September is my favourite month. The nights are cool, and the days are warm but not stifling. So the walking season is back. During July and August, it was simply too hot. Now, we can resume our walks, which provide the opportunity to see places where we would be too intrusive by car and enjoy features we would otherwise miss.
Saint-Projet is a good place to start, on the Causse (plateau) de Limogne. Not only is there a range of good walks and plenty to see, but the landscape is not too hilly.
Le Château de Saint-Projet presides over the village, which has been tidied up from a somewhat dilapidated state when we first moved to the region.
We left Saint-Projet in the direction of a lieu-dit with a bizarre name. I’m sure its real meaning isn’t literal, and it is no doubt a corruption of an Occitan name.
In the same place, an ancient wayside cross and a bread oven. We saw several examples of the latter while we walked.
We made our way along ancient tracks bordered by crumbling stone walls beside former fields, now overgrown. Small brown butterflies accompanied us, while woodpeckers and blackbirds erupted from the undergrowth, uttering strident alarm calls. The trees provided welcome shade, since the sun was warm, although the breeze was cool.
First stop: the hamlet of Le Cros (you pronounce the ‘s’), just over the border in the Lot. Once a small farming community, Le Cros now has a restaurant in a restored barn, named, naturally, La Grange du Cros. Thierry presides over the tables, while Rebecca cooks locally sourced produce in her kitchen in the base of the pigeonnier.
The small car park was full for Sunday lunch, now drawing to a close. As we continued down the track, the strains of “Joyeux anniversaire” wafted from the barn.
The existence of a stream, le ruisseau de Boulat, no doubt permitted the establishment of a settlement at Le Cros in the first place, but it probably flowed more abundantly in the past. A mill house in the valley below sits astride a dry creek.
The stream disappears underground at that point into la Perte du Cros and becomes one of the many underground streams with which the causse is riddled. Archaeological digs in the cave have revealed the existence of a late Neolithic settlement.
Kingfishers and more strange names
We continued towards Saillagol, along a path lined with walnut and cherry trees, some of them newly planted. Someone obviously takes care of the spot.
Just below the church, we found this lavoir (washing place), now a home for water lilies and frogs, which plopped into the water at my approach.
Suddenly, a vivid flash of blue shot over the water’s surface and into the bushes on the other side. A kingfisher. I was surprised to see one of these elusive and timid birds on the causse, well-known for its lack of streams.
Saillagol, which is at the edge of Tarn-et-Garonne, is a well-kept village, but it was deserted on a Sunday afternoon. The village once had a rustic restaurant, Chez Dany, where you ate in the front room with dogs and cats milling about and the TV chattering away in the background.
I have often wondered about Saillagol’s odd name, which sounds more Tolkein than French. I had seen the suffix elsewhere in the region: Larnagol, ruisseau de Mouillagol. It turns out to be a diminutive, meaning “small version of”. So Saillagol is “little Saillac”, a nearby Lot village, although it’s now in the commune of Saint-Projet.
Windmills and dolmens
We could have visited two windmills outside the village, but the afternoon was warming up, and we had seen them before, so we took a short cut. Saillagol must be the most confusing village on the planet. So many roads enter and leave it, that we managed to take the wrong one. At least it went in the right direction. Lesson: take an IGN map and don’t rely on the guide book.
Before returning to Saint-Projet, we looked for two dolmens marked in the guide book, that are just inside the boundaries of the military camp. Not a dolmen to be seen. I consulted the IGN map on our return. They are actually further into the camp precincts than we thought, and we didn’t fancy a brush with the military for trespassing in a prohibited area.
However, I did spot a rather splendid male pheasant rooting around in the undergrowth. He spotted me, too, and lumbered over the wall before I could take a photo.
A good start to our season: around 9 km and plenty to see.
By the way, does anyone know what the lower of these marks means (the upper, yellow one is the waymark for our walk)? I have seen them before and presume it is also a waymark, but I don’t know if its form is significant, or if it indicates a particular category of walk. ** Mystery solved. I’m told it denotes a VTT (Vélo Tout Terrain – mountain bike) route. The brown colour indicates that it crosses a Parc Naturel Régional – in this case the PNR des Causses du Quercy. A yellow VTT waymark would indicate a local route. **
You might also find these of interest:
The Secret of le Château de la Reine Margot
The Day we went to Paris by Way of Saint-Projet
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Thank you for taking me on this delightful virtual walk – a break from focusing on the monotony of our covid lockdown measures here in Australia.
I have never wandered about this region of France.
So many of the beautiful stone walls of old houses in our corner of France have been covered by a layer of smooth chaux or crépis to protect them from the harsh winters – so I’ve been told. Of course there are ancient old buildings with handsome, exposed stone facades in our region, but they appear not to be as prolific compared to those of southern and south western France. I am looking forward to spending time once again at notre maison secondaire, which realistically may not be for at least 18 months.
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We’re very lucky to live in an area of France that has not only lovely scenery but also interesting historical features. Some of the houses are crépi’d here, too. In fact, our own house is at the back, since it faces almost due north – and we can get pretty harsh winters at times, although not in recent years. Even with the crépi, we can always tell when the wind blows from the north! Some of the recently-restored houses have pointed stone rather than crépi. This may not be totally authentic, but the exposed stone looks nicer. Fingers crossed that you can get back to France sooner than that. 🙂
Another very nice post Vanessa. As to that tree marking, no I don’t know what it means and the web is no help. But those circles – could they be representing bicycle wheels? If so, could it be local cyclists displaying a quiet and largely off-road route? Regards, Norman
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Thanks for your suggestion, Norman. In fact, someone else has just replied on Twitter (!) that it is a VTT route (Vélo Tout Terrain – mountain bike), so your guess about the bicycle wheels was correct. But it’s an official sign. The brown colour apparently designates that it crosses a regional natural park: there, it would be the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses du Quercy. Best wishes, Vanessa