Lovely day for a walk in the rain – Sisteron, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France

As was forecast this morning, it just started to drizzle as we did a quick dog walk for the last time in Castellane. Just what we hoped for there was thick cloud and light rain! We had hoped to do the Sentier des Siréniens hike whilst in Castellane but the 28-31 degrees C we had had so far was not conducive to walking far with our England-acclimatised dogs. However, a bit of heavy cloud and drizzle and 19 degrees C was just the sort of weather they would enjoy and we donned our rain coats like the Brits we are (we did resist the urge to get the barbecue out however).

The start of the walk was just a few kilometres out of Castellane and along the Route Napoleon. There was an impressive amount of hairpins in that length of road though as we climbed the hill opposite Castellane until we were looking down at the Roc we had climbed a few days before.

Bendy Route de Napoleon

There is a dedicated carpark (with strict No Camping for motorhome signs) for the walk and it is well posted from there. I gather there must be wolves in the vicinity though as the field of sheep were protected by 2 or 3 large mountain dogs hidden in the long grass, thankfully oblivious to our little Border Terriers. Also pleased to report they did not find any wolves on our walk as Lola would certainly have tried her luck 🙄

Mountain dogs tending the sheep from wolves

The 4km walk had a change in altitude of only 150m going from 1148m at the carpark to the base of a hill at 1212m. What it did not say in the walk guide though was that you get to experience the change in altitude multiple times as the route goes up and down hill many times. However it was a fairly easy walk through the fragrant gorse, by alpine walking standards and we soon saw across the valley the target of our walk. Fossils have been found of the Siréniens, an ancient herbivore sea cow species relative of today’s manatee. They were deposited here at the base of this hill over 35 million years ago, when this area, now at an altitude of 1200m was covered by the sea! 🤯

There is a stream beside the site where grey Jurassic limestone 145 million years old is exposed beside the 35 million deposits meaning for 110 million years there were no rock formations in between. Until the sea receded relatively quickly in the cove which had formed, drained quickly leaving behind the sandy / muddy deposit which is the 35 million year old layer and capturing the remains of the creatures that lived there 🧐

The fossils have been left where the were found, boxed in within a display case and apparently with some metal layer above, presumably to limit the level of water draining through and eroding the site. I think the setting gave it a whole new perspective to me. Somehow when you see cleaned up looking fossils in a museum it leaves me a bit cold. However, hiking up a hill and seeing them in situ with the rock layers beside them which show how they got there, it brings them alive. It makes all of the “ancient” Roman remains we have been seeing, seem relatively modern which I guess they are on the scheme of things.

Siréniens – how they would have looked

As they are still embedded in the mud you can only see the remains in a jumbled state, which initially seemed a bit disappointing compared to the fully formed skeletons reconstructed in museums, until you get the context. It certainly gave me a whole new respect for geology and palaeontology, when you consider how many such sites and samples must have had to have been pieced together to understand how the continents have all moved and shaped and perhaps the surprise of the early explorers finding marine mammals up a hill in the Alpes 😂

In the afternoon we drove over to Digne-Les-Bains, a Spa town due to its hot springs, which was to be our next stop. The Route Napoleon through generally being a fairly wide comfortable road still had a few tricks up it’s sleeve such as a stone archway through the hillside which you definitely need to take in the centre of the road if you are a bit taller. We pulled in at Intermarche for some supplies and a spot of lunch. Perhaps because it was still a big grey and damp we did not get the greatest impression of Digne and decided to move on.

30 minutes more driving brought us to Sisteron, by which time the sun was shining and the skies blue, which was clearly a sign. From the distance you could see the Citadel perched on the hillside, we seem to have a thing for hillside habitations 🤣

It did however take three attempts to find motorhome parking, also perhaps a good sign of popularity. We are now beside the railway station, however trains seem to be very infrequent.

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