Wednesday, 16 July 2014

The wonderful Pyrenees in early summer (Day 3 17/06/14) - the evening

WE quickly visited Gavarie, but were not very impressed by the village.  In order to hunt for birds of prey though we drove up a local road going west, although it turned out that this was cut off due to a landslide.  The road runs along the foot of a huge cliff where the birds can often be seen soaring on the thermals.


The flora on the steep hillside was interesting and the plants on the cliff were typical of high altitude species.

Looking across the deep river gorge a tame marmot stared back at us.

Pyrenean Saxifrage



Monday, 14 July 2014

The wonderful Pyrenees in early summer (Day 3 17/06/14)

FOR the third day we were determined to see one of the most famous sites in the Pyrenees and to get some walking in, i.e. the Cirque de Gavarnie.

Rather than approach it directly we climbed a hill opposite to the north to get a wider view from the Plateau de Saugue, using a recommended path in Roger Budeler's book "Pyrenees 2 - French Central Pyrenees: Arrens - Seis", which provides a lists of "The finest valley and mountain walks", or so it claims [Pub: Rother].  Bob Gibbons also recommends this area for its outstanding rich alpine hay meadows - and so do we; we were not disappointed.

The walk was basically up and down with very little on the level, except the plateau meadows at the top. The view back to the cirque was spectacular and eating our fresh baguette, ham and goats cheese lunch with that view in the bright sunshine was a perfect moment and a real highlight.

We started surrounded at the bottom by a number of valley meadows, climbed up through a steep area of rocky limestone outcrop, with scattered trees and grazed grassland, then on up to the open, large meadows, which ran up to the foot of the mountains.

Meadow Clary
 
 



Climbing up out of the trees and onto the grazed grassland:

 
Hummingbird Hawk-moth at a fragrant orchid
Fritillaries
Skipper

 
Aster
Broomrape
Bath asparagus
Asphodel
Burnt Orchid
Saxifrage
Sedum
 

Pyrenean Hyacinth
Burnt orchid next to juniper

At last the view from our lunch spot - pretty special looking back towards the cirque.

 




Black Vanilla Orchid
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
Finally on to the plateau - the target of our walk and its wonderfully rich hay meadows:


Panorama

 

 





Close up view of the sward


 
Where the ground was particularly damp a huge stand of globe flowers were standing out like a conference of zebra crossings poles



Even in the meadows where it seemed superficially less rich, there were every species hoped for plus burnt orchids and frog orchids all over the place...




Common species like yellow rattle permeated the sward, although there are a number of species that these could have been.


After we had had our fill we returned down the hill using roughly the same route.  Where the cattle had been and left their mark, numerous small blue butterflies gathered:


 



In a number of places large spikes of asphodel grew up, possibly immune to the grazing due to being unpalatable.



Even is a bare patch of earth in a poached corner a perfect lesser butterfly orchid grew - lit by dappled sunshine.


Almost back to the bottom of the walk the meadow edges were extra rich with rampion and monkshood everywhere you looked.


If you get a chance to go to this location one spring before the hay is cut - don't hesitate!