Tuesday 7 June
Janice had forewarned me about the snoring and I was grateful for the earplugs that she supplied, but it wasn’t a bad nights sleep and it was warm and dry. It was another early start and Janice and John headed off in the direction of Santiago. Setting off, I soon came to Bétharram which was the Lourdes of its day. I spent some time looking around the impressive church there and admiring the fountain, which despite its alleged healing properties featured a warning sign stating that the water was not drinkable. I ignored it.
The path followed the river as it meandered down the valley and the water was in full flow with the snow melt from the mountains on the horizon. They were still snow capped so I had probably made the right decision to move into the foothills. Despite John drawing a map, his sunglasses weren’t where he said. The path continued through some woods and I was grateful for the shade. I came across an impressive male stag beetle by the path. Then about two kilometres outside Lourdes I spotted John’s sunglasses case at the top of the hill on a log, a spot where they must have rested yesterday. Maybe miracles do happen in Lourdes.
Lourdes is a fascinating place where a religion based on love and altruism is commercialised on an industrial scale. The neon signs flash and point out where you can buy every conceivable religious mass produced trinket from the plastic to the wooden and metal. If you are in the market for a glittery, light-up, glow in the dark Virgin Mary, then Lourdes is the destination for you. I wondered what Bernadette the humble shepherdess would make of it today.
I spent some time wondering along the alley of lighted candles and taking the waters before using the free WiFi at the tourist office to find a campsite.
Wednesday 8 June
It was a good campsite but I pitched too near the main road so rather than the usual bird song it was the noise of traffic this morning that awoke me. I set off for the post office to send John his glasses. It would appear that post offices are the same the world over. Quiet places of queuing people nervously asking how to send parcels or withdraw pensions. The lady behind the counter could have easily been the same as those in England.
I continued through Lourdes which improved as it stretched east past the town hall and gardens to the base of the funicular railway. I could not resist one more mountain and so ascended Pic du Jeur. I shared the front cabin with a brightly leather clad man of about my age and his BMX. At the top is a world class racing track to the bottom.
Although not a huge mountain at 900 meters the 360 degree view was impressive despite a little heat haze. I watched as a paraglider took off from the side to share the thermals with the buzzards soaring above.
It was a good descent down and a pleasure to have a muddy rocky path with mountain views once more. I descended slowly, meeting up with the GR78 in the woods at the foot of the mountain. True to form it soon became a path of tarmac and this continued over two long hills with a major diversion around some water works. It was a long hot day, hard on the feet. Eventually I pitched the tent on the hill overlooking Bagnères de Bigorre by the hunters cabin. I watched the sunset on the mountain side and the horses eating in the meadow yards from the tent. I was already missing the mountains and the pain in my feet kept me awake that night but the clear sky meant I had an uninterrupted view of the stars, planets and a satellite passing over head.