Sunday, 29 November 2009

25 November Catrine to The Haugh

And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap as an hart,
Isaiah 35:5

It’s difficult to believe, given the weather we’ve had this year, that there was a fifteen to eighteen month spell when the Ooters first escaped from the chalk-face, we barely had a wet Wednesday. The past fortnight in our tiny corner of the world has seen torrential rain and flooding with only a few dry hours between downpours. Today was to continue the pattern, only this time the rain was combined with severe gales with storm-force gusts that rattled the trees and blew about anything that wasn’t fixed down. On the plus side, it wasn’t too cold for the time of year.
It was through this weather that eight of us drove to Peter’s in Catrine for an easy day on the byways around there.
We sat for a while in Peter’s enjoying his coffee and carrot cake, for not one of us fancied going out into the weather, least of all Davie whose facial expression said what most of us were thinking. Who made the decision to go can’t be said for certain, but after a while and somewhat unenthusiastically we all dressed top to toe in waterproofs, trooped outside and prepared for the worst. The worst was wind-driven rain; the best was just wind.
But the rain had subsided and the wind was on our backs as we walked away from Catrine’s Mill Square, along St Germain Street towards the Ayr Bridge. Already Davie was chatting up the women. ‘The wife of an old friend’, said he; a likely story, says we.
Dragging a reluctant Davie away from his encounter with Alice, we continued the walk and found a bit of shelter from the wind when we turned on to Newton Street. This was Peter’s walk so we knew to expect the unexpected. Turning off Newton Street, we came towards the institute and found ourselves on the far side of a bridge fifty metres from where we started at the Mill Square. Peter had taken us on the longer walk just because he likes to show off Catrine. That’s what we think anyway.
We were now on the River Ayr Way and turned our faces downriver, a river running full and brown with the last fortnight’s rain. And, as we turned downriver, we turned into the strong westerly. And the rain came again, light rain but, driven on the gale, it was wetting. Yet, we knew that here in the valley we were sheltered from the worst of the weather. We didn’t anticipate better on the higher ground.
Down past the sewage works we came. (Told you Peter likes to show us the best bits of Catrine.) The gale-driven drizzle had gone again and we walked a bit easier. A heron was disturbed from its fishing at our approach and flapped away downriver, making heavy weather of it into the wind. We made slightly better progress on terra firma but Jimmy was struggling, even on the flattish ground beside the river. His knee hadn’t fully recovered from Mosset and now his back was playing up, the result of a bout of decorating and furniture moving. When we came to the rise to the top of the valley, despite the fact he used a stick today (see 3 November), he slowed to a crawl. We had to wait for him, and Johnny who had kept him company, in the wind on the high ground. Bugger!
Eventually, the two joined us and we walked under the concrete span of Howford’s new brig (C1964) and on to the tearoom of Catrine House. The rain came again as we waited for the curious to return from the new animal house they felt they just had to visit. ‘When you’ve seen one coo, you’ve see them a’, said Davie with a touch of cynicism in his voice. But the inquisitive returned with tales of coos and weird sheep and reindeer. We took their word for it and walked on to find tarmac at a crossroad.
We stood in the rain at the crossroads waiting to see where we were going next. Whether Davie misheard Peter (He didn’t have his sound system installed today – ‘Nae bloody use in the wind!’) or whether Peter changed his mind, your scribbler can’t be sure but as Davie prepared to go off in one direction, Peter walked off in another. We followed Peter. Davie followed us, with some mutterings about making up your mind. Not that Peter, or the rest of us for that matter, was lost or anything remotely like it for we are all too familiar with this walk and knew exactly where he led us. He led us down the old main road to the sandstone built old Howford brig (C1760) where we were again sheltered from most of the blow.
We always stop on the old brig. Why should today be any different? We did halt at the brig but only long enough for the rain to go off again. Then we continued up the old road.
When we reached the abutments of the old footbridge of Lady Alexander’s walk, Davie was for the climb onto the sandstone cliffs. But the lame Jimmy was for none of this exertion and opted for the longer but more level walk of the official River Ayr path. The party split with some joining Jimmy and the others following the more adventurous Davie. We came together again under Ballochmyle’s ‘Big Brig’.
According to the historian, at the time of its construction towards the end of the 1840’s, this viaduct had the largest masonry arch in the world at around 181ft span and 160ft above the river. No matter whether it had or hadn't, it still represents a tremendous engineering achievement and it is still the largest true masonry arch in the Europe.
We might have been forced to make a decision at the ‘Big Brig’ but happily, the conditions made it for us. (Remember we don’t do decisions very well in the Ooters) One thing was a certainty, though. If we took the low path there was no way we would get along the riverside ledge under the sandstone at the Haugh; it would be well under the spate. We were forced to take the high road. This took us along the top of the gorge where we could look down and see the brown river lap over the ledge. We were right to take the high road.
‘Coffee’, was called as we started the descent towards the Haugh, and in the shelter of the trees, on a fallen tree-trunk, we sat down for coffee.
Barely had we started the descent after coffee when the rain came again. This time it was serious and we were about to leave the shelter of the trees and come into the gale once more. We did just that, heads down into the weather, and trudged along to Haugh farm. Here we found the tarmac again and a decision had to be made this time. Peter offered alternative routes. ‘One’s six and the other’s half a dozen’, said the sage from somewhere under the hood of a dripping rain-cape. We listened to his wise words and went the way we always go.
We kept to tarmac for a while now. The rain went on the climb from the Haugh to the south side of the valley, which was just as well for we were about to come onto the high ground again and back into the force of the gale. And there was a strange brightening in the western sky as we approached Syke Farm.
A track came onto the road from the right, from Auchinleck House. Peter suggested we might go this way but most who had had enough of a soaking for the day, told him politely ‘Naw!’ and walked on before any argument could be made in his favour. We climbed to the high ground beyond Syke.
On this high ground, the wind blew but not as fiercely as before. And it was on our backs and was no particular hindrance. Peter planned it this way – so he says and we believe him. And, as we walked on, the wind pushed us along the road and the sky continued its brightening. The ‘Big Brig’ lay over to our left. A ray of sun lit it up for a minute or so before returning it to shade. The clag lifted from the heights of Blacksidend and the western sky continued to brighten. We had seen the last of the rain for the day.
We came back to our crossroads of earlier, down by the tearoom and on to Howford’s concrete bridge. Jimmy’s back was playing up by this time and his knee started to play up on the descent to the river again; he was reduced to a crawl on this section. Robert and Johnny took pity and kept him company to the level ground by the riverside.
Meanwhile, the advanced group had reached the river. Despite the spate, Holly was washed in the river. As if the dug wasn’t wet enough already! By the time most of the muck was off her, the lame had returned to the fold.
We came back to the Institute and the bridge over the river to the Mill Square. This time we took it, there was no thought of diversions and arrived at the starting point around lunchtime.

Those who read these scribblings on a regular basis will know that we sweaty buggers get just as wet inside the waterproofs as out. Today was no exception and a complete change of clothing from the skin out was the order of the day even before any eating was done. Both of these tasks were carried out in Peter’s place before we went in search of FRT. We found ourselves in the Brewery Bar a little after one o’clock. Now for some real wetting in the inside.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

11 November Cumbrae Again – Fifth Visit

(photo taken 27/12/2008)
After the exertions of last week, it was decided to have an easy day today, easy but interesting. Where better fits the bill than the Isle of Cumbrae? So, after sampling Johnny’s hospitality again, eight of us made our way to Largs for the short crossing to the island that is becoming one of our favourites. And a biting northerly wind greeted us at the ferry slip. We hurried onto the ferry.
It has been said many times that the Ooters are creatures of habit, old boys set in their ways. Davie had thought of going anticlockwise round the island and cutting up one of the footpaths to the top of the Glaidstane but for some reason the front party turned left and so clockwise when we left the ferry – for this is the way we always go. Davie’s plans were abandoned.
We walked southward to the Scottish National Water-sports Centre. While we were now sheltered from the wind, it continued to ruffle the water a few yards offshore. A few hardy souls braved the wind and took to the water on sailboards. Partly silhouetted against the southern light, they formed a picturesque scene and presented the photographers with an opportunity for more prize-winning snaps. Rex had the camera out while the rest walked on.
We weren’t by the shore for long. Just beyond the water-sports centre a road rose to the right, a road that rose to the highest point of the island at the Glaidstane. We went this way.
An indication of things to come was given on the rise to the Glaidstane. Both Jimmy and Rex had appointments to keep this evening. Not that Jimmy was in a particular hurry; as long as he got back to Largs by half-past three he was happy. But Rex seemed to be in more of a rush and he set the pace on the climb. By the time we gained the corner where the bucket lorry was stuck on the ice the last time we were here, the party was split into two - Rex, Davie, Robert and Paul to the front and moving away, Jimmy, Johnny, Ian and Alan, giving in to gravity and burning legs, bringing up the rear. At least the speedsters had the decency to wait at the Glaidstane for the rest to catch up.
Coffee was taken at the Glaidstane. Though the wind still blew cool, the heat of the effort of the climb was still with us and we sat for a wee while over coffee. The view was improving all the time. We sat and watched a watery sun break through, silvering the water to the south and lighting the immediate landscape. We sat and watched the ducks on the lochan to the south – widgeon said he with the binoculars - and a flock of gulls feeding on the sea to the north. We sat and watched the Rothesay ferry crossing from Wemyss Bay. We sat and watched as the day brightened for us. We sat and watched for a while but eventually the cold wind got to us and we moved on.
We came down from the top of the island to Millport, Rex continuing to set the pace. And the weather continued to improve, the sun getting as strong as it can at this time of year. When we got to the shore, Jimmy was discovered to be missing. He had stopped to take a picture of the Cathedral of the Isles while we walked on and was now way behind. We waited for him in a seaside shelter. Jimmy took his time to get to us, having stopped for more pictures en-route but get to us, he did – eventually. Then, together again, we walked along the promenade of a very quiet Millport.
Quarter of an hour later Jimmy was missing again. This time it was buzzard-watch that detained him. Once again, we waited in a seaside shelter. And since we were seated there, we had lunch. Who says we are creatures of habit? Here we were having lunch somewhere other than our usual place on the picnic tables further round the coast. Set in our ways? Huh!
It was quarter past twelve when we finished lunch and stood up to continue the walk round the west side of the island. We were aiming for the half past two ferry. Six miles in two and quarter hours – no problems there then. An easy walk would take us there in around two hours, no need to hurry. But obviously some didn’t believe this. We started casually enough and even had time to see stonechats perching accommodatingly on the thorns and reeds for us. But then the speedsters started.
Almost imperceptibly, the pace had picked up to a briskness that was fast but comfortable. Then Robert and Johnny started playing silly buggers and broke into a competitive jog. We all increased the pace to keep up. Allan stopped for a call of nature and found himself well off the tail. Davie likewise a little later. Ian and Jimmy tried to keep up with the racers for a while but the pace was uncomfortably fast for them and they eased up. The fast ones kept up the racing speed and disappeared into the distance.
Davie was first to join the slower pair, having taken the best part of a mile to get there. Then Alan joined them and they walked at a much more comfortable pace for the rest of the day, taking time to look at the seascape and the wildlife.
Meanwhile, there was no let up at the front. Onward they sped. Then realising that the others weren’t with them, they sat down at the monument to the drowned sailors barely two hundred metres from the ferry terminal to wait for the slow. For a good ten minutes, they waited. The slow arrived at the monument in time to see the half past one ferry leave the slip. Even the tardy group had covered the best part of six miles in a little over an hour and a quarter. Much too fast for an enjoyable walk.
We took the two o’clock ferry back to the mainland and took FRT in McCabe’s Bar in Largs

For at least one of our number the speed of today’s walk was too much. ‘If it’s going to be like that next week, I’ll no’ be there’, said he. Most agree.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Irvine-Ardrossan route

Distance: 14.9 km (The route through the vennels of Irvine is maybe a tad sketchy.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

18 November Irvine to Ardrossan

Nine Ooters met at Johnny's in Irvine for the now legendary coffee and scones. Missing today were Jimmy (an old knee injury) and Rex (attending to building work). Since the weather forecast was dire with heavy rain scheduled to move in during late morning and lasting for the best part of the next 36 hours, a prompt start was made at 9.30am with Johnny leading us down into the town centre before following the path across Irvine Moor and onwards towards the site of the old Ravenspark Hospital ( The Poors' House aka The Pares' Hoose, as the locals refer to it). Building at the new 'Ravenspark Village' stopped months ago when the company went bust and there is little sign of works being resumed any time soon.
The walk then continued towards the Recycling Centre at Bartonholm and from there across to the outskirts of Kilwinning where we proceeded on the walkway/cycle track skirting the industrial estate that borders the Kilwinning bypass. The pace was brisk as usual but after the shenanigans of last week the group stayed together with the unusual sight of the gang stopping en masse when a one of our esteemed colleagues had to make a pit stop. (We'll see how long this will last - remember the motto!). Robert kept using the word 'compassion' - a word not normally in the Ooters' vocabulary.
As we traversed the hinterland between Kilwinning and Stevenston the first of today's wildlife was spotted, first a deer, then a buzzard and then a kestrel, allegedly. Our resident naturalist being missing today meant that it was up to the rest of us to make up what we didn't know. Robert helpfully stopped to alert a local nature lover, at least he had a pair of binoculars, as to the wonderful sights to be seen. 'I've been here before', was the stoic reply. Despite calls for coffee, we marched on past Ardeer and into Stevenston, past the Auchenharvie Golf Centre, noting some coots, swans and mallards in a pond, and back on to the main road for the stretch up to the the boundary with Saltcoats. So far the weather had remained kind, dry but with a wee edge to the wind at times.
On the Stevenston/Saltcoats border we crossed over a wooden railway bridge which looked well past its sell by date and stopped beside the water's edge for coffee/lunch. The border guards insisted on bribes being paid to enter Saltcoats. After some discussion we decided to take their bribes and continued into the Costa Clyde. A few spots of rain hastened our progress but thankfully they came to nothing as we walked along the shorefront between Saltcoats and Ardrossan, avoiding the occasional soaking as the waves broke over the sea wall.
Without any ceremony the bus stop was reached by 12.50 and the big blue no 11 bus arrived to take us back to Irvine cross. This route took us past two schools until recently home to two of the Ooters ( Auchenharvie and Irvine Royal) and through Pennyburn whose quality of building was scorned by the assembled company. Busses have come a long way in recent years - this one had come down from Kilmarnock this morning - no seriously, relatively comfortable and quiet with closed circuit television. It is sometimes amazing what you can see from the top of a bus that you miss when on the ground. We saw ... some lesser spotted jakeys at the front of the bus. No doubt they would have settled at the back had we not bagged these seats first.
Soon we were back in Irvine and made our way without delay up to Johnny's as the rain was just starting to fall gently. We certainly had won a watch today with the weather. Our host provided beer, crisps and sausage rolls ( 8 for £1 in Aldi's) and as usual the crack was good. Eventually we left just after 3 o'clock wishing Ian well on his Caribbean cruise. However thanks also go to Alan for the wee Black Label to celebrate the birth of his second grandchild, Emma, who, with her mum, is doing well.

This had been a day where finishing the walk before the rains came was a priority. It was part of the Ayrshire Coastal walk but to be honest we did not really meet the coast until leaving Stevenston. Peter suggested that the route was null and void and the walk would need to be redone. Gaun yersel’, Peter!

One for the diary - the annual Christmas walk along the canal path in Glasgow followed by a meal at the Ashoka will be on December 16th.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

28 October – 4 November Mosset Visit

We extend our apologies to all our readers in foreign parts - Australia, Canada & Burnley - who logged on last week expecting a report on the Wednesday walk and were disappointed. This omission was due to our annual sojourn in southern France.
Nine Ooters left Prestwick on Wednesday 28 October and flew Ryanair to Girona, Barcelona where we hired two cars for the onward journey. We drove northward into France, bypassed Perpignan, took the road west for Andorra as far as Prades and turned northward up the valley of the Castellane to Robert’s place in Mosset. A long and tiring journey for us old boys so an early bed was made, well that’s what we tell the wives anyway.

Thursday 29 October - Shopping, sightseeing and sauntering down the valley

The first full day of our jaunt dawned as warm and sunny as we’ve come to expect in this part of the world, even at this time of year. And this was the first year in four that there was no snow on the high tops of Le Canigou. Davie was immediately into shorts and prepared for the day.
But some had chores to do before we could think about a walk. Supplies had to be laid in. After breakfast, the group split into two, those who enjoy this kind of thing would do the shopping while those allergic to supermarkets would take the newcomers for some sightseeing. We divided with the agreement to meet back at the house for lunch.
The shoppers drove down to Super-U in Prades. Like a well-oiled machine, they entered the supermarket, Johnny driving the trolley like he was born to it. Then, like an exploding grenade, all shot off in different directions to collect what they though would be needed. Unfortunately, they didn’t tell Johnny where they were going and he pushed the trolley around in search of his own supplies. So nobody really knew where to find either Johnny or the trolley and each wandered around with aching arms full of groceries. However, after an hour or so two hundred Euros had been spent on sufficient beer for breakfast, ample red wine for lunch and some meat and veg to cover the rest.
Meanwhile, the renegers had bypassed Prades and taken the road to Vernet Les Bains and the mountain village of Casteil. They were to show Ian and Ronnie L’Abbaye St. Martin du Canigou. The shade was cool in the village but the sun and the climb soon warmed them up. An upward journey on a concrete road with plenty of halts for pictures brought us to L’Abbaye. But they weren’t content with this. Another climb on a path took them to a higher viewpoint which looked down on the abbey and where they could watch the comings and goings below. Many photographs were taken for this is an especially scenic part of the world. They sat and absorbed the scene for many minutes and might have remained there much longer but, remembering the agreement on lunch, the descent was started.
The descent was faster than the ascent and the group arrived back at Bob’s place just a few minutes after the shoppers.
Lunch was taken and around two we set off for a walk as one group.
An irrigation system topped by the headwaters of the Castellane, runs right down the valley in the form of a mini-canal. Beside this ‘canal’ is a maintenance path. This is what we took and it led us through delightful sun-dappled oak and birch wood alive with blue and red winged crickets, yellow, blue and white butterflies, and colourful jays. It really was as pleasant as we remembered from previous years.
The canal took us the five kilometres or so through the wood to the village of Molitg. That’s where we met Nuala. She asked us in French where she might get a bottle of water and when Robert pointed her in the direction of the nearest bar, we all took this as sign that we should stop for a beer as well. So we sat in the sun outside the bar and talked with Nuala and her Dutch companion for the day, Michael.
Nuala was from Dublin, in her late fifties and had the looks that would get a Dutch companion for the day anytime she wished. She had the typical easy-going Irish nature and talked freely about many things. Michael on the other hand was quieter but his English was excellent and he had been to Ayrshire. But when tatties were mentioned he misheard the vowel sound and thought we were talking about female anatomy. It was pointed out to him that we eat tatties and neeps and do other things with titties and nipples. A good half hour of friendly crack was had with Nuala and Michael but tempus fugit and we must be on our way.
We came down into the valley bottom at Campôme, another pleasant little village, and followed the quiet ‘back’ road through the meadows to Mosset. That’s when the juvenile started the race. Paul, Johnny and Jimmy were well in front and looked as though they would walk it (pardon the pun). But fate had a last hand to play. The proud leaders, who thought they had it in the bag, took a wrong turning and ended up in a cul-de-sac half a mile from the house. By the time they had retraced their step the rest of us were past them and heading for home. They should remember their bible which says, ‘Pride cometh before a fall’ and ‘The first shall be last’. They entered the house rather sheepishly to the usual Ooters welcome.

At around 10km, was a good introductory walk for the week

Friday 30 October - Le Pic del Madrès (2,469 m)

This morning dawned bright and clear, not as clear as we have seen on previous visits to Mosset but clear enough and settled enough for a more strenuous outing to be considered. We would tackle the Pic del Madrès.
The car park at the Col du Jau sits at fifteen hundred and thirteen metres so you might expect this to be a good starting point for the climb, leaving us some ten kilometres walk in and less than a thousand metres climbing. We thought so, but Bob had other ideas. He suggested we take the cars along the forest track to cut the distance down a bit. This was easier said than done. Rough boulders stuck up from the surface and two-foot deep potholes lay in wait for the unwary. This was not the easiest of drives but it did save us around a kilometre on the walk in.
The track continued from our parking place for a kilometres or so and dropped us down to a refuge some hundred metres lower than our starting point before climbing gently again. Where it went after we can’t be sure for we left it a few hundred metres beyond the refuge and took to a path through the wood.
This path crossed the road a couple of times as it meandered upwards through the wood, sometimes steeply catching the breath and sometimes more gently but always upwards. One of the sprinters from yesterday found the effort catching up with him and struggled up through the forest. Surprisingly, so did Davie, probably the fittest of us all at the moment. But the rest plodded on manfully Per ardua ad astra, or as near the astra as we were likely to get today.
The enclosing nature of the forest blocked any distant views but the nature of the woodland held its own interest. Broadleaved oak and beech gave way to pine and larch as we climbed. Then even these gave way to scattered stunted pines as we reached the tree-line. Then we were onto the open mountainside.and at last the view opened out for us. Behind us, the Castellane cut its way down towards the main valley of Le Tet. The outliers of the Canigou lay to the south and the lower ground round the Med was in the east though the sea couldn’t be seen today. In front of us, a huge rim of crags filled the skyline. And it was onto these crags we were heading. We climbed yet.
We crossed the burn and climbed steeply to a little stone hut built into the side of a crag, a stone hut called La Coume. A halt was called for coffee at La Coume. We sat and reflected on the last time we were here. That time two feet of snow had hindered our progress and it took two and a half hours to reach this point. Today it took just under two. And there was no prospect of snow hindering further progress today for the way ahead was completely clear and dry. Clear and dry but not quite so dramatic looking.
Yet, the crags themselves held drama. As we looked upwards a large bird was spotted on the skyline. ‘Eagle of some sort’, said the naturalist. Then a much larger one was seen close by. ‘Vulture of some sort’, said he. We couldn’t argue.
The birds seemed to stir us into activity and we set off again. The landscape opened into a huge corrie, flat bottomed and surrounded by a ring of crags. The last time we were here we lost the path in this corrie and spent ages trudging through deep snow to get to the other side. No such danger today for the path was clear on the other side of a wee burn. Some took the high road and some the low but all came together to start the steep climb under Roc Negro. Lunch was called on this climb and we settled down to baguette, pate, ham, cheese and tomato.
As we sat, a herd of deer-looking animals, five or six, ran across the base of the corrie. We suspect, though without being positive, that they were Pyrenean chamois or Izard. We watched them cross the open ground, move into dense shadow below a crag and disappear from our view.
The climb continued steep after lunch, but it was short and brought us into another corrie behind Roc Negro. Johnny had had enough at this point and when the path steepened again he halted and would go no further. We left him lying in the sun beside the path to await our return and pushed on for the few hundred metres that would take us up onto the ridge we could see before us. This was the steepest climb of the day and, though the racer of yesterday had regained his vigour, Davie continued to struggle. But Davie is nothing if not determined and he stubbornly refused to give in to the mountain. No one was more relieved than he was when we crested the ridge and found an easy grass slope that would take us to the summit.
We wandered up that grassy slope to the top of Pic del Madres and the world opened out to us. Peak upon peak, the higher ones snow covered, and ridge upon ridge filled the skyline to the south, west and north. To the east was the ridge we had come up and its associated peaks behind which was the plain running down to the coast though the Med hid herself in a low-level clag today. Immediately below us to the west, the ground dropped away to a tree covered valley running down to Le Lac Matemale. Beside this, the ski resort of Les Angles lay sun-drenched and snowless, just as we were. This was a magnificent three hundred and sixty degree panorama which the photographers tried, perhaps vainly, to capture for posterity.
A French couple, M. et Mme. Baco, and their collie, Plume, were already on the summit, having come up from a different direction. Some time was spent talking with them, our linguists translating for the ignorant. And some time was spent just absorbing the magnificence of the view. But there came a time when we had to leave the summit for Johnny was waiting below for our return.
We found Johnny. He hadn’t been idle in our absence but had constructed and sturdy cairn of boulders to mark the occasion of our climb and the spot where he lay. We can only hope that it survives the harsh mountain winter.
The descent to the cars was much quicker than the ascent though Davie still struggled with aching knees. No halts were made except for breathers and when we gained the track again, the party split into three - the boy racers to the front, the sensible in the middle and Davie and Ronnie bringing up the rear somewhere behind. When we reached the cars, Jimmy took pity on the struggling two and drove further along the road to meet them. Though they wouldn’t admit it, we suspect the two were glad he did.

There is a sign near where we parked that directs the walker on the walk. It gives the time to the top and back as seven and a half hours. We did the fifteen and a half kilometres (9.5 miles) and the one thousand three hundred and fifty odd metres (4170 ft) climb in six and a half. Us old boys are fair chuffed.

Saturday 31 October - Castelnou and Thuir

Once again, the morning was fair. But, given the efforts of yesterday, we were to have an easier day today. Anyway, we needed something for dinner for the next two days – we had drunk most of our supplies – so a visit to the supermarket was the order for the morning. Again, the group split. The non-shoppers had a walk round the village while the shoppers drifted down to Prades for supplies. We came together for an alfresco lunch in the public space outside Robert’s house.
The afternoon was to be easy so we drove down to the main Tet valley, turned east and south to the pretty little mountain village of Castelnou. The village was busy for this was Halloween and festivities were planned for later in the day. Witches and devils roamed narrow streets festooned with cobwebs. Even the tourist catching shops got in on the act with shopkeepers dressed as vampires and shops suitably decorated. Pumpkin heads leered at us from every window. If only the home of Halloween could enter into the same spirit!
We wandered up through the streets to the castle. But castle visits are not for us – it costs too much for stingy auld so-and-sos – so we wandered out of the village and found a path of sorts that took us down into lovely wee tree decked gorge under the castle walls. The photographers got busy once more.
The gorge path took us down to the main road and back to the car park. But the day was yet young so where to now? Thuir, was the answer.
We drove back down the way we had come up and spent the afternoon wandering around the market square and shops of Thuir.
A much easier day but one that was needed to refresh us for the days yet to come.

Sunday 1 November - The High pastures of Le Pic de Rousillon

There was a change in the weather overnight. Low cloud hung on Canigou and some spots of rain had fallen before daybreak. But even as we sat at breakfast, the sky cleared and left us with another bright, sunny morning though the clag persisted in the Tet Valley all day.
We were refreshed after our easy day yesterday and took to the road to the south of the village with a spring in the step for we were for the high pasture of the Pic de Roussillon. Three times we’ve done this walk and three times we’ve lost the path on the high ground but now we know where we have gone wrong in the past, there was no holding us back today.
We left tarmac at the south end of the village and climbed steeply up to the irrigation canal, and upward yet for a few hundred feet. Now we found the well-graded path slanting easily up through the woodland on the side of the valley and the effort was eased. The light dappling through the scrub oak and birch of the wood was very pleasant and the same crickets, butterflies and jays of our first day combined to make this a delightful part of the walk. And we climbed easily.
Last year when we came this way, we found a rocking stone precisely balanced on to of a boulder. Well, it was balanced until Mr. Clumsy touched it and, try as we might, we couldn’t quite get the equilibrium to balance it again. Some time was spent by those who do this kind of thing in trying to recreate the rocking stone of last year but their efforts were in vain and they only succeeded in making static cairns. Still, they were artistic static cairns. It remains to be seen whether a different Mr. Clumsy touches and demolishes them.
The pleasant climb continued past Donkey Field, through the birch wood which was the scene of Bob’s famous painting of the Ooters in a line, and up to Colchicum Clearing. There is no local Catalan name for this place but we call it Colchicum Clearing because this is where the trees finally give way to thorny scrub and patches of open grass. Our clearing is a patch of open grass where the wild colchicum flowers at this time of year. We sat down, rather lay down, on the dry grass for coffee and absorbed the warming sun.
Colchicum Clearing affords good views over the trees to the other side of the Castellane valley. We couldn’t quite see the Pic del Madres we had climbed on Friday for the hill above Mosset intervened, but the approach ridge to it was clear and pointed out. And in the south, the peaks and ridges of Canigou rose high above the fog in the Tet valley. We lay long for coffee.
We have gone wrong before at Colchicum Clearing so today were extra vigilant in looking for the way-markers when we started up again after coffee. The marks were obscure but we did find them and followed a path through the scrubby vegetation. This is where some regretted wearing shorts. But Johnny, who had taken all manner of stick for wearing gaiters, ploughed cheerfully though. Scratched or otherwise, we came to the old ruin that gave us superb views over the fog-filled Tet valley to Canigou rising above it into the clear blue sky. More photos were taken.
As we stood, we were joined by two dogs, hunting dogs, dogs with bright orange collars and bell that hung from their necks; two dogs but no owners. They were to be our companions for the best part of the remainder of the walk, clanging and tinkling alongside us as we made our way toward the vehicle track that would take us close to the summit of Pic du Roussillon.
But we lost the path in the scrub again and found ourselves going down when we should have gone up, but a quick backtrack and some scouting around found us on the right path once more. The track could be seen with our path heading towards it but, for reasons known only to him, Rex had us up a narrow path, through some more scrubby thorns and onto the grass of the high pastures. A couple of white cattle lay together, ruminating on the grass and we wondered how the sparse vegetation could sustain such magnificent creatures, but obviously it does. We wandered past the cattle (not before more pictures were taken) and over the parched grass to find the track much higher up than we found it last year. We would stay on this track for a few kilometers now and it would raise us to around the twelve hundred and fifty metres contour.
Lunch called and we settled down with our backs to a mountain hut and ate. Our canine companions failed to bring a lunch with them so spent the time cadging scraps from the rest of us. For hunting dogs they were remarkable gentle in taking food and not nearly as greedy as we expected. Still, they ate what was offered. And they appeared grateful.
Lunch took a wee while for the sun was warm and the day was yet young and we were content to laze about for a change. But there comes a time……. And we had reached it now.
We followed the track, delighting in the openness of the high ground, the huge sky and distant views. And all the time our canine companions clanged and tinkled alongside adding to the ambiance of high alpine pasture.
The track didn’t quite take us to the summit of the Pic, it was some seventy metres to our right and some twenty metres above us. Did we leave the track to reach the summit? No, we didn’t but who cared? We just enjoyed the freedom of the flat walk on the high ground. The day was warm, the pace was easy and not one of us suggested the Pic.
Down to our left was an old farm and a filed full of horses. We tried to decide whether these were being uses for pony-trekking or for food. Given that this is a Catalan area, we concluded that the horses were being farmed for food. Robert photographed them before they reached the plate. It would be interesting to photograph them on the plate, a sort of before and afters.
Such discussions brought us to a drop in the track of around a hundred metres or so, down through a wee wood and on to another farm. We thought that our doggy companions might stop at the farm, especially when they met other dogs, but, no, they continued on. So did the track.
The day was reaching its warmest and the sun was strong. We came down to a rocky outcrop where we sought out some shade and sat for an afternoon drink. Why here? Because we’ve always stopped here! And, as we lay, the two dogs became very friendly with Ian, lying by his side and rolling in the heather around him. We suspected Ian would be scratching his flea bites that evening. Again, we lay long for it was a day for that.
When we eventually stirred ourselves, we continued to follow the track, and the dogs followed us. The way was downward now, into the valley of the Castellane. We left the high pasture behind, came into the scrubby woodland then the mature oak and birch trees, sometimes leaving the track to take a shorter way through the wood. When we emerged from one of these shortcuts, we had to stand aside and let a pick-up pass us, a truck with dogs in the back. This was followed by a four-by-four which drew to a halt. The driver had recognized our doggy friends. Without undue ceremony, the pair were thrown into the back of the vehicle and the last we saw of our faithful canine companions was two hairy faces looking forlornly out of the rear window of a four-by-four as it wheeched off in a cloud of stoor. We came down the rest of the road somehow missing the tinkling of dog bells.
A short kilometre brought us to the television mast above the village and another kilometre saw us home. In total, a distance of fifteen kilometres and a climb of around four-fifty metres gave us another great day on the high pastures of the Pic du Roussillon.

Monday November 2 - La Tour de Madeloc and Collioure

There was a complete change in the weather today. A wind had sprung up through the night and rain was falling when we breakfasted. Today was to be a relatively easy day with two shortish walks near the coast. We hoped the weather would be better there.
As we prepared for the off, the rain, now no more that a heavy drizzle, subsided. But we felt the wind as we drove down to Port Vendres for the first of our walks, La Tour de Mateloc.
We wouldn’t climb the full six hundred and fifty six metres from sea level to le tour, but drive up a twisty wee road to a viewpoint high above the sea where there was a small car park. When we opened the doors of the cars there, we felt the strength of the wind, even in the lea of the ridge we were to climb. Below us, white horses chased each other across the surface of the Med and the trees by the viewfinder bent themselves away from the blast. But we had only two hundred metres to climb so we didn’t think the blow would be any stronger at the top than it was here. We set off, securely wrapped against the gale.
A vehicle track slanted up the ridge towards and old fort some kilometer away, a track used by those attending the vines that clothed the slope below us. We took this track. It took us to a point some hundred metres below the crest of the ridge before dropping down to the fort. We left it at its high point and took to a well-constructed path. As this path zigzagged its way to the crest we felt the real strength of the wind and prepared ourselves for the worst. And we got the worst on the ridge crest.
The gale blew strongly but this wasn’t the problem. The gusts were the problem, coming suddenly and threatening to lift us off our feet. A sort of Groucho Marx posture was adopted as we struggled to keep upright on the more expose sections. And there was no way we and look at the view, all our concentration was fixed on staying on the ground. At one point Jimmy grabbed Davie as he appeared to be blown towards the edge and almost at the tower, he himself took a tumble over a rocky outcrop. Eventually we all reached the shelter of La Tour de Madeloc, rested and appraised the damage.
Johnny had lost his sunspecs, blown to who knows where and Davie’s woolly hat was flying somewhere over the Med. But Jimmy claimed that bodily damage outweighed loss of property – he had lost the tip of a fingernail in his encounter with the rocks. Still, no real damage though we would hear about jimmy’s fingernail for days to come.
A tarmac service road came to the tower from the other side. Though this was more sheltered than the ridge, it was still far from calm and the wind buffeted us about on the descent. But, at least we had firmer footing and a broader base with which to cope with the gusts. This was probably just a weel for at one point we were almost horizontal as a prolonged gust stopped us in our tracks.
We were nearly back at the cars when we saw our first wildlife or rather wild-death for it was a dead southern grass snake lying by the side of the road. Then it was into the welcoming shelter of the cars and a drive down the continuation of the wee twisty road to Banyuls.

Lunch was had in a sea-front restaurant in Banyuls and the afternoon was spent wandering around the harbour and shops of Collioure.

Tuesday 3 November - Gorges de la Carença

The last walking day of the trip dawned bright and sunny. The poor weather of yesterday was gone and the day looked bright and promising. Not that we needed the sun today for we were for a spectacular walk in the Gorges de la Carença and, so long as it was dry and warm, we could do without the sun. But before the walk, we had other business to attend.
Those who are that way inclined had us down to Prades for this was the day of the street market and we have amongst us aficionados of street markets. So, off to Prades we went, wandered aimlessly around the market (The woman with the big melons wasn’t there this year again.) and ended up in French style with coffee in a pavement cafe.
The morning was wearing on as we drove westward from Prades to the start of the gorge in the village of Olette. A sign near the railway bridge told us that one of the passerelles was down. The linguists translated ‘passerelles’ as ‘bridges, connections or, more probably, gangways’, and it was the sixth one that was down. A decision had to be made. We would go only as far as we could.
That Davie was fully recovered from his feebleness of the first day was obvious now as he set the pace on the path towards the gorge. It was a wide path to start with but narrowed very quickly as it led us under the railway bridge and immediately into the gorge and was carved into the rock face a few metres above the river. We were reduced to Indian file to round the first rock. And we would stay in Indian file for the rest of the walk for the path didn’t widen much after this. Still, as long as the path, was level the going was easy.
The path stayed level for around half a kilometre. Then the fun started. It climbed steeply and turned rocky. Though it was still a path, it needed hands as well as feet for upward progress. Rocks, tree roots, somebody's leg, in fact we used anything that would help haul us up that slope. And it climbed for some distance. Where it did level out for a bit there were seriously steep slopes down to the river some distance below. It was difficult to take eyes off feet. Still we climbed, until the path levelled out for a bit and somebody shouted for lunch.
Lunch was taken on the side of a precipice where the trees failed to grow and the path widened sufficiently to allow us a seat – and a view over to the other side of the gorge. For once some wished we didn’t have a view for we looked across at a vertical limestone wall with the scar of a path, a narrow looking path, cut into it. And below this path was nothing until the river some hundred metres vertically down. Robert assured us that the path was wider than it looked; it had to be for, from where we sat, it looked too narrow, and too low to admit us. And this was the path we would have taken had the passerelles had been intact. But the passerelles weren’t intact so we would see how far we could go.
The path continued to climb over rock slabs, through crevices split in the gorge side and round rocky outcrops with steep slopes falling away to the river below, to top out high on the side of the gorge. Over the tops of the trees we could see the upper valley, a valley of different nature, a valley of harder rock, a round bottomed valley with less steep sides. We had conquered our side of the gorge. Only the challenge of the other side was left for us. But right now the way lay downward, down to the river and the first of the passerelles.
This passerelle was a bridge over the river, a shoogly suspension bridge that carried no more than two at a time. The other side of the bridge finished in mid-air and an equally shoogly ladder dropped down to terra firma again. A few minutes were spent playing on and around the bridge taking photos. Then the realisation set in. If all passerelles were like this, and there was the suggestion that many were out over the face of the gorge, and if even one was down, there was not way we would get past. A decision was taken to return by the way we had come. This pleased Jimmy no end for somewhere on the first climb his legs started to ache then turn jelly-like.
We did come back the way we went. Jimmy did suffer as ‘toothache’ set into his knees. But we all made it back down through the gorge reflecting on another good walk. We didn’t do the tricky bit, but do we care? Not a bit do we care, we had a good walk and there’s always next time. And Jimmy has been talked into using walking poles to ease the pressure on his knees.

Wednesday 4 November - Clean up, boules and home

Our last morning saw a flurry of activity in the house; beds had to be stripped, floors had to be swept, empties had to be disposed of. Like a weel-oiled machine we swung into action and had the place spic and span in no time at all.
We didn’t have to be at Girona until four so that left a morning free. We had talked about it all week so the spare time was given over to a boules competition. We drove down to Molitg to the piste there. Well most of us drove down, two reneged. At the end of all the chuck and throwing, oohing and ahing, cursing and fuming, Ian emerged as the winner.
We had on last lunch in the house then it was time to bid farewell to Mosset for another year.

Our thanks go to Robert for the use of his house and his expert guidance on the walks, to the cooks who served up their usual high standard and to the dishwashers without whom we would have had no dishes on which to eat. In fact, everybody thanks everybody else for what was another super Mosset experience.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

How we spent our money on holiday - JM

This is how the money was spent. (repost - copied from wordpad and hand formatted)
Income........................... Expenditure................ %
28/10/2009 ...............€100 each €900.00 ................Robert bought wine/beer ...............€20.00 1.7%
...................................................................................Supper in Prades ...................€180.00 15.4%
29/10/2009................................................................ breakfast ....................................€16.20 1.4% ....................................€218.31 18.7%€8.80 0.8%
....................................................................................drinks in Molitg ...........................€28.00 2.4%
30/10/2009 ................................................................breakfast + ..................................€17.30 1.5%
31/10/2009 .................................................................breakfast .....................................€12.30 1.1% .....................................€178.00 15.2% bread .........€18.00 1.5%
01/11/2009 ................................................................breakfast .....................................€44.80 3.8%
02/11/2009 ............€30 each €270.00........................ shopping .....................................€144.77 12.4%
......................................................................Lunch in Banyuls ................................. €200.00 17.1%
03/11/2009 ...............................................€20.00 1.7%
.......................................................................................parking/payage Robt. .................. €10.00 0.9%
.......................................................................................breakfast .........................................€12.30 1.1%
04/11/2009 ................................................................breakfast .........................................€12.30 1.1%
.......................................................................................payage J&D car (2 ways) ...............€20.00 1.7%
.......................................................................................mellon/coffee(Rex) ...........................€8.92 0.8%
.........totals ............ €1,170.00 ........................................................................................€1,170.00

Please note
Cents have been pauchled in some instances to allow for a neat balance -
the lost dross is no doubt down the back of the couch.
meals out .....................................................32.5%
shopping .....................................................46.2%
croissant/bread/odds&ends ..........................9.8%
coffee/drinks out .........................................6.4% .............................................J Matthews 5/11/2009

Friday, 6 November 2009

Mosset 2009 Group Pics + Mosset church Tower

Jimmy lit up like a christmas tree

Al fresco lunch - communal garden outside Robert's house

Icon of Mosset - the church tower

18 inches of snow on this spot two years ago

A gentle walk on day 1 after the shopping trip

A big thanks to all who managed to thole my moods
- and to Robert for the bravery shown in taking us
all on the trip to Mosset once again. I think we are
all still on slagging terms :-)