Friday, 31 August 2012

Cathares and Canadairs

Since we've been here we've somehow stumbled into the habit of taking a few days out during the last week of August to explore and get to know our area better - we call it our Ariège holiday. And this year was no exception - we blocked it in the diary many months ago, and then when we found out that the village boulangerie was also taking its hols this week there was really no argument (unless you're one of the people who wanted to stay with us. Sorry).

Having spent a manic two days turning the last few hundred kilos of plums (okay, I exaggerate. But not by much) into ice cream, sorbet, sauce, compôte, jelly and sweet chilli jam, we decided to take Sunday gently, starting with a long slow breakfast reading the papers in Foix before setting off on our first walk, a circular walk around and above the ruined Cathare château of Roquefixade and the village of the same name. This is a great walk and one that many of our guests enjoy - short enough for an afternoon, easy enough for almost anybody yet hugely satisfying and with breathtaking views.

Looking down onto the medieval village

First glimpse of the view south

And it just gets better ...
The château is quite literally 'fixed to the rock'

Back in the village, a lovely gîte d'étape for a beer afterwards

Then it was on to Puivert, just over the border into Aude, and one of our favourite campsites:

'Our' pitch looks right over the lake 
Here's the view - yes, another Cathare château
How do you tear yourself away from that? Well, you don't, really - you have a coffee and pain aux raisins, then a swim, then another coffee ... and then it's midday ... Eventually you decide to spend the afternoon walking the part of the path around Lac Montbel, a few kilometres away, that you haven't yet done.

You could think yourself on the Med ...
And yes, the water really is that colour ...
On our way round, I was struck by a very strange, small cloud in a dip over the mountains to the south - it seemed to be a very strange shape. I put it down to a local storm, hoped it wouldn't make its way north, and thought no more about it. After a very hot walk, with no sign of a break in the weather, we landed back at the wonderful guinguette L'Ecume des Jours (recommended, both for its genuine beach shack atmosphere and for its slightly alternative twice weekly concerts) for a beer, and we were just enjoying the bizarre sense of feeling as though we were on a Greek island when suddenly two big yellow planes flew right over us. "They're Canadairs!" I yelled, as I leapt up to see what was what. A Canadair is a water bomber, or fire fighting plane; they fight inaccessible forest fires by scooping up water from the sea or a lake, and dropping it over burning forest. I first encountered them many years ago in Corsica, and although I've watched them several times since both on the French coast and in Greece I've somehow never lost the thrill of seeing them in action. Half the customers of the guinguette followed me over to the beach to wait for them to come back; we weren't disappointed, and cameras clicked wildly, mine included:

So skillful, the way they scoop up the water
I could almost touch this one
Altogether the Canadairs came back 5 times. After the first time, the local pompiers arrived, blue lights flashing, with several landrovers and a boat, presumably in case someone was unfortunate enough to get in the way of the planes. A siren now announced the Canadairs' arrival and drew an increasing number of spectators from the villages around, and the whole place began to feel like a big party. And then suddenly, it struck me. The odd looking 'cloud' that I'd seen nearly 4 hours earlier had been smoke; great chimneys of it were now rising from the exact same spot.

Later, I discovered that the fire had been a reprise of an earlier fire at L'Hospitalet: the one that Margaret wrote about in her blog just a few days ago. Scarier than that, I learned that the new outbreak had been discovered at around 4pm. I'd seen the smoke - although I hadn't realised that was what it was - two hours before that. I shuddered.

I did a lot more than shudder the next day, though you'll have to wait until the next post to find out why. In the meantime, enjoy a couple more of the Cathare châteaux we took in on the trip:

This is Usson, in Donezan, one of my new favourite places
Montaillou, made famous by the author Le Roy Ladurie


Margaret Lawrenson said...

Back in 2003 we saw the Canadairs for the first time on Montbel. It really is quite a sight, isn't it? Sadly, rain notwithstanding, those fires at L'Hospitalet seem very deep-rooted (literally. The ground is scorched to quite a depth apparently). Then yesterday, my son, who's holidaying near Amalfi in Italy, posted similar shots. Fires are rife round there too. It seems as if half Europe is tinder-dry and ready for burning. The other half - UK included - is irredeemably soggy. Which is not great for anybody.

Kalba Meadows said...

It IS quite a sight - somehow much more intimate than seeing them over the sea. I'm devastated to hear about the fires near Amalfi though - the hills around Ravello are among my favourite places. I also know 2 people in southern Spain who've been badly affected, with fires coming right up to their properties. I don't remember another year quite like this one ...

Sharon said...

It seems that these fires are affecting everyone doesn't it? My uncle spends most of his time in Tavira,Portugal where they recently had fires right up to the town but the poor man also has an apartment in Marbella. Thankfully he was unaffected but has had a nerve wracking summer.

It looks like you had a well deserved break Kalba, it shows that you don't have to stray far from home for a holiday. I'm intrigued by sweet chilli jam made with plums,I have a recipe using cherry tomatoes. Care to share,as my neighbour keeps bringing me carrier bags full?

Kalba Meadows said...

Yep, will happily post recipe .... but next week, when new laptop arrives! My current one is tottering along on its last legs after a major crash/reinstall last week and I just can't sensibly blog properly from an Android tablet!

Fires are indeed all over - I know someone in Tavira too who's had a nerve wracking time of it, and someone else in Andalucia whose garden has been burnt (though fortunately the house is safe). Feels like chaotic and extreme weather conditions may be the shape of things to come?