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. **
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