October was one of the best we have ever had here, making a welcome counterpoint to the desperately awful September. Chilly starts were followed by warm sunshine and cobalt blue skies, which offset the turning leaves. The meagre rainfall meant it was dry underfoot, and so this happy combination of circumstances encouraged us to don our walking boots. Our recent walks have taken us into the Lot, where walking trails abound.
On a radiant Sunday a fortnight ago, we decided on a walk around the village of Bach on the Causse de Limogne, about which I have written before. The walk had the advantage of being almost completely flat, although we aren’t averse to steep slopes.
A very long history
It started at a local attraction, les Phosphatières du Cloup d’Aural. This is the site of a former phosphate mine, which once riddled the area, until cheaper sources of fertiliser came to light. The former mineshafts form a unique ecosystem and are rich in fossils.
This area boasts a valuable geological legacy, since a tropical sea covered it 170 million years ago, laying down the limestone bedrock. Information panels lining the route are a feature of the walk.
They start with the Earth’s creation four billion years ago and end with the emergence of homo sapiens at the conclusion of the walk. For every two metres, you move forward 1 million years, apparently, and as evolution speeds up, the panels are set at closer intervals. By the time we got to the end, we were stopping every few metres to read them.
The radiant weather had also brought out the hunters. Wherever we went, they came too, until we finally shook them off almost halfway round. Given recent incidents with accidental shootings, we kept up a stilted conversation in loud voices. I have no desire to be mistaken for a wild boar. And I consider I have an equal right to the peaceful enjoyment of the countryside without being at risk.
Importance of water
First stop was le lavoir d’Escabasse. This washing place was created in the 18th century, and the accompanying pond, le Lac de Saint-Namphaise, was excavated from solid rock.
The covered lavoir with its papillon (butterfly) washing stones is a typical example on the causse. Unfortunately, the Mairie has had to affix a notice dissuading people from throwing stones into the pond.
Following the path down a slope, we came to two wells, also excavated in the bedrock. The first, which is an uneven six-sided structure, is known as ‘le puits des Romains’, although the Romans had nothing to do with its construction. A Roman road from Cahors to Rodez passed close by, and tradition erroneously has it that a structure near a Roman road must be Roman.
This one is more of a cistern than a well, with a depth of 15 metres, of which the water constitutes 8 metres. Since this was probably the lowest part of the commune, there may have been some system to channel the run-off from the slope into the well.
Here again, the Mairie has been obliged to erect a sign exhorting people not to throw stones into it, for fear of damaging the security netting. Several large rocks were balanced on the mesh, which just goes to show how foolish some people can be.
A second, round well sits about 50 metres away. Since the causse is notoriously dry and lacking in streams, they would have been an essential utility.
From there, we entered woodland and walked along a broad track between rough stone walls. Here, I made a discovery. I knew that certain trees with coppery foliage in autumn were a kind of maple, but I wanted the precise name.
Out came my newly downloaded app, PlantNet. You take a shot of the plant in question, link it to the app, and it shows you similar images with the details. Thus I learned that the tree is an Erable de Montpellier, a Montpellier maple. Brilliant. There’s a similar app called BirdNET, which identifies birds from their song. [Thanks to friend R for the latter.]
Bach: loaves and truffles
We forged on to the village of Bach, home to a rather good restaurant serving traditional dishes.
Bach is a stop on one of the pilgrimage routes of Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. Not only was there a handily situated picnic table for our lunch but, joy of joys, a proper loo and running water.
A little further on, we came upon two loaves of bread balanced on this gate. It’s nice that you can still trust people not to pinch your bread delivery in these rural areas.
The remainder of the walk passed through farmland on tracks bordered by the occasional house. We were struck by how remote some of them seemed. Wells and former fountains were dotted about, testifying to the importance of capturing water in this arid land.
We also saw what we concluded were newly planted truffières (truffle oak plantations). Bach is situated between Lalbenque, which has the biggest truffle market in the region, and Limogne, which has the smallest. Truffles are becoming rarer as land use and the climate change, and they have always defied attempts to cultivate them on a large commercial scale. Even so, given the prices they can fetch, it is clearly worth investing in the oak plantations.
This walk is about 9 km altogether. You can find the details on the Cahors/Vallée du Lot website. Scroll down to ‘Randonnées dans le Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy’ and then look for Bach – Les Phosphatières du Cloup d’Aural. The link takes you to a pdf file in French, but it’s pretty easy to follow.
Next Sunday, look out for another interview with a lady who came a very long way to live and work in our part of France for a spell.
Stay well. Covid numbers are going up here again, unfortunately.
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