Alpes Maritimes February 2020

Friday 7th February

Got up at 2.45! Ice on car. M62 closed so a long detour. Met Bridget as planned. Flight from Liverpool smooth, a short delay before we left. Sat next to nice man, Carl and wife Linda. Norway was my last holiday as a citizen of the EU and France my first trip as a non EU citizen, no difficulties entering France. We walked from Nice Terminal 2 to T1 to the Hotel Campanile, busy roads with a heavy bag, did not enjoy, stashed bags. Walked into Nice along the prom in the sun. Café for salmon salad lunch, yum. Around city and bought a belt. Watched a drug deal. Onto the tram, back to T1, walked back to the hotel, collected bags, walked back to T1, tram to next stop. Onto the bus at Grand Arénas to Roquebiliere. An hour and a bit later Mel picked us up. Henk and Margreet here too. A reunion as we all met here in Berthemont les Bains with Space Between (Mel and Liz) 2 years ago. A delicious dinner thanks to Liz.

Grissini – aubergine puree with pomegranate raita
Burrata with tomato – sun dried tomato dressing
Blue cheese polenta – walnut sauce – garlicky cabbage
Chestnut and marscapone dessert with meringue and citrus sorbet

Tiddly om pom pom in Nice
Lots of fab old buildings in Nice
Nice style

Saturday 8th February

Out in the minibus with Mel to La Colmiane. It felt like we walked a good way. I struggled with ascents, felt weak and terribly tired. A lovely sunny day. The ground was very dry, no rain here for weeks. Very little snow. What there is is icy because of thaw freeze. I walked into an overhanging branch because I was looking where I was putting my feet, nearly knocked myself out. Burst into tears instead. We walked nearly to the Vacherie Anduébis. Reached about 1700m of height so 200m of ascent with some more ups and downs. Walked about 11km. Chinese style dinner. Very good indeed.

Chinese spring rolls – with sweet chilli sauce
Ramen noodle soup
Nasi Goreng
Pineapple with ginger syrup

Sunday 9th February

To Bairols in the minibus for about 1.25 hours. Bairols is at 850m. A lovely walk contouring round the mountains. Then 300m of ascent to lunch on a small plateau. Down a bit then up for 215m. I just can’t do the ascents, every step was a huge effort. We came back the same way including another 120m of up but over such a distance it wasn’t noticeable. We did 17km. Back at 7pm in the dark. Dinner excellent.

Socca – chick pea pancakes – Nice speciality – gluten free and vegan
Caesar salad
Spinach and chickpea stew with veggie dumplings
Red fruit fool with honey crisp

All very yummy, we were hungry having eaten all our supplies but not Bridget’s year old chocolate and the bears’ biscuits.

Bairols

Monday 10th February

Stayed at home day to rest my pathetic legs. Ankle ok after a sleep. Chatted with Liz, then went for a walk up round the village in the afternoon. Warm sun but very windy. Dinner amazing!

Pea/mint dip with pesto bread sticks
Celeriac soup
Risotto galette with taleggio cheese and salad
Chocolate flapjacks with orange segments

Tuesday 11th February

My mum’s 103rd birthday. Today Liz joined us. We drove to Belvedere and on up to the Gordolasque valley. Our route climbed about 400m through the forest and out to a clearing where a mobile mast was being erected. We continued a bit further to Le Crouset. Underfoot was icy and dangerous so we wore Pogu grippers and stamped in to get good grip. After lunch down off the east side to reach the road and back up another 100m to the van. Into Belvedere where we were invited into Dugald and Andrew’s home with a fabulous view. They have golden eagles regularly in sight from their veranda. They very kindly gave us tea and yummy scones with homemade Mirabelle jam. Off again to Carrefour then home. Curry dinner heaven.

Black pepper papadoms with raita and pickles
Vegetable pakora
Potato curry with coconut & vegetable lentil curry
Blood orange sorbet with orange curacao

Beer for me and Henk! Coffee.

Merens horses

Wednesday 12th February

South along wiggly mountain road with a variety of barriers between us and the vertiginous drops, either 3 courses of stones, 2 courses, 1 course or none at all. I’ve been along here at least twice before but still find the road alarming. Busied myself with the phone. Walked about a kilometre before starting to rise. Reached the Col de Lobe (wolf). We achieved nearly 500m of ascent quite quickly to gain the Cime de Roccasierra at 1520m with a couple of short scrambles. Fabulous views. We saw wood anenomes which were briefly wooden enemies. Along to a wide col and back on the other side of the mountain, returning to the Col de Lobe. Back to the minibus, eyes averted until Lantosque where we stopped for beer. Dinner delicious.

  • Beetroot/kidney bean and feta nibble
  • Tapenade with nan bread
  • Linguine with local tomato sauce
  • Tiramisu
Nearly at Cime de Roccasierra
Henk, Bridget, Margreet and Mel

Thursday 13th February

Walked from Liz and Mel’s house up through the village and then up and up for about 450m. Interesting to see the village from the high sides of the surrounding mountains. We swung round to a deserted hamlet called Les Crottes. Lunch there. Down of course. Turned off again to investigate the village’s canal irrigation system of which Mel is the head chef, a position he’s been elected to. The system consists of pipes and channels which take water from 2 high river downfalls and distribute it to every house in the village. We went back up a bit and along the pipes and channels. The pipe is about a foot wide and the channel about 18 inches. Alongside there is sometimes a concrete ledge which varies from 6″ to 12″ width. All with huge drops off to the side. One section had an iron rope to hold. We went along towards the first river on the right but had to turn back due to overhanging foliage. There’s a lot of work for Mel and his team to do to keep the channels clear. We then walked along to the next river which we had to cross, me mostly on my bum. Next a section requiring good balance on the 6″ ledge. Next we had to crawl on our hands and knees under a large overhanging rock. After the assault course it was a breeze trotting along next to the pipes. We came out near the baths. Stopped in at the fromagerie for some cheese. Last lovely dinner with Mel and Liz.

  • Mahammra – walnut and smoked chili dip – roast parsnip dip and dosai
  • Minestrone soup 
  • Cous cous with falafel/sweet corn sauce and lamb’s lettuce
  • Rhubarb and ginger ice cream

Farewell to Henk and Margreet.

La Zourciére taken from a very long way away high up the mountain

Friday 14th February

Up about 5. Farewell to Liz. Mel drove Bridget and me back to Roquebiliere in the dark. It was exciting to see the dawn from the bus as we approached Nice down the valley and the gorge of the Vésubie. Tram from Grand Arénas to T2 of the airport. Everything went well although there were long queues because the automatic baggage roller wasn’t working. Flight went fine and I got home about 2pm after doing a bit of shopping at Tesco in Prestwich. Carol and I used to shop there a long time ago. I still can’t cope with Carol not being at home to greet me one way or another.

Huge thanks to Mel and Liz of Space Between. As you can see we ate vegetarian all week, Liz is a fantastic inventive cook. Mel is a fantastic mountain leader and I enjoyed pushing myself a little bit. A lovely break with good company.

Rocca Sparviera 22/02/18

Last day. Mountain drive up some more interesting roads with either no barrier or such a small one that it seems pointless. To Col de Lobe then Rocca Sparviera mediaeval village and chapel. Saw lots of wolf droppings also those of wild boar. The wolf had been eating the boar as some droppings were mainly boar hair. Golden eagle. We wore the ice grippers for a bit. It had been hot when we did this walk last year, this time started off in 3 layers and increased to 5. We walked about 15km.

Back down to the bar in Lantosque for St. Thomas beer. Then home to pack up.

Dinner chez Liz and Mel. Chili popcorn, tomato and mozzarella type cheese called burrata and basil, couscous with veg and meatballs in sauce, cheeses, chocolate and ginger mousse. All excellent.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

From the fire of 2003

First cowslips

Wolf tracks

Rocca Sparviera

Bathtime

La Colmiane and Rimplas 21/02/18

We collected Suzanne and David and the bread from St. Martin. Drove to La Colmiane and parked a short way from the centre. It was amazingly cold, Mel reckoned -10 with wind chill. We walked for a good way until we reached the remains of an avalanche and then turned back as it was not safe to continue.

We had our usual fine lunch of salads and bread and tomatoes.

Back to the van and on to Rimplas. There is a Maginot line fort here. Up above the village quite a way. Bridget and I had walked this path last year. Back down and to Serena cafe in La Colmiane for the very seriously good hot chocolate.

Dinner: cheese straws, soufflé, butter beans in tomato sauce with salad and bread, tiramisu.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

Le Boreon and Refuge de Cougorde 20/02/18

We picked up David and Suzanne in St. Martin. Up to Le Boreon. Onto snow shoes and then up and up for 500m of ascent.

The refuge was open this time so we sat inside to eat our lunch. Salads, nuts, bread, ham, cheese. All lovely. We got drinks but my hot chocolate was horrible. The coffees also looked a bit lumpy.

A lovely day with good weather. Back down to St. Martin. Into the Pirate cafe! Nice hot chocolate and a biere de Conte, also very good, nearly as nice as my home made lager!

Bought biscuits for my friends at work, Julie don’t tell the boys!

Dinner: beetroot with feta cheese, celeriac soup, very hot noodles, we all went red, had to open the door, blue cheese and fab home made oatcakes, so good I’ll be having a go, they were quite thick and very tasty.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

La Cougourde

Henk, Margreet, David, Suzanne, Mel, Mike, Bridget

David and Suzanne

Margreet and Henk

Roya 19/02/18

Slept badly, too hot. We’re turning the heaters down. Breakfast and then out by 9. To St. Martin then Valdeblore then the Tinee valley. Up a scary road to Roya, the sort of road you don’t want to meet anything coming down. So we met the snow plough. Luckily just at a slightly wider section. Mel is also a very good driver.

Started off from Roya village at 1500m on snow shoes but soon took them off and put on Pogu ice grippers, these were perfect for the conditions. Walked up through the forest.

Beautiful walk in the sun. Snow mostly nice and firm. I managed to lose a walking pole to the mountain.

Lunch of bread, pasta salad, olives at about 1850m.

Returned the same way. Stopped at La Colmiane for beers and hot chocolates.

Thick fog and graupel.

Dinner: sort of samosa things with balsamic sauce, big roasted cheese, tagliatelle with creamy walnut sauce, pastries with honey and nuts. Liz is a fabulous cook.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

Bridget or as I like to call her Brigitte

Henk leading the way

La Gordolasque 18/02/18

View from my window

The hut where they filmed Belle and Sebastien

Out by 9. Through Belvedere to the Gordolasque valley. Parked at 1600m and snow shoed up to nearly 2000m. Cold and hot and sunny and windy. Our party is Bridget who was here last year, Mike from Herefordshire, Henk and Margreet from near Rotterdam and Mel of course.

Chilly picnic, bulgur wheat salad, bread, cheese, speck, and olive pate, can’t remember proper name.

This valley is close to the Vallee des Merveilles and the very ancient rock carvings.

Back down hoping a pub would be open but Sunday and they are missing a trick. Back to long cold orange juice and water.

Some me time being quiet, so so good.

Dinner: arancini (wow!), Oeuf en cocotte with salad, chicken and chick pea spicy thing in a wrap, cassis and berries and home made ice cream. And beer and wine. Stuffed!

Nice chats.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

St. Dalmas 17/02/18

Room warm with extra heater. Slept well. Woke in night and thought about putting my hat on. Croissant, coffee, toast.

To St. Martin Vesubie in the rain. Bimbled about and then coffee in the cafe. To St. Dalmas. We walked in the Black Forest without snow shoes for a couple of hours. Mostly it rained. Lunch in a nice shed with seats. Potato salad with nuts, baba ganoush, cheese, bread. Hot grape juice.

St. Dalmas is home to a very old Templar church.

Back to mulled wine and pretzels.

Dinner: pea pate, yum and bread, chestnut soup, pumpkin pie with salad and roast potatoes, ginger cake trifle with meringue. Yum yum.

The power cut. I went outside, the whole valley in darkness, my eyes adjusted quickly, owl hooting, just fab.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

In Saint Martin Vesubie

St. Dalmas

To Berthemont les Bains 16/02/18

An early start, up at 3 to drive to Liverpool airport. Don’t do Skypark unless you want to be ripped off for another £6 to get you in a minibus to the airport when you could have walked it in 5 mins.

Met up with Bridget in Starbucks. Our coffee took 20 mins to arrive.

Smooth flight to Nice. Mel picked us up with Mike. Then to BlB. Lovely to see Liz and Mel again. Lunch of soup, cold collation, Baba ganoush, beer. Henk and Margreet arrived. Went for walk round village with Bridget. Back to gite, a bit chilly but heaters up full.

Dinner: Pakoras to start, scrambled egg with truffle, daube with red cabbage, polenta, fennel, cheese, fruit with vodka sauce. Wine.

Holiday is courtesy of Liz and Mel of Spacebetween.

Just up the road in Berthemont

Snow shoes Mercantour, February 2017

Fri 10th

It’s exactly 3 years since Chris and I took her last holiday to Finland where amongst lots of other things we went snow shoeing. She was so happy on that trip and we had a lovely quite magical time.
I’m still in bits and not really coping that well as yet.
I stayed last night in the Hilton at Liverpool airport and did actually sleep well. That’s something that’s slowly starting to improve as in I do sleep through sometimes now.
I’m writing this on the plane and just met my 3 companions for the week, Bridget, Pat and Graeme who are all in the row behind me.
A smooth painless flight with EasyJet. Only 2 hours. Arrived Nice at 10a.m. To be met by Mel who drove us to Berthemont which is an hour up the road.
Lovely to see him and Liz again. Pat and I are in the top gite and Bridget and Graeme in the bottom one.
Unpacked then baguette lunch with beer.
Mel showed us how to adjust the snow shoes to fit our boots and how to fit a Pogu mini crampon.
Bridget took us for a stroll round the village to warm us up. Nice in the sun.
Dinner with Mel and Liz. They showed us round the house.
Dinner – cheese twists with chilli, mozzarella salad, soup, daube (beef with orange) with polenta, roast spuds, broccoli and creamed mushrooms, custard and meringue pud. All amazingly good. Wine.
Sleep.

Sat 11th

My mum’s 100th birthday today.
Breakfast in the lower gite. Croissants coffee toast muesli yogurt.
Out to Le Boreon. Walked up to the Col de Salese at 2100m. Climb of about 600m. Hard work and felt v tired and out of breath as did others. Stunningly pretty and lovely.
Lunch – salad, cheese, ham, bread.
Back down with some practice at going down slopes. Dig heels in, back straight and knees bent!
About 6km or so.
Back to Berthemont. Rugby – Wales got beaten by England so Mel not a happy bunny.
Dinner – chilli popcorn, hummus, big cooked cheeses, gnocchi with fried cabbage and onion, cooked fruits with cream.

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Graeme and Pat
Graeme and Pat

Bridget and Mel
Bridget and Mel

Sun 12th

Drive south for 45 mins. Walk up to the col at the base of Roccassiera then to the ruined village of Rocca-Sparviera, looked into little chapel right up the mountain which had Templar crosses inside. Back up to the col and back down to the van.
Lunch – pasta tuna salad, boiled egg, bread, cheese.
About 13 km of distance plus 1300m of up and down. I did this walk with Liz and Mel but without the old village last time I was here in 2008. Lovely walk.
Dinner – crispy pastry things with beany inside, French onion soup, couscous with meatballs and tomato fresh sauce, choc nut fruit cream dessert. Delicious.

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Pat having a little rest

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Old village high up the mountain

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From doorway of chapel

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Genuine wolf poo

Mon 13th

Out in minibus to Rimplas near Valdeblore passing ski station. Maginot line fort. Walked to La Couletta and stopped for lunch at 1400m.
Lunch – potato salad, ham, cheese, peanuts and hot apple juice in effort to reduce my post lunch heartburn. No plantar fasciitis today as on feet for much shorter time. Only 600m of up and down today. Lovely walk. Stopped in St. Martin Vesubie for Pelforth lager and small shopping.
Dinner – tapenade on crispy toast, spinach tarte, fish stew with roast potatoes, oranges with lavender. Yum.

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Maginot fort

Roof in Rimplas
Roof in Rimplas

Tues 14th

To Le Boreon. Snow shoed up to Le Refuge Cougarde at 2100m. 1200m of up and down. Lunch inside refuge which was shut. Beany artichoke salad.
Graeme lost a snow shoe on way back down however Mel located it and fixed it back on.
Got a bit better at the snow shoe shuffle and the heels down descent techniques. Used the heel lifts to go uphill and the rear clips so as not to trip on steep descent.
Saw a chamois and some wolves in the wolf park just their tales.
Songs in my head
Climie Fisher – Love Changes Everything
Be Good Tanyas – Lakes of Pontchartrain
Dinner with Liz and Mel in their house – heart shaped pastry puffs, beetroot and goats cheese, pasta and sauce with beef strips, creamy fruity pudding. All fab.

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Bridget, Graeme, JR and Pat

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The big courgette
The big courgette

Weds 15th

Mel took us to the Tinee valley, another very steep sided valley about an hour and a quarter away. Up and up and up to Col de la Couillole at 1680m. Snow shoes to Sommet de Countent at  1990m.
Saw a black squirrel.
Back down, very hot and sunny, sloppy snow.
Tip: put pole through hole in snow basket in order to keep poles joined together and easier to use when needed comme ça.
Stopped at La Colmiane ski station at Valdeblore for Leffe beer for Mel, Graeme and me and hot choc for Bridget and Pat.
Dinner – dips, chard soup, butter chicken, basmati rice, chana dhal, lentil and potato curry with pitta. Home made coconut ice cream with melon liqueur. Yum yum.
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Thurs 16th

Utelle. Gorgeous walk up to the Sanctuaire de la Madone d’Utelle. 380m up. Quite steep on last 150m to reach plateau.
Went round the church. No quality control re the art in the cloister. Heard some singing/chanting.
Stopped in Lantosque for a St. Thomas beer. Good beer.
Back at the ranch, Bridget went for a horse ride with Liz.
Final meal upstairs with Liz and Mel.
Blue cheese and walnut (their own) on toast. Pasta with truffles. Big salad with eggs, ham a la Nicoise. Pineapples with booze on. Freixenet. Stayed up late with Liz and Mel.

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Band of travellers

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Fossil

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The bells of Utelle

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Lintel in Utelle

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Door in Utelle
Door in Utelle

Fri 17th

Up at 6.30. Breakfast at 7. Left at 7.45. Had to take mountain route diversion because of landslide on main road. It was very high with vertiginous drops, OMG! Then raced along the motorway to the airport. Seemed fast after a week of pootling along.
Easy flight. Slow on motorway getting home.
How lovely it was not driving or cooking and being in a beautiful and dry place with good company!
Videos from the trip.
The holiday was run by Mel and Liz from SpaceBetween.
Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

MAPandCOMPASS

Pyrenees August 2015

Friday 7th August
Carol clearly not well so took her to the GP. She knew she had a blood infection because this happened 2 years ago. Both her kidney consultant and our GP are on hols. Came away with a letter to admit her to St James’s via A&E. She slept most of the way. Terrible access at A&E so I had to say goodbye to her in the car park. Went and finished off at work then home for last bits of packing. C insisted I continue with my holiday but it felt odd and a bit crap. She got IV antibiotics started up that evening.

Saturday 8th August

Woke at 4.50 a.m. My taxi arrived early (good job as they never turned up for my trip to Hadrian’s Wall). As I got out at the station I realised I’d left my phone on charge. Luckily I’d allowed loads of time in case the taxi cocked up so we raced back and I picked it up, also turned a light off!
After that all the trains were ok until Nimes. My first time at St. Pancras International. Very busy and airport like. Picked up all my remaining tickets for the trip. After composting my ticket I got a rigorous twice over at security. British passport control then French.
Sat next to an Irish woman who talked the entire way to Paris to her pal. I think she was either a lawyer or an accountant. Some very interesting insights into Kids’ Co., charities and corruption. So interesting I stopped reading!
Paris was warm and smelly and the Metro to the Gare du Lyon even warmer and smellier but mercifully quick.
I’d bought my tickets for the Metro on Eurostar which helped. A wee for 80 cents and my hall of departure had changed by the time I came out. I passed a man with a foot long lizard in a cat box, then 2 separate women with cats in cat boxes who all got onto my train. Also a great many children in a chaperoned party were getting into my carriage but they were down and I was up on the double decker train. Air con, a seat to myself and I was whizzing through the flatlands of grain production for all those baguettes. Lots of water towers. A dull day weather wise.
Less than an hour from Paris the plains give way to forested undulations. Contours at last! Horses, Charolais cows. A bit of wet.
Train stopped at Valence and I thought of beds. Then Nimes.
A passenger required medical attention so we stopped for 50 mins. I had only 30 mins to make my connection from Montpellier. But on arrival in Montpellier there were no more trains to Toulouse. After much too rapid French I found they were trying to get me into a hotel in Montpellier! I explained I had to be in Toulouse at 10 in the morning so the controller got me a taxi to get me to the 10 pm train from Narbonne. Ok but it takes 1 hr 15 mins and we only had 45 mins. He tried. It was dark, wet and we shot along the motorway pushing other cars off the road. The driver fiddled with his phone all the way and all to the accompaniment of first bad rap, second football on the radio at way too many decibels. I asked him to go more slowly and not to use phone to no avail. No train waiting for me at Narbonne so the controller there filled a paper form in triplicate for my taxi to take me to Toulouse. He told me there were no hotels free in Narbonne, just as well because it wasn’t my plan to stay there either. I arrived in Toulouse only 1 hr 40 mins after the train would have! Despite being a menace to life the driver carried my bag, asked if I was ok and took me to my hotel (he was only authorised to take me to the station) and spoke a little English. I found it hard to do fast French and speak French very well under stress.
Hotel Mermoz lovely. Fell into bed with 2 paracetamols. It cost me £25 and some Avios I collected.

On the Eurostar
On the Eurostar

Gare du Lyon
Gare du Lyon

Sunday 9th August
After breakfast I checked out and walked 10 minutes to the railway station. Francois who is the guide for the week picked me up and drove me to Ax les Thermes. About 2 hours drive. Vast swathes of sunflowers being grown. I checked into La Grande Cordee. My room is in the annexe which is at the back on the 2nd floor away from the quite busy road. It’s plain but comfortable.
I went into the town, bought bottled water and had a look round. Most things shut because it was Sunday. Back with the heavy water (not the bomb making sort) then out again to do a self guided walk of the town and all the hot springs and spas. The water goes up to 74C in temp. Very, very hot just coming out of fountains and making steam as it flows into the river. It’s not used for hot water for the inhabitants because there isn’t enough pressure but they do use it to keep the roads and pavements clear of snow.
A demi pression and back to the hotel for the meeting of the group with Francois. We are 14. There are 2 other groups staying. Some of them haven’t read the instructions and don’t have boots, waterproofs or rucksacks. Francois directed them to the shops!
Dinner of salad with duck in it. Then duck kebab with roast spuds and ratatouille. I have an omelette as not keen on duck. Bread and wine. I pass on the creme brûlée although my favourite as have decided to quit refined sugar where possible. Ha bloody ha!
There is a man on the next table who looks like he’s stepped out of a Tintin story, he is short and plump, has a bald head, sideburns and a splendid moustache like the Thompson Twins and a beard.

Either the Ariege or the Oriege
Either the Ariege or the Oriege

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The meeting of the Ariege and the Oriege rivers
The meeting of the Ariege and the Oriege rivers

Hot hot water meets cold
Hot hot water meets cold

Hot hot hot
Hot hot hot

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Church being used for exhibition of "art"
Church being used for exhibition of “art”

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Monday 10th August
7.30 Breakfast of bread, cheese, croissant and coffee. The French are drinking huge bowls of coffee. I had forgotten this.
Set off at 8.45 in minibuses. Quite cool. Francois drove us a few kilometres up out of Ax to the Col du Chioula. We stop 1.5k past it at a big junction of paths at 1360m. Climb up to Rocher de Scaramus at 1868m. Gascon cattle, black Merens horses, goats, a marmot, griffon vultures and a bearded vulture. The bearded vultures need 500 sq km to lord over. Lovely walk with long lunch. Lentil salad in our boxes. Francois produced sausage, cheese, wine and coffee out of his bag! Cheese was lovely. Lots of info re geology and history. 8 or 9km. Followed it all on the map.
Back at 4.30. Into town but the thermal baths were very busy so I went for beer instead. Also I was hot enough.
Back at the hotel I rang Carol who says she will be in hospital for 5 weeks. Bugger.
Dinner of gazpacho with cheesy thing, salmon bake and apple pie. Very nice and yes I broke my resolution! After this holiday then!

Merens horses
Merens horses

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Gascon cattle
Gascon cattle

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I think this is Fredy
Fredy

Symbol of Comte de Foix
Symbol of Comte de Foix

Dent d'Orlu
Dent d’Orlu

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Inside St. Vincent's church
Inside St. Vincent’s church

St. Vincent's
St. Vincent’s

Tuesday 11th August
Col de Pailheres 1965m
Pic de Tarbezou. GR78. 2340m
Another lovely day. Francois drove us to the col and we climbed the peak. Fabulous 360 degree views across the whole Pyrenean range. Saw a royal eagle AKA golden eagle. Also griffon vultures. Down 200m to one of 4 lakes for lunch of tabbouleh, bread, cheese. We were with the other group most of the time. David the other group leader asked me to spot from the back for a while. They all know I am ML in the UK.
It was very hot so I stayed off the wine. It was still hard to get back up the 200m.
F explained about peat bogs – tourbe and tourbiere. I told him about sphagnum moss as a WW1 wound dressing from Dartmoor.
The group is made up of  5 married couples and 4 solo people. Mostly professionals. Lawyer, marketing consultant, research doctor, state psychologist.
I went to the thermal baths in all the rooms. All the names are in Latin just like at Hard Knot fort but without the Lake District weather!
Beer at different bar and getting more expensive every day!
Dinner of Greek salad with yoghurt, tartiflette – potato with jambon and cheese, tartelette au citron.
All lovely.
Slide show from F with pics of bears, wolves, foxes, deer, pine marten. Who knew that these are related to bears?
Late to bed at 11pm.

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Very big bird
Very big bird

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Reminded me of Tryfan
Reminded me of Tryfan

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Cairns
Cairns

Wednesday 12th August
Merens 1070m.
F drove us to Merens-les-Vals where he lives and parked outside his house. The walk was up through the forest for 700 m so at least in the shade but steep in parts. We collected dry beech wood on the way. Came out to a pasture with a shepherd’s hut/refuge/bothy at the Col de Joux at 1702m. A large herd of cows with bells and 2 big bugger bulls on the col.
F and David quickly got the fire going. We handed over our potatoes in foil already cooked so just for warming. Tomato salad to start, bread, baked potato, sausage like a Cumberland sausage in shape ,melted Camembert a bit strong for me so F gave me the mountain cheese we’ve been eating. Then cep mushrooms collected by Guy who is mushroom expert but who doesn’t eat them! And a little chocolate. And wine.
Then back down on the GR 107 to Merens. Saw a lizard. Lots of grasshoppers or are they crickets?
Out for a beer by the fountain, the most expensive so far.
Back for dinner – starter of green salad with cooked meats. I didn’t fancy cod so had a nice garlicky creamed spinach with carrots and Bulgur wheat. Choc dessert.
Valerie and I went into town to see a live street performance. Funny.

One of the "papas"
One of the “papas”

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Fredy outside the bothy
Fredy outside the bothy

Guy looking for a frying pan
Guy looking for a frying pan

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Francois and David cooking our lunch
Francois and David cooking our lunch

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Looking across to Scaramus

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Our group
Our group -1

Francois took this by accident but I liked it
Francois took this by accident but I liked it

Very old church in Merens-les-Vals
Very old church in Merens-les-Vals

Francois
Francois

Street artist
Street artist

Thursday 13th August
Out at 8.30 on foot to see the Vierge and then a circular tour of the villages around Ax because lots of thunder and at one point it went very dark and then rained a lot for a little while. A very humid day. I ended up as wet as Bruce doing a show.
Lunch of tuna, rice, sweet corn, chick peas salad, bread, cheese, wine by the side of the path.
Back early. Out to look at shops. Beer in square. Marie-Odile joined me. Grimbergen for me and Cro Mignon a local bottled beer for her.
Dinner of tomato pastry, duck on menu again so they gave me vegetable quiche without egg, green beans and cheesy pasta followed by tiramisu but lovely, usually I don’t like it.
The group is made up professionals and retired people. Pascale is a painter and has painted rooms for a prince of Saudi Arabia and Yves St Laurent. Janine was a nurse. Valerie is a psychologist. Marie-Odile is research doctor into organisations management. These are the people I’ve had the most conversations with in our Franglais.

Virgin who looks after Ax-les-Thermes from her Disney tower
Virgin who looks after Ax-les-Thermes from her Disney tower

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Reservoir for hydro electric system
Reservoir for hydro electric system

It went really dark before the storm broke
It went really dark before the storm broke

Orgeix
Orgeix

Family with over laden donkey who didn't want to go down the steep path
Family with over laden donkey who didn’t want to go down the steep path

Old mill
Old mill

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David and group
David and group

Marie-Odile and the local beer
Marie-Odile and the local beer

Summer house in the town
Summer house in the town

Friday 14th August
Just a croissant and a small bowl of granola with yoghurt and apple for breakfast.
Raining a lot so off in the minibus to Merens-les-Vals. Through the village, off the main road, past the municipal camping and up up up to park the minibus. Adrien a trainee mountain leader joined us. I talked to him a bit.
We went up 300m to the Etang de Comte (de Foix) but it was foggy and wet. We could have been in Scotland or Wales. We stopped at the black horses on the way, 2 of them belong to Francois, one is an old girl of 28 and the other is 16. He put down salt for them to supplement their diet. We only stayed out for 4 hrs as so wet.
Back to the hotel to change and eat our picnic at the table. Pasta salad, bread, wine, cheese. And a slice of chicken.
I nearly fell asleep but decided not to waste my time so set off for the telepherique. €7 for aller et retour. I went up to the station and chatted to a French couple on the way.
Tried to find the first path down but it was overgrown. Aimed for the second and found it. Mainly a bike route so very steep and muddy in parts with deep channels, hard work. Got down 700m and back to the hotel in 2 hours.
Very glad I am now a lot more fit and a lot more confident in navigating and in walking. The overall level of the walks we did were not anything I wouldn’t have attempted solo at home so I didn’t really need a guide however Francois did give the added history and information about the Ariege, the Pyrenees that I would have found it harder to obtain, plus it was quite fun being amongst a very French experience. He also made the walks fun and interesting. I would love to do the International Mountain Leader but it’s expensive and would take up an awful lot of time that I don’t have at the moment. And there are probably some other skills that I might struggle with.
I got down from my shower to find our group had gathered with complimentary peach wine, goats cheese nibbles and olives and Tacos. Francois forgot to tell me but it was ok. It was the only major thing he forgot to translate for me. I will forgive him because he is normally so charming!!
Dinner, toast with strong garlic spread and Italian type ham, dish like bouillabaisse without rice and with fish, mussels, chorizo, pimentos. Tasty. Discovered that mussels are ok! Chocolate muffin which was a bit heavy.
Lots of kissing because most are leaving tomorrow. Janine threw herself into this activity!
Lovely people and lovely time.

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Never seen so many capes and ponchos
Never seen so many capes and ponchos

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Florence
Florence

Francois
Francois

Attending to the horses
Attending to the horses

It could be Loch Ness
It could be Loch Ness

Looking down to Ax-les-Thermes
Looking down to Ax-les-Thermes

Saturday 15th August
The large group of cyclists who arrived yesterday made a huge amount of noise at 2.30 in the morning. I couldn’t get back to sleep so read my book.
Thankfully they were only here for the night. I hope they all fall off their bikes and get punctures. They broke the lift and knocked over all the plant pots. I gave one of them the filthiest look I could manage. All our party was displeased with them. Selfish load of louts we think from Holland. Farewell to most of the party.
Marie-Odile and I walked along the Oriege to Orlu and then the Forge d’Orlu to the Maison des Loups.  Saw a group of 4 Arctic wolves, a group of 7 Euro wolves and some cubs hiding behind a tree. They got fed raw chicken. Also it’s a family farm so there are chickens, sheep, goats, kids, piglets in close proximity.
We had lunch in the cafe at the park. M-O had cheese salad and I had cheese and mixed meats salad. Very good.
Then walked back to Ax, total of 18km or 11 miles.
On return M-O found she had lost her wallet portefeuille but luckily it was in the cafeso they rang her. The hotel then lent her their car so she could collect it. Very worrying for her. But great that it worked out ok.
I bought some bread, cheese, tomato for my lunch the next day.
Later met up with M-O for dinner. We went to a quiet, calm, small resto called L’Aparte.
Cold beetroot soup, excellent light courgette tarts with salad, lovely small choc pud. Quarter bottle of white wine. Great idea, just the right amount.
Very pleasant evening. I think we were both tired because we both tried hard to communicate in French and English.

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Wood store above
Wood store above

And another
And another

Les loups
Les loups

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This scraggy old git is the Alpha male

Happy stranger with kids
Happy stranger with kids

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Trying on a white outfit

Orgeix
Orgeix

Marie-Odile
Marie-Odile

More wood
More wood

Sunday 16th August
Breakfast and farewell to Marie-Odile. I finished squashing my gear into the 80l holdall from KE Adventures which I then strapped to its folding wheels/trolley. Mathieu picked me up at 11 and drove me back to Toulouse railway station. He was very interesting to listen to (he spoke a lot of English) and told me all about being a Mountain Leader in France, being an avalanche rescue person with an avalanche rescue dog and ski patroller. All sounds a lot harder and more intense than our awards which were not a walk in the park.
I put the holdall into the left luggage at Toulouse, got bossed around by a rather strict woman there. Then off to Tourist Info. I decided to buy a 24hr City Pass which covered all transport and some attractions. Straight onto the Metro, then onto a tram which I got off at the stop I’d been told to. Thank goodness for Google maps as it was the wrong stop. I walked for a hot 15 mins and arrived at the Roman Amphitheatre. It’s been restored using the famous pink Toulouse bricks. Did the Romans have these? I sort of doubt it but I may be doing them a disservice. Anyway there’s not much there apart from some old obviously Roman stones and big hole. There’s a copy of a statue of Minerva and some picnic tables. I sat at one in the shade and ate my provisions purchased the evening before. Very pleasant.
Then back to the centre on the tram and Metro. I got off near to the river and headed for the Bateaux Toulousains. They told me to come back a little later so I ate an ice cream from a boy with a bicycle powered wagon and then got in the queue. I wanted to be sure to get under the awning for some shade on the boat. I managed to sit near the speaker so was well blasted for the next hour and a quarter, nowhere else to go as the boat was full. The commentary bore very little relation to the English translation sheet I was given, which also bore little relation to English like what she is spoke! The trip was a bit dull, the Pont Neuf was really the highlight. We went into an old lock, out again, along a bit, turned round and then back through the lock. The main landmarks are at a distance from the Garonne. But it kept me cool for a while. There was a man living in a tent by the side of the canal.
I popped into the Jacobins convent which was especially huge as had no furniture in it. Lots of light. Glorious building.
Then went to find a beer and settled for a Kronenbourg. Wandered round a bit more looking for a corner shop. Phone call to Carol then decided to have a salad in the Van Gogh restaurant with real linen. It was very nice and I’m glad I did. Set off for the station, stopping to buy a couple of provisions for the night. Collected my holdall, scary woman no longer there. Waited for a while. Got onto train, I was first into my compartment. Turned down the heating controls. First problem there is nowhere to put a big holdall, definitely won’t fit under bunk 1 of 3. No room in bike store as full of bikes. Shove it down the end of my bunk thus reducing the space for me. 4 other women turned up eventually and everyone just said “Bonsoir” and that was it. Someone turned the light out and shut the door. Very limited headroom so hard to undress but so hot I took my top off. Felt terribly squashed. All the others had done the same with their bags. At some point later another person joined us. Later still someone opened the door and shut it from outside for no particular reason. Then I got cold so put my shirt back on, then colder so actually got into the sleeping bag thing. Gave up at about 6a.m. and got dressed and up. Train arrived at Paris Austerlitz at 6.50. In 1942, Jews in Paris were rounded up and taken from Austerlitz to Auschwitz. This is video of sleeping compartment from the website I used to plan the trip, the Man in Seat Sixty-One.

View from my room
View from my room

Roman amphitheatre
Roman amphitheatre

Repairs with Toulouse bricks
Repairs with Toulouse bricks

Minerva
Minerva

Pont Neuf
Pont Neuf

Hole to allow flow of water during times of flood
Hole to allow flow of water during times of flood

Jacobins convent
Jacobins convent

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Street signs bilingual
Street signs bilingual

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Jacobins convent

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The Capitole
The Capitole

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Never forget

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Monday 17th August
I got straight onto the Metro to the Gare du Nord just a few stops away. Went through passport control French, passport control UK, security and into the departure lounge thinking it would be like St. Pancras with shops and cafes but it wasn’t. I had a not nice espresso with a not nice croissant. And then found a nice espresso round the corner so had a second. Plugged in my phone, got in queue and onto Eurostar. Smooth journey to St. P. Across the street to King’s Cross and back to Leeds, then to Sowerby Bridge, then taxi home. Home by 2.30. Got myself a bit sorted and off to see Carol in St. James’s.

The Seine from the Metro
The Seine from the Metro

Please visit Map and Compass and learn how to interpret a map and use a compass with me and my navigation partner, Cath.

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