We were in the car, in Australia, driving to an appointment last month, when my husband remarked: “You know, it took us two weeks to walk this same distance!”
It’s true – we routinely cover great distances driving without giving it much thought. When I’m walking, on the other hand, I’m acutely aware of the landscape that I am part of. On our walk along the Cathar Trails in the Pyrenees, one of the things we both commented on was how different our walks were each day: the nature of the forests, streams, and even farms and villages, were quite distinctive. Even the smells of the woods and fields and the sounds of the birds changed from one locale to the next.
Trip Notes Day 5: Sougraigne to Granes
We pass the village of Rennes les Bains and on to Rennes le Château with its small castle dominating the surrounding hills. We spend the night at in a chambre d’hôtes in Granes.
Points of interest: Rennes-le-Château
19kms. 5hrs30. Altitude gain/descent: +445m -450m
While it is true that every French village has a church, and every church has a bell, even these were distinctive in their own ways. Every village also has its own crucifix, or several, but no two were exactly alike.
One of the biggest differences, as we set off from Sougraine to Granes on our fourth day walking, was that we were finally out of the wind and the sun was warming the earth. We heard cuckoos for the first time: further proof, if any was needed, that we were in Europe – and that spring had arrived.
Our day started along the Sals River in « Le domaine de l’Eau Salée » (“The Salty Domain”). The waterways here work their way through the limestone mountains, picking up salt and minerals before bubbling up at the source of the Sals River, near Sougraigne. At times, the Sals has 60 grams per litre of salt – twice that of the Mediterranean. Historically, this high salt content lead to the establishment of baths (including at Rennes les Bains, where Mary Magdalene purportedly baptised people) and ‘salins’; lagoons for the evaporation of valuable salt.
It is also an area where people live off the track and off the grid: in railway cars, self-built dwellings, and old caravans.
We left the Sals River and forded the River Blanque to visit the Madeleine Spring. According to our notes, there are two springs “surging out of the rock”: one rich in iron, the other sulphurous. I have to wonder how old the notes are; there is no longer much sign of either spring. Our noses found the sulphurous trickle, while the iron was a mere sludge patch across the rock. I’m told it is good luck to bath your feet here – there was enough moisture to make the whole area dangerously slippery, but certainly not enough for a foot bath!
From the river valley, we climbed up through vegetation that changed again: new forests on the sunny-side of the hill, old farming terraces in the shade and “La Roche Temblant” (The Trembling Rock) towards the top. We came out on a logging road which was bordered by shrubbery, plane trees, chestnuts and pines, and which culminated in modern farming operations.
As a reward for our hard work, we stopped for a real coffee when we reached Rennes Le Château, perched atop its hill. Rennes Le Château hides its own mysteries: one of the most prominent stories is of buried treasures – originally belonging to the Visigoths, the Cathars, and/or the Templars. Other stories concern the Arc of the Covenant, and near by tombs of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea and Mary Magdalene. And so on… I settled for the treasures that the local glass-maker creates.
As always seems to be the case, the last few miles were the longest and slowest, but we stumbled into our lodgings at a reasonable hour, with tired legs and whetted appetites – ready for a hot shower, our evening glass of muscat, and a good meal.
Cheers ~ à votre santé ~ ‘till next time.