I’d waited, waited because there are a thousand postcards of Peyrepertuse with the sun shining on its crumbling old walls atop a spectacular outcrop of rock; but in the end I was denied. Instead of improving, each day the weather seemed to get worse. The weather for the whole trip bar one half a day has not been conducive to photography. It seems the more I pray for a decent day the more fickle the weather becomes; and always driven by Le Mistral, the cursed wind from the north.
The day before had seen ominous clouds wafting overhead all day but nothing eventuated though rain had seemed imminent. Today, the rains came in the form of a misty drizzle that lasted the whole day. Still, I was determined to see Peyrepertuse, an ancient Cathar stronghold. The Cathars were a religious sect who were vegetarians and abstained from material things. They also rejected Christ’s divinity and ultimately became strong in the Languedoc area of France.
Of course, this represented a problem for the control of the Catholic Church so they prompted French noblemen to do something about it which culminated in a series of Crusader conflicts lasting over 100 years. Eventually they were exterminated with the most infamous episode coming when Beziers was under attack. In this town were many Catholics but the local abbot, in his frenzy to rid the church of opposition, told the troops to kill everyone because god will know who to save.
The Cathars built a lot of sanctuaries on rocky outcrops for protection and the ruins these days attract tourists from everywhere, partly because of their dramatic locations.
En route to Peyrepertuse I planned to traverse Gorges de Galamus, one of a number of gorges in the area that I’d never heard of. May I say here that those of you who think the roads of Capri and the Amalfi Coast are scary need not apply to drive this route. I still can’t believe why anyone would bother to put a trail through here.
Literally cut into the rock that still partly overhangs it, the road has no straight sections at all and the warning signs that it’s only 2.7 metres wide are to be heeded. I have no idea what you would do if you met a car coming the other way. Fortunately I was parked when the only one we saw did come through. The thick dripping mist only added to its atmosphere and the roar of the unseen river far below and the knowledge there was a religious sanctuary beneath a cliff down there just made it more unforgettable.
I briefly went down some steps beneath the dew and got a couple of shots before returning but down the road aways it was a little clearer and we got to see more of the dramatic chasm below.
Next was Peyrepertuse but it, too, was covered in mist but brave Cheryl with her dodgy knee came up with me to view what we could of the edifice. Other than hail I couldn’t image worse weather to view this castle but we soldiered on up the narrow rocky trail past moss laden branches interspersed with white flowers and got close enough (visibility about 20 metres) to see much of it but not the broad panoramas that it offers from the ramparts.
Still, the atmosphere was paramount as the moist air drifted through the ruins; you could almost hear the ghosts of the past walking past you as you touched the grey weathered stone of the walls.
I was fascinated by the toilet arrangements. Similar to the Tower of London there was a room hanging slightly over the edge of the walls where excretive matter plunged to some forgettable place below.
Rooms became visible as silent cloud lifted momentarily and then were invisible again. “Eerie” was a word that was so apt on this day, straight out of a Hitchcock movie, as I imagined the Cathars and their dilemma as they were rounded up elsewhere but this castle was never besieged. It was handed over and was still in use until the 18th century by various military establishments.
We started for home, calling in first at a cute hamlet called Cucugnan that we savoured before enjoying a repast in the windmill that had first attracted us to this spot.
We pushed on to Tautavel, with its archaeological museum containing the oldest human skull found in Europe. They’ve spent a lot of money here but we only had 45 minutes to view what I should have allowed 90 for. Still, what we saw was very interesting.
The wind came up a little and pushed us home and we searched yet again for the restaurant we’d eaten at the first night we stayed in Canet but, despite having three cracks at it on different days and taking well over an hour zipping up and down streets, we never did find the place again that was only about half a kilometre from out accommodation.