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Pyrenees Sunset

Pyrenees Sunset
An August evening in the French Pyrenees at sunset

Friday 1 July 2011

Night time walk in the Pyrenees

Don McLean comes to mind as I get out of the car at 4.00 in the morning - Starry Starry Night. What a sky! Moonlight illuminating the mountains in front of me and The Plough just sitting at a tilt along the peaks amidst a myriad of stars in a rich dark night sky with a bit of a chill in the air, just 8˚C.

Do I stop and unpack the camera? - Wish I had, but no, got to get off if I want to see the sunrise from the top of the mountains opposite Pic du Midi d'Ossau.

The first part of the walk is not too bad under dappled moonlight as the tree lined path follows along side the reservoir. That fresh smell of damp vegetation with a hint of tree pollen, then the path starts to climb as the sound of the mountain river draws closer.

Now I had made a flask of tea, filled a baguette with a selection of things - jam, peanut butter cucumber and ham (mmmm!), also a banana and water which all fitted nicely into the carry bag for my 3leggedThing - 3leggedThing Brian was strapped to my camera bag, but the one thing I didn't have was a torch.

Getting to the top of this steep incline and passing through a gate, the path opens out and splits in two directions - one along the open valley and the other to the right, up another steep path through mature forest of chestnut, pine and oak.

Well, I thought, this will be fun - I turned right and went into the forest, not too bad for the first 20m but then the canopy shut out what little moonlight there was and waiting for my eyes to adjust I couldn't see a thing. I had been this way before in daylight, so I knew the general direction of the path, but now stumbling over tree roots and rocks I manage to fall over three times; I stopped and thought - if I wait till dawn it would have been a waste of time getting up at 2.15am to come up here! Ah - mobile phone, well, better than no light at all and with the little illumination from the screen I was able to make out the bigger obstacles on the path and a combination of the phone and listening to the sound your feet made on the ground (leafy noise meant off the path) I manage to wind my way up through the forest.

As I was coming out of the forest you could see the sky was starting to lighten but I was only about half way; the walk through the trees had taken a lot longer than I anticipated. Stopping for a yummy 1/3 of baguette and a drink, I thought back to last spring: the ground was covered in dwarf daffodils and the snow meltwater ran over the fine grasses to the little mountain streams - very picturesque. But now onwards and upwards. The path is easy to see as it winds up the mountain to a series of 5 lakes all on different levels, I need to get to the third one to be where I want to be for the sunrise.

Time to get the camera out and my 3leggedThing Brian. Fix the camera onto the cosmic green head and extend the carbon fibre legs to balance the weight and I'm off. This is the first time I've used this tripod on a long walk and so far it's been a pleasure - nice balance, light and the bag is a great place to put your lunch and snacks (also doubles up as a nifty lens case once you've eaten your lunch).

Wish I was younger, this is hard work. Stop to capture a few shots of the moon near the first lake, my mum used to say "moon run till sun catch him". This was a saying from the west Indies where my mum lived as a small girl in Georgetown before coming to the UK in the 1920's. Must press on as the night sky gets lighter and lighter. 

The last bit was a bit of a rush - I don't know about moon run but the sun was catching me quicker than I wanted. I got to the third lake just as that golden glow was starting, no time to set anything up, one quick shot across the lake then a scramble up another 200 feet to the top of the ridge. Too late - the glow had passed - but that’s life, you can set stuff up in a studio and get just the shot you want but landscape photography is more about being in the right place at the right time and hoping the cloud and weather conditions are going to be in your favour. But hell I wouldn't have it any other way.

I stopped to catch my breath before setting up "Brian" my 3leggedThing to capture a few shots of the lake below and the mountains going off into the distance - (the locking action on the head is great even with a long lens and the camera held at 90˚) as the sun started to rise in the morning sky. If only there had been some cloud it would have made a fantastic sunrise. Time to stop, lie in the sun and have a sleep. 

Pressing on, I want to walk round this third lake and up to the ridge beyond that looks down on it and in the other direction across towards Accous where I paraglide.

Got there ... a fantastic view, now it's lunchtime, 28˚C, not a cloud in the sky, cramp in my legs and a long walk down.

Thursday 20 January 2011

A look back at May 2010


Spent the afternoon walking and taking photos on the Plateau de BĂ©nou. Lovely and warm - 20-25° the cicadas were really noisy - managed to get some shots of them, I hadn't realised quite how large they were! If you stepped too close, they would dive straight back into their little burrows, which were all over the grassy areas.

As we walked along there were buzzards, vultures and red kites thermalling and swooping overhead. There were several varieties of small butterflies flitting about. Coming back down to the plateau there were some ponies with foals which were leaping and galloping about. We then walked along a tree-lined track and there were several clumps of bright purple orchids growing on the banks at the side


Pierre St Martin. Snow, alpines and sunshine. Clouds forming - none at all in a completely blue sky, then wisps then white puffy forms, then dissipating and more forming - absolutely amazing! First alpines coming through the snow: green christmas roses style ones, starry blue ones, deep pink ones. Also right up the top there were a few dog tooth lilies starting to emerge - mostly just the leaves visible, but some flowers too, although they looked as though they had been trodden on by the cattle or sheep that had been up there. 


Lac d'Ayous - Long walk through trees and uphill over stony ground (approx 8 miles there and back). Lots of alpines - edelweiss, yellow cowslips, deep purply-red and also yellow orchid. Also gentian blue trumpets and white buttercups and marsh buttercups as it's so marshy. Incredible amount of water gushing down the hillside from the snow melt running over the paths and making streams across the grassland areas. The reservoir was quite empty as the water was rushing out as fast as it was coming in - terrific noise of water everywhere. Amazing scenery with the Pic du Midi d'Ossau in the background and a whole string of other peaks going east off into the distance. Strange tree forms, some by weathering, others with growths and my Spirits of the Wood tree which had been struck by lightning.  Surprisingly few birds given the number of trees and not really any other wildlife apart from the flowers

May 2010

At long last, i've finally got around to starting a blog. I just wanted to give people a feel for what it's like in the Pyrenees and the sort of things that can be seen and photographed at particular times of the year. 

It seems that the last fortnight has been particularly wet and cool for this time of year, but now spring is really hotting up towards summer. The weather today has been mostly sunny with temps up to 25, but there is still quite a lot of snow up on the mountains

Caught a fleeting glimpse of a red spotted woodpecker around lunchtime, but it flew off before I could turn my camera on it!

Walking in the meadow there were clumps of Ragged Robin out round the edges of the field. Some of the figs have already got fruit and, surprisingly, they are starting to colour. There were also lots of really loud cicadas - not sure whether they were just very glad that the sun was shining, or what.

A Swallowtail butterfly was darting around the top of the kiwi, far too fast to capture!  But I did manage to get a shot of a Painted Lady on some alium flowers.
Black Redstarts were flitting about in the plum and kiwi trees and the buzzards were calling across the other side of the valley. Lovely to see the cows sauntering along the lane beside the stream on their way to the grazing pasture and then home again for milking in the mellow evening sunshine.