Thursday, 19 May 2011

La Gresiere

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We have much more to say about Venice but  a lot of work to do first.  In the meantime, worrying that we were missing another generation of flowers in the mountains, we tackled a walk over La Gresiere for the first time.  Very rewarding but rather long.

Starting at Les Gallands near to Chatillon-en-Diois, the path rises rapidly into the forest at the moment lit up by clumps of laburnum in full bloom.

The path was hacked out of the mountainside.  Around the turn of the 20th Century, one of France's periodic and often very productive social/public works projects was in full swing.  Small hydro projects and, above all, massive re-afforestation employed thousands with generally beneficial results which still positively mark the landscape.  The path to La Gresiere was the route taken from the plant nurseries to the slopes where vast acreages of largely Austrian pine were planted.  When the path reached a massive fault, unperturbed the foresters tunneled through it.  Now that less hardy types use the path, a steel cable has been fixed at the entry to the tunnel.  We have found a number of these examples of remarkable little engineering works in remote places in France.

The woods are decorated with vivid blue Gentians, Aquilegias, white flowered house leeks, sainfoin and a host of other flowers.  The trees are mostly Pinus Sylvestris (Scots Pine) the most decorative of all, Austrian Pine, Beech, a few Oaks, and plenty of Hazelnuts and other shrubs.

For us, it's always the highlight of our day to see something unusual  -  a plant, a bird, an animal.  This time we were rewarded by several Lady's Slipper Orchids (Sabot de Venus).  This orchid is relatively rare and grows in few places.  It's one of the most striking of the Orchid family.

As the path rises above 1 000m the choice of orchids increases and our chances of identifying one variety from another diminishes.  There are also strange Broomrapes in relative abundance.  And near to the summit at 1 492m there were carpets of Poet's Eye/Pheasant's Eye Narcissus, just past their prime but still splendid in such profusion.

As the season progresses, the limits of our botanic knowledge become painfully obvious.  Growing just below the summit is a mass of white-flowered shrubs which we presume to be Amelanchier.  We spotted a number of large orchids growing beneath them.

From the summit of La Gresiere the views are magnificent.  To the West a clear view of the valley of the Drome as far as Die and the mountains beyond.  To the East, a view over Trieves to the Parc des Ecrins and real snow-capped Alpine peaks.

In the view towards Les Ecrins there are five black dots in the sky, not visible at this magnification,  a group of vultures circling above the Trieves.

The clouds were building up and the descent proved to be interesting, even dodgy.  With our aging and stiff joints it felt like a sledge ride down the edge of a cliff.  The storm was kind enough not to break until we had reached relatively easy going.

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