The buzzing of the cicada and the sharp call of the cuckoo nearly drown out the sound of your footsteps on the rocky path. But occasionally you can hear the loose stones scraping underfoot. Your feet and ankles are taking a beating. The air is fragrant with the smells of vigorously growing hardwoods, grasses, and wildflowers.
It is a beautiful, warm day in May and the route ahead will provide long days of walking. Each day will lead you through new country and to a new village. At the end of the day you will be exhausted, but after you do your daily washing and hang your clothes to dry, you get to explore and try local foods and wines. You will find comfort and kind hospitality in small village hotels. These are the rewards of wandering the open trails of France.
Visiting France at a walking pace provides an opportunity to savor the countryside and see things you would never know about if you were traveling by train, car, or even by bicycle. You get to meet interesting people along the way and all of your senses are stimulated and challenged.
Along the trail, at the edge of a remote field, you may find a solitary solid stone hut. It may have been there for centuries. You have time, why not go over and explore? What is it for? Who made it?
Most of the trails in the Lot and Aveyron River canyons are dirt but the route is sometimes on country roads. Part of the route passes over limestone plateaus called “causses”. Farmers, shepherds, and woodsmen have dealt with these stony soils for millennia. In order to cultivate the soil or build roads, the rocks have to be removed.
But what do you do with all those stones? Do you just pile them up in a heap at the edge of your field? Or do you use them to make stone walls and multi-purpose huts?
These stone huts provide shelter for shepherds and others. They are called “borie”. Some of them are simple, squat rough stacks of stones. Others are meticulously built stone masterpieces. These are dry-stone constructions, so there is no mortar to decay. The buildings remain upright by the precision of the stone placement. Some of the borie have simple ornamentation along the roof and corners. Many of them are round.
The roof is constructed by a gradual cantilever stacking, where each added row of stones slightly overhangs the row below. Most of the weight of each new stone is still on the stones below and increases the strength of the building. The construction must be very time-consuming.
They don’t appear to be used very often. But they have provided shelter for generations of wandering shepherds, hikers, perhaps lovers seeking privacy, woodsmen, and whomever else found a borie nearby as a storm or darkness approached.
They are interesting and varied and fun to explore. And they make a nice break along the trail. But then it is time to head toward that next village. What kind of hotel and restaurant will we find tonight? What other sites will we see along the trail? Let’s go find out!!! Happy Trails!!