Foraging for Fossils
February saw us setting off on a fossil-hunting trip in Precious to Occitanie. After dropping Rors off at Guéret station for his Sunday night train back to Limoges, where he’s a student, we drove to Montpeyroux to park up for the night. We’ve visited there before: it’s one of France’s prettiest villages. (There are actually quite a lot of them, more than 160 with new additions to the ranks most years.) However, it was dark when we arrived, and anyway, we weren’t there to sightsee, just to eat and sleep. And drop a pan on Tobi, oops. Only a little one and not from a great height so no harm was done.
Dinosaur footprints and ammonites
On Monday morning, as soon as it was light and Tobi had performed her ablutions, we set off along the hilly A75 to just short of the Millau Viaduct, near to Souloubres. Having got a taste for visiting dinosaur footprints during our visit to Lozère (as recounted in my ‘Lofty Lozère’ blog post:, we needed to see more.
A hilly, windswept walk brought us to some footprints known as Eubrontes. That’s the term for this type of fossilised dinosaur footprints, which have been found all over the world. They are thought to belong to a theropod (i.e. hollow-boned, three-toed, usually carnivorous dinosaur) similar to Coelophysis. The footprints were just there, slap bang in the middle of the path, not fenced off or anything. However, Chris and I were careful not to tread in them, although Tobi wasn’t so fussed! (I was hovering my foot above the print in this photo.)
We also passed an adit into an old lead mine.
After lunch we went over the Millau Viaduct and onwards, along some very steep and windy sections of motorway. Our destination was Mare des Martelettes with a very accessible wall of ammonites. We spent ages marvelling at these fabulous fossils.
More ammonites, botanicals and an aqueduct
After another session of admiring ammonites we set off for Gorniès along yet more steep and windy roads, with the added spice of extreme narrowness. And to make life even more interesting, this in an area of priorité à droite - ‘give way to the right’. The French highway code says: “when two drivers approach an intersection, the driver coming from the left shall be required to yield to the other driver unless directed otherwise [by signs, road-markings etc]”. What this means in practice is that you might be on the main road, but, totally counterintuitively, you have to give way to someone coming out of a minor road. It’s generally only found in rural areas, and thankfully isn’t widespread here in Creuse, but they do love it in Occitanie. Definitely an added stress level.
At Gorniès, we walked up the ravin des Euzes, watching out for fossils en route. We didn’t see very many, and we didn’t get all the way up the ravine. Tobi’s poor old weak back legs weren’t up to all the scrabbling. She was gung-ho about it all and quite willing to give it a shot, but there were too many sheer drops to contend with on the way. It made our hearts stop to see her standing at the edge of one, tail wagging and back end swaying. We came back down, carefully, and followed a much less anxiety-laden botanical path.
A series of signs identified various plants, many particular to this part of France. One of the signs had been crushed, and recently, by a falling rock. The sides of the ravine certainly towered rather menacingly above us in places! We’d already noticed the wild rosemary and thyme, juniper and evergreen oaks the previous day, and now we discovered many more interesting plants.
And a giant ant!
After lunch we drove the shortish way to Moulès et Baucels where a geocaching trail took us past more ammonites and eventually to a Roman aqueduct. We followed this quite a way, but, as in the morning, the combination of Tobi’s unsteadiness on her back paws with her magnetic attraction to the brink precipitous drops, where she would teeter, proved too risky. We retraced our steps, but had seen more than enough to make it a very interesting and worthwhile afternoon excursion.
Railway line and iron mine
Wednesday found us in very-nearby Gangès, following a voie verte (old railway line). Suddenly it just stopped, dropping us next to a very busy roundabout with non-existent footpaths. We eventually managed to get across to where it restarted, totally unapologetically, but there had been hairy moments navigating ourselves and Tobi through small gaps between barriers and fast traffic. This next section of voie verte was over-ponsified, with tarmacked surface, shiny-red extra-safe railings and unnecessary lighting in the several, short tunnels. The money would have been better spent on a safe way of linking the two parts of it together, in our humble opinion.
We found the side-path we needed that would take us to some old iron workings. But this was another on that suddenly disappeared, leaving us to either run the gauntlet of a stretch of 90 kmph road with blind bends and no verge to walk on or, as we did, wisely turn round and return to base. We’d spotted a parking place opposite the path we needed, so after fortifying coffee and sandwiches, we drove there in far greater safety than we would have experienced on foot. We walked upwards and upwards to the old iron mine. It was fascinating, well worth the tiring trudge. We enjoyed some wonderful views of the limestone causses too.
We decided we didn’t like Gangès very much, not with its habit of abandoning walkers to their fate along dangerous sections of road, so rather than park up there for the night as planned, we drove along the usual steep, windy, narrow roads to Alzon, which is a lovely little peaceful village and slept like logs there.
Next day we drove through Templar and Hospitaller country back to the A75, crossed the Millau Viaduct again, this time in the opposite direction, and stopped off to do some geocaching around a village called Vichel.
We climbed what turned out to be a fairly big hill, Montcelet, to the donjon at the top.
It made for a very enjoyable end to our trip. And as usual, on reaching home, good old fort-holding Benj had cordon bleus and chips waiting for us. What a star!