To the summit of Col de Fajou

Sunday 25th June

The weather is perfectly clear all day and in the mid afternoon I climb the Col de Fajou; it is more of a large, whaleback of a hill than a mountain but still a few hours up to the base of the cliffs and then a dog leg round to the summit and an endless stumble in the tussocky grassland coming down. On the way up, there are Pearl-bordered Fritillaries and a late Duke of Burgundy. The grasslands are covered in wildflowers, especially where the soils are shallow; abundant Thyme, Alpine Aster Aster alpinus and trefoils, swathes of a Genista species and dense pockets of Pyrenean Toadflax Linaria supina, which attract hummingbird hawk-moths. This diverse alpine grassland mosaic is littered with Butterfly and Burnt-tip Orchids.

At the base of the limestone cliffs, I can’t relocate the Reddish Saxifrage Saxifraga media from last year but do find Fairy Foxglove Erinus alpinus and a deep blue bellflower Campanula species high up in a cleft in the cliff. In the flush leading up to the summit, Bistort is surprisingly common amongst the rushes and on the short grassy summit there is a patchwork of Moonwort Botrychium lunaria, a most strange but beautiful fern, and occasional Vanilla Orchids Gymnadenia nigra.

There is a kestrel with a nest in the cliffs and both red-billed and alpine choughs. On the slopes beneath the Col, wheatears are breeding and there is a large colony of marmots. On the return down the long ridge, the grass is much ranker on the thick soils and not so easy to traverse. The sun descends and the mountains appear as the haze clears. A golden eagle flies close by heading into a wooded valley carrying a leg of isard or something similar. The eagle is watchful but undeterred from its path as it is harried relentlessly by a pair of crows.

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