Hello and welcome to the latest blog on June 11th 2021. We’re back out on the road again.
This time we’re heading south to the Pyrénées, beginning in the Vallée d’Aspe and then looping over to the coast, close to the border with Spain on the Basque Corniche before returning home. We can only go for four nights as we have to return for a dental appointment. We’ve waited months to get this appointment (yet another waiting list) and so don’t feel we can miss it – it will probably be 2022 before the next opening comes along!
Better weather was on the way but the clouds weren’t giving up without a fight. We arrived at the Col de Marie Blanque at the same time as the mist started to bubble up from the valley. No doubt the views were indeed splendid but we never saw them.
Winding our way back down to the valley floor we spent the night at a municipal campsite by the river in the pretty village of Bedous. The offices at these small sites are usually just open for an hour in the evening so we wandered over, paid our 10€ for the night and were issued with a sheet of paper informing us of what to do in the event of a flood. They thoughtfully provided an English version but something got a little lost in the translation – or maybe it was gained. It certainly makes for more interesting reading.
‘The campsite where you are located is subject to the risk of rapid flood. In the event of inclement weather, this stream may see raise his level, possibly spilling over his bed, invade the sites and impose on evacuation.
Go walk and let on place your vehicle and your birthday camping gear. If you must evacuate, take that your identification, your treatments medical essential, your currency and your most precious objects.
Do not retrace your steps.’
We woke up the next morning to find the clouds had lifted and we could see the high peaks around us.
Whilst the scale is very different, much of the landscape around here reminded us of Wales, particularly as the fields were dotted with sheep. We saw a shepherd nonchalantly riding on a bike, one hand holding his shepherds crook, the other holding his phone with his fingers busily tapping the keyboard, and his flock following on quietly behind him, three sheep dogs at the rear running neurotically back and forth to make sure everybody stayed in line. From a distance I assumed he was a young man, but as he passed by I could see his close-cropped hair was grey and he was probably in his sixties – which is, of course, still quite a young age!
The other thing that reminded us of Wales were the clear streams, pristine waters bubbling and gurgling over the stones. I love to get the boots off, find a stone to sit on and dabble my feet in the water – but not for long. This water was glacial and absolutely freezing.
We had hoped to visit the Gorges de Kakuetta but they were closed due to maintenance work on the car park until the end of June so we drove on past to our next destination, the Crevasse d’Holzarte.
The highlight of this walk is the bridge that scans the gorge. From a distance it looks an impossibly fragile construction, as insubstantial as the fine strands of a spider’s web, but once you’re on it it seems much more solid and secure, if a bit bouncy in the middle. The view to the valley below is not for the faint-hearted – and certainly not for anyone who suffers from vertigo – but the scenery is simply stunning.
Our next stop was St Jean Pied de Port, one of France’s plus beaux villages and also an iconic starting point for the Camino de Santiago. Thousands of people come from all around the world to walk what is also known as ‘The Way’, and I expect in a normal year we would have seen these pretty streets filled with weary pilgrims, laden with heavy rucksacks. This year, with foreign travel still so difficult, they were conspicuous by their absence, and instead of hearing a mixture of different languages as we explored the citadel and lanes, we heard only French conversation.
Working our way ever closer to the Atlantic, we treated ourselves to lunch in café by the harbour in elegant St Jean de Luz. This was our first proper meal out for over a year. After so many months of seeing restaurants closed down, the shutters over the windows and the pavements empty, it cheered my soul to see the brightly coloured sun shades and parasols, dotted like wildflowers over the paved areas, with people sitting at tables beneath them, eating, drinking and talking.
The beach at St Jean de Luz is sandy, perfect for sunbathing, and I can imagine that in July and August it will be literally covered with bodies, but thankfully at this time of year it was still quiet.
A little further along the coastline the sand is replaced by cliffs and it would be easy to imagine the waves breaking here on a stormy day.
And so it was time, sadly, to head back. This had been a trip of contrasts, from the rural peace, isolation and grandeur of the mountains to the more popular tourist draws of the two St Jean’s. In the past – and nothing to do with the pandemic – I have always shied away from crowds of people, and still do avoid the big cities, but I now find I like to spend a little time in places where there are other people. After this horrible year, it makes me happy to see people outside again, together, talking and laughing, exploring and wandering round the streets, browsing in shop windows. Just being human. I’ve missed it.
So that’s it for now. I am doing my best not to think about the dentist, which is one of my least favourite places in the entire world, and also trying to forget the hole in my tooth. It doesn’t bother me at all – yet – so hopefully they will say we can leave it well alone. And then we can get back out on the road next week….. maybe.
Take care all.