Only vertical, instead of horizontal!
Old farm buildings popped up all around our steep tracks, and very few of them were ruined. Farming is still going on. I wondered how much it was being done by the families who'd farmed there for centuries, and how much was down to a new population who'd chosen alternative lifestyles.
Ahha - a clue!
The yurt was built on a wooden platform (no land flat enough, no doubt) and had a thriving vegetable garden around it. Other old buildings had flags, banners and animal skulls around their gates - the alternative lifestyle theory was gaining ground.
We went on through incredibly verdant hill paths, finding more ancient farm buildings still in use.
As we dropped in zig-zags along the side of the valley, we found ourselves walking along this ancient track, formed on a terrace cut into the hillside, and carpeted in thick drifts of oak leaves.
Reaching the bottom of this particular high valley, we walked for a long while along a wooded river.
Here there were no signs of agriculture,
but plenty of well-made, rustic bridges for the trail.
Son 2 was normally at the front - after one turn we found him holding his nose and pointing at this stinkhorn fungus. They smell of rotting meat, to attract flies.On we went, over more bridges.
We were climbing very gently, following the river as it carved its way through the rocks.
After a last burst of climbing to get us away from the river and back to the hillside church where we'd parked, we stopped for lunch.
There was some reluctance amongst those under 40 to continue the walk after lunch. They'd got settled with their books!
But this second walk took us through much more of the farmed landscape, staying, as it did, on the south-facing slope of the steep valley. We started off, through hamlets and farm settlements, along an old packhorse track - very easy walking, of course, built to bring produce out of the valley into Massat below.
Although there were plenty of trees, we also noticed many more meadow flowers than in the morning.
I had scabious in my wedding bouquet, and it remains a favourite!
Leaving the packhorse track, we climbed (poor tendons) up to a higher terrace, where we followed more tracks, past more barns and houses, through more hilltop hamlets.
The track was more open now, and the sun had come out again, which made the climbing a bit of a struggle, but the little houses and, especially the flowers on the banks,
and in the steep meadows, were an absolute delight.
Our track took us rather further than we'd intended, and we ended up in the high hamlets, actually dropping steeply back down to the hillside church.The two walks were a beautiful (although rather tiring) way to learn about the agricultural past and present of the Ariege valleys, and were a great way to prepare for the excitements that were to come at the Marché Nocturne in the market town of Massat, which still serves as a first point of sale for many of the artisans and farmers living in the wooded valleys beyond the town. So I'll tell you about that, tomorrow!