Col de Pailhères 2

14th May 2022

The cyclists stream up the wide road from Ax-Les-Thermes to join the cars and camper vans at the summit; most walk up to the rock outcrops to take in the long views . The road from Ax is improved to cater for the skiers that come in great numbers to the Station de ski d’Ascou located a few km below the Col.

Spring in the Ariège
View west from the Port de Pailhères

The short vegetation is a throng of skittish and small Mother Shipton moths that settle in the heather and occasionally nectar on the alpines. Moonwort (Botrychium lunaria) is just coming up in good numbers amongst the swathes of oxlips, gentians, pasque flowers, bird’s-eye primroses and alpine snowbells (the last of which is sometimes also called blue moonwort). What is equally surprising and remarkable is that adder’s-tongue fern (Ophioglossum vulgatum) is also present in the sward. The Ariège it seems is full of botanical treasure.

A single adult lammergeier drifts over and back and a male hen harrier works hard over the high grasslands travelling north. Wheatears have set up a territory on the rocky bluffs at the summit but the alpine choughs remove themselves as the tourists temporarily take over the Col.

Below Port de Pailheres to the east and down some precipitous hairpins is the small village of Mijanes. The road is painted with slogans for the Tour de France that often runs through this way on the leg between Carcassonne and Foix. Beyond are endless forests and small villages. This wonderful landscape, riven with steep-sided and afforested valleys, is vast and for the most part wild.

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