Red all over

As a result of our wetter-than-usual spring, we’ve had the most amazing display of wildflowers this year.  Poppies have been truly exceptional!  One field in particular, just by the roundabout in Cabezac, was simply extraordinary, to the point where I made a special trip just to take pictures to share with you!!

Papaver rhoeas is the latin name of the common poppy, also called field poppy, Flanders poppy or red poppy.  It grows particularly well in recently disturbed soil, and hence it’s association with the churned up WWI battlefields of northern France.  In Cabezac, the field had been ploughed, perhaps late last year or earlier this year, in preparation for a cereal crop or some such.  If any seeds had been sown then, they had had no chance against the poppies – I saw no evidence of a struggling crop.

The field was so spectacularly red that many people stopped their cars by the side of the road and hopped out to take a picture or two.  The snails on the post didn’t seem to be particularly fussed about the poppies or the passers-by.

I walked around the edge of the field, careful not to step on any poppies!  I found this beautiful thistle which looks wonderful against the red background, don’t you agree?

There were also some marguerites:

Some of the visitors walked right into the middle of the field, perhaps thinking of Claude Monet’s Coquelicots (Poppy Field) form 1873, which shows a lady with a parasol and a child walking through a field.  It’s a painting which has been reproduced countless times – I’m sure you’ve seen it somewhere!  The original hangs in the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.

Nobody carried a parasol the day I took the pictures, but there were many mobile phones in evidence!! 🙂

I’ve teased you long enough with my descriptions – here, finally, is the field in all its glory:

Something to think about: a single poppy plant can produce up to 400 flowers during its life cycle!  If only some of the poppy flowers in the field produce seeds, there is a good chance that there will be another amazing display before too long.

And another thing to remember: poppy seeds can stay dormant for a very long time, until the soil is disturbed once more…

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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.

Another couple of flowers…

… 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. 🙂