25th August 2018
On the banks of the fast flowing Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau, possibly near Saligos, that being a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénées department of the Occitane region of southwestern France.
We decided to stay on last night at Barlest as it really was a perfect spot with no passing traffic other than a couple of lone bicycles during the entire afternoon. The guns were quiet from just after our arrival at lunchtime until dusk but, mercifully, there were just half a dozen shots not too near and Amy was fairly easily reassured that all was well.
Pre dawn I heard three shots - very faint, so some ways off but come daylight we started to see hunters vans, with their dogs in the back, cruising round the forest roads. We kept our walk down to about half an hour on non-forested roads and beat a thankful retreat before the inevitable gunfire started.
We cut across country towards Lourdes where I came across a non-metalled road designated as an official footpath, so I pulled over to see if we could ‘finish’ the walk we started earlier. All was well at first and lovely countryside too and then we ran smack into the middle of chasse centrale - guns and dogs everywhere! Miraculously, no actual gunfire though (nothing left to shoot, perhaps?!) so we were able to do a 180 degree turn-about on our toes and, once again, make a craven retreat.
Into Lourdes itself and I got a pleasant surprise as it was really quite a decent place and I’d been wrongly anticipating some kind of urban nightmare. We shopped at an excellent Lidl store which, I couldn’t help noticing, had a very high proportion of elderly and visibly infirm customers and that about 30% of the carpark spaces were designated for the disabled Something to do with the town’s reputation for it’s curative waters, I assumed.
Driving through the centre of Lourdes from the north it occurred to me that the place felt rather like a Belgian town which then somehow morphed into a Swiss town as we departed to the south. A large open sided but covered market in the centre (I had already bought this weekend’s food at Lidl, alas!) together with a multi spout rather grand looking public font - freely dispensing the elixir the place is famous for, I presume.
We took the lesser of two possible road south through the mountains and they both run through a long flat valley scoured out of the mountains over eons of time by the Gave de Gavarnie ou de Pau. I avoided the wider and more popular road south as it ultimately ends at a ski resort and, in or out of season, I have seen enough such places in the past to know I don’t need to see any more.
We stopped by the river at one point, earlier, so Amy could paddle her paws and we hadn’t been there five minutes when BANG BANG echoed out from the opposite bank.
We didn’t linger!
We have now got as far south as Saligos in the river valley, with high peaks towering over us and signs inform me we are now in the Parc Naturel. So far it is, as I feared, a ticky-tacky touristy rat-trap sort of place. We haven’t reached the part yet where the tarmac stops and no vehicles are permitted to enter but speaking with a resident English couple a little earlier I don’t think we are going to find a pristine environment there either.
Apparently, it’s a pretty popular venue at nearly all times of the year. Hiking and cycling (I have never seen so many excitable men in tights as I have this morning) in the summer and skiing in the winter.
We may also find several ‘No Dogs’ signs there too.
At our current location, it feels like a warm spring day. Afternoon temp in the low 20s with a breeze to keep the air nice and fresh. A welcome contrast to temps in the 30s and the high humidity of this past week.
We are close to a pretty popular road cutting south, popular because it’s August and also because it is the only road hereabouts, but we are on a grit and sand track that runs parallel between said road and the river. We are lower than the road, at actual river level, and to my astonishment I can’t hear any traffic noise - the breeze through the nearby trees and the running river combining to drown it out.
I am thinking, then, this may be as far as we go today and we can try the ‘wilderness’ a little further down the road early in the morning whilst all our fellow tourists are preoccupied checking their lottery numbers over a leisurely breakfast.
They say to travel is an education and it certainly is.
During my so-called ‘wild-camping’ travels extending over the last seven years I been constantly astonished at how we Europeans are such avid hunters, southern Europeans in particular and also how, seemingly, every bit of land that is not built upon is hunted.
Over the same period of time I have noticed the decline of farm animals in fields due to the fact that a great many of them, nowadays, live a ‘life’ exclusively indoors and, slowly, the uncomfortable feeling that man does not treat his fellow animals very well has bubbled from the back of my consciousness to the fore.
I don’t know how one begins to try to change the attitudes of literally billions of people. Many are too distracted by the shiny and dazzling promise of technology to raise their eyes from their devices to care. Others simply enjoy killing animals, many earn their living either directly or indirectly from the carnage. For the vast majority of people the wants and needs of humans must always come first.
Its like sand on a beach. One grain alone does not make a beach but billions of them together eventually do. I am just one grain of sand but my hope is if I can generally entertain you enough to keep reading this blog a few isolated seeds of thought may geminate here and there amongst you and, who knows, perhaps eventually a tiny contribution can be added to a big, bright, brand new beach of human animal enlightenment?
Maized as a Rook! Mountain Realisation