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 ago...you'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' great....at 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!