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The Reservoirs on the Back Roads of the Neighborhood

April 16th, 2016 · No Comments · France, tourism


The little towns in this part of southern France are usually separated by a valley and a ridge.

The former is generally given over to agriculture. Vines, mostly, with a few olive groves and the occasional wheat field mixed in.

Then comes the ridge, which inevitably is crowned by trees and bushes. You climb up one side, walk down the other, and then you are in some other town’s sphere of influence.

The whole of the land hereabouts is connected by narrow roads or, more often, dirt tracks. Often wide enough to accommodate a vintner’s small truck and always big enough to handle a hiker or a biker or a motorcyclist.

The thing about the roads here, which is counter-intuitive to most Americans (or Emiratis, for that matter), is that to be on a French road or even a path means — 99 times out of 100 — you are on your way somewhere.

As opposed to your path just petering out, with you left in the middle of nowhere and no choice but to go back where you came from, which certainly happens in the American west as well as the trackless deserts of the UAE.

Here, the track would not be there if it was not linking Point A and Point B.

Which brings us to the takeaway … that hiking on the trails around this green and hilly part of the Languedoc, looking for the two weird reservoirs (above) we have seen on Google Maps, is not as scary as it might be. Because dead ends are rare.

Having that knowledge allowed us to walk on through 2.5 hours and 11-plus kilometers (seven miles) over new (to us) and mostly unoccupied territory west and northwest of town … and on to the village directly to our north, via a looping route from the west, and then south back to where we started.

And along the way, we found the twin reservoirs. But more on that in a moment.

We have learned that around here many of the ridges sometimes are quite wide and long and, often, treeless. Some underbrush, but sometimes not event that — just grass on mostly flat areas.

It allows for open views in a variety of directions and also promotes constant calculations on whether this stretch of mostly open ground, unseen by the masses of population, would be good for football, soccer, baseball or cricket.

The goal of this new walk was to find a new trail to the same old destination, but also to see if we could find what certainly looks like a pair of reservoirs in the middle of nowhere.

It started with an old path, and then we took a dirt path north, on and on. Eventually, we heard the revving edges of off-road motorcycles, and at a point where I was not sure if I had taken the correct path at the last fork it was handy to encounter a half-dozen young people preparing their motorcycles for some off-roading.

A conversation in French and English yielded no information about the reservoirs (you are thirsty?) but did get us back on the road to the target town. The young man speaking for the group had no idea about any sort of reservoirs nearby.

Which made the map sighting even stranger. If this kid was riding around up here on the plateau with any regularity … how could he have missed these two bodies of water?

After retracing our steps a few hundred yards, we headed north, and then followed the main trail west … and in a half hour we saw a berm topped by a chain-link fence … and we had found the Secret Reservoirs of the Languedoc.

What is strange about these two bodies of (probably) water … is that the one to the south appears to be green, on the Google map, and the other appears to be … purple.

On climbing up the berth and peering through the fence … there was one reservoir, anyway. It was revealed as a catch basin, about 10 feet deep, I’m guessing, maybe 50 feet wide and 100 feet deep, with about a foot of water in the bottom.

The water sits inside an enormous sheet (just the one, from what I could tell) of dark plastic. Held in place along the four sides of the excavated hole by heavy rocks placed around the edges of the berm. To keep the water from leeching into the ground, I’m guessing.

Why this stored water? For use on the vines in the area, if the summer is too dry? To forestall flooding?

Anyway, I saw just the one reservoir, and wondered if the purple one was gone … and we walked along … and the fence was continuing beyond where the body of water should have ended.

Back up the berm I went, and there was the Famous Purple Reservoir of the Languedoc.

It appears to be about the same size as its neighbor, but this one definitely had a purple tinge to it.

Was purple the color of the plastic sheet under the liquid? Was it some sort of grape-mashing run-off? Was it the biggest open-air distillery in the south of France? Was that thousands of gallons of plonk on its way to a bistro near you?

We haven’t yet found anyone who has seen the place, let alone knows what it is all about. Perhaps if we went to the city hall of the next town over; maybe someone could explain it.

So, we have seen the strangest thing on the ground, in these parts, and we resumed our push north and west, passing by a somewhat crude motocross park (the route outlined by old tires) being enjoyed by a couple of kids. And a couple more times we asked people we enountered “which way to town?” — and once we were saved from what might have been a significant delay.

The “road always takes you somewhere” thing worked out as the path we were on turned into an asphalt road, and after another half hour we came around a corner … and there was our target town!

We skirted the southwest edge of it and picked up a familiar track heading south … and in another 35 minutes we were back. Puzzled, tired but very curious about the Mystery Reservoirs of the Languedoc.



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