Thursday, 15 December 2016

Le Sentier du Ritou - 13km walk from Rennes-le-Chateau

Le Sentier du Ritou sign 
Conspiracy theories abound about the village of Rennes le Chateau, the result of a supposed cache of gold having been discovered there by the impoverished parish priest, Berenger Sauniere, in the 1890s. Was it Knights Templar money? Priory of Sion? It's all very Dan Brown and we didn't actually know anything about the mystery until I started to research this post. We just went there for a good walk!

Le Circuit du Ritou is a fairly easy going 13km walk which took us just under 4 hours to complete. We began by driving up a winding mountain road to the village and parked in one of the ample car park areas just under its entrance. The parking provision seems vastly excessive at this time of year, but apparently they get thousands of visitors in the summer season. We set straight off on our walk and didn't explore the village at all. Starting back down the road up which we had just driven, we soon picked up the yellow stripes which would indicate our route. An early section went offroad onto a cobbled path, steeply downhill for a change - usually good walks commence with a steep uphill!

View back to Rennes le Chateau 
We soon came out onto a plateau with a single pillar and what looked like four small stone lions on corners of a square pool in the middle of a field. I've since learned that this is a fountain. The plateau was fenced off so I couldn't get close enough for a decent photograph, but it was an intriguing sight. There were great views back up to the village as we got further away and we would see these again on our return as the whole walk is balloon shaped starting along the 'string'. Once we had turned to begin the loop, we found ourselves in woodland with a variety of trees but not much in the way of wildlife. It was a Saturday though and there was a hunting group about so I guess anything more substantial than a small bird was keeping a low profile! We were first alerted to the chasse en cours (hunt in progress) by a sign in a jeep window. The jeep was precariously making its way towards us along a footpath at the time and it was frequently only a couple of inches from plunging off the hillside! The hunt seemed to mostly consist of men in jeeps and larger four-wheel-drive vehicles driving slowly along behind dogs wearing high viz collars, bells and radio antennae. We only heard a couple of shots all through our walk so I don't think anyone actually caught an animal.

View back towards Rennes le Chateau 
Our lunch spot was unexpectedly perfectly timed as the path briefly emerged onto a stone ridge above the treeline giving us gorgeous views back towards Rennes le Chateau to admire while we ate our salad bowl and pains au raisin (guess who had which!). The pic (peak) pictured below was nearby and turned out to be a brief diversion from the marked route which was fortunate as, just behind where Dave is standing, a path does continue but down loose scree which I hate. We stuck to mostly earthen woodland tracks throughout the walk with the worst obstacles being occasional muddy puddles.

Le Circuit du Ritou was our longest walk of the season so far and we hadn't tried routes of this length over the summer either so neither of us was particularly looking forward to retracing our route back uphill to the car as the final stages. It turned out that if we had parked in the very first car park we passed, we could have reduced this uphill slog by about ten minutes, but it was ok in the end. Steady plodding got us back in just under four hours which we were pleased with.

Dave on the pic 

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