Saturday, 24 August 2013

More Vauban and a quartet of hippies

Panorama from Collioure to The Square Fort, taken by The Other Half
Saturday: change-over day. Yesterday afternoon, we bade farewell to fellow holidaymakers with whom we have exchanged pleasantries on the beach over the last fortnight.

It was the chance to learn a new phrase: ‘à l’année prochaine’: ‘until next year’. It’s lovely to feel so accepted.

Blackberries – with some just ready for picking and eating
And with the departures came rain and storms to briefly take their place.

A cursory look at the sky this morning told its own story – the sun was out, but dark clouds were not far away, and it was even more the case when taken in tandem with the actual forecast.

So we decided against the beach and pottered for a while, taking coffee – far stronger stuff than we can make with the machine in the house – at Le Saint-Elme and then wandering into the centre of the village.

So, what to do with the rest of the day?

‘How about a walk before the rain comes?’ said The Other Half in fine jovial manner.

Into the hills
‘What a jolly good idea,’ I responded, in likewise mode.

After all, I’d felt invigorated by yesterday’s first paddle around the bay in a kayak (three times, no lifejacket – they were all for children – and not even a hint of panic) and then an actual swim later, so a spot more exercise would be welcome.

So off we set for the Mouré, the ‘posh’ bit of the old village.

The artists used to live there and, even now, on almost painfully picturesque streets that wind steeply and narrowly away from the centre, there are plenty of galleries and studios to be found.

The Square Fort
We climbed and wound our way around until we were below Fort Miradoux, the base for French commandos doing the watery bit of their training – and then headed further up beyond it; uncharted terrain for us.

The aim was two more of the fortifications that dot the region: ‘The Round Fort’ and ‘The Square Fort’, which makes it sound like something that Brian Cant would have said on Play School.

This, as unlikely as it sounds, recalled to mind Leeds. Back in the spring of 2011, when we spent a long weekend up there, I had been offered a choice of activities for the Friday afternoon when we arrived.

There was shopping – surely the girly activity of choice – or the Royal Armouries, which is as museum of … well, you can work it out.

Being me, I opted for the latter. Go on – hands up: how many birds do you know who would have done the same?

Centaurea cyanus
Anyway, more Roussillon fortifications held plenty of interest for me.

It was certainly exercise, and in the humid atmosphere, I had difficulty keeping my glasses on for most of the way up. It may look bad, but I’m going to get one of those bands that hold specs in place to avoid such problems in the future.

The track was clear and led through a veritable cornucopia of plant life: blue thistle-like flowers of centaurea cyanus dotted the dry landscape.

Vast amounts of ripening blackberries were another, and we were not the only walkers who picked and tasted: gorgeous.

Cicadas were audible, making their almost impossibly loud song. It’s made by the male insects’ tymbal muscles being contracted and relaxed, and is amplified by their mostly-hollow abdomens.

The sound can reach an extraordinary 120db – which to put it into context, would mean that, were one to sing right next to a human ear, it could cause permanent hearing loss.

The Round Fort
All of which makes them sound really rather dangerous. But I love the sound – it’s a sound of the Mediterranean, and although I possibly first heard it in South Africa, I first remember hearing it, years ago, in 2006, in bushes outside a hotel in Perpignan on our first visit to the region.

Anyway, first up was The Square Fort. It was, err, square, with a dry moat and a drawbridge, and various characteristic signs of old Vauban – designed in such a way that any defenders would have an easy time picking off any attempted assailants.

It also bore the marks of having been further altered during WWII – and there was a further concrete construction from that conflict; a base for a gun looking out to sea.

Walking further on, we discovered that a trench had been dug, and shored up with bricks, to create a hidden pathway to The Round Fort.

Sea and stone pine
Here again, were obvious signs of Vauban at work – not least the style of brickwork on a wall that had been added to the little building.

It overlooked the road that goes from Collioure to Argéles and on to Perpignan.

The views all around were spectacular: even with the sky growing greyer, we could see for miles, north up the coast and east, up into the hills.

Needless to say (but I’m going to anyway) coming back down hill was a great deal easier than going up.

Once back in the village, the next question was food.

Rather good tuna
At The Other Half’s suggestion, we headed again for Au Casot.

This time, as my delightfully moist and rare tuna arrived, the rain started hammering down on the canvas above us, lightening jagged to the sea behind, and thunder rolled threateningly around.

So much so, that a quartet of aging hippies who were sitting barely under that canvas roof had to move in further, coming right next to us.

I have to confess that tales of an American ashram and the jolly “queen” of an “east Indian” dancer who voraciously grabbed every male visitors’ bollocks for a friendly squeeze is the sort of lunchtime conversation that makes me roll my eyes.

After the storm
At one point, the woman who was, by then right next to me, looked as though she was about to have a panic attack, and the man leaned across the table and started stroking her arm.

The Other Half thought he was about to start chanting. Fortunately, the woman seemed to calm, and no further action was required.

The rain petered out and we made our way back to the house, picking up a few odds and sods for light snacking from one of the small local shops that really are so good.

Frankly, I am now officially knackered – albeit rather pleasantly so. But that really wasn’t bad for a day when the weather was not at its best.

* All pictures can be double-clicked to enlarge.

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