In Eighteenth Century France there was a great demand for very tall, straight tree trunks to be used as masts of sailing ships. (Mâture is the French word for ‘mast’.) One area of the Pyrenees produced ideal trees – but how could the trunks be brought down a very steep ravine? The answer was to hack out a path, through solid rock, for the mules to carry the trunks. 300 years later, the path is still there and, apart from the occasional rockfall blocking the path, makes for an excellent hike. Welcome to the Chemin de la Mâture.
Starting in the village of Etsaut, the path is reached along a quiet road.
The beginning of the path proper. To the right is a ravine, around 500 metres deep. Not for those frightened of heights.
Amazing to think that this path was created over 300 years ago.
Here we see my brother, Martin, taking an important call from his agent. Nice to be hiking in the Pyrenees and yet not lose bookings.
Click on Martin Taylor to find out more about my brother and his uncanny resemblance to a well known footballer
The path is not particularly steep but it does climb steadily – count on two hours of climbing.
Is it a bird, is it a plane, no, it’s my mum, hiking up the chemin de la mâture. Not bad for a 76 year old!
Down into the ravine… the delightfully named ‘Gorges d’Enfer’ ‘Gorge of Hell’
The Fort du Portalet as seen from the chemin de la mâture. The fort was built in 1842, on the site of an earlier fort. From 1941-43, Philippe Pétain, leader of the Vichy government, imprisoned socialist premier Léon Blum in the Fort. In 1945, it was Pétain himself who was locked away in the fort.
For more information about Pétain and the fort (in French) click here.
Gradually the chemin de la mâture path flattens out though it continues for another hour from here.
Not for the fainthearted… The drop is a couple of hundred metres into the gorge to the right.
Although the rainfall on the chemin de la mâture side of the Pyrenees is high, it is not easy for plants to survive the cold winters and warm summers. Here is a succulent clinging to the dry rock.
The path continues through woodland – a welcome relief from the heat on a sunny day.
I was fortunate enough to see this fine specimen – the imaginatively named “green lizard” – right next to the path
For more lizards in South West France, click here.
As the path curves it is possible to get a great shot of most of the dramatic section of the chemin de la mâture.
Orchids are fairly common in the pastures above the chemin de la mature. Intensive, monoculture farming hasn’t reached the area – yet.
A view looking back over the valley towards Lescun.
Looking the other way towards the Soum d’aas. Superb mountains – and there is a cabane at the top of the valley if you need somewhere to stay.
More beech forest on the way to the top. The Pyrenees are not as popular as the Alps so we only saw about 5 other hikers all day – not that I’m complaining.
Who would want to go to a boring place like this? No parking, no souvenir shops and not a fast food ‘restaurant’ in sight.
On the plateau above the chemin de la mâture. You can see my mum admiring the mountains.
The route back to Etsaut is quite steep, back through more beech forest and crossing quite a few little streams – which are probably quite big streams in Spring.
The road back to Etsaut, still with great views of the Aspe valley.
And look what slithered across the road on the way down – a beautiful adder.
For Bernard Bohn’s information on the chemin de la mature (in French) click here
The bus service in the Vallée d’Aspe is run by SNCF. Click here .
More of the Pyrenees ?
Breche de Roland Flora and Fauna Gavarnie
2 day hike in Pyrenees Gorges de Kakouetta Lescun in Summer
Or other things French?
Parce Que Je T’aime (a novel) Cycling to Gavarnie
Cycling South West coast of France Cycling Western Pyrenees
Cycling to Tourmalet Food in France An optimistic view of France