Sunday, September 15, 2013

Transhumance

I'm living right at the edge of the Pyrénées, or at least their foothills, and the area is honeycombed with hiking trails that Christine says are very popular in the summer. The Tour de France goes through here as well because of the many steeply challenging roads that zigzag up the sides of the valleys and this morning there were a handful of bikers toiling up or skimming down past the picnickers set up on the flat spaces overlooking the Vallée d'Ossau. In the spring the herders take the cows up through the patches of melting snow to graze in the high meadows above the fields of gorse and fern lower down, and this week and next they'll start bringing the cows back down to their winter pastures. Sheep and goats get moved as well, and though I will be going to the Shepherd's Festival in Aramits this coming weekend I'll miss the big sheep-herding day on Thursday. There were cows hanging out where we were hiking today, and herds of big draft horses as well, all with bells around their necks that echoed up into the sky where the vultures were wheeling overhead.

At first I thought I might end up as vulture food, because the trail went up fairly steeply, or at least it was steep to me. I wasn't tired after five hours of walking around Paris two weeks ago, but after five minutes of uphill walking I was panting for breath. I told Christine that I would be very grateful if she would include me in more walks in the next month or two, and I think I'll have to start heading out myself on the roads, just to get the exercise. If Mom and John are planning on coming over here next year to hike around I need to be able to at least keep up, if not lead the way.

There's a vulture reserve on the other side of the valley where we were hiking, and Christine said that it's a nice hike over that way as well, though you can't go in near where the nests are, and that frankly you wouldn't want to because the park rangers leave dead cows around for the vultures to eat. The reserve was started in the 1970s to protect a dwindling population of Griffin Vultures (Gyps Fulvus) and according to the website there are now about 100 nesting couples living along the cliff face.

We were hiking up to and around the plateau du Bénou where along one edge of the steep slope overlooking the river valley the Cromlechs de Lou Couraus prove that people were moving themselves and probably their animals up and down the mountains three thousand years ago as well. "Cromlech" is a word from the north of France, in Brittany (but also used in Wales, apparently), that refers to stone circles. There aren't many of them up there, just a half dozen or so, some built side by side and a few others farther along and not connected to the rest. Lookout points? Ritual circles? No one seems to know. They reminded me of the circles on the moors in Devon; in fact the whole area reminded me of that region, although there were fewer gorse bushes and more hazelnut. We picked handfuls of wild blackberries as we walked back down.

When I was looking at the map to figure out exactly where we went today I realized that if we'd kept driving to the south another 20 miles we would have crossed the border into Spain.

I think I might have to rent a car and do just that.

2 comments:

  1. This looks like a hike that even I could enjoy. Lovely views, pretty cows....

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  2. There are a jillion little trails that would make a very satisfactorily complex puzzle out of running routes for you. But yes, it was a lovely hike.

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