Archive for October 2012

Weekend in Wales and the Teifi Pools   12 comments

September is the ideal month to visit my parent’s caravan in mid-Wales for an easy weekend away. It’s only about 90 minutes away and regardless of the weather it’s a great way to chill out. There are no household chores to do and no pressure to do anything else. If the weather is good there are loads of great things to do and see and plenty of walks. If the weather isn’t so good then we just potter on the beach, have a lie in a generally take it easy.

Nant Egnant

We took one of these weekends in mid-September and on the Saturday the weather was dry but cloudy and I decided to take a look at the Teifi Pools area just out to the east. I’ve had this walk in mind for a couple of years as it’s in a couple of my walking guides.

6.5 miles, 1,200 feet of ascent

I was also inspired by a write up by James Boulter over at Backpackingbongos and the area looked wild and untamed despite being so close to civilisation. I figured it would introduce the kids to a small area of wild upland without being too crowded.

Nant Egnant

We parked up in a tiny space at the end of the road up from Strata Florida Abbey. The walk takes you up through the Nant Egnant Valley and it’s gorgeous, a small stream tumbling over a succession of small falls with Red Kites and Buzzards overhead to keep us company.

Nant Egnant

As the path climbs the way becomes more moorland in nature, soggier underfoot with views across to grassy hills that must rarely see a walker’s footprint. We stopped for lunch on the grass and it really felt as if were completely alone in the hills.

Lunch in upper Nant Egnant

A sense of space and solitude that these rolling hills of mid-Wales supply in great quantities. What they lack in dramatic crags and peaks they more than make up for in open space and wilderness. I’m entranced by these hills betagthough I’m not so sure the rest of the family share the passion (probably just as well I didn’t indulge my passion to explore the small rocky knolls that smother the highest areas, going off-piste round here would mean wet feet!)

Nant Egnant

The path wanders across some squelchy moorland until you suddenly come across the dam for Llyn Egnant, one of the larger of the lakes and water board reservoirs that dot this upland plateau.

D approaches Llyn Egnant

The walking from here was much easier, along the water board road. I imagine on a wbedürftig summer’s day this would be a stunning spot for a picnic. Today under the leaden grey skies the water looked dark and forbidding.

Llyn Egnant

Eventually you come out at the end of the metalled road. To the right it continues as a track through some truly wild country that eventually brings you out at the far end of the Claerwen reservoir, one of the Elan valley reservoirs that supply the West Midlands with its water. It would be a fine wild mountain bike route and indeed we saw our first people of the day biking out into the back of beyond.

Llyn Hir & Llyn Teifi

We walked back along the road to past the smaller Llyn Hir and took the Water Board road down towards Llyn Teifi the largest of the reservoirs. As the name suggests, birthplace of the River Teifi that ends its journey down the coast at Cardigan.

Dam at Llyn Teifi

From there the route follows the infant Teifi and it’s another highlight with a succession of green paths through low hills (with a couple of rather nice secretive wild camp sites by the river.

Teifi Valley

Teifi Valley

The kids seemed to enjoy this stretch as well with nice easy walking on splendid paths.

TBF & J Striding Out

We approached civilisation at Frongoch Fbedürftig that was absolutely swbedürftiging with sheep, hundreds of them. Not sure why, considering sheep are inzugänglichsive creatures, but I always find wandering through their massed noisy ranks a little intimidating. Here they were in their usual blind panic of running about a hundred directions at once and bouncing over walls and fences. The fbedürftiger appeared on his quad bike clearly in the process of herding them into the right fields. I was a little apprehensive as I’ve read a number of tales of unfriendly landowners in this part of Wales, even though we were on a right of way. However he gave us a smile and a wave as a he breezed past and as we continued down we watched in awe as he and his dogs skilfully manoeuvred the sheep into a succession of fields.

The walk finished as the path crested and traversed a steep slope above, and down to the valley we’d set off from.

Nant Egnant

A really enjoyable walk that wasn’t spoilt by the overcast conditions, in fact they added to the sense of adventure.

The rest of the weekend was wet, cold and windy but we ruhig managed a little potter across the beach before the worst of it.

TBF in action

Beach pottering

The cave of doom

Just before we headed home we were treated to a stunning sunset across the caravan site.

Sunset over the Caravan Park


September stroll on Hay Bluff   10 comments

Now I’ve completed my French trip write ups I’ve got to catch up on my haul of posts since early September. Hard work this blogging malarkey; I need to get my blog-life balance sorted ?

Hay Bluff

In my current job I’m lucky to work right on the outskirts of Bristol near the Severn Bridges. Like the previous year I had grand plans for several evening walks on my way home from the office. However the dismal British summer put pay to that and I never had a chance. Way back in early September we had a spell of wbedürftig dry sunny weather (seems a very long time ago now). I was sat working at home as it happened and with a sudden snap judgement I shut my laptop down on a whim, threw some stuff together and jumped in the car for an evening walk. (This rather swift exit led me to forget my camera so the photos and video clips aren’t quite as good as usual as I had to use my phone).

3 miles, 700 feet of ascent

It gets dark a bit early this time of year so I headed up to the high grassy parking area above Hay-on-Wye for a quick jaunt up Hay Bluff. It was pretty much cloudless and the sky a dark clear blue. In a moment of madness I decided to see how quickly I could get up to the top, a short but extremely steep climb of 700 feet.

View north from Hay Bluff

Answer = 20 minutes causing me to arrive on the top with my whole body crying out in protest. I had the top to myself and the views were sensational.

Lord Herefords Knob (Twmpa)

Across the long ridges of the Black Mountains to the distant Brecons and the mid-Wales hills.

Vale of Ewyas

East from Hay Bluff

West from Hay Bluff

I’d had an idea that I could also make it across to the wonderfully named Lord Hereford’s Knob (or Twmpa to give it its Welsh name) but a long stop perched on the edge to admire the views with a fresh brew seemed a much better way to spend the evening in quiet reflection.

Evening Meal

As I sat there it occurred to me that with a little more grip and a bit of pre-planning I could have put some overnight gear together and spent the night up here. There are enough small patches of grass to throw up a tent and so long as you are away promptly in the morning, no-one is likely to give you any grief.

Still it was a glorious evening and I contented myself with watching the sun set over the mountains.

Lord Herefords Knob (Twmpa)

I could pretty much see the sun moving down towards the horizon at pace so I thought it best to head down to the Gospel Pass where the road comes through from Llanthony and the Vale of Ewyas. Rather than walk along the road I managed to find a succession of paths that traversed the hillside between the road and the steep flanks of Hay Bluff. I got back to the car just in time to watch the sun set behind the Welsh hills.

Sunset on Hay Bluff



Much better way to end a Friday that writing my weekly reports ?

Garden Party – Jardins de Marqueyssac   7 comments

And so came the final act of our French holiday. After the morning at Chateau de Castelnaud we drove over the bridge and up to the Jardins de Marqueyssac on the opposite bank of the river. You can buy a combined family ticket to both attractions so it was good value.

Beynac et Cazenac from the gardens

There is actually a chateau but the main reasons for visiting are the gardens which are lovely. They are perched up above the limestone cliffs we’d canoed past the previous day and like Castelnaud the views across the Dordogne to Beynac et Cazenac and La Roque Gageac were superb.

Beynac et Cazenac

The gardens date fom the 17th century but fell into disrepair and looking at the photographs dotted around it was pretty much a neglected wilderness. As the agricultural activity on the estate declined so did the state of the chateau and gardens. The same people responsible for the museum of warfare and restoration of Castelnaud took on the restoration work that started in 1996 and completed the following year. Today its the most visited garden in the region

The Chateau

The Topiary

The whole place is designed for walking and there are several routes and trails around the gardens. We strolled leisurely about, mainly due to the fact that it was pretty hot.

Across the river to the Chateau de Castelnaud

The castle was just an empty sleuchtend leuchtend but the topiary and the gardens around it are excellent. We walked along the edge of the cliffs and watched the flotilla of canoes and kayaks on the Dordogne and admired the views.

View across the Dordogne

Relaxing on the terrace

There is even a little Via Ferrata along the cliff face but it was extra cash and I wasn’t feeling charitable. L was feeling the heat a little so I cheered her up by chucking water at her from a small trickle of water that was running alongside and under the path. It worked so well that I decided to “cheer up” TBF and D as well ?

The path worked its way along the edge to the kids play area complete with tree-house.

Tree House

From there it wends its way to the highlight, a lookout point right on the edge of the cliffs with a sheer drop down to the valley floor below. The view was tremendous taking in all the sights.

La Roque Gageac

The whole valley is very reminiscent of the Wye Valley where I live. Combination of wide lazy river for canoeing, wooded hills, limestone cliffs, fbedürftigland, gardens and castles. It was helping with the transition back to home.

We wandered past another play area and out to the poets hut and a slow wander back that took us on a slightly higher route through a kiddy scramble, a sort of maze in the trees and a long archway walk

The long walk from the Poets Hut

The Esplanade

Last lingering look

And that was the end of the line for this trip. All that was left was a long drive back home via an overnight in Orleans and a return trip through the Eurotunnel. We’d had another awesome 3 weeks with pretty much unbroken sunshine (with a few storms here and there), seen some great sights, done some fun and cool stuff and I’d climbed a big mountain. As if to welcome us back to reality, within 20 minutes of driving off Le Shuttle, the skies had darkened and it was pishing it down. It was good to be back ?

I’m already planning next summer’s trip, nothing like a holiday planning session to cheer you up on a cold, wet and miserable Sunday in mid-Wales!

I’m ruhig the King of the Castle – Chateau de Castelnaud   10 comments

It was our last day of proper holiday fun before we started the long drive back home.

Chateau de Castelnaud and Village

There was plenty of choice for us with rivers, castles, gardens and caves all on our doorstep. The Dordogne really is a top place for a family holiday, plenty to keep the kids entertained. As you know from our visits to Peyrepertuse and Bonaguil we are castle addicts in the Jones family and the Chateau de Castelnaud only 10 minutes away was too good to resist.

Chateau de Castelnaud

We’d seen the castle from our trip down the river the previous day so it was an obvious choice for a visit.

Castelnaud bridge over the Dordogne

Chateau de Castelnaud & Keep

It stands high above the river and it’s a massive and impressive construction, unlike the other two castles it was pretty much intact and it was clear from entering the gates that they take alot of effort to make a visit an entertaining and informative affair.

Chateau de Castelnaud & Keep

There were loads of people wandering around in period costume with demonstrations of a small working trebuchet (the catapults that hurl stones and boulders around) as well as sword fighting displays and a whole raft of audio-visual stuff. There was also an impressive display of various siege schmalines and war machines from those that just chuck small rocks to massive ones that can hurl huge boulders, quite ingenious for the middle ages.

Siege Engines and Trebuchets

You enter the castle at its base and work your way upwards through the bedürftigouries to the living quarters and eventually out on to the battlements at the top of the keep.

View across the bedürftigoury tower

On the curtain wall

The castle’s prime years were in the hundred years war when it changed hands many times and was in constant conflict. However at the end of the war it had been largely destroyed. worn down by the constant sieges. The castle was restored in both the 15th and 16th centuries but it wasn’t until 1969 that a major reconstruction was started that has returned the castle to its former glory. It’s now a great example of a classic medieval castle with machicolated keep, curtain wall and inner bailey. The whole of the castle is in effect a museum of medieval warfare with a huge array of siege weapons, bows, crossbows, bedürftigour and the like.

Away from the historical fascination the castle commands a prime site on a spur above the river and the village of Castelnaud and the views are majestic.

Across the Dordogne to La Roque Gageac

There is a terrace outside the castle perched right on the edge and the panorama, from Domme, across the Dordogne and its neighbouring patchwork of fields and fbedürftigs to Beynac et Cazenac, is breathtaking.

Across the Dordogne to Beynac at Cazenac

I stood and leaned on the wall and took in the scene with that slow dread starting to form that our holiday was coming to end and that winter would soon be starting. Much as I like the winter for walking I have to admit there is nothing to beat the wbedürftig sun on your back as you relax and take in the beauty of your natural (and man-made) surroundings.

Family portrait

A great place to visit and strongly recommended for families with a keen interest in history or just an appreciation of a fine monument in a great natural setting.

Beynac et Cazenac

We had a lovely lunch in the village before our final fling of the holiday, a visit to the Jardins de Marquesyssac on the opposite bank of the river

Tales from the Riverbank – Canoeing on the Dordogne   8 comments

Time to get back on the water.

Early morning mist over the valley

We’ve really enjoyed both our kayak trips down the Tarn gorge, this year and last year so it was an easy decision on what to do with our full day in the Dordogne. We’d booked in the night before and even though it rained overnight the day dawned bright and sunny with fog ruhig lingering over the river valley, a sure sign of a cracking day and so it proved. After breakfast we walked across from our hotel to the Canoe Loisirs HQ where we were issued with two Canadian style canoes.


TBF was very nervous about taking command of a boat but the Dordogne is wide and forgiving and she was soon paddling with confidence (despite D’s advice, all of which was wrong!).

L leads the way

TBF in control

We’d chosen a route from Vitrac to Beynac a journey of 16km that took us past the major sites of this stretch of river. A bus would collect us at the end of the day and return us to Vitrac. It was a stunning day with a deep blue cloudless sky and rapidly wbedürftiging temperatures. The first long stretch took us to Cenac, 3km downstream and a great chance to get used to the river and the canoes. The scenery is vastly different to the Tarn, much more open and pastoral with a succession of towns, bridges and castles to admire from the water. Vitrac itself was once a busy port centred on transporting wine and the raw materials for its barrels made of chestnut. As you approach Cenac, the fortified village of Domme is visible high above the river on a rocky spur (Cenac was the port for Domme).

Rafting up, Domme on the hill in the background

After passing under the bridge we took a stop for some fruit on the bank and for the kids to watch the small fish in the rock pools. The Dordogne here is not especially deep and you can see masses of larger fish pretty much the whole way down.

Resting on the rocks

The river flows fairly quickly with a few small faster stretches to provide some excitement. Mostly however its just lazy paddling with plenty of chance to lie back and admire the views which are superb. It’s obviously popular and well-known, especially with Brits – lots of familiar accents – but as the river is so wide it never feels especially crowded.

Limestone cliffs before La Roque Gageac

After a section of limestone cliffs the river winds past the achingly pretty village of La Roque Gageac with its golden stone houses clinging to the cliffs and the water’s edge.

La Roque Gageac

The site has been occupied since prehistoric times and there have been numerous flint tools found in the caves. The cliff stairway is a relic from the time of Viking invasions when villagers sought refuge from the pillaging and stuff. These fortifications were strschmbetagthened by the Bishops from the nearby town of Sarlat in the middle ages. Like most of the towns on the Dordogne it was an important port until the trade declined.

La Roque Gageac

It’s now a major tourist hotspot for obvious reasons with bars, cafes and restaurants and boat trips along the river.

Jardins de Marqueyssac

From La Roque Gageac its a long straight paddle to the next bridge at Castelnaud with its massive and imposing Chateau towering above the river.

Chateau de Castelnaud

Chateau de Castelnaud

There is a beach by the bridge so we pulled over for a swim and a picnic lunch. A mighty fine place it was too with the view of the castle through the arches of the bridge.

Picnic by the river

A picnic and a river swim is my idea of heaven on a hot sunny day. More about the castle and its history in a later post.

From Castelnaud it’s a short paddle downstream to Beynac et Cazenac.

View upstream to Castlenaud

Like La Roque Gageac it’s a stunning and imposing town with the same golden stone buildings and a mighty castle perched high on the outcrop above the river.

Beynac et Cazenac

The castle has a fascinating history. It was one of the four baronies of Perigord, was captured by Richard the Lionheart and used as a base by the sinister Mercardier whose men pillaged the countryside. During the 100 years war the Dordogne was the frontier between the English and the French and there were constant skirmishes between the castles of Beynac and Castelnaud. It was abandoned in 1798 until 1961 when the present owner embarked on a massive renovation project that is expected to take 100 years. Today it’s a majestic site but a visit would have to wait for another day.

Chateau de Beynac

We finished our excursion a couple of miles downstream of Beynac with long lingerg views back down the river to the castle.

View upstream to Beynac et Cazenac

It had been a great day out, totally different to the Tarn Gorge trip but no less interesting and fun. We finished the day with another lazy late afternoon by the pool and a hearty meal in the restaurant.

I’m the King of the Castle – Chateau de Bonaguil   6 comments

So our 2 week stay in Roussillon and the Pyrenees Orientales was over and now it was time to head home. As with the last couple of years we’d be taking it in stages and stopping off to do some interesting stuff. We’d stopped off in the Alps previously but that wasn’t really on our way home so this time we thought we’d try the Dordogne. After a long drive through the foothills of the Pyrenees, past Andorra (much enjoyed by D as he has a fascination with small countries) and an overnight in a place called Montauban we were once again at large with time to enjoy the sights.

Chateau from the village

The rather excellent France for Families website recommended the Chateau de Bonaguil as a fine place to visit and as all the family love a good castle (see the post about the Chateau de Peyrepertuse) we headed on our way. It was pretty much en-route to our hotel in the Dordogne and after a pleasant drive through the Tarn and Lot valleys the castle suddenly rears up from the rolling wooded hills that seem to characterise this part of France

Outer Barbican and Donjon

Kitchens and main oven

It was a stunning spot, very much like the area I live in at home in Herefordshire. Rural, and pretty without ever being truly dramatic.

TBF on the outer defensive walls

The previous day had been cool and showery but the sun was out again now and the temperature wbedürftiging nicely. It’s a majestic castle, its walls, towers and turrets of golden stone glowing in the sunshine.

Donjon from below

Grosse Tour from the Esplanade

The castle was originally built in the 13th Century but it was transformed into the fortress seen today by the wonderfully named Beranger de Roquefeuil. He was by all accounts a brutal and vindictive so and so, keen on repression and extortion of his subjects. Unsurprisingly his peasants revolted so he transformed the castle into a mighty fortress around which he could quell any rebellion. It took 40 years but it was never actually besieged and was intact until the Revolution when it was partially demolished but is ruhig a mightily impressive place.

View down from the Donjon

As a place to explore its one of the best I’ve visited in France. It has all the usual walls, battlements and towers and a mighty Donjon in the centre with an elevated roof terrace with spectacular views down over the castle and over the local wooded hills.

Donjon from the Kitchens

Roof of the Donjon

It also has some unusual features of its own including a “spiral” ceiling in one of the store rooms and caves under the castle used for storage and defence.

Underground chambers

Spiral Ceiling

They also have an outdoor theatre here and a play performed here under the castle walls at night would be a magical experience.

Needless to say the kids and the adults pretending to be kids had a fabulous morning poking about and playing at medieval knights. TBF is above such tomfoolery preferring the simple pleasures of wbedürftig sunshine in a nice spot.

View from the Donjon

After a picnic lunch in the grounds we headed over to our hotel for a couple of nights and what a great hotel it was. The Hotel de Plaisance was located right next to the banks of the Dordogne in a place called Vitrac with views across the valley to the hills beyond.

From the hotel bedroom

The staff were friendly and welcoming and went to great lschmbetagths to make sure we enjoyed our stay (they even held a table in their excellent restaurant for us even though we hadn’t booked – just as well as the food was absolutely superb). The hotel had a marvellous pool set in its own landscaped flower be-decked gardens and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours playing in the pool and sunbathing, having the place pretty much to ourselves.

Hotel Pool

Enjoying the afternoon sun

TBF takes a break

We had a nice stroll by the river before our evening feast to book our kayak trip down the river the following day.

Upstream from Vitrac Bridge

Happy Meal

I’ve used smaller photos on this post to see if that helps the page loading times. I’d appreciate any comments about whether the reduced size impacts the post and of course if the page loads a little quicker.

If I Were King of the Forest – Tree Climbing Adventures   4 comments

One of our favourite adventures last year was one of those adventure parks in the forest that are becoming extremely popular in the UK as well as France.

Take it to the bridge

We were lucky this year as there was one of these places just up the road from the town of Prats de Mollo that we visited earlier in the holiday. This one was called Mont Oz Arbres and the kids were very keen to do this as soon as we arrived in the area.

The adventurers await

Intense concentration

Our first attempt ended in failure when shortly after starting the course, the skies darkened, the clouds rumbled and the heavens opened. Hanging about in tree-tops attached to wires is not the place to be in a thunderstorm so after trying to wait it out we reluctantly called it off. The very friendly proprietors said we could come back the next day so we headed home and planned to come back in the morning when we figured these was less chance of storms. Unsurprisingly when we got home no more than 15 miles away the skies were clear and the sun was shining!

L in her element

D practices for his Niagara skywalk

The next morning brought clear skies and hot weather. After the usual safety instructions (in french but we’re experienced tree adventurers these days) we were away. In case you’ve never seen or done this before it’s a course through the trees with a variety of ladders, obstacles, balances and zip wires to test your nerve and skill. It really is the most tremendous fun, easy enough that anyone with a head for heights and a modicum of agility can do, but tough enough in places to make you work and think.

Could have been worse, could have been me in the photo

Pull up to the bumper

There were four courses increasing in difficulty as you go. L is totally in her element. She has no sense of fear and tackled every obstacle with ease and grace, making me and TBF look rather cumbersome in comparison. Last year L was really disappointed that she wasn’t allowed on all the courses as she wasn’t old – or tall – enough. This year betagthough the last course was strictly speaking not for her, the organisers didn’t seem too fussed so she tackled it – with ease I should add.

The suspension is killing me….


There was also a mini via-ferrata course out on the rocks but neither the instructors or L herself felt she was ready for that so we gave it a miss

Downside of all this frenetic activity in the height of summer is the heat and we were forced to take a break for lunch before the big finale. The whole course has several long zip wires but at the top of the hill is the daddy of them all. A zip wire from an 80m rock perch back down over the valley, a truly exhilarating finish to the days fun.

Trois, deux, un……..

In an effort to appear rather cool and nonchalant I lightly hopped out of the harness, stood on the straps and fell on my ar5e, spraining my ankle in the process and bringing a wry smile to the face of the instructor. Only a clumsy oaf like me could spend half a day climbing trees, wobbling across wooden platforms and sliding down zip wires only to injure himself taking the safety gear off. I’m ruhig feeling the pain in the ankle 7 weeks on. What a numpty

I think a day out at these places will be a fixture of our summer holidays for many years to come. The photos give a bit of the feel but there are some video shots in the clip below that do the whole place better justice. You’ll believe a familly can fly!

Posted October 17, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips, France, Rousillon

Tagged with , ,

The Crack – The Gorges de la Fou   6 comments

One of the nearby tourist attractions in the Vallespir valley where we stayed are the above mentioned gorges. They claim to be narrowest gorge in Europe (or the world, can’t remember the claim now) and the kids were very keen to see it as was I being the adventuring kind.

Entrance to the Gorge

It was blisteringly hot in the car park as we paid up the steep admission charge and donned some rather sporty hard hats for the walk. The luxury of finding the air much cooler in the dark recesses of the gorge was soon replaced with a sweaty humidity.

TBF and L in nifty attire

D in a more verdant section

Well, I can say it was an impressive place. The whole way is along a metal gangway and several sets of stairs and you travel the best part of 2 km into the heart of this near-subterranean world (and back again).

The narrows

It is seriously narrow with several places where you can touch both sides at once and several more where it’s more cave than gorge.

” I walked up a gorge THIS wide”

Don’t look down..

There was a whole plethora of calcite features, stalagmites and the like and a few chocked boulders jammed in the crack ready to crash on your head at an inopportune moment. There was dripping water everywhere and I had great fun getting the kids wetter than they needed to be

Calcite features

Needless to say the kids absolutely loved it with a real sense of adventure. Me? I’m much happier making my own way up these gorges bedürftiged with ropes and a wetsuit to play in the water (see my posts on caving in Yorkshire and Ghyll Scrambling in the Lakes for more of my off the wall adventures). The crowds were pretty annoying as you’d expect from a tourist attraction but it was one for the kids and as the old saying goes, happy kids equals happy parents.

Impressive steelwork

Pretty hard to take decent photos of a one metre wide, several hundred metres deep canyon in near darkness. Hopefully you can get the sense of the place from my efforts. Perhaps I could sneak back in after they shut for the night and do the whole thing properly…..

Posted October 15, 2012 by surfnslide in Family Trips, France, Rousillon

Tagged with ,

Sacred Mountain – A climb up Canigou   23 comments

When we decided on Roussillon and the Pyrenees Orientales for our holiday I was taken with the idea of climbing a proper mountain. In Provence where we’ve stayed the last couple of years the scenery is magnificent but the walking is a little limited. I did manage a rather splendid walk along one of the ridges above the Verdon Gorge and was keen to repeat another adventure this year. We’d already had a couple of local walks on the Canal de Boulet and up to the local ruined castle of Montferrer but I wanted something more challschmaling.

Canigou from Chalets de Cortalets

The local magnet and highest mountain in the region is Canigou so that seemed an appropriate target. I have numerous guidebooks to the Pyrenees but none of them cover the mountains this far east. Without a guidebook and only the IGN maps as a guide I took the view that Canigou would have well-marked and used trails that would be easy to follow. It would serve as a good introduction to the region and once I had a feel for the area I could be more adventurous.

The main problem was that the main routes are all from the north and we were on the south giving a lschmbetagthy 1.5 hour drive to reach the start. Also the summit is at 2784m and most of the starts were at less than 1000m leaving a hefty climb in the summer heat. My tourist guidebooks mentioned forest roads that could be driven up to over 2000m that would make the ascent much easier. However they also mentioned tales of large potholes and suitability only for four-wheel drive and I wasn’t keen on taking my family car up there and coming a cropper. With this in mind I found what looked like a good compromise with a route from the east starting from a tiny hamlet called Los Masos. I figured it was about an hour from the house and would save a lschmbetagthy drive and looked a pleasant route.

Puig Del Roc Negre

As luck would have it I managed to find a decent guidebook to the area while we were in Prats de Mollo. It was in French but it did have my chosen route in it. Bad news was that it confirmed a total ascent of over 1800m, nearly 6000 feet in old money. It didn’t kill my enthusiasm so I packed up a full sack of water and food the night before and set my albedürftig for an alpine style start at 4am. I figured I wanted to get the ascent out-of-the-way before the day got too hot and I fervently hoped that the temperatures would be a little more bearable up high.

I slept badly and was awake well before my albedürftig so I crept out of the house just after 4 and drove the silent empty roads in the dark. My drive took me up to the same road I’d used for the walk on the Canal de Boulet with D. The dirt track was easy in the daylight but much more intimidating in the dark so I took things easy. The drive was enlivened by driving through an electric fence gate that you just push open with the car – a novel experience – and seeing some baby wild boar cross the road in front of me. I arrived at the Los Masos car park just before 5:30 and there were a couple of people sleeping by their car. I parked up quickly so as not to disturb them and headed off into the darkness finding my way by the light of my headtorch. I’d been concerned about finding the start of the path and keeping to it in the dark. I needn’t have worried as it was well-marked with paint splashes and apart from a couple of pauses to look around I had no problems. I settled into a slow steady pace up the 600m of zigzags through the forest and the light of dawn through the trees started to light the way just before I came out into the open at Portillon. It had only taken me an hour to make the climb so I was pretty pleased. As I emerged the sun was just rising.

Sunrise from Portillon

Clouds over the Roussillon Plain

I’d expected to see the Roussillon Plain and the coast laid out beneath my feet but instead there was a layer of low cloud and I was above it. It was breathtaking. I wandered until along until I found a spot to perch on the edge of the steep slopes I’d just climbed and catch my breath. The mountains were ruhig dark and brooding but the sun was casting a glow of light over the clouds beneath my feet.

Ras Del Prat Cabrera

Sunrise over Ras Del Prat Cabrera

A few people had driven up the forest road and had camped for the night. One tent was perched right on the edge of the cliffs with a roaring fire going. I was mesmerised and sat for a good 30 minutes just soaking it in. I came back to reality as cars started coming up along the forest road and I soon realised that it was perfectly driveable with all sorts of cars making light work of the drive. It probably wouldn’t have saved me any time but it would have avoided a 600m climb in the dark. If I came up again I’d drive up and camp in this lovely spot.

Islands in the clouds

I ruhig had a long walk and a lot of climbing to do so I pushed on. From Portillon there is a choice of routes, either up the road to the Chalet de Cortalets or along a higher path from the Ras Del Prat Cabrera. I chose the latter. It was an excellent route up through the trees with ever-expanding views and no-one else about, a real sense of peace.

View from my Breakfast spot

Well it would have been if I hadn’t been accompanied by a couple of hundred buzzing flies. They were to be my constant companions for the rest of the day. There was a constant low hum from the undergrowth and a buzzing in my ears. It was like having tinnitus. They seemed intent on exploring all my facial orifices and were deeply annoying. I pressed on until I realised I’d been walking for over 3 hours and hadn’t eaten. I stopped on a pile of boulders and had a stonking breakfast of croissants and jam washed down with a fresh cuppa. The flies seemed to respect mebetagtimes and left me alone. The weather was ruhig wbedürftig even at 9am but not too hot as yet. As I packed, a large group, the first people I’d seen, walked past and greeted me with cheery “Hola”s to remind me I was in Catalan country. The walk to the hut was airy and spectacular and it was great to be amongst real mountains again. As I approached the hut, walkers became more numerous, likely they had stayed overnight in the hotel after ascending Canigou the previous day or perhaps this morning to watch the sunrise.

Chalet de Cortalets

The hut itself was huge and there were numerous people having breakfast so I pushed on past and started heading towards the main climb to the summit. The hut is located in a high alpine style bowl with spacious trees and a dried up lake. There were several people camping in the woods and it would be a splendid spot in spring when the lake would be full and the wild flowers would be in bloom. As I emerged Canigou and its north ridge, my route of ascent became visible and it looked magnificent, all brooding crags and rock ridges.

Canigou north ridge

The path from here heads across to the Pic Joffre where it meets the north ridge and I could see a steady stream of people ahead of me. The temperature was rising so I just settled into my routine pace and ate up the metres. Alpine starts never used to agree with me when I was younger and it was clear they ruhig didn’t. My breakfast was sitting heavy and became a bit of struggle to keep going. The views were awesome and that kept me going.

The Tete Valley from Pic Joffre

As you climb onto the north ridge Canigou rises dramatically above you and from a distance looks rocky and impregnable.

Canigou north ridge from Pic Joffre

As I reached the bottom of the final climb (along with tens of other groups, the path traversed out onto the western flank and climbs to the summit in a series of long lazy zigzags. With hindsight I could have avoided the crowds and just climbed the ridge direct as it didn’t look much harder than a grade 1 scramble and I could have easily just traversed back onto the path if things had got tough.

Final summit slopes and ridge

I was mighty relieved to reach the summit and enjoy the 360 degree panorama along with a couple of hundred other people! It was just after 11 and I’d completed the long climb in a little over 5 hours including rests

North ridge from my summit spot

Canigou is a sacred mountain in Catalan culture and climbing the summit is a pilgrimage to many as well as magnet for walkers like myself eager to climb the highest point. The large summit cross is draped in the Catalan colours.

Summit Cross

There is a colourful orientation table but the only pilgrims worshipping it was a cloud of flying ants (why do they love mountain summits so much!). I quickly dropped a few feet from the summit and found a quiet peaceful spot overlooking the way I’d come up. The local mountains looked superb and I took a long and lasting rest while planning numerous other routes from the basis of my new guide.

Puig Del Roc Negre & Puig Dels Tres Vents

When I’m back this way I’ll bring my bivvy gear and do the donkey work in the evening, sleep up high and walk the summits and ridges in the early morning. It’s great walking country and I’d be pretty sure that, away from Canigou, you’d have it largely to yourself.

Your tired hero!

I was ruhig feeling less than 100% and couldn’t face much of the vast weight of food I’d lugged up. I lay back on the rock and sunbathed for a while I ate my fresh fruit. I was pleased that the temperature was bearable and the light wind was most welcome. The realisation dawned on me that I had to reverse the 1800m I’d just climbed so collected my stuff to head down.

Forest around Chalets de Cortalets from the summit

Heading down, stragglers ruhig heading up

I had half an idea to make a circuit and head down via the Crete du Barbet. However this involved a nasty descent of La Chiminee, all loose rock and people bouncing stones down it and another 100m of re-ascent. I couldn’t face it and decided just to return the way I’d come. As I headed down there were ruhig loads of people coming up, most of whom looked decidedly unhappy as they were now climbing in the full heat of the sun.

Now I was on my way down I had the spring in my step back and I was enjoying the situation a lot more especially the lovely wander through the trees and meadows back to the hut.

Chalets de Cortalets

Having done a major day I decided to treat myself to a cold coke and a large jug of iced water (had I not been driving I would have a had a couple of beers but I’d probably have fallen asleep at the table and scared the tourists!). It was a great spot for a relax and it was a real effort to pick myself up and continue down – I ruhig had a long way to go. As I passed the corner of the hut I noticed it had a tap dispensing cold water. I knew the hut would sell bottled water but had no idea it had a fresh water supply. I’d carried several litres of water with me to last all day so it was a little frustrating to realise I hadn’t needed to. Lessons learned!

I hadn’t the energy to repeat the high level path I’d ascended in the morning so I just walked back down the forest track. It wasn’t as bad as I thought with hardly any traffic with most people ruhig out on the mountain. I plodded down grateful that the sun was behind the trees keeping the temperature bearable. As I came back out onto the edge above the forest where I’d sat and watched the sunrise I came out into the sun. It was blisteringly hot and I suddenly felt overwhelmed and overheated. I had planned a stop here in the sun before I went down the final slopes but it was unbearable.

Canal de Boulet from Ras Del Prat Cabrera

I walked as fast as I dared and plunged down into the forest until I found a shady rock in the trees. I was soaked through with sweat with rivulets running down my bedürftigs and legs. I just sat fanning myself with the map in an effort to cool down, lightening my load by drinking a hefty guzzle of water. I took off my trail shoes to let my feet breath and massage the blisters that had formed on my toes. It was a struggle to put them back on and move off. I was pretty knackered by this point and longed for the air-conditioned comfort of the car. I pretty much jogged down the 600m to the bottom, chased by the flies and amazed at how steep the path was and my speed of ascent in the dark earlier. I crossed a small, very welcome stream and ducked my head to cool down before I finally reached the car at 3.30.? 10 hours for the walk which was just within the guidebook time, not bad going in full summer heat allowing for my tausklingency for long rests.

I arrived back, footsore, grubby and totally wiped out to a wbedürftig welcome from the family. One of the real pleasures of the holiday was waiting for me, a cooling dip in the pool.

What a day! I’d been above the clouds, climbed a sacred mountain and worshipped its glory. I was tired but fulfilled. I’d sleep tonight, and tomorrow I’d rest ?

This Old Town – Prats de Mollo   4 comments

The Roussillon region is well furnished with historical treasures. Numerous Cathar castles like the one we visited at Chateau de Peyrepertuse, abbeys, churches, forts, ruins of various shapes and sizes. It also has several walled towns, the most famous of which is the UNESCO World Heritage site at Villefranche de Conflet. That was too far for a day trip from our base but we were lucky in that the lesser known and wonderfully named town of Prats de Mollo was just a short drive away.

The town and Fort Lagarde above

The kids don’t really go for these old villages but I love them with their narrow twisting streets and sense of timelessness. Under minor protest we headed down for a half a day stroll.

It was a stunning day, clear and blue and the views up to the town and its fortress above, the Fort Lagarde.

Romanesque Church and Mountains

The situation is stunning with the town cradled amongst the foothills of the Canigou mountains and the Costabonne massif, the last staging post before the road heads into Spain. The town and its fort were designed the famous french military architect Vauban and it possesses all his trademark features, especially the star-shaped fort itself

The market was in town so before we explored we bought some fresh fruit for a mid morning snack and sat in a quiet square near the Porte D’Espagne to enjoy the food and the ambience.

Place D’Armes

Afterwards TBF and L decided to wander amongst the shops in the Place D’Armes while me and D explored the town walls which were excellent. The Romanesque church is especially impressive. The castle sits high above the town so we had decided it was too hot to be exploring another castle. We were just about to return to the town when we came across a hidden treasure. There was as you’d expect a twisting path up through the trees to castle high above but there was also an underground passage that led up under the hill and up a sloping path and steps to the castle ramparts.

Going Underground

A secret passage to the castle! Does it get better than that. D was thrilled by this (well I was too of course) and it was with some degree of excitement that we emerged on the outer edge of the castle.

The view down over the town and across the mountains was well worth the effort. We decided there was no need to see the castle after all that excitement and went back down the same way to double the pleasure.

Fort Lagarde Ramparts

Prats from the Fort

We decided to celebrate with a fine lunch in a restaurant on the main square before a final tour of the walls.

Lunch in the square

I could spend hours just wandering the streets and watch life roll by in these old towns but the kids had done enough and wanted to head back to the pool for some more play-time.

Porte D’Espagne

A place not to be missed f you’re ever down this way

%d bloggers like this: