To try and avoid walking during the hottest part of the day, we forced ourselves to get up early. Neither of us enjoy road walking and the road to Couiza was suprisingly busy, but most of the drivers gave us a wide berth – something which sadly doesn’t happen in the UK. In fact sometimes I’m sure that some drivers deliberately aim for walkers and cyclists.

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Once we’d passed through the town and set off up the hill to Rennes-le-Chateau we had the footpath to ourselves. The name might be familiar to fans of ‘The Davinci Code’ as this is where the book was set, but as I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories I won’t go into the numerous histories associated with the hilltop village. All you really need to know is that it’s a very pretty place, has a church, and would make a good base for exploring the Cathar Castles in the region. Fortunately, by getting there early we were able to look around unhindered by the reams of tourists which descend on this place in search of buried treasure.

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We headed north towards Coustassa and it’s Cathar castle remains, but had to divert thanks to an unfriendly landowner and lots of barbed wire along the track. This then meant having to sneak across another landowner’s land but fortunately she was very friendly, as were her dogs, and took pity on us when we tried to explain what we were doing. We stayed on the south side of the River Sals, following tracks back in to Couiza and then up to the train station for a picnic lunch in the station shelter.

Whereas in the UK regional train services look very much tin cans on wheels, in Southern France they’re mini versions of the inter-city trains. Even the conductors look glamorous, making us feel quite scruffy. They’re superbly priced too – 1 euro per person per journey no matter where you get on along the Aude valley line between Carcassone and Quillan.

After jugfuls of cold water, cool showers and a nap Rich set to work on his version of a local cassoulet, the regional dish. Leaving it to simmer in the oven we then took our glasses of wine over to the square, to sit and people watch. Squares in France seem to serve the same purpose as hot pots in Iceland. They’re where the locals go to meet, gossip, do business, and have fun. If only ours were used like this back home. Instead, the green opposite our house is full of dog poo and overgrown bushes.

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