walkhighlands

This board helps you to share your walking route experiences in England and Wales... or overseas.
Warning Please note that hillwalking when there is snow lying requires an ice-axe, crampons and the knowledge, experience and skill to use them correctly. Summer routes may not be viable or appropriate in winter. See winter information on our skills and safety pages for more information.

Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn


Postby Mal Grey » Thu Jun 22, 2017 11:14 pm

Date walked: 22/06/2017

Time taken: 3

Distance: 10 km

8 people think this report is great.
Register or Login
free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).

I'm typing this from a very clean and comfy "motel", with super-speedy free WiFi, just outside Chartres, half-way back from southern France to home in Surrey. I've been down there for 3 weeks, canoeing, walking and mountain biking, whilst taking a break after redundancy. Sadly I now need to return home and sort my life out! :lol:


The middle part of the trip was spent in the Gorges du Tarn, a truly stunning canyon in the Lozere region, in south central France, where I spent 4 days canoeing down the gorge with friends. This, though, is the story of an amazing walk I had around and below the rim of the canyon on my last day after leaving them, before driving back the couple of hours to my "base" in Cajarc on the Lot.


We were camped on a riverside site, La Blaquiere, in the very deepest part of the gorge. Every evening, after a swim in crystal clear waters, we sat with a glass of something and gazed up at the towering walls of the gorge above, the warm limestone poking from pine-clad slopes. And every day, we saw the vultures, wheeling around the crags as they rods the thermals. There's a healthy population of Griffon Vultures here, as well as the odd pair of another 4 species.


Image



Our last day canoeing took us down the section from Les Vignes to Le Rozier (superb for those who like low-grade whitewater on clear waters in a massive, spectacular, gorge). In this part of the canyon, the cliffs are mostly higher up, below the rim, 500 metres above the river. I'd also noticed on the map, that a trail was marked that dropped down below the highest tier, then contoured along a tortuous path way above the gorge. Here's how it looked from below:


Image



I was determined to get up there on foot. So on the last day, when the others did a last easy part of the river below the gorge, I drove up to La Malene, and took the road up some ridiculous hairpins onto the plateau (the "Causses"), pausing near a viewpoint to look down into the canyon below. I say "near" as the viewpoint itself was private and wanted 6.50 Euros to walk 20 feet to the edge through a cafe, whereas I could walk a few hundred yards through beautiful woodland to a different, quieter, spot.


Image


OK, OK, you're probably clammering for some walking so I'd better get on with it. I drove onwards, and back on myself but 500m higher, to a small hamlet called La Bourgarie where there was an empty gravel car park. Here I picked up the trail, which was marked with yellow paint as is common in these parts (an effective system, but wouldn't want it in "our" hills!)


There was a slightly worrying sign at the start of the walk

"This walk includes delicate and dizzy sections on iron ladders that can't be avoided. It is highly inadvisable to those prone to vertigo, young children, people with a dog and in wet weather". Hmm....my head for heights is fine in the hills generally, but I have a funny fear of man-made things like ladders, towers etc. I decided I'd just see how far I could get, I could always turn around.


At first, the walk was through thick, fragrant, pines. The views were limited, just the odd glimpse of the gorge below.


Image



The trees were wonderful, though, as we were in the middle of a heatwave, and the temperature was hovering around the 36c mark. Whilst I hid in the shade, others were basking in the sun...until I stumbled through and disturbed the lizards and they dashed for the undergrowth. Most ran off too quickly, but this Green Lizard stopped within sight, using stillness to try and hide from me I think.


Image


Image



I thanked him or her for his time (I always do with anything daft enough to pose for the camera!! :lol: ) and wandered on. The path zig-zagged downwards from the rim, deep in the woods, until I'd lost perhaps 100m of height. Suddenly, I came out of the trees to see the gorge spread out below me.


Image


Image



The path turned left, and started to contour below the highest tier of warm, pastel-coloured, limestone.


Image


Image



Under an over-hang, little common lizards seemed less fearful of me. One poor fellow had lost his tail.


Image


Image


Image



Ahead, the terrain looked more rugged, my path would work its way through a mass of cliffs and crags, but I couldn't yet see anywhere that looked like it would need ladders.


Image


Image



This is the reverse view of my photo from the river, La Sabliere rapid.


Image



As I stood, pretty much stunned by the vista in front of me, I heard a rush of air. And there, pretty much level with me but 100ft outwards, flew an enormous bird, a Griffon Vulture.


Image



A familiar sound came to my ears, that of an annoyed corvid, and suddenly the great bird was being mobbed by a lone chough (alpine?).


Image


Image



Wow, what a moment, I'd never thought I'd get so close to such a creature in its own natural world.


Image



Onwards I wandered. The map mentioned a Pas de L'Arc. Arc? That sounds suspiciously like a rock arch, but I'd not heard of anything particularly spectacular in this part of the world.

Wrong. Its enormous!


Image



Perhaps 30-40m from floor to the underside of this massive rock bridge, I couldn't believe how it wasn't a major tourist attraction, but all the better for it. In fact, the whole of the Gorges du Tarn, apart from the few hotspots, seems relatively quiet and as soon as you are away from the road, its almost like wilderness. I didn't meet a single person on the walk.


Image


Image



The path was now crossing steeper slopes, between rock pinnacles and gullies. At times, it was only a foot or two wide, with massive drops below, but it was always simple. There was the odd place where a slip could be disastrous, but mostly it was fine for any walker. Every spur brought a view point.


Image


Image


Image



Many of the pines were festooned with some sort of insect "nest". I still haven't found out what they are. Any ideas?


Image


Image


Image


Image



Getting ever closer was the big, hulking, tower of Le Cinglegros. This massive bastion dominates this part of the gorge.


Image



I was being watched. And what a strange feeling it was to be watched, in an inherently quite dangerous place, by something that would view you as dinner should you fall and do yourself in!


Image


Image



In fact, living things were looking at me from all over the place, but at least this fellow was more wary than hungry!


Image



This one, though, came to have a closer look...


Image



It landed on a ledge about 100m away from me. Blimey, I was stood watching an actual vulture, watching me.


Image


Image



Thankfully, I think it decided I was looking too healthy to be lunch, and it leapt from the cliff and out into the void, dropping steeply before the air filled its wings and it swooped upwards and away.


Image


Image


Image



Remembering to breathe, I continued onwards. This was proving to be one of the most amazing, memorable, walks I'd had in years. I was still being tracked though...


Image


Image



Finally, I came to the end of the contouring path, opposite the great tower of Le Cinglegros. And that explained the ladders warning, for the path went onwards and up onto the rock.


Image



This was, though, entirely optional, something unclear from the initial sign. Another one informed me that it was about an hour and a half's "there-and-back" to the top, dropping several hundred metres first. I didn't have time to add this to my walk, it was already 3pm and I had originally intended to start the drive home at 2. Secretly, I was a little bit relieved not to have to test myself on the steep ladders that wound their way up the cliff. From a safe distance, I watched a couple descend one of these.


Image


Image



Instead, I climbed up through sweet-smelling pines onto the Causses plateau above, on the simple return loop. Whilst the excitement was over, this was still utterly delightful, a place full of the sight, sounds and smells of nature.


Image


Image


Image



Eventually I came out into more open country, where meadows were studded with orchids.


Image


Image


Image



A deserted hamlet topped the highest hill.


Image


Image



A final track brought me back to Le Bourgarie, and a sweltering hot car.


Image


Image



What an unexpected, gobsmacking, walk this was. I'd expected good views, but I'd not expected the solitude, the wonderful forest, the meandering track, constantly climbing, traversing or falling, or the huge arch. Above all, the encounter with wild vultures is something I will never forget.

The Gorges du Tarn are one of Europe's true spectacles. I'll be back, and maybe I'll climb those ladders next time.
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Alteknacker » Thu Jun 22, 2017 11:50 pm

Wonderful stuff Mal. Scotland is great, but so are so many other places, as this shows. I remember being blown away by this area on my honeymoon 42 years ago!!
User avatar
Alteknacker
Scrambler
 
Posts: 3217
Munros:173   Corbetts:31
Hewitts:236
Wainwrights:100   
Joined: May 25, 2013
Location: Effete South (of WIgan, anyway)

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby gaffr » Fri Jun 23, 2017 6:02 am

Thanks for the fine images.
You asked about the 'insect nests'. These are the nests of the Chenille Processionaire caterpillers that become the moths after the several stages that these 'things' go through.
I first came across them in Corsica 10 years ago attacking the pines trees on the island. Very destructive to the pines when they gobble up the needles on the trees. Also quite painfull if picked up.
The French are fighting back as we found this year in the Alpes Maritime....see the image of the fightback. :)
20170614_135151 (360x640).jpg
Collared and collected in the bag.

You will have to look at this image sideways....seems to happen with the portrait taken ones?
User avatar
gaffr
Munro compleatist
 
Posts: 1977
Munros:281   Corbetts:203
Grahams:33   Donalds:14
Sub 2000:11   Hewitts:25
Wainwrights:11   
Joined: Oct 25, 2009
Location: Highland.

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Phil the Hill » Fri Jun 23, 2017 1:08 pm

I remember one of those signs from my own walk in the Gorges du Tarn. It warned of a "Sentier Adventureuse" or suchlike. Being used to Scottish scrambles, I decided to give it a go, and found the fixed steel ropes and ladders made it a lot easier than some routes I've done in Scotland.

It's a great part of the world, and you managed to see a lot more than I did on a day trip from St Tropez (who wants to go to the beach when you can scramble into gorges?!).
User avatar
Phil the Hill
Walker
 
Posts: 354
Munros:266   Corbetts:26
Grahams:5   Donalds:6
Sub 2000:9   Hewitts:136
Wainwrights:63   Islands:8
Joined: Sep 22, 2010
Location: Wallington, Surrey

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby KatTai » Fri Jun 23, 2017 2:10 pm

Mal Grey wrote:
I thanked him or her for his time (I always do with anything daft enough to pose for the camera!! :lol: ) and wandered on.


I do that too, I'll even chat away to animals while taking photos :lol:

Great photos, especially of the vultures!
User avatar
KatTai
Wanderer
 
Posts: 899
Munros:52   Corbetts:16
Grahams:10   Donalds:2
Sub 2000:28   
Islands:25
Joined: Feb 12, 2015
Location: Angus

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:27 pm

Alteknacker wrote:Wonderful stuff Mal. Scotland is great, but so are so many other places, as this shows. I remember being blown away by this area on my honeymoon 42 years ago!!


Thanks!

I first went there in 1975, when I was 11, with my family. Recently re-discovered from a canoeing perspective, and its now gone full circle, as I met up with some of the people we met in 1975 on this trip, 38 years after last meeting them.
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:28 pm

gaffr wrote:Thanks for the fine images.
You asked about the 'insect nests'. These are the nests of the Chenille Processionaire caterpillers that become the moths after the several stages that these 'things' go through.
I first came across them in Corsica 10 years ago attacking the pines trees on the island. Very destructive to the pines when they gobble up the needles on the trees. Also quite painfull if picked up.
The French are fighting back as we found this year in the Alpes Maritime....see the image of the fightback. :)
20170614_135151 (360x640).jpg

You will have to look at this image sideways....seems to happen with the portrait taken ones?



Thank you, thought it might be something like that, but a brief google failed me.
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:30 pm

Phil the Hill wrote:I remember one of those signs from my own walk in the Gorges du Tarn. It warned of a "Sentier Adventureuse" or suchlike. Being used to Scottish scrambles, I decided to give it a go, and found the fixed steel ropes and ladders made it a lot easier than some routes I've done in Scotland.

It's a great part of the world, and you managed to see a lot more than I did on a day trip from St Tropez (who wants to go to the beach when you can scramble into gorges?!).



I'd like to revisit the ladders bit, but probably not on my own!
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Sun Jun 25, 2017 3:30 pm

KatTai wrote:
Mal Grey wrote:
I thanked him or her for his time (I always do with anything daft enough to pose for the camera!! :lol: ) and wandered on.


I do that too, I'll even chat away to animals while taking photos :lol:

Great photos, especially of the vultures!



Thanks! Some of my best conversations are with wildlife. I once talked to a heron for about 10 minutes, whilst sat in the canoe 15 feet away.
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Thu Jun 29, 2017 1:22 pm

Mal Grey wrote:
gaffr wrote:Thanks for the fine images.
You asked about the 'insect nests'. These are the nests of the Chenille Processionaire caterpillers that become the moths after the several stages that these 'things' go through.
I first came across them in Corsica 10 years ago attacking the pines trees on the island. Very destructive to the pines when they gobble up the needles on the trees. Also quite painfull if picked up.
The French are fighting back as we found this year in the Alpes Maritime....see the image of the fightback. :)
20170614_135151 (360x640).jpg

You will have to look at this image sideways....seems to happen with the portrait taken ones?



Thank you, thought it might be something like that, but a brief google failed me.



Finally got round to looking up these:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pine_processionary and http://anglophone-direct.com/pine-processionary-caterpillars/


So, the little brown blobs caught up at the bottom of the nests were basically caterpillar turds! :lol:

I once sat under some trees by the River Wye, with friends, using a firebox to cook on. Something started dropping out of the trees and landing on us. We couldn't work out what was going on at first, these caterpillars were coming from nowhere, then we saw the "procession" climbing the tree, different species but same behaviour. Presumably the smoke was causing them to fall off. We moved elsewhere as they were starting to land in our pan, with our burgers and onions, and it was becoming hard to tell the difference between fried onion and caterpillar!!! This wasn't supposed to be a bush-tucker trial! :shock:
We ended up in the field above, sitting in a circle picking grubs off each others' backs like a troupe of chimpanzees... :lol:
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby KatTai » Thu Jun 29, 2017 1:26 pm

Mal Grey wrote:
KatTai wrote:
Mal Grey wrote:
I thanked him or her for his time (I always do with anything daft enough to pose for the camera!! :lol: ) and wandered on.


I do that too, I'll even chat away to animals while taking photos :lol:

Great photos, especially of the vultures!



Thanks! Some of my best conversations are with wildlife. I once talked to a heron for about 10 minutes, whilst sat in the canoe 15 feet away.


When I was on Arran I sat for ages chatting away to a red deer who was feasting on a pile of grass. I was on my own so she was someone to talk to :lol: I also had a robin friend when I did research at a zoo at uni, the weather was rubbish so there weren't many visitors but my little robin friend - I called him/her Buddy - kept me company and I used to chat away to him. It probably helped that I shared my food with him and brought bird seed along! As soon as I arrived, Buddy appeared and stayed with me the whole time!
User avatar
KatTai
Wanderer
 
Posts: 899
Munros:52   Corbetts:16
Grahams:10   Donalds:2
Sub 2000:28   
Islands:25
Joined: Feb 12, 2015
Location: Angus

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby dav2930 » Thu Jun 29, 2017 7:15 pm

What a spectacular environment! Fantastic shots of those vultures :clap:
User avatar
dav2930
Ambler
 
Posts: 1469
Munros:237   Corbetts:13
Grahams:16   Donalds:45
Sub 2000:1   Hewitts:163
Wainwrights:214   Islands:2
Joined: Feb 13, 2015
Location: Cumbria

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby johnkaysleftleg » Fri Jun 30, 2017 3:09 pm

Amazing report Mal :clap: Some the the views looked stunning and as for the arch...
I once had a Golden Eagle fly just meters above my head in the Quirang so I know just what presence a huge raptor has close up. Given that Griffon Vultures are even bigger it must have been an amazing experience.
User avatar
johnkaysleftleg
Mountaineer
 
Posts: 3227
Munros:25   Corbetts:10
Grahams:10   Donalds:3
Sub 2000:7   Hewitts:166
Wainwrights:214   Islands:8
Joined: Jan 28, 2009
Location: County Durham

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Mal Grey » Mon Jul 03, 2017 12:25 pm

KatTai wrote:When I was on Arran I sat for ages chatting away to a red deer who was feasting on a pile of grass. I was on my own so she was someone to talk to :lol: I also had a robin friend when I did research at a zoo at uni, the weather was rubbish so there weren't many visitors but my little robin friend - I called him/her Buddy - kept me company and I used to chat away to him. It probably helped that I shared my food with him and brought bird seed along! As soon as I arrived, Buddy appeared and stayed with me the whole time!


I was talking to a load of geese yesterday from the canoe (both in English and in Hoooonk), when I noticed the fisherman in camo gear just a few yards away, smiling.



dav2930 wrote:What a spectacular environment! Fantastic shots of those vultures :clap:


Thanks. Its an amazing place.



johnkaysleftleg wrote:Amazing report Mal :clap: Some the the views looked stunning and as for the arch...
I once had a Golden Eagle fly just meters above my head in the Quirang so I know just what presence a huge raptor has close up. Given that Griffon Vultures are even bigger it must have been an amazing experience.


Thanks mate. It was amazing indeed, though like you I had a memorable encounter with a golden eagle once, in Coire a Chaorachain, where it swept past us probably 20 feet away, level with us whilst we climbed a steep slope. It turned its head as it glided, so we were looking straight into its eyes.


As for the arch (Pas de l’arc) , a little more research shows that the lower path, which I nearly followed, goes through the arch itself (or close to it, translation skills lacking). You can then link up to my route as the return path, with or without climbing Le Cinglegros. This lower path does have a few ladders and “studded metal” bits (staples/brackets?). Sounds excellent. One name for the arch appears to be Baousse de Biel/La Bosse de Vieux.
User avatar
Mal Grey
Wanderer
 
Posts: 3714
Munros:112   Corbetts:20
Grahams:9   
Sub 2000:3   Hewitts:113
Wainwrights:71   Islands:5
Joined: Dec 1, 2011
Location: Surrey, probably in a canoe! www.wildernessisastateofmind.co.uk

Re: Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Postby Riverman » Sun Jul 09, 2017 7:54 pm

Truly magnificent photos. You should be shooting for National Geographic!
User avatar
Riverman
Mountaineer
 
Posts: 283
Munros:60   Corbetts:5
Grahams:1   
Hewitts:87
Wainwrights:4   Islands:4
Joined: Dec 31, 2013
Location: Belgium

8 people think this report is great.
Register or Login
free to be able to rate and comment on reports (as well as access 1:25000 mapping).

Next



Walkhighlands community forum is advert free


Your generosity keeps this site running.
Can you help support Walkhighlands and the online community by donating by direct debit?



Return to Walk reports - Outside Scotland

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: thefallwalker and 13 guests