Our friend Adriaan Luijk occasionally leads walks through the local countryside. These aren't the usual kind of walks where you stride along clocking up the kilometres. What Adriaan does is really make you look at and analyze your surroundings. (Wander off for a while and read about the fascinating courses he leads: http://regarding-landscapes.com)
A couple of Sunday mornings ago, three of us drove to the village of Le Sautel (where we go every September to see the sheep brought down from the mountain--see"transhumance" for applicable posts). There we met up with Adriaan and a friend of his. The day was beyond glorious, the sky like blue porcelain, the sun beating down, fields thick with pink, purple and blue wild flowers, the air almost sparkling.
Our first stop was along a small track just beyond the village where we paused to look at a series of dry stone walls that run parallel down the hillside. Small shelters had been built at intervals. What were they used for? Sheep shelters? Were these open-ended pens for various flocks? Turns out, we learned from a local man, that they once housed lepers.
Another small digression. Doing some research, I found that the nearby spa town of Ax-les-Thermes originated in the 13th century when the Count of Foix developed its hot springs to give relief to returning crusaders afflicted with leprosy. If you soak your feet in free pool in the town centre, know that it's called Le Bassin des Ladres (the basin of the lepers).
We got out our sketchbooks--and let me tell you, drawing an object really makes you look at it.
From there, we drove close to the village of Lieurac where Adriaan and Andie, his wife, live. (Andie is a natural dyer who sells the most beautiful yarns for hand-knitting and embroidery. www.renaissancedyeing.com ) A picnic lunch under a tree, more sketching, this time of the view opposite...
... and then a climb up into Lieurac itself with its church at one end and what was once a fort at the other. Set on a south-facing slope, the village blazed with poppies, roses and other flowers, all out earlier this year because of the long hot spell we're still experiencing.
On the long hot trek back to Le Sautel, we stopped to look at wild orchids, and up at the sky where raptors circled. A man was ploughing so we think the birds were hanging around to snap up hapless field mice.
What we brought home, beside memories, were sketches and, in my case, seed. As we walked through Lieurac, Andie pointed out what looked like a twiggy necklace of sparsely strung white pearls, seeds of what I'd learned that day is the Purple Gromwell plant. I pocketed some and am waiting for them to sprout.
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