Some mountain’s in the Pyrenees comprised of sheer, smoothed limestone are stunning; my local one is known as Le Quié de Lujat or Quié de Sinsat or more simply Le Quié. The best view is from the winding road up to the Plateau de Beille on the opposite side of the Ariège valley, especially when the sun comes out and the great cliffs turn mercury grey.
On these sheer cliffs, some of the great raptors of the Pyrenees breed; the most notable is the bearded vulture or lammergeier or lammergeyer or best of all, in Spanish, Quebrantahuesos, the bone breaker. This enormous raptor enjoys a diet of bones and when they are too big, it drops them from a height on to a favourite flat rock or ossuary to fracture them.
If you walk beneath the cliffs by following the crude path created by the rock climbers (the climbing in strictly controlled to avoid disturbance to the nesting birds) then you can crane your neck to see the distant silhouette of a young Quebrantahuesos stooping on passing griffon vultures for a bit of fun. The long tail and slim wings make it supremely agile and, when it draws its wings back and dives, it appears almost pterodactyl-like . A flock of alpine choughs sail the cliffs before descending in wheels to feed on the short turf at the base of the cliff, cheowing all the time until they settle to feed.
But the way to see the vultures is not at the cliff istelf but on the opposite side of the valley near the little village of Senconac and climb the long track up the hill. The ascent revels a huge view of the valley and mountains to the south. At this time of year the farmers are burning the broom and other shrubs to improve the pastures and smoke billows from a number of fires when the weather is clear and a fair wind is blowing.
At the top of the hill, the griffon vultures lounge about like young lads on a street corner idly watching the great flock of sheep trail by beneath them. A Quebrantahuesos drifts across the valley and then sails past at head height soaring effortlessly along the valley slope in the brisk wind. Here too a Bonelli’s eagle flies over before stooping into the valley. A pair of ravens collect sticks for a nest. Just a few miles down a golden eagle drifts over the hills and pair of short-toed eagles hover on the ridge over the rough pastures.
And the sun goes down on a most memorable day.