Forests, Flowers, Farms… and the Baying of Hounds ~ Walking The French Pyrenees (Days 8 & 9)

Even though the ground passes slowly when you are walking, it is amazing how much that ground can change in the course of a day – or from one day to the next – on the Cathar Trail in the French Pyrenees, where tiny villages are connected by quiet country roads and ancient walking tracks. We traversed smooth highways, crumbling country roads and dusty dirt tracks; we clambered over rocks and shale on the ancient mountain passes; we squelched though mud and waded through water beside creeks over-run with spring melts and rains; and we crunched through last season’s oak leaves, laying thick on the paths where they had recently fallen, pushed off their trees by the sprouting spring re-growth.

Every mile was long – but every mile was different.

On day eight of our trek through the Pyrenees, we said farewell to our marionette-making hosts in the charming town of Puivert and set off with bellies full of fresh croissants across town, around the lake and past bucolic pastures, before disappearing into the kind of dark, old-growth forest where you might meet deer, wolves, bears, or even Red-Riding-Hood.

Trip Notes: Day 8: Puivert to Belcaire

The route goes through a thick fir forest and along through the heart of the Escale and Picaussel forests and onto the vast airy plateau of Sault using ancient paths to access the high valley of Aude and the Corbieres region. 


21 kms/13 miles. 6hrs. Altitude gain/descent: +583m -25m

Tall spring-green poplar trees along a straight path and reflected in the lake waters, Puivert, France

Time for Spring Reflections: The Lake, Puivert, France

Three cows in the foreground, Puivert Castle on a hill in the background

Shaggy cattle still wear their winter coats as we leave Puivert Castle in the distance.

Close-up: fresh apple blossom

Promising a good summer: apple blossoms everywhere.

Composite: Dark forest of tall pine; pine cones; bottles stuck in a tree trunk

The forests of Lescale and Picaussel were dark - with wonderful old trees and some strange sights.

Wild violets

Wild violets love the dark, moist forest floor.

Man in a hat walking on a dirt path which divides coniferous and deciduous forest

Out of one forest and into the next...

Fields of dandelion with Pyrenees mountains in the background

Perhaps it is fitting that the name: "dandelion" is from the French, dent-de-lion, or "lion's tooth", because the fields were full of them!

Close-up: clump of dandelions

Today they are called pissenlit (pee the bed) by the French: for the plant's diuretic properties, rather than it's colour.

Two hounds on their hind legs in a dog run.

Hunting in rural France shows no sign of decline. The most popular form is on foot, with dogs. These hunting hounds made a huge racket baying and barking as we tried to pass their run near Espezel.

Old man in a red jumper and overalls on his blue tractor.

Late afternoon, and an old farmer brings the tractor in from the fields. Roquefeuil.

Large, flesh-coloured crucifix against the background of a forested hill.

Every town has a crucifix; this one, the colour of old bandaids, was as depressingly disturbing as the run-down old town it was part of. Roquefeuil, France

Our over-night stop in Belcaire (population of 411 in 2007) was in a hotel in the centre of town. I have vivid memories of steaming my aching limbs in the enormous claw-foot bathtub, then heading to the homey pub downstairs, where we caught up on our computer time and chatted with the “locals” from England and Wales, before a dinner culminating in cantaloup sorbet and lemon tart.

Breakfast the next morning was under the baleful eye of the resident stuffed wild boar, before we headed off again.

Stuffed wild boar head on a yellow wall

I think the stuffed wild boar in the corner envies our breakfast.

Trip Notes:
 Day 9: Belcaire to Montsegur

We notice the difference between the Pays de Sault plateau and the county of Ariege as we walk along a pathway situated between high rock mountains that slip down through the impressive Gorge of the Frau before arriving in the village of Montsegur.

18 kms/11,25. 5hrs30. Altitude gain/descent: +660m -772m 

Four windows on the side of a house with their shutters open.

Windows, Belcaire

Rusted farm machinery in a green field

"Still Life : in Rust"

Large round hay bales outdoors

Round Bales ~ Early Grass

Yellow fungus on tree bark

Textures: Small Yellow Fungus on a Fallen Tree

Birds on overhead wires against a blue sky

"Like a bird on a wire..."

Village at the end of a small road

The next village comes into view...

Two walkers hike into a gorge

Into the Gorge de Frau ~ the Gorge of Fear. We weren't afraid, as I had thought the "Frau" was for a German lady.

Red sign on a tree trunk in front of a tangle of branches

While much of France's hunting is free-range, some areas are marked off as private hunting preserves.

This brought to my mind a Jacques Prévert poem from my French class days ... about two snails in black who went to the funeral of an autumn leaf. The Gorge was home to the largest slugs I have ever seen.

Looking up through green leaves at a chalk mountain top

The bottom of the gorge winds between soaring cliffs.

Yellow flowers

Domesticated flowers run wild along the next river bank.

Waters over mossy rocks

Our last creek for the day...

The stark peak of Montségur behind flowering trees

Montségur finally comes into view behind flowering trees in groomed fields.

Text: To your Health

We stumbled into Montségur, ready for a two night stay, and looking forward to our evening’s muscat, wine, food and conversation.

Cheers! To your health!



  • Signe Westerberg - September 8, 2011 - 11:03 pm

    I envy your ability to walk so far… its beautiful as always… love the simple beauty of it all.ReplyCancel

  • Patrick Gallagher - April 17, 2013 - 9:30 am

    Another lovely set of photos with explanations, Ursula. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Guava - April 17, 2013 - 10:36 am

    Great set of pics Ursula. Looks like a very interesting trek (did you meet Little Red Riding Hood?)ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - April 17, 2013 - 12:50 pm

      Hey, Guava and Patrick!
      It’s always a treat to have you along for the walk ~ thanks for joining me! And, no – I didn’t meet Little Red, or her wolf friend… although the rumour is the wolf still lives there… 😉ReplyCancel

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