The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Day 11 - after Col de Finestres to Merens les Vals

Friday 22 July
11 miles-ish, 900m up-ish and about 2000m down
Awful miserable start, then a few hours of sunny intervals before clouding in and raining again

Part one of Day 11 (already posted separately) saw us walk in the rain and awful visibility to Refuge Ruhle, where we holed up for second breakfast with a pack of ultra-runners taking part in the Trans-Pyrenees event.

After the best part of 2 hours of eating, drinking and chatting the cloud had lifted and there were signs of brightness so a move was made. Another heavy shower and more thunder as we put our wet things back on (always unpleasant) made us question whether we should have stayed for another coffee, but the runner to whom we had been chatting had a more optimistic outlook: "rain and hail is not bad" he said "it cools the muscles down". He was shivering as he said it too.

Happily after just one final shower, the day did finally brighten and the views were incredible. Here's the view looking back across the boulder fields we had just crossed, pausing often to step aside to let Trans-Pyrenees people pass:

Lunch was had in the sunshine just 100m below the high point of the day, and of the trip so far, which stood at 2439m.

The views down the other side, where we were to descend seemingly forever, were good too:

After a big a gap in competitors, many more pauses were had on our descent to allow more racers by (not that any of them was moving quickly - that was a steep ascent for them). It was down here that I finally twigged that at the top of their race numbers (worn, by most, on the back of their backpacks) was stated their name and nationality. We also observed that the majority wore Hoka OneOne shoes.

It was half past four by time we reached Merens, whose village fete (involving some very loud and bad music) is this weekend. We had just missed the bus and arrived at the station to find that we had an hour and a half to wait for a train to take us to Ax les Thermes. Assuming that there would be no double room available at the gite on the Friday of the village fete, and in the absence of any other accommodation, we had opted to nip along the valley to Ax (which, moreover, would also give me the opportunity to look for a new pair of shoes* as Ax has sports shops whereas Merens does not). We didn't really want to arrive in Ax at approaching 6.30pm and have to start looking for somewhere to stay, but with assistance from Scotland and eventually finding that we could buy some internet access on a local wifi network (the phone signal not being good enough to be useful for Internet browsing), a room was booked. The rest of the wait for the train passed quickly chatting to Mary, one of the British duo from the Gite in Goulier, whose week in the Pyrenees has come to an end.

Things did not go smoothly on arrival in Ax. Eventually locating our accommodation it turned out we had booked a room (officially a studio apartment, but the reality is that it's just a room) in a converted house. When we finally found out how to enter and where to find our key, it was missing - and no-one was answering the phone on any of the numbers given. So much for minimising stress by pre-booking!

All was eventually sorted and the room is good and well positioned. We won't be heading back to Merens first thing in the morning, as we're doing something very unusual tomorrow - we're having a day off!

(*my shoes have plenty of tread to finish the walk and are structurally sound, but quite a few holes have appeared in the uppers. It somehow feels wrong to be walking amongst all these French people wearing great heavy boots in a pair of holey slippers (although amongst today’s Trans-Pyrenees company they felt right at home). I had thought to make a day trip to Toulouse if I can't find suitable shoes here, but I've concluded that it would be quicker, more convenient and probably equal in price to have a pair of shoes I already have at home sent over by an overnight service, if I get to the point that I really need them. Perhaps I should have set out in a new pair of shoes...)


  1. Ax! I hadn't anticipated that. Anyway, I'm sure you'll get a good welcome at the gite in Merens tonight. You have a brilliant stretch ahead of you, but you may need your deet for the first couple of days.

  2. PS Many of my comments are appearing in duplicate, or even triplicate. I don't know why. (Help?) So I'm deleting the superfluous ones but I'll have to leave the 'delete for ever' to you Gayle.
    (Just to let you know they aren't controversial comments about which I've changed my mind!)

  3. I had noticed the duplication, not just on my blog so assumed it was a techical hitch. No idea what might be causing it though.