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Holidays 2001 – Spanish & French Pyrenees

 Only Andy, Rosemary & Bobby once more – Charlotte is still at Plymouth doing an Officer Of the Watch course for Saga Cruising, or cruising the Fjords in MV Saga Rose.

 Thurs 28th June

We left Shaftesbury at 18:00, drove to Dover and spent the night on the seafront. Odometer at start – 46452. Miles so far (MSF) 183.

 Fri 29th June

We woke at 03:15,and caught 05:15 Sea France ferry to Calais. As we drove onto the ferry, right at the front, we noticed a lorry being searched, and 2 illegal immigrants being escorted off. It is quite one thing to read and hear about these things in the press and quite another to see it happening. The young men were of mid European complexion and showed no emotion as they were frisked and led away. We drove via Rouen, Chartres, and  Tours to Amboises, & wild camped in a car park at Amboises. MSF 513

 Sat 30th June 

We took the A10 to Poitiers, deciding to use one of the paying motorways for a change, the toll 95FF for 105 Km .However it was not a pleasant motorway at all. Service areas were grim. Then onto a free N10 to Bordeaux - a major change – free, wide, straight, and  largely empty. We found some really pleasant spacious aires set amongst trees. We spent night at Aire de Camping Car at Vieux Boucau les Bains, near Biarritz. 40FF a night. The aire was really busy but quiet enough, near a newish small resort. There was a very nice beach – large sand dunes and heavy Atlantic swell.. MSF 845

 Sun 1st July

We drove into Biarritz which did  not appear as nice as its name. We had lunch at an Aire de Camping Car, with a view to staying, but changed our minds and moved on up into the foothills of the Pyrenees, to a municipal campsite within the walls of St Jean de Pied de Port, 65FF per night inc electricity. On electricity, the fridge temperature dropped from 25º C to 3º C. St Jean is a lovely little town and we were really only about a four minute walk from the main street. The town was the major spot where French pilgrims collected before crossing the Pyrenees on the route to Santiago de Compostella. The pilgrim route still follows the main street and there is still a night refuge at the top of the hill.  MSF 912

 Mon 2nd July

Market day. It was very hot all day so we mostly lazed around, with one or two trips into town. We were intrigued by a small opening in the wall beside the church, but were not prepared for the enormous climb right up a very long flight of steps to the fort which stands above the town and commands a wonderful view over the surrounding countryside. 

 Tues 3rd July

We got up early for a 13 km walk in morning around the valleys which wandered through a variety of small villages. We were impressed by their tiny mairies and tidy village squares, and enjoyed a cool beer at one of the villages, where there were also the remains of a Roman villa. We joined the pilgrim route to walk to the top gate of St Jean  de Porte. The hot weather ended at 2 pm with rain, which continued overnight.

 Wed 4th July

We drove further up into the Pyrenees to a very nice site at Lescun (at 900m). The site itself is very well kept and in a most attractive position. (See the pictures taken from the site.) The approach is up a steep winding road to a hanging valley. The village perches on a sloping shelf of hillside on the rim of this valley, the camp site is set further back with a backdrop of sudden mountains that rise out of the woodlands. However we only ever saw occasional glimpses of these views as the mist had a very annoying habit of suddenly rolling up the hillside! There was a violent thunderstorm & heavy rain in the evening and overnight. MSF 984

 Thurs 5th July

A nice day, clear and warm. We enjoyed a long walk to Refuge de Laberouat following the GR10 route all the way. This is the low (relatively!) level long distance path that follows the length of the Pyrenees. The refuge was a very large one, and we walked on past it and walked through dense woodland out onto the pasture and up to the Cabane du Cap de la Baitch,(1680m) surrounded by wonderful views. This small hut served as a refuge and also a small mountain farm, the farmer sat outside with the cows grazing nearby. A notice said he sold cheese, so we decided to buy some. He took us into the hut, where he kept cheese in a plastic container. To our right was the dairy, beyond was the dark living room with tables and a few benches, above a sleeping loft. We indicated an amount of cheese, he then mentioned a really steep price (we think) However Andy did not have enough change so he indicated how much he was prepared to accept. The cheese itself proved to be really delicious. We then retraced our steps back to the site.

 Fri 6th July

More rain and the mountains shrouded in mist. As the rain gradually lessened we took a local road walk only, about 5 miles, ending up in the village of Lescun. where Rosemary did a little shopping in the tiny local shop, despite considerable language difficulties. We made a policy decision to stay put for the weekend, partly because the walking was so good but also because we knew we had a problem with Tilly and we wanted to get it sorted out in France where Andy can communicate (of sorts) and not go onto Spain where we cannot speak one word.

 Sat 7th July

Weather better again. We walked along the lanes, to the Pont Lamary, and climbed up through the woodlands to a pastureland bowl where many local people were having picnics .The whole scene was most pleasant with meandering streams and surrounded by the Aiguilles d’Ansabere, dramatic limestone pinnacles. It was really surprising to see the pastures dotted with many blue irises, a scene we were to see repeated on many of the walks. There was then another climb up to the shepherds’ cabanes. (1560m) Rosemary waited there with the rucksacks while Andy and Bobby continued to the Lac d’Ansabere and then onwards to the ridge and a view over Spain.(2028m) Most of this walk followed the High Route which is the route which also goes the whole length of the range but follows the high ground as much as possible. Bobby was very impressed with all he saw and would like to return when not hampered by parents.

Sun 8th July

Walk towards Table des Trois Rois, via an attractive and popular picnic area, set in a large pastureland bowl. Lots of family groups were cooking large barbeques while placid herds of cows looked on. The walk then involved quite a steep climb up an abrupt rock face, then on through woodlands and through flowery glades to the shepherds cabanes. .On the way back we spent a happy hour damming streams. It was obvious from some of the strange looks that damming streams is not a usual leisure activity in France.

 Mon 9th July

We left Lescun, and  drove into Pau to find Peugot dealer to look at steering wobble. We thought it was probably a CV joint going, but they thought it was probably tyres. The mechanic’s face as he drove Tilly away to diagnose the problem was a picture, he had obviously never driven a right hand drive before. As it was 12.00 they told us to come back after lunch, so we went down the road and did some shopping. They then  replaced the 2 front tyres with Kleber tyres, and the problem went away, a big relief as we were anticipating hired cars and hotels etc! Cost about £150, but cheaper than a CV joint.

Although Pau looked interesting we wanted to get back to the Pyrenees so drove back into the mountains and wild camped overnight at Col de Portalet, on the border with Spain. Bobby had wanted to go to Gavarnie but we were beginning to feel the need for a bit of sunshine. MSF 1086

 Tues 10th July

As usual, wild camping at the top of a pass was excellent. It was a lovely morning, so we  walked up to (just below) Pic de la Gradillere, climbed on snow remnants, & watched vultures. A great walk.

We then took A136,and were surprised at how quickly we were out of the high mountains on the Spanish side. We then took the N260 via Broto, Ainsa & Bielsa and were shocked to see the number of bleak and abandoned ruined villages on lots of the hill tops, more than we had seen the year before in Croatia! The country side was dry and rather brown but not without charm. The N260 is a narrow, twisty but interesting road that runs along the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, the equivalent road in France is a motor way! We drove on to an informal campsite at head of Valle de Pineta. We had decided not to go to the popular and crowded Ordesa Gorge but visit the less crowded part of the Ordesa national park.

 Wed 11th July

The camp site was in a spectacular position, towards the end of a lovely u shaped valley and surrounded by the Circo de Pineta, which are garlanded with many waterfalls. We took a long walk up towards the  Lago Marbore. which involved climbing some of Mnt Pineta, some of it on narrow rock terraces that wound their way up the side of the mountain! Spanish maps are not a patch on French ones, I’m sure much of it is guessed at! And the signposts are pretty useless too!

 Thurs 12th July

We had a walk to a lovely meadow in a hanging valley, the Llanos(pastures)of La Larri. Thepasture is really lovely and surrounde by the most spectacular scenery.  Andy & Bobby attempted to get to French border at Cuella de la Munia, but lost the  path & Andy got stuck on a rock face. They  spent another happy hour damming the stream instead.

In the evening we moved down the valley to a formal campsite, to do some washing. This turned out to be very expensive - £14 per night. We had a set meal in the site restaurant, which was appalling (but amusing in retrospect). The starter was quite reasonable, but for the main course, Bobby & Rosemary chose something called in English “Pork hands”. This turned out to be pigs trotters – and that’s all! No veg, no salad, just pigs’ trotters, with no meat on whatsoever. Andy’s prawn omelette was rather better, but unaccompanied.

 Fri 13th July

Back onto the N260 – an interesting road, to Ainsa. This is an historic walled town, heavily but tastefully restored, and worth a visit. Here we had our first taste of raw ham sandwiches. More N260, to Benasque, to a small and friendly campsite a few kilometres north, Camping Ixeia. The approach was along quite a rough track, and a ford, but the site was worth it. Here we met Holly & Dave, a couple from Dinton near Salisbury, who had back packed over the Pyrenees, and were about to backpack back. We brought back to England a bag of their unnecessary items, to save weight. This included 2/3 of “A long walk to Freedom”, Nelson Mandela.

 Saturday 14th July

Walked along a track covered with butterflies into Benasque. This had some of the best walking shops we have seen. Here Andy bought a Leki walking pole (“wanderfreund”), at Bobby’s insistence, and it has proved useful. On the walk back the heavens opened, and thunder rattled around the mountains. That night we ate at the bar – and it was excellent.

 Sunday 15th July

Weather much improved, we had a spectacular walk to Refugio de Estos, up the Estos valley. This was easy and gentle, but the scenery was spectacular. Whist at the refuge, we saw an eagle. This brown bird, gliding away from us down the valley, was enormous – at least twice the size of a buzzard.

 Mon 16th July

Drove down into Spain, to do some serious shopping at Lerida. Looked round an enormous “ferretaria” (ironmongers), and came away with an extensible clothes drier, and 2 large & deep pizza pans. Then (eventually) to a Carrefour supermarket where we stocked up on Rioja and Malaga.

Our plan then was to drive to Andorra, and wild camp at a ski lift. We arrived in Andorra as it was getting dark, to find it the country from hell. Narrow roads, nose to tail traffic, nowhere to park or stop, lots of petrol stations, “tax free” shops, squalor, advertising, and so on. If it hadn’t been so late, and we hadn’t been so knackered, we would have driven straight out. In the event, we pulled into a campsite at Encamp and went to sleep. MSF 1478

 Tues 17th July

Filled up with petrol at 50p/litre, & looked around one (of many) hypermarkets (spending less than £5) & left as quickly as possible. Our first & last visit to Andorra.

Along N260 (again) via Sort, to Llavorsi. Camped at the municipal site, which turned out to be very expensive (£14 pn). MSF 1542

 Wed 18th July

Bobby & Andy went white water rafting (well, a 2 man inflatable canoe, actually). Brilliant fun, and the water was much warmer than Norway. Afterwards we all walked to Tirvia, not far away.

 Thurs 19th July

Drove up the Val de Aneu, & over the Porte de la Bonaigua (2072m). We went through a blizzard on the way up, and there was 3” of snow at the top. We enjoyed the antics of Spanish tourists who had obviously never seen snow before – middle aged matrons rolling in the snow n sandals, snowballs down cleavages, etc. acting like 5 year olds – it was a joy to watch.

Then on down to Val de Arran, & a last shop up at a Spanish supermarket on the border at Vielha – more Rioja & Malaga! Into France, & wild camped at Aire de Camping Car at Montauban. MSF 1729.

 Fri 20th July

Awoken by sounds of the army carrying out exercises beside us – to build a pontoon to carry & sail away with a small APC. Bobby & Andy were amused by their attempts at knots. On via N20 – Cahors, Limoges, and wild camped by the river at Marboue, just above Chateaudun.

 Sat 21st July

Continued to Calais via Tours & Boulogne, and another Carrefour shop up. Arrived Calais at 1900, and camped at the air de camping car on the seafront.

 Sun 22nd July

Caught 0700 Sea France ferry, arriving in Dover at 0730 UK time. Got home at midday. Total miles 2550.

 So what did we think of the Pyrenees? Brilliant, we’ll be back.


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