Boris you’ve created a monster!!!!!

Cycle lanes in London, what a great idea. We can all safely mosey around between places while taking in the scenery our great capital has to offer. It provides a normal person a way to get work to without having to leave his manners at home cramped up like a sardine on the tube trying to avoid the killer Medusa stares. You also have the obvious health benefits, although I am not completely convinced since the rather large people I have seen on their bikes over the last 6 months don’t seem to be getting any thinner. I feel for the bikes lagging under the heavy strain, although you got to give credit to underpaid Chinese workers who made them for doing such a good job.

Having seen this type of scheme in Barcelona and Amsterdam, I embraced the idea imagining the same type of thing here. Everyone cycling along at nice friendly pace, smiles on their faces like a leisurely ride should be. Occasionally I nearly got run over in the dam but I always put that down to the fact I had just come out of the daze of a coffee shop rather than the people being aggressively dangerous cyclists.

So what could go wrong with a similar scheme in London?????

Rather than take it as a leisurely bit of exercise and fun, we have to go and turn it into some type of wacky racers megalomaniac stress release scheme. I ride to work along the CS3 everyday (weather permitting) and have been able to experience first hand this new breed Boris has unwittingly created. They normally go by the guise of extremely tight lycra cycling shorts, luminous skin type top, racing bike, helmet, stupid glasses and multiple flashing lights (if one wasn’t enough). Be warned this new breed are extremely aggressive and leave no prisoners in their thirst for speed.

They will run over (or if in a good mood only shout) at anyone who dares to step in their path, that being mother and child, school kid, lesbian couple, OAP or even a war veteran. Being what I class a normal person (although some may disagree) I thought using the cycle path (or maybe should be called psychos path) would get me away from the rat race of the DLR, but in certain sections of the route you fear for your safety and sanity. All I can imagine is that these people have either had an argument with their wife in the morning before setting off, or have had a stressful day in Canary Wharf gambling away pensioners hard earned savings on the stock market. They wiz along near enough playing chicken as they overtake, moan if you hold them up, cut people up at all occasions, and run every possible pedestrian crossing and traffic light they pass while in the process shouting abuse at anyone who dares to encroach even an inch into what they class as a cycle lane built primarily for them.

I think the only solution we have to stop an all out civil war is to get a speed limit on the cycle paths and make all these idiots get on the road with rest of the aggressive fools in London. Let them fight between themselves, even start a death race kind of points system to encourage them to take each other out. Kind of like sticking Al Qaeda and the EDL on an island together and let them annihilate each other. Lord of the flies, an ethnic cleansing for the idiots of this world.

We could even use some of the illegal immigrants and work-shy youth to enforce a speed limit on the cycle lanes and keep the fools in check. There are a few council estates along the way so why not give some of these dole claiming scallys an air-rifle (although they probably already have one or an AK-47) and a speed camera and let then earn their rock’n’roll money with a bit of target practice. Or even better a paint gun so we can name and shame them (and the leave big f*@k off bruises).

On a brighter note I feel proud to announce that this hasn’t made everyone hate cyclists and some people are even trying to honor them. On multiple occasions, just like in India where they throw rose petals on the paths to welcome people, I have found glass scattered across the cycle path in front of me in the mornings. Although I know that a puncture is a lot better than near certain death by an onrushing double decker bus (ala The Smiths), each time I still dodge it by swerving into the on rushing traffic on the road.

I hope this hasn’t put you off reclaiming the lanes from this psychopathic new breed because it is worth getting on your bike just so you can people watch the super villains on there fold away bikes. I have to admit these bikes are a great inventions, but unfortunately anyone who rides one seems to look like a cartoon super villain with a big arse and long legs going round faster than a hamster.  Kind of like the guy out of Despicable Me. Some may say I am just bitter and twisted because they keep overtaking me (just like the women and pensioners), but look for yourself and make your own mind up. I have come to accept my place in the lane, not concerned by being over taken by the 3 year olds on their scooters or OAPs in their pope mobiles. However what I cant accept is been run off the road by some poncy idiot on a bike who looks like a ballerina with flashing lights, minus the pink shoes (until someone tells them they make you go faster).

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Trekking in the Pyrenees – Part 1

Originally this was planned as an 8 day expedition across the Pyrenees, starting in France and zigzagging back and forth over several passes before eventually finishing in Spain. Unfortunately the planned 8 day trek had to be cut down to 6 due to a former skateboard knee injury which meant we had to miss the last 2 days of trekking in Spain (although still waiting doctors note to prove it). Before describing the expedition there are a few things that need to be explained/ highlighted before any one thinks of heading out on this expedition themselves.

1. Remember you’re not a kid any more. I forgot it was 4 years ago when I last did a hike like this, and in those years I have smoked many more tabs, drunk lots of beer, and entered middle age.
2. Backpacks are heavy. Follow the golden rule, bring only the essentials that you need since unless you hire mules you’re going to have to carry it all.
3.  Although food is essential, unfortunately nice food is very heavy. Dry food is best option since the weight adds up. It is amazing how heavy a can of tuna can feel after you have been carrying it on your back all day.
4. Refugios aren’t that expensive. It is worth being organised enough to do a bit of research onto the price of Refugio food. A main meal costs roughly 10 euros, which isn’t too bad in comparison to the price of back surgery when you get home (obviously I didn’t do this or it wouldn’t be included in the list).
5. Don’t buy walking trousers with patches on them. Never bought any but still think they look stupid. Especially don’t get matching ones if you’re a couple.
6. Walking sticks are good, just like bow ties. I think is better to make one rather than buying proper ones, but they do save your knees and take the weight off you back.
7. French like signs, Spanish don’t. Although I hate to admit it, the French have the right idea with excellent signs stating distances and directions. However the Spanish seem to only put lots of signs up that say “Parc Nacional” and nothing else.
8. Add rocks to the hikers rock formations, you never know when you may need them. Please add to the rock mounds to help on unclearly marked routes, they can be a god send at times. Most of GR10 is marked by red/white markings, however on the spanish side the signs seem to be another case of manaña, manaña.
9. Take note that going down isn’t as easy you may think. I made this mistake with my estimations when planning and only learned through pain and experience that at times it can be just as hard as, if not harder than going up. If you go down 700 metres in a short distance it is going to hurt, especially your knees.
10. Learn to read and properly understand contour lines on a map. Going up and down 3 passes with steep contours in one day over a short distance with full pack on and dodgy knees is going to kill you.
11. Don’t buy compasses off ebay, is full of crooks.
12. Take lots of bread since the grain crisis has hit the Pyrenees. No refugios along the way sell it, although luckily they still sell alcohol.
13. Never forget that water is precious, don’t take it for granted. You can find clean streams along much of the walk. Although it may feel a hassle to carry the extra weight, I recommend to keep a spare litre for those emergencies when you can’t find any.

Due to back pack size and types, I was lumbered with taking the heavier load. My pack weighed 15 kilo at the start, with tent, sleeping bag, cooker, pans and all the clothes. Add to that gas and food it must have been nearer 20 kilos when we set off. Ian had some of the weight, and took probably about 12 to 15 kilos. My pack was too heavy to start with, and add to that being out of condition didn’t help matters. I would say that you shouldn’t carry more than 15 kilo if you want to walk comfortably, but you need to do a few one day hikes carrying that weight in advance to condition yourselves. Food wise, I was a bit adventurous with Bolognese and chili as well as uncle bens rise. You need to stick to stiff without liquid. Dried rise, dried vegetables, packet soup, and pasta. Also got to think of stuff with high energy like nuts. For breakfast porridge is always good for energy (although tastes disgusting), and for snacks need nuts, biscuits, sweets and a flask for the mid day cup of tea. Remember we never colonised the world and won 1 world cup and 2 world wars without having a cup of tea first.

So now lets get onto the trek. It was originally planned to be an eight-day expedition starting from  Cauterets (France) and ending up in  Benasque (Spain). Unfortunately we had to cut it down to 6 days and finish in Biesla (Spain), to then catch a bus to Barcelona for the flight home. The map below show the route we took as well as the planned route.

As would be expected we made a few school boy errors before we even started.
-No warm up hike in advance. As previously mentioned both us were a little out of shape and practise.
-Didn’t organise our backpacks in advance.  Intertwines with first point, should have evened packs and checked weight beforehand.
-4hrs sleep before an 8 day trek is not the best preparation. With the type of flight we had should have stayed the first night Cauterets. That way we would have had more time to get all the supplies and organise our bags properly before setting off a fresh next morning.

I have one last important point to make before we move on to the hike. You have got to remember that you are off to a bare remote mountain range in the middle of nowhere, so is highly unlikely to be able to get a phone reception anywhere. Another point to add is that you go to place like this to get away from civilisation, technology and the rat race. Therefore it is probably a daft idea to not explain this to your girlfriend, and an even dafter to promise to phone her since she may get worried about you. If need be you can catch fish with a stick and some string, hunt rabbits with bow and arrow, make fire from 2 sticks, but impossible to conjure up a mobile phone mask out of the wilderness.

Day 1 Cauterets (902m) to Refuge Wallon (1864m)
Distance: 10 km Time: 4½ – 5hrs Height gain: 962m
– Cauterets (902m) to Pont d` Espagne (1465m) 8 km
– Pont d` Espagne (1465m) to Refuge Wallon (1864m) 5.5km

So the first day, very little sleep, 15 kilo & 20 kilo rucksacks, no walking sticks, dodgy knees, white legs, bottle of cheap rum and pigeon french, off we set. We arrived at 10ish in Lourdes and were planning on getting the bus to Cauterets. However time wise we decided it was more sensible to bite the bullet and fork out 60 euros to get taxi from Lourdes to Cauterets rather than waiting around and delaying our start. Although taxis are something we normally hate to do when traveling, by the time we got to the end of this first day you can definitely say that was a wise decision. So once in central town, a quick stop off at a faithful tourist office for directions, stocked up on gas and fresh food, and then off we set on the supposed easy first day hike to our first base camp. As we came to learn over the next few days, things look so much easier on the map when looking at it from the comforts of your own home with a glass of wine, compared to the rugged real terrain. I am normally a pessimist soul, but for some reason with my hiking planning I become surprisingly (and dangerously) optimistic. The first part of the days trek up to Pont d` Espagne was quite gradual and wasn’t too bad as a warm up for the hike. It was a long gradual path up through the forest until we eventually arrive at a tourist hot spot, which was the Pont d` Espagne. Lots of French blue rinse pensioners and a beautiful cold coke-cola. Our French companion had a glass of Stella whilst explaining to us that apparently it is good for restoring all the vitamins you loose hiking. Typically, being English we couldn’t chance having one since that probably would have led to a few more, and hiking in the Pyrenees with beer goggles is warned against in most reputable hiking guides. At least we can look forward to the cheap French rum at the end of the day…..

After fuelling up on coke (not the Colombian type) we set off on the second part of the trek at around 3ish expecting a nice couples of hour stroll to the Refugio.  It started of all so well, a gentle stroll through a beautiful valley, although I was starting to feel like someone had snuck a few big boulders in my rucksack whilst we had our stopped. The climb up from the valley was a gradual climb that got quite steep in parts, but ended up feeling like a never ending trail going up and up. Along the way we had to contend with nearly getting trampled over by the biggest heard of friendly cows I have ever seen. Unfortunately it was at this point I picked up my first war wound since clipped on my arm by a cow tail covered in s#*t.  However I guess I shouldn’t complain because in India that is probably some sign of blessing and holly greatness.

The good old guide book I planned this section from said it was only 5.5k from Pont d` Espagne to the Refugio, but after checking map and the length we walked it seems more like 8km. So what from was meant to be a gentle stroll turned into an endurance hike, and by the time we reached the Refugio at 7ish I was near enough crawling on all fours. Ian surprisingly seemed ok, but there again the skateboard knees hadn’t kicked in yet. As anyone normal person in our situation would do, we got our priorities straight and abandoned putting tent up straight away, and instead got a few ice-cold beers from the Refugio. They could probably have been classed the nicest I have ever had, that is until day2. Despite the trials and tribulations of the first day the tent went up in record time and we had a feast for dinner of ham, tomato passata and pasta for tea. May I just point out for any foreign readers (if I have any) at this point, tea in England actually means an evening meal, it doesn’t mean we sit around drinking tea and eating scones with a picture of the Queen on the wall. It was at this point we realized the more we ate tonight the lighter our packs would be the next day, the true definition of a win, win situation. Our annoying french friend kept reminding us of how perfect he was and how little weight he was carrying. 1 can of gas had lasted him a year, he only eat cus cus and soup for dinner, peanuts for breakfast, 1 piece of salami for lunch. Yet all the pain I had endured during the day felt worthwhile just being able to see the look on his face when he smelt and saw the feast we where about to eating (obviously after saying a grace). England 1  France 0. Unfortunately Ian is kinder than me and had the humility and heart to share some of it with him, but I didn’t let this spoil my enjoyment. I suppose at least one of us will be going to heaven, but the question is which one????

Day 2 Refuge Wallon (1864m) to Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m)
Distance: 10 km Time: 7½ hrs Height Gain: 787m
– Refuge Wallon (1864m) to Col d` Arratille (2528m) 5 km
– Col d` Arratille (2528m) to Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m) 5km

So here comes day 2, where cleverer people would have planned a gradually more difficult day whilst still finding their feet in the mountains. If you know me well you will know this hurts, but unfortunately I have to admit I made a big, big mistake on the calculations I made for this day. Mental note: going down is just as hard as going up. As you can see from the attached picture, I seriously misjudged how much we had to go up and down (multiple times) on this day.

Surprisingly after the difficulties of yesterday we started off strongly (luckily no boulders in my rucksack this morning) After fuelling up on horrible prison porridge (better than the french guys peanuts), and set off like hares out of the traps. It was a 2 hour walk up to the lake, with the start being quite a gradual hike and the final climb being a bit more difficult. The hike was through a pleasant valley as we eventually got to a level above the tree line and arrived at Lac d’ Arnatille for elevenses.

After the first lake it was a steep climb over shale and rocks to eventually level out over a second lake. Along the way we met a mad French women we couldn’t understand and an Italian couple sunbathing by the side of the lake. At last, and not that worse for wear, we made it over our first pass. Au revoir Frances, bienvenidos España. We stopped temporally at the pass for a quick apple (get rid f some weight) before carrying on down and then upward towards the second pass of our day, and back over into France. It was difficult at places, but we carried on eventually scrambling up loose brown slate to arrive at the pass. From the here you had the contrast of 2 different sceneries, the brownie green landscape of the Spanish side, then the greyey green landscape of france, with a glacier looming round the corner.

The view from the 1st pass back into France.

The view into Spain from the 1st pass, with the 2nd pass on the horizon.

Adios España, bonjour France. It was at this point we realized how much more hiking was ahead of us today. We had to go down 500 metres to go back up 700 metres at the other side. As was learnt yesterday, this looks a lot easier on a map from the comfort of you own home, compared to seeing it in the cold light of day. From this pass we could see the pass on the other side of the valley (which we later learnt wasn’t our pass), and started to wish there was a few little Indian jones style rope bridges in the Pyrenees.

The 2nd pass. From here you can see the path we have to go up not other side.

The trek down was very difficult and took a long, long, long time. You wouldn’t think that going down would take so long, but it’s hard on the knees and I had a few tumbles along the way. It was nice scenery with the glacier to right and the Refugio to left of the valley, although we always had the thought having to still climb up the other side on the back go our minds. We arrived at the Refugio 3.30, and after a quick stop, set off again upwards towards our supposed next pass. Unfortunately during the stop the little gremlin had been back putting boulders in my rucksack and sand in my shoes. However, what looked like a difficult and hard climb originally actually got worse, since we discovered the hard way that the pass we though we where heading for (which was high enough) wasn’t our pass, and a we had to double back on ourselves over an even higher pass (2734m) next to the glacier. So after climbing the equivalent of 2000 meters in 1 day (if you count all the ups and downs), luckily we still had the light and the weather on our side and managed to get over the pass and see the Refugio on the horizon in the distance. Just a pity we still had to go down and then up to reach it.

So like 2 soldiers who have just finished a tour in Afghanistan, we hobbled towards our safe haven for the night. With it now getting close to darkness any sensible person would set up camp for the night. Obviously we headed straight for the Refugio and had a couple of beers, before putting tent up just as it was going dark. After a few swigs of rum and a 5 star gourmet meal, we managed to rest the mountain goat feet and have a surprisingly good nights sleep.

Trekking in the Pyrenees – Part 2

Day 3 Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m) to  Sandaruelo (1600m) 
Distance: 10 -12 km Time: 6 – 7hrs Height Gain: -1051m
– Refuge de Bayssellance (2651m) to Cabane de Lourdes (1947m) 5 – 6 km
– Cabane de Lourdes (1947m) to Sandaruelo (1600Km) 5 – 6 km

After a cold nights sleep, the view we saw in the morning made it all worthwhile. It was a spectacular sight to see out over the valley in front of us as the sun came up;unfortunately I was a bit sleepy and tired and couldn’t be bothered taking any photos. Despite the tiredness, goat feet, dodgy knees, bruised hips and broken backs, we where in surprisingly good spirits after the prison breakfast when we set off. Mental note: going down is hard……

So off we set on the mammoth task of descending 700 metres over a very small distance, not exactly what you want first thing in the morning. We traveled from a muddy coloured rock face down into a lush green valley and eventually ending up at a dam at the bottom.  What I thought may be gentle leisurely stroll down the mountain turned out to be just as difficult as climbing up the mountain. I suspect the gremlin was back putting rocks in my rucksack over night. A downhill section like this isn’t ideal or exactly what you want first thing in the morning. By the time we made it to bottom we where both shattered and feeling like we had already been walking for a whole day.

What we came down.

After a brief tea and biscuit break at the dam, we had enough energy to set off again into yet another valley with a completely different style and terrain. After our short time in the Pyrenees the thing that made the biggest impression on both of us was the vast differences in terrain and environments you would come across in the mountain range. Every pass we crossed or valley we entered looked like a completely different mountain range to the one we had come from.

After an hours walk from the dam we got to the T-junction for GR10 & GR11. It was here we met a perfect example of what can be possible if you live a healthy life, a 65-year-old German who was as fit as fiddle. Whilst we were dying on our feet, here was a man double our age who although he had been walking all morning hadn’t even broke a sweat. I think this gave us the extra motivation to march on through the valley at a swift pace towards the climb to our only pass for the day.

View back into the valley from the pass

With this new found energy (I think its called pride, or maybe shame) we delayed lunch and carried on up over the pass to arrive at the lake of the cows for around 3ish. Sitting at 2,300 metres, it was like a cinematic scene with the eerie sound of cowbells echoing all round the bowl within which the lake sat.

It was during our lunch of cuppa soup that the novelty of the cowbells started to turn into an annoyance that would follow us for the rest of the day and night.

At this point going to add a video of the cows with their bells so you could hear and understand what I am taking about.  That was until I found out that you have to pay $59.99 for the privilege of adding videos, so unfortunately your going to have to just use your imagination.

It was during lunch that for the first time on the trek the weather started to go against us. We had to scramble to pack up sharply, then headed off past the lake and up over the ridge before an initial steep downward scramble that then turned into to a walk down a dry dusty mountain. As the day wore on the knees was starting to cause Ian some pain as he hobbled along and my feet where starting to feel like hobbit feet. But after a few hours of gradual decline we eventually arrived back at tree level and our Refugio for the night at around half 5 (our the earliest finish since we started).

This was the first of 2 unmanned shelters on the map, which were basically 2 stone barns. We where considering carrying on to the second one, but due to our injuries decided to call it a day and stay here for the night. In all the national parks around here it’s prohibited to make a campfire, so you can imagine our joy when we discovered a fireplace in the barn. Like 2 cavemen (we where starting to look that way) we could perform our primeval instincts and make fire before staring at it in amazement for the rest of the night. The same logic as when you have a barbecue and all the men end up stood around it staring. However as always is the way, our joy was short-lived when we discovered that all the nearby rivers were dry and all the cows in field were wearing bells (and also had insomnia). So we had a night of rationing water like Ethiopians and the sounds of bells that wouldn’t have been out of a horror film. Surprisingly we had a great nights sleep.

I think it is worth mentioning at this point if you haven’t managed to make a mobile phone mast from the wilderness yet, you can possibly get reception here (if you stand outside barn) to phone the worried girlfriend.

Day 4 Sandaruelo (1600m) to Refugio de Goriz (2170m)
Distance: 13 km Time: 7 to 8 hrs Height Gain: 570m
– Sandaruelo (1600Km)  to Puerto de Bujaruelo / Port de Boucharo (2270m) 3km
– Puerto de Bujaruelo / Port de Boucharo (2270m) to Refuge des Sarradadets/ Refuge de la Breche (2587m) 3km
– Refuge des Sarradadets/ Refuge de la Breche (2587 m) to Refugio de Goriz (2170m) 7k

So up we got, put a bit of oil on the aching joints, a timeout washed down with a thimble of water, and we where all set to go. However firsts things first, now we where back below the tree line we had to find some type of walking sticks. After fighting with several bendy trees (which got the better of me), I resorted to attacking an older dying tree and butchered some trusty sticks that would serve us well till the end of our journey. I think the lack of water was affecting my brothers sanity since he decided to name his Thelma and Louise, but more on their adventure later.

The initial start was a steep walk up shale with no real path. However we made good progress on the steep climb and within an hour we where at the next barn along the route.

View back towards the barn (bottom left)

Along the way we managed a find a small stream of water, that although couldn’t be trusted as pure drinking water due to the amount of cows about, would do for our prison porridge before we embarked on our climb over the next pass back into France. Once again a different pass and type of scenery and terrain. This was a lush green valley with a gradual path leading all the way up.

I would like to mention at this point that every bit of France we have walked in had the red/white markings, and fairly regular signs with estimated distances (even thought they are a little bit too optimistic). In complete contrast to that, the Spanish don’t seem to see the need for any signs or basic markings. They have the odd yellow patch of paint on rocks, but that could easily be missed or mistaken for a spilt drop of english mustard.

View back into the valley

Our good old French friends had put us a sign post at the top, so after another timeout washed down with a thimble of water (we didn’t trust the dirty water we boiled), off we went knowing we were going in the right direction and the approximate distance. It was a pleasant walk which after a short climb levelled out to make it quite easy and enjoyable whilst having some great views off to the left. To our right we had a glacier and the mountain faces that we knew sooner or later we would have to climb.

When we first heard it we weren’t sure it was real, we carried on hoping the wind wasn’t playing tricks on us, and then there it was, a precious stream running down from the glaciers. No more thimbles of water or complaints about carrying too many water bottles, we basked in this precious gift of the earth, drinking, bathing and paddling in it (didn’t really bathe or paddle was getting a little bit carried away. It did taste damn good though). It was quite ironic that we had been praying for water, and soon we would be living to regret that.

Repairing the knee (although still seen no doctors note)

After an hour we came to the climb we expected, and the furious waterfall we hadn’t. There was road access to the pass we had just come from, so along this part of the trek we had met a few day-trippers, some of the older generation. Therefore we didn’t expect any dangerous or precarious bits on this part of the trek. However to get over the waterfall you had to grapple over rocks whilst pulling yourself up on a rope. There was no way you wouldn’t get wet, and it was a struggle for both us. How some of these day-trippers managed it I don’t know, but you could certainly see the fear in their eyes. Surprisingly we never we saw any evidence of accidents, and didn’t hear any cries for help (although that could be because I don’t understand French). After another 15 minutes climb you eventually reach the Refugio, and can see what they have been risking there lives.  The view of the valley was truly spectacular, and although I have a picture I don’t think it does it even nearly justice. It is one of those points when you know there is no point taking a picture since it is impossible to capture it all as you see it.

Surprisingly we where making good progress, and due to the sticks felt in good shape when we got to the Refugio. We celebrated still being alive with a beer and omelette to get ready for what we thought would be a fairly tough climb up to next pass then a gentle stroll down to the nights stop. It needs pointing out that no Refugios sell bread, that must be due to the international price rise in grain that has had a knock on effect on the communities of the Pyrenees. Alternatively it could just be down to the money grabbing Refugio owners who want to sell you there overpriced food rather than allow you to make your own sandwiches. Therefore we had to resort to smuggling the few pieces of bread we got with our meal out with us, which is a trait that unfortunately followed us when we got back to civilisation.

Once again, just when we had that glimmer of hope, that idea that we were at last a match for the Pyrenees, a treacherous few hours hike was waiting for us that nearly broke my back, Ian’s knees, and did break Thelma.

At 4 we set off from Refugio de la Breche at 2587m, up a steep gravely climb to the pass at 2807m. Near the top it levels out before climbing up over a glacier to the pass that looks like someone cut a giant’s door way in the mountains. From here it is a spectacular view back into France, a fitting point to bid farewell to our French sign posting friends and off into Spain for the next few days searching for any illusive signs we could find. Once again the picture doesn’t do it justice, it is just a pity I didn’t have a professional photographer with me, and if I did they probably couldn’t have been bothered to get their super expensive (and heavy) camera out anyway.

Au Revoir Frances

Bienvenidos España

From here it was meant to be a few hour stroll down to the Refugio, however the scramble down from the pass to the lakes was a 2 1/2 hour nightmare of stumbling, climbing and falling over different terrains from fallen rocks, to white marble covered with grass. Ideal for mountain goats, but not ideal for a crippled skater and a glass-backed mule.

So after arriving at the basin a few hours later than planned, it was tempting to camp here and start work on the complaints letter Mr K ‘I don’t know distances’ Reynolds whose Pyrenees book reckoned you could get from the pass to the Refugio easily in a couple of hours.  However after a quick consultation with some passing overly optimistic climbers (who were living in a cave), we decided to try to beat the light and weather and make it to the Refugio. As has been the tale of our trek, it was over a very long journey through a variety of different environments (with no signs). First it was a climb up a slate mountain to what can only be described as a moon like plato, then down from here to a kind of meadow, before eventually climbing over a mini ridge to be confronted by a granite valley.

Found the pot of gold, but was too heavy for the rucksack

At this point our luck with the weather eventually ran out, and instead of just rain we got pelted with hailstone. From here it was a 2 hour hike down and through the granite valley, avoiding craters and slippery slopes trying to guess where the Refugio (and more importantly the cerveza). So after following the non-existent signs, and with a bit of help from some other hikers, we had to clamber down a cliff face, which was where Themla met her demise. If you picture the scene off the start of cliffhanger, it was very similar to that and I was worried for a moment Ian wouldn’t recover from the shock. However he showed tremendous courage,  and despite the loss we stumbled, tripped, and crawled onwards towards the Refugio. We could now see our destination ahead of us, but it was impossible to speed up over a very dangerous and treacherous path without risking a serious injury.

In the end, 8.30 at night, after 12hrs of walking we arrived. We lost Thelma, destroyed a knee, broke a back, but we made it. So up went in the tent in record time in pitch black, and then 2 broken souls sat enjoying a beer in a packed Refugio that resembled a british pub. Little did these part-time hikers know the trouble and tribulations these 2 mountain goats within their midst had gone through.

I would like to put a note in at this point to Mr Kev Reynolds who wrote “Walks and climbs in the Pyrenees”, if your reading this, 3 hours from Breche to Goriz…….. what drugs were you on. Have you ever walked this path?????

As a fitting end to the day, just as we were sat outside making our tea, God decided to play one last trick on us as the heavens opened up. However after the day we had, the starter of pate and stolen bread followed by tuna pasta bake with laughing cow tasted like a meal fit for kings. Washed down with cheap rum, we saluted our lost comrade, Rest in Peace Thelma.

Day 5 Refugio de Goriz (2170km) to Road to Biesla (1612m)
Distance: 20 km Time: 6 – 8 hrs Height Gain: -558
– Refugio de Goriz (2170km)  – Collado de Arrablo (2329m) 2 km
– Collado de Anisclo (2499m) to Refugio de Larri (1612m) 4 km

As you may guess after the lengths of yesterday we weren’t up at the crack of dawn, and didn’t set off till 10ish. Due to the lack of signs we got slightly lost so probably wasted an hour or so getting back on right track. We were lucky we bumped into a Spanish family or would have been walking in the wrong direction for a lot longer. Although it hadn’t already been officially decided, we both kind of knew that this was going to be our last day of serious hiking. If we didn’t know now, we certainly did later when we arrived at the edge of the canyon and saw how much downward hiking we had to do. We became accustomed to the uphill parts and could manage them at a steady pace, but as the trek went on the downward bits were taking their toll on the knees.

We are now in Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Period which is full of vast canyons stretching as far as one can see. We had 2 options when entering the park, either through the canyons or over the top and around the canyons. We did the over the top bit yesterday. To get to our next port of call we could either go down through the canyons or carry on up and head round them on the edge of Monte Perdidio.  Because of the knee we decided on route around the top, but didn’t realise before or at the time just how high and perilous the journey would be. You don’t realise the magnitude of it until your finished and you look back up at were you have just come from.  In typical spanish style there are no real signs, so you have to relay on the rock mounds fellow trekkers have left along the way. For some reason the French have been here in parts and left a few red/ white markings on the rocks. I never thought I would be praising the French, but at this rate we are going to become friends.

The rock mounds, your only guide in Spain

You start at 2300m and clamber up different types of paths until you reach a level at about 2800m, where a path takes you round the edge of the mountain. It a basic shale path with big drops below and awe-inspiring views down into the canyons.

Spot the Hobbit

Near the end of the trail you reach a perilous climb up which means putting your full trust in rusty chain whilst trying to clamber over what must be a waterfall in  the winter. This part is quite scary and I would hate to do it in bad weather when the waterfall is there. This is the peak of the climb, but the downhill part isn’t that simple due to the slippery wet marble rocks. At one point you have to once again trust a chain as you edge yourself down the rocks. I think this bit over Monte Perdido is the very edge of what you can do with full packs on, I think you would struggle if you had to climb any higher.

Amazingly both us survived to tell the tale and reached the edge of the canyon for 3. As we stopped for tea and biscuits it was only then looking back into the canyon that we realised how high we had climbed. It was also at this point we realised something any 2-year-old could have told us, what goes up must go down. All this climbing we had done for the last 5 days equalled up to a lot downhill to come.

If you look top right, the shale above the rock face is what we walked round

Tonight we are meant to be camping at 1600m, so to go down from 2300 to 1600 in the space of a few km is going to be steep. After a bit of difficulty trying to find any of our Spanish friends non-existent signs, off we set descending steeply for a few hours until at long last we found a small grassy area were we could stop for lunch. This was probably the only place possible to camp along the way down, so after discussing over a lunch of noodle soup it was decided to carry on and see how far we could get. We were back at tree level, so this last part of the trek was deep through the forest all the way to the bottom. On the way it began to rain, worried that the paths would flood, we ended up running, clambered, slipping and sliding with a few calculated falls on the way. Somehow we made  it to the bottom as darkness was falling with no more casualties  but plenty of blisters, aches, and bruises. I certainly wouldn’t want to be climbing up that way. Along the way there where no signs to give yo a clue on distance, time or direction, just signs to tell you its a national park which you obviously already know. Then at the bottom just to rub it in, they decided to put a map at with probably more information than I have seen anywhere in the Pyrenees. From here it was a short walk 5 minute to the nearest Refugio, but on arrival we found out they don’t permit camping  and the nearest camp site was 4.5 km away. You can camp round the bottom of the valley, but apparently the national park police are a bit keen and like to hand out fines to anyone they catch. It is a pity they don’t reinvest that money into signs…..

So off we set for another hour along a pitch black road with a torch looking for what we thought would be a small campsite. In the end it turned out to be big holiday village type campsite that you could never miss in a million years, so at 9.30 we eventually arrived at our resting point. I dread to think what the people thought when they saw these 2 broken sole stumbling into reception, but I suppose they should count themselves lucky we didn’t take our boots off and start compare blisters in front in the dining room in front of them.

Day 6 Road to Biesla

So with us finally having to concede defeat to the mountain Gods, the next day was just a gentle stroll into the small village of Biesla.  We planned to stay the night here before catching a shuttle bus at 6am to Anilsa, to then catch the next bus to Barbastro, before finally a bus to Barcelona. You would have thought Spain being a civilised first world country would have regular busses, but from Biesla and Anilsa there is only 1 bus per day, and in Bielsa they only ran 3 times a week. As you can imagine, like the earlier part of our trip the supposed easy journey to Barca didn’t go quite to plan.  When the bus arrived there was only one space left, so we ended up freezing cold at a T- junction trying to hitchhike a ride to Anilsa.

Would you give this guy a lift?

Eventually when we got to Anilsa we already had missed the only bus of the day to Barbastro, so either had to hitchhike, stay the night, or bite bullet and get a taxi. We decided that it was highly unlikely that 2 bearded smelly cavemen like looking fellows would be able to hitchhike, so bit the bullet and paid 65 euros for a taxi to. Once again the Harding luck prevailed. There were only 2 buses to a day to Barcelona and the earlier one was full. So after hanging around for 5 hours in the town, we eventually made it out of the Pyrenees alive and back to civilisation. That is if you can call the moody ignorant people of Barcelona civilisation.

So what have we learnt?

1. Don’t skateboard when your younger. Although you may think it is cool at the time it screws your knees up in later life. At least if you must skate, be good at it and don’t fall off onto your knees much.
2. Weight is key. Get a good rucksack, even out the weight and do a few trial runs in advance.
3. Don’t buy french rum, it tastes horrible.
4. Bring lots of bread if you plan on making sandwiches.
5. Walking sticks are good.
6. Learn to read map contours properly, going down is hard.
7. The french like signs, the Spanish don’t.

A helpful French sign

A useless Spanish sign


The Richer Sounds Adventure

Dear Mr Richer Sounds,

I thought I would drop you a line and share with you my experience, or should I say adventure, of dealing with Richer Sounds London Bridge over the past week. It all started last Thursday when I saw you had a Samsung T240HD LCD TV on offer for £149.99 in the clearance section, with an extra 10% discount if I came between 5 and 7 to collect. This was an offer that seemed far too good to be true, which I later found out was true.

So the adventure started when I phoned the store and was informed there was 1 in stock and that it would be put a side so I could collect later that evening. Looking back now I kind of wish assistant made a mistake and told me they had none in stock.

So I managed to get off work early and braved British summer weather (torrential rain) and London rush hour to get to the branch before closing. As you would expect at this time the store was busy, but I waited patiently, daydreaming, safe in the knowledge that my TV was within grasp. Unfortunately when my time came I was informed the bad news that someone had forgotten to get my TV out of the store room and it would be impossible to gain access to it till tomorrow. As you can imagine I was rather deflated and annoyed. After I had made the effort of the 40 minute tube journey crammed up like a sardine with all the joyous people our capital has to offer, someone couldn’t even manage to move a TV from one room to the next. However after getting over the initial disappointment I was surprisingly quite calm about the situation since I understand people make mistakes and these things happen from time to time. Gareth, the Deputy Manager, offered to deliver it to my house, but I was working for the next 3 days, so arranged to return to collect the TV bank Holiday Monday or Tuesday.  Off I travelled back through the madness to enjoy the next 4 evenings looking at that empty space on the wall where my TV should have been.

So I ventured back Monday morning optimistic that I would get my TV today, and in a lot better mood due to the fact I could actually breathe on the tube and the sun was back. However this happy state was soon to be crushed once again by Richer Sounds as I arrived at the store to find no TV was waiting for me. To my amazement the staff didn’t know anything about the TV or where it was, but they assumed it was probably locked in yet another room for which they didn’t have access. For such a small shop you seem to have a lot of rooms. I must admit it was starting to cross my mind that it was better guarded than the crown jewels, so I evened out my disappointment with the idea that it must be an exceptional TV to be guarded this securely.  It was quite ironic that the highlights of England where on in the shop, since I was starting to feel that same level of expectation followed by the disappointment that only being an England football fan you could fully understand. So after  expressing my disappointment strenuously to the salesman,  I was assured the deputy manager would call me once he got in, and hopefully I could make the same journey for the third time to eventually pick up my TV. When I spoke to Gareth later I discovered that in the 3 days that had passed since my original visit no one had managed to accomplish the monumental task of moving a 24” TV from one room to the next. I was starting to worry it may be too heavy to take home on the tube if all the staff of Richer Sounds are unable to move it in 3 days. I was assured that tomorrow the room would be available, and I could at long last collect my infamous, highly secure TV.  So it was yet another night of watching the empty space on my wall imagining what the TV would have looked light.

So I wake up today rather optimistic, its a normal day, access is possible to the storeroom, surely nothing else can stand in the way of me getting my hands  and the most highly guarded TV in the world. Some people may confuse this optimism with naivety after what’s gone on so far. Having leant from yesterday’s experience I phoned the store before making another wasted journey up there. Thank god I did. Surprisingly Gareth managed to get into the vault and retrieve the TV, but shows the amount of faith I have in your company that I wasn’t surprised when the BUT came in, and he explained to me the TV is in a state that is too badly damaged to be able to sell to me.

So it took me 5 days, 3 phone calls and 2 trips to the shop to discover you don’t have any in stock. To be fair to Gareth, after the initial mishaps, he did try his best to source the same TV from other branches but was unsuccessful. I was offered a 22” at same price or a different 24” at a discount, but don’t want a 22” and can`t afford the other 24” TVs at this moment in time within this current economical climate, with the threat of a double recession hanging over us and the Tories in power.

So you may be expecting me to say I will never be shopping with yourselves again. Unfortunately I am a cheap bastard without principles who still needs a TV that’s within my price range, so if I find you have good clearance offers in the future I will probably be back again getting the run around.  Just the same as I will watch England at next World Cup with same level of expectancy. I am looking forward to those pointless phone calls, wasted journeys and that anguish of disappointment. Maybe I will even try a different branch next time so I can get to see a different part of London.

Anyway I hope this gives you some food for thought and helps you to improve your customer service for future customers. I am probably best to stop now since I have just realised I have lost another hour of my life to Richer Sounds by writing this.

Regards

Welsh Mining Cows

As you can see once again the Welsh have broken all boundaries in search of the perfect cheddar. Their latest step in the search for the perfect cheddar is to rear cows underground in the old coal mines, which helps to produce this distinguished tasting extra mature  flavor. I am sure you will agree, quite ground breaking.

Although I do appreciate the superb quality of the extra mature cheddar they are producing, I must admit that the recent events in Chile have got me slightly concerned. If there is any type of cave in how on earth are we going to fit the cows in those escape capsules??????

Whats so strange about a washing up bowl?

Maybe I have lived a sheltered life, but surely the washing up bowl isnt`t some strange custom that is unique only to the British Isles. Everytime a new foreigner rents a room at my current abode (London, the city of every nationality except English), I am always questioned about what this strange object in the sink is for. While it may seem logical to you and me, the concept of its completely alien to them.

If this is what being a multicultural society brings, I predict washing up bowl sweatshops all over China will soon be closing down.

Back in Life, I’ve been told all that glitters is not gold, and gold is not reality, Momma, real is what you laid on me

I have been in the capital for a good few months now and still have had no success in finding this street paved with gold. Found streets paved with many other things like tarmac, concrete, dead animals, horse s*#t, but still nothing that remotely looks like gold (unless the tramps yellow rivers count).

I am starting to question my sanity and whether it was all just a big lie to coax me from the comforts of the North…………..