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