An extended pitstop in the Pyrénées.. .

Since my last update we visited our last bastide town before we made a beeline for the Pyrénées.  Cordes sur Ciel is purported to be the first bastide ever to be built in 1222.

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Gothic buildings on Cordes-sur-Ciel

It clings to the Mordagne peak standing 100 metres above the surrounding river valleys.

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The steep, narrow main street to the top of Cordes-sur-Ciel.

It is now a major centre for artists and the Cordes Academy holds many exhibitions drawing in visitors from far and wide.

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One of the fortified entry’s into the main town.

We arrived on Monday 5th September 2016 in the late afternoon.  We knew by the number of motorhomes at the aire below the town that it would be worth the visit but thought it best to explore the town on Tuesday morning when it would be cooler.

P1070935.JPGThe temperatures have remained in the low to mid thirties for several days now and the afternoons are really too hot for trekking up and down steep hills.

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The main narrow road up from the bottom of the town to the top is very steep and a feast for the eyes: cobbled streets, fortified walls, gothic archways, gothic and medieval houses decorated with flowers, kittens peering down from shuttered windows, the list goes on.

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Lower down the main street.
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A kitten surveying life below.

We explored all round the alleyways in the lower and upper town for a couple of hours just marvelling at the sheer scope of it all before hitting the road to make our way to the foothills of the Pyrénées. It was an easy drive skirting round Toulouse on the motorway with the Pyrénées in full view on the horizon.  We arrived at the little village of Siex after the two hour drive with not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low 30’s. 

We found a little aire tucked away behind the village where another four vans were parked.  I said ‘bonjour’ to the lady in the next van and she asked if we were staying for a few days.  I said ‘oui’ as we wanted to do some cycling in the area.  She then became very animated telling me her husband was a keen cyclist and he could tell me about some of the routes he had done.  It turned out that the four vans were all together and whilst the men went out every day on the bikes the wives stayed behind presumably enjoying the sunshine and chewing the fat.  Her husband showed me the map of some of the rides they had done and invited us to join them the following day.  I politely declined as, even though they all looked to be in their 60’s, they also looked like Tour de France retirees judging by their muscly legs. They were doing rides of 60-70km on road bikes.  We would have been left behind on the flat let alone the hills.  Also Tim would have killed me if I’d happened to drop in to the conversation that we were partaking in an Anglo-French bike ride the next day.  Therefore, on Wednesday we headed off on a 40km bike ride which took us on a gentle incline through the Garbut river valley to the village of Aulus-les-Bains. 

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Aulus-les-Bains.

Even though it was really hot it was a superb ride as the densely forested hillsides provided some much needed shade. 

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Tiny church at the roadside to Aulus-les-Bains.

The water in the river tumbling down the valley is so clear it takes on an almost duck egg blue colour over the rocks.

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Heading up the valley towards Aulus-les-Bains.

From Aulus-les-Bains we just had to negotiate the Col de Latrappe, a 1111m pass taking us into the next valley and down into Ousto.  The climb is 5km long with an average gradient of 7.4%, the steepest sections being at 10%.  It was first used in the Tour de France in 1956 and has been featured another seven times, the last time being in 2011.  Only one thing for it really – get the bike into granny gear and grin and bear it.  I have to say Tim set off like a rat up a drainpipe and didn’t stop until we got to the summit some 45 minutes later!  I expect the ‘Tour’ guys do it in ten minutes but, no matter, we’d conquered our first ‘Col’!  The ride back down the other side was exhilarating, with the sun on our backs, whizzing past the poor blighters huffing and puffing up the hill. 

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Lunch stop.

We had a beautiful stop for lunch and then cruised down the valley back to Siex feeling very satisfied with ourselves. 

Whilst we were in Aulus-les-Bains we spotted another aire which would be ideal to do a couple of walks from and that is where we have been for the last four nights.  We have a lovely view of the hills and a field of sheep with clanking bells around their necks behind us. 

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The aire at Aulus-les-Bains.

Aulus-les-Bains  is best known for its thermal springs and spa complex.

We’ve done a few walks in the last three days twice climbing up and beyond the Cascade D’ars. The waterfall is 246m high and has three levels. 

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Cascade d’Ars.

At the moment there isn’t a massive amount of water coming down but I expect it’s spectacular after several days of rain. 

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It was a steep climb for 90 mins through the wooded hillside before reaching the waterfalls.

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Just below the top of the falls.
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Lunch stop at 1500m above the Cascade d’Ars.
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Looking back down the valley towards Aulus-les-Bains.

P1080014.JPGOn Friday were woken up by the sound of a saxophone coming from somewhere in the village.  Tim went to investigate and returned to the van to collect his clarinet saying there was an old boy playing a soprano sax in the park and he was off to join him.  I went down to have a look myself and there they both were sitting on a bench in the park banging out some French tunes. 

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An impromptu gig in the park.

I sat on the bench opposite with the chaps wife and she explained that they were staying in the village at the thermal spa for three weeks as it helps with their ailments.  

I’m currently updating the blog sitting on a bench enjoying the free internet access from the ‘office de tourisme’ whilst watching a cycle race coming down through the village.  We want to head over the Pyrénées into Spain in the next couple of weeks but also want to linger a bit longer in the hills to get some more hiking trails under our belts whilst the weather holds.  Tomorrow we have a very glamorous day planned with a back log of washing to do and a grocery shop on the agenda so we’ll be heading back down the valley to civilisation before making a further foray into the hills.

Bon  Journée!

 

The Dordogne beckons…. .

We are having a bit of a holiday at the moment!  We arrived in Cognac on Friday 8th July 2016 and ended up staying until Monday afternoon.

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Cognac.

We spent the Friday afternoon and evening wandering around the old town and relaxing listening to all the free fringe music going on around the annual Blues Festival.

P1060589.JPGDespite the Blues Festival Cognac town was pretty quiet.

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Bijoux residence:)

Iggy Pop was playing on the main stage but at €50 a ticket for the evening set of concerts we gave it a miss. Instead we enjoyed these guys who were great fun playing all sorts from Blues to Jazz to Funk.

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I’m sure it was Dara O’Briain on the Sousaphone?

I’m sure Darah O’Briain was playing the Souzaphone?  We then wandered up to the top of the town which was buzzing with people but the music was of the ‘you’ve heard one, you’ve heard the all’ kind so we didn’t stay long. 

 

 

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Free music but we didn’t stay long!

Saturday was a walking day both up and down the river.

P1060620.JPGAround the walking we had a lazy day catching up on admin.

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A lazy day walking along the river banks!

We were able to pick up very fast free wifi from a restaurant across the river which was a bonus as I was able to upload the last blog post from there.

 

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It’s not all play you know, this blog doesn’t update itself!

We took our chairs down to the riverside for breakfast, lunch and dinner!  Très civilised!

 

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Breakfast.
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Lunch.
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Dinner.

The temperatures were in the top twenties on Saturday and Sunday which is significantly warmer than we have had so far.  In view of the hot weather Tim donned his Speedo’s on Sunday and braved a swim in the river.

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Not without his water wings though in the form of our Thermarest sleeping mats!  Not a bad way to spend an afternoon with pleasant views of a chateau across the river.

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Pleasant views of a chateau across the river.
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Mmm, note to self, I must brave it and get a hair cut some time soon!

We went to a local bar to watch France play in the final of Euro 2016.

 

 

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Before the match started.
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The same scene 30 seconds after Portugal scored!!

We decided to hire a canoe on Monday and have a paddle down the Charente. We were dropped 17km further up the river at Jarnac, birthplace of Francois Mitterand, and had a very relaxing paddle back to Cognac.

 

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Des Res!

On Monday we moved on further south into the Dordogne and have been staying at Brantome which is a very pretty town dominated by the Abbey on the banks of the river Dronne.

 

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Brantome – very pretty.

The aire is a five minute walk into the town and costs just over £5 per night.

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Brantome.

Brantome is the most touristy town we’ve been to so far I think but considering it’s the middle of July when most of the French take their annual summer holiday it’s not too overbearing.

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More pretty French streets!

We had a walking day on Wednesday.   I’d picked up a leaflet from the tourist information office of a 12km circular walk starting in Brantome.  I’d paid 50c for the leaflet and had spent half an hour translating it so I was determined we were going to do it.  It took us out of town following the flow of the river Dronne and into the surrounding countryside.

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An old mill on the banks of the Dronne, now a B&B.

The map itself wasn’t too brilliant but we seemed to be making progress and arrived at a pretty viewpoint over the river after two hours which was perfect for a lunch stop.

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Lunch stop.

After lunch things didn’t go according to plan as the map wasn’t particularly clear and the written instructions were a bit on the sparse side.  We eventually arrived in the lovely village of Bordeilles which was in the opposite direction of where we wanted to be and an 11km walk back to Brantome. Doh!

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Uber pretty Bordeilles.

I went into the tourist information to ask if there was a bus service to Brantome and she replied with ‘Je pense pas’ (I think not) but what her eyes and body language actually said was ‘do you really think there is going to be any public transport from such a small village as this in such a rural area of France?  Are all you Anglaise so stoopide?’ Oh, ok, that’ll be a no then, we just thought we’d ask on the off chance like!  There was only one thing for it but to bite the bullet and retrace our steps.

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Bordeilles.

That was before Tim came up with his cunning plan.  Cue drum roll.  ‘Let’s see if we can hitch a lift’ he said!  To his surprise I agreed but only on the condition that he used his own thumb and not mine.  With that agreed, out went said thumb, and lo and behold the third car that passed us stopped to pick us up.  Yay!

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View of Bordeilles from the top end of the village.

It was a middle aged French lady who’d taken pity on us.  She was a game girl to stop as we could have been anyone and she didn’t know Tim was armed with a Swiss Army penknife!  Mind you she probably thought she was quite safe when we insisted on buckling up our seat belts before she drove off though!  My francais was tested to the limit telling her why the ‘stoopid anglais’s’ needed a lift.  She wasn’t going into Brantome so we asked her if she could drop us back at the bridge where we’d had lunch and we would walk from there.

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It was still a long walk back despite our lift!

It saved us over an hour’s extra walk and was an experience but we still had a two hour walk back to the van.  Ah well, it’s not like we had anything pressing to get back for!  We eventually arrived back at the van over two hours later than planned – c’est la vie.

Later on in the evening we had a stroll into Brantome to watch some river jousting as part of the Bastille Celebrations.

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River jousting as part of the Bastille celebrations.

In truth, it was a bit dull, to say the least, and we were bored after 15 minutes so didn’t stay for the further 1hr 45 minutes it was scheduled to go on for.  We retired to the van to read our books! Très rock ‘n’ roll. We slept through the fireworks!

We played it safe on Thursday and went to the local lavomatique, a 5 minute stroll from the aire, to do our laundry (obviously)!

P1060720.JPG  It’s the first time we’ve had to use a public laundrette as we’ve been able, until now, to do all our washing when either House sitting or Helpxing.

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It’s lucky we’re not precious about our clothes – everything goes in together regardless of colour!

We haven’t been able to get any reliable free wifi where we are staying and the mifi in the van is really temperamental at the moment.  I did have more to say in this post but, in view of the fact it has taken me an hour and a half sitting on a hard bench outside a hotel, using their very slow free wifi to upload the photos, I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead and get this uploaded!

A toute de suite!

 

 

Walking the Harrogate Ringway….. .

The Harrogate Ringway trail is a 21 mile circular route around the outskirts of Harrogate taking in Knaresborough along the way.  As we now have more time we decided it would be more enjoyable to do the walk over a couple of days rather than cramming it into one day.  Fortunately, we can pick up the path less than a mile from where we are currently staying so we didn’t have to detour too much.

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Views across fields towards Pannal.

 

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Who can resist a lamb??
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A legacy from the Tour de Yorkshire!

We did the north western route first taking us from Pannal across fields and lanes towards Harlow Carr Gardens.

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Woods beyond Harlow Carr.

The path then skirts around the back of the gardens and leads up to Birk Crag where we stopped for a bit of Yorkshire Parkin!

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Birk Crag.
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Irongate bridge – Harrogate’s oldest bridge.
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Triffids??!
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Spruisty Bridge.

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Eventually the path descends down the Nidd Gorge and follows the Nidd pretty much into Knaresborough.

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Bluebell Wood.
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Nidd Viaduct.
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River Nidd.

It took us about 5 hours and was about 13 miles so was a decent walk for us.  Then on Friday we went the other way taking in the Crimple Viaduct and pleasant paths leading into Knaresborough again.

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Near Fulwith Mill Lane.

A shorter walk which took about three hours.

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Crimple Viaduct in the distance.

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Crimple Viaduct from the other side.

 

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Crossing the bridge into Knaresborough.
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What a place to live!

We wanted to get into Knaresborough in time for some lunch as we had planned to watch The Tour de Yorkshire roll through the centre of town in the afternoon.  More on that tomorrow.