During lunch in a tiny village in the forests of Le Sidobre, in Languedoc, we got into conversation with an elderly lady who told us that she spoke Occitan as a child, before she was required to learn French. At our request, she spoke some Occitan to us, the only time I’ve ever heard it spoken. It was lovely and sounded rather like Spanish.
After lunch, we went to see some of the extraordinary rock formations of the Sidobre forests, which are littered with vast ancient boulders. Some of them, by accidents of nature, have landed in amazing places, balanced so improbably that your heart is in your mouth as you walk underneath. The rock in the photo has the Occitan name of Peyro Clabado, or ‘stuck rock’, referring to the huge rock on top wedged incredibly on its base by a little rock supplied thousands of years ago by Chance. It looked like a gigantic Henry Moore sculpture. And so did many of the other boulders on the forest floor. It seemed to us that the locals had missed a trick in not naming more of them. Everyone was beating a path to the famous rocks, such as ‘The Goose’ or ‘The Three Cheeses’, but we saw plenty of unvisited rocks equally deserving of nicknames. The Whale, The Hot Cross Bun, The Sea Lion, The Mushroom. Did I say they looked like Henry Moores? Maybe it was more that I saw the origins of his sculptures in these shapely old boulders.