It’s the little things

We’re well into week two of confinement, and so far I’m doing just fine with it!

  • Having a routine and sticking to it helps.
  • Not being on my own helps.
  • Having the garden to work in helps.
  • Being allowed to go out for short walks in the countryside helps.
  • Cooking and eating delicious meals make for variety and definitely helps.
  • Knowing that the shops are open and fairly well stocked helps.

I could add to this list, but you can tell that I’m counting my blessings!! ¬†ūüôā

For a long time now, I have written my articles at the beginning of the week, sent them to Annie, who checked them for any errors (and she always found some!!), and then I posted the articles on Fridays on the blog. ¬†After last Friday’s post, and with the drama of the Covid-19 crisis unfolding all around us, I didn’t think I had anything meaningful to write about. ¬†But then I went for a walk yesterday afternoon, and I changed my mind!

I had taken my camera with me, but when I wanted to take my first picture I found that I had forgotten to put the memory card back in its slot.  So I resigned myself to not take any pictures.  My walk started behind the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian and took me along the Chemin de Sorteilho.  After a while, I headed down a track on the left which brought me to the Chemin des Gazels (you can find the route on google maps!).  When I reached the Chemin des Gazels I turned left and headed back towards the village.

I had observed many beautiful flowers along my walk, but what really struck me was that there was a clarity in the air, which was all to do with the absence of noise.  I could hear the sound of my footsteps, the sound of birdsong, some rustling in the bushes, the sound of my own breathing when I walked up a steep incline, the sound of water in a hidden brook.  But there was no noise from planes, from traffic, from agricultural machinery or from any other human activity!  It felt somewhat eerie but also incredibly peaceful!!

It was after that realisation that I happened upon a white lavender plant in full flower. ¬†I knew Lavandula Stoechas only as a plant with purple blue flowers, so I was thrilled to see one with white flowers. ¬†And that’s when I remembered that my phone had a built-in camera!! ūüėČ

After that, I took a few more pictures which I’ll share with you below, but for me the essence of the walk lay in observing the little things that were all around me. ¬†I really enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of that moment in time!

Three cistus

You may have come across cistus plants under their common name of rock rose.  They grow very abundantly in the area around Saint-Chinian, and right now they are flowering their hearts out.  I went on a little photo safari last Saturday, to shoot a few pictures for you.

In the map below, you can see the itinerary I followed for my walk, and this link will take you to the geoportail website, where you can see the map, albeit without the itinerary markings.

I started my walk by the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian. ¬†Most of the walk was on fairly well kept tracks which are used by vineyard workers and hunters. ¬†If you want to do the walk yourself, you should wear reasonably sturdy shoes – high heels are definitely out of the question!! ¬†The whole walk can be completed in an hour. ¬†Of course it took me longer since I stopped frequently to take pictures! ūüôā

Before starting the walk proper, I visited the cistus display bed beside the cooperative winery in Saint-Chinian.  It was planted some years ago, and all of the plants have now reached maturity.  A plaque by the bed identifies the various species on show:

Cistus plants thrive in a Mediterranean climate and grow well on poor soils.  According to the wikipedia article, the seeds can lay dormant for up to 100 years before germinating.

Around Saint-Chinian, the most commonly encountered species of cistus are C. monspeliensis:

Cistus monspeliensis

Cistus monspeliensis

C. albidus:

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

…¬†C. ladanifer:

Cistus ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer

… and C. salviifolius:

Cistus salviifolius

Cistus salviifolius

The display bed at the cooperative winery also contains a species which is more rarely seen around here:  C. populifolius:

Cistus populifolius

Cistus populifolius

The plant in the following picture was also growing in the display bed, but I could not find it on the panel. ¬†Cistus species hybridise readily, so, if my identification is correct, this should be C. x purpureus, a cross between C. ladanifer and C. creticus. ¬†It’s a plant with very pretty flowers, and you can see the heritage from c. ladanifer with the purple blotches at the base of the petals!

Cistus x purpueus

Cistus x purpureus

As I was starting my walk, I walked past this stand of trees.  A nightingale, well hidden from view, was singing directly at me.  I thought I would share the video with you!

My walk took me up and down some gentle slopes – being a little higher than the surrounding countryside always makes for nice views!

The first flower picture I took after I started my walk was of an orchid – orchis provincialis:

Orchis provincialis

Orchis provincialis

It wasn’t long before I came to a clump of C. salviifolius by the side of the path.

C. salviifolius

Cistus salviifolius

Wild garlic was also in flower along the path.  The flowers have a pleasant onion/garlic flavour and can be added to salads.

Wild garlic

Allium rosea

I couldn’t pass by this doughnut-shaped tree lichen without taking a picture!

Farther along I found a clump of C. albidus in full flower, it’s pink flowers standing out nicely from the the grey, woolly leaves.

Cistus albidus

Cistus albidus

Nature’s flower arrangements are always worth studying – here we have lavender and heather flowers, with a background of blackberry leaves! ūüôā

The leaves of some cistus species secrete a sticky substance which has a lovely resinous fragrance.  C. ladanifer is one of these species.  Incidentally, the picture below shows the point where the walk starts to loop back.

C. ladanifer

Cistus ladanifer

I came across some more Orchis provincialis Рa whole stand of them, in fact.  The leaf rosette showed the typical brown splotches.

In this close-up you can see some of the delicate markings on the flowers:

Orchis provencialis

Orchis provincialis

I rounded a bend in the path and came to this wonderful sight: ¬†a whole hillside covered in flowering cistus bushes!! ¬†The photograph doesn’t really do it justice – it was spectacular to behold!

Here’s a picture of C. monspeliensis – you can see the leaves glistening with the sticky resin.

C. monspeliensis

Cistus monspeliensis

I found some interesting flowers towards the end of my walk:  Serapias lingua is an orchid whose flower petals are like tongues sticking out at you (or me).

Serapias lingua

Serapias lingua

I’ve not been able to identify the following flower, but I think it’s a species of vetch.

Then I found a rather mysterious looking plant – it’s fairly tiny, with a pitcher like flower and one petal folded over that like a lid. ¬†From the top you just see a kind of purple black leaf, about the size of a thumbnail, but when you tilt the flower somewhat, you can see that it’s part of the flower which is pitcher shaped. ¬†I immediately wondered if it was part of the arum family or a carnivorous plant. ¬†Looking through some of the plant books I have at home, it turns out to be Aristolochia pistolochia.

I found a violet limodore orchid just around the corner from the mystery plant above:

Limodorum abortivum

Limodorum abortivum

The last picture I took on my walk is of a white flowered tamarix shrub. ¬†With the flowers not yet quite open, the buds look like white peppercorns, tightly clustered on the branches. ¬†I’m sure it’ll look gorgeous in a week or so.

I hope you enjoyed the wonderful flowers that can be found around Saint-Chinian.  Thanks for coming along with me on this wonderful walk!

A winter walk

Winter is as good a time as any to go for a walk in or around Saint-Chinian. The days are often sunny and mild, and I always try to¬†wear layers, in case I¬†need to shed some clothes as I¬†work up a sweat! ¬†Today I’d like to¬†show you a walk just up the road from Saint-Chinian. ¬†The official starting point for this walk is on Avenue de Villespassans, but sometimes I¬†make it easier for myself¬†by taking¬†the car up the hill, to the car park across the road from the windmill!. ūüôā

The Pays Haut Languedoc et Vignobles, a federation of local councils, published a collection of 73 marked walks, which are available either individually or as a pack from the tourist office in Saint-Chinian.

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The walk I’m writing about¬†is called¬†Les clapas. ¬†Clapas is the name for the impressive mounds of limestones which have been cleared from the fields and piled up by successive generations of shepherds and farmers.

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The leaflets for each walk give details of the walk as well as points of interest along the way. ¬†Because of copyright issues, I’ll not reproduce the inside of the leaflet, but I’ve found a link to details of the walk here.

Most of the¬†Les clapas¬†walk is fairly gentle, especially as I avoided the steep climb out of the village by using the car and parking near the windmill – naughty I know! ūüėł ¬† The countryside “up on the hill” is a mixture of vineyards and friches, which is the name for abandoned agricultural land. ¬†In some cases the land has been abandoned for some time, but there can still be signs of the passage of humans. ¬†Below is a piece of wood from an old shutter, with the hinge still attached – barely!

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A lot of the vineyards had¬†already been pruned at the time of my visit. ¬†Hard work, but it’s got to be done if there are to be grapes (and wine)!

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Even in the middle of winter, there is¬†still interesting vegetation to be seen. ¬†The plant below is commonly known as¬†butcher’s broom (ruscus aculeatus). ¬†The tips of the leaves are¬†quite spiny! ¬†I believe this plant is used in dried flower arrangements – I wouldn’t want to have to work with it!

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There were still a few olives on some trees Рthis one was probably missed when the rest of the olives on the tree were harvested.

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The limestone rocks were¬†impressive! ¬†But no, I didn’t¬†have to climb up there!!

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Here was another vestige of humankind, in the middle of nowhere – an old car!!

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This was on the edge of a former friche РI guess the car wreck and the rocks were pushed there by a big digger when the land was cleared! The car must have sat in the wilderness for some time, by the looks of it!!

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The itinerary took me through the hamlet of Fontjun, where I spotted another old vehicle from a bygone age!

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And just around the corner there was second one!  It was painted the same blue colour, and somewhat better preserved.  These carts would have been used for work in the vineyards.

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I saw this beautiful doorway in Fontjun …

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… and a¬†few steps away I spotted this sliding door. ¬†I loved the colour and patina!

The piece of rusty old steel in the picture below was part of an old garden gate Рwonderful detailing and patina!

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Along the path, in the middle of nowhere, I came across an abandoned hut.  It had had a fireplace once, and someone had left the bellows to get the fire going, but the chimney had long gone.

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Towards the end of the walk, I took this picture of a capitelle, a stone hut built without any mortar!  This one was very picturesque against the blue sky.

img_6833It was a lovely walk, and I hope you enjoyed it! ¬†I’ll be doing it again before too long – do let me know if you’d like to join me!

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.

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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.

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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”.

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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 Рthis 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:

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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.

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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.

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

The hills are alive…

… and they really are, but the “alive” in the title is there more because I expect you have all heard Julie Andrews singing that line – at least I imagine that you will have heard it at least once!!¬† Before you think that I might have lost the plot, the “alive” should have been “awash”, but “The hills are awash” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.¬† To get to the point, the hills around here¬†ARE awash with un-discovered secrets and treasures, just waiting to be found!

A couple of years ago a friend mentioned that there had been a Roman settlement on one of the hills near St Jean de Minervois.  I spoke to some other friends about it and together we decided that we would try and find a trace of it.  I had been looking at aerial maps on the internet, and narrowed it down to a certain area.  Then I spoke with some more people who knew their way around, and was told that there had been a Roman fort on that hill, and that on the path leading there one could still see a great big stone, which had no doubt been part of the gate into the complex.

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I had also been told that at some point there had been excavations on the site, and that there were a fair number of pottery shards, etc.  So, nine intrepid explorers set off for a walk one beautiful late-summer afternoon, with sturdy shoes and long trousers, and our trusty binoculars and cameras.   The path started out well trodden, but as we went on it became more and more overgrown.  The plateau where the fort would have been was covered in vegetation typical for the garrigue:  green oak, Euphorbia, grasses, arbousier and heather.  We scrambled through the brush and kept looking for clues.  The views were magnificent!

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We did come across two interesting discoveries:

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The ruin, I found out later, used to be a chapel, and the car is undoubtedly a Citroen 2CV, albeit somewhat dishevelled.

After about 45 minutes of searching the ground for clues and getting scratched whilst trying to penetrate the wilderness, we thought we’d call it a day and give up. Perhaps we were on the wrong hill after all.¬† But a few of our group were a little ahead¬†of the rest¬†and when I caught up with them there was great excitement!!¬† They had found a big stack of crates, partially covered by a tarpaulin!!

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From the marks on the boxes it looked as though the excavations had taken place some time in the late 70’s, and after a couple of years the site had simply been abandoned. There were a couple of deep holes, and over one of them there was¬†a steel structure¬†which would have allowed¬†a cover to be rigged up. The pieces of terracotta in the boxes could have been from anything, but my guess is that most came from amphorae – they were thick-walled and showed finger marks from the turning on what would have been the inside of the vessel.

After that excitement our little band of explorers carried on just a little further to get to the highest point of the site, from where the views were simply divine!

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On the way back I examined that old 2CV a little more – it’s pretty amazing the way cars were built way back then.¬† The chrome on the bumpers was still in great condition, the steering wheel still turned, and the car even had the petrol canister still in place.

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Look closely at that petrol canister – you might be able to discern the writing stamped on it?¬† When I saw that it all fell into place – that’s why it’s called a Jerrycan!! I’ve since had a look on Wikipedia, and of course that’s the case.

When we finally caught up with our friends they had started to worry a little, wondering if we’d fallen into a hole :-), and of course they were sorry to missed out on our finds!¬† On we went to have our picnic – well deserved!¬† Everyone had brought some food and it turned out to be a real spread.

Delicious quiches and salads, followed by some wickedly rich chocolate brownies, all eaten in the open air one balmy evening!¬† And here’s one last picture for you!

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A walk in the park

On a recent visit to Beziers I had some time to spare and decided to pay a brief visit the Plateau des Poetes, a park at the lower end of the Allees Paul Riquet. The park was created during the second half of the 19th century on a steep, wooded hill, and designed by the landscape architect Eugene B√ľhler in the English style on nearly 10 acres of land.¬† There are a few¬† theories as to origin of the park’s name, but the most likely is supported by the fact that the park is dotted with sculptures and busts of poets and writers born in Beziers.

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The first and rather striking sculpture I came across was one dedicated to the memory of Jean Moulin, who was a native of Beziers and a hero of the French resistance movement during the second world war.  The monument was designed by the sculptor Marcel Courbier, who was a friend of Jean Moulin, and who hailed from Nimes.

I’d come to check out the plantings of spring flowers – each year the Beziers municipality plants the most sumptuous displays – and I was not disappointed.¬† I was too late for the daffodils, but the rest more than made up for it.

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There are many sinuous paths around the park, snaking across the hillside and there is a lovely walk at the top of the hillside, which allows you some wonderful glimpses of the park and the man-made lake (complete with ducks!).

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One of the nice things is that it’s not all there for you to see at once, it needs a little bit of exploring!¬†¬† The most dramatic feature of the park is the Titan fountain, sculpted by yet another Beziers native, Jean-Antoine Injalbert.¬† This sculpture is altogether 17 metres high, although if you approach it from the top you might not think it that grandiose.

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At the top is Atlas carrying the weight of the world – cast in bronze.¬† He’s resting on a stone base, representing Pan flanked by rearing horses.¬† If you look carefully at the first picture you can see the face and the horns.

The real drama of the sculpture is revealed as you take one of the paths down the hill and look at it from below.¬† There’s as much of it again, a base of rock which has water cascading or trickling over it into a basin at the foot.¬† When I was there all of it had been drained and was in the process of being cleaned.¬† I’m looking forward to the summer when the water is on again!

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The flower beds around the lower part of the fountain were just spectacular – lots of anemones in a riot of colours!¬† And here’s a closer look at Atlas, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders!

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Injalbert also sculpted some smaller pieces, a little less dramatic, but very charming.¬† Here’s the centrepiece of another fountain in the Plateau des Poetes.

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And there’s lots more to see.¬† The wrought iron gates at the lower end of the park, opposite the railway station are spectacular, but I didn’t get that far.¬† It was time for me to get back to my car and head off.¬† I hope you enjoyed your walk with me – we can go for another before too long, if you like?