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!

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