I woke up this morning with a plan, and it seemed a good one too. After a week of doing lots of long walks with the dog, I had decided that we could both do with a slower day, so planned an early drive to the market at L’Isle Sur La Sorgue, to get a few bits that I needed, followed by a gentle walk from the Abbaye de Senanque to Gordes, a lovely walk that I haven’t done for a long time.
The day started with Pusscat scratching at the bedroom door, before 6am , so after giving her a quick cuddle, I got up early, sorted everything out and went out, just to give Millie a quick run, before we hopped in the car. It was then that my plan collapsed around my ears, as when I stepped outside the door my feet went in opposite directions and I had to quickly grab the door handle to stop slipping, very ‘ungracefully’ to the floor.
As I slid my feet back together again, I realised that overnight there had been some frozen rain, that had left every surface covered in an, almost invisible, slick of ice and the drive, even with its rough surface was like an ice-rink. Like Bambi trying to find her feet, I stumbled and slid my way to the verge, where at least I could get some purchase and stay upright, as Millie, also slipping was determined to have a walk.
We didn’t get very far, before I called it a day, determined not to get into a situation that would result in me having to call Andy, to utter the dreaded words ‘Hi love, sorry but I’ve had a little accident’ again – the poor chap has had more than his fair share of those calls from me in the last 12 months. So we slipped our way back up the drive and I got on with bits around the house, prioritising making bread, as the morning trip to the boulangerie was out of the question!
By lunchtime though, the freezing fog had cleared and the treacherous, glassy surface had simply melted away. The sun was out, I had really had enough of doing bits around the house, so I grabbed Millie and went for a walk.
I didn’t plan to go far, as since the start of January I have walked over 100 miles, just pottering along the tracks, exploring the area a little bit more. I really thought I would have a slower afternoon and I have a feeling Millie was more than happy with that option too.
It was though, a beautiful afternoon and when I reached the point, where I had planned to turn back towards home, I pulled out my little map (now permanently in my pocket) and realised that there was a circular walk I could do, that would take me over the ridge into the Colorado Provencal at Rustrel.
Like Roussillon, just the other side of Apt, the Colorado is an area of bright, ochre-rich rock, which was mined by ‘ocriers’ for its pigments from 1871 until the late 20th century. The vivid colours created pigments that were sold across the world, and in 1925 there were 22 mining sites in the Rustrel ochres, employing a total of 84 workers. The mines have been closed for many years now, but the site, a recognised historical monument, has been transformed to a visitor attraction, with its numerous paths, and even a ‘high ropes’ activity centre. https://coloradoprovencal.fr
Having never really explored the ochres here, I started to walk towards it, following the path along the high ridge line, quickly realising there was not much between us and the dramatic cliffs that plunge to the valley floor below, but the views back towards Saint Saturnin and across to Rustrel, were delightful.
The path was (like all paths here) well kept and well marked, so we continued on, eventually reaching the point where the Colorado starts. This is privately owned land and is riddled with paths, so we took the main route that snaked its way down through the steep woodland towards Rustrel.
Suddenly I realised we were standing, what felt like inches away from the edge of another sandy cliff, pale but with splashes of the tell-tale ochre colours that confirmed we were heading in the right direction. I should point out that I am not good with heights (In fact my knees wobble when I’m faced with even the slightest drop), so I edged my way backwards and moved as far to the side of the path, away from the drop, as possible, encouraging Millie to come with me, as I really didn’t want to consider what would happen if she took another step forward.
We continued down, with the path turning from stone and earth to a vibrant, orange sand, with cliffs towering above us, as we clambered down the steps and tracks that have been formed in the ochres.
With the afternoon sun, dappling through the trees, it was incredibly beautiful, and apart from the occasional bird, we had the place to ourselves. I can’t imagine that would normally be the case at all.
After walking down a final set of steps, we followed the yellow markings along to the main road, where we turned right along a handy little track that has been made in a field, keeping us off the road itself, before turning down a little lane that is part of the ‘Ochre cycle trail’
This was a peaceful little road, passing through fields, with great views of the ridge we had just walked down from, with that slightly sinking sense of reality setting in, that we had to climb back up it again. Surely, the path would not be as close to the edge as the one on the way down?
Taking the route marked back towards Caseneuve, we crossed a small stream, before the path immediately started to climb. Once again it was the soft, sandy stone, rich with ochre, and as Millie skipped up it, I picked my way slowly up the channels, using the tree roots as steps to help me as I climbed. I quickly realised this was not going to be any easier than the path we had followed down.
Climbing through the woodland again, the path was a deep channel in places, with tyre tracks suggesting it is regularly used by mountain bikers. I looked at the tracks in awe, admiring the skill that the riders have to have developed, to tackle such trails, knowing that is something I will never do, as I’m enough of a liability on the relatively flat surface of a road. Even walking, I was having to concentrate to make sure I didn’t slip, or catch my foot on a root – I can’t imagine what it would be like on a bike.
It was just past this area that I noticed a sign stating that the footpath beyond it, had been designated as ‘dangerous’ due to its proximity to the cliff edge, which saw me (once again) move as far as I could to the opposite side of the path, as we skirted along the edge of the dramatic cliffs, occasionally stopping just to glimpse the view.
Happily, we were soon past it and continued upwards along the pretty, but quite steep trail, with the yellow route markers on the trees and stones confirming we were still on the right path
Finally, after nearly 3 km of climbing, with my heart beating hard, only partly through the effort of the climb, we emerged on the ridge line, to be met by the gentle sound of sheep bells, thanks to a huge flock that have obviously just been moved onto the area. We had met this flock a few days earlier, when we had walked from Viens to Gignac, recognising them from the huge, attentive, Berger dog that followed us closely as we walked along the path by the temporary fence, Millie resolutely looking forward, not even acknowledging its existence.
The views from the ridge, across to Caseneuve were beautiful…
And we followed the path back to the point where we had first decided to head off to Rustrel, before following the road, with its stunning view across the lavender fields towards the Luberon, back down the hill to the house.
I am sitting here tonight, with Millie fast asleep across my feet, wondering what happened to my gentle day, and just a little walk. In the end we were out for 3 hours and covered a little over 8 miles, which was hardly the gentle afternoon amble that I had planned, but it was far too nice to stay at home.
That said, it was a spectacular walk, through an incredible, vibrant wonderland, and even now, the dust from the ochres is still visible on my boots.
I have a feeling that this will be one walk that Andy and I do together, going that little bit further into Rustrel, to buy breakfast from the boulangerie in the centre of the pretty village, before walking back again. It has just confirmed that there really is so much more to this area than we ever imagined….
Perhaps I’ll have that quieter day tomorrow.