13 members of one family when their house was destroyed by the raging flood waters.

The low water crossing will take us across the Vernazobre River, and you’ll wonder how such a little stream could have been such a destructive force.

On our right we’ll pass a beautiful olive grove, and after that you’ll see vineyards in all directions – and you’ll get a good view of what is called locally the Rocher de Notre Dame, the Rock of Our Lady.  A geologist would be able to tell you exactly what this huge outcrop of rock is made of, and how it came to be formed; unfortunately I am totally lacking in that department 🙂  Perhaps someone out there would like to write a guest-post on the geology of St Chinian??

PICT7723

At the end of the vineyards we’ll cross the river once more.  I know the iron bridge looks a little fragile, but I assure you it is perfectly safe!!  Just below the bridge there are some great river pools – make a mental note for your summer visit!

P1080196

P1080201

On the other side of the bridge lies the hamlet of La Rive, a handful of houses, surrounded by vegetable gardens!

P1080207

Soon we’ll start our climb up to Notre Dame.  The paths are well-marked and well-trodden, both by walkers and wildlife; I wonder if that print in the mud is a wild boar hoof?

P1080260

Here and there wildflowers are already in bloom!

Just a little further up the path we’ll have a lovely view of this little mazet, a hut which would have been used to store tools and for shelter.  It looks very well maintained, so someone is still using it today!!

IMG_6636Well, we’ve made it – we are at the top!!  And here is a cross, the first of many crosses you’ll see on our way down!!

IMG_5132

The Chapel of Our Lady of Nazareth is a place of local pilgrimage. Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared on the rock (perhaps to a local girl, tending sheep or goats?) in 840 and left an image of her foot imprinted in the rock. I did look but could not see a footprint there…

P1080231

A chapel on the rock is mentioned in 1102, but the present structure dates from much later.

The views from up here are beautiful and sweeping – there’s a bench over there, take a seat and rest your feet for a little while.

P1080252

I’ve promised you some more crosses on the way down – we’re not using the same path we used for the climb up.  All the Stations of the Cross are along this path, which is used by the faithful when mass is being read at the chapel in May.  The crosses are made from cast-iron and the bases bear inscriptions, which explain the Station of the Cross they are representing.

IMG_5138

And look, here’s another little chapel, almost squashed by the cypress trees around it!!  I’m sure the trees seemed a good idea when they were planted about a hundred years ago, but today they look as though they are about to crush the little building.

P1080214

The chapel is dedicated to the memory of Monsignor David, “born on the 25th of March 1842 and buried in St Chinian on the 21st September 1915.  He was good and faithful.  He loved and honoured his country”.  He might also have been behind the Stations of the Cross along the path!?  The plaque on the first of the crosses bears the date 1897, so he almost certainly would have been. On one of the bases I was able to make out the name of the foundry: Corneau Freres a Charleville. Here are all the plaques:

And all the crosses:

The way back to St Chinian takes us along the D177, the road which leads from St Chinian to Assignan.  We’ll take a little shortcut at Le Martinet, another little hamlet, with what was once a sulphur mill at its centre.

P1080299

Where the houses end, the potagers start – these vegetable gardens have a good amount growing even in the middle of winter!  I am always impressed by the way some of these gardens are so incredibly tidy!

IMG_5147

So there we are, back in St Chinian, and back to where we started!  I hope your feet aren’t aching – it’s been a great walk!

P.S.  The “Mr. Blue Sky” of the title refers to a song of the same name by ELO…

Fall on foot

Autumn is a perfect time of year to go for walks – the weather is usually very good but not too hot, and there is plenty to catch your eye, from the first leaves turning colour to interesting critters, and more.  I went for a 9km hike with friends recently, starting from St Chinian, and thought I’d share this with you.

We started off along the D612, heading out of St Chinian in the direction of St Pons.

P1050093

I imagine that the circle near the top of the gate must have held someone’s initials at some point!  Soon we left the main road and walked along the D176E7, and at Pierre Morte we left the road altogether, and followed a track through the vineyards.

P1050006

The grapes in some vineyards had not been harvested yet, and they tasted deliciously sweet!  In some gardens the tomato plants were still in fine fettle too…

P1050022…and it wasn’t too long before I found my first “interesting critter”.

P1050024

We kept walking towards Bouldoux, and just before you reach the village there is a little hut, with a bench alongside.  I’d come prepared: in my rucksack I had a thermos of tea, some plastic cups and a few biscuits.  Perfection, sipping a cup of tea whilst basking in the sun!  On we went after our brief rest, and there followed a bit of a climb, crossing the main road (D612) and up a little farther.

Another critter picture – this is the caterpillar of a swallowtail butterfly.  I have not been able to find out exactly what kind of swallowtail butterfly it will turn into, but I am sure that it will be beautiful!

After the climb the vegetation changed completely.  Whereas before we had been surrounded by vineyards almost as far as the eye coud see, we were now in more rugged terrain, with lots of brush and some woodland.  And here’s a little surprise:

P1050096

According to my friends, the toaster has been there for some time and it just stands there all by itself.  Why, I thought, but then decided not to pursue that line of thinking :-).

The roses had produced a good crop of hips, and the olives were hanging heavy on the trees.  Around the next bend there was a large kennel, where hunting dogs are being kept.  They all started to howl as we came past, but none of them seemed vicious or hell-bent on chasing us.  They were safely behind fences and we kept a respectful distance.  Not long after we had to make a decision as the path forked.  We took the turn to the right, and I’m glad we did.

P1050099The flowering heather is just so beautiful!

And we came upon this quirky “potager” in the middle of nowhere.  Someone had lovingly created a vegetable garden in the wilderness, and decorated it with upturned terracotta pots.

P1050100

All too soon we were approaching St Chinian, but not before we went through a grove of trees where the lichen were growing abundantly.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen any as luxuriant or large as these.

P1050104

And then it was home and time for a drink and some rest!