Sunday, 6 December 2015

The Sentier Panoramique des Cluses - we're walking again

Another beautiful sunny day here in the Pyrenees-Orientales which, we
Les Vendanges 
hear, is in stark contrast to the weather back home. You all have our sympathies, especially those flooded out in Cumbria. Such an awful thing to happen and so near to Christmas too. We are looking in disbelief at the images online. All so different from when we were there in July.

Our walk today began in the pretty village of Les Cluses which is just 3km from the Spanish border. Dave chose Number 14 in our trusty Little Guide of Hiking. There is a steep narrow gorge here that has been fortified for centuries and I think Les Cluses former wealth was a result of their toll station - taxing all merchandise that crossed through here. Parking along from Le Mairie, we began our walk along what used to be the old Roman Via Domitia and also a part of one of the pilgrim routes. That sunburst symbol seems to crop up everywhere! The statue pictured above is just outside the town hall and shows 'Les Vendanges' (the grape pickers). It was created by C Gomez in 1996.

As with all good walks, our first quarter hour or so was spent going
Sainte Marie, Les Cluses 
uphill. A narrow path leads away from Les Cluses through shady woodland where we saw evidence that wild boar had been recently rooting about. The top section of the path is called the Clavsvrae. It is an old ridge road that was definitely in use between the Middle Ages and the 18th century, and probably began being used in the late Roman period. We followed it up until we met the tarmaced road and were able to look out over the gorge towards ruins of Le Fort des Maures - a Roman fort that guarded the other side of the gorge. Our side was guarded by Le Fort des Cluses Hautes which is also now in ruins and would have been completely unrecognisable, had we not already read its signpost!

Cluse Haute also boasts the beautiful Romanesque and pre-Romanesque church of Sainte Marie which looked stunning against the blue skies. I don't think it is a practising church any more as it wasn't open today - a Sunday. Instead potential visitors can get the key from the Mairie on weekdays if they want to see the frescoes. We settled for the bell tower and the elegant slender arch out front.

Sainte Marie, Les Cluses 

After our brief history lesson, most of the rest of the walk was out
Is it a reindeer? 
through cork oak plantations which were so reminiscent of central Portugal. The trees had not been recently harvested so their trunks were greyer, not that gorgeous red-brown colour, but someone had been around pruning because lots of trees has small branch piles at their bases. One also had a hole where a branch used to be and sticks had been set up there to resemble the head of a reindeer in the tree. Can you make it out in this photograph?

The whole walk was about 8.6km and we completed it in 2 hours 40 minutes, not including our picnic lunch stop perched on a convenient rock. We were told that its elevation was 300m, but we aren't now sure if that was from the lowest to the highest point or an accumulation of all the ups and downs. Very little time seemed to be spent on the flat so we got a good workout!

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