Thursday, April 10, 2014

Hillsides, Hairpin Bends and Hamlets.

On Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 I awoke early as I planned to walk up the mountainside on the other side of the valley from Labastide Esparbairenque.  I thought I would set out and see the sunrise as I climbed. However, when I looked out my window at 6:30 I realized it was too dark to set out. I had to cross a little footbridge over the river and climb quite a steep pathway up the opposite hill, so I decided to postpone my leaving till it would be a bit safer .  
A fellow writer at the retreat, Jena, inspired me to go on this walk.  She had been the day before and it had taken her 5 1/2 hours to get to the distant village and return.  I wanted to get going and see the sunrise over the mountain.  I had actually been awake since 5:00, chatting to my daughter Claire on Facebook. 
Finally at 7:30 I felt it would be ok to leave.  My plan was to walk up the mountain road through the hamlet of Saint Julien and up to the village of Cubservies.  I have to say how grateful I am to have the health and stamina to be able to undertake these kinds of walks up steep mountain roads. 
As I set out, I turned once I had crossed the bridge to take a picture of Labastide in the early morning, lights twinkling in the homes as the villagers begin a new day.
There were some giant dewdrops on the branches of the trees as I set out up the steep footpath.
As it became lighter I saw La Muse standing out on the hillside.
I turned to head up the steep footpath covered in leaves. It was still quite dark.
Walking alone like this, in a contemplative frame of mind, I find myself really observing the nature around me with a deep appreciation.  The lichen on the walls for instance, it was so beautiful.

And the ferns and smaller plants growing in the stone walls and on the edge of the path.  Everything has its place and purpose.

One of the things that had seemed different to me about the deciduous trees here was how many of then still held on to their dead leaves. They are quite brown and dried out, but still on the trees.

Further up the hill I spotted this ivy growning on a tree.
These were the trees found lower down on the mountainside.
And here is a blue marker, indicating the way up the hillside to Cubservies   You can see some of the buildings of Labastide through the trees, on the opposite hillside.
It really is not that difficult a walk as the road is full of hairpin bends that weave their way steadily up hill. 
I finally saw the sun starting to rise in the sky. It was so pretty through the trees.
Yet anouther bend, and here you can see how it is all deciduous trees at this elevation.

Standing on a bend leading up to Saint Julien, I gazed down on a ravine and noticed a derelict building half way down the hill. Also I was getting some terrific views of the distant mountains.
I was excited to see the Pyranees in the distance.  Jena had told me she had seen them during the first week of our time in Labastide.  This was my first glimpse and I was very excited.
Just before I arrrived in the hamlet of Saint Julien, I came upon a Lavoire.  This was used for washing clothes by the women of the village.  I have previously mentioned the ones in Labastide and Roquefere.  And here was another one. 

There was no water coming out of the spout on this one though.  It seems less cared for. 
Just against the lavoire, there were some berries growing.
Opposite the lavoire, there was a stunning view.
As I got nearer to Saint Julien I stopped by a farm to get another shot of the distant Pyranees.  I became a bit obsessed with these mountain views as they just kept getting better and better. :-)
Each little village or hamlet in the region was always well lit with street lights placed at regular intervals.  This surprised me as it was really quite remote.
Finally I entered Saint Julien, part of the commune of Roquefere.
I turned to look at how the sun was doing, and it was getting brighter on the horizon.
This large house is the one that I can see so clearly from my bedroom window in La Muse Inn.  It is quite imposing on the mountainside. 
As you can see, terraces have been created to allow for garden space.
Walking on past this huge home, I came upon the Mairie.  This is where the business of the town is carried out.  The Mayor from Roquefere comes to take care of Saint Juilien on a regular basis.
The hours of opening are posted on the building.  There was a beautiful street lamp on the corner of this building.  
Here is a close up of the lamp.  Everywhere in these mountains, the street lights are beautiful art pieces. 
Once again, around another bend and up another hill. Before turning each corner I had to check on the progress of the sunrise.
Here it is close up.
This section of a large building with its unique architectural detail caught my eye and I had to take a picture.  When I got home and was talking with Jena about the amount of Lavoires these small remote villages had, she mentioned that this was in fact a lavoire that was private and for the use of the big house alone.  
So I learned something new.  There were public wash houses, and private ones.  It seems such a huge amount of work to create these large buildings whose sole purpose is to do laundry.
Around the bend I came upon a beautiful home, surrounded by a wall and fence.  On the posts by the gate they had flower pots.
Also a delightful hand painted sign on a piece of slate, it looks like the work of a child.  I loved it.
They had a beautiful garden and I was surprised to see palm trees up so high.
Their wrought iron fence framed the roadside so beautifully.
I kept going and it was truly light by now. 
The picturesque village was situated along the edge of the road. 
Another view of the sunrise through the trees.
I was surprised as I walked higher to come upon the roof of the big white house with the blue shutters. It went right down to the roads edge.  

Walking with the sunrise on my right, I started up a longer; straight stretch of road, so beautiful with its avenue of trees.
I really felt I was getting up high now and loved the views. 

Now I was getting up to where the trees started to change.  There were spruce or evergreens growing higher up. 
I arrived at a remote house. 
Even up here it has postal service. 

It had a lovely garden and of course the inevitable terraces to create some level ground. They had the most amazing view.
I continued on my way up to Cubservies   I really had no idea how much farther I had to go, but it was such a beautiful day. I couldn't have asked for better weather or clearer skies.

Soon I happened upon the forest that was cared for by Roquefere.  This was unexpected and quite good to see.  It reminded me of my brother who helps manage a small forest run by a village in England.  

I was also surprised to see a wind farm on the opposite hilltop.  There were several windmills there.
There was also some snow on the mountainside at the higher evelvation.
Walking alone in these surroundings was so special. It was so beautiful and I felt so fortunate to be here, experiencing this solitude and grandeur.  
Before I knew it I arrived at the entrance to Cubservies.  I wasn't surprised that the first thing I came upon was a Lavoire. :-)
My battery was running low by this point. I was happy to be able to get this shot of the village, clinging to the mountainside.
I had heard there was an ancient chapel here and hoped I could find it. 
Cubservies is famous for its cascade.  Icouldn't  get a shot at first as my battery was dead.  Somehow after I walked to the chapel, I managed to fire up my phone and get a few more vital pictures.  I was so grateful as I wasn't going to be walking up here again for a few missed pics. lol
I ventured down an unknown path leading from the cascade and luckily it led to the chapel.  This was built back in the 12th century and once again I shake my head at how this happened.  Right on a steep cliff, high up in the Black Mountains.  There are chapels like this  in every small community on these hillsides.
The bell was still there. 
And the archway to the entance was so beautiful.
This archway to the chapel was just at the end of a small square surrounded by village homes.  A dog came out to bark at me and when I looked up, an elderly woman was leaning out of her open window surveying the valley.  I felt I was encroaching on the villagers space and quickly found my way back to the waterfall where I sat and had my lunch.  The dog joined me and was much friendlier now I as away from the houses. 
Here you can see more of the wall of the chapel.  It really is close to the houses, as space is pretty scarce on these slopes.
After my picnic by the waterfall I began to leave the village and spotted yet another lavoire at the far end of the village.  This one was smaller and built into the hillside, below a house. 
Inside was the usual door in the back wall which when opened revealed a large holding chamber full of water.  There was the spout with water coming out into a sink.  This was different to the other lavoires I had seen. Previous ones all had huge bath like structures to hold the water for washing the clothes.  
This sink was much smaller, and perhaps its size was dictated by the available space to construct the lavoire. 
Heading back into the centre of the village I saw this impressive home. 
Leaving the village my camera magically came alive once again allowing me one more picture.  The village sign. :-)
The trip back down the mountain was sublime as all I had to do was soak up the views.  No more camera to demand photographs be taken.  The pyranees sparkeled in the sun just as they had on my way up.

I arrived back at La Muse Inn, after walking for six and a half hours, with slightly wobbly legs. I was so happy I had   made the effort and gone on this adventure.  The views and scenery were spectacular and I was off to Italy in two more days.  I was also blessed to have such incredible weather for my hike into the mountains.
Now I had to make sure to explore the rest of the village and get up to the rock overlooking the village church in Labastide Esparbairenque as I had heard the view was quite special, but that my friends, is another story.

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