• Will

the last feast

Updated: Sep 23

Following on from the ritz, day 11, Thursday, 18th April 2013

Bedous to the Col du Somport, 30km – 8 hours

Photo: 09:43 on my way to the Col du Somport

The thing about walking, as opposed to driving, is that everything takes so much longer. The journey from Pau to the Somport tunnel under the Pyrenees takes about 1h 30m by car. It took three days of walking.

Photo: the long gentle climb up the Aspe Valley.

In these last few days, I was experiencing a deeper level of quiet joy, than I had on the pre-Toulouse stage. The route was easy to follow, the countryside green and pleasant. The gradual climb up a few hundred meters dropped the temperature a little, and even though the sun was still brutal, it was a more comfortable walking conditions.

I was walking up the Aspe Valley and my guidebook clearly stated that the Fort du Portalet would be to my left. It was on my right.

Photo: 11:21 the fort was definitely and stubbornly on my right, I was supposed to be on the road, where the fort would be equally stubbornly on my left.

I hadn’t been paying much attention because the path was pretty awesome. It was about two meters wide, and gouged out of the mountainside.

Photo: 11:36 the path is the scar (on the right) cut into the mountainside.

In the end I concluded it was me who was travelling in the wrong direction rather than my chocolate teapot guidebook being wrong again. Don’t you just love reality.

An hour later I was in the bustling metropolis of Urdos. To be more accurate, it is a fast road rushing past a line of houses and a bar. After a magnificent feast of chicken and chips, I set off. It was nearly the last feast.

Photo: 12:35 the sign says 500m to Urdos, I used Google translate.

When crossing a mountain range, it’s normal to aim for the lowest point on the ridge between two peeks, this is called a “col”. I was climbing about 1,000 meters up to the Cold du Somport, treading the same path as Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and Muslim armies. I was following in the footsteps of the many pilgrims who had made the same journey, a thousand years earlier.

The path wasn’t well sign posted but intuitively easy to follow. I puffed out of the steep climb at a stone age site, and then made my gentler way to the road.

Photo: 15:40 the alleged remnants of a stone age settlement, apparently they used electricity.

The weather had shifted a little, from bright sunshine and blue skies to a hazy white cooler version. The wind was also picking up. I know the weather in mountainous country can be unpredictable so I was paying attention.

The sign to the Col du Somport said it was 40 minutes away.

Photo: 15.51 the sign to the Col du Somport 0h 40m away

I have spent the last 25 years working with young people. Sometimes I am trying to stop them doing something foolish but most times it’s trying to encourage them to do something, anything. I would say “Do something so you have a story to tell but not something so stupid that you are the headline”.

This pilgrimage, this climb over the mountains was part of my story, and in next hour it nearly became the headline.


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