Tuesday 23 August 2011

The Languedoc, August 2011

I have been visiting the Languedoc Rousillion since I was a child, when my mother bought a steep terraced vineyard near Lodève, with two shepherds' stone huts and a deep banked stream in the sous-bois. We used to camp in the stone huts, after the fire brigade had smoked out the hornets' nests. There are no vines left now but those childhood summers have drawn me back again and again to this wild land with its limestone moors and gorges.

This August, B and I rented a house up the remotest hill of the Orb Valley for one week. The evening we arrived the snowy tree crickets' chirrs filled the house from every window, a sound much like moonlight if it had a voice, more otherworldly than the daytime cicadas, another sound I love. Ours was the last house of the hamlet of Le Lau and the surrounding woods are wild boar hunting grounds. One morning I heard the dogs and hunters capturing a boar; its shrieks gave me a migraine. At night I heard genets, which sound like a cross betweeen a
cat and a fox. I saw one darting across the car park when we visited the Gorge de l'Hèric, spotted and with a long bushy tail. On our last night, we heard a boar snuffling and grunting just a few feet away from us as we sat on the unfenced terrace. It was enthralling to be so close but after standing closer to peer at him (he could have charged!) we decided to retreat to safety.

To get to the Gorge du Tarn, Gorge de la Jonte (and its vultures) and the Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux, B had to drive up the Pas de l'Escalette. This is a spectacular pass from the Languedocien plain to the Causses (limestone moors) of the most southerly Massif Central range. The A75 autoroute recently replaced the old A9 road, which we both remember, and that, in its time, replaced an iron ladder for passengers to disembark from their carriages, climb up the cliff, then continue in another carriage. Now, there is a series of tunnels that cuts through then winds round the Steps of the Ladder.  It's only this time that I realised just how much this landscape paved the way for my obsession with Venezuela's Lost World, with its cliff-bordered sky-islands. The causses and gorges were the prototype, so that when I journeyed to the Lost World I recognised it as home, though it plainly wasn't, and is actually hostile in its remoteness and grandeur.
View from the lane above Le Lau across the Orb Valley, early morning

View from Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux

Village of Trèves on the road to Gorge du Tarn

Gorge du Tarn

The medieval and higgledy hamlet of Le Lau from the kitchen door

The sudden storm from the living-room window, thunder echoed around the hills and the wind was wild!

The house from the lane to Le Lau

Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux on the Causse Noir

Chaos of Montpellier le Vieux is just like the tops of Venezuela's plateaus, with eroded rock shapes, though these are limestone and those are quartzite sandstone.

A typical panorama

Vineyards in the Orb Valley, on our way to the Forest of War Veteran Writers

Pas de l'Escalette

Pas de l'Escalette tunnels, no photo does this pass justice. It emerges onto the Larzac Causse, which leads to the Millau viaduct which is 750 metres high and leads to the upper gorges of the Tarn and Jonte.