Thanks to all of you who have sponsored my trek or donated in any way. You have been a great inspiration. The total raised to date is just short of £2000 (nudge, nudge!). I gave a presentation to Ashbrittle Lunch Club yesterday with pictures from my trek and it seemed to go down well. It also got me fired up for the next big adventure. I will be closing the book at the end of November so if you would still care to donate you only have a few days to add to my total. Cheers from Ted.
It’s getting on a bit on my trek in the Pairaknees. Much has happened since my last blog post. Yvette and I have been up hill and down dale. We have camped on bogs, stayed in refuges, eaten in Gites and washed in rivers. Tomorrow Yvette heads for blighty while I head off up a very steep hill towards Meren les Vals. We have just enjoyed a very good meal at the gite run by Fabrice and in the wonderful company of a Belgian and three French folks. Outside, in Siguer, is it still gloriously warm. This what life should be like. The gloomy weather of the last few days is gone and the views are stunning.
The walking is still remarkably hard but getting easier. There have been some beautiful French hill villages on this walk. Narrow twisty streets, with houses packed in tight, so high up on mountains that you wonder why they are there. Two hours steep walking takes you down ancient cobbled tracks to another village, again with no shops or facilities. What do all the inhabitants do for a living? Even Stawley has a shop. Here you have to drive to Paris or Toulouse to get a Mars bar. And don’t run out of petrol cos there are few petrol pumps to be found.
Enough of all this moaning, yesterday we saw a noisy black woodpecker and today a very confident red squirrel. The day before we surprised a bunch of deer in the woods. So there is some wildlife that the French have not shot. And we are becoming true travellers – meeting and making friends on the trail. Will I overtake them in my dash for the Med?
Talking of which, I am cultivating a very cool tan. Brown legs from thigh to sock top and shoulders too. The band holding my glasses has left a nice white stripe on the back of my neck. Super. The thought of a dip in the Med is focussing my fantasies now, I expect to hit the beach running when I arrive at Banyuls sur Mer in just over a week or so.
Short blog toay as I am in the foyer of the Marie in Seix. Not in the mood for the obvous jokes as outside it is raining hard and no progress will bemade today. This is a time for planning, buying provisions and stocking up the tummy with big food. Already, and in spite of eating well and often, I have lost body fat. Trousers are hanging off, the belt on my rucksack is nearly at max tightness. The upside is that I feel fit and well.
Tomorrow bodes well. We will be off on the next section. The Ariege is short on people, places an, certainly, shops. But the views are spectacular, when you can see them. up high, above the cloudsis best. Down here it’s low cloud and drizzle, rather like ‘Autumn in Dorset’ as Yvette puts it.
Well past half way now, I am counting down the days. Arrrgggh! It will be over all too soon.
Just got in front of a computer screen again to find several comments from friends. Many thanks to all of you for your good wishes and concerns about my well-being. Yes Mother, I am drinking lots of water and, since Yvette arrived in Luchon on Monday, I have powdered goodness in my water to replace salts and lost energy. Oh and I have got a clean hanky. That’s the first lie of the day so far.
Life on the GR10 continues up and down. The only change is that they are much steeper and longer ups and downs. And itwill stay that way all through the Ariege. We are today stocking up in St Gaudens, having by chance arrived in time for the weekly bus from Fos. The next few days – 7 or 8 at least – go through virtually uninhabited country. No shops, very little change of finding something to eat. So it has to be carried. On top of the existing bagage. Oh, and Yvette did really well on her first two days. A hot climb from Luchon lead up to barren bumpy bits with the only water available being nasty metallic stuff that trickled slowly from a filthy pipe. We were on a steep hillside, the way forward was uncertain. “Should we stay or should we go” I asked. “Oh let’s go on” she aswered quickly. So we did.
We were right on the France/Spanish border. The only way was up. It was evening with no cover and we had to find somewhere to set up camp and cook dinner. But up we went – eventually finding ourselves on a rounded peak at the top of the world with a 360 degree view of mountains and cloud below as the sun went down and the tiniest sliver of an orangy new moon came up against a purple sky. The pain of the day was washed aside and fully savoured at that moment.
Down again to a flat col we hurriedly set up camp on a flat and, I thought, relatively sheltered dried-up water hole. I put up the tent while Yvette got some dinner together. After I had done a madman impression in order to drive away some very pushy goats we ate and hunkered down for the night. It was all down hill from there on. The problem being that we were still very high up and exposed. The tent flapped loudly in the slight wind. The slight wind grew to a considerable wind and by 1 oclock it was coming in great bursts that we could hear whilstling through the grass from miles away. Bang! The tent pegs could stand no more. The tent collapsed. In a swirling dust cloud I got out, found the pegs, banged them in and returned perchance to get no sleep till it happened again. Which it did twice more that horrid night.
With dawn and the twitter of a skylark (what a lark eh?) we packed up, ate breakfast, acted like madmen to drive away some very pushy horses and cleared off. Everything we had, and ourselves, was covered in fine black dust. Yeeeuk!
No sleep at all and a long way to go to get to Fos, we staggered through a hot day – with only one hour-long mistake out of the eight or so – with the unspoken promise on both our minds that the followingday would involve no walking and that we would stay in a hotel that night. Fos has one shop, a boulangerie and lots of run-down properties but the hotel would do – if we could ever find the owners. We did. A wash, a good meal and a good sleep works wonders.
So here we are. Shopping and about to have lunch in St Gaudens. Lovely, it wasn’t so bad after all. Was it?
The GR10 is, generally, very well marked with little red and white stripes but you have to concentrate at bit. Some of them are rather worn. After an hour or so walking in the mornings I find myself going off into dreamy states and that’s when things go wrong.
Corners are where it all falls apart. Cattle tracks lead you off into swampy areas and paths disintegrate. Suddenly nothing feels right and there are no red and white reasurances.The thought of backtracking is a pain. Twice now I have taken off my rucksack and retraced my steps. Just outside Arrens I found the route again and 10 minutes later realised I was headed back towards town. Horrors! All that wasted effort. In the mist I had not recognised the path back. About face and only 20 minutes lost.
I am not alone in this. On the same stage I overtook a French couple downhill only to lose my way at an iffy turn left sign. After 15 minutes of struggling with non-existent paths in the woods I met the same couple doing likewise. We all searched around for a while until I realised that the sign I had thought was a right turn was a left turn for people coming up the hill. I never saw them again. They may still be in those woods. Which reminds me of the notices for missing persons you see from time to time on the Park National boards.
Saw what I think was an Ibex on my way down from a refuge at Ilehou. Certainly there were lots of marmots and birds of prey.
Cauterets is a fair-sized town, sadly the locals failed to wait up for my arrival and were still tucked up when I left. I arrived very tired and asked a man with a dog where the camping was. He didn’t know or care, but I found one anyway and was amazed to find myself on the next pitch to an Aussie couple I had met three times already. Shock on shock, they have been hitching lifts!
Noodles again and bed. I have been giving some thought to Leo’s offer to reduce the volume of the some of the mountains in order to ease my way. Being serious for a moment, I am worried about interferring with nature in this fashion. Remember the business of ‘All forces meeting equal and opposing forces and opposites attracting’ that we learned at school? Physics I think, or possibly Biology. Anyway it occurs to me that reducing the Pyrenees could have serious consequences for somewhere else. Just imagine if we suddenly had the Somerset unlevels, Glastonbury tor might soar and the locals might suddenly experience a real high for the first time in their lives. Thanks Leo but perhaps not eh?
Staying at the home of Rob and Emma Mason in Bareges tonight with the promise of a curry. Many thanks to them for that and the use of their computer for this. If you fancy doing some walking in the mountains with a guide who does know where he’s going then check out their website at: www.mountainbug.com
Cheerio for now, Ted
Your marmot allarm call sir? There he/she was, twenty foot from my tent door. Shreiking like it’s morning already. This was after I had spent a nervous night thanks to climbing about 700 metres through steep and dark forest, sweating profusely about where I was to find somwhere to pitch my tent (Ian’s tent actually). Two French lads appeared out of the gloom, on their way down, and told me that I should arrive somewhere suitable in about two hours but don’t be too slow. No panic there then. After popping out of the trees and with bear sighting still at zero, you do think about these things, I get to the top and a long ridge cut out of the rock with sheer nothing below. Another hour passed and the rain had started. At last a flat tent-sized spot. You don’t need to know about putting up a tent in the dark and rain on a bear infested region.
I love my sleeping bag. And the eye shade which almost cuts out all the lightning; not however the one strike which was flash and bang ‘tout a coupe’. If you are going to go, you are.
Next morning the sun came up, the stream nearby let me wash clothes and me and all was welll with the world again. Just a matter of another 1000 metres up to go. It’s a piece of cake all this mountaineering. Glorious cake.
I am seriously concerned about the French economy. How on earth do they afford to carve new roads up mountains; all that earth-moving (no, not that sort), all the tarmac and maintenance just to let one farmer look after three sheep and a goat? Anyroadup, the going has been tough these past few days. the scenery is now big roughty-toughty rocky stuff. I get up in the morning and am faced with a climb of 1000 plus metres. That’s hard just after petit degeuner. It is actually harder than I expected and there is worse to come quite soon. Which makes me think that my sponsors should share some of the, considerable, pain I am suffering by coughing up some more dosh. And coughing is what I do at the top of some of these climbs.
I mean, what is the point of mountains? It’s a long way round and a long way over the top. And then I saw the karst region where I am now. Amazing!
Huge bare (wait for it) cliffs towering all around me, with green valleys below. It is stunning. Just looking back at where I came from today is gob-smacking. And they are mostly vultures following my every move. They are big buggers but there is no mistaking their ugly mugs.
To give you an idea of the heat here, I am drinking about three litres of water per 1/2 day and constantly melting. But I am not feeling fitter. Today I overtook two French guys who set off some twenty minutes earlier from the auberge where we alll stayed last night. Not sure if that was down to fitness or a normal us vs them thing. But it was fun to arrive at the next refuge an hour ahead of them. That must have spurred them on because I had only just got myself a drink tonight when they (Michel and Renee – we are good mates now) showed up again. Do you think they are cheating, caught a cab or something? The scale of the land around me is awe-inspiring. It is so big and to be so far from anything is wierd and a bit scary too. Passed a ski station today. In summer it’s like a wild-west ghost town. No snow, no people just ski lifts on rocky hillsides. It was good to get away from it, back into nature. Saw my first Marmot today; fat rodent creatures, it was crossing a road.
Also today I got lost for the firstime. Must have missed a sign, walked on a while, changed direction, immediately got back on route by complete accident and then lost it straight away again. So I followed my instincts and when that failed had a pointless conversation in French with a Spaniard in a car park on the Spanish border. A long walk down the road and the red and white signs reappeared. Hurrah!
Lescun in the morning – very picturesque and then on to – well, wherever.
I’m on the computer in the refuge and a queue has formed derriere moi. So thank you for bearing with me. Ted
Here is the news at 11.19 Monday and this is Ted Franklin reading it. (Not in dinner dress – sorry)
The mobile is just too tricky so here I am at St Jean Pied de Port at an internet cafe.
It has been very hot and I have been very sticky, tho not today as I just stayed in a very nice campsite with showers.
Previously I have been wild camping on mountain tops surrounded by horses, with bells on and occasionally goats, with bells on. Once, and I hope only once, I was surrounded, at 3.30 am by some creepy guy who eventually wandered off, we hoped, (my daughter Louise was with me for the first few days). We both lay there silent as could be till he/she had gone. “Did you hear that?” I whispered, “Yes” she replied. There was no sleeping after that so we got up, un-pitched the tent and other gear in the pitch black and walked on up the road desperately searching for the small red and white GR10 route signs with a wind-up head torch. Daylight eventually dawned as we stumbled along somewhere east of Saré right on the border with Spain.
Yesterday, or it may have been the day before, Louise caught a bus to Bayonne and thence Blighty and I walked up a hill, 1200+ metres, against a tide of lycra-clad hill runners in the blistering heat (There seems to be no other kind). It took six hours to do what the book says can be done in four. The vultures are a pretty impressive size when you are up level with them. I particularly didn’t like the way they were looking at me by the end of the day. Especially as on-board water supplies started at 2.5 litres and went down to .5 by the middle of the section on the Iparla Ridge as I camped four miles from the next known water hole. It was actually quite scary, I felt like Lawrence of Arabia but without a camel for immoral support.
Yesterday I had to stop and ask a frightened old french lady what day it was. “Dimanche” she replied before scurrying off to find sanctury in a nearby church. It’s like that after a day or three on the GR10 – no sense of direction. The signage is pretty good but after a mile uphill, with no red and white stripes in sight, you do begin to wonder if you missed a vital turning.
Today, the book says, is an easy one so I am hanging out at St Jean, waiting for the temperature to ease before starting the next, uphill, section.
Oh yes, another walker passed me on the hills yesterday as I collapsed my tent. We exchanged ‘Bonjours” and five hours later I met him again at St Ettienne de Bigorray. In dodgy French I asked if he was doing the GR10 and he said he was and we had a pleasent, if slow, chat for 10 mins before I noticed that his French was hardly better than mine. “Et vous Francais?” I asked. “Non”, il dit, “Je suis Anglais”. Bloody typical! Tho he is from Sheffield. I rest my defense. We passed and repassed each other throughout the next 12 hours. Being as how he is only about 22 I guess he is at the Med as you read this.
Well, must be on my way, only 5 weeks and a bit to go. Pix may follow later if my solar charger behaves. Pip pip for now from the south of France;