Sep. 11th, 2010

So, farewell to Villerouge and onward to Aguilar…

Onward and upwards, it seems, as we head further into the foothills. The scenery was just getting better and better, and the roads even more fun to drive. By now I was well used to being on the wrong side of the road, and had settled comfortably into the driving or our little (one-eyed) Peugot 207. By now, the roads were reminding me of an old TV car advert where the sat-nav kept seeming to direct the driver in the wrong direction for Glasgow until it finally brought him to the top of a long and winding road down through the hills, with the final instruction of “Enjoy!”

We did have a secondary mission, to obtain basic supplies – snacks and drinks – but none of the villages we passed through seemed to be possessed of anything resembling as shop. One did have signs promising a Spar, but it was evidently invisible that day. Never mind, there would surely be something at our final destination that evening.

The turn-off to the Château d’Aguilar did not seem promising – a very narrow road that seemed to disappear in between the rows of grapevines, almost seeming like a farmer’s access track than a real road. However, it rapidly became much more interesting. While I consider myself an experienced driver, unlike my dear [livejournal.com profile] silme, I have limited experience of narrow roads that climb up the sides of mountains. Looking ahead, it seemed scarcely possible that we could get anywhere near the castle itself, standing at the top of the crag ahead.

Despite my doubts, each twist and turn and climb brought us a little closer. I don’t mind admitting that I was more than a little nervous. My hands were sweaty and I was biting my lip all the time. [livejournal.com profile] silme did offer to take over, but I was determined to see if I could do this, despite the perceived lack of anything material between me and a rather more direct route to the bottom of the hill. Deep breaths were taken, more lips were chewed, low gears were engaged and the steering wheel was gripped, perhaps a little more tightly than necessary. At least I didn’t close my eyes, although I very much wanted to. That might have been a bad idea. At last, the car park loomed. It wasn’t much, it wasn’t well surfaced, but it was at least a patch of horizontal ground. I switched off the engine and paused a few minutes to catch my breath and let the heart rate slow down a little. Part of me was trying very hard not to think about the journey down, but for the most part, I was glad just to be on a flat surface. When I climbed out of the car, I didn’t fall and hug the ground, but it was a close thing. Camera, spare batteries and hat were gathered from the car and we set out on foot.

Château d’Aguilar sits atop a hill above the Tuchan plain, looking towards the Corbières mountains. It’s only 1050 feet, but it seemed a long way up at the time. Dating from the 12th century, it seems to have had somewhat of a chequered history, and once the border between France and Spain moved, its strategic importance was gone and it was eventually abandoned. Of all the castles we visited on our trip, this was the most decrepit. It is still a historic monument; though not one that yet rates a visitor centre. It did have a lady in a wooden hut about the size of a garden shed who took Euros from us, gave us the guidebook (please bring back when you are finished) and later sold us postcards.

The castle loomed above us, up a somewhat straggly path. I was awfully glad I had chosen to wear proper shoes instead of my Crocs. This was definitely not a wheelchair-accessible site, or even a granny-accessible site, unless the granny concerned was of the breed that dons hiking boots and takes a gentle stroll to the top of Snowdon. As I remarked to [livejournal.com profile] silme at the time, I couldn’t imagine it being allowed as a public attraction back home. The pathway was, at times, little better than loose scree and often quite steep. There were no handrails or proper steps and only a few hand-painted signs. Even those were few and far between, so it wasn’t entirely obvious which bits you were supposed to go into. The little chapel on the hillside, a little below the keep was quite charming, with spectacular views. It also provided welcome respite from the breeze, which, up here, was quite brisk. The rest of the castle was, well, a bit more like some back home, little more than broken walls and rubble. Except I doubt that much of this was robbed to build somebody’s cottage, unless they were really, really keen. Photographs were taken, but a few suffered from me not noticing the camera was on the wrong setting for outdoors. We didn’t explore the interior of the central keep itself. What we could see looked somewhat overgrown and anyway, getting to it looked like it required one to be a mountain goat.

The descent back to the car park was a little easier than the ascent, though possibly slightly harder on the knees. We gave back the guidebook, purchased some cards and a bottle of water, and the nice lady gave us a free rolled-up poster. I couldn’t put it off any longer; it was time for the drive down. Loins were girded, sweaty palms wiped, and first gear engaged. Despite my fears, the journey down was easier than I had expected, and somehow seemed shorter. We stopped halfway for some good views up the hill. Soon, much to my relief, we were back on the flat bits and heading back to the road. The scenery continued to impress, necessitating a couple of photo-stops, including a brief pause in the village of Padern, to take a couple of long-distance shots of their castle. Had we had more time, we would have stopped and explored it also, but later afternoon/early evening was looming, and we wanted to get to our hotel, get ourselves booked in, and then explore just one more castle before dinner.

As ever, there are photographs...

Forward then, to Cucugnan and Queribus...

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