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.