My Pyrenees HRP Diary - Introduction

This blog was begun in 2015, to record my walk along the Pyrenees HRP from Hendaye to Banyuls. If you want to read about that, I suggest you start here.

But that is all in the past now, and I have expanded the blog a little to cover more recent events.. such as:

Snowdonia Way
Hebden Bridge
Equipment Reviews
North Downs Way

and also, one day:

Pennine Way .. which I am due to walk for the third time in 2019, this time from N to S I think

I hope you will find something interesting. Please do provide a little feedback or comment, and if you are interested in something that I didn't say enough about, please let me know .. happy walking!


Saturday, 7 February 2015

Background - The Pyrenees and me...

I've lived in Kent since getting married 1973, and we noticed early on that France was nearer to us than Basingstoke and far more exotic and interesting. We began with a day trip on the ferry to Boulogne, then spent a weekend in Montreuil, and then moved steadily further and further south, and deep into rural France: Normandy, the Loire, the Lot, the Haute Savoie, the Cote d'Azur, and then my favourite part of the whole magnificent country, the Languedoc.

The Languedoc has everything. It has the Mediterranean, with fine beaches and quaint little ports like Collioure and Banyuls, it has history, such as the Cathar fortresses, it has countryside and vineyards. Spain is just down the road, Andorra is just up it... and it has the Southern tip of the Pyrenees. We drove all over; to Arles, Ax-les-Thermes, Vernet-les-Bains, and into Andorra. Then one memorable day, owing to a misreading of a French Michelin guide, I accidentally drove my company car, an MG Montego, up the Pic du Canigou.

The guide said that you could, at least as far as the refuge at Cortelets, which is 2150m (7054ft) above sea level. What it also said, but I hadn't noticed, was that the road was "vertigineuse," narrow, winding, steep and unpaved. Years later, we drove up it again in a Landrover Discovery, on purpose this time, and we couldn't believe that any ordinary car could have done it. But we did, and it was a magical experience. We stopped by a meadow that was overflowing with butterflies. There were millions of them.. they came and landed on you, in clouds. As we went on up the view became more and more immense. And at Cortelets Chalet, we found that only the French can serve cold beer and such wonderful food, so high up a mountainside.

The peak of Canigou is another 640m or so up, at 2784m (9134ft), and it seemed churlish to get so close to it and not finish the job - so off I went, following a clear track up, and up. As I got higher the landscape gradually changed. The trees were left behind, then the grass and flowers, until near the summit I was clambering over a jumble of boulders. It got windy and a little chilly but I kept going until at last I got to the top. There was a large crucifix, and one or two other people, and the most glorious view I had ever seen. I sat on the rock, gazing out over the Pyrenees. And there were eagles! A dozen or so of them, circling lazily below me, around the mountain top. [Editor's note from years later: I bet they were  actually Griffon Vultures .. I am no ornithologist!]

Summit of the
Pic du Canigou

It was my first real glimpse of another world. At that moment, sitting in the wind on the jagged rocks atop the Pic du Canigou something settled into me, and I fell hopelessly in love with the Pyrenees.

The Alps are majestic, true, and good looking, no doubt, but for me they are built on slightly too big a scale. You can't get to the top of a serious Alp without special equipment and technical climbing skills. If you do it is cold and snowy. Also the Alps are very popular and can get quite crowded in summer. The Pyrenees however are still largely unspoilt, and you can walk for a whole day and see no-one. And almost all the peaks can be climbed in a day or less by a reasonably fit and agile walker. There is a little snow to make it interesting higher up, but not usually enough to be awkward (but see the next post!). There is lots of interesting wildlife - izard (deer, akin to chamois), mouflon (wild sheep), marmots (my favourite animals, like overgrown guinea pigs), the occasional brown bear - and lots of lovely plants and flowers.

Mountain Gentian, my favourite flower. It
only grows above about 1800-2000m and it has a very beautiful, deep, intense blue colour

After that we returned several times to the Pyrenees. We had holidays in a tiny village called Miglos, high up in the Ariege, where bears had been seen the year we were there. And in Pragnoles, a hamlet near Gavarnie.

Eventually holidays were enjoyable but they weren't enough. I had to go walking, high in the mountains.. my next post is about my several visits to the HRP, the Haute Route Pyreneenne..


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