Pays Cathare 23 May, 2013
I´ve got my very own Cathar castle now. It sits across the river Aude, just a hop and a skip from my flat – a squat square ruin looming over the busy little market town of Quillan – the castle that is, not my flat! A few years ago when Ramblers leading duty took me round the delightful countryside of southern Languedoc in search of the mysterious Cathars I scarcely thought that one day I would live here and have my very own local fortress.
Of course my castle, a neglected and empty shell, is small beer compared to the various famous, grim and imposing fortresses perched proudly on strategic hilltops all around the area. It cannot compete for situation with the rocky eyrie of nearby Puilhaurens, nor for scale with the grand sprawl of defensive walls snaking over the long crest of Peyrepertuse or for elegance with the barrel shaped mountain top tower of Queribus.
It lacks the charm of Roquefixade, perched as that is above a limestone escarpment overlooking one of the most charming villages in Languedoc. And the nearby Puivert on the placidly pastoral Nebias plateau has a much better preserved interior. Certainly no one would dream of putting it in the league of the astonishing mysterious and dramatic site that is Montsegur itself, the last of the Cathar strongholds to fall and the site of an infamous massacre.
But it is mine and it does have a charm of its own with a fine view of the rolling Pyrenean foothills around Quillan through which the great long distance way of the Sentier Cathare snakes its way on the long trek from the coast to Foix in the Ariege. As I write, it is bedecked with Christmas decorations and not at all forbidding, despite its grim distant history. It looks rather benignly down over the bustling twice-weekly market of wine, cheese and flowers in the picturesque little square by the river outside my home Swallowtail Print.
So I do suggest you visit my fortress and me. You can do it now courtesy of Ramblers who have revived their fine Cathar tour as a continuous walk along the best sections of the Sentier Cathare. En route you can take in all the great castles described above and spend two nights sharing my pleasure in the unspoiled France around Quillan. And that, of course, includes the market, with everything from cheese to retro clothing.
Ah, the mild December sun seems to have broken through this afternoon. I think I shall pop up to visit my castle.
And you are invited too.