Bitten off more than I could chew… That would have been nice.

This trip has been amazing but if there has been a down side it has been my inabilty to get WiFi.  Before I left home I purposely called into the EE shop to discuss my requirements because I wanted to be able to update this log on a regular basis and keep family and friends in touch with my progress and share with them the highs and not so highs of life on G R Dix.

Unfortunately my in ability to get 4 G and the lack of free WiFi in many of the places I have stayed has meant I have not been able to provide more regular updates to this blog. I am now in Arles Sur Tech. It is the end of day 33 of my trek and my last blog entry refers to my departure from Fos which I belive was day 22. Much has happened since then so I will try and give you a quick summary.

From Fos I headed to the wonderly named Ellie D’Haut, a tiny hamlet that was a former mining village. Evidence of the mining industry was everywhere, including at the gite I stayed at in the evening. The gite is in is what looks like a former school and the gite gardian  his wife invite the guests into their home for the meals which is a across the stream and is raised up above the village giving a wonderful view of the surrounding hills and the valley below. The interior is like a museum to the mining industry with lots of photos and pieces of equipment on display arou d the dining room. It was a wonderful meal and I can’t remember when I enjoyed mashed potato as much as I did that night. Luckily I ate a hearty meal because the next night I was not so lucky. From Ellie d Haut I took an alternative route on a varient to the main route which has been added specifically so people who are not camping can find accommodation. Unlucky for me it was Saturday and the Gites in the first two villages I tried were full. At about 4 pm I was 4 hours away from a third village, the small community of Esbintz. I had called a few times but only got an answering machine but tried a 3rd time. I was feeling pretty low by this point. It was . Just at this moment a young lady came in the opposite direction and asked me if I could help her find the path. Her name was Miriam, and she was heading up to the lake about 10k up the valley but had list the path. Miriam very kindly called the gite and advised me the number had changed. She called the new number for me and spoke to them. Unfortunately the were full as there was a wedding in the villages and the reception was at the gite. The lady explained the only other place she could suggest was a small cabin about 40 minutes before the village. There was nothing for it. I was going to have to use the cabin. Miriam and I set about finding the path and proceeded up to the lake. It was nice to have the company. She offered to give me part of her food but I had no means of cooking it but it was a really nice gesture which did a lot to lift my spirits.  I left Miriam by the lake and I headed further up the valley to the Col before descending to the cabin and making myself as comfortable as possible, enjoying my evening meal of 200 grams of salted cashew nuts and a dessert of 100 grams of peanut M&m’s.

The next morning I woke cold and hungry and set off in search of breakfast. This arrived about 40 minutes later when I bumbed into about a dozen British lads, all ex soldiers.

They were raising money for a charity called care after combat, by walking the Chemin de liberty, the route used to get allied troops out of France to safety and in to Spain through the Pyranees. One of the guys, Craig, had become ill and had been forced to pull out. His loss was my gain and he very kindly gave me the contents of his ration pack that didn’t need cooking.  Never has chocolate covered Kendal mint cake tasted so good. It was really my good fortune to meet these guys. Without that food I would have been in big trouble because when I arrived at the gite for breakfast it was closed, so too was the next gite 2 hours up the track, and so too was the creperie where I was planning to have lunch.

I battled on to the next village were there was an Aurberg. Closed with a big for sale sign on the door.

There was nothing for it but to continue to the village of St Lizier where there was a pub / restaurant and a camp shop. Guess what they were both closed.

Without the help of the guys from http://www.Careaftefcombat.com I could have starved. Thanks guys

The next day started in the pouring rain and it was a miserable start. In fa t it rained for the entire journey. The whole 6 hours to Ax Les Bains. However what happened on the way will live ling in my memory. It is one the highlights of the trip.

On the trail ahead of were 3 shepherd’s  with 400 sheep they were bringing off the hills. There was no way I could get passes them. The mountain was too steep and the path too narrow. We were all heading for a bridge about 30 minutes away.  There was nothing to be done except lend a hand in rounding up some the strays that were trying to head back up the mountain.

When we got to the bridge I shook hands with my 3 Co workers and headed off down the mountain with a glow of self satisfaction that the rain couldn’t extinguish. It was a wonderful experience being involved.

 

 

 

 

My Mel Gibson moment.

The thing about accidents is that when they do happen, it always tends to be at the most in convenient time. The loss of my phone has not slowed  me down or prevented from navigationng as it would have done to several of the walkers I have met, but it has prevented me from taking pictures of by far the best section of the route, The Haute Pureness from Cauterets to Bagneres du Luchon. As I was looking at some of this really spectacular scenery I did have a tinge of disappoint that I couldn’t photograph to share it with you. Then I thought at least I am lucky enough to have seen it and to paraphrase Mel Gibson’s Barve heart speach “You can take away my camera but you can never…  take away my memories”  Try saying it in a Scottish / Australian accent so you get the effect whilst I bare my bum.

From Cauterets I made my way up through the woods towards the Col de Riou on the direct to Luz Saint Sauveur. the original GR10 route. After about an hour I turned and looked at the mountains across the valley behind me. They were bathed in sunlight. I was heading east so the sun was rising from behind the mountain I was climbing and it was casting a shadow on the valley behind right about the tree line, but the rocky mountain tops were bathed in bright orange sunshine the contrasting colours were as vivid as the flag of Ireland, bright golden orange and green its was a amazing sight.

I arrived in Luz not intending to go into the town but to carry on the Bareges another 12k further on but the footpath was fenced of as the were doing some kind of flood prevention work to the river bed, so I was forced to walk up the road for 2km to pick the path up higher up the valley. Numerous groups of cyclists passed by, silent assassins with only the heavy breathing  of some of the less fitter ones alerting me to there presence as they toiled up the early stages of the iconic Col de Tourmalet.

At the gite in Barges I met a group on a walking packaged holiday with one of the companies who book your accommodation and transfer your bags at the start of the day. The were mostly from England  apart from a father and daughter from Australia. Sophie the daughter reminded me very much of my own daughter Victoria. Same colouring light brown hair and blue eyes. The even studied the same subject at university, evironmental science. I thought it was wonderful that she was making the trip with her dad and will suggest a similar trip to my daughter in a few years time. Also in the group was a man called John who was the finance manager for a group of private hospitals one of which, the Yorkshire clinic, was only 2 miles from my home. Another member of the group called Sarah said all here family were from Bradford although she was born in Warrington she went across to Bradford regularly and remarked on how chaotic the traffic was, and how “unpredictable” the standard of driving was in the City. Yes. Enough said. Sarah kindly took a group photo and then e mailed it to me. Sadly my I. T. Skills don’t reach to adding it here yet.

The next 3 days was a truly memorable. Absolutely awesome. First was a 23km hike to  a lake side Refuge Hotel de l’Oule. Next was the hike to the wonderful mountain village of Germ where I stayed in a lovely little mountain Auberge. Then Lac d’Oo where I was booked in but in arrival the lady said I was the only guest so suggested I may prefer to head on another 3k, one hour to the mountain Refuge of d’Espingo which was about 1k of route but would save me an hour on the next day, allowing me more time in Bagneres Du Luchon to sort a new phone… Hurray.  If I tell you the scenery was great I will be understating how good it really was but I don’t want this to become a list of superlatives so I will tell you about Bob.  I met Bob at the Refuge d Edpingo. He was with Jim and the had come to climb on of the very big mountain peaks we looked across at from our Eagles nest at 1965 meters which was our accommodation for the night. Eve  Though we were already at the height it would take them 4 hours to get to the top. Bob an ex Royal Marine had sold his place in London and ought a small Chambers D hotel near Luchon. He loved skiing and wanted to be in the mountains to have access to the slopes so moved out here. He told me that when he bought the place the previous owner told him he would enjoy 300 days of sunshine each year as well as some great winter snow. That really does seem like the best of both worlds.

I thoroughly enjoyed their company during our evening meal and in the morning we went our separate ways. They went even higher and u headed of to my journeys half way point and the treasures of Bagneres Du Luchon twin town of the Yorkshire town of Harrogate… I wonder if there will be a  shop selling tea and cake?

Pictures from Day 19 and 20

So on Day 19 I arrived at the half way point, Bagneres de Luchon, where I was able to buy a new phone, but only after a 2km diversion to an Inter Marche (2k there and 2k back)  I then continued my journey to the small  village of Artigue for my first nights sleep in the Arierge region. All-focus

After I had fully charged my new phone I was able to take my first picture since about day 10. This is the fire place inside the tiny unmanned gite at Artique.

Day 20 was from Artique to Fos.

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The Gite at Artigue

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Much of the route on day 20 followed the border between France and Spain which is marked  by these posts.

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The Gite at Fos run by Marcell and Jean Claude. I think they are father and son.

More pictures from around Fos.

The villages of the Arierge seem older and poorer than those of the first two regions I passed through, but the people offer a warm welcome and genuine delight at you being there. This was demonstrated on the morning of day 21.

The night before i had told Jean Claude I would take breakfast at 7am and leave at 7:30. However also staying at the gite we’re a group from the admin team of Toulouse University which included 5 quite attractive Ladies. I would guess they were all in their late 20′ or early 30’s. As I sat down for breakfast one of the ladies appeared in lycra tights and a tee shirt and explained they were going to do yoga. Where I asked. Here in the kitchen explained the lady.

I thought having 5 young ladies perform Yoga routines around me whilst I tried to eat may make affect my concentration on the most important meal of the day and I really needed the calories  so I made a few jam sandwiches, said a cheery Au Revoir to Marcell and the young lady and set off in the darkness.  About 10 minutes later I heared running foot steps and panting behind me and the figure of Jean Claude appeared from the morning twilight. He ran up to me arms out stretched like a long lost brother. Monsieur I wanted to wish you good luck for your journey. Its funny how something so small can mean so much. I had a lump in my throat. We exchanged hand shakes and beaming smiles and wished each other well on our journey through life. Bon Courage Jean Claude.

 

Dudley Moore Was only pulling my leg.

So far my journey has been more or less problem free. The most I have had to contend with is a blister. All be it one the size of a 50p piece. However yesterday I had not one but two set backs. Nothing major but it did make me think of the small margins between achieving a goal and not.

About 4 days ago I went through a patch of brambles and both shins showed the scratch marks proving the encounter. I had also several mud splatters along the front of my right leg just above the top of the sock and just brushed these off while I ate my lunch.  Later that night I noticed that I had what appeared to be a thorn stuck in my right shin where the mud splashes had been. I extracted the thorn but the next morning the area was  sore, quite angry and what looked like a bruise was developing. Over the next two days it became more and more painful but only on the down hills. My shin was kind of  locking preventing me from pointing my toes forward. A trip to le Doctor was required and so on arriving in Cauterets I went in search of…. the Doctor…. que BBC theme tune ”

The Doctor had a striking resemblance to Dudley Moore and  every time he asked me a question I had to hold back the urge to reply with my best Peter Cook impression. He pushed and pulled at my ankle, bending the foot forward and back then diagnosed that whether it was a thorn or something more sinister my shin was infected. The infection was causing tendonitous, preventing me from pointing my foot forward. He gave me a prescription for a kind of surgical spirit I have to rub on the area, some cream I then have to apply and a course of diclofenic anti inflamatory tablets. He told me to rest for at least two days.  Oh well. There are worse places I could be marooned.

The only trouble with anti inflamatory tablets is they affect the stomach…leaving you feeling,…. er how shall I put it…hungry! So far I have managed to get by without the need to ” Dine Alfresco” lets hope it stays that way. No more to be said on the subject.

The second set back was I cracked the screen on my Sony mobile phone. Back home this would honestly not have bothered me at all, but having mooched around Cauterets today I now realise how much energy I was getting from doing the Video diary.  Being able to share the views, places and people with you was really adding to the magic of the trip.

The town of Lourdes is a 50 minute bus ride and that is where the nearest phone shop is. Having been brought up a good catholic boy I know a number of people who have visited Lourdes as part of a group pilgrimage. Whilst many of you will be sceptical about such things please do not underestimate the healing power that the feel good factor of such a trip can bring to people seeking the same. However no matter how much I beleived I doubted my phone would be blessed by such a miraculous recovery. Particlarly after I removed the back to extract the sim card to use in my old Nokia I had brought along for emergency.  My good friend Dave Stephenson very kindly gave my the Sony phone and I called my wife and asked her to get Dave to call me. I only had her number saved in the Nokia.

“Dave where is the sim card in this Sony phone? I have removed the back and I can’t find it.” ” That’s because it’s not in the back, it’s in the side. The back is supposed to be glued on”  Oh so immersing it in holy water wont fix it then ?

Whilst waiting in the Doctors waiting room I noticed a poster asking people to attend a meeting protesting against the introduction of bears into the area. What a shame my phone is broken. If I encounter one there will be no point asking it to pose for a photo.

Here are some pictures I took before my phone died.

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Spot the Dog –  Yes there is Patou hiding in the photo. I stopped to tie my shoe lace against that rock and a sheep wrapped its mouth around one of my walking poles…”Ey Ewe” I shouted as I tried to wrestler the pole from its lamb chops…then the Dog jumped over the rock and started barking at me. It’s head is in profile just above the rock top LH corner.

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Me – Yes Really – with the  Lac D’ayous and Pic De Midi Ossau in the background. ( Picture taken by Wilf Harrison of Bristol ) Wilf very kindly doneted all the blister plasters from his first aid kit .  Thanks Wilf. They have been put too good use.DSC_0026

Wilf, Christine, Kevin and Caroline.

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One for my wife –  The tables at the Mountain Hut at the Lac D’Ayous are all laminated maps. I still think they would look better on the walls of our new conservatory. Discussion to be continued.

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Some of the flowers growing on the path up to the old lead mines. Amazing how anything could grow in that soil

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Remains of a building at the lead mines above Gorrette. Look how brown some of the rocks are.

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The pretty village of Borce boasts a chess set with seats for the players under this shelter. Is that what the chess afficionados mean when they refer to a closed position ?

 

 

R. Dominique – Master de le Montange

My Mother in law Maureen, can seem to be quite forcefull lady. She is very much the Matriarch of the family. Protecting her charges with a mix of love and authority. When ever she talks about a member of her family, be they siblings, children, grand children or yes even great grand children, she always prefixes their name with our. Our Angela, or our Phillip. but with the flat Yorkshire volwels it comes out sounding like the letter r. R Vicky or R. Tom. When I first met here it used to annoy me a little but now I find it really endeering, as if adding the initial means you  are under her protection and woe be tide anyone who may question anything to do with R. Niamh or R. Finn, or any of her charges.  In the last few days I have found myself doing exactly the same with Dominique. I first met him at the Gite Kaskaleta at the end of day 4. Since then we have shared much of the journey and numerous funny moments. Like the time at Hotel Vignaeu in Gabas when he asked me what the WiFi password was. Amusingly the password was Dominique!  You can guess the rest.

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Dominique enjoying his lunch.

A few days ago I noticed in my Vidoe diary that I had been prefixing his name with “old” each time I refered to him. Even during the day on the trail when he may have gotten ahead I would say to myself ” come on lad, get after old Dominque”  I realised I was not using it as a description of his age (72) but as a term of enderment.  His journey is over today. He has returned to his home this morning having completed his 10 day walk from St Jean Pied de Port to Cauterets. I will miss his company even though he spoke little English and I speak little French we managed to get along and shared a wonderful journey.  Au Revoir R. Dominique.

 

A visit from Shergar.

My Auntie Eileen is a lovely lady. She originates from the West Coast of Ireland and like many Irish people she comes out with some wonderful terms and expressions. I remember visiting one day when she said ” There was a spider walked across the carpet yesterday. It was so big you could have put a saddle on it.” This amused me at the time and although I never saw the horses sized spider in question,I always think of her when I see a big spider of my own. So at 4am this morning I woke because I heard a really low wurring sound. I switched the light on and no more than 3 inches from my face was the biggest spider I have seen for a long time. It scared the life out of me for a few seconds and I brushed it onto the floor. I nicknamed it Shergar. The below picture doesn’t do it justice, it’s body was easily as long as my watch face, but it shrunk it’s self when went to photograph it. DSC_0041
It was not the start to the day I was wanting as today was going to be tough. There was another narrow path to negotiate. the Cornice de Arras. Which is even narrower than the Chemin de Mature traversed yesterday. Also today we had the biggest climb of the trip so far, upto the Horquette de Arry, a Mountain col at 2485 meters.
With that in mind a good night’s sleep was the order of the day, not a 4am visit from “Shergar”

Although I found the 6 hour climb very tiring it was worth it. the Cornice de Arras was impressive
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And the views on the way up and at the top were once again spectacular.
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Woodland river as we climbed.

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The route ahead.

There was just so much to photograph I hardly had time to do any walking.
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I past several big lumps of snow

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And St the top, The Horquette de Arry, I couldn’t resist creating a view of my own. When Arry met Arre.

on the final few 100 meters top I
Passedseveral species of wild flower, and was astounded at how they could grow in the middle the discarded rocks from the old lead mines…Photos to follow.

Coming down was just as impressive but again I can’t get the photos to upload in fact some of them seem to have disappeared completely. Maybe I have reached my data limit on this post, or may be they are hiding out with Shergar? Until tomorrow Mes Amie. Bon Nuit