While MM visited, we took a Sunday hike to St. Ferréol’s hermitage (l’ermitage de St. Ferréol). It started in Céret, at the point where three bridges cross the Tech river – one antique, one for cars, and one train bridge converted to a rail trail. The old bridge is called the devil’s bridge (le pont du Diable), supposedly because the devil interfered with its construction back in the 1300s. It’s quite a tall bridge – hard to believe it was built 700 years ago!
We hiked up into the hills, enjoying a pomegranate we picked from a tree overhanging the trail. We heard bells off in the brush and wondered if there were goats in the hills. Up the slope, we heard gunshots. Then we encountered a man in blaze orange with a shotgun, standing in the path. I asked if we needed to be wearing orange to continue and he replied (in French) while gesturing to his shirt,”You don’t like the orange?” I told him I did and asked again if we could continue on. He said, “Si vous voulez” (“If you want”). Not quite as reassuring as hoped, but we continued on, hearing occasional shots and more bells in the brush, which turned out to be hunting dogs, accompanied by men with rifles, all wearing orange. You always run the risk of falling and hurting yourself while you’re out hiking, but the possibility of getting shot takes things to a whole new level. Was it a mistake to continue? Should we have started singing, to sound un-preylike? Would wearing orange really have helped? The brush was very thick – how the heck could they see whatever they were hunting? We overtook the hunters again and asked what they were hunting – wild boar. Great. They would probably wound one and it would decide to charge us on the only place it was easy to run – the path…
In the end we made it through unscathed and reached the hermitage, where people were picnicking. Quite the contrast…especially when we heard another hunter talking right outside the walls.
On the second half of the hike we hiked past many cork oaks, with thick craggy bark, and were happy to hear no more bells. I wondered how anyone could make corks from this bark. A visit to the local cork museum a few days later gave the answer – they don’t use the first cork they take off the tree. They peel the first cork growth off, then when it regrows it is much more uniform and can be turned into corks for bottles.
A surprise on the way back was faces painted on the road, showing that the Tour de France passed through here in 2021: