walkhighlands

Walking with Vultures - the magnificent Gorges du Tarn

Date walked: 22/06/2017

Time taken: 3 hours

Distance: 10km

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.


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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:


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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.


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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.


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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.


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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.


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


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


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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.


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


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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.


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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?).


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


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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!


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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.


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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.


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


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


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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!


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


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


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


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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.


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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...


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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.


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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.


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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.


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


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A deserted hamlet topped the highest hill.


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


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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.

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Mal Grey


User avatar
Location: Surrey, too far south for much hillwalking, so probably in a canoe!
Occupation: Retail Buyer, on the fringes of the outdoor industry
Interests: Grew up going to the hills but only get to the hills occasionally, particularly for a week each winter. Big love is open canoeing, and particularly canoe camping. So I paddle the Highlands more than I walk them.
Activity: Mountain Walker
Pub: ODG or Clachaig
Mountain: Clach Glas
Place: Assynt
Gear: Down Jacket
Member: John Muir Trust
Mountain Bothies Association
British Canoe Union
Camera: Canon EOS 700D
Ideal day out: Perfect crisp winter conditions in the NW Highlands where the snow is firm, the sky is blue and the views across hills, loch, isles and sea are endless.
An early morning canoe paddle on a glassy calm loch with the hills reflected in it like a mirror isn't bad either!

Munros: 110
Corbetts: 20
Grahams: 8
Wainwrights: 65
Hewitts: 112
Sub 2000: 2



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Statistics

2017

Trips: 6
Distance: 82.2 km
Ascent: 3775m
Munros: 4
Corbetts: 1

2016

Trips: 2
Distance: 26.1 km
Ascent: 1706m
Munros: 1

2015

Trips: 4
Distance: 30.4 km
Ascent: 1580m

2014

Trips: 3
Distance: 39.7 km
Ascent: 2804m
Munros: 4

2012

Trips: 1
Distance: 11 km
Ascent: 750m
Hewitts: 1

2011

Trips: 2
Munros: 10


Joined: Dec 01, 2011
Last visited: Aug 18, 2017
Total posts: 1709 | Search posts




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