We were leaving the coast behind, Pyrenean-bound. Back in Barcelona, the trees were wearing light new foliage, and through the train window, we could see spring spreading inland along the River Ter. House martins and swallows swooped over the rain-swollen water, set to be torrential when the thaw reaches the mountains.
Climbing out of Campdevanol, spring receded with every step to an earlier phase. The way was spotted yellow with Cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana), unchecked by any competition. The woods were lit up with white and purple anemones (Anemone hepatica). In a sheltered spot, Peacock butterflies (Inachis io) came out with the sun, their rich colours as warming as brandy.
In the Sierra above Montgrony, rising to 2,000 metres, spring would presumably have even less of a foothold. But there were surprises. A strong scent invaded a clearing, its source a small solitary bush of Common Mezereon (Daphne mezereum), all bare branch and florid pink blossom. Horses were hungrily tearing at the short grass where emphatically blue Spring Gentians had sprung up. Higher up, purple crocuses could hardly wait for the patches of snow to melt.
We stood near the top looking over at the high mountains on the French border, white under an iron-grey sky. A line of geese crossed the ridge, heading north.
Wearing every spare layer, we got out our lunch. The silence was broken by a kronk, as two Ravens materialised, settling near by. Sometimes they rose up and circled us, black feathers shining like oil. As soon as we moved on, they came and cleared up the leftovers. The mountains felt very remote that day, but the ravens were a reminder that other people come up and have picnics too.
Large outstretched wings passed above – a Red Kite. Below, we saw the brown backs of Griffon Vultures. The Gombrèn valley is a busy highway for raptors moving in and out of the Cadi-Moixeró area. The day before we’d seen a pair of Egyptian Vultures, a very easterly sighting.
Descending under a shower, we watched the outlines of the hills opposite gradually merge with the clouds, and it was our turn for the sun again.