Martin

Martin

Monday, 29 June 2015

Monday 29 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 15 - Interlude 1 - The Sabocos Valley - a circuit from Panticosa 

Distance: 11 km

Ascent: 500 metres

Time taken: 5.0 hrs

Weather: sunny and very hot

The hotel is great, the Collett's staff are most helpful, and the food is excellent.

Today I spent a pleasurable five hours with Remy (Collett's) and thirteen other clients, strolling on easy paths in the Sabocos valley above the village.

To all intents and purposes a well earned rest day with some of the Macclesfield Squash Club group that we encountered in Haus Valentin in Badia last July. It's a small world!

The walk featured:
 - a large lizard nearly 2 ft long
 - evidence of a wild foraging party enjoyed by some boars
 - lots of flowers, including
Queen of the Alps
Yellow Rattle
A selection of spotted Orchids
Irises
Mountain House-leek
and many more.

Back at the hotel by 2 pm for large beers and a lazy afternoon.

Sue arrived via Jet2's service from Manchester to Toulouse, and a five hour drive, at soon after 6 pm, so now we can enjoy a little holiday together.

Excellent.

Pictures comprise the view from the hotel (top), walkers in the Sabocos valley, and a view up the Sabocos valley.

(Notes from Mr Kindle: Wolf Hall is on hold at 46%, and Humphrey's recommended tale from the Pyrenees - The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo has been commenced)

Sunday 28 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 14 - Ibón Azul Alto (2409 metres) to Panticosa  (Hotel Sabocos)

Distance: 14 km (Cum: 277 km)

Ascent: 200 metres (Cum: 13400 metres)

Time taken: 5.0 hrs including 0.8 hrs stops (Cum: 100.5 hrs including 19.5 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and very hot

After rising at 7, I finally departed from the idyllic spot at Ibón Azul Alto at about 9. With great reluctance. I'd watched the evening turn to dusk and the sun then the alpenglow slowly fade from distant peaks to the east. Later, when the moon had shifted beyond the horizon, I savoured the deep black of a starry night unencumbered with light pollution.

Eventually, after a long sleep in the cool of the mountain meadow, I woke to the first signs of dawn, eventually leading to the slow undrawing of the shadow to reveal our home for the night in all the glory of the new day.

I didn't need to move from my bed to witness the calm waters, the glistening snow and the solid reflections.

Three others had arrived late last night, and others passed on their way up to the Cuello. It was all quite jolly.

The walk down to Baños de Panticosa started over rock scenery typical of the Central Pyrenees and concluded down a deep V-shaped valley.

I found excuses to stop whenever possible. There are lots of photos of flowers to sift through. Primroses feature strongly. Yellow Wood Violet and Alpenrose proved less photogenic.

At some point (or even last night) I put my sunglasses down and moved on.

Baños de Panticosa was reached after a very leisurely three hours. It's a landmark on my GR11 crossing as it's the point where I veer off to the village of Panticosa, some 7 km down the valley, included in today's statistics.

After a welcome cold Pepsi outside Refugio Casa de Piedra, I strolled off down the road to Panticosa, eschewing the offer of a lift from Vincent and Maria as I wanted to be able to brag about having walked all the way to Hotel Sabocos from the Atlantic.

Pride comes before a fall, or so I'm told. Having lectured myself on how now on the tarmac road to Panticosa a fall was most likely, I proceeded to trip over my own feet and spreadeagle myself headlong on that same tarmac.

So I arrived bleeding at Collett's base in the Pyrenees. I'm three days early, so I have six nights here. GR11 will have to wait, but I've now walked 13 of the 45 stages, so there are plenty more to go. Just bear with me for a few days while I chat to the amazing screeching swifts of the Sabocos Hotel.

Today's pictures show the early morning view from my tent, rock scenery on the descent, and my home for the next few days.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Saturday 27 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 13 - Sallent de Gállego (Hotel El Reyno) to Ibón Azul Alto (2409 metres)

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 263 km)

Ascent: 1500 metres (Cum: 13200 metres)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 95.5 hrs including 18.7 hrs stops)

Weather: stunning.

Days like this don't come round too often. You remember them for the rest of your life.

El Reyno provided a good breakfast. That and yesterday's good meals put me in a good position to enjoy the long ascent that occupied most of my walking day.

It was another leisurely start, as I'd agreed to wait for Tobi and start after 9.30 if he wanted to join me for the day (he needed supplies and the supermarket doesn't open until 9.30).

In the event Tobi decided to have a semi rest day and walk to Baños de Panticosa via Panticosa, as he was discouraged from the GR11 route via Cuello de Tebarrai by the perceived need for ice axe and crampons.

(Sorry Tobi, I hope you don't shed too many tears as you read on.)

My own plan was to walk beyond Rifugio de Respomuso and camp at Ibón de Llena Cantal (Gibson will be pleased he bought the guidebook). Then I would return the same way on Sunday, continuing on down to Panticosa.

I'd been sorely tempted to buy an ice axe to enable me to go over the Cuello, but in a mixture of emotions I'd been to the ice axe shop and decided to save €100 by sticking to my plan and avoiding anything terrifying.

The path up to the Rifugio follows a largely wooded gorge, past the remains of some old buildings opposite a power station, the hum from which reminded me of a sleep deprived night in Chiesa. Onwards then, up a long V-shaped valley of granite. It was cloudless and hot, but not too humid. I was going well. A runner overtook me then slowed down. Her expression of shock when she was then overtaken by an old man with a backpack was worth the extra few calories expended.

Great Yellow Gentians lined the path as it approached the Respomuso reservoir, above which the path took me to Refugio de Respomuso.

Outside were two chaps talking in English. It's funny how you can go for nearly two weeks and see just one English person (Ian at Zuriza), then you meet someone you recognise. Will had been at Haus Valentin in Badia when we visited last July.

"What are you doing here?"

"Remy and I have just cycled over the Cuello de Tebarrai. We are supposed to be on duty at Collett's in Panticosa in a few minutes, so we'd better get going."

"I didn't realise Cuello de Tebarrai was a 'road pass'!"

"Some things just have to be done..."

And off they went.

So now we have the official view on one hand, condoned by Humphrey's respected opinion, whereby ice axe and crampons are virtually essential for a successful crossing of Cuello de Tebarrai, and on the other hand we have a couple of cyclists (albeit mountain bikers) pedalling over it. Perhaps I'd better take a closer look!

I've already said the weather was stunning, so I had many hours to have a look. After a can of Pepsi at the Refugio and a half hour break I set off again in search of red and white markings. Soon they disappeared under water at the end of the reservoir, and several river crossings were needed. Will and Remy had said I'd get wet feet - I didn't, I had my trusty Saucony Hattori shoes with me.

The path gradually ascended through clumps of butterwort and past marmots covorting across snow patches, to the spot where I'd planned to camp. Someone was using it as a diving board. Further up the hill was a group who had clearly just descended from the Cuello. I went up for a chat. They had come over with no equipment other than their walking poles.

"No problem - easy" they reported.

That's about it. The snow was steep but very soft, not even warranting putting on my Grivel Spider crampons, and the final section of scree was, as predicted by my excellent guidebook, uncomfortably steep. But I was expecting that. There were wonderful views and what may be the high point of this entire trip - 2765 metres - was reached with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction.

The predicted 'short unpleasant descent' proved easy, and I was soon romping along an excellent contouring path across moraine above the picturesque Ibón de Tebarrai. 

After another Cuello my walking day concluded with a lovely half hour down a huge snow filled coire to this idyllic campsite, and it is in all respects idyllic - no hidden mosquitoes or cows here.

On the way down I encountered Maria and Vincent, a couple from Madrid doing a couple of GR11 sections over the weekend. I have the privilege of sharing this spot with them for the night. They have no tent but in this weather that's not a problem (Will and Remy may have stayed near here last night without a tent), otherwise they seem to have everything they may need.

The sun has gone now (8 pm) but it's still brightly illuminating the mountains to the east. Vincent has a fine camera and is hoping for some good pictures at dawn.

My tent will remain open all night.

Magic!

Today's pictures:
Saying goodbye to Tobi
Refugio de Respomuso and the way ahead (to the right)
Ibón de Tebarrai from the contouring moraine path
A truly idyllic campsite
Looking down on the campsite and the descent route from a nearby knoll (can you spot the tent?)

Friday, 26 June 2015

Friday 26 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 12 - Wild camp at Plano d'a Rinconada  (1870 metres) to Sallent de Gállego (Hotel El Reyno)

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 245 km)

Ascent: 550 metres (Cum: 11700 metres)

Time taken: 5.9 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 88.4 hrs including 17.5 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and hot

Before I start, Sue might recall yesterday's walk from Ibón d'Estanés to Candanchu. We did it as part of our HRP route on 8/8/2004. Our diary entry will be in the yellow diary in the Pyrenees box.

I managed to avoid the mossies this morning, albeit a leisurely start after finishing yesterday's diary - I can't write after 10 in the tent.
1. It's too dark and my Petzl  e-lite doesn't exactly shed a bright beam, and
2. My eyes just shut.

So I wandered up the coire past the few remaining cows that hadn't returned past my tent, and ascended the gently graded 350 metres past meadows of Black Vanilla Orchids to the plateau in which Ibón d'Anayet (a small lake) stands picturesquely. Snap shots taken in this vicinity may have won awards.

Pic du Midi d'Ossau was larger than ever, but that was as large as I would see it on this trip, as I now appeared to have walked past it. To get a better view I couldn't resist dumping the brick and strolling up a further two hundred metres to the ridgy but easy 2399 metre summit of Punta Espelunziecha. More stupendous views. I spent a while there. On my own as usual.

The long descent to Sallent started well, down an easy path beside Barranco Anayet.  I saw a small snake, about a foot long, perhaps a young adder. It was too quick for me to snap, unlike the ubiquitous Meadow Cranesbill. 

Then the ski complex came into view, beyond which I endured the longest stretch of tarmac to date. The ski town of Formigal was by-passed and eventually the waymarks returned for the final half hour into Sallent, which turns out to be a pleasant small town. I arrived at 3 pm, so there's been plenty of R&R time today.

My lunch above the ski complex had been minimal to say the least (a walking pole was needed to gain access to it), so it was great to be able to enjoy a big plate of Aragonase salad in the shade in the centre of town.

The El Reyno hotel booked by Sue had left a key out whilst they enjoyed their siesta, so my chores were easily completed. By 6 pm the supermarket was open and I won't be going hungry in the forseeable future.

A pizza and a few beers with Tobi (Carol decided to bail out in Burguete, but was only ever going to walk part of the way) rounded off the day nicely. It's a shame that Tobi's iPhone isn't amenable to posting comments. I watched him draft one, and watched it vanish as he attempted to post anonymously because he doesn't have a Google ID.

Just like my draft emails vanish overnight!

Today's pictures:
Two views of Pic du Midi d'Ossau
Ibón d'Anayet
A tale of two lunches

Thursday 25 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 11 - Wild camp in meadow a few hundred metres beyond Achar d'Aguas Tuertas  (1610 metres) to wild camp at Plano d'a Rinconada  (1870 metres)

Distance: 24 km (Cum: 228 km)

Ascent: 1050 metres (Cum: 11150 metres)

Time taken: 10.1 hrs including 2.5 hrs stops (Cum: 82.5 hrs including 16.3 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and hot

A great mountain day, if a little tiring due to heat and terrain. The stats make it look like a reasonably easy day, but imagine you are in Ardgour and the shop you expected to gain sustenance from was closed.

I'd camped in a place where the cows were distant and there was no sign of them having been there for a while. They made up for that by marching through at 6.30 this morning. No damage though,  and I was away by 8 with a wet tent due to a heavy dew.

The sky had cleared overnight, leaving a red hot day, even at around 2000 metres.

It was a beautiful walk through the meadow full of cows and horses, especially now I was fresh. I saw nobody for the first few hours but then quite a few day walkers and a few backpackers, but none doing GR11.

It was relatively easy up to a col at 1909 metres, from where there was a fine view of the Ibón d'Estanés lake, with Pic du Midi d'Ossau beyond.

I paused to take in the view and take advantage of an unexpected phone signal. It was good to hear from Louise, and an honour yesterday to hear that Markus is following the 'gossip'. By that I think he means he's enjoying reading the comments more than the actual diary. So keep them coming folks, though I know you'll all break off for your own holidays at some point.

Gear interlude: Alan was curious about my choice of shoes (Keen Targhee ll). Having failed to break in some new Scarpa boots before the TGO Challenge - I just didn't get round to wearing them - I was faced with using the leaky old Scarpas I used on the Challenge, or these Keen shoes. Not wanting to have to buy a new pair of boots en route - the Scarpas won't do anything like another 800 km - I chose the Keens. The first and fourth days were a bit of a test. The shoes kept out the rain for half both those days and then held up their hands and said "I give up", as did the Sealskinz socks I wore for the same four days, drying them out overnight.

The Keens are certainly better than the trainers I once wore on a ten day trip to a central section of the HRP  (Pyrenean High Route). I had an ankle rub that made boots very uncomfortable for a year or two. Whilst I did carry boots on that trip for some of the scrambling, I do remember struggling up a steep scree slope from an insect ridden campsite at Rioumajou in the trainers. The Keens may not be good on snow, so I have some Grivel Spider crampons with me.

It was a slow job getting down to the lake, a proper mountain path jinking and weaving over and around the numerous bands of rock that barred the way.

Then an easy section with lots of tourists - there's a car park nearby, before taking a narrow path to the right and contouring on a slow but entertaining path towards the magnificent Cirque d'Aspe. The Pyrenees contain many of these huge arcs of mountains bisected by long thin waterfalls, the Cirque de Gavarnie being one of the most famous.

The water in the Gave d'Aspe was pretty low, so there were no wet feet today. I was surprised to hear French voices hereabouts. Then I realised I was in France! I wonder whether GR10 returns the compliment by visiting Spain? I think it does.

The final descent to Candanchu was marred by the sight of a beautiful alpine hillside scarred with ski debris.

Candanchu was a huge disappointment. Completely shut apart from a small café bar with blaring music that I couldn't be bothered to return to after going down to the two Refugios that claim to serve GR11 walkers, only to find 'Cerrado' signs on both doors. Earlier, I'd told Tobi I would wait for him here, but I couldn't face spending the afternoon in such a dreadful place.

So apologies were sent to Tobi and I moved on along the route to Sallent de Gállego, soon being cheered by a lovely narrow path through mixed woodland with flowery verges dominated by Yellow Rattle and contouring around 1450 metres. A tempting sign to Canfranc and it's 'all facilities' was passed. Tempting because I'd been banking on getting a good lunch in Candanchu and after taking that meal from my provisions I was left with a packet of soup and some pasta for dinner and a small packet of biscuits for breakfast. So I hope Sallent will provide tomorrow's lunch!

Before that turn, I'd passed the Anglasé Chimney, the last surviving relic of the mining industry that dates back to the 16th century. The industry now seems to be summer cows and winter tourism, the remains of old buildings used as a factory for making combs, knives and buttons, and an inn for cross-border travellers now having deteriorated into cow sheds. The chimney for some reason reminded me of the one at Jenny Brown's Point near Silverdale.

I later discovered that Tobi (and is Carol still battling on) had succumbed to Canfranc's temptations.

It was a long, slow pull up to the point where the path finally hauls itself over a final lip onto the Plano d'a Rinconada and into the corrie from which no feasible onward route can be identified.

Having passed hundreds of cows on the way up, I was pleased to find this place free of them. A handy spring and a flat piece of ground was all I needed. I didn't mind the loudly whistling marmots, but the mosquitoes were a pain. They forced me indoors for a semi-comatose sauna until the sun finally went down at around 9 pm, after which all those cows I'd passed slowly re-passed me heading for a snooze in the corrie. At least they were quiet for a few hours before wandering back down the hill in the morning!

Dinner was extensive (it's a big bag of pasta) but exceedingly boring.

Today's pictures:
Ibón d'Estanés and Pic du Midi d'Ossau from the 1909 metre col
The Anglasé Chimney
Camp at Plano d'a Rinconada 

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Wednesday 24 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 10 - Zuriza  (campsite at 1227 metres) to wild camp in meadow a few hundred metres beyond Achar d'Aguas Tuertas  (1610 metres)

Distance: 21 km (Cum: 204 km)

Ascent: 1450 metres (Cum: 10100 metres)

Time taken: 8.9 hrs including 2.0 hrs stops (Cum: 72.4 hrs including 13.8 hrs stops)

Weather: starting as a Blue Sky Day, hot, with a little cloud cover later; very comfortable at 1600 metres in the shade this evening, but hard work walking in the heat.

Perhaps Ian and Marisa skipped breakfast. They weren't there when I popped in at 8.30 to return my tent tag. They had been keen to do a longish walk to the north east and no doubt wisely started early.

Zuriza would be a good place to visit for a few days. It's a centre for lots of great walks. In a way it's a shame that I am simply scything my way through areas that really warrant more time for exploration.

Anyway, off I went on the track that soon thinned to a narrow waymarked path that wound its way inexorably up an 800 metre ascent to Cuello Petraficha. To my right (and pictured top) were magnificent views towards the Fanes like Sierra d'Alano. On the way, a spring called Fuente Fría was passed. Here the water just wells up from the ground.

I heard barking in the forest, then there were chamois dashing about in all directions. Just to join the party, a few marmots couldn't resist the temptation to make themselves known. Ring ouzels and wheatears were amongst the birds that were monitoring my progress over a lawn of rockroses, squills, spring gentians and a variety of clovers.

Up on the col, a rock like Fat Betty (on the Yorkshire Moors near Ralph's Cross) was the target to aim for - a big block of rock with a globe on top.

Then as I approached, the rock suddenly sprouted legs! It was Jerzy, a Czech living in Germany. Last year he walked from Andorra to Torla, this time he's heading from Sallent to the Atlantic. We chatted for half an hour. I was able to explain to him how not to get lost on Peña Ezkaurri, but he wasn't able to assuage my concerns about getting over Cuello de Tebarrai in a few days time.

He left for Zuriza. I decided to abandon the rucksack and visit the summit of Chipeta Alto, at 2189 metres my highest point yet. It was an easy ascent to a hill that looks impossible from the east. On the way up Orange decided it was time to let me have a phone signal and grab another £3 for a brief internet connection. 

So yesterday's diary entry was duly dispatched and I discovered that Humphrey is also concerned about my attempting Cuello de Tebarrai. Thanks for your help, Humphrey.

I soon left the signal to the circling vultures at the summit, descended to the col, and then down to La Mina past a gigantic flock of sheep and goats (pictured centre).

Beyond La Mina I came up here through the Valley of the Cows. My guide book recommends a spot a bit further on, but I can see cows over there so I've stopped well before where they seem to live, in a buttercup meadow near some dolmen and cromlechs. It's a perfect shady pitch (pictured bottom) with all necessary facilities to hand.

On the way up the valley from La Mina I saw more of the black and white 'eagles' that I glimpsed yesterday. There were quite a few and I got a good look. I think they are Egyptian vultures.

Chipeta Alto was rich with bird life. Apart from the big vultures there were ravens, whose summit perch I stole, snow finches and choughs, as well as the statutory LBJs that I can't identify.

I'm now well into proper mountain country, despite all the cows.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Tuesday 23 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 9 - Isaba (Hostal Ezkaurre) to Zuriza  (campsite at 1227 metres)

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 183 km)

Ascent: 1400 metres (Cum: 8650 metres)

Time taken: 7.5 hrs including 1.3 hrs stops (Cum: 63.5 hrs including 11.8 hrs stops)

Weather: perfect for mountain walking - blue skies with occasional light cloud and a cooling breeze

I feel better. After the first true mountain day of the trip I'm outside the bar of the campground at Zuriza with a view of a fine array of mountains, one of which I've come over. There's no phone signal or wifi but I don't really care - at least I'm not aware of anything having broken.

This morning's long lie in, waiting for an 8.30 breakfast, had me wondering whether I should have just set off and skipped breakfast. But no, it was a filling meal that certainly helped me up the 1400 metre climb, and I was here at 4.30 with plenty of time before the restaurant opens at 8 pm.

Last night's minor storm had cleared the air, and the gradients were mostly gentle. Nevertheless the early shade as I exited Isaba along its narrow cobbled streets was most welcome.

Early on, I met a couple of lads coming the other way along the lovely lane lined with pinks and yellow mulleins. Towering mountains ahead to the east thankfully blocked the sun for a while.

Beyond the head of the track, the contours tightened and a steep path led through woods to eventually gain the crest of the hill. Before that, immediately after leaving the track, I'd hopped across the trickle of water that's the Barranco de Beruela. And before that the Barranco de Belabarze had passed unnoticed under a bridge. The latter had foiled my guide book writer's attempt to walk the route in June 2013, when he was unable to cross the river. Meanwhile at that time Sue and I were busy trying to make progress on GR10. This leads me to conclude that this year's conditions are comparatively benign. Mick and Gayle should have no snow problems on GR10, and the total absence of snow on today's hill gives me hope that my own route may be clear of difficulties.

It was a lovely stroll along the broad horseshoe shaped ridge. To my left, cloud was boiling over from France and a herd of sheep and goats was being led towards me by a large white sheepdog. I made my escape, shortly to encounter the shepherd, to whom I confirmed I was heading for Zuriza.

The vultures have gone, replaced briefly today by cawing crows, soon to be replaced themselves by squealing choughs (having a great time by the look of it).  

After climbing to the 1769 metre summit of Itoleta o Punta d'Otrazo for lunch, the ongoing route looked obvious. But it wasn't. Instead of heading to the easy angled nose of the whaleback hill in front of me, the path headed past a small lake and straight up the side of the mountain. It was steep. Scrambling was involved. I was all alone in the world. Then the phone bleeped. "Are you in Isaba tonight?" asked Tobi. I proffered my apologies, taking care to tell him exactly where I was (nearly stuck on a nearby hill). Then a chap with a day sack appeared out of nowhere, rushing past and leaving me for dead. He was the only other walker on Peña Ezkaurri today.

Trumpet Gentians were seen in clumps on the ascent - their first appearance on this trip, together with various other newcomers to my growing list.

The summit was crowded with numerous small cairns. At 2047 metres it was my first 2000er of the trip. Fine views, it goes without saying. 

I managed to get the other chap to take a quick picture before he rushed off. I'm not sure whether he was happy to have company on the hill.

It was a long way down to the Zuriza campground. That's all there is at Zuriza, apart from a fawn and white eagle that fluttered off just as I arrived. It's a good place though, thanks partly to it being quiet tonight. Excellent facilities and a view a bit like that of the Fanes from Haus Valentin in Badia.

After a couple of beers and a bit of writing I got a big surprise. The first English voice since I started walking over a week ago. Ian and Marisa spend the summer in Bilbao and had come here some 21 years after their last visit. They were excellent company for the evening. Thanks you two for letting me join you.

Today's pictures:
Trumpet Gentians on the ascent of Peña Ezkaurri, and me on the summit.
(Any more might cause transmission problems with a weak signal - you'll just have to imagine the whaleback mountain and the steep route up it I'm afraid.)

Sent from the summit of Chipeta Alto  (2189 metres)

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Monday 22 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 8 - Ochagavía (Hostal Orialde - not Auñamendi) to Isaba (Hostal Ezkaurre)

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 166 km)

Ascent: 950 metres (Cum: 7250 metres)

Time taken: 7.0 hrs including 0.9 hrs stops (Cum: 56.0 hrs including 10.5 hrs stops)

Weather: a blue sky day, with fluffy clouds and humidity in the afternoon

A good breakfast at the hotel whose name I got wrong set me up for what should have been an easy day. But it was Hot.

The morning was spent on a long track bordered with Yellow Rattle, Hoary Plantain, purple orchids of many persuasions, and much more, that slowly rose about 700 metres, passing at one point an ugly concrete hut that was cool inside and was quite usable as a bothy - it had bunks but no soft furniture - to Collado de Saitsederra (1363 metres).

There had been good views back to yesterday's route, and the way ahead could be seen. But this didn't stop me dumping my sack and nipping up to the 1583 metre summit of Kakueta, my highest point to date. The views from the summit were not unexpectedly extensive. Which is more than can be said for my lunch - just a few raisins as I'd eaten everything else and couldn't be bothered to wait for the supermarket to open.

The brick on my back wasn't excessively heavy anyway.

Back down from the summit, my route left the track and took nice paths all the way to sleepy Isaba. Here, the order of the day is 'Slow Motion'. Otherwise (and even so) you come out in a lather.

I found the place Sue had booked for me. The receptionist speaks some English, which is handy. They don't do food (or anything for that matter) so I must go elsewhere to find that - 8.30 was suggested! When I frowned she simply shrugged and said they eat late in Spain.

There is a supermarket. Not a very good one, but I now have a weighty food bag. I'll be slow on tomorrow's 1400 metre ascent as I also need to take water for the whole day.

My heart isn't really in this tonight, mainly because I have internet problems again and despite strong wifi I can't access emails or internet. When you read this you'll know the problem is relieved, but for how long?

Anyway, a few more random notes from the day:
 - I saw three people all day - a man in a jeep and two women in a campervan.
 - on the ascent of Kakueta - more giant puffballs and large white orchids, and a lone dead tree, stark against the verdant greenery.
 - silhouetted mountains stretching into the distance to the south east, from Kakueta.
 - on the final descent to Isaba, a chapel in a poor state of repair, Idoia Dona Marialtea, where I took a long drink from the water-point before descending a fine sunken lane past the statutory stations of the cross (plain grey wooden crosses here) to the village that was hidden from the wooded descent path until the bridge over which the village lies was reached.
 - in all the villages, the screech of swifts in the evenings. Just like home.
 - my first day without ankle gaiters; nor was there any mud...

Later:
An excellent meal at Hostal Lola, which would be a better place to stay if you don't want to get drenched in a thunderstorm on the way home...
Goats cheese salad
Lamb chops and chips
Ricotta with honey and sugar
Rosé wine (I've decided equitette dictates that I should only drink about half the bottle)
Coffee
I also discovered the better supermarket (after 8pm so shut) that I'd not found when shopping because that section of road was blocked by a crane. Never mind, I'm stuck with biscuits for breakfast for three days after tomorrow. 

Today's pictures:
A view of the track on which I spent much of the day.
Some Basque horses. Before I leave the region I thought I'd better record a sight that is commonplace on both sides of the border during the first week of any Pyrenean traverse.
The view ahead, from the summit of Kakueta 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Sunday 21 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 7 - Sierra de Abodi (1350 metres) to Ochagavía (Hostal Auñamendi)

Distance: 14* km (Cum: 144 km)

Ascent: 300 metres (Cum: 6300 metres)

Time taken: 5.3 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 49.0 hrs including 9.6 hrs stops)

Weather: hot, sunny and windless

After a perfect sleep I woke to a calm day and a burning sun. It would be a short day so I didn't need to rush off. I lay in just long enough for the condensation to evaporate without me getting fried inside.

I was soon strolling on easy turf on a broad ridge, crossing a road at its highest point before heading along a second broad ridge to the 1492 metre summit of Abodi Occidental Idorrokia. These names are nearly as difficult as some Scottish ones.

It was good to hear from my daughter, and as yesterday, the air seemed to be full of large white butterflies.

I lounged at the summit for half an hour, admiring the views. A panoramic information board at the road had indicated an array of minor summits of not much more than 2000 metres, so whilst they had the aggressive profiles of their big brothers they could only really be regarded as foothills. However, from this high point of the trip so far, something higher had come into view in the distance - Pic Anie - 2507 metres. The massive but distant views of mountains reminded me of those from the Boulevard des Pyrénées in Pau, from where I think Pic du Midi d'Ossau can be seen, but my views today were from the southern aspect and were truly panoramic, with the coastal hills also lurking in the haze on another horizon.

Having seen nobody all morning, I now encountered a gang of seventeen folk (I nearly called them Spaniards but they may deny that). One of them marched right up to me, about to complain that I'd been dazzling him with a piece of reflective metal. This turned out to be the Solarmonkey Adventurer that I'm trying out as a backup phone battery charger. I hope it absorbs energy as well as it reflects sunlight. At the head of the troupe was a strident lady who would march about 100 metres then plunge a flagpole into the ground, uttering some sort of war cry before extracting the pole and repeating the performance. Bemused, I didn't take in the colours on the flag - perhaps green, red and blue. At the back were, for want of a better description, 'Sue and Jenny'. I should have asked them what was going on, but they were preoccupied.

"Ouch!" moaned the repeatedly stabbed ground.

Continuing along the again deserted ridge, the long descent to Ochagavía began gently and gradually steepened, with the orange roofs of the village sparkling in the sunshine five miles and 700 metres down to my south.

Giant puffballs, lizards and wild thyme were all in evidence as I carefully made my way down grassy slopes. My only other encounter of the day was with a local chap out for a few days backpacking from his home. His advice - "take the old route to Zuriza" had the echo of Humphrey's voice and was always my plan.

After some welcome cool and shade from the woodland above Ochagavía, with thankfully not a horse fly in sight, I went over the small summit of Muskilda (1071 metres) on a lovely path before dropping down to some well shaded stone picnic tables. A long pause in this shade was welcome as I knew it would be hotter down at the campsite. It was only 2 pm and my day's walk was nearly over. No need for the separate rest day that I'd planned then?

A wander around the Sanctuario de Muskilda revealed a deserted site with locked buildings, so I was unable to visit the shrine of Our Lady of Muskilda in the restored Romanesque chapel. There's apparently a carved wooden image inside and a festival and pilgrimage every 8th of September to honour the patron saint of Ochagavía. Places such as this (and Gibson can read this in his guide book when it arrives) were once meeting places of covens of wizards and witches. There is evidence that the Salazarese (the local valley) coven met here in 1540, and that the mayor was a participant.

Drawing myself away from this tranquil place, I made my way down past the stations of the cross to the village. It wasn't bustling. It's Sunday. The shops are shut and everything about it points to a 'lazy day'.

I wandered around the village before heading to the campsite. One thing led to another. I stopped at a bar for a drink and inadvertently found myself at the reception desk. A conversation in 'Google translater' then ensued, in the face of considerable amusement on both sides of the counter. I went in for a drink and got a bed, but in a nicer way than when I once ordered a lager in an Austrian mountain hut near which I was camping. 

It's nominally a 'hostal', but really it's a Casa Rural or small hotel. For me, it has all the facilities I'd ask of a large hotel, for the price of a B&B. Half board, including the statutory bottle of wine (I only drunk half this time) is €58.

I never did find the campsite, nor did I get more sunburnt - it's brutal out there, not that I'm complaining! 

Today's pictures:
An early panorama of 2000 metre peaks to which GR11 slowly progresses
Not a flower this time
The buildings in which the shrine of Our Lady of Muskilda is housed
Ochagavía - the hotel I'm in is just out of picture to the right; the medieval bridge is misnamed 'Pentewan Romanica'

*actually 15 km, and yesterday was 24 km - it was difficult to judge yesterday's distance from Hiriberri.

Fun in the Pyrenees

There I was, looking back towards yesterday's wooded, rocky, nettley, slippery ridge, wondering what to put in the foreground, when a green monster rolled into the view.

A little later, at 3.30 when I realised dinner may be 'latish' I asked for a sandwich to go with my large beer. It didn't quite fit on the dinner plate. I'm still eating it. It won't defeat me. 'Pintxos €1.50' - mine's simply from the top of the menu - 'Tortilla de patata' aka potato omelette baguette. 

What fun!

Many thanks for all your comments - I'll reply to them shortly.

Saturday 20 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 6 - Burguete (900 metres) to Sierra de Abodi (1350 metres)

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 130 km)

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 6000 metres)

Time taken: 8.6 hrs including 1.8 hrs stops (Cum: 43.7 hrs including 8.4 hrs stops)

Weather: perfect walking weather - sunny with a light breeze and not too hot (mostly)

I slept badly. I'm much better in a tent. Perhaps it was the bottle of wine (it came with the three course meal for €17.50, so I had to drink it) or perhaps my brain was constantly engaging and re-engaging on ways in which I could get the phone working again. I should have known it would be our provider's server that was the problem. Something of this nature seems to happen on every long trip, with problems ranging from unresponsive servers to disappearing drafts and crazy space bars.

There were a good thirty people in the hotel restaurant last night, dealt with efficiently by the boss, who sports meticulous 1/4 inch sideburns and a lower lip moustache.

From my lonesome table of:

Duck paté
Chicken and micro chips
Basque pannacotta type dessert with honey
Coffee
Wine
Sloe liqueur, on the house - surprisingly palatable

I could select my companions, and I drifted naturally to a table where Huan Jose (John Joseph) from Valencia was chatting to two motorcyclists from Stuttgart. JJ is a pilgrim. He's walking part of the Camino de Santiago. He was good company for the evening. He must have been, my interupted sleep didn't start until after 11.30pm. That's late on this trip. He told me that if he stops for a rest on the pilgrim route he can guarantee another pilgrim will pass within a few minutes. What a contrast to GR11, on which I've seen three people in five days.

JJ is a runner. Now that he's slimmed down from twenty stone. He told me running is incredibly popular in Spain. He reckoned that any 'parkrun' initiative could really take off.

I was away before the supermarket opened - a bit of a faux pas not going last night, but I was intent on getting my washing done. Anyway I've survived on the crusts that have been loitering for nearly a week at the bottom of my food bag. The tea tastes a bit old.

Hordes of pilgrims were pouring down the street but my path was deserted apart from a lone mountain biker who stopped for a chat. It was a short chat as our languages didn't quite 'sync', but he was pleased to tell me that the weather forecast for the next week is good.

A fabulous day for walking. Just as well as I had another quite long day. They will be easier for a while after today. Sun glinted through the trees as the path undulated through woodland with occasional views. The Basque paths have impressed me - there has been virtually no tarmac. Today was no exception, though some folk would find the mud a bit wearisome. Ankle gaiters are very helpful with the trail shoes.

The phone started to work again at 9.30. That cheered me up a lot. By contrast with GR10, when we met new people at frequent intervals, my companions on this trip are mainly those with the patience to read these words and make the occasional comment. Conrad, Gibson, Alan, JJ, HMP3, Nick, Gayle, and especially Sue - you and a number of others are my companions and I do hope you are enjoying the trip.

I was really surprised not to see more people on a Saturday in mid summer. The trails are ideal for mountain biking, and where are all those people from the hotel? Driving around, I suppose.

Toby and Carol seem to have got left behind, and Mitxel is no doubt ahead, and apart from the mountain biker, I saw just seven people on today's paths - all at the end of the day, five men training for an ultra marathon and two hot walkers.

The day had a  number of highlights.

The flowers were absolutely wonderful. Limestone in the Pyrenees, early in the season, brings out the best. A plethora of orchids, including Burnt Orchid and another rare one that will have Sue drooling, and masses of bellflowers, columbines, trefoils, spring gentians, saxifrages and many more. Brilliant.

There were some great views as well today, some almost back to the coast and others ahead to the high mountains, with French clouds just lapping over slightly into Spain.

Huge birds of prey circled over the small village of Orbara, where Eskola Taberna fed me coffee, a huge bacon and cheese baguette and a cold orange juice, all for just six euros. That baguette solved any food (or lack of it) problem. There was just one other customer - an old man playing suduko.

After Orbara, an hour along the grassy track to Hiriberri was absolutely sublime. The best of the flowers were here.

After filling up with water in the village (in the event I could have filled up 45 minutes later) I slowly rose to 1400 metres along paths that were exceedingly muddy, rocky or both - one common denominator being the need for constant vigilance to avoid being stung by tall nettles.

The Abodi ridge is laced with trees and the path is a little below the crest, so just occasional glimpses of the high mountains ahead were gained. In between those glimpses every effort was needed to avoid being stung by nettles or slipping on the limestone.

Eventually the 1400 metre summit is reached and the path drops out of the trees into a vast high meadow where cows and horses co-exist. Today there was a cool, brisk wind. I made my way over to some deep troughs in the limestone pavement near the cliffs to the south of the ridge and found a good flat spot out of sight of the livestock. In fact, it might be some time before anyone found me here.

But I'll be gone in the morning as I can't survive long on tea bags, a packet of tuna in mayo, a few cereal nuts, a bag of raisins and a litre of water. (That was written after my sumptuous feast!)

Today's pictures:
Sadly the one of distant high mountains wasn't up to scratch, so...
A typical Basque country view
A flower that isn't in Gillian's Alpine flower book (*i**** ****i*)
My campsite without an extensive view, but it's very private and is sheltered from the wind, which is quite brisk

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Friday 19 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 5 - By Argintzo (1150 metres) to Burguete (900 metres)(Hotel Loizu - end of Stage 4)

Distance: 26 km (Cum: 105 km)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 4800 metres)

Time taken: 8 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 35.1 hrs including 6.6 hrs stops)

Weather: woke in a cloud, spent most of the day in a cloud, rain all day (what do you expect from a rain cloud?)

It took me an hour and a half from waking at 7.20 to leaving the campsite with a view I never saw, partly due to faffing with emails and other stuff in the confines of the tent.

I'm sure there were great views from today's high ridges, but the Basque country likes to keep its little secrets.

I made my way uneventfully over well grazed turf, following waymarks that appeared through the mist if you looked ahead with optimism, to reach the road at Puerto de Urkiago in a little over two hours. This is the end of Stage 3 in my guide book, but there are no facilities and wild camping would be difficult. There is accommodation, with free transport, at a hostel 6 km down the road.

The woodland path from there passed some impressive concrete bunkers. One of them comprised a tunnel about 10 metres into the hillside, then a right angle turn to 50 metres more tunnel, and given the presence of padlocked doors I suspect it was much more extensive than that.

Nearby, two men were chopping their way through a vast pile of logs in the rain.

The path rose to over 1200 metres again. Not a pleasant place to be today, albeit only a t-shirt was needed under the waterproof jacket. The slithery plunge through steep woodland to the Barrack Odia wasn't all that pleasant. Nor was the bridge at the bottom - shaped like the top of a small sphere, I had to hang onto slippery wooden railings to avoid sliding down from the apex.

Soon after that, Albergue Sorogain provided a hearty eggs and ham lunch, the energy from which I needed to get through the rest of the day.

First, there was a fairly brutal ascent to the top of a hill at 1181 metres. Then, and this will amuse Gibson if he turns to page 54, I mistakenly navigated from the top half of the page, not realising that was the morning's route. I even noted some 'incorrect' heightings! So I was on line 9, turning right and dropping down steeply when I should have been going straight on. I bumbled about for quite some time, gradually getting more frustrated until after half an hour I realised my error and returned to the fence with a stile. It didn't help that my GR11 strip map shows an old route that I may have been on, but even that is no excuse for heading west.

The  summit of Menditixipi, at 1213 metres, may be a good viewpoint. I was there but I wouldn't know.

Soon after the less than dramatic summit I got a shock. Having seen nobody all day, I suddenly found myself walking next to another rucksack clad hiker. This was Mitxel (Michael in Basque). He is on his first long walk at the age of 60, having got his children off his hands and sent his wife to work (the latter are not his precise words). He is ardently Basque, living in Bilbao, whose football team he admires. We walked and chatted all the way to Burguete (also known as Auritz, its Basque name). Mitxel walks a bit quicker than me and his English is good but limited, so whilst we may not walk together again we may enjoy the occasional encounter. His ardent Basque identity contrasts with my comfortably regarding myself as European.

I found the Hotel Loizu and Mitxel went off for a beer, then he may sleep under a plastic sheet in the churchyard. He says he is not strong enough to carry a tent.

Washing is done and hopefully drying, and it's now time for dinner.

I hope to be able to transmit this sometime, but my emails and Internet connection aren't currently available - it seems the server doesn't want to talk to me. 'No response from server' is the message I get. But if this does ever see the light of day I must have got a response!

Today's pictures:
A typical hunting cabin scene
Mitxel on the descent to Burguete

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Thursday 18 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 4 - Collado de Iñaberri (795 metres) to just below summit of Argintzo (1150 metres)

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 79 km)

Ascent: 1160 metres (Cum: 3700 metres)

Time taken: 8.3 hrs including 2 hrs stops (Cum: 27.1 hrs including 5.4 hrs stops)

Weather: woke in a cloud, overcast all day with cloud base 900 metres, hence camping in a cloud tonight

Another good day's walking on excellent paths. If anything I prefer this route to the French one, but are the first few days quite tough compared with the HRP and GR10, or am I feeling my age?

Waking in a cloud doesn't do much for inertia. So today I found enough to occupy me for two hours before leaving after a chat with Carol and Toby, who were even more leisurely than me. I set off along the track without a care in the world (as they say). Soon I did care about the fact that I was heading west rather than south. Rather than continue towards the coast, which I thought had disappeared for good once I'd left Irun, I returned to the two campers to find them quizzically looking at their map trying to decipher the route and wondering why I'd continued along the track.

The GR11 signpost appeared briefly through the cloud. Problem solved. I'll try to be more careful in future.

Pleasant woodland paths with lots of bracken led eventually to a picnic spot that would have been much too far to go to fetch water for our campsite. I continued past Bell Heather, Brambles, White Clover, Trefoils, etc and down to the small town of Elizondo. The supermarket provided a few items that were running low, and a later than usual visit to a coffee shop saw me enjoying a hot sandwich rather than a croissant with my 'café con leche por favor'.

From that café, on the corner where GR11 heads right, I went up past the church, after which a relentless ascent climbed over 900 metres up old packhorse and hunting tracks past orchids and tormentil to the cloud in which I'm now ensconced. It's pleasant enough - I just can't see anything. It's another 'dry camp' to which I've had to bring enough water to last the night. I only had to carry it for a steep thirty minutes today.

On the way I passed a few of the 600 or so boundary stones placed across the border with France in the 1860s. That was after the Treaty of the Pyrenees was signed in 1659 to end the 1635-1659 war between France and Spain, but the border wasn't properly settled until the Treaty of Limits in 1856.

Interestingly, the only views today from the high ridges, albeit limited, were into France. Spain was completely engulfed in cloud. It's usually the other way around. But I suppose this is the Basque country.

Other features of the day:
- Goldfinches in the hedgerows and more vultures and kites and other birds of prey.
- A lone person ahead of me - true or was it an illusion? There are quite a few footprints in the ubiquitous mud.
- Two backpacking girls coming the other way at Collado Zaldegi. "Where are we?" They spoke English; I spoke 'map'; everyone was happy - but I didn't envy them the long walk down to Elizondo! They should be there by now.
- Above 900 metres, above the tree line, in the mist... just like the Yorkshire Dales. Why have I come all this way just to see countryside like mid Wales or Yorkshire?

Today's pictures:
From the descent to Elizondo
Woodland *
Border stone 129 and the view into France

* At this point, despite the mist, I felt at one with the world. Warm, dry, knew where I was, with others to find me if I slipped (which I immediately demonstrated), in beautiful surroundings. ..etc

Have I only been walking for three days? It seems longer!

Wednesday 17 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 3 - Collado de Telleria (415 metres) to Collado de Iñaberri (795 metres)

Distance: 31 km (Cum: 57 km)

Ascent: 1500 metres (Cum: 2540 metres)

Time taken: 10.4 hrs including 2 hrs stops (Cum: 18.8 hrs including 3.4 hrs stops)

Weather: overcast, turning to sunny periods; perfect walking weather

After yesterday's deluge it was nice to wake to the sound of .... nothing. Camping next to a cattle grid had produced the inevitable - a flock of sheep who would prefer to be the other side and were going to broadcast that fact as loud as they could. It was quite amusing although I was on the same side as the sheep, who eventually wandered off into the rainy night.

It took me just an hour from getting up at 7 to leaving at 8 for the pleasant ridge walk down to Bera, a sizable town.

Jays were floating in and out of the trees, whilst Griffon vultures were gliding above them. They came very close. I must have looked like carrion...

I stopped at length in Bar Miljar in Bera, after entering the town via an ancient bridge with a memorial plaque to the men of the Rifle Brigade who died defending the bridge from the French in 1813. Avenues of plane trees then led to the town centre.

Socks and trail shoes, soaked from yesterday's rain, were slowly drying, and a sort out in the café failed to reveal any other wet items. The 'new dry bag every year' policy had worked. The Keen trail shoes had kept my feet dry for most of the day but had given up towards the end. 

From Bera, a hot ascent to the summit of Santa Bárbara had the sun tan cream out for the first time. Shorts and t-shirt had been deployed early on and were ideal for today.

The paths were excellent. Most would fall into 'bridleway' or unsurfaced lane categories in the UK. A few motorbikes and trial bikes were using them. Fair enough, the riders were polite.

Hunting towers, rickety as ever, appeared at intervals,  as they had yesterday in this rolling, forested landscape that always reminds me of mid Wales.

A couple of day walkers were seen after I'd lunched on a grassy sward beside a track lined with foxgloves and lizards. Then I came across a couple, relaxing in the grass below the Usategi bar-restaurant (closed), a give away Cicerone guide beside them. Toby is from Germany and Carol is from the USA. This is their first major backpacking trip so they are learning as they go. They set off on GR11 on Monday, but had a very short day yesterday after they reached Bera during the deluge and had the sense to find a hotel.

They are camped next to me tonight on this broad col where my tent is shown. Well worth carrying an extra two litres of water for three hours to be able to halt at this splendid spot. Though (and Conrad's right) I do hope the jangling horse bells will take a break at some point - or maybe they'll just lull me to sleep in the absence of the sound of running water. The shepherd has visited and he doesn't seem to mind us being here. "Aren't you cold?" he asked!

Both vultures and red kites are investigating our presence.

Other features of the day:
- The route is very well signposted - a map is arguably superfluous as each turn is also described in the Cicerone guide.
- Eyebright and Mullein lined many of the hedgerows.
- Black redstarts and many other small birds appeared to cheer as I passed their gorse top perches.
- Horse flies were briefly encountered; the first of many? Thankfully both campsites have been insect free.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Tuesday 16 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 2 - Prologue, then Cabo de Higuer to Collado de Telleria

Distance: 26 km (including Prologue: 4 km)

Ascent: 1040 metres (Prologue: 40 metres)

Time taken: 8.4 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops (Prologue: 1.4 hrs including 0.4 hrs stops)

Weather: light rain at first, deteriorating to monsoon like conditions; I noticed the temperature was 11C at one point, though it's a comfy 14C in the tent at 8pm, still raining but the blackbirds are singing

After yesterday's 22 hours of more or less constant travel, and the euphoria of arrival into a small but perfectly formed bedchamber and an excursion to a classy eatery, today was somewhat of a contrast. After two days of very little exercise, any shortfall on that score was certainly eliminated.

I took my time getting sorted out after a good sleep, then wandered down to a café for coffee and a croissant. My waterproof jacket was soon needed, but the trousers remained stashed until after I'd officially started GR11 from above the beach beyond the lighthouse. The lighthouse, pictured, is about as close as you get to an official start.

There were luscious strawberries and banks of a white flower with just three petals and dark green leaves. Dripping.

By the time I got back to Hondarribia I was also dripping. I sought refuge in another café for half an hour - enjoying one of the biggest and best chocolate croissants that I can recall.

That was after finding a hardware shop (Marinel) that sold me a large tub of camping gas, thus obviating the need for an excursion to Decathlon in Irun. Very handy - solving the only ongoing problem from yesterday's Eurostar delay. I had been planning to buy the gas after my original train had arrived in Irun, before going to the hotel.

It won't take long to relate my encounters after leaving the streets of Irun and lunching under a motorway bridge in view of the first GR11 information board I'd seen. One mountain biker passed me, and I passed a small tent near one of several totally deserted picnic grounds. That's it.

The camera was stashed in a waterproof bag fairly early on, so there are no  photos between Hondarribia and Ermita de St Antón, where a covered seating area enabled me to sort my map etc out in the dry. Here I decided to fill my water bottles and walk up what appeared to be a stream bed but was possibly a path, to the col where I'm now camped in the shelter of some trees. I could have continued to Bera, but I'd have arrived late and maybe have struggled to find adequate lodgings. Anyway, I fancied camping despite the weather, and my food mountain could be reduced.

The views may have been good, had the cloud base been higher than 200 metres. When it did clear a little through the rain there were mainly steep sided hills clad with trees and a liberal daubing of mist. Quite atmospheric really...

Cattle covered next to cow sheds, but on the way to this col I passed a group of goats and Shetland ponies who looked a bit more cheerful. They'll probably visit me tonight...

Unfortunately the Solar Competition tent pitches tent first, so whilst it was only subjected to the deluge for a minute or two, there was quite a lot of mopping up to be done once the flysheet was in place and the rucksack was inside.

Anyway, that's all done, it's now 8pm and I've succeeded in reducing the weight of my load a little. It seems to be getting dark so I feel a long sleep coming on.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Monday 15 June 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 1 - Getting to the Start

Weather: cloudy until south of Paris, then light rain, then vaguely sunny, then a showery evening

I set off from Timperley at 10.30pm last night. It was strange to be without Sue. Quite different from the feeling when she went home from Luchon in 2013, leaving me to continue along GR10 with Graham.

The midnight bus to London Victoria from Chorlton Street turned out to be tolerable. The brand new bus arrived in London an hour early, at 5.30, despite pausing between 2 and 3am in Birmingham.

That gave me lots of time to squander with a coffee etc before hopping onto the 7.55 Eurostar to Paris.

'Henry in Trouble' - I remember reading a Thomas the Tank Engine story in which Henry breaks down and Thomas comes to the rescue. We could have done with Thomas today. By the time our broken Eurostar had limped back to St Pancras and we'd transferred to another vehicle we had lost over an hour and there was no chance of me getting my connection to Irun.

Eventually we arrived in Paris nearly two hours late. There was no hurry for me as I was told the next train to Irun was the overnight service leaving after 9 pm and taking twelve hours. So much for tonight's hotel booking.

My ticket was endorsed by the guard 'Eurostar delayed - Hop on the Next Train' and I used a left over Metro ticket (thanks David R) to get to the Montparnasse station. Waiting to get a replacement ticket to Irun, I spotted a '14.21 - Hendaye' about to depart. Hendaye is very close to Irun - an acceptable destination. After some debate with the ticket clerk and her boss it was agreed that I could travel on this more expensive route via Bordeaux. Within minutes, a long afternoon in Paris and a second night of travel had been replaced by a TGV whizzing through the damp French countryside.

Hendaye is on the French side of the border with Spain, south of Biarritz, with Irun very close across the border. I expected a short taxi ride to deliver me across the border and through Irun to my hotel, Txoko Goxoa, in Hondarribia. And it did just that, together with another English chap on a work visit who turned up just as I was negotiating with the driver.

Great - I made it in time to have a good chat with 'Patchy' at the hotel, then get some dinner at his recommended restaurant, Zuloaga. (I can't get used to these weird Spanish names.) These days I find it handy on such trips as this to spend the first night in a hotel where I can spread everything out and change my rucksack configuration from 'travel mode' with everything including walking poles inside the sack, to 'walking mode' in which many items such as water bottles, waterproofs and snacks are more to hand.

Gear for this trip is trusty old gear apart from some new Berghaus Paclite overtrousers that I know from previous experience will be ideal for this trip.

Dinner was excellent - cod croquettes, perfectly cooked hake in green sauce with clams, washed down with half a litre of nice rosé, etc etc. It's a 'good food' destination.

I didn't get much chance to take pictures today, not really being in the mood until I reached here, so they comprise Hondarribia's walls and harbour, and a rather uninformative snap of my gear, most of which is unidentifyable in bags. The psychology behind the picture is the weight involved - over 15kg. If I brag about it perhaps it won't seem so heavy!

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Another Pyrenean Adventure

1400pyrenees

In a few minutes I’ll be embarking on another Pyrenean Adventure, this time on the Spanish side, in an attempt to walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, mostly along the GR11 waymarked route, if I can find it.

I’ll try to report in the usual manner as my journey, for which I’ve allowed nearly eight weeks, progresses.

1401map