Cirque des Baumes.

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Whilst we were camping in the Tarn Gorge, I’d mooted the idea of a walk from the rim of the gorge back down to the campsite, hopefully, by walking downhill, mitigating the worst effects of the heat; but when most of our party completed a walk, TBH and I had driven B to the hospital in the town of Millau instead, to get a painful ear checked out. (He’s okay now, although the problems continued for quite some time after our holiday ended.) That trip was not without it’s own interest – when we drove out of the town, onto the hillside above, we saw a great host of circling Red Kites – but I was extremely disappointed to have missed out on the walk, and so was very pleased when TBH and J agreed to an early morning foray, in J’s case for a second time.

We parked at Point Sublime, with fine views into a misty gorge.

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There were plenty of distractions on hand too, with both butterflies and Wall Lizards about to keep me and my camera occupied.

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Wall Brown.

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I think that this is a Silver-washed Fritillary, you can perhaps see why its called that in the photo below.

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Five-spot Burnet Moth.

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We passed no end of these silken tents, apparently constructed by the caterpillars of the Pine Processionary Moth.

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Another Blue-winged Grasshopper. I think.

The path was steep and narrow, but well worth the effort as it descended past a series of huge rock towers and cliffs.

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J, you will notice, is wearing a shocking pink hat. She has pink Crocs too. Her children are appalled by both, which is, of course, entirely the point. She is making up for the sobriety of her youth. I’m sure she completely sympathises with Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ which begins…

“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.”

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Wall Lizard.

I thought I saw a bird of prey alight on top of a distant tower and the amazing zoom on my camera helped to confirm that fact.

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It was exhilarating to watch the raptor soaring above the hillside, in and out between the karst features, eventually landing not too far above us…

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I have quite a few photos of the bird in flight, none, sadly, very sharp, but I think they show enough detail to suggest that it was a Rough-legged Buzzard, not something that I’ve seen before.

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Wall Lizard.

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Karst scenery.

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This was a terrific walk for butterfly spotting and on this steep hillside section there were a great deal of quite dark butterflies flitting through the trees. They were hard to catch in repose and generally, I think, belonged to species not found in Britain. Frankly, I’m not sure what this is; continental Europe seems to have numerous types of Grayling – I wonder whether this is one of those?

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It was J’s turn to pick out a large bird on a distant rock tower – this time on the one seen ahead in the photo above.

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A Griffon Vulture; soon joined by a companion….

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They didn’t seem to be very busy and I continued to take occasional photos as we descended past the tower.

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A Dusky Heath?

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Another Grayling of some description?

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Looking back up into the Cirque des Baumes.

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Striped Shield Bug – less prevalent , it seemed, than in the Dordogne, but still around.

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The Dryad? Love the eye-spot.

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This small butterfly led me a merry dance and I only managed to photograph it from some considerable distance. Could it be a Glanville Fritillary?

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Having reached the bottom of the valley, we climbed a little way back up to a point under the cliffs…

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Wall Lizard.

Where there was a tiny chapel…

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La Chapelle Saint-Hillaire.

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Sadly, the chapel was locked, but I managed to get an image of the interior through a small hole in the door…

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One final look back up into Cirque des Baumes.

We were down in the valley now and walking along the road, which for me was saved by the butterflies and flowers along the roadside. We passed a garden where a Buddleia was festooned with butterflies and moths, particularly fritillaries which I took to be more Silver-washed.

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Clouded Yellow.

When we were almost back at the campsite we paused by the ‘Mushroom Rock’ to take in the view and wave to friends and family below, then J and TBH rushed ahead to get out of the full glare of the sun and to get a cool drink, but I was distracted again by more butterflies and moths…

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This is a new species to me, a Jersey Tiger Moth, there had been several on the Buddleia earlier, but they were a bit too far away to be photographed very successfully. Unfortunately, you can’t see the stunning red underwings in this photo.

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When I took this shot of another Five-spot Burnet Moth I didn’t even see the two rather striking shield bugs nearby. I wish I had; the purple one in particular looks like it was stunningly patterned.

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Small Skipper.

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Perhaps not surprisingly, this striking insect is not in my ‘Complete Mediterranean Wildlife’. It will have remain a mystery.

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The underside of a Jersey Tiger Moth.

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Small Skipper and Silver-washed Fritillary.

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Jersey Tiger Moth.

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When we’d been kayaking on the Tarn and had pulled our boats onto a shingle beach to jump into the river and swim, a Scarce Swallowtail landed on the end of one of the kayaks. I managed to get very close to it with my phone, but none of my photos came out well. I was really pleased, then, to get another chance for some photos.

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Large Skipper.

Only a mornings stroll, but the views and the wildlife will stick with me for a long time I suspect.

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Cirque des Baumes.

Chateau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

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With the chateau dominating the view from the campsite, it was almost inevitable that we would want to look around it during our stay, especially since many of the party are big fans of castles. Also, we had to settle an argument between TJS and his Dad about whether or not they had ever toured the chateau before. (They had. TJS had already been backtracking on his original vehement denials of that fact.)

We walked from the campsite and then up the hill, avoiding the route signposted as steep and unsuitable for pushchairs – not that we had any pushchairs, but it was extremely hot and so we wanted to take the easiest possible route.

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The castle was superb, with the added bonus of fantastic views of the Dordogne valley.

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And also of the Céou valley where we were camped…

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Much as we enjoyed our outing, we sought every opportunity to find some shade and take a rest. C, as you can tell, was very absorbed in her book….

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Inside. I told TJS I would take a photograph of him and the armoured rider. He obliged by looking away from the camera…

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…several times!

The castle had winding staircases, battlements, and quite a display of armour and armaments…

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I loved this sort of thing when I was a kid, and, well, in honesty, I still do.

TBH, J and I watched a sort of animated tableau telling the story of the siege of Castelnaud. We watched three times in fact, the first two with a commentary in french. It was clear that ‘les Anglaise’ were the villains of the piece and I assumed that they were the besiegers, but in fact, the third repeat and it’s english translation of the tale revealed that the castle at that time, 1442, was held by forces loyal to England. The castle was substantially rebuilt in 1214 by Simon de Montfort, who I associate with Leicester where I grew up, but, whilst he was Earl of Leicester, he also held lands in France and seems to have lived in France (it was his son, the VIth Simon de Montfort who had a greater role in English history).

We also watched a film about siege engines and there were a number of trebuchet on display on the ramparts.

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The chateau along the Dordogne here…

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…is Beynac, which will have to wait for or next visit before we look around it…

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It certainly looks promising.

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Dordogne panorama.

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I always like to find images of St. George. This carved example would have originally held a lance in those upraised arms, but now that his spear has gone missing it looks like George has thrown his hands up in surrender, or that he’s trying to lead the dragon in some sort of dance – YMCA perhaps?

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B was happy. C still wrapped up in her reading!

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J and TBH, in the stocks?

When we’ finished our tour of the castle we still had a wander back down through the village of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle to enjoy.

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We popped into the church…

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Well, most of us did…

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C was more intent on finishing her obviously very gripping book.

And, as ever, I was interested in the stained-glass windows. This…

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…is St. Denis, patron saint of France, apparently. How did I not know that until now? A third century martyr and Bishop of Paris. So he was actually French, unlike George, our own patron saint, the Village People fan, who was Greek.

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There seem to have been two St. Henry’s: one Holy Roman Emperor and latterly King of Germany and the other an english clergyman who became a bishop in Sweden. Perhaps the crown here is a clue and this is the first of them?

One final view…

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…this is the ridge of Les Jardins de Marqueyssac, where TBH and I had spent the previous day.

Another fabulous day in the Dordogne region, but it was almost time to move on…

Chateau de Castelnaud-la-Chapelle

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

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Whilst the rest of the party, including our own kids, were off swinging from trees and performing similar acts of derring-do, TBH and I were left with time on our hands. How delightful! As parents of three very active children, to have an entire day to ourselves was beyond a novelty, almost unprecedented in fact. We had threatened to have a lazy day at the camp-site, reading our books. I had made a good start on Hilary Mantel’s ‘A Place of Greater Safety’, her account of some of the key figures of the French Revolution. It’s a huge and magnificent book, so a day luxuriating in its company was very tempting, but in the end we decided that a day out together was too good an opportunity to miss. We flicked through some brochures and leaflets which J had picked up about various local attractions, but in the end settled on Les Jardins de Marqueyssac both because they looked attractive and because they were within walking distance.

Our walk took us across a bridge over the Dordogne…

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Where many parties of canoeists were enjoying the same sort of trip which we had undertaken just a couple of days before.

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Chateau de Castelnaud.

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Clouded Yellow butterfly.

That’s Marqueyssac…

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…at the top of the hill. It was a short but very hot and sticky climb up a road so minor that no traffic passed us at all. As we walked, we had both the views and some sun-warmed and very sweet blackberries in the hedgerows to reward us.

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Arriving at Marqueyssac, we discovered that picnics are forbidden in the grounds, but that picnic tables were provided on a terrace by the entrance which had a lovely view over the valley below.

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Once inside the gardens, we popped into a small building which housed a curious display of stuffed animals in which the creatures had been arranged into dioramas so that predator and prey were locked eternally in pursuit. Nearby, another building had a full skeleton and also another skull of an Allosaurus. The fossils were found in Arizona and bought at auction, at great expense, by the owner of the gardens. Allosaurus are from the Jurassic period and have mostly been found in the US, although the information boards seemed to be saying that there had also been recent findings in France.

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We hadn’t explore far, but felt the need for something cooling, so sat on another terrace with a great view, where customers were sprayed with a fine mist to cool them! TBH had a glace whilst I drank a glass of beer.

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The gardens were quite unlike any I’d visited before. Long and narrow, they sit atop a limestone ridge and are mostly woodland with paths bordered with neat boxwood hedges.

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Three different paths run the length of the garden and we did our best to contrive a route which took in all three as much as possible, without doing the entire length twice. At the far end of the garden from the entrance you are close to Roque Gageac…

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This photo…

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…gives a good view of the ridge which the garden occupies.

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During the entire walk we saw butterflies galore, but very few would pose for a photo. This Wall Brown being an exception…

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Roque Gageac again…

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….on the left you can see people on the belvedere from which I took the previous views.

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This little chapel…

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…was, annoyingly, locked-up and my attempts to take a photo through the slits in the door weren’t entirely successful…

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It was possible to take a short tour of part of the Chateau…

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But I found that oddly uninspiring without some context or understanding of what I was seeing.

One final view…

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…I think that’s the Chateau de Beynac on the right in the distance. This area seems particularly rich in castles and gardens and caves and other interesting places to visit. We’ll have to go back!

On the way back to the campsite, suffering from the heat, TBH decided to dive into one of the shops set-back from the road. It was in a large building divided into two – one half selling soap and the other half, full of mannequins, was supposedly a soap museum. One mannequin was shaving another. A female mannequin was washing clothes. There was a donkey, for reasons which weren’t clear to me. Photos weren’t allowed in this amazing place – it must be seen to be believed! You’ll have to go!

But prepare to be underwhelmed.

Les Jardins de Marqueyssac

Sarlat-la-Canéda

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This house is apparently the former home of Étienne de La Boétie (1530-1562) the great friend of Michel de Montaigne and an interesting character in his own right. I read an excellent biography of Montaigne last year (‘How to Live’ by Sarah Bakewell) and am very slowly working my way through Montaigne’s essays (Montaigne was the first author to describe his writings as ‘Essais’ or attempts) so I wish I’d know about the connection to Sarlat through his friend before we made our afternoon visit during our holiday. As it was, I took the photograph simply because I liked the look of the building.

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I took lots of other photos in Sarlat for exactly the same reason. The narrow car-free streets of the town and it’s magnificent old buildings were charming. We’d visited the newer parts of the town before, shopping for groceries, but Andy had visited the old part of the town before and was right to encourage the rest of us to drag ourselves away from the pool to explore.

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Once there, we spilt into two parties, a trawling around the shops group and a wandering the cobbled lanes and alleyways company. Obviously, I chose to go shopping.

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Many of the grander buildings had detailed information boards on the walls, but my schoolboy French, what little of it I remember, was clearly not up to the task, because all of the those buildings seem to have been hotels, which surely can’t be right?

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Timbered walls, turrets , archways, balconies and external stairways abounded – it was fascinating. We even stumbled on a small surviving section of the high city walls.

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According to Wikipedia, Sarlat owes the preservation of it medieval centre to the fact that ‘modern history has largely passed it by’, which, increasingly, seems to be also true of me.

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I’m not really supposed to eat ice-cream, but when Andy offered to buy me one, I let him twist my arm into accepting. It would have been rude not to. Anyway, I needed something cold because of the great heat, purely for medicinal purposes, obviously. Also, in France they reliably have pistachio flavour, my favourite, but not widely appreciated here in England.

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Some of the main shopping streets were busy, but the back-alleys were very quiet.

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Images of oies, canards and poulets were ubiquitous. Clearly they like their poultry in this area.

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In fact, the region is renowned for it’s duck dishes and also for pâté de foie gras. Given the cruelty of the production methods of the latter, the ceramic and cuddly-toy geese seemed a little bit incongruous. Then again, we enjoyed our confit-du-canard and two kinds of duck ‘scratchings’ and maybe, if you’re going to eat meat, the unsqueamish french approach is the healthy one?

 

Sarlat-la-Canéda

To the Bakery and Back

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Each morning I walked into the village to buy the day’s bread, sometimes with Andy, but usually on my own. The bread was delicious, but I enjoyed the walk too. These photos are from those walks and also from other times when we had occasion to walk into Castelnaud-la-Chapelle. That first photo is looking back towards the campsite from a very misty morning, although the mist was rapidly clearing.

This is the same view…

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…on a relatively cloudy day and this…

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…is a panoramic view from a little further along the road, in more typical weather conditions.

The view in the other direction was very much dominated by the village and the Chateau towering above it, and often, in the mornings, montgolfières rising above that.

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Here’s part of the village…

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…when the mist had just about dissipated.

Not only were the views excellent, but the meadows along the route held lots of interest too.  These blue flowers dominated…

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I think that the flowers are Meadow Clary, a relative of Sage, which has a very limited distribution in Britain, but seems to be abundant in France. The insect is a Hummingbird Hawkmoth which is only seen as a migrant in Britain, although by coincidence I saw one today whilst out for a local wander. I also often saw Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying along a wall which bounded part of the road, seemingly investigating nooks and crevices, although I’m not sure why they would do that.

This…

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…is a Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth, which can, apparently, also be found in Britain, but not in our area and I’ve certainly never seen one before.

One of the things I loved about our visit to France was the profusion of butterflies, although they weren’t always cooperative in posing for photos.

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This Scarce Swallowtail was kind however, and moved a little closer after I took that first photo…

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Wild Carrot flowers were also very common in the meadows and where the flowerheads had curled in on themselves and gone to seed there was a very good chance that you could see Striped Shield Bugs…

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…they were hard to miss!

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Spider’s webs, on the other hand, only became obvious when the mist washed them with silver droplets.

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The wall alongside the road was home, appropriately enough, to Wall Lizards.

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These two are my favourites from the many photos I took.

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The area around the wall also seemed to be the territory of some small orange butterflies which eluded my camera at first, but then turned out to be Gatekeepers which we see at home.

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I think that this first one is on a Hemp Agrimony flower and that this one…

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…is on Horse Mint.

The road crossed a bridge over the Céou which was a good place for spotting fish and also more Beautiful Demoiselles…

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Male.

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Female.

Right at the end of our stay, we came down to the bridge because some of the party wanted to emulate some swimmers we had seen by leaping from a high branch into the water.

In the event, only E managed it, not because of the height of the jump, but because of the difficulty of climbing the tree – there was a crude ladder of planks nailed to the tree-trunk, but one of the rungs was missing. Here’s E just before she jumped…

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The rest of us had to content ourselves with jumping from the bridge itself or from a small wall beside it…

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Which, frankly, was quite high enough for me.

To the Bakery and Back

Cliffs and Caves above the Céou

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The Dordogne region, at least the area we visited, is characterised by low, wooded hills (only just creeping above 200m above sea level) cut by steep-sided valleys, often with limestone cliffs and edges. The slopes above Maisonneuve were topped with cliffs and Andy had been told by his Dutch neighbours (based on our limited survey, all European campsites seem to be mostly populated by the Dutch) that a path led from the campsite up to the base of those cliffs and that there were caves to explore in the cliffs. Indeed, we could see one large cave opening high in the cliffs above.

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Looking down the valley to Castelnaud-la-Chapelle and its Chateau.

It was a steep, sweaty (for me anyway) climb up through the trees, but well worth it when it brought us to the honeycombed, honey-coloured rocks.

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There were small caves immediately…

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Irresistible to the DBs…

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Of course, when you climb up to a cave you then have to get back down again; B found getting down from this one much more difficult than getting up had been and I found myself guiding his feet down into suitable footholds.

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There were long lines of ants spreading across the cliffs.

Turning along the base of the cliffs we soon came across a larger cave…

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…with several entrances…

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…and evidence of former occupation…

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I think it’s fair to say that there’s a long history of cave occupation in the area – the famous Lascaux caves with their paintings are in the Dordogne after all.

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Of course the DBs found a tight little passage to crawl through…

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I preferred to be outside watching a lizard expertly negotiating the rock walls…

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I think that this is a Common Wall Lizard, rather than the Common Lizards we see at home, but I’m not confident about that at all.

We continued along the base of the cliffs, coming across more cave openings, this one…

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…being the largest.

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The path continued…

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…but we were feeling ready for a swim, so turned back.

Our young friend E though had other ideas, she wanted to follow the path in the other direction up to the top of the crags to see the view. Her mum J…

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…and TBH and I decided to join us. Others may have too, but the message didn’t get to all of the party. The climb was mercifully short…

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And the views, when we got to them, were well worth the modest effort…

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The Céou Valley

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Camping Maisonneuve.

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There were a couple of Hummingbird Hawkmoths flying around near the top of the cliffs, which excited me greatly since they are rare visitors to Britain. I didn’t manage to photograph them this time, but would have many more opportunities.

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Céou Valley Panorama.

Castelnaud and its Chateau didn’t exactly dominate the view…

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…but they certainly stood out…

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…especially the Chateau…

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Finally, back down through the woods for a well-earned swim.

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Cliffs and Caves above the Céou

Orographic Fog Sunset Carn Fadryn.

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At some point this summer, when I’ve been watching a sunset from a high vantage point, it occurred to me that in all the years we’ve been climbing Carn Fadryn and enjoying the Llyn Peninsula’s fabulous sunsets, we’ve never thought to combine the two. So I arrived in North Wales with an ambition. When I suggested it to Andy, his response made me think that he had perhaps been thinking exactly the same thing. Most of the rest of our party were keen too.

We chose an evening for our climb, but on the day, the weather didn’t seem too promising. For much of the day, Carn Fadryn had been completely obscured by cloud. Then the cloud began to lift, but a persistent cap of cloud hid the top part of the hill. Briefly Carn Fadryn cleared completely, giving us a degree of hope, but by the time we set-off the cloud had once more enveloped almost all of the hill and we climbed in dense, wet mist…

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I suppose we might have abandoned our idea, but it’s a short climb and this walk, up Little S’s ‘Birthday Hill’, is a fixture of our holidays. He wouldn’t forgive us if we didn’t climb it at some point, although this was still a few days before his actual birthday.

As we approached the summit however, something in the light seemed to promise more than we could have anticipated…

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Maybe the cloud would clear…

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But it was a bit more complicated than that. I’m not sure whether I’ve ever wondered before about how, on a windy day, a hill can retain a permanent cap of cloud. In fact, that isn’t what was happening at all. The wind was driving moist air from over the sea and as that air hit the slopes of Carn Fadryn it was forced to rise – called, apparently, orographic lift – and cooled down in the process, causing moisture to condensate out and hence forming clouds. Those clouds were almost immediately dispersed by the wind, but were soon replaced by new clouds formed by the wind following on behind.

The effect, from our point of view, was of sudden clearing and disappearing views. The next three photos, taken in quick succession, give some idea of what we could see.

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I’ve enthused many times before about the wonderful views from Carn Fadryn; on this occasion we only had brief and partial views, but it was completely exhilarating.

Whilst it wasn’t raining, it might as well have been: the air was so damp that we soon realised that we were soaked.

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We couldn’t see the sun, a high blanket of cloud was hiding it, but we could see a line of light reflected in the sea, a sort of secondhand sunset.

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It was cold. The kids had sort-out shelter on the leeward side of the summit rocks and were agitating for a beginning to our descent. Inappropriately clothed in just t-shirt and shorts, I could see their point of view and eventually, reluctantly, joined them on the path back towards the cars. Only the Adopted Yorkshire Man and the Shandy Sherpa stayed on the summit, but as I walked away I heard more whoops of excitement from behind me.

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The sun had dropped below the high cloud and was suffusing the fog with colour.

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TBF and I turned back for the top, so that we could watch the show…

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It was all too brief, the sun soon dropping behind another band of cloud…

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But I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it before.

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It wasn’t the warm, peaceful sunset viewing I had envisaged, but probably all the more memorable for that.

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Post sunset sky from the camp-site later.

Orographic Fog Sunset Carn Fadryn.