Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Martin on the TGO Challenge 2017

Friday, 16 August 2013

Thursday 15 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 62 - Stage 1 - Back to Timperley



For the sake of completeness. ..

With flights from Perpignan being the subject of extortionate costs, I'd looked at train possibilities back at the end of May when I made the booking. 

It all went very smoothly, on another lovely sunny day.

A lift from David to Argeles station after waving goodbye to his lovely house, Maison de Foret (pictured above)
Argelès to Perpignan - €6.60 (20 mins)
Perpignan to Paris (TGV) then Paris to St Pancras (Eurostar) - all on one ticket - €94 (9 hours)
(Canigou soon faded into the distance, but we'll be back)
Euston to Stockport - Virgin Pendolino - £27.50 (1st Class - including food and drinks)(2 hours)
Stockport to Timperley - Nallo Lady taxi service. Priceless. 

A pretty quick and efficient journey, with good company from Paris to London in the form of Reuters man Harry, and a chance encounter at Euston with Phil and Carol, former work colleagues who were in good form (perhaps because Carol retired last year and Phil is doing just that in a couple of weeks' time).

It's a small world! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - index to follow

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Wednesday 14 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 61 - Stage 50 - Col de l'Oullat to Banyuls-sur-Mer

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 953 km)     

Ascent: 800 metres (Cum: 52,300 metres)

Additional distance and ascent on rest days: 40 km and 600 metres ascent
                     
Time taken: 7.5 hrs including 1.25 hrs stops (Cum 362 hours walking including 76 hours stops)                                     

Rain: approx 26 hours spent walking in rain, 20 of which were in the first week

Weather: sunny with a cold northerly wind; hot in Banyuls

Everyone was quite keen to get going this morning, and even the Tour Aventure couple managed some smiles after I produced a waterproof jacket found on the path yesterday. It turned out to be one of theirs. I didn't see them again though - the lightest laden were the slowest walkers.

Charles and Elizabeth were first away and remained unseen until Banyuls, where I'm sure they were relieved to have finished lugging their heavy loads (Elizabeth, anyway - former paratrooper Charles could probably have walked back home to Paris in a few days).  Heiko and Anna-Marie left a little after me but soon overtook when I inadvertently descended 50 metres down the wrong path. 

Setting off through the trees above the Chalet de l'Albère gite didn't really prepare us for the strong, buffeting wind above the tree line. It was a cold northerly that tore into us all morning, only relenting after we dropped into the shadow of the hills below Pic de Sailfort. My fleece was donned for much of the morning - very unusual on this trip. The Tilley hat strained on its straps until replaced by a buff. If gloves had been handy they would have gone on. 

Early on we were toiling against this buffeting wind whilst being blinded by the glaring low sun in a meadow of Harebells and Fringed Pinks. The sun got higher, but the wind continued to nag. I wasn't particularly looking forward to a night on the dusty campsite at Banyuls. 

We were up at 1250 metres, with the Spanish coastline seemingly just a few kilometres away (pictured - bottom).  Eventually the shelter provided by some wind-blown trees enabled me to hunker down and enjoy some brownies from Le Perthus. 

Puig Neulus was reached, then an unmanned CAF refuge where the four French boys may have stayed last night. It was a very clean and tidy bothy sort of place, with an overpowering aroma of wood smoke.

Battling onwards to the final summit of the trip - Pic de Sailfort - past cattle and clumps of rockroses, dandelions and eryngo (perhaps the cattle eat everything else), I enjoyed the views to the north, along the coast to Perpignan (pictured - top), and, eventually, the views south east to my destination (pictured - middle). 

A message of encouragement arrived from Pierre and Yolaine. They were near Le Perthus, just a day behind me, in line with their schedule. They are memorable fellow travellers. We will stay in touch and they may even have a go at the TGO Challenge walk across Scotland. 

I lunched in a sheltered spot on Pic de Sailfort, near where Sue and I enjoyed our final brew nine years ago. I couldn't help but reflect on this crossing - the wet first week with David and John, followed by dryer weather but with leaden skies under a low cloud base that was driving people away from the HRP route. After that, two weeks through flood and mud devastated areas, and the upsetting sights of Hotel du Tourmalet being demolished and the mud in St Béat. Sue leaving from Luchon and a period of tent carrying with Graham, often stopping mid-afternoon to avoid storms. The pleasure of walking alone after Vicdessos, set against the frightening descent into Andorra. The final couple of weeks in superb weather apart from a cloudy day on Canigou. New friends met along the way on this latter section, especially Peter, Uli and Nathalie. The last day off in Amélie, and nice meals there with David and Jan, and Nathalie. The last few leisurely days with a very light rucksack, feeling almost as if I was cheating! 

The bleep of the phone aroused me from these reminisces. Probably Orange - border walks always seem to generate a barrage of text messages.  But no, it was David - "fancy dinner, B&B in Argelès?"  A dream scenario.  So I hastened down through herbally scented warm vineyards to Banyuls, stopping on the outskirts to discard a few items that had served their purposes - boots, socks, empty bottles of sun tan cream, toothpaste and water, etc. 

Then it was into town. Beer o'clock had  been brought forward to 3.15pm and was enjoyed outside the Hotel de Ville with David and Jan. Nathalie was there - she had overcome her calf injury to finish the previous day. Charles and Elizabeth also said their goodbyes and Heiko and Anna-Marie were busy being photographed beside the GR10 Start/Finish sign. My own finish was in the sea, after which I burnt my feet on the pavement. It was hotter down there.

The champagne shop in Argelès provided an excellent quaff, and David demonstrated his barbecuing skills. Wonderful hospitality from Jan and David provided a fitting end to the sixty days of walking since we had set off from Hendaye. Thanks you two, it was great.

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary - this was the last day of walking

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (21)

Frequently seen in woodland and shady places in the Pyrenees - broomrapes, which are parasitic on the roots of other plants and lack green pigment. 

One of the commonest Pyrenean varieties seems to be Clove-scented Broomrape, of which this appears to be a fine specimen. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - the final flower (for now)

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Banyuls-sur-Mer

Finished - 3.15 pm, Wednesday 14 August 2013.  In the Mediterranean. Unable to proceed further. 

Picture courtesy of David Roberts Photography. 

Delay courtesy of David and Jan Roberts Hospitality. 

Full posting to follow tomorrow. 

Sent from the end our GR10 trip.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tuesday 13 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 60 - Stage 49 - Las Illas to Col de l'Oullat

Distance: 25 km (Cum: 928 km)     

Ascent: 1020 metres (Cum: 51,500 metres)
                     
Time taken: 7.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny but with cloud and storm building over Canigou

Heikel and Anna-Marie joined me for breakfast and I encountered them for periods on today's amble, including lunch on a bench in the dreadful 'tax free' border village of Le Perthus. What qualifications it has to be 'tax free' I don't know, but that status certainly seems to attract swarms of shoppers. 

Hostal dels Trabucayres (pictured-top) is a bit of a blast from the past. No en-suites, no TVs, no Internet. Just a few rooms with balconies, above a restaurant. Lovely original panelling,  separate shower and toilet - just one of each for all the rooms. If this was in the Basque country it would be full of diners every night. 

The route to Le Perthus was much as I remember it from nine years ago. Pleasant tracks undulating past beehives, mainly on the French side of the border, then through an area of cork trees that continued for most of the day. 

"Heat will be a problem." The wise men had assured us. It was over 30°C, but a cool breeze made conditions quite pleasant today. 

The conditions were probably appreciated by certain unseen people as well.  We encountered a 'no camping' 'dogs on leads' 'naked people' area. It was definitely not a 'no naked people' sign, but there were no naturists on our path today. 

Before Le Perthus I yet again passed Fort de Bellegarde without visiting it. I suspect it is very similar to the forts in the Maritime Alps with which we are familiar. 

Typical woodland from today is also pictured. This continued beyond Le Perthus, when to my delight I found the route that we took nine years ago to have been superseded by a much better path. Instead of following the road through St-Martin-de-l'Albère to the col, GR10 now takes paths along the border, skirting the village and all the water points mentioned in our guide book. It's an excellent route, and not too steep. I met a heavily tattooed couple on the way down. They had a cat and a dog on leads. The tiny cat looked absolutely terrified. What ordeals some people put their pets through! 

I reached the gite before 3.30pm and have spent a pleasant afternoon here, watching the storm over Canigou and socialising with my fellow travellers. The 'other couple' are also here. They are indeed 'Tour Aventure' and have a separate private room. The rest of us are in a large dormitory. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - the penultimate day of walking - doesn't it go quickly! 

Occasional Pyrenean Tractors (6)

This special bonus edition may be the last of this series. Proper tractors seem quite rare in the Pyrenees! 

By the way, Alan, the steel foundry I worked in used a Massey Ferguson rescue truck that doubled as a tug...

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday 12 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 59 - Stage 48 - Moulin de la Palette to Las Illas

Distance: 23 km (Cum: 903 km)      

Ascent: 1050 metres (Cum: 50,480 metres)
                     
Time taken: 8.0 hrs including 1.75 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny at first with some cloud and a few spots of rain in the afternoon

There were lots of alternative routes today, but in the end I chose to wander along the regular GR10 path, on the grounds that it was the longer of the possible options and would fill the day, and it would be almost entirely new ground for me - as has the route all the way from Batère Mines, surprisingly. 

We spent some time chatting with Laurent at the gite. He is proud of their 'Eco credentials' and of being able to use the solar cooker to prepare vegetables that are not overcooked. "How do you say in English?" he asked. "Al dente" I suggested, to much amusement. 

There were lunch items for sale outside the gite, and a sign 'boots and sticks this way'.  "Really!" said Gwen, "so we could buy some new boots here?"

Charles and Elizabeth followed the same GR10 route as me at a slightly different pace, but we started and finished roughly at the same time. Charles's rucksack is 20 kilos heavier than mine! He's quite fit.

Last time I was here we followed the HRP route along the border with Spain. Today's rather longer walk (proven by Heikel and Anna-Marie's arrival at Las Illas via the border route an hour before the rest of us) was a delightful stroll through sunlit woods with frequent views through clearings. 

On the path to Montalba d'Amélie I heard rustlings nearby that had to be coming from animals rather larger than the usual green lizards. I was still a little surprised to see a gang of wild boar swagger across the path just in front of me. Hefty dark brown creatures.

The mushrooms aren't quite ready here, and the flowers are mostly over in the woods, so they do look a bit bare at present, with lots of wild boar scrapings in evidence. 

Coll Cerda warranted a short break and a check on yesterday's blog posting that had been 'sending' for an hour and a half.  It eventually 'failed', after draining 30% of a battery. A couple of pictures were removed and then the posting went, but it subsequently disappeared from the 'sent' folder.  So my plaudits about the S3 phone were perhaps a little premature, particularly as it has developed an occasional tendency to freeze, losing whatever is being worked on, just like an early 'windows' computer. 

After a fairly long climb, the last section of which was accompanied by a sweat craving inundation of flies, the high point of the day - the ridge below Roc de France - was reached.  I joined Charles and Elizabeth, who seemed to be in the middle of a four course banquet, to finish off my goats cheese and tomato baguette. The breeze kept the flies away (they weren't noticeable after that) and there were extensive views into both France and Spain. The latter is pictured. By now some high cloud and haze had arrived to succeed the perfect clarity of the past few days. 

The GR10 path then continued on its merry way, past a variety of large rocky outcrops in the trees (Roc de France is the highest of these), eventually reaching Col de Cirères at 2.50pm amidst a brief flurry of raindrops from the cloud that was building rapidly over Canigou.

A speedy descent to Las Illas saw me passing a new couple as well as Charles and Elizabeth. Most were staying in the gite, but a review of my emails indicated that Sue had probably booked me into the Hostal dels Trabucayres, the hotel/restaurant where we were all enjoying a beer. I enquired. My name was not on the list, but it must have been somewhere, as I was shown immediately to room number one. Those staying at the gite declared mine to be a good decision, and my demi-pension price of €39 is cheaper than staying in the gite and eating here.

C&E lingered over a few beers before departing to try to eat some of their food mountain, snd Heikel and Anna-Marie joined me later for a very good meal at the Hostal (which is a small hotel). The new couple are the only other people staying - it looks as if their bags are being transferred 'Tour Aventure' style. 

No phone signal again tonight. 

NB GR10 is supposed to be about 900 kilometres with 50,000 metres ascent. My trip passed both those landmarks today. So I have two 'bonus' days!  Yippee! 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Occasional Pyrenean Flowers (20)

An Alpine or Pyrenean trip can't be allowed to conclude without a Houseleek picture. 

I think this is Mountain Houseleek (Sempervivium montanum), seen in the 'Valley of the Flowers' (the Eyne valley) a few days ago. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary

Monday, 12 August 2013

Moulin de la Palette Eco-Gîte

Here are the pictures that wouldn't transmit earlier. 

Sent from a vary bright lunch spot near Roc de France. 

Sunday 11 August 2013 - Pyrenees GR10 - Day 58 - Stage 47 (part/variant) - Amélie-les-Bains to Moulin de la Palette

IDistance: 12 km (Cum: 880 km)     

Ascent: 1200 metres (Cum: 49,430 metres)
                     
Time taken: 6.0 hrs including 1.5 hrs stops                                     

Weather: sunny and hot

On another 'blue sky' day I started slowly. I'd not bothered to re-stock my lunch provisions yesterday, and the shops don't open until 9am on a Sunday. 

I like Amélie. There are some magnificent old plane trees by the old hospital.  It's a pretty town with a folk festival just now (various international performers march up and down the main street from time to time) and rather too many tourists, but it needs all the tourists it can get, so I'm not going to complain about that.  Sue and I spent our second wedding anniversary here nine years ago, and on this visit I had the pleasure of David and Jan's company on Friday, and Nathalie's yesterday.  Thanks to all of you and good luck with your future projects. Nathalie's 'HRA' idea - a high level route over the Alps from Slovenia to the Atlantic - sounds particularly interesting. 

Setting off past the Thermes du Mondony, and the sign to the Gorges du Mondony that are sadly currently closed to the public, I soon gained the shade of the trees as I rose slowly up the well graded pathway to Chapelle Santa Engracia.

Various stones beside the well signed but deserted path may once have been engraved, and perhaps they housed Stations of the Cross. The views across to Amélie displayed the Mediterranean beyond, and those to Arles, where I passed through with Peter and Uli the other day, housed the formidable profile of Pic du Canigou (pictured - top).

I admired the lovingly carved signs whilst listening to uplifting choral music drifting from the town below, much as melodic folk music had been seeping through my hotel room window until 11pm the previous two evenings. 

Restoration of the chapel was completed in 2008, and a nice job it was too. Today's view back to the chapel from the orientation point showed it in a good light under the pure dark blue sky (pictured - middle). 

There were a few folk at the chapel, but after that I saw just a handful of people. Tonight's gite is relatively quiet, so I imagine the crowds have now been left behind on Canigou. 

The path beyond the chapel was equally pleasant- a wide old trade route perhaps, with extensive views - something of a surprise given the number of trees hereabouts, but there seem to be plenty of gaps for ganders.

After a while, a thin side path led over an unnamed 981 metre summit and down to Col de Paracolls, where the GR10 path was encountered. I lunched here - lovely goats cheese and tomato from yesterday's market in Amélie. A sign indicated 70 minutes to tonight's gite, so rather than arrive really early, I chose to ascend 400 metres up to Pilon de Belmatx, a nearby 1280 metre summit. It was worth it. A great path with fine views. 

I was going to return to the col, but the ongoing ridge looked tempting, so I continued along it, turning east when I reached a hunters track down the Serre de la Dégolle. This took me some way before I eventually lost the markings and found my way steeply down through woods to the GR10 path. Fifteen minutes later I was at the Eco-Gite.

3.45 pm, and I was the first arrival of the day. It's a nice place in a sunny glade in the woods. It's pictured in the next posting as the image sizes seem to big for this one. 

It really is pretty 'Eco'.

Dinner was enjoyed with the guardians, Laurent and Katerine (probably both spelt wrong!) and with a new batch of GR10 ers - Charles and Elizabeth from Paris, and Anna-Marie and Heikel. Nearby, Aline and Gwen from Belgium - on a car camping trip - are cooking something tasty, and four lads are  also camping in the garden. 

There's no phone signal. 

Sent from our GR10 trip - see here for our itinerary