Quirbajou is a small hamlet up in the sparsely populated foothills of the French Pyrenees, between Quillan and Axat. It is reached first by one of Europe’s ‘most dangerous roads’, winding precariously along the Aude river through the Gorge de la Pierre-Lys, and then by a steep switchbacking road ascending 800m of forested slopes. We stayed in the terraced shepherds house bought by my husbands grandparents in the 1960’s and preserved more or less in it’s original state since then. We cooked over the open fire on the first floor and slept in the (massively uncomfortable) cot beds. The ground floor,’le cave’, was once used to shelter animals in bad weather and still has a hay rick and earthen floor. In the evening swallows, martins and swifts fill the sky above the valley. In the autumn and winter the house is used by groups of local wild boar hunters as a base for their forages up the mountain.
At the turn of the century there were over 200 people living in the village, but now there are just 40 permanent residents. A neighbour and old family friend, 95 year old goat herd Marcel keeps the heavy iron key for us. The story goes that his wife, Berthe, now passed away, had never left the village. The chalked inscription on Marcel’s wall reads: “Siesta is sacred. Pass and shut up.”