Thursday, 12 August 2010

The last push

Well here goes for the final push then, the last 6 days walking, then the trip home!!

Sunday 25th July: Vernet les Baines, waiting for La Poste!

Hot and sunny. Absolute luxury - I got up at 9.15 am and went down to make coffee. The lady in the next bed was up and offered me proper coffee which I duly accepted, then went off to town to get some Chocolatines for breakfast and bought a french stick for lunch. I spent the morning sussing out the route I had to take to get back on the GR10 and got back to the gite around lunchtime. I lazed around for the rest of the day and prepared for the last 6 days. I ate in the Italian restaurant again in the evening.
Monday 26th July: Vernet les Baines to Refuge Du Cortalets
It was overcast and grey, good walking weather. It was very cold at the refuge, the last high spot over 2000m (2150). I got up at 7.30 am and packed ready for the off. I wondered up to La Poste at 8.50 to find a queue, which I got to the front of about 9.10. the assistant went off to check and returned to tell me there was nothing for me. Rats, a wasted day and no phone from tomorrow. I gave the lady my home address and asked her to forward it when it did arrive. (It was home when I got there and was postmarked as being received at Vernet on 22nd!!!!!). As I was about to disappear to high altitudes again with probably no signal for a couple of days I stopped to phone Liz with the news and asked her to contact Henry to cascade the news. I was still not sure when I would finish but asked her to book me a flight for the following Sunday (the same one Henry had been on a week earlier). I then set off with trepidation. The route to the GR was an ordinary footpath so I suspected it would not be waymarked. In the event it was for a while marked with orange paint until a track junction, and at the start indicated the refuge at 2hr 55min. It was 10.10 by this time. I arrived at the refuge Bonne Aqueil after 2hrs 45min and soon found the GR10 on a wide track. It turned off soon after and as usual went up in a big way although it was not too strenuous. Either that or I was fitter. I climbed up near the pic de Joffre and could see low cloud about, it also got very cold, last thing I wanted. The path connected with a track which descended to the refuge so I followed this. There were a lot of people about including families as the refuge was accessible by road and was the start point for a trail up to the summit of Canigou, the main mountain hereabouts. I booked in for demi pension but there was no access to rooms or showers until 5pm. I got very cold sat on the terrace where I ate my lunch, so changed into warmer clothes and went into the bar area. I managed to get a text from Les but not enough signal for a conversation. At five I was shown to my room which had 2 beds in but no one else came in. I tried the phone again in the bar and got through to Liz OK and got all my flight details which she had managed to arrange. I felt quite isolated later as I realised I would not be able to phone anybody in the morning. I sussed out the route for the morning and decided to try for a biggy, over 20 miles, combining two days into one. This would mean a Friday finish and more time to relax before heading off to Toulouse and my flight home. I then went in for the meal. The place was heaving and I was allocated a space on a small table tacked on the end of a long one. The delivery of the meal was impressive given how crowded it was and I was given individual portions of everything which was actually enough for about 3 people. It was soup, followed by beef casserole, nice but a bit bland. The people next to me handed me their casserole so I had some and then my casserole arrived. I was stuffed. Still to come was the cheese course and then Chocolate mousse. A father and daughter arrived late and sat at my table and we chatted at length. The daughter was doing a fine art degree and had just finished a placement working in an art gallery in Bond Street, London. I retired after 10pm, late for me but with only 4 days left if things went according to plan. I was very apprehensive as I knew I was being a bit ambitious.
Tuesday 27th July: Refuge Du Cortalets to Mines de Batere to Arles-sur-Tech
It was hot and sunny. The guide book day finished at the mines but I pressed on. Unfortunately it was so hot that I stopped at Arles rather than going onto the next Gite D'Etape, my original intention. I had a self service Petit Dejuner as soon as it opened at 7.30 and was on the trail by 8.15. I walked around the building, the sun was shining and in the distance was being reflected off ......The Mediterranean yippee, my first sighting. It certainly gave me a boost. The walking was good all day, clear paths and well waymarked. I lunched at the Mines at 1.15pm and pressed on towards Arles sur Tech. I decided that if I got there before 4.30 I would press on. It started quite well but got very steep and torturous for a while. In the distance I could see what I thought was a scout camp with bell tents etc. However the path descended down into the centre of an extended 'Rainbow Camp' complete with yurts, benders and tepees. Several residents approached me to join them and enjoy the karma man, its cool. One lady kept offering me a shower and most of them appeared to be on another planet, gently floating along with inane grins. I pressed on rather nervously. As I descended into Arles a met three young French youths heading for Hendaye, Bon courage was exchanged both ways! I got into Arles at 4.45, exhausted with the intense heat so I sought out the Hotel Glycines and booked in. After showering etc I went out and bought more lunch supplies and sussed out the next days route. I found it and a sign indicating that it was 10 hours to the refuge I wanted to get to, which was the one past where I had hoped to get today. I resolved to give it a go the next day and still finish on the Friday. Returning to the hotel I went to dinner which was good. I checked my phone and found that although there was plenty of signal, I only had SOS use. Good to know I can summon help I thought. As I was leaving an English family, the Webbs, came in, mum, dad and two sons. I said hello and went to bed.
Wednesday 28th July: Arles sur Tech to Moulin De La Pallette plus a bit and back again.
Very hot and sunny am, some cloud pm. The above is an indication that I didn't achieve all I wanted again, but in the event I am glad things turned out as they did. Had breakfast at 7.30 and got reception to phone and book me into the Las Illas Hostel, which I was hoping to get to. I set off at 8am. It was good until nearly at Moulin when I missed a turn and pratted around for half an hour or more, before refinding the route. I got to the Eco gite at Moulin at 11am and as it was so hot, stopped for an iced drink and a chat. I intended taking a short cut from here. The owners were fantastic, it was a really friendly place and we were soon on first name terms. The owner told me that someone had left the place the previous Tuesday with a party but had gone on at a water stop and not been seen again. Helicopters etc had been searching for him. He also told me that the shortcut passed through a hippy commune. The people were OK but there were dogs about so it was better to steer clear of any buildings. I left there at 11.30 and an hour or so later arrived at the commune. It was deserted. There was washing on clothes lines, childrens toys in a sandpit, a complete, very brief brown bikini drying beside a pool, but no sign of any people. The path was indistinct and every route seemed to lead to a hut or garden or building. There were 2 dogs down beside one building. After scrambling around for a considerable time without finding the way out I decided to cut my losses and head back to Moulin de Palette and resign myself to a Saturday finish, the original plan. I arrived back at the Gite about 1.30 the same time as the English family and was welcomed like a long lost friend. I was given a twin bedded room but had to abandon it later as it became overrun with ants! I transferred to the dormatory with everyone else. The owners phoned the hostel at Las Illas for me and transferred my reservation to the following day. Shortly after this another English guy, Gordon appeared and some french people, a threesome I had met before at Siguer and Cortalets,and a couple from Roscoff. The Webb family were doing Arles to Banyuls and the rest of us had done the whole lot in one go or over a period of years and hoped to finish on Saturday. The people running the Gite and their two very young daughters were wonderful and we had an absolutly amazing organic, and apart from the starter, vegetarian meal. We were in hysterics when the pastry from the final course tart proved so hard that Silas, the youngest of the Webb family, buckled his spoon trying to eat it. Over dinner I discussed my day with the Webbs and agreed to venture to the commune again to seek the way through. There was now only 70Km left!! Please call into this gite if you are ever around the area, the people are great and the facilities superb.
Thursday 29th July: Moulin de la Palette to Las Illas.
It was overcast most of the day but very hot and sunny later. We had a 6.30 breakfast and after a round of photo's set off at 7am. The way through the commune actually went down beside the dogs and the main building which was why I didn't find it. There was still no sign of any people. Steph Webb was not too good on the ups and had frequent stops but we still made good time. They intended to veer off the GR and take a trip into Spain, a less clear route but with less ups. We got to the Col Cerda in about 1hr 45mins, , still an hour quicker than the GR route, but were soon passed by Gordon and the French trio. I struck out on my own after this . It was a relatively easy walk but through woods so not much to see. The French couple overtook me on a downhill bit and I stopped for lunch at a track junction near the Col dels Cireres (1015m). I left there and found the french couple 5 minutes up the track having their lunch too. (They fell asleep and didn't finish until quite late). Descending through the woods the path emerged onto a road which I had to follow for 4km to Las Illas, a boring, tiring and hot stretch. I arrived at the Hostel to find the Webbs already there. I had an orange and Perrier and went to my room to shower. Looking out of the window later I was hailed by Hosea. He and Andy had just arrived and were staying at the Gite down the road. I went down and we enjoyed another drink together and arranged to share a table with Gordon as well at the hostel. We discussed all finishing together on Saturday. They had separated from William at Arles sur Tech apparently. Although I didn't know it, it was the last time I saw Hosea. We all retired about 10pm.
Friday 30th July: Las Illas to Chalet de L'Albere (Col de L'Oullat)
Very hot and sunny all day. Had breakfast about 7.15 and were off on the trail at 8am, with the Webbs and Gordon followed soon after although he quickly passed us. Progress was good and we got to Le Perthus around mid day. This is a major tax haven shopping centre for the French. The main road straddles the border and Spanish taxes are considerably less than French so there were loads of people on booze cruises etc. We dived into a restaurant and had a cooked lunch for a change. We then shopped for lunch for the following day and got back on the trail at about 1.30pm. The route here differed considerably from the maps and guide books and although we followed ballises all the time it was quite difficult and much longer than published. we got dangerously low on water but eventually found the water point at St Martin. Steph handed round the Kendall Mint Cake at this point. The ups started once again and I decided to head on alone to the refuge as time was pressing on. The landscape was very arid, it was very hot and I could see a col ahead so felt quite relieved. Unfortunately the GR veered off through some woods and meandered around until it eventually found the Chalet. The French were already there, as was Gordon (on the internet,) and Andy. He left before Hosea that morning and got lost. He thought that Hosea probably overtook him at that time and, not finding him at the Chalet headed straight onto a cabane, another hour or so on the trail. We never saw him again! I booked in, showered and made my brief entry into this blog before sitting down to a very jolly dinner session. The view from the terrace was one of the best we had seen and numerous photos were taking as the sun set ever lower and the colours changed. There were now the 3 French people, the French couple, and Andy, Gordon and me scheduled to finish the GR10 the next day, with the Webb family to finish their four day trek. We arranged to all meet by the GR10 ceramic wall plaque on the Marie at 4pm for an English tea complete with cucumber sandwiches!! I bought a t shirt with GR10 references on it, the first we had seen and there was just a great atmosphere there. The food was superb and a great deal of wine consumed. We all piled into the dorm for our last night of communal living.
Saturday 31st July: Chalet de l'Albere to Banyuls-sur-Mer The last day!!!!!
Blisteringly hot and sunny. Alarms went off at 6 am and we were up, packed and in the dining room for breakfast for 6.30. Unfortunately it was only me, Andy and Henry and the waitress wouldn't bring anything untill the Webb family and Gordon arrived. Breakfast was 7.10. However we set off at 7.30. We overtook the Webbs and the French couple who had left just before us and headed for the Pic Neoullous, where there was a radio transmitter. We ended up with all of us up there for a round of photo's then, as if someone fired a starting pistol we all set off. Gordon and Andy set the pace and as the French later said, you 3 set off at an incredible pace as if you were rocket propelled. The sun was hot as soon as it hit us, but the terrain was not too bad so we were able to keep up the fast pace. Andy had arranged to meet his mum and dad on the beach at 1pm. We stopped for elevenses when we had a clear view of Banyuls, the atmosphere was great but the GR10 still had a few stings in the tail to dampen our enthusiasm. We descended fairly steeply down a long ridge (over 1600m of descent today). this took us to a track which descended to a road, whilst on it we were passed by 4 cyclist and met a party of about 20 people going in the opposite direction. When we hit the road we were dismayed to find that the ballises took us up into the hills again and through the Col de Llagastera. A mere blimp said Andy! The descent was not too bad on a track untill we came to a road, but once again we left the road and plunged into countryside. A ballise directed us off the track, onto a path going down through scrubland. That was the last Ballise we saw for a while as we battled with near vertical crumbly slopes through scrubland in blistering heat. The path twice met 1.5m high walls which we had to jump down before we eventually emerged onto a dirt track or road. We followed this until we met a tarmac road and realised we had come out about 2km further down than we should have. We trudged up the road and just as we found the waymarks again Andy's phone rang. It was his dad, he was at the other end of the track we were going down and within minutes he met us. At the bottom of the track was a road and railway bridge, Banyuls sur mer, it was just 2pm. It took us a quarter of an hour to reach the beach during which time I had given Andy's dad my camera with a request for some pictures as I/we walked into the sea. I did not stop, I dropped my Leki poles and just walked right in the water at 2.15. A crowd of holiday makers gave us a round of applause and we all took our boots off and went paddling. What a sense of euphoria. Andy's mum and dad then broke out the champagne and I broke my 11 month abstention with a beaker. Seemed a bit churlish not to. Mum then produced several slices of pizza and we realised how hungry we were. It was great walking with Andy and Gordon, thanks very much mates, the whole thing may be forever in my memory, but the comradeship and wonderful people I met will stand out above it all. Thanks for the companionship in the good times and the encouragement in the bad. Anyone fancy doing it again???
I went off to find the tourist office for a hotel and to get train times, Gordon to phone his wife and Andy to see his parents, the fellowship ended, .....well not quite. I booked into the Canal hotel, cleaned up and went to the railway station to get my ticket for the 8am train to Toulouse on Sunday morning. After that it was nearly 4 so I wondered to the Marie and found the French at the ceramic plaque. We all did the photo bit and then went to a bar for a drink. Andy lent me his phone so I could phone Liz to tell her I had finished and to ask her to phone Henry to get the news spread. See you at bristol tomorrow I said. Eventually the Webbs arrived, having run out of water. They and the French trio were staying at a smart hotel so we were all booked in for an 8.30 evening meal to celebrate, all 11 of us. Unfortunately Andy, who had joined us in the bar was leaving to go back to his parents holiday gite some distance away. Back in my hotel I sorted myself out and with Gordon set off for the meal. It was drinks outside first and getting on for 9pm before we went in to eat. The meal was first class, with full silver service etc. Copius quantities of wine were consumed by all but me. Banyuls is known for its speciality wines so there was the round of aperitifs, followed by the sweet wines at the end, followed by anything else! After the meal I walked back to the Canal with Gordon and the couple from Roscoff, getting in about midnight.
During the course of this epic journey, 48 days walking over 60 days I had learnt a lot about myself, having had lots of time to think alone. The Gr10 actually becomes a living thing, you talk to it, it talks back, you argue with it and it argues back, but it always wins the arguement! I could not have done it without the support of those around me, in particular, Henry, (and Kaye Savory, a rambler friend who encouraged him to come out), Liz at home for arranging things as well as making encouraging noises. Also Mary and Phillip Lenaghan of the Hotel le Chantilley in Cauterets who convinced me to carry on after Les dropped out and even sponsored me. (A brill hotel if you are ever in Cauterets).
Sunday 1st August: Banyuls-sur-Mer to Bridgwater
I had to catch an 8am train so was up early and set off for the station via the Boulangerie where I bought 3 pain au chocolate for breakfast. The train was on time and nearly empty and I soon found my reserved seat. It filled gradually as we progressed through Perpingnon, Narbonne, Carcassonne etc. A young girl sat next to me and took out an enormous make up bag and proceeded to use its contents. What a difference in life styles I thought. She then saw my GR10 book and engaged me in conversation. She had been with a friend and summitted Canigou!! sleeping under canvas (I had used Gite D'etapes!) I felt quite humbled, the make up bag had been in her friends car for a week! I arrived at Toulouse, bought a roll and made my way to the coach station where I got the coach to the airport. I was well early. Checking in my luggage at the earliest opportunity I discovered it weighed 16 Kilo. that means I was carrying 18.5 kilo with water first thing in the mornings. I went to the designated gate and waited, and waited and waited. About 20 mins before boarding they switched us to another gate where we were told the flight was delayed by 45 minutes. When we eventually got on the plane we were told there was an air traffic control delay of at least one and a half hours, but we couldn't get in the queue until we were ready for take off. I was thinking of Liz who was driving up from Sidmouth Festival to pick me up at 1755. In the event we got in at 8pm and I was greeted by my mum, sister and brother in law holding a large welcome home banner, Les, Dave and Gill Lowry, Henry and Liz. Now my family new nothing of Liz so when she turned up with Henry they thought she was a bit old for him!! Dave and Gill did the introductions but I had some explaining to do!! Well we got home and Liz produced a bottle of champagne and mum etc went home afterwards. Henry produced a superb meal and thus the 'Heavy Breathing on the GR10' venture ended. Twelve months in the planning, 2 months in the execution but the rest of my life in the recounting.
That about wraps it up mes amis. I hope you have found it entertaining and who knows I might just get it together as a book! Oh by the way, Clare Penney has asked me to do Lands End to John O'Groats next summer, singing and making music along the way.........
Hi again, I hope I can get to the end today. I am just back from the Docs re the shoulder I injured when I fell over on 21st June just outside Luz St Sauveur. She is referring me to the muscular/skeletal clinic. Thats good I thought 'cos after my weight loss I am a bit skeletal. Trouble is fitting it in, I am off to Sevenoaks to stay with Liz on Sunday and from there up to Whitby Festival (calling in to see my old walking companion, Geoff who lives at Pickering). So I am not back in Bridgwater until September. Anyway on with the show....
Tuesday 20th July: Goulier to Siguer
Very hot and sunny with a terrific thunderstorm after we arrived at Siguer. The gite owner at Goulier was running me into Vicdessos at 0930 so we had a bit of a lie in. Breakfast at 0830 then off to get money. We were back by 11am and on the trail again by 1115. This time Henry had some money so he could pay his way. I had told him there was no accommodation or shops for 15 days so he thought he didn't need any money!! We were at the Col de Risoul in 30 mins and continued up to the Col de Grail (1485m) by taking a forest track rather than the GR10. It ran parallel but was much faster and easier as it was a vehicle track. This shaved 30 mins off the book time. There were parked cars, a refuge, and a picnic table there so we stopped for lunch, baguette and pate. A young French lad we had seen before rolled up. I was to see quite a bit of him later when we formed 'The international brigade'! His name was William. After lunch we set off for the Col de Lercoul and then descended to Lercoul where we found a group of children playing hide and seek around the village fountain. We pressed on down a sunken lane in really oppressive heat and humidity. For some weeks we had been plagued by horseflies and I think that lane was where they all originated from. Once they pitched on your skin they were clearly on a mission for your blood. On spotting one there was time to take your hand out of the walking pole strap, put the pole down and give them a hefty slap. They seemed oblivious to their impending doom. Trouble was you didn't feel them land, it was the bite that made you aware of their presence. We speeded up to try and walk faster than the flies could fly, and must have looked strange, racing down the lane waving our arms around trying to stop them landing in the first place. It was not a good experience as we were both dripping wet with the humidity and heat. Eventually we reached Siguer where there is a Gite D'Etape provide by the local (parish) council, completley free of charge. I can't imagine an English Council providing any facilities let alone free ones. There are no cooking facilities but 2x3 tier bunk beds, toilets and hot showers. There was only one bed free which the old man grabbed. Henry rolled his sleeping bag out on the floor. William arrived shortly afterwards and joined Henry. The other beds were occupied by 3 french people (who finished on the same day as me) and 2 English guys, one of whom, Dave, was doing a short stretch to accompany his friend Andy, who I was eventually to walk and finish with. After the terrific thunder storm we went out into the courtyard and washed our socks etc and cooked our evening meal on our camping stoves. We encountered one of the 2 guys we had seen in Alus-les-Baines who was having to continue alone as his companion had dislocated his shoulder and had to retire. When he heard of my water container problems Dave gave me a spare one he was carrying which was very helpful, thanks Dave.
Wednesday 21st July: Siguer to Cabane de Clarans
It was cloudy and overcast all day and we were in thick mist at the end of the day. We were up at 0615 and Henry did the porridge thing again. We were the last to leave about 8am. We had a very gruelling period of up to start with through the ubiquitous wood which went on and on and on...(no change there then you all cry!) We passed through Gesties and carried on up. The waymarking was good despite what it said in the guide books. Once in the open we could see William ahead and in the distance, on the summit of Pla de Montcamp, Andy and Dave. In between them was the French group. We reached the summit in 2hrs 45 mins not the 3hrs 55mins the Cicerone guide reckoned. The waymarks were wooden posts driven into the ground with a white and red paint bands around the top. Trouble is they were put in by someone taller than me who obviously did it by banging one in and then walking forward 'til he could just see the top of it before he put in another - another cause for SARA (Short Arsed Ramblers Association) to campaign on. I stuggled to see the next post, it was a good job William and the other French people were just ahead. we descended to a very posh and fairly new Cabane used by Cowboys (well they looked after the cows)! Just past there was a smaller Cabane and the French trio stopped there for the day. We carried on with William until he stopped for lunch. We eventually overtook Dave and Andy, also stopped for lunch. They overtook us when we stopped! we descended through a wood and came to a river which I assumed was near the road and another tourist spot, not far from our cabane. After a while I checked my map and discovered there were two rivers and we were only at the first. It was a fair old way to the second - merde!! The descent to the second river was horrendously steep and very slow. We caught up with Dave and eventually Andy, finally arriving at the road together. It was very misty and damp by this time and we quickly found the track up to the Refuge de Clarans, where we came to a very basic cabane. (We found out later that there was a much better one about a quarter of a mile further on, stocked with food and other supplies. Because of the mist we never saw it.) Andy and Dave decided to pitch tents outside but me and Henry decided to rough it in the cabane. It did not even have mattresses, just a wooden platform which could just about fit 4 sleeping bags. Just as we rolled our bags out William arrived and joined us. A little later Hosea turned up and joined us as well. We were very cosy, which was just as well as it was very damp and cold. We cooked our evening meal and retired. At 3 in the morning we were wakened by rustling and 4 Petzl head torches swept the building trying to locate the cause. It was a squirrel intent on eating Henry's bar of chocolate. Hosea became very animated and leapt out of bed in his underpants, grabbed a leki pole and tried to hit said rodent. I only wish my camera had been to hand as it really was quite a sight. We were disturbed several times by the squirrel and eventually I decided it wasn't worth the hastle so ignored it.
Thursday 22nd July: Cabane de Clarans to Refuge De Rulhe
Misty and overcast, dense cloud, thunderstorms and torrential rain. A very demanding, tiring and scary day which ranks as one of the toughest I experienced on the route. It started with one of the steepest ascents we have experienced, through woodland leading to scrambling over high crags in appalling weather. We were up at 6.15 cooking breakfast. We were again the last to leave in thick damp mist but after Henry had refilled his water container from the stream we overtook William, however we all decided to keep within sight of each other because of the poor visibility. We emerged from the wood into high bracken and broom, and were soon soaking wet. Suddenly, out of the mist an enormous building emerged, this was the Centre d'Acceuil du Plateau de Beille, a restaurant built for skiers. We went in for Coffee and something to eat and found Andy and Dave there. Dave was departing from this point to return to England. The waitress asked if we were heading for Rulhe, informing us that someone had been killed on this leg last week and that we should be careful given the conditions. The three of us, Henry, William and I set off together along the route which followed a wide clear track; how could you get killed here we thought! As we left the building a dog started to follow us and despite all our efforts he just kept on behind us. Although it was very foggy the route was easy to follow. We reached the Col de Finestres (1967m) where Andy caught us up and we continued together. After more than 2 hours walking from the restaurant we came across a shepherds hut, complete with shepherd and dogs. We managed to leave our dog there!! After the Col de Diorte (2093m) we started to climb steadily leaving the wide track behind. We had a navigation problem at this point as the track split in two with no waymarks. We found the right one and proceeded to the top of the mountain. It was cold and wet with little visibility and by now quite heavy rain. The trail followed a ridge which snaked its way precipitously up and down sharp crags. Easy to fall off and die here I thought!! We then heard thunder and were soon enveloped in a thunderstorm. As we all had aluminium walking poles we were a little concerned, being over 2200m. Andy suggested we should shelter under a rock until I pointed out that all the rocks were below us, we were on the top!! We carried on, putting off the lunch stop as we were quite close to the refuge. The rain intensified! After what seemed an age we started a slow descent and eventually a large building loomed out of the mist - The Refuge de Rulhe. My boots once again were as wet inside as out. We booked in for demi pension and showered etc - you know the routine by now. It then came on to rain and hail far heavier. The warden recorded 35mm of rain that afternoon. Henry cooked himself some lunch while I talked Andy through the route past Merens which I had done with Geoff. We would arrive at Merens the following day. The meal was good but the building was quite cold as all power was provided by solar panels and they had not had any sun for a while. Hosea was at the refuge and so we had a conference together after we got the weather forecast for the following day - it was not good and the warden advised against setting off in thunder. We decided the best thing to do would be to wait til mid day for a promised improvement. This would mean Henry and I would miss the train back to Toulouse. In the early evening there was a brief let up and Hosea and I ventured out to take some photos but it was short lived and we never got any views. After we went to bed the wind got up to gale force, banging shutters and other bits of the building, and still it rained.
Friday 23rd July: Refuge de Rulhe to Merens Les Vals
Thick mist, drizzle and very wet. Henry's alarm woke us at 6am but as it was persisting down with rain we stayed in bed and got up at 6.50 and went down for breakfast. The meteo (weather forecast) was for thick nuage (cloud) all day. Henry heard me complaining about the 'low' cloud and pointed out that at 2185m the cloud was perfectly respectable, is was the bloody land that was the problem, - it was too high!! We had breakfast and decided to wait to (a) ensure no more thunder (b) see if the mist lifted. At 9am we decided to reassess at 10am. Someone produced a melodeon and commenced playing it at which point Hosea appeared and suggested that, as there was no sign of a let up, it was time to go. Thus the international brigade was formed, Henry, Andy, Me,(Eng) Hosea (Esp) and William, (Fr) much to peoples amazement, got kitted up and set off at 9.40. Hosea set a cracking pace and I rechristened him 'speedy gonzales' I could not keep up so he kept stopping for Henry and me to catch up. Henry was not slow, he was just keeping an eye on his dad to make sure I didn't get too far behind. Thanks again Henry! It was very wet and whilst my boots were still soaking wet from yesterday, it was soon clear that any available space in them was filled with water as I slurpled down the mountain. We passed through a large boulder field, climbed a high ridge and then started the long descent. Not far from Merens we dropped out of the cloud which improved matters a bit and followed a lane into Merens, arriving just in time to hear the Toulouse train go through - Bummer! When we arrived in Merens Henry and I went off to the Station to find out when the next train was, the others set off in search of the Gite D'Etape. I suspected I might meet up with them when I repicked up the trail after Vernet Les Bains but said Cheerio just in case. It was only William that I never saw again. The next train was after 6pm meaning arriving in Toulouse after 8pm so we decided to stay in Merens and catch the 8am train on Saturday. Arriving at the Gite there was no sign of the others, (I later found they had gone to the camp site) however the owner and his wife recognised me from my overnight with Geoff and we were made very welcome. Building works had progressed and there was now additional toilets and a wet room style shower, great. As before the food at this place was excellent and I would thoroughly recommend it. They do rooms as well as bunk house style accommodation. As Henry was flying back to Bristol we sorted out some gear. I took his Platypus, his GPS (the IGN mapping in mine ran out at Fos) and sundry other items. Henry took some redundant bits of mine like my GPS. I also abandoned all my food except one meal as from here on there was accommodation every night. I had 6 days of walking left!!!
Saturday 24th July: Merens Les Vals to Vernet Les Baines by train and coach.
Sods law says it had to be hot and sunny today. We caught the 8am train with no problem. My boots were still soaking so I wore my sandles instead. Two french drunks sat near us and tried to engage us in conversation ranging from the Loch Ness Monster to Sean Connery, quite an interesting trip really. We arrived in Toulouse and said our goodbyes. I was really sorry to see Henry go. Walking together had been a really good experience and without Henry I would never have completed it, so thanks so much Henry, for being there when you were needed and for helping me over the difficult bits. You came up trumps and I hope you do manage to do the rest at some time in the future!! Liz had sorted out a flight home for Henry and although we had noted down the details we both thought it was a Saturday flight, so after a look around Toulouse Henry headed off to the airport, only to find it was a Sunday flight! I caught my connection to Narbonne, where I had to change again. The Stations were incredibly busy. The last train was 2 coaches long with 4 coaches worth of people to get on it. Luckily I got a seat and arrived in Perpingnon OK. I walked to the coach station and got on the one Euro coach to Vernet, arriving too late for the post office and my phone sim. This meant another wasted day on Sunday and not being able to start until after 9am on the Monday. I went to the Gite D'Etape, where again I was recognised and booked in. I felt very lonely and apprehensive about the next 6 days walking, with visions of having to stop a french person to ask them to take my photo if I ever got to the Med. I ate out in an Italian restaurant that night. The gite was fairly quiet, a single french lady from Paris who tried to talk me into walking with her next day and a young family with a baby, the father of which was also quite chatty but spoke no English and a mother and teenage son.

A visitor has just arrived so i will finish this with a final posting in a while! au revoir!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Through the Ariege and onto the Med!!

Hi mes amis, well as a lot of you know by now, it is all over bar the visit to the doctor to sort out my shoulder, sorting over 700 photos, the diary and the dictaphone account, preparing the presentation/lecture tour and writing the book! As predicted I arrived in Banyuls in blistering heat on 31st July (an hour later than I thought) at 2pm, was in the Med, boots still on at 2.15pm, to a round of applause from holiday makers, and was supping a glass (well plastic beaker) of Champagne at 2.20pm. But lets not get ahead of ourselves, I left you at Luchon where I was waiting for Henry to arrive, on 8th July so lets go back there...
Thursday 8th July: Luchon: Waiting for Henry
After the phone call from Henry I worked out that he wouldn't arrive before the last train (which was a bus) due to arrive at 2045. I informed the hotel who said that it wasn't a problem and they would serve our evening meal whatever time he got in, they were really good. After spending the afternoon in a pavement cafe I eventually wondered out to the station to meet him, where he arrived a few minutes early. His delay was due to someone on his plane being taken ill as the plane was taxi-ing to the take off runway. They had to return to the stand, get the paramedics, offload the guy and his luggage before they could take off again. So we walked back to the hotel, had a really good meal and off to bed. We shared the same room and the hotel owner Mme Davi didn't charge for Henry's accommodation. It was a great little place, no frills but a proper job and I would recommend it..Le Chalet, 21 Rue Gambetta.
Friday 9th July: Luchon to Cabane les Courraus
The weather was fine and sunny untill we descended into thick cloud. After a 7 am breakfast we set off in good spirits, it was great to have Henry with me. The initial ascent was not too bad and we made the first village, Sode in good time. it was deserted so we pressed on to Artigue. After a short break we pressed on through beautiful wild flower meadows and pastures, ever upward. We lunched at a shepherds hut, Cabane de Sauneres, and continued to climb in open country to the frontier. Here we were able to meander between frontier posts (a bit like trig points) wondering in and out of Spain. The views were stunning and the valleys below were gradually filling with clouds. We followed the border from post 398 to 406, meandering and summiting some peaks. It got increasingly windy as we climbed. After following a ridge we went over a col near the Pic de Burat and descended into the next valley. 45 mins to the cabane it said in my book. Great we'll be there by 5 o'clock says I! We descended into the dense cloud lying in the valley, following the red and white waymarks until we got to one and couldn't find the next one. Leaving Henry on the waymark I went searching but to no avail so we decided to carry on by compass bearing. This was where I discovered that my second compass had swung through 180 degrees and also now pointed South. Fortunately Henry had one. We found a small lake on our right hand side so decided to walk around it til we were on the opposite side, in line with the guide book. After a short time Henry pointed out that we had walked a complete circle around it and were in danger of complete disorientation. Using the compass again we set off but the terrain was so steep and scrub land that it was difficult to keep a course. We eventually found the trail again and followed it. Turning a corner in thick mist I shouted to Henry that we must be near the cabane, at which point a voice cried out "bon soir". We were actually walking past the cabane, which was just above us and invisible in the mist. It was now half past seven!! There were 4 young french people there, a party of 3 and a solo walker. We dived in and sorted out a space on the sleeping platform, top level and prepared some food.
I mentioned food poisoning,....well Henry cooked his meal then I did mine. Pasta with some sauscisson chopped up and a packet soup. Trouble was the soup packet (which I had carried from Hendaye) had split so I had put it in a plastic bag cos it got a bit damp. The hot weather didn't help and although it tasted alright it was probably mouldy. It was dark in the Cabane and I couldn't see it properly. Needless to say I spent all night with rampant stomach pains but couldn't go outside as it was (a) very foggy, (b) very precipitous. First light I was out looking for a suitable spot. I found the disadvantage of the 'IPOOD' trowel I had brought with me. When in my condition you have no time to use it to dig a hole!!!
Saturday 10th July: Cabine Les Courraus to Fos
The weather was clear, becoming sunny and very hot. It was my wedding anniversary. I realised that we needed to get off the mountain to civilisation where I might be able to rest beside a toilet block! So it was with slow progress we packed up and set off. The initial scenery was great the mist having cleared but somehow I didn't really appreciate it. We entered the obligatory forest and made slow progress arriving at a very steep old cobbled track, noted for it's slipperiness. It was damp and covered in moss and green gunge, to complicate matters we had to scramble over and under a series of fallen trees, all very buttock clenchingly!!! We both slipped over several times and each time I wrenched my bad shoulder as well as having to remember to clench buttocks as I hurtled to the ground. After what seemed like an endless time we reached the bottom and turned right up a track which meandered along the bottom of the wood, emerging beside a fast flowing canal. We then followed tracks and roads into Fos and found that all accommodation was full. In this tiny, remote, Pyrenean village there was a Tai Kwondo convention!!! We ended up camping in the municipal camp site, right outside the toilet block. We booked in to the hotel/restaurant (run by Brits) for an evening meal but I was unable to eat anything and retired to bed fairly early. Getting up in the night it was surreal to see this red bag, with no visible face visor or mesh, with snoring coming out of it. Henry had no tent, just a waterproof bivvy bag!! If I had had the time I would have taken a photo!
Sunday 11th July & Monday 12th July: Fos
It was very hot and sunny. I realised that I was too weak to progress and so we decided to spend 2 days in Fos. We managed to book into the Gite D'Etape for those nights and decamped to there. I ate nothing all day Sunday. We shared our room with a Spaniard named Hosea, who was to figure in a big way later on in the journey. The Gite owner invited us and Hosea to accompany him to a bar in Spain to watch the world cup final but I declined as I didn't feel too good. Shame really, would have been a good experience. I had another, 'I'm going to jack it in' moment here but Henry made suitable encouraging noises to keep me on track......"you mean I bought all this expensive Paramo gear and jacked in my job for 2 days walking...". On Monday I started eating with a vengeance, feeling much better. I removed a tick from my ankle, and spent time perusing the maps Geoff had left me plotting the shortcuts. Later on I found another 2 ticks. After a superb evening meal we retired. The food in this gite was really good, another recommendation to you all!
Tuesday 13th July: Fos to Refuge De L'Etang D'Araing
It was overcast with low cloud until mid day when it became very sunny and hot.
After an excellent petit dejuner we set of at 7.50, with the first 2 hours on roads so we made good progress, it was good to be on the trail again. When we left the road the ups started in earnest, through the obligatory forest. We passed 7 ladies going in the opposite direction at a river crossing. They had started in Banyuls! We emerged onto open country and started zig zagging up a very precipitous slope. At times it wasn't clear whether we were zigging or zagging due to numerous short cuts etc, eventually emerging onto a plateau. We had intended stopping for lunch at the Cabine D'Uls but as it was only 2 hours to the refuge I convinced Henry to press on after a brief stop for dried abricots and chewy bars. We eventually reached the pas de Bouc (2170m) where a young Frenchman took our photo, before carrying onto the Col d'Aueran (2176m) the highest point of the day. There was some snow here but the path went up above it before descending (very slowly in my case) to the refuge. We arrived at 2.20pm after six and a half hours. The site was just stunning and ranks in my top 5 places. A beautiful lake (sorry, Etang) and beautiful views all round. We booked in, showered, changed did our washing and relaxed. Life was good again!! In the evening all the valleys below us filled with a sea of clouds, absolutely stunning and lots of photo's!
Wednesday 14th July: L'Etang D'Araing to Cabane de l'Arech
Fine to start but low cloud and mist and rain. We were up at 6 for a 7 o'clock breakfast and on the trail by 7.45am. We first went up and over the Serre D'Araing which took just over an hour, then a descent to the Mines de Bentaillou which was a treasure trove of industrial archaeology complete with an open mine entrance. there was evidence of mining all the way down to Eylie-d'en-Haut the next village and official end of the days walk according to the guide books. It was a steep descent which got horrendously so towards the end. We got there in under 4 hours and had a break for 40 mins before pressing on into the next stage. We met several other walkers we had seen before here, including Brian and Amanda, an English couple we met the previous day and were to keep meeting. We decided we would keep going to Cabane de Besset if we could which was the whole of the next stage, although we had been told that the water source there had dried up. We soon came to a river and stopped here to cook up lunch, and have a cup of coffee. We had already refilled our water bags at Eylie. The trail then went up with a vengeance, from 990 metres to 1802metres, nearly a kilometre of up! It was a steady plod but very steep in places. Whortleberries were in profusion and we were later to sample the delights of homemade myrtleberry (as the French called them) jam at various gites and refuges. We entered a woodland and on emerging found the sun was gone and we were under heavy dark grey clouds with more cloud blowing up the valley - merde alors! We were soon immersed in this cloud, and catching up Michelle, a French guy we first encountered at Fos decided there was safety in numbers and kept with him. We soon reached the Col de l'Arech and decided to stop at the cabane of the same name as the conditions were detereorating and we didn't want a similar episode to our first day together. In the event the cabane was further on than we anticipated and I was begining to think we had missed it. It was a 'preferance ou berger' cabane. ie This cabane is for shepherds but walkers can use it if it is free. When we eventually found it there were 3 sheepdogs outside- bummer says I, we will have to go on another 2 hours to Besset. The young shepherd, Stefan, emerged and asked if we wanted to stay, 'C'est possible?' dits moi, 'oui, c'est possible' dits he with an emphasis on the possible and a broad grin on his face. He showed us the ladder to the loft where we found 3 very dusty and old mattresses. Michelle decided to camp outside with another walker who had appeared, but Henry and I made ourselves as comfortable as possible and got some dry clothes on. In the meantime Stefan lit the log fire & then told us about life as a shepherd, he looked after 800 sheep, spending 60 days on the mountain and 45 days off. He also told us about the bears and how, in conditions like these they would sometimes kill up to 10 sheep, eating only the heart, lungs and liver. He also told this to Brian and Amanda who happened along, adding 'its the mist, they can't find food so you should be extra careful'. He later told us the bears were miles away. Although we appeared to be miles from anywhere and at 1638m I noticed Stefan's motorbike, complete with what looked like a pizza delivery box on the back. Apparently there was a track down to a road, but not on our route. After preparing a meal and chatting to Stefan we retired at about 7.30, the mist being so bad we couldn't see anything.
Thursday 15th July:Cabane D'Arlech to Cabane D'Auden
Thick mist at first then becoming sunny. We got up when we heard Stefan moving about around 6.30am. After breakfast 3 French people arrived on their way to look at mine ruins. As it was still very misty they stopped off for a chat. We finally departed about 8am and descended in very wet and miserable conditions. It was not long before my boots were as wet on the inside as they were on the outside. I was not a happy bunny and descended into a very depressed and miserable state. We passed the Cabane de Besset and sure enough there was no water. We continued onto the Clot de Lac with the weather improving slightly but by this time I was mega pissed off and decided that when we reached la Pla de la Lau, a bit like Dartmeet, I would get a lift back to civilization. I felt completly drained with nothing in the reserve tank. I think it was my all time low spot of the trip! We stopped at another cabane to brew up lunch and then resumed the downward plod. We got to La Pla de Lau to find it heaving, and the sun shining. We were on the banks of the Muscadet river. We stayed there for over an hour as I battled with myself, finally deciding to press on to the next cabane. A move I knew would lock me in for at least 2 more days. Our next cabane was just over 2 hours away up a very steep valley side in forest before emerging onto the open hillside. I decided to continue and set of wearily, however, with the sun now shining and the downhill over I felt much better until we met a Frenchman coming down. He told us the cabane was 'ferme' and there was nowhere to camp up there. However we continued and eventually found the cabane. There was a small area big enough for my tent but in the event, both rooms were open and we dived into the one with a table as well as 2 beds. We treked back 300 metres to a stream where we did our daily washing of socks etc and replenished our water carriers. We had mice problems that night. One tried knawing his way into my rucksack and Henry reckoned he had a nest in his matteress. The views from here were really good but we had lots more up to do the following day. Michelle and Brian and Amanda passed by stopping much higher than us. I now felt in fine spirits again, funny what a bit of sun can do! Today was the last time I really felt I had to pack it in. Thanks Henry for the encouragement.
Friday 16th July: Cabane D'Aouen to Gite D'Etape, Aunac
Fine and sunny most of the day. Up early after the mouse incident, porridge for breakfast a la Henry and away by 8am (where did that morning go?) It was steeply up to the Cap des Lauses at 1892m and then an easy path to Col de Lazies at 1840m. Again, amazing views and only available to those that walked here! We then descended to the Etang D'Ayes, a beautiful little lake with some campers around it. Shortly afterwards we saw Amanda and Brian again. We chatted for a while then pressed onto the Col d'Auedole, where we took the GR10D, a variant to the route which went straight to the Pas de la Core, another tourist trap, instead of meandering all the way round a large hill. We had lunch there and a drink from the refreshment stall. We continued to Esbints on a very pleasant path/track through woodland and farmland. On arriving we saw Brian and Amanda (who had passed us at lunchtime) at the gite d'Etape having a beer. It was the last time we saw them. We continued onto Aunac, a never ending trudge, and arrived at the Gite d'Etape about 5pm. They had a washing machine and tumble drier so we took advantage of that for 4 euros. Trouble is they forgot to dry our clothes which delayed us a lot next morning! We had a fantastic meal there, on the terrace, shared with a large party of French couples, who we met up with several times and a family and another couple. After sussing out tomorrows route we went to bed, about 12 of us sharing the room.
Saturday 17th July: Aunac to St Lizier (Gite d'Etape at Bidous)
Rain at first, misty and damp all day. We were all up early but on seeing that it was raining the French went back to bed. After breakfast I asked for the washing which, as mentioned, hadn't been dried so we had to wait. It was 9.15 before we were on the road again. It was a pleasant walk up to the village of Azos, where we missed our turn off and had to back track. We entered a wood and shortly afterwards our troubles began. The actual GR10 does an enormous W, mainly in dense forest. It is possible to follow GRP trails which go along the top of the W thus saving a couple of days. We chose this option. (GRP is Grande Randonnee Pays, ie, a local route through the countryside) Following the heavy snow of winter a great number of trees had fallen across the path involving crawling under (literally), climbing over or going around the obstacles. It made progress very slow and some were decidedly hairy. We caught up with and kept encountering one of the couples from the previous night and walked with them towards the end. The trail was not that easy and at one stage there was a bannister rail rope to grab hold of to prevent a plunge down the valley. We eventually reached the village of Trein only to find we were in somebody's garden. Unable to find the route, and with the french couple we ended up marching through the garden and out into the street. We then followed the route to St Lizier and onto our gite at Bidous, the French couple stopping at St Lizier. Had I known how far Bidous was I might have stopped early too. However that would have meant missing a really good Gite with excellent food once again. Not to mention the music piped to the dining room, a mix of rock, flamenco and folky stuff. We had a room to ourselves complete with ensuite showers and toilets. The place was run by a lovely couple who ate with us.
Sunday 18th July: Bidous to Alus-les-Bains
It was overcast and misty at first but it brightened up and was hot and sunny by 11am. Up late (6.15) packed and down to breakfast. Myrtle jam- yummie!!! We set off at 8ish and guess what - it was very steeply up and up. Makes a change thinks I. We arrived at the col de Fitte (1387) without too much trouble having been overtaken by one of the French couples from Aunac. The rest met us at the col. We continued climbing to the col d'Escots a ski resort and full of ski lifts etc. Following thr GR10 we entered a fantastic valley with a beautiful circ towering above. We descended to a stream and continued down the valley. We stopped for lunch when we encountered Michelle who we had not seen for a few days. We continued onto a junction with another GRP route which we took. Again it was difficult negotiating fallen trees and at times I had to take off my rucksack to get under them. We arrived in Alus about 4.10 pm and went to a bar for a drink as it was so hot. After searching we eventually found the Gite D'Etape, a veritable pearl and wonderful place. The building itself was magnificent and the facilities really smart. More like a hotel really. We had a twin bedded room. After the customary shower and clothes washing we had a superb meal which would have put many a posh restaurant to shame. Henry thought it was a bit too good for a gite, what you need is plenty of stoge to fill you up! The large group of French couples we encountered at Aunac were also staying here.
Now I am not sure if I mentioned the problem I had discovered with my 'roaming' mobile phone. I got a new phone, especially for travelling around the world whereby calls were cheaper for me to make and receive and for recipients of my calls. In Luchon I picked up an e-mail telling me my sim card would cease to work after 27th July and I had to register for a new one which would be sent to my registered address. If I failed to do so I would lose all my credit. Bugger said I, how am I going to get it. I had discussed this with Liz, a lovely lady who now figures very prominantly in my life! She phoned that night to tell me she had sussed it all out, she had contacted the company and they were going to send it Poste Restant to Vernet Les Baines, where I would be going after Henry left me. It should be waitng for me. Well done Liz, thats a load off my mind. No worries then...
Monday 19th July: Alus Les Bains to Goulier
Hot and sunny. This was another short cut day saving another day. My bout of food poisoning meant it was going to be very tight to get back in time for Sidmouth Folk festival where I was contracted to MC some concerts, so anything that shaved time was examined in great detail. It was a Geoff suggestion and well worth it. Petit dejuner was again myrtleberry jam with yogurt as well-superb. I shall be up on the Quantocks harvesting when I get back. We set off at 8am but had trouble finding the start of the route. We weren't the only ones. as another couple of English blokes had the same problem. It boiled down to the fact that we didn't enter the town on the GR and our route lay half a mile back along yesterdays GR route. However, whilst trying to find it I could feel my leg and trousers getting wet. I discovered that my platypus, water bag had a split seam and was dripping watter. This was potentially very dangerous as it was already very hot and we would not be able to walk without water. The split was near the outlet, normally at the bottom. I had to put the bag in my rucksac upside down so the outlet was at the top and then suck extra hard to get water out or use Henry's and transfer my water to his as it emptied. It worked OK as a temporary measure, and we eventually got started at about 9.15. We climbed to the Port de Saleix (1749m) where we left the GR10 to take the GRP de la Trois Seignur. This took us steeply down into an absolutly stunning, deserted valley. The descent was so steep and slippery at first that I froze, my feet slipping away under me whilst clinging to a tiny handhold of rock. Henry took off his rucksack, abandoned his poles and came back to help is dad down. One of the worst moments on the trail! Thanks Henry!!! Once over that it was a fantastic walk down the valley to pick up a track at the bottom and follow it to Saleix. From there we followed the trail to Auzat where we had a drink at a bar before continuing to Goulier. Auzat was a strange place, small town with an enormous redundant Aluminium smelting plant owned by EDF. Part of the closure deal was the provision of a world class athletics and sporting complex. The Goulier gite was good and even offered to run me into Vicdessos the next morning where there was a cash dispenser to get some money. I had been paying for Henry where ever we stopped so suddenly realised I was desperatly low. The food was very good and after dinner I re waxed my boots and retired.

I have to close now and get dinner so I will conclude tomorrow, tootle pip!

Friday, 30 July 2010

Friday 30th July at Chalet de l`Albere
Hi mes amis, sorry for the long delay since the lqst posting but this is the first internet I have found. Good news is I will finish and dip my feet in the Med tomorrow, saturday the 31st July at about 1 pm if all goes well. Bad news is I have no time to tell you all the things that have happened to henry and me since the last posting; I fly back on Sunday 1st august arriving at Bristol at 1755. Liz is picking me up, but am at Sidmouth on the Monday so will update in full after that. Needless to say it includes a bout of food poisoning, sharing a cabine with a shepherd, another one with a mouse, and a third fighting a squirrel that stole henrys chocolate at 3 in the morning. Also walked through a rainbow camp, a nudist colony and a deserted hippy settlement with a complete bikini lying beside a swimming pool but no sign of anybody. It has been a great experience far more tiring and hard than I dreamt. There are quite a few of us aiming to finish tomorrow, from several nationalities. I am also phoneless so cant contact anybody til I get back. I have lost a considerable amount of weight andwould suggest anyone else doing this as a Billsponsored event get the sponsorship on a weight loss basis. You will raise a fortune. Must go now as dinner is ready, lots of love to you all and think of me tomorrow.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

As promised a continuation of yesterdays posting regarding the Refuge du Ras de La Caranca: This refuge is in a beautiful valley, close to a river and a spring (for water supplies). It is pretty basic, sleeping space for about 40 but no washing, showering or other facilities except for one new eco toilet about 200 metres away. We arrived about 2pm and although there were a few tents in evidence, not many people. we approached the warden re staying and were greeted with a 'ces complete'. A large party of Spanish people had prebooked it. I had phoned first thing but got an answerphone which Je ne comprended pas! We were asked if we had tents, I replied yes, Geoff no. OK we can feed you both with evening meal and breakfast, get your tent pitched before the 'orage' and Geoff, you can go on a waiting list in case someone doesn't turn up. Fanbloodytastic we thought. I found a quiet sheltered spot for the tent, Geoff found an old stone derelict shepherds shelter, blackened with smoke (the hole in the roof obviously hadn't worked too well as a chimney). He laid his bag out there just in case and we went into the refuge for a drink and to do our logs. Well, people just kept arriving, mainly Spanish although most said they were Catalan. Geoff then got the news that a guide had lost one of his party in a river so as he was first on the list he was in. We never did find out what happened to the missing person!! It then started to thunder and it persisted down with rain, it was standing room only and a wet crowd developed around the fire, lit to cook the evening meal. there were so many people it was to be served in 2 sittings. I was 7pm, Geoff 8pm. The atmosphere was fantastic and once it stopped raining people spread out a bit. In the event there were about half a dozen kipping in the dining room, nose to tail as well as in the dorm. After my meal, spent at a table with a Catalan family of four plus a young couple and a group of Spanish Ladies (queue for a song from Dave Lowry there!) I went and checked my tent and sat outside til Geoff joined me. The place was really buzzing, it was a fantastic experience coming out of near disaster. We turned in when it got dark, with no more rain.......until I was ready to take the tent down next morning.
Sunday 4th July: Refuge Du Ras de la Caranca to Mantet.
Cloudy at 5.30, raining by 7am and heavy rain for 2 to 3 hours before brightening up.
I was up at 5.30 to get the tent down etc and to have breakfast at 7am. Breakfast was good, they were amazingly efficient considering the lack of facilities and the numbers and that all supplies came in by ass. As I said I packed away a wet tent and we set off in full wet weather gear at 0745. As usual there was an ascent to a col which was OK at first but steepened dramatically. We reached the Col de Pal (2294m) in just under 2 hours, unusually, instead of descending straight away we followed the ridge for some time climbing even higher before begining a vicious descent. This involved a narrow path routed through and over large boulders. Some of the steps down were almost too much for a founder member of the short arsed ramblers association (SARA), and my knees started to complain. Not only did Geoff also have problems, but Antoine, a tall frenchman we met at the Gite that night also commented on the height of some of the steps. Mantet is a fantastic village, clinging to the side of a mountain and really beautiful. We found the Gite D'Etape and booked in although the hostess was still cleaning it from the large party the previous night. She was a delight as was her partner who came from Belgium. He gave me info on exiting to civilisation to get back to Henry at Luchon. It was not going to be easy as I had to get to Perpignon and then via Narbonne and Carcassone, to Toulouse. Problem is, there is a mountain range in the way. Geoff and I discussed this and decided that the following day I could follow the GR10 to the Col de Jou, then bail out by walking to Vernet les Bains, from where I could get a bus to a station. On returning I can pick up another footpath whch links with the GR10, further along the trail. Perfect.
Food at this gite was superb, Morrocan Chicken done in a tagine exactly as I have often cooked but better as someone else cooked it. Our hosts ate with us and the said Antoine. Our host said that it is the unexpected on a trip like this which turns a holiday into an adventure and experience. Very very true, I have learnt so much about dealing with problems and about myself. I would recommend everyone try something like it. Next day was to be a parting of the ways for Geoff and I.
Monday 5th July: Mantet to Vernet les Bains.
Breakfast was every bit as good as the evening meal and we were both on the road at 8.15. First landmark was the Col de Mantet which was a relatively easy climb and we were there in 35 minutes. We then set off down the valley to Py (pronounced Pee), which we reached at 1020. We went into the bar and shop and bought drinks. Geoff was stopping there for the day as he had so much time to kill as mentioned before. I was very sorry to leave him, he was such good company and very helpful, lending me all his 25thou maps of the Ariege. (If I've mentioned that before its an age thing OK!). Good luck mate, I hope your family are all there on the 18th! I look forward to seeing you in Pickering on my way to Whitby in August. I pressed on to the Col de Jou which whilst it took longer than I expected I emerged from the track into a large area with a car park quite unexpectedly. There was a couple there, bloke and a young girl in ...shorts and black bra....not sure if it was the one we saw a few days've seen one....! I stopped here for some dried abricots and a chewey bar and drink (standard walking rations) before finding and following the path down to Casteil and onto Vernet les Bains. I found the tourist office who directed me to the gite d'etape (7 euro but no food) and also sorted out my train times for the next day. 0825 bus to Perpingnon for 1 (yes one) Euro (over an hours journey) then the train route described earlier. Off I went to the Gite, bagged a bunk, showered etc and went in search of food. It was a fantistic little town. I phoned Geoff with news of the bus as I knew he had loads of time to kill. He decided to come that way and use the bus for a further day off. I retired fairly early.
Tuesday 6th July: Vernet les Bains to Luchon
Hot and sunny day. I was up early, had a cup of coffee and bought two pain au chocolate for breakfast before getting the bus. It was quite busy. The terminus was near the station and I got my (oap) ticket and boarded the train. All went well for a while until we got to the stop before Narbonne when we were stuck there for over half an hour. I was worried I would miss my connection. Problem was a fault with the line. Anyway off we went and duly arrived in Toulouse where I changed to a very crowded train and continued the journey to Montrejieu where I had to change to a bus. Finally got to Luchon at 1710 and booked into Le Chalet hotel, the place I had stayed before.
Wednesday 7th July Luchon.
Weather was blisteringly hot! After doing some washing and putting the tent out on the balcony to dry I set off for the post office to send home redundant maps. I then caught the 'Telecabin' to Superbagneres. Last time I caught that it was with Jude and Henry and Edward, bit of an emotional trip really! The reason was that, as those of you who aren't as old as me will remember, that I got a lift from Super bagneeres when I arrived from Lac D'Oo, as an orage threatened and I was going to stop any way. The walk down (18km by road) was through a wood and took 2hours 15mins. It was delightful and shaded. As I arrived Henry phoned with news of his trip. All on course. The afternoon was spent bringing this up to date, checking my bank account etc. I also had a long chat with Julie from St Margarets Hospice who are going to do a press release on my progress and experiences for the local papers. If anyone sees it get a copy for me please. Nothing much else happened yesterday.
Thursday 8th July Luchon
Weather again blisteringly hot and for tomorrow, becoming more unsettled and the chance of an 'orage' least it won't be so hot. The morning was spent sorting out what food supplies would be needed for the Ariege and then just waiting for Henry. At the time of writing this (1600hrs) I've not heard from him as to what time he is likely to arrive. I guess it will be nearer 1930.
Anyway, thats it for the moment. I definately wont have any internet between now and Merens. At that point I leap forward again to Vernet, where I might find a connection, if not then there is only 6 days walking from there so it may be Banyuls sur Mere!!! au revoir!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Right then, I think I finished last time by saying Henry was coming out so I had to revise my plans. The next stage in the journey was crossing the Ariege, a remote, uninhabited area with little or no accommodation except for the odd refuge and shepherds cabins to sleep in. I decided this was best crossed by two and since Henry couldn't get here untill the 8th July my best plan was to leap forward by train to Merens les vals, the other side of the Ariege, and continue until I had to reconnect with civilization and return to Luchon to meet Henry, so on with the story:
Tuesday 29th June, Luchon to Merens les Vals by train.
Set off to catch the 0830 train only to find the booking office didnt open til 0830. However the first train was a coach which waited. It took us to a station on the main Toulouse to Pau line. I had to change trains again at Toulouse and arrived in Merens at about 1300hrs. I saw a guy with a rucksac and walking poles so stopped him to ask 'ou est le gite d'etape?' He was english and we both went to the only bar for a drink and to sort out accommodation. I spent the next five and a half days walking with Geoff, a great guy in every sense and we got on really well together. The gite was closed down but there was other accommodation which we found and booked into. We shared it with 2 American ladies and an Irish couple. Food was good too.
Wednesday 30th June Merens les vals to Refuge des Besines.
It was sunny am but clouded over during the afternoon with some spots of rain late on. We were on the trail by 0745 having breakfasted. It was good walking and we stopped to brew up a cup of coffee just before the col. The views were good but not outstanding (well.....just more mountains really). There was snow on the other side of the col but it caused no problems. We arrived at the modern, purpose built refuge at 1300 hours and were shown our room. I got a large discount for being a member of the BMC. It had 4 bunks but no one else came in. Just as well else it would have been taking in turns to breath. ate with a catalan couple who only spoke catalan and a little English!! We spent the afternoon going through the Ariege maps (geoff had just crossed it and lent me all his 25thou maps together with lots of hints on shortcuts, what cabins were good etc. (incidently before you comment on the word shortcuts, it is impossible to take a shortcut on a coast to coast route!!). Major prob at this point was that my phone ran out of credit with no internet to get a top up. Geoff lent me his phone and I phoned Liz who topped it up for me so I was contactable again.
Thursday 1st July: Besines to Lac des Bouillouses.
It was fine and sunny with a cloud build up as usual. There was an attempt at rain in the late afternoon and some thunder. Breakfasted at 7am with the catalan couple and on the trail by 8am. The day started with a descent but it was not long before we were climbing steadily to the Col de Coma d'Anyell. Not a difficult climb, steadily up to 2470m and then a brew up at the top. The descent was down towards 2 lakes which we should have passed between but we lost the trail and carried on down to the far side of one til we picked the trail up again. We met two guys who we met up with again at the end of the day. We then climbed a second col, back up to 2426m at portella de la Grava. There was a fair bit of snow on both these cols but it was not too much of a problem. just slowed us down, trying not to slip or fall over. After the snow my feet slid away on some wet peaty soil and I landed on my bum with a squelch. geoff had to come back to help me get up. It's very difficult to get up with a great pack on your back. we then descended a beautiful but interminably long valley to the lac de Bouillouses. We kept expecting the lake to appear over the next ridge but it didn't. When we could see it it was very long and our accommodation was at the far end! We arrived at an Auberge on the opposite side of the dam, having walk across it. It had a gite d'Etape and a host who was a dead ringer for Mike Bettison (Salami bros and flowers and frolics for you folkies). Even his grin and sense of humour, uncanny really. The food was excellent and again we had a room to ourselves. We chatted with the 2 brits we had seen earlier in the day, over a drink or two.
Friday 2nd July: Bouillouses to Planes
It was hot and sunny all day. We had a self services breakfast and were on our way by 0745. We used the road and forest trails rather than the GR10 and were thus able to set a good pace. We quickly got to Bouqueries, a lovely village where we stocked up on essentials like dried apricots, fruit etc. we stopped for a drink and a bite (2nd breakfast) and virtually the whole village wished us 'bon appetit' as they came to the shop. We saw the famous little yellow train at La Perche (yea, that famous!!) We then followed an old roman trail to the village of La Cabanese and onto Planes. The Gite d'Etape there must rate as the worst in terms of friendliness and attitude. An old lady who dodn't even say hellow (or even bonjour!!) and a chap with the social skills of an hermit. Glasses and plates were whipped away in record time, no chance to even purchase more drinks. Again a serve yourself breakfast but not good quality at all. Stale toast and microwaved coffee prepared the night before. Geoff had intended spending two nights there as he had a weeks walking left but 2 weeks before his family came out to see him arrive in Banyuls.
Saturday 3rd July: Planes to Refuge du ras de la Caranca
A hot and sunny day with thunderstorms in the evening. Set off at 7.30am for what turned out to be a tiring day. A hoped for short cut never materialised and we trudged through forest for some time. We came to a clearing and were confronted by a young girl in shorts and a black bra, don't know who was more surprised really. We rached the head of the valley, crossed the river and started back the other side and after a while started a serious climb to the Col de Mitja which we reached at 1pm. there was the usual snow on ther other side and a very difficult stoney descent on the other side. We eventually reched the refuge at about 2pm. It had no facilities except one eco earth closet about 200m away. It was fully booked, a popular spot with the Spanish.

I am again running out of time in this place so I will return tomorrow to tell you all what a privalege it was to experience this place (Henry doesn't arrive until tomorrow evening) and to bring you up to date. Bye for now me dears.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Hi me dears, here in Bagneres de Luchon, nearly half way and the start of the remote, no shops, no accommodation except shepherds huts and the chance of meeting a bear!! (very remote). so since the last post:
Monday 21st june. luz st saviour
Didn't have time to explain the shoulder thing, I was walking down a road and I fell off the tarmac with 17kilo of rucksac falling on my left shoulder and wrenching it rather badly. Good job the doc gave me some painkillers before I went away. lay there like a turtle for a few minutes trying to right myself. Got to Luz and very slowly put up the tent. ate out that night, appalling service le patron said cet un catastrophie ce soir!
Tuesday 22nd June Luz to bareges
Most difficult thing was stuffing my sleeping bag one handed, but hey, I managed and pressed on. Steep ascent but unevenful day and relatively easy. Highest point was 1460m. Gite Detape was good, large french party in, but none walking GR10. Room to myself.
Wednesday 23rd June Bareges to Chalet Hotel de L'Oule
A 14 miler and a bit fraught. easy walking for some time but the highest col on the route to tackle, col de Madamete at 2509m. Needless to say eventually it got to be a gruelling climb and I started to fall behind time. there was a fair bit of snow on the top but the views were magnificent (same old same old really, lots of snow covered even bigger mountains!). getting down the other side was tricky, up to my thighs in snow at one point. On my back in snow at another and difficulty righting myself again, so I got off thesnow onto an area of boulders. Big mistake, they were the size of houses and I quickly got stuck in them. Retraced my steps and went down the snow to a lakeside. fairly straightforward after that but getting late and still several hours to my refuge, I eventually turned up at 7.30, 11 hours after starting, utterly exhausted! Only 2 others at the refuge and they walked off together next morning.
Thursday 24th June l'Oule to Vielle Aure
Reasonable day with some nice walking over the col de Portet 2215m, another high one but no probs this time. long descent through the usual woodland to the village which was nice and sleepy. I camped here and cooked a meal.
Friday 25th June Vielle Aure to Germ
OK it wasn't catching!! Again a straightforward walk although very hot. I was late away as I overslept. Came down another interminable hill to the village of Loudenville, got some more Euro's and pressed onto the Gite D'Etape at Germ, it boasted a swimming pool. Trouble is it was one and a half hours of very steep uphill. place was quite busy with a group doing Thai Chi. Only a couple of walkers, a swiss couple and 2 young swiss girls going in the opposite direction. I waited t62 years to meet a swiss girl and 3 came along at once!!! I never used the pool. food wasn't great but lots of it.
Saturday 26th June Germ to Lac D'Oo
Away bright and early before 8 after having to find and get breakfast. I left with the swiss couple but quickly drew ahead of them. another high col to pass 2131m. lost the trail for a while at the start of the ascent but quickly picked it up again. Relentlessly up, over the col d'Esquierry. Then a long descent and a turn up the valley to Lac D'oo. Reached up a mule track a trip which took 1 1/4 hours. It started to thunder and rain. arrived at the small refuge and had an orange juice. they gave me my own room again. Other residents were two families, day trip walkers. we passed a pleasent evening. The owner booked me a hotel in Bagneres de Luchon.
Sunday 27th June Lac D'Oo to Luchon
An early, before 8 start. The lake is in a large depression and I had to climb out of it. rain was forecast for the pm. I made good time and got over the first col 2275m ok. The descent from that one was horendous and very steep. Made me realise I ought to not do it on my own. It started to rain and hail heavily before the next col and on reaching the summit was faced with snow! My heart sank, soakinfg wet and weary. However it was not a lot and the following descent was easy. The sky blackened however an an Orage threatened (thats a major thunderstorm). I met up with some french ramblers and went down to Bagneres with them and booked into my hotel, guided by Michael. I had decided to stop and phoned Henry. He informed me he was coming out to join me so new plans!!!
This place is closing now. More next time.