Friday, 31 July 2015

Friday 31 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 47 - Cap de Creus (wild camp) to Argeles-sur-mer (David and Jan's wonderful gite

Distance: 8 km walk to Cadaqués

Ascent: 200 metres

Weather: lovely sunrise over the Med, then it took a while for the sun to burn off the high cloud, leaving a hot, sunny day until clouds and a later storm arrived.

I eventually realised that yesterday's 'fish of the day' was meant to be for two people. I'd wondered about the extra plate! Anyway, whilst I'd have been delighted to share the moment with someone I was happy to eat all the fish myself.

Nobody came to fine me €300, but a group of people were having a late night bathing session nearby and for various reasons I didn't enjoy the best night's sleep ever. Eventually at 5.45 the need for a toilet break won over, and after that I felt I may as well get going.

That enabled me to admire a wonderful Mediterranean sunrise, at 6.39, before stopping in a rocky clearing for a breakfast that used up my last tea bag and powdered milk, and some Roquefort cheese from yesterday that then repeated on me for the rest of the morning.

By nine o'clock I was passing Salvador Dali's museum outside Cadaqués and soon after that I was in the town itself, a pleasant place that reminded me of St Ives.

The ten o'clock bus to Figueras was easily located and I enjoyed a relaxing hour on the bus. I'd planned to spend a couple of hours in the town, but when I went to get a train ticket I was told "five minutes". So I missed out on the delights of Figueras, which would probably have comprised wandering between coffee shops with The Brick, which I'll be pleased not to have to carry in anger again.

The change of trains at Cerbere was a bit confusing, as I was ushered onto a train labelled for Port Bou but actually going to Avignon. Anyway, it delivered me to Argeles-sur-mer by soon after 1 pm, where David kindly collected me for the final phase of today's journey. It was great to see him and Jan again and to be able to have my first significant conversations in English since being with Tobi.

We've had a most enjoyable afternoon and evening.

Note: David and his friend John were the first people Sue and I met on our GR10 walk in 2013, and we became firm friends and have enjoyed a family holiday at the gite that David and Jan live in at Argeles. A great welcome back to the real world.

Today's pictures:
An early morning view from camp. Humphrey will recognise this as he camped in exactly the same place in 1999.
Sunrise over the Mediterranean 

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Thursday 30 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 46 - El Port de la Selva (Hostal German) to Cap de Creus (wild camp)

Distance: 17 km (Cum: 838 km)

Ascent: 500 metres (Cum: 44700 metres)

Time taken: 5.1 hrs including 1.1 hrs stops (Cum: 332.7 hrs including 64.7 hrs stops)

Weather: thunder claps to wake the unwary, then overcast, cool and windy with occasional sunny periods

A lovely final day on the trail - apart from tomorrow's short walk out to Cadaqués.

Hostal German provided a good base in El Port de la Selva, a town I quickly grew to like.

The day started with a call to Sue. We first met exactly twenty years ago today. At the luggage carousel in Toulouse airport. The rest is history.

My pressure sored foot is much better, thanks to the crepe bandaging. I wonder whether the Keen shoes have quite enough support for the ball of the foot in certain conditions.

There are surprisingly few seagulls. I would have expected more.

A leisurely start found me breakfasting on snacks fom the Spar shop before hitting the trail at 10 am under clearing skies.

Then pleasant paths led me in a shade over five hours to Cap de Creus at the end of the peninsula. Near the start I met a tourist train from Roses, and there were quite a number of walkers and mountain bikers on the paths.

Lunch was a snack en route beyond the interesting remains of Sant Baldiri de Taballera. For a change it was possible to enter this church. It has been re-roofed but the interior is a wreck.

Having washed self and clothes, I wasn't so attractive to flies today, and I found myself walking ever more slowly in a bid to delay the inevitable (finishing). I yearned for just that at times over the past few hard days, but now it was with reluctance that I turned to the last page of the guidebook and the last strip of map.

There are ruined farmhouses and disused terracing, even remnants of an ancient village, next to the path, which eventually reaches the road from Cadaqués and makes a valiant attempt not to follow the road but to wend it's way through nearby undergrowth.

Self-timed photos were taken and I looked without success for a well hidden camping place. It was very windy. So I just headed for the bar-restaurant, ordered a large beer and enquired as to what was the 'fish of the day'. A large fish was produced to me on a platter. It looked ok so off they went to cook it.

Delicious. Expensive.

Duly satiated I went off in the other direction and found a less windy spot to pitch the tent, from where I can watch the sea from the open door. The trouble is the tent's quite visible. I soon had a visit from a couple of gents who told me that if the rangers caught me I'd be fined €300. A bit of a dampener on an otherwise good day.
I decided to stay put in the hope that the rangers had gone home and I'd be away before they start work tomorrow. Also, by now (7 pm) it was raining.

Will there be a postscript to this entry?

I'll write about highlights, gear, etc at leisure over the next few days. Just now I feel like a long sleep to the gentle sound of the rain.

Today's pictures:
El Port de la Selva from GR11
The Roses Express
Sant Baldiri de Taballera
Sant Baldiri de Taballera interior
Fish of the day
An illegal wild camp (I wonder when and where the tent will next be used?)


Time for interim celebrations before I try to find somewhere out of the gale to camp.

Humphrey was right about this place. (Bar-restaurant at Cap de Creus.) I've just ordered a €25 fish. It looks great, I should have taken a picture but they've whipped it off to the oven.

Wednesday 29 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 45 - Wild camp outside Els Vilars to El Port de la Selva (Hostal German)

Distance: 29 km (Cum: 821 km)

Ascent: 700 metres (Cum: 44200 metres)

Time taken: 8.9 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops (Cum: 327.6 hrs including 63.6 hrs stops)

Weather: blue skies soon clouded over, leaving an overcast day with sunny periods and even a short shower

I think I should have drained the oil off the tuna last night before adding it to the mushroom and fly soup. The thick layer of oil started to pose questions of my stomach that had me doing deep breathing exercises and preparing a sick bag for use.

Meanwhile, Humphrey was beavering away trying to make today's route to the already booked Hostal German, more palatable. Between us we succeeded.

The dog at the farmhouse was barking on and off, then at about midnight a single gunshot, very close, shut it up and we all went to sleep. It was another hot night. My sleeping bag hasn't been used for some time.

I was down at the water point soon after 7 am, complete with a heavily bandaged foot and a clean pair of socks. The dog was still alive but I couldn't see the farmer's wife.

Rucksack sorted, I set off on Humphrey's suggested route to Rabós. It was straightforward apart from one turn that I didn't notice. It was overcast and humid. But initially a nice path. Half an hour later than I should have been there I was glugging cold coke outside a café in Rabós. I'd been dripping from the start, such was the humidity, and it was good to distract my posse of flies for a few minutes. There were a few folk around, but this was a village of deserted narrow streets with shuttered windows of second homes behind flapping Catalan flags.

The dirt track into Rabós had been fine - not too stony, and the 3 km to Vilamaniscle, before which I regained the GR11 markers, was on easy tarmac.

At the water point in Vilamaniscle was a distinctive couple that I've seen before, possibly several weeks ago. He has a long beard that I might describe as 'orthodox'. I tried to feign a greeting and even sat on the same bench, but so far as this couple was concerned I was invisible. A shame, but they appeared not to have any English and I certainly don't have any of the language they were speaking.

The walk over to Llançà was easy, mainly on the sort of dirt roads my earlier shortcut had avoided. Mountain bikers were in evidence. These are certainly surfaces more amenable to mountain biking or horse riding than they are to walking.

I was now in a land of many acres of disused terracing, of communities that have lived and died and moved on, leaving rampant giant cacti to rule like triffids over the countryside.

Lunch was taken at Església de Sant Silvestre de Valleta, one of many locked churches passed on this trip. I'll do a little research when I get home, but this one appeared to be like a number of others - completely empty inside, stripped of any religious artefacts, with no apparent reason for being locked.

The two 'orthodox' passed by, blanking my attempt to open a conversation. They gained on me on my amble to Llançà, along easy concrete and dirt tracks, the smell of sewage greeting me as I passed under two lines of pylons to enter the town.

Llançà probably isn't too bad a place, but my first impressions were of busy narrow streets, an aggressive beggar, noisy two stroke scooters, people in wheelchairs, and shops all closed for lunch.

The town is on the Mediterranean Sea. I walked through it and found a beach to dip my toes. Logically, to me, that should have been the end of the journey, but GR11 goes right out to the end of a peninsula, and that's after heading inland again to reach El Port de la Selva.

I'd passed a large quarry on my way to Llançà and I didn't fancy the ascent, maybe past that, up dirt roads to a 500 metre col, then back down to the coast. I could surely do that as a day walk sometime, linking each end with a walk along the coast. So today I chose to walk along the excellent GR92 coastal path to El Port de la Selva rather than flog my way up and down a 500 metre lump.

The GR92 path has featured in last year's reports on our holiday in Argeles. It's this part of the world's equivalent to the South West Coast Path. It's well engineered and really does stick to the coast on this section. It took me a little short of two and a half hours to stroll about 9 km along the path from Llançà to El Port de la Selva. My bandaged foot coped well and the many twists and turns, minor undulations and changes in the surface provided helpful variety compared with the GR11 alternative. The coastal views were very pleasant despite the dull afternoon and attempts at rain. A good choice of route selection.

I was happily installed in Hostal German by 4.30 pm, and a trip to the Spar shop saw me well provisioned with a few snacks before dinner, starting with half a litre of ice cream that really just had to be eaten before I embarked on trying to wash some of the dust and sweat from the last few days out of my clothes.

Later I ventured out to Bar Gus - not quite what Humphrey would have chosen, but a reasonably cheap meal with a nice view over the harbour.

It doesn't somehow feel right that having got to the Mediterranean I still have to go a bit further tomorrow to finish the walk!

Today's pictures (not up to standard - I blame the dull weather):
Last night's wild camp - the farmhouse was visible through the trees
Leaving the exciting village (ha) of Rabós
A view across to the GR10 route
A view from GR92, with El Port de la Selva in the distance
Another coastal view from GR92
Provisions - for eating Now
El Port de la Selva 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Tuesday 28 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 44 - Wild camp 2 km before Santa Eugènia (beyond La Vajol) to wild camp outside Els Vilars

Distance: 33 km (Cum: 792 km)

Ascent: 1300 metres (Cum: 43500 metres)

Time taken: 11.0 hrs including 1.8 hrs stops (Cum: 318.7 hrs including 62.2 hrs stops)

Weather: blue skies clouded over mid morning and mid afternoon, otherwise sunny and Hot

The day started well. I was on the road, a dirt track, to Santa Eugènia by 7.20. Much to my amazement EE managed to service my emails, and I enjoyed a chat with Sue. High cloud kept the heat down. I was going strongly, gliding over the ground like a swan whilst two paddles, Sue and Humphrey, pedalled furiously below the surface. Between them they have found me some excellent accommodation for tomorrow, but it's quite a long way away. They have also provided considerable support and advice throughout the trip and I thank them for that.

A small labrador sized deer ran in front of me as I peered across to the fort that marks the border with France and the easy gite served conclusion to the GR10 walk - just a day and a half to Banyuls in a convoy of friendships for those wise souls.

For me, a much longer and deserted path to a remote peninsula.

But first, a supermarket and then a bench to eat and sort stuff in the busy border town of La Jonquera. I thought I'd bought too much, and the weight of The Brick when I set off up the GR11 hill tended to agree. But it was there to be eaten and a lot of it has been. Even the large tin of tuna I've been carrying since Encamp has gone tonight!

Climbing out of La Jonquera past good views from Ermita de Santa Llúcia then through a large area ravaged by fire in 2012, it was amazing how quickly regeneration is taking place. The good path led to the summit plateau of Puig dels Falguers  (778 metres - they are getting lower).

All was going well.

The GR11 route then took a stony track for quite a few kilometres to Requesens, where the bar-restaurant mentioned in the guide book appears to have mutated into a cow shed. Shame, I had my sights on a coke. But the water point was working.

There was also a nearby fortress which may be worth a visit sometime. But not today!

Some rough paths and more stony tracks wound around the hillside offering occasional and very similar views until the Coll de la Llosarda (690 metres) was reached. A pleasant contouring path led to another of the stony tracks that dominated the afternoon. 

Two more hours to  get to Els Vilars. 

After La Jonquera the sun had come out blazing. The heat rose to 35C. I had plenty of water and thought I was doing fine, stopping frequently to lighten my load by the contents of another tin.

I was dripping. The flies noticed and spent the whole afternoon attempting, and often succeeding, to enter my eyes or nostrils or just sit annoyingly on the end of my nose. My feet began to notice the heat, and also take an intense dislike to the stony tracks.

I kept having to stop to remove stones from my shoes. The loose gravel was annoyingly slippery. I got quite cross. The sensation should have alerted me to another problem.

My phone bleeped to say I'd walked a 'record' number of steps (61,246). It was time to stop.

Luckily the water point at the hamlet (more like houselet) of Els Vilars was working so I just took a couple of litres as my two litre Ortlieb water carrier has sprung a leak. Five minutes (if that) up the road a small copse of pine trees offered me the space for a comfy pitch on pine needles that I hope won't damage the groundsheet.

Coagulated mushroom and fly soup was surprisingly tasty with a dash of extra salt and a tin of tuna.

I can't get to tomorrow's booking without taking a shortcut that I think Brian favours. So I'll be missing out on 7 km of stony tracks through the trees. What a shame!

I won't be missing out on the pain of pressure sores though. They are back with a vengeance. Luckily I still have some left over bandages from last time.

Today's pictures:
Last night's wild camp
Santa Eugènia
Trees recovering from fire
Rocky outcrops above La Jonquera
The view to Canigou from the Puig dels Falguers plateau
Cork pile next to a typical 'stony track'
View from the descent to Els Vilars 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Monday 27 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 43 - Bassegoda Park campground near Albanyà to wild camp 2 km before Santa Eugènia (beyond La Vajol)

Distance: 32 km (Cum: 759 km)

Ascent: 1150 metres (Cum: 42200 metres)

Time taken: 10.8 hrs including 2.5 hrs stops (Cum: 307.7 hrs including 60.4 hrs stops)

Weather: the clear early morning sky quickly clouded over, leaving a warm overcast day and no need for STC

More of the same really, with today's paths rather gentler in nature than yesterday's, and cork woods replacing some of the pine forest.

The morning was spent on Stage 41 of Brian Johnson's guide book. Nobody else was on the path or road or anywhere. The first people I saw apart from at an earlier café were the nice staff at El Fau bar-restaurant in Maçanet de Cabrenys. They welcomed me in and fed me a huge lunch for €12.

Getting going this morning was a bit of a faff. The tent normally slips into the bottom of the rucksack via a zipped opening, but the zip has broken so now the tent has to go in first, not last, which is a bit of a pain. Early starts are also harder by virtue of the sun rising later. Mick and Gayle will discover this as they make progress along the GR10 route in France.

One of my little toes is sore. There's always something! It must have been that interminable concrete road that the feet were subjected to last night.

I was wondering how German Martin was getting on - he should be finishing around now - and I was later pleased to receive his comment confirming his success. Presumably Ian and Jules will be next to finish, a little ahead of me. Finishing parties will not be overly sociable. (Mine will be in Argeles with David and Jan.)

My second breakfast was the juiciest pear ever, outside the Església de Sant Feliu de Carbonils - an empty shell that was home to an enormous stag beetle.

Around this time I noticed the sea. The Mediterranean looked really close. How come it was going to take me so long to get there? A glance at my guide book confirmed that GR11 doesn't choose either an easy or a direct route. For example, this morning I was moving steadily north rather than east.

Mullein and brambles, with long rose runners drooping like vines in the jungle, waited for any unsuspecting GR11 walker to give him a good scratch.

I stopped at 12.15 for a coke at Restaurant Moli d'en Robert. The staff saw I was hungry and rushed up with a menu. Catalan salad was duly ordered, then "We don't serve lunch until after one o'clock."

I'm glad I moved on. El Fau was excellent and it had wifi. I have to say I continue to be less than impressed with the EE/Orange service around here. It has been virtually non existent for days, though I have received a few text messages, mainly from EE trying to sell me a data allowance I then can't use... So I'm afraid this posting won't have gone in time for your breakfast, Conrad.

(Later - EE let me buy some data - will it let me use it?)

Swifts were active today in the clearings I passed through, busy building up reserves for long journeys. I wonder whether our Timperley swifts are still around.

This afternoon, as yesterday, GR11 finally gave up trying to find good paths and resorted to the road for 4 km. Not as bad as yesterday's concrete but a little tedious all the same. The route seems better planned in the off-road sense in the Basque country.

I'm about 50 metres off the dirt road to Santa Eugènia in a wood. Not unexpectedly there are mosquitoes. They are leaving bloody messes on the inner tent when I kill them. I'll no doubt find the bites later. The actual site is better than last night's, but writing this dripping with sweat sealed in the tent isn't quite as nice as last night's restaurant venue. There's quite a bit of dirt road traffic, and voices. I wonder whether I've been spotted.

Today's pictures:
Early morning near Albanyà
Special privileges for GR11 walkers?
First sight of the Mediterranean
Cork tree
Cork forest
Can Barris country house - one time seat of the Presidency of the Spanish Republic 

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Sunday 26 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 42 - Beget (Hostal el Forn) to Bassegoda Park campground near Albanyà

Distance: 30 km (Cum: 727 km)

Ascent: 1600 metres (Cum: 41050 metres)

Time taken: 10.8 hrs including 1.2 hrs stops (Cum: 296.9 hrs including 57.9 hrs stops)

Weather: sunny and increasingly hot

Last night's evening meal at Hostal el Forn was excellent - vegetable, seafood and mushroom crepe with goats cheese, baked chicken with plums and pine nuts, and cheesecake.

This morning's picnic was fine apart from the failure of the coffee flask. Never mind - I could have got the stove out but I couldn't be bothered.

Under a blue sky all day, with wisps of cloud at one point that cleared later, the temperature started acceptably cool. Good walking weather. But by the time I hit a concrete road for the final 8 km the hot sun was glaring off the hot concrete which would have been very sticky had it been tarmac.

Humphrey - I confess. I didn't re-read your notes about the church in Beget until it was too late. But all is not lost. Beget is such a nice place that a future visit with a dishy pharmacist should remedy the defects of this current visit. Hostal el Forn is being run by two families who speak reasonable English. When I mentioned your name they checked your account and asked me to tell you to call back in person as soon as possible to discuss your wine bill.

I wondered as I set off - 'will I be as clean and fresh as this again before I reach the end?' Perhaps not.

I also wondered where Tobi was and was pleased later to get a message saying that he had enjoyed a pleasant walk to Camprodon. I know he would be commenting on these entries if his iPhone would let him, but any comments he drafts just disappear when he tries to post them.

The start of today's walk took me down a quiet road to below 500 metres for perhaps the first time since the Basque country over a month ago. Roadside fields with sweetcorn and cereal crops made the landscape look quite English. But not for long.

The first ascent of the day wasn't much more than 200 metres, over a wooded pass, during which ascent I emerged from the cool early morning shadow into the dappled sunlight that was easing it's way through the dense foliage of the deciduous wood blessed with the sound of chirpy birdsong.

After pausing for a  second breakfast (ie to finish my picnic) I headed down to a river crossing before my next ascent. Here I met Rob, on a bivouacing jaunt from Girona - just a few days trying out GR11. I commend that approach - it'll mean he is better prepared for 'the real thing', should he ever be inclined to attempt it.

The second ascent was a bit longer - nearly 500 metres up to the ruined and deserted village of Talaixà, complete with one intact building and the wreck of a church. There is more than just the GR11 path hereabouts - I saw a mountain biker descend on a nearby track.

Around here there is evidence of a once vibrant community, with many ruined buildings and disused terraces with aged olive trees.


Views from now on were fairly limited, but the magnificent ancient contouring path offered sporadic glimpses of limestone cliffs and wooded hillsides stretching in every direction to hazy horizons.

Spurges and Teasels now lined the paths, together with some Mediterranean offerings that I'm unable to identify. Any such observations were limited by the need for concentration above the noise of the cicadas and the requirement for great care not to fall off the path. At times it was more like a ledge on a cliff face than a contouring path.

Eventually it descended to Sant Aniol d'Aguja, a 9th century Benedictine monastery that is currently being restored. A spot very popular with tourists. The church next door is more intact. It was being used as a bar, presumably raising funds for the restoration. I bought an expensive coke and was the fortieth person today to sign the book. People visit the area to admire the limestone gorge and take advantage of its swimming holes.

A final long (700 metres) ascent on a path churned by the passage of professional path wrecking teams of wild boar, saw me climb to around 1100 metres, my high point of the day. It's all downhill from there! Brian recommends ascending a nearby peak - 'an easy scramble up a limestone buttress'. Easy for Brian that is. The views would have been very hazy, so I didn't bother. I got plenty of views anyway, of low hills cloaked in trees, stretching into the distance towards an unseen Mediterranean Sea.

It was a pleasant enough descent to Can Nou 'which has a bar-restaurant'. Not today though. And the spring that was running in August 2013 was bone dry.

Soon a concrete road with a sign 'Albanyà 9 km' was reached. The hot and dusty road was not appreciated by this thirsty traveller. I  went slowly, trying to preserve some energy for tomorrow. A massive campground, mainly with cabin accommodation, was reached soon after 5.30 pm. Time to stop. €14 for a pitch on hard core that won't take my pegs. A further €3 for wifi. But a nice fly free restaurant in which to consume a huge bottle of water and compose this entry between courses.

It's been a long day. I need to retire.


Today's pictures (simples Alan S - just 10% of the original, the lowest it will go, but it seems to work fine):
Humphrey arrives on his last visit to Hostal el Forn
Early morning near Beget
Towards the Mediterranean
Looking back from near Talaixà
Sant Marti de Talaixà
View towards the Mediterranean from near the Coll de Bassegoda

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Saturday 25 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 41 - Setcases (Hostal Restaurant Ter) to Beget (Hostal el Forn)

Distance: 22 km (Cum: 697 km)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 39450 metres)

Time taken: 7.1 hrs including 0.7 hrs stops (Cum: 286.1 hrs including 56.7 hrs stops)

Weather: the usual blue sky start but very soon clouding over to remain cloudy all day, foggy higher up

Well, last night's meal was fine - soup, sausage and omelette with the local 'bread rubbed with tomato' specialty, and flan. We were the sole diners in a restaurant for over 100 covers. A stroll around town confirmed that we should never again accept a recommendation from a German named Martin. (Sorry Martin!)

The matron looked a bit shocked when we appeared as arranged at 8 am for breakfast. Anyway she disappeared for some time and eventually came back with a big tray of toast, butter and jams.

Then there was the tearful (well...) farewell to Tobi, who was heading off to Barcelona. I enjoyed our week on the trail together and I hope that after this little interlude he's successful in moving his life forward. He's certainly grasped the basics of backpacking and I'd be more than happy for him to come along on any of our future trips. We will keep in touch.

So it was nearly nine o'clock by the time I set off up the path to Mollo. It was already clouding over. Today was probably the first time since Day 5 that I haven't applied sun tan cream.

The path climbed steeply through beech and birch woods. It was relatively cool and fly free, though I can't be noticing the biting insects, having woken at Núria to discover I was covered in bites. Anyway, for the first time since Benasque my first aid kit stayed intact this morning, so I must be just about back to normal.

700 metres was gained by a mixture of grassy 'rides' and steep 'thrutches'. Surprised Jays flew out of the undergrowth.

Yesterday's summits offered an occasional glimpse, poking out of mist laden hillsides. I was moving quite fast, spurred on by the cool breeze and the forecast of rain. The height was gained, the views were observed (a bit Welsh) and I descended into the hot cloud that lay above Mollo. That'll be steam then.

The lovely contouring path was empty apart from the tweets of the pipits and the gentle rush of the wind. Hazy woodland views lacked the jaw dropping element that would have made me pause more often on the gentle descent to an excellent picnic bench and water point in the pleasant town of Mollo.

In fact the path passed through an area of cloud reminiscent of the stuff I've encountered twice en route to Canigou.

I could have enjoyed a restaurant meal, but I've been picking up random bits of food since Encamp and it was about time I made inroads into what by now was a big bag weighing nearly three kilos!

The afternoon was spent leaving Mollo via what appeared to be a stream bed, then rising through deciduous woodland to an open area with views towards mist laden forested hills. 

A text message from Markus maintained my contact with the outside world - not long now, Markus, I hope you are as excited as I am. 

Beyond a small cave the newly waymarked path wound its way through some Very Dark Woods to the Beget gorge. It was slow going on the narrow, sometimes slippery sometimes precipitous sometimes both path that eventually led me at 4 pm into the pretty village dominated by its church. Whilst the views had been minimal, the last two hours of walking had been along wonderful ancient paths, crossing the gorge by way of ivy clad single arch bridges that look as if they have been there for ever. Brilliant.
Beget has several hostelries, but at Humphrey's instigation Sue had booked me into Hostal el Forn. I crashed out for a while with a coke in front of the Alp-Huez stage of the Tour de France. I wondered whether Susan and Roy would be watching as they are somewhere nearby in the Vanoise.

I got the last available room (good thinking HMP3). It's a good one. I'll report on the meal next time, as the wifi doesn't quite extend to the room and I won't be able to access it tomorrow as I'll be having a picnic breakfast in the room and leaving before the Hostal breakfast time of 8.30.

But I don't expect to go hungry!

Last night I finally finished The Invisible Guardian, surprising myself by guessing the identity of the culprit fairly early on. It was an excellent read, suggested by Humphrey, and I notice that there are two follow up novels and the prospect of a film adaptation by the producer of Stieg Larrson's Millennium Trilogy.

What to read next?

Today's pictures:
Setcases - Hostal Ter is on the far right
The water point at Mollo
The 'river bed' path out of Mollo
There were vast amounts of these berries on the descent to Beget, I wonder what they are?
Beget, from below Hostal el Forn 

Friday, 24 July 2015

Friday 24 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 40 - Nuria (Hotel Vall de Nuria) to Setcases (Hostal Restaurant Ter)

Distance: 19 km (Cum: 675 km)

Ascent: 1100 metres (Cum: 38350 metres)

Time taken: 7.6 hrs including 1.4 hrs stops (Cum: 279.0 hrs including 56.0 hrs stops)

Weather: blue skies to start, slowly clouding over, stormy after 3 pm

My last day with Tobi. Alternatives had been mooted, but I felt he really ought to experience the delights of the Noufonts ridge, so after stuffing ourselves again over breakfast we reluctantly paid our farewells to Nuria* and headed up to the ridge.

The sun beamed down benevolently and a cool breeze helped us on our way, so much so that despite being ten minutes behind Tobi I was still ahead of 'Brian Time'.

We'd whizzed past a group of French day walkers, past fading Leopardsbane in Eryngo meadows and past horses that unusually weren't equipped with bells.

For a change we were rising through open country with no trees. Higher up, Sempervivium (houseleeks) and Fringed Pinks were flourishing, together with a few Spring and Field Gentians.

Higher still, lots of pretty pink thistles and a silence broken only by the occasional shriek of a marmot or concerned call of a wheatear.

So it took just two hours to rise 800 metres to Coll de Noucreus, where we found four younger backpackers relaxing having reached the ridge at the point where there are nine crosses, commemorating nine monks who supposedly died here after being caught in a storm.

Previously I've reached this ridge from the beautiful Eyne valley, which provides a much longer ridge walk than the one we enjoyed today. But what we got was fine, with brilliant views on both the French and Spanish sides. It's the third time I've been here (HRP and GR10) so I knew we'd soon come across the ice axe memorial that precedes the final climb to Pic Superior de la Vaca (2824 metres)  before the long descent to Refugi d'Ulldeter.

There's a very solid emergency shelter on the way down, outside which we enjoyed a break with the four young backpackers whilst a family of marmots played nearby, a small rat got fed up of waiting to get into his hole so brazenly ventured there in front of us, and an eagle soared majestically above.

As we approached Refugi de Ulldeter black clouds were gathering, thunder was rumbling, and there were signs of rain all around. Half an hour in the friendly refuge was a welcome break, though perhaps we regretted that later when we spent the last half hour of our day in torrential rain!

The route down to Setcases is very simple, culminating with 4 km on tarmac that today was doubling as a river bed as we walked through descending rivulets that were washing like waves down the road. The closest lightning was just under two seconds from the thunder. Quite close. At the height of the storm we met a group of about a dozen children clad in black ponchos, trailing up the road like a posse of soggy nuns. A miserable and sorry sight.

By the time we arrived in Setcases at 4.30 pm the rain had diminished to the extent that we walked all the way around the village in search of Hostal Restaurant Ter that had been recommended by German Martin. We booked in, but the place is dead and we wonder what thrills the half board meal has in store for us. Apart from this sorry outpost the village seems quite vibrant, though the supermarket is a bit weird, selling honey and other specialty products, and instead of racks of products the interior sports about 16 small tables, each with a carafe of wine with one of those small tasting spouts. Perhaps they are hosting a wine tasting evening.

Today's pictures:
Looking back to Núria
Some of the nine crosses
A selfie
The ice axe memorial
The view north from the Noufonts ridge
Refugi d'Ulldeter

* Núria has a rich history that time prevents me from relating just now, but I'll try to add some interesting information when I get home. (Unless Humphrey beats me to it with a long comment in the meantime.)

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Thursday 23 July 2015 - Pyrenees GR11 - Day 39 - Camping Can Fosses, Planoles to Nuria (Hotel Vall de Nuria)

Distance: 18 km (Cum: 656 km)

Ascent: 1600 metres (Cum: 37250 metres)

Time taken: 8.2 hrs including 1.8 hrs stops (Cum: 271.4 hrs including 54.6 hrs stops)

Weather: blue skies, warm, a few clouds in the afternoon but nothing threatening

Derk joined our team today, so Tobi and I enjoyed the company of this paediatric cardiologist for a day dominated by two big ascents. Petra and Jolijn had found GR11 a little demanding so returned to collect their car from Encamp whilst Derk walked with us.

The sun struggled to reach our corridor between two hedges before the tents came down, so they were dried out later on the lawn at Nuria. Goodbyes and best wishes were exchanged, and a self timed photo of our group of five was stored on my memory card for transmission to the Netherlands at a later date. Then at 8.20 we stormed off.

Compared with yesterday's gently ascending tracks, today's gradient on the steep woodland paths was positively brutal. But it was relatively cool and fly free. I was surprised to reach the picnic spot by Refugi Corral Blanc in less than an hour. We'd climbed over 500 metres to get there - my fastest ascent of the whole trip. We knew we must be near the Refugi as a friendly dog, apparently named 'Refugi' came over to join us at the water point.

On we sped, to Queralbs for lunch, via the head of a long valley and some lovely contouring paths. Various types of potato croquettes seem to be the star attractions of this locality's menus. So we enjoyed some of those with our drinks, with obligatory crisps and olives, in this very pretty village that actually seems to have a life!

Perhaps it's because of its proximity to a significant resort (Nuria) served by a rack and pinion railway.

Lunch hour over, the two youngsters again flew off ahead of me, up another 800 metres towards Nuria. Rather frustratingly, every few minutes the electric trains hummed past, ferrying grockles up and down to and from Nuria. Some of the braver ones chose to walk down the path, but I'm sure they were a small minority. I wonder whether they noticed the eagles, circling, ready to pounce.

After what seemed like and probably was several hours of toilsome ascent up a narrow gorge in the dripping heat of the afternoon, we popped out onto a low ridge at 1983 metres. Well, Tobi and Derk - mountain climbing machines extraordinaire - were there a good twenty minutes before me, but their mouths were still wide open as they gazed at the Shangri-la laid before their eyes.

I'd seen it before from the ridge above, but I'd never visited Nuria. It reminds me a bit of some golf club/conference centre venues I've visited. Below us was a boating lake, beyond which a huge moving machine was trimming the manicured lawn. A huge building dominates the complex. That's our hotel for the night, outside which is a crazy golf course, a basic campground and a large donkey sanctuary. To the right is a railway station, complete with all the bells and whistles that you'd expect to find there.

We ambled down and faffed. It was all a bit too much. After checking room prices we enjoyed a beer on the lawn with Derk before waving him off to get a train back down to Queralbs where he would meet the rest of his family.

After drying our tents (we won't be using them then) Tobi and I sorted out a strategy whereby we both got our way and my financial adviser could head off to the Bahamas in the knowledge that I'd taken his valued advice. We checked in to a twin room and before you could say 'Black Madonna' we were tucking in to the all you can eat buffet that comes with half board. Luckily my appetite has returned with a vengeance.

Today's pictures:
Early mist over Planoles
View at the head of the valley between Planoles and Queralbs
Pyrenean Eryngo now looking rather past its best
The valley leading to Nuria
First view of Nuria
Window at Nuria