from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Monday, 8 September 2014

from the Languedoc

It’s a few days after my course has finished at Gardoussel (‘guardian of the birds’), and TM has arrived with his son and my campervan.

I feel fired up, if tired, after another intense and precious course, now become annual, with a group of 12 disparate and lovely people from 5 different countries. Quite apart from the imaginative and tempting food and the idyllic venue, there’s been an outpouring of inspired writing and an immediate and warming intimacy within the group. Although I don’t label the course ecowriting I find it impossible, and undesirable, to separate our awareness of and imagination in relation to the natural world in which we’re immersed from the creative aspects of the course, and mindfulness plays a central role too (I like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition, which I paraphrase here: paying attention purposely in the present moment with all of yourself without judgement).

The market at St Jean du Gard, down the switchback mountain road alongside the river, is not to be missed. Now, with a few days’ relaxation behind us, we travel down, and from a pottery stall I buy a kilo of the delicious green figs that Chloë bought last week. The stall owner relays to me the recipe he gave Chloë: the result is wonderful, to be eaten, in our case, with grated carrot and beetroot salad, a platter of tomatoes, red onions and goat’s cheese (as I have, at least temporarily, reverted from vegan to vegetarian, for health reasons), olives, green salad and the local bread.

The recipe: halve some figs, lay them on an ovenproof dish, bake for maybe 20 minutes on a lowish heat, remove and give each a trickle of olive oil and honey, add salt, pepper and herbs, and top with a slender round of goat’s cheese. Put back in the oven for another 20 or 25 minutes, still at a low heat (about 160 degrees celsius) to melt the cheese.

TM’s son hitches off south. We spend the last day climbing the mountain behind Gardoussel: it’s dramatic and beautiful with stunning views, and I earmark it mentally for the ecosoul course I’ll be leading here next September, after the writing one has finished. There are fields sprinkled with wild autumn crocuses, and some of the chestnut trees – one of the main staples here were chestnuts and their flour (hence their local name, 'breadfruits') – are hundreds of years old.

We end the walk with a dip in the clear cool waterfall pool (which I’ve photographed so many times it’s embarrassing, so I’ll spare you another rapture); or rather TM dives and swims, and I sit on a rock watching the patterns of light in the water. A kingfisher arrows past just below my feet. To my joy, a few minutes earlier in the village square where we sat beneath the plane trees and looked up at the mountain we’d just descended, a short-toed eagle circled low over our heads.

Late that afternoon we pack up and head west. We’re still in the Languedoc, an area of incredible drama and beauty, and of both historical and, to me, personal significance for more reasons than I can begin to state here; suffice it to say that it’s Cathar country, and inspired my first novel, Imago (I’ve blogged about both before).

We head along the Corniche des Cévennes: the old van handles it very well. The high ridge offers more dramatic views south and north of mountain ranges in the late afternoon light.

I’m unprepared for the incredible beauty of the Gorges du Tarn; the towering limestone outcrops reminiscent, I imagine, of Utah or Arizona, but set in lush forested countryside. Here, superlatives fail me. We drive past unspoilt mediaeval hamlet after hamlet; the Tarn below is near-clear viridian.

Suddenly the sighting of a single eagle, or two or three, seems a little less significant – above the high peaks here, right above the 'aiguille', below, are about 50 eagles or maybe vultures – my binoculars are not strong enough to be sure – circling lazily in the thermals (it's still intensely hot). (Photo taken too early to show them.)

We could wild-camp here, but I haven’t yet used my electric hook-up and I could do with recharging the phone and laptop, and in this intense heat running the fridge. We find a municipal campsite – there are plenty, and the French ones are cheap, clean and pretty, with trees to park under.

Then we head west again from Aveyron into the Lot: country I know a bit.

And of course we head for Cabrerets with its mediaeval heart of castles and exquisite houses: pulled by the swimming for TM, and my addiction to visiting the prehistoric cave art of Pech Merle: shamanic depictions from 25,000 years ago in ochre, iron oxide and manganese as well as scraffito. I’ve written about this, too, I believe, before; it's inspired several poems and a series of paintings after my first visit in 2006.

We camp up again in a municipal by the river, and walk into the village. By the roadside is this building:

perhaps from the hundred years war (there are a number of such buildings from that period built into the rockfaces above the Lot and the Célé here). There’s also good potable spring water from La Source de Chevre Blanc; and high above us, parallel to the road is part of the French Pilgrim’s Way to Santiago de Compostela, the Camino.

Tonight, we're eating at Le Jardin de Cabrerets, a good vegetarian and organic restaurant with a salon de thé (that serves a selection of teas, not just the nasty Lipton's own brand habitual in France) run by a young English couple, with a tranquil garden. Excellent menu – and the home-made puddings are to die for, as they say.

Tomorrow, we’ll hire kayaks; and then after that head down off the causses West, towards the Atlantic.


  1. Absolutely stunning, dear Roselle! Reading this I feel as if I was there emerged in all this too! Thank you!!! And love B xx

  2. That settles it! We must come to Gardoussel next year. Have always wanted to visit the Cevenne/Languedoc, shall risk the possible heat and hope for some northerlys. Reading your descriptions of landscape and water, eagles and kingfishers (I always just miss them!) is so vivid that yes, like B, I feel transported.

    Recipe sounds enticing – shall try it, though any fresh figs round here might not be so good. Beetroot and carrot salad's a favourite and goat's cheese cooked with figs sounds utterly irresistible, though I might try it with ewe's milk cheese which I prefer. Raw fresh figs I've always found insipid, for some reason. Probably not ripe or maybe they're just better cooked, like lots of fruit.

    Enjoy the rest of your wonderful holiday, Roselle.
    Love, Miriam.

  3. Thank you, dear you two! - In haste - internet about to sign me out. No time to change the typos in the piece either!

    Love Rxx


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