Thursday, September 28, 2006

France 1

Here are the two people that are responsible for three WONDERFUL holidays in the French Pyrenees. They are called Brenda and Mannes.
We first met them by chance when we all slept in the same gite one night while Colin & I were in the Basque region. It was just them, my brother Colin & I. This chance meeting led to an invitation to visit them after they had done the little walk they were on - the EIGHT HUNDRED kilometre GR10. Oh, and just to make it that bit more interesting, they were doing it with two dogs.
I can't begin to express how grateful I am for the ensuing holidays - they have showed us the best, the most incredible, the secret, and the special places around where they live. Mannes lives in Vernet le Bains, and Brenda lives in a small village called Nyer, about an hour south west of Perpignan. Nothing is too much trouble for them, and they will go to any lengths to make sure their guests have the best time. Believe me - they never fail!
So - thanks to them both as, without them, most of this would not have been possible, and I doubt we would ever have visited this stunning part of France.

With four days holiday remaining this year, I decided to blow the lot on a trip to France. I've always been in spring before, so wanted to see it in a different season. Usually, when I go, I eat fresh cherries straight from the tree off the patio outside 'my' bedroom at Brenda's house. This time it was ripe figs, pomegranates and walnuts! Walking on the hillsides and mountains in France is a sensory feast, as the smells are divine! The fresh herbs get crushed as you walk, and the aroma wafts along with you. Of course, there are the flowers too.

Anyway - the journey began with Brenda taking a TWO HOUR drive to Carcassonne to pick us up from the airport. Typical of Brenda, she decided not to take the motorway back, but to go through the 'Gorges de St George', as it was prettier! It was also quite spectacular (and S-L-O-W, as we got behind one of the many log lorries on the way.) HOW these monsters negociate the gorges is a mystery. They often take up all of the available road, often forcing cars to reverse to allow them to continue.

Here's a big truck going through one of the small tunnels.

But it made me ponder - what DO they do when they get to an overhang like this? The answer is, they just move right across to the left - and they just get by. NOT a job for the feint-hearted!

Sometimes, inevitably, two big lorries meet. These two leaned out and shook each others hand as they inched past each other. When this happened in front of us, I really didn't think they'd get past each other, but they are used to these tight squeezes and take it all in their stride.

This 'little' blighter was found in the glove box of Brenda's car! It was tucked in with the coke cans. I am surprised it was still alive, as the glove box is kept very cold by the air con. We released him - probably MILES from where he lives though :-)
Please go to the next part 'France 2'

France 2

What can I say about views like this? Well, I'll say this - you should GO to the region and just see for yourself! Every day was a treat, every view stunning. We had a little drizzle the first day we were there, but after that it was sunshine all the way.

The flowers are so pretty too. This little filigree beauty was one of many we saw. It was very noticable that the flora was a lot different from when I was here in May earlier in the year. The insects were a lot more profuse too, and I got some great pictures. There's always one you miss though - mine was a grasshopper that had wonderful blue wings when it jumped. I tried and I tried, but I never did catch it with them open mid-jump.

A few clouds on the first day only made for some terrific ray pictures. This picture changed by the minute, and I often found myself taking eight or nine, then culling them to the best one or two later on.

Here we are then - Brenda's lovely palace, on a hillside above the little village of Nyer. You can see what a lovely position it occupies. The view from the bedroom balcony at the front of the house overlooks the valley, and the night skies are totally unpolluted by light, so star-gazing is a must. Of course, Brenda has a telescope for the job (it's also employed to look for Izzard (Chamois antelopes) on the mountains.

On the Sunday, Brenda arranged a BBQ for about 35 or 40 friends. It was held in Nyer chateau, a more grand setting is hard to imagine. Complete with; 'Romeo, Romeo, - wherefore art thou' balconies, and old wine presses, block paved floors, a fossil grotto, palm trees, etc etc.

Oh yes - and the mountains that surround the Nyer gorge and village.

Here's the balcony - on the right there........

In the evening, I went for a stretch up the gorge. Here I am looking over the village. I could just sit here for the rest of my life. The feeling of tranquility you get is amazing. better than any pill or potion to combat the blues (if you have them).
Please go to the next part (France 3)

France 3

This is the path up the gorge. It's a bit 'hairy', and not what you'd call safe. there are many rock falls across it, plus parts of the path have collapsed and in some places you have about a foot wide path, and a hundred foot drop! However, if you're not afraid of heights, it's a great place. There are tunnels, very high mountains and waterfalls all encompassed in it. I also found bats in the roof of the tunnels. They were tucked up inside drill holes in the roof. You can only go so far, as the bridge that used to be there has been washed away. It's about 20 feet, maybe 30, above the river, so you can tell how much of a wall of water came down that day when it was hit. I am told that 'log jams' build up, and when they collapse, the wall of water that comes down is what does all the damage. Some people who were camping in Nyer were killed by the deluge, so now camping is not allowed there anymore.

This is typical of the sort of views you get in the area. The 'big daddy' is a mountain called 'Le Canigou', and I have always wanted to go up it ever since I first saw it. It really dominates, and is a great draw. Mannes has a perfect view of it from his house. On this trip, they made my dream come true, and drove us to 6,000 feet. It would have been a two-day trip if I had started from the base, so the 'leg up' was much appreciated. It was nice and balmy when we set off, at about 5,000 feet it turned a bit 'parky' - at 9,000 it was REALLY freezing. I had the full gear on (except I was wearing shorts!!!!). My fingers were so cold, I had pins and needles for about two hours after coming down off the top! I still feel it was worth it though, and I would love to go up there again on a perfect day (like the day we left - it was completely clear and looked stunning in a blue hue.)

A view from Canigou on the way up. Not into the snow/ice line yet, but it was getting much cooler at this stage.

Looking up at the summit - an exciting moment for me. You can see the dusting of snow and ice up there. By this time, it was VERY cold, with a very low wind chill factor to boot. This (the French) side of the mountain was clear, with stunning views, but the Spanish side was disappointingly cloudy.

Oh well, mustn't grumble!

Looking over the French side. Those mountains are very reminiscent of the Scottish Mamore range. I'd like to see this view in winter with snow on the tops.

Looking along the path on the way up. It even LOOKS cold on this shot, doesn't it? A few more feet, and I would be on the top!

Here's the moment I topped out! I actually stayed on the leeward (Spanish) side of the summit to eat lunch. It was a little sheltered, but I STILL was shivering as I sat there with my butties! The cloud rolled away to reward me with fleeting views of the Spanish side, so I was happy with that. I got some good shots of the topographic plate, and the cross (with LOTS of memorials attached to it) on the top. Mountains always attract memorials to people - Ben nevis is the same.

Please go to France 4

France 4

Here, as you can see, it was a bit cloudy on the Spanish side of Canigou but I got this, and a couple more, fleeting views while eating lunch on top. You can see that the vegetation had rime ice on it. This is the stuff that used to sink trawlers. It sticks to things and makes them heavy. The best example I ever saw was in Derbyshire. It had formed on a fence that was normally only a couple of millimetres thick - with the ice, it was more like four INCHES!!!!

After a hasty lunch, we set off back down to the backdrop of a perfect sky. I am really SO moved by this sort of view. JUST look at it.

Another day - another treat! Brenda took us down to a small settlement called 'Villefranche de Conflent'. The famous little yellow train has a station here, and the line upward is, they say, one of the best train journeys in Europe. I have been on the train before, but it was a lovely day, so I decided to have another go! I was dropped off at V de C and went as far as Mont Louis, where the French Commando's are trained. Mannes and Brenda took the dogs for a walk, then came and met us at Mont Louis, and brought us back home.

This is the suspension bridge. During the line's construction, the man who built it all was on the inaugral trip. Something happened, I think the train ran away - the guard forgot to put the brake on - and the train tragically fell from this bridge, killing the creator in the process, along with several other people, so he never got to see his great feat of enginerering come to fruition.

Here's another bridge - this time an impressive stone viaduct over the road.

We alighted at Mont Louis, and then went into the village to have a walk around. As it was such a clear day, we got some great pictures. This one was taken from the walls that surround the village.

I am not really one for churches, but I DO like to see the opulence that usually constitutes the altar. This one looked like it was quite lavish.
And that's it!
I DO have lots more pics, but I thought this was enough for here.
After Mont Louis, we returned to Brenda's for yet more of her wonderful hospitality, and a wine or two with her and Mannes.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The great Kinder Scout beer barrel race 2006

The great Kinder beer barrel challenge - read all about it!
Earlier on this year, we went into the Snake Inn for a beer at the end of a walk. I spotted a 'certificate' on the wall - and was amazed at the content. It alluded to a race - the KINDER BEER BARREL CHALLENGE. I looked at it - and was AMAZED that the time to cross Kinder (4.5 miles, but over HORRENDOUS terrain) was under an HOUR!
NO! - SURELY not - it MUST be some mistake? It wasn't! There was a legendary team by the poncey name of 'Gladioli' that was a collection of crack fell runners, and to date, they have NEVER been beaten! The name, I am told, came by way of a local lass who was in 'Gladiators' (the TV program) and who was something to do with a team being entered. That team never materialised, BUT this other team decided to name themselves 'Gladioli' as a sort of antithesis to the Gladiators. Now - the name has stuck - and they are ANYTHING but 'poncey'!
Last Saturday, I decided to go and see what all the fuss was about and here, for your edification, are the pictures to show what it IS all about.
The following text is COPYRIGHT of;
In 1999, the unthinkable happened in the isolated village of Edale in the heart of the Peak District. The popular Nags Head inn ran out of ale.
Fortified by a pint or three, the locals (NB - the instigator was named Trev Townsend) came up with numerous ways of rectifying the situation (none of which involved relocating to one of the other nearby pubs!). The most popular solution was for a group to walk over the high moorland of Kinder Scout to the Snake Pass Inn to bring back a full 44kg barrel. Although there is arguably some sense in this – it is only 4.5 miles over the top as the crow flies, as opposed to 17.5 miles around by road – their addled brains had overlooked the strenuous 1,000ft climbs and precipitous descents at each end and the featureless peat bogs in the middle!
The disbelieving landlord jokingly wagered 100 pints of free beer to the group should they manage it, and thus is responsible for the birth of the arduous test of endurance, strength and teamwork known as the Great Kinder Beer Barrel Challeng

Here we go - this is the view I got of Kinder Scout on a warm, balmy morning. PERFECT conditions, you would think, to drag/shove/haul/push a full barrel over rough moorland. I ask you - are there ANY conditions you could deem 'perfect' for such an arduous task???
I think NOT!
(Don't forget - click on any picture to enlarge)

Here's the Nags Head at Edale on that very morning. No-one here yet, as all the action was taking place at the Snake Inn, 4.5 miles away across the boggy moorland to our North. One of the Gladioli team, I am told, was here at the crack of dawn to walk over the moors BEFORE the race, to 'warm the old legs up' before the race began!!!!
Some people are just TOO masochistic for their own good!

Here's a view up to Grindsbrook (pronounced GRIND - rhymes with HIND - as opposed to GRIND - rhymes with WIND). The spectators are few, but hardy!

This is Kinder Scout, and today it looks fairly tame, but in a high wind, or with snow, or at ANY time, it can bite you! It's the highest point in Derbyshire, and it has its own mountain rescue team.
Please go to the link below to continue. Blogger is a bit restrictive, and only allows so many pics, and I have exceeded it!

The great Kinder Scout beer barrel race 2006 (Continued)

There we were, having an 'extreme picnic' (Guinness book of records informed) when this shower of LOONIES came over Kinder Scout's Southern edge - hauling bloody BEER BARRELS!!!!


Anyway, luckily, we were not 'en route', and so avoided being crushed and/or mashed. We watched these 'gladioliators' go past us, and felt a bit sorry for them. Here were we, full of olives, ham/beef sandwiches, Danish pastries (we take our picnics SERIOUSLY - NO slacking here!), and these poor devils were running fit to bust, for the Nags at Edale.

From the shirts, I think this is the Snake Inn team (front - Fat Lads team in blue, behind).

The Snake team were closely followed by the 'Fat Lads' team. All teams are released from the blocks at five minute intervals (or is it more?), and so this is a feat to catch a team in front!

TEARING down the hillside in a really admirable way are the Gladioli team (below). They came down here at an AMAZING pace! It's no wonder they are the masters when it come to this race!

They were no sooner above us, than they were running down the hill towards their goal - Edale! This team were focussed, and nothing, and no-one, was going to stop them retaining the title, although this year, they were harried into a VERY close race by the second placed Edale team!

The Snake Inn team were tired here, but then - who WOULDN'T be????

All credit to the lads, they 'done well'!

Here are the 'Gladioliators', dismantling their chariot. There was a hot time in the old town that night, but to be honest, they (Gladioli) were given a HUGE shot across the bows! I reckon, with a bit of training, and the bit between their teeth, the second placed team (Edale) can wrench the cup from the hands of the Gladioli - who cheekily left one team members tee shirt in the trophy, they were THAT cocksure of retaining it. The gap was but seconds - will we see a NEW champion team in 2007 -I am on my way to Ladbrokes NOW!

On the walk back to the car, this scene inspired me to take one last picture. Rather fitting, I thought?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Party in the Park, Darley Abbey

Last Sunday (3rd September), I went to the Darley Park 'party in the park'. I've been going to this (free!) concert for about five or six years now, and I ALWAYS enjoy it. It's all organised by Derby city council, and it's the biggest free classical concert in the UK. This was the first time we had a little rain, accompanied by quite high winds, but not much, and not for long! A few desultory showers, which soon passed, then it turned into a LOVELY evening - even the wind dropped to a slight breeze, so the fireworks could be enjoyed at their best. I always get there early, and have a picnic. It's not like having to queue to get in somewhere, you just turn up, select your 'pitch', get out the wine and picnic, and the orchestra are usually having a practice, so there's always something going on. One thing I wasn't keen on was some Northern Indian music, sitars etc. I can stand a little of this, like when I'm having an Indian meal for example, but to have 1/2 an hour of it 'forced', was not my idea of a good time. I did have to ask the question - if I went to an Indian music festival, would there be a thirty piece orchestra put on for me and any others in the audience? I think not!
Anyway - here's the park a couple of hours before the concert began. Not too many here yet, but starting to fill up a little.

Half an hour later, and the spaces are beginning to come at premium.

Then the rain fell! But - LOOK at this guys smile, it says it ALL! It's a great atmosphere, and everyone seems to be in a good mood. A little rain wasn't going to dampen spirits!

As you can see, a large area in front of the stage was cordoned off, as the ground had been badly churned up by the sound vehicles erecting the speakers (which ended up having to be towed around at the back of a TRACTOR!)

After the concert - my favourite bit - LAND OF HOPE AND GLORY, AND THE FIREWORKS!

I have NO idea what the council spend on the pyrotechnics, but it's WELL worth it! They were, as always, spectacular. They went on foir what seemed AGES, and the noise and light was awesome.

I could put LOADS of pictures up on here, but to really get the full effect, you need to go there. I look forward already to the first weekend in September next year, that's the date of the next one.

A super finale, and that was it. Over for another year, but thanks to Derby city council and all the sponsors for another wonderful party in Darley park.