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.