It was more like a forced march, actually. The SF did military service in the Swedish army and can still do a 20 km yomp bearing a 14 kilo pack with the best of them. Last Sunday morning, the sun shone but the wind was bitter, so a gentle stroll was not an option.
We were determined have some exercise and there are lovely walks around here. But, even though we are geographically in the south of France, the winters can be miserable and it’s not easy to get out unless you force yourself to do it. So we took advantage of the dry weather and did one of our favourite walks.
We started from the hamlet of Félines. No doubt it was once a more important village before the rural exodus began. I am unable to find out much about its history, except that there are several villages with that name in France. It certainly shows up on the 18th-century Cassini Map.
Now, there’s a scattering of houses, many of them holiday homes, and a church that’s larger than you might think the village warrants. I love the faded lilac colour of the church door. From the esplanade in front of the church, there’s a fantastic view down the valley of the Seye towards Verfeil and beyond.
We headed south with a west wind battering our ears, before dropping steeply down through the woods. At the top of the wooded slope, we saw this carefully-constructed drainage channel, designed to drain rainwater from the field above. No doubt it’s been there for several centuries. And we could see that it had recently been in service.
At the bottom of the hill you arrive at the Ruisseau de Laval. This insignificant-looking stream has gouged out the steep-sided valley through which it flows before it joins the River Bonnette at Caylus.
During the summer drought the stream is as dry as a bone; after heavy rain, it flows fast. So we were glad that the Communauté des Communes, which maintains the footpath, has recently constructed this wooden bridge across it. Previously, you had to negotiate slippery stepping stones across the gué (ford) and then scramble up the slope on the other side.
No French farm is complete without its collection of rusting vehicles abandoned in woods or at the field edge. This one is pretty far gone but must date from the 1940s or 1950s. We wondered how they got it there: it’s not exactly an accessible spot for vehicles.
Our route took us up hill and down dale, through incredibly muddy farmland and woodland and various small hamlets and past a sanglier (wild boar) farm. Everywhere, we saw traces of the thriving agricultural community this area once was, like this ruined windmill, sited in exactly the right spot to catch the prevailing westerly wind. Large heaps of stones in the woods testify to the former existence of dwellings and barns.
The route is also peppered with wayside crosses. This one is a rather fine example, although the shot isn’t good since the sun was behind it. It’s not exactly a Templar cross, nor an Occitan cross, but there are stylised bosses at the ends of the arms.
We toiled up the hill again to Félines, having had to take a major detour to avoid an appallingly muddy section where they had been felling trees and heavy vehicles have churned up the path.
Tired but by now glowing, we reflected yet again on how lucky we are to live in an area of outstanding natural beauty and with so much evidence of its former history.
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