The castle at Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A 5 day circular walk in the Tarn and Aveyron area of France: day 2 Vaour to Bruniquel

October 15, 2017 · 9 comments

A 13 mile walk in the French countryside from Vaour to Bruniquel, via the extraordinary castle at Penne and crossing the River Aveyron

 

Date walked: 23rd September 2017

Distance: around 13 miles

Booking company: Sherpa Expeditions. Sherpa made all the hotel and bed and breakfast bookings, arranged transfer of our bags each day between destinations and provided detailed descriptions of each days walk and large scale map sheets with the routes marked. It all worked perfectly; I highly recommend them. Here is a link to the specific walk we booked.

Maps used: I have also subscribed to the “Outdoors France” app. A years subscription of £19.99 allows you to download 1:25,000 scale  IGN maps (- equivalent to 2.5 inches to a mile). The app then allows chosen routes to be marked up and the phone GPS locates where you are at any time. I did have some problems with the maps when we were walking, though.

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We stayed last night at Serene- an excellent chambre d’hote on a working farm (though a very tidy and un-smelly one) about a mile and a half downhill from Vaour. Our host, Nathalie, had cooked us an excellent meal. Her English is fluent and she did a good job of facilitating conversation with the two other French guests.  Part of the conversation referred to the blight we had noticed yesterday on the box trees and shrubs and they referred to “les chenilles” – caterpillars. Suddenly, it made sense that what we had been seeing  was an infestation of cydalima perspectalis – Box Tree caterpillar. I had heard of this though not before seen it or its effects.

Box hedge affected by Box Tree caterpillar, Cydalima perspectalis, in Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This hedge in a garden in Vaour: a very sad sight

I had been very comfortable in my room but had made a mistake of leaving the bathroom light on and a window open. In the morning all the surfaces were decorated with dozens of moths – a lepidopterist’s dream!

Moths in the bathroom at Serne, Vaour, photographed by Charles Hawes

Really, they were everywhere! Sorry Nathalie!

We breakfasted at 8 and Nathalie’s spread was superb, including the cheeseboard from last night, toast, prunes, a sponge cake and home cooked croissants.

Breakfast at Serene, Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I must have taken this before all the food appeared

Nathalie had offered to drive us back up the hill and put us back on our path – an offer that would have been churlish to refuse (and would save us a long uphill walk to the village).  On the way she excitedly pointed out three deer racing across the fields in front of us. They were too quick to photograph though I did snap the rather sedentary relatives of last nights supper.

Aubrac cattle at Serene, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Lovely, lovely creatures

Nathalie deposited us on a track through some woods and assured us that this was a nicer start than taking the small road which our “official” route prescribed. Mwah, mwah and off.

Path through Peche de Lebre wood near Vaour, photographed by Charles Hawes

Beautiful light through this young wood of mostly oaks

As a bonus we passed a little stone shelter that we would not have otherwise seen.

Stone shelter in woods near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Built when? For What or who?

We joined our intended road which quickly became a gravelly track. In the distance, over to the left, dragons breath sat in the Aveyron valley.

View to the Aveyron valley from near Vaour, photographed by Charles Hawes

You probably won’t notice it on a phone

We passed through an extraordinary ruined farmstead called Alic. On the left side of the track was a complex building with a  squat, square tower and a massive barrel.

Alic, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Opposite this, a courtyard with more buildings….

Alic, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

….a substantial house, and an old pump standing over what might  have been a well.

Alic, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The lintel above the door read “1868”; I’d love to know more about its history.

Alic, near Vaour, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This place had clearly not been occupied for decades; a life of 100 years seems totally inadequate for such a huge and special property. Much as I love ruins I hope that someone gets to make this a home once more.

We were heading towards the river Aveyron, the mist still occupying it a little more visible, and we could see the church spire of  St Pantaleon.

View to Aveyron valley from near Belaygue, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

This isolated substantial church is half a mile from the small village of Belaygue.

Saint Pantaleon, near Belaygue, France, Photographed by Charles Hawes

God knows why it is not closer to the village

We duly noted the mistletoe in the trees as pointed out in our notes.

By the side of this pleasant wide track I was struck by a sorbus tree with huge berries.

Sorbus domestica f. pomiferya near Belaygue, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

I think I had seen some of these in Italy, too

A bit of googling convinces me that it was Sorbus domestica f. pomifeyra

Sorbus domestica f. pomiferya

It is described as native in Western and Southern Europe and quite rare; only one nursery lists it in the UK

As we approached the village a chap met us in the road, saying something about a car; we assured him that we were happy walking and he went off. We decided upon a shufty of the village and found aforementioned man and some mates with a tractor standing by a large British car that was clearly, somehow (though we could not see how) in their way. In the spirit of entente cordiale, we offered a few disparaging remarks about the Brits and had a wander.

There were several bushes of box which had been destroyed by caterpillars.

Box hedge destroyed by the box tree caterpillar, photographed by Charles Hawes

This was becoming a little oppressive; we have a lot of box in our garden

But rather more pleasing, a great ruin of a pigeonnier.

Pigeonnier in Belaygue, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The clue’s in the name

A rather better preserved one was part of the farm we passed on leaving the village.

Pigeonnier in Belaygue, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

We crossed the D9 about half a mile later…

Crossing the D9 near Belaygue, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Bob looking especially cool in his bush hat

… and climbed up to the hamlet of Fabre de la Grange. The only creature I saw stirring was, surprisingly, a peacock.

Peaccok in hamlet of Fabre de la Grange, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

From here the path followed a path along the top of an escarpment called La Coste de Fabre.  For the most part we were in woods for the next couple of miles, with only occasional views over the valley below us.

In fact, we seemed to have taken a path even closer to the escarpment edge than our designated route but with some careful map checking on phone and paper we were content that we were going to end up in the right place.  Time for a pic of me.

Charles Hawes on path above the Coste du Fabre, France

Thanks Bob

The path presented us with a cairn at Rocher des Suquets ….

Rocher des Suquets, near Amiel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Its always reassuring to find something referred to in our notes

….where we took a break for some of Nathalie’s extensive packed lunch. From here we  dropped down the valley side to the hamlet of Amiel which was unremarkable apart from one house.

House in Amiel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

At Amiel we turned left onto the D115 briefly, crossed it and took a track which was next to the River Aveyron though we only had glimpses of it through the trees.

We were returned to the road as we approached Penne…

Road approaching Penne, phootographed by Charles Hawes

… and struggled somewhat to reconcile our directions with the road signs  as found and decided that All Roads Lead To Penne (as long as we were going upwards). Well, the one we chose did, anyway.

View to Penne, photographed by Charles Hawes

Wow!

Penne is built on a mountain spur, dominated by a C12th fortress. Our notes about the village were lifted directly from wikipedia. And why not? I’m sure Sherpa will have made a little contribution. Throughout our brief visit we were treated to large reproductions of old postcards of the village.

Illustration of Penne photographed by Charles Hawes

We climbed up though this charming place to the church of St Catherine. (much better pic of the outside on this link to any I took). Here’s a couple of mine from its simple interior.

Church of St Catherine's, Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

 

Church of Saint Catherine's Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The castle was not open until 2pm so we were happy to go to the Bar Terasse for a drink and an ice-cream. Opportunity for a selfie.

Bar Terasse, Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Yes, we both could lose a bit of weight.

Here’s a better pic of the scene without the old guys.

Bar Terasse, Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Refreshed, we climbed back up to the castle (Entrance 5 euros), and had an explore.  We were loaned a good booklet in English and there were lots of explanatory boards. It was rather a good touch, I thought, for them to reproduce what it might have looked like when they were building the place.

Castle at Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Wooden pole scaffolding tied together with rope

The views from the castle were impressive.

View from the castle at Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

View from the castle at Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

It was turning out to be a really warm day, so having climbed down to the Aveyron it felt a little intimidating to know we had to cross the river and climb back up around 900 feet.

Crossing the river was easy enough…

The River Aveyron below Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

And very pretty it was, too.

… and from the bridge we had a great view of L’Hermitage and its wonderful pigeonniers.

L'Hermitage, near Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

You can’t have too many pigeonniers

Pigeonniers at L'Hermitage, near Penne, photographed by Charles Hawes

Bob suggested that if we wanted a gentler climb we might stick to the road but in the end we decided to take the much steeper footpath. And it was pretty breathtaking. We paused at the top having earned the view.

View across the Aveyron valley near Penne, photographed by Charles Hawes

We soon got our breath back – a sign of reasonable fitness.

For about half a mile we followed a small road…

D33 near Penne, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Note the cross on the right

… before leaving it to join the GR46 path that would take us to Bruniquel. At times the path was quite narrow and not only were we very close to many afflicted bushes of box…

Box hedge destroyed by the box tree caterpillar, photographed by Charles Hawes

Horrid, horrid sight

…. but we began to find ourselves brushing against the fine single threads of the caterpillar webs, often with a little green caterpillar suspended from the bottom of the web. Yuk.

Box hedge destroyed by the box tree caterpillar, photographed by Charles Hawes

I didn’t manage to get a pic of the blighters

The path re-joined a stone track for a while and it was nice not to have the caterpillar infestation so close by.

The Gr 46 near Bruniquel and a box shrub destroyed by the box tree caterpillar, photographed by Charles Hawes

But later we were returned to a narrow path where tall infested box lined either side and we had to brush the webs aside and pick off the caterpillars from time to time.

Avenue of box affected by the box tree caterpillar near Bruniquel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

The path descended steeply for the last half a mile, bringing us to a road bridge crossing the River Aveyron.

Bridge crossing the River Aveyron near Bruniquel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

A quick left and then right had us crossing a small tributary of the river  on a little road which climbed up to the village.

Tributary of the River Aveyron at Briniquel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

Not a great place to camp: the smell was wafting down from the sewage works

As we paused to admire the old communal washing area…

Communal washing area at Briniquel, France, photographed by Charles Hawes

… we were hailed by the owner of our Chambre d’hote  (L’Abri-Niquel), Bridgit,  who was hanging out her washing.

L'Abri-Niquel Chambre'd.hote, Bruniqul, photographed by Charles Hawes

IMHO it looks a lot nicer on the outside than the inside

Our bags were in the hall and she showed us into her rather unusual dining room and offered us a drink of juice. I neglected to take any pics but click on this link and you’ll see what I mean. We negotiated dinner at 7pm which gave us an hour to unpack, shower and change. After last night’s palatial and very modern place, I thought my room rather gloomy and spartan with mean towels, broken fittings and not even a bar of soap; the shower was, thankfully, nice and hot.

L'Abri-Niquel Chambre d'hote, Bruniqul, photographed by Charles Hawes

Kinda weird that the shower and toilet are not really separate from the bedroom

Supper was a tepid but hearty vegetable soup, cod in a creamy sauce – big thumbs up from Bob- , two huge pieces of excellent cheese and an apple and pear crumble. And a jug of local vin ordinaire. It was OK, home cooking, but not a patch (apart from the cheese) on last night’s meal.  Our host told us that there was an event that night going on in the castle at the top of the village, so after supper we wound our way up the hill to find that it was a bikers  Family Festival. There were a couple of friendly bikers on the gate but no charge to get in, so we bought some tokens for drinks, got ourselves a beer and had a wander around. A few stalls selling biker type jewellery were being universally ignored. There was a very loud and truly awful band playing.

rock band playing in grounds of Bruniquel Castle, photographed by Robert Pinder

Thanks to Bob for the pic

We took our beers round the other side of the wall and found relative quiet and some tables and I gave Bob a good thrashing at cribbage, so altogether a pretty good day.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

John Kingdon October 15, 2017 at 10:33 am

Bob seems to have lost even more weight since day 1! Bet you didn’t know that in times gone by, the amount of pigeon poop that could be collected from the pigeonnier would be taken into account in the sale price of a property. Do you habitually carry around a cribbage set when you wander out into the night on your walks with Bob or are bikers into cribbage?

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Charles October 17, 2017 at 2:25 pm

I didn’t know that about the pigeon poop- really interesting, thanks. No I always take my cribbage board with me when Bob and I meet up. Mind you I got really stung at the end of the trip.

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Paul Steer October 15, 2017 at 12:04 pm

Love the pic of the new improved Bob walking under the archway. Just a thought about the box moth infestation – perhaps they will eat themselves out of existence and the box recovers ? Unlike box blight. So perhaps not so depressing.

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Charles October 17, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for the optimism about the blight but I don’t think I can share it -0 especially about the bloody blight which is ravaging our garden and has been for a few weeks. Just did another major cut and burn of afflicted hedges this morning. And found several more smaller patches elsewhere. And I can’t bear to go into the Cornfield Garden.

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JPaul Steer October 17, 2017 at 4:35 pm

That is depressing – I hope you can stop it from spreading. Same here – noticed patches last week , already defoliating 🙁

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Charles October 17, 2017 at 9:45 pm

All you can do is cut out the infected sections, and remove or burn .

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julia October 16, 2017 at 7:47 am

lovely lot of ruins, the odd spalsh of orange and trees galore – fab

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julia October 16, 2017 at 7:48 am

lovely lot of ruins, the odd splash of orange and trees, trees galore – fab

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Charles October 17, 2017 at 2:20 pm

Fab, indeed!

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