Blue Monday but Blue Skies

Today is traditionally Blue Monday, Lundi Bleu – yes, it is in France, too. This is held to be the most depressing day of the year, when Christmas is a distant memory, the weather is usually rotten, and people have already reneged on their New Year resolutions. But a sky like this lifts the morale. It really was that blue. Okay, it was yesterday, but today is following suit. To celebrate the transformation in the weather, we decided to stretch our legs on a new walk.

Crisp weather for a walk

It does the spirit good to get away from the incessant rain and mud. The weather is now chilly with crisp, frosty mornings followed by improbably blue skies and sunshine. Despite the minus 6C we recorded this morning, the sun already has some warmth in it. This is how the winter should be. The evenings are noticeably drawing out, too.

We have discovered really nice walks around Limogne-en-Quercy, a small market town on the causse. It hosts a good Sunday market all year round and a tiny truffle market in the winter.

Yesterday’s walk was short, around 5-6 km, but it made a great post-prandial promenade, starting in the town, where I managed to park in the only patch of shade in the gigantic empty car park. In summer, that would be the most coveted space, not so much in winter.

A growing pest

First up, on the outskirts of Limogne, the lavoir or washing place, where the women came to rinse the clothing they had washed at home. The stone papillons (lit. butterflies) are a common sight in lavoirs on the causse. In front is a large pond, le lac du mas de Bassoul, its waters swelled by the recent rains.

As we looked at the lavoir, we became aware of a creature sunning itself outside the little house in the middle of the pond. I couldn’t get a good close-up with the mobile (note to self: buy a new camera battery), but I’m pretty sure this was a coypu (ragondin in French). I’m also sure that the coypu had taken possession of the little house and evicted the rightful tenants, the ducks. It seemed unconcerned by our presence.

Although it looked like a nice, cuddly animal, coypu are in fact a pest around here. Introduced to Europe around 200 years ago, they are manageable in small numbers, but their population has exploded in places. They cause considerable damage to crops and river banks, and they can displace the indigenous wildlife. They also have fearsome incisors, so you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of one. I hope the ducks managed to find somewhere safe to roost before the pond froze again.

Dispossessed ducks

Seeing stars

We turned off the road up to the hamlet of Sol de Fraysse. Here, we found another lavoir with a single papillon, the pond frozen over completely this time. A boy wished us a polite “Bonjour” and then proceeded to lob rocks onto the ice to try to break it. I daresay I would have done the same at his age. I still stamp on icy puddles.

Frozen lavoir pond

At the top of the hill, we found what we first thought was an orientation table, since there’s a terrific 360-degree view. In fact, this is an astronomical observation site. The board comprised a moveable disk that you can align according to the time of night and the month to identify the constellations. Apologies for our reflections. In full sun, I couldn’t get a better shot.

Limogne is in the Parc naturel régional Causses du Quercy, one of the least light-polluted areas in France. On a clear night, the view of the heavens is unimpeded by human light sources. Limogne, in company with other local villages, is designated a “village étoilé” (lit. starry village) for its efforts to reduce light pollution.

Signs of past times

Passing yet another lavoir, in which grew frozen bullrushes, we continued along ancient paths bordered by dry stone walls. Heaps of stone or crumbling house walls testified to the higher population and greater agricultural activity here at one time. Few flowers bloom at this time of year, but we saw plenty of feathery Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba). I’ve never looked closely at it before, but the seeds are rather like star anise. 

The fine weather had brought out other walkers, and we greeted each other cheerily, from a distance, of course. Fortunately, there were no hunters in the area. We encountered them on our drive home instead. Patches of hoar frost persisted where the sun had not penetrated. I was glad of my woolly hat, but I had left my gloves in the car. The SF did gallantly offer me his, but my hands had warmed up by that time.

The final sight was a former windmill minus its sails. As usual, it was constructed at one of the higher points in the neighbourhood to catch the prevailing westerly. We were pleased to see that this one looks quite well maintained.

What I love about these walks is that they take you through hamlets and parts of the countryside that you would never otherwise see. Around Limogne, you come across particularly fine and well-restored houses. At every turn, you find evidence of the way people lived in times past. On the causse, in particular, finding water was a perennial concern, hence the proliferation of lavoirs, cisterns and wells.

Cross in the hamlet of Sol de Fraysse

You’ll find this and other walks around Limogne listed here. Scroll down to this one, which is le circuit des Soulières. You can also download a PDF file, which contains the description of the walk and a helpful map.

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2022. All rights reserved.

8 comments

    • As a history nut, I’m always interested in finding out more about the places I visit or walk in, and the people who lived there. It certainly adds an extra dimension.

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  1. Vanessa,
    Another lovely post and how I envy you if you are experiencing some proper winter weather.In the UK where I live the sun has been largely obscured with heavy cloud and mist and conditions are damp and miserable.I was also extremely interested in reading your post including the unexpected appearance welcome or otherwise of the Coypu.When I was growing up in East Anglia,these beasts were often seen when out fishing in the Fens in the 1970’s and 1980’s.There was a huge campaign to eradicate them and unfortunately for the Coypu,it was successful,carrot baited traps being their downfall.Expect your resident Coypu might be at risk from your local hunters or is bagging a specimen when sunbathing in the Lavoir considered unsporting!
    Best wishes to you.
    Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

    • Last year was generally so miserable weather-wise, that we are delighted to see the sun, even if the thermometer is well below zero overnight. Coypu have become a real problem here. Some friends have a riverside house, and the local coypu carry out regular raids on their lily pond and other things in their beautiful garden. Bands of them also devastate local maize fields. The regulations about hunting persistent nuisances are complex and vary among départements, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the hunters had the odd pot shot at the coypu. I believe trapping is allowed all year round. Hope you and yours are well.

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  2. Another interesting walk highlighted by you and thank you for the link. I love walks that take you past vestiges of the past. And an astronomical observation post. I’ve never heard of those before although I know the causse is famous for its dark triangle. A walk for the warmer weather, plus picnic. Sadly short walks are all we can manage lately but so lucky that we have glorious countryside for them. We took advantage of the sun today and pruned back our rampant fig tree!

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    • It was an ideal walk for blowing away the cobwebs. Most of it is along tracks, but there is one 200m stretch on a busy road. I hadn’t seen an astronomical observation site before, and I do wonder how much use it gets. Since we did the walk in broad daylight, of course we didn’t see anything, although we played around with the dial. The night skies are perfect right now, but it’s freezing cold! Perhaps they arrange summer star viewing randonnées. We should be raking the last of the leaves, but both flesh and spirit are weak!

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