After our morning adventure in the castle we were ready to set out again. The fog was returning, our clothes were damp and the inside of the Zil was condensing the wet air on the metal fixtures creating trickles of water down the interior paneling. Getting a move on is the best way to warm up.
Anika was suitably tired after her walk and soon was dozing in and out of sleep to the rocking motion of the truck. Miki was curled up in the passenger side foot bay, patiently looking forward to the next stop. Every now and again she would push her head up to the window and draw in a breath of air, as if to inspect the quality, to judge whether we were heading into more forest or a city. Mara and I kept looking out of the windows at the fabulous scenery, imagining that we could buy a ruin on a piece of land in this dream valley.
The route we drove along is the D14. It runs along a valley east to west with the Peyrepertuse ridge on the south side and another lower ridge to the north. The Peyrepertuse castle sits like a book end on the eastern edge of the ridge. Both ridges have several gorges cutting through them that channel rivers between the parallel valleys. The Peyrepertuse ridge has the beautiful Galamus gorge and on the other side, the opposite ridge, is the Verdouble gorge. The valley is itself protected on its western mouth by a further gorge that opens out on the western side to Bugarach. The valley floor is covered in green pasture and for the first time since arriving in France we have seen cows! There are also plenty of sheep. The small villages here, Soulatge, Cubieres-sur-Cinoble and Camps-sur-L’Agly are primarily agricultural and then secondly tourist. We past many small farms that are organic, some of which are still being renovated (which when done with little money can take several years) so that in their yards are several motorhomes, converted buses and box vans, their flues piping thin trails of wood smoke. These people could be our friends. Higher up, the valley becomes thickly wooded with oak. And just before reaching the rocky hill tops there are small copses of fir. Some farms had signs advertising their own produce, selling bread and cheese, vegetables and fruit, or offering space for campers. The vans in the yards looked like the sort that we saw carrying produce to Esperaza market, painted by hand with spirals and dragons, pixies and mushrooms.
We past one abandoned farmhouse as we past through the western gorge into the valley of Bugarach village, beneath the shadow of Bugarach mountain, wistfully imagining it could be our homestead project.
Although I had wanted to climb Bugarach peak, it would be a two hour hike and it was raining. The peak, indeed the entire mountain had disappeared behind a thick fog. There is a parking area and footpath up to the peak about a kilometer before reaching Bugarach village on the D14. Bugarach mountain is a strange place that has attracted attention, rumor and stories for centuries. The first records of strange phenomena are from the 1500’s which talk of faeries on the mountain top. Since then the stories have shifted to beasts living inside the hill, perhaps a lost treasure, the grail, the ark of the covenant, a French secret service base, an Israeli military base, a UFO ‘multi-story car park’ etc. Bugarach, when its not hidden behind the fog, can not help but be noticed. It looks like Ayers rock in Australia, rising profoundly upwards to 1230meters. It is a geological puzzle as the top half of stone is many millions of years older than the bottom half. Various theories exist as to how this is possible, the most widely accepted being that when it was a volcano it exploded, flipping its ancient peak onto younger rock. There are also magnetic anomalies possibly caused by thick veins of metal that may or may not run through the stone. Some say that this is the cause of the strange night-lights that the lucky few get to witness. Others believe these lights are the head-beams of UFO’s. Inside the mountain, yes it is hollow, there is a labyrinth of caves and an underground river, most of which have not yet been officially mapped out. There are a few known entrances but it is rumored that there are more secretive ways to enter the mountain heart. It is also rumored that the underground river is purposefully channeled and at one point there is evidence of a wharf chiseled into the rock. The mountain’s sides are thickly forested with oak before reaching the steep rock. There are a few gentler paths to gain access to the top which are marked on a map in the car park. I am told that after raves in the area party people are partial to making the journey to the top for some ‘chill-out’ energy. I imagine the walk, and strong winds that rip across its top have enough of a chill-out effect.
We past the mysterious mountain without seeing any interference with our vehicle electrical systems. We also passed through Bugarach village without stopping. If not for the ‘end of the world’ hype, one would pass this village without a blink. It is no different to any other little farm village in the valley. I thought it better not to stop as the villagers could do with a break from crazy nuts rocking up hoping to catch a ride on a UFO come the 12th of December. Not that we share such aspirations but travelling in a Zil131 suggests some wackiness.
Next stop is Renne-les-Bain where had it not still been raining we were hoping to go for a swim in a hot spring.