Monday 12th October 2015
We drove back to Santa Margarita, unloaded the bikes and the dog cart and set off to Roses to meet with friends Clive and Diane for coffee. We had cycled along the fairly crowded prom and had lots of comments from people who thought a whippet ought to be running alongside rather that riding in his carriage like a king on his way to his coronation. Problem is if he stopped I would probably wrench his head off. He just cannot be trusted to run free. He would either chase another dog for fun or steal a child’s ice cream.
After lunch we had to go and satisfy Jo’s desire to see some birds. Over to the Aiguamolls then.
A dab chick
A lesser black backed seagull
Back to Jeremy and Pat’s drive for an overnight stay.
Tuesday 13th October 2015
Went to see Carles the accountant but he wasn’t in so over to my bank to close my Spanish account then back to La Bisbal via San Pere Pescador for a lunchtime bite at the river’s edge. More tile shops but at last we do seem to be getting somewhere. We just need another day before a final decision is made.
Stayed the night at the aire in Quart. Very cosmopolitan. Us Brits, Spanish (campervanning is becoming popular with the Spaniards), Belgian, Swedes (rare visitors) and the inevitable Frog van.
Wednesday 14th October 2015
Market day in Jo’s old home town of Cassa de la Selva. Jo also wanted to visit her old estate agent Narcis, who was also her pupil, and her art tutor Carlos. That done more fruit and veg from her local market. A bag full of food for less than four Euros. Thankfully no apples. We brought some stewed apple with us and Jo also scrumped a load of apples which she also stewed. Desert has been, “What would you like with your stewed apples, dear? Rice pudding or apple yoghurt?”
Back to La Bisbal. The shop we really wanted to visit was closed for the day so another day hanging around, unless…
We did eventually find some tiles we both liked. These are not just mass produced machine made tiles but hand painted, home-made tiles produced “round the back”. We bought the tiles for the main area in one shop and then individual hand painted tiles from a couple of other shops. Now I just need to fit the jigsaw together. Amazing what sort of deals you can put together if you flash the cash. The black economy is alive and well.
Filled up with diesel at 0.99.9c/litre. Beat that.
The poor old bus is getting rather full. I lost a pullover of Jo’s when I offered to carry it on a hot day. Off to Decathlon and between us bought several pullovers, trousers, boots and shoes (mainly for skiing trips). Now about three hundred tiles. The fridge and the food trays are stuffed full. Gally takes up a lot room too. He has his fold up kennel strapped to the sofa. We didn’t fix it at first and he must have rolled over in the night and the whole lot crashed to the floor. It scared us all. Gally must have got a fright and I thought we were being attacked.
Back to Jeremy and Patricia’s driveway for the night. We called on old neighbours Werner and Alex to say “hello” on our way up the hill. Alex is a prolific cook. She is always making stuff. She gave us a jar of her home made fig jam with a label in English, “made by Alex in Can Isac”
Thursday 15th October 2015.
We did not plan to do much today. Visit accountant, not in again, take Gally to the beach for the last time, have lunch, go back to Decathlon, shopping in Carrefour especially for their crunchy cereals, forgot them. Visit Lynne again, then pop into Jacqy Harding’s on the way home. It was nearly six by the time we got back onto Jeremy’s drive.
Internet reception was quite good so caught up on the latest news.
Friday 16th October 2015
It has been a great few days in Catalunya. Do I miss Catalunya? I miss the weather at this time of the year and the wide roads and lack of traffic but that is about it. Do I regret moving back to the UK? No!
Beautiful, bright clear start although a bit chilly. Filled up with some of Jeremy’s lovely water – I owe them both a beer.
Over the border at Le Perthus avoiding the toll road and on into Perpignan and turn left at the airport heading for Foix. If anyone knows how to pronounce it please tell me. This road runs through Cathar country. I took Sue out this way for a picnic. She said it was an awful long way to go for a picnic but understood when No. 1 son descended from the sky on his paraglider having jumped off the parapet of the castle at Peyrepertuse.
The road started to rise as we headed back towards the mountains. The scenery is spectacular. It seems that one unfortunate driver did take a shortcut and appears to have smashed through the concrete barrier rather than use the winding way home. I hope he/she was OK. We did pull up at a layby a bit higher up but too far away to see what had happened. The fire brigade was there in force.
Near the top of the coll is a large aire de repos.
We pulled up mainly to give the dog a leg stretch. Good view so we decided to stop the night. Lots of paths to choose from. We followed a path to the ridge. The drop down the other side was vertical for several hundred feet. Jo posed for a photo. Having read of the fate of a young girl taking a selfie in a similar situation recently and losing her footing and ending up brown bread at the foot of the cliff we decided a selfie was an indulgence too far. Who would look after Gally… and my bikes?
The drop down the other side. Almost vertical. You certainly wouldn’t hit anything hard for quite a long time.
Saturday 17th October 2015
Very early start for us. Wonderful sunrise.
We stopped by a river in St Martory for lunch and use of the aire. The riverside walk involved more scrumping, this time figs. We lurve figs. The Romans had been here. Mile after mile of dead straight roads apart from the chicanes in the small villages designed to deter the heavy lorries.
We left the main road and headed for the Col de Pyresourde, one of the famous Tour de France Cols. If we had got here earlier I might have got my bike out but in truth I am saving myself for the Col du Tourmalet, the day after tomorrow.
Tonight we are in a layby six km from the top of the Pyresourde with the first snows of the winter on the peaks opposite us up towards the Lac d’Oo (which means lake of lake. Lac being French for lake and Oo being lake in the local dialect. Confusing or what?)
Sunday 18th October 2015
We are a bit ahead of schedule and although a grey, dank morning after rainfall in the night it was quite warm so we drive to the summit of the Col de Pyresourde and I get my bike down, don my cycling kit and rainproof and head back down the mountain. I tell Joanna if I am not back by one to send out the rescue dogs.
I am apprehensive about the whole expedition. Will my brakes be up to the job? I see professional teams are trialling disc brakes so they must be OK. Will they get too hot? I take it easy for the first couple of corners but all seems fine. My heart is racing. Gaining confidence I speed up… just a little. My heart rate slows down. I intend to only go as far down as where we camped the previous night. The Garmin tells me that is only about 5kms but hey, this is a TDF col, the first of the “Five Cols”.
I start back up the mountain, it is not that steep to begin with. Brief stop to remove raincoat. Yes, I know the TDF riders do it without stopping but I am no great bike handler. I am on my cyclo-cross bike so I have gears to spare. I spot about 20+ vultures flying overhead. They are waiting for me to collapse. Perhaps I should not stop but I do but they fly off before I could get my phone out for a photo. Joanna is there to meet me at the top but only just. The whole trip has only taken about three quarters of an hour. I am back by 11:30.
We stop at the aire at Arrau for lunch and then head for the Col d’Aspin. This is longer, steeper and much narrower. It’s a pretty scary drive in the van never mind on a bike. No barriers at all and very steep drops. My brother and my dad would be heading for the door and walking up. We pass a couple of old guys, well they’re my age. When they get to the top we chat with them; lightweight bikes. They explain the Tourmalet is no steeper than the Pyresourde, just longer, about 20k. I am fired up and ready to go.
We stay overnight in the car park just below the ski station at La Mongie.
Monday 19th October 2015
OAP conquers Col du Tourmalet
Below the car park is a dam which is undergoing some sort of maintenance work. There’s lots of equipment and materials on site and we just found out how they got it here – helicopter. This big blue bird intrigued Gally on his early morning constitutional. He just stood and gazed at it.
It was a decent enough looking day, just right for a bike ride so after breakfast we set off for the summit.
I was not so nervous this time. I stopped after a little while. My brakes are making some strange sounds. I check they are firmly fixed to the bike. OMG, that’s hot! The discs were white hot but the road was levelling out and straighter so I could let them cool. It is 17km to the start at Saint-Marie de Campan. There is a statue to Eugene Christophe (see photo). Christophe is better known than the winner of the 1913 Tour. On the descent of the Tourmalet he crashed and broke his forks whilst well in the lead. Team cars did not exist in those days and he had to effect any repairs himself so he walked 10km down to Saint-Marie where there was a forge. The blacksmith could only offer advice as Christophe repaired the forks and set off on the road by now some way behind. Christophe was fined ten minutes for allowing a seven year old boy to pump the bellows for him.
I set off taking it easy. It’s a long way and I didn’t want to blow up before the top. I estimated I would be back at the summit for one o’clock. Jo was getting worried when one came and went. When I did eventually arrive at the top some twit had parked diagonally across the lane right on the blind corner. I cursed and Jo missed the shot. It didn’t help that I hadn’t set the camera to “rapid fire” seven shots a second for 70 shots. Great for sports photography. So after the obligatory picture in front of the statue of Jacques Goddet, a journalist on l’Auto newspaper and race director of the Tour for many years. I rode back down the hill for a couple of hundred metres and did it all again for the camera!
Different mountain, different racing vest,
Gally bows at the feet of the conqueror of the Col du Tourmalet.
We desperately needed fuel. It’s a bit pricey in the mountains but we spotted an automated fill up at a price we could stomach. Jo jumped out to check the machine was working and measured her length on the pavement. Cuts and bruises on her hands and knees and looking very pale she needs a lie down whilst I fill up. Ten minutes and some colour has returned and after some self-administered first aid whilst I wash off the diesel from my hands we are on our way.
After lunch we headed off to Gavarnie. Jo is reading two books, “Backpacks, Boots and Baguettes” by Simon Calder and Mick Webb and “If you only walk long enough” by Steve Cracknell and both rave on about the natural wonder the Cirque de Gavarnie. This vast and spectacular geological amphitheatre rapidly became Europe’s most visited natural site and gained UNESCO recognition in 1997. Let’s hope it isn’t raining tomorrow when we don our walking boots. It’s a 10km walk.
Tuesday 20th October 2015
We met a couple of young Brit travellers in their VW Camper. The Cirque de Gavarnie is a UNESCO world heritage site. We have them in the UK; cirques, corries, cwms whatever you want to call them but not on this scale. The early outlook appeared grim. Low cloud but the Tourist Office assured us the cloud would disappear after lunch so we set out on the climb. It’s about 5k each way. Decide for yourself. It is quite spectacular.
Sadly, Gally had to be on his lead. You could tell he was itching for a run but satisfied himself on the way back with finding sticks, the bigger the better. “Mind your ankles!”