It’s been a vintage day. Vintage in its commonly used sense – nothing to do with age.
It’s vintage weather; wall-to-wall sunshine, with a gentle cooling breeze; vintage scenery, as I head deeper into the Pyrenees; and a vintage collection of additional curiosities to place inside my cabinet.
Today, I have travelled to the end of the world. I will explain that later.
Before leaving Limoux, I stroll around the square and enjoy a grande creme (2.4€) and a pain au chocolate (0.5€) in one of the bars. A perfectly good breakfast for less than 3€. I wonder how much it would have cost in the hotel.
I decide to head up the Aude valley, some six miles or so, to Couiza.
The downside of this plan is that the only route follows the main road.
As it turns out, the road is quiet, the slope relatively gentle, and the scenery extremely attractive. I’m almost tempted to have a “wild” swim.
The weather is so pleasant that I jettison my heavy-duty cycling top for the famed light-weight gillet. (My family are the only ones who will understand this reference. Apologies)
As I approach Couiza I spot the famous, (or should that be infamous?) Rennes le Chateau at the top of an adjacent peak. A decision to be made: should I tackle the daunting ascent (maybe about 500 ft over 5 km) or give this one a miss? The decision takes me about 20s – up I go!
It was a “no brainer” really: after all, I’m not trying to get anywhere; and this nugget is an absolute must for my Cabinet. I take the climb easy, with a few pauses but no dismounts and soon reach the top.
Those of you who have read the Da Vinci Code, will have no need of what follows; I haven’t read it and probably never will, but I do know something of its background.
In 1885 an apparently impoverished young priest, Berenger Sauniere, arrived in the village and lavished a fortune developing the church and its Domaine. No one knew where the money came from.
Some believe he discovered hidden treasure; others link it to the Holy Grail; Dan Brown, I believe, weaves an intricate plot of hocus pocus, involving, amongst other locations, Reims Cathedral.
The whole affair has been much researched, by both amateurs and academics, but still remains an unsolved mystery. Why is it that so many people would rather believe fantastic explanations than more prosaic, but infinitely more probable alternatives? Perhaps Sauniere just came into an inheritance; or had a secret benefactor. Conspiracy theories have a strange attraction. (Diana, moon-landing etc.). Human nature is curious indeed!
In any event, the view from the top is wonderful. Well worth the climb.
It is this view that persuades me to completely (split infinitely!) change my plans; I had been intending to retrace my steps to Couiza and then head NE (towards the dreaded Canal du Midi); the view of the high Pyrenees entices me ever southward. What the hell!
Following a short steep descent from the Chateau, I meander across an upland plateau through wonderfully lush scenery – predominantly the green and red I remember from my Pyreneean adventure forty years ago.
A tense descent follows, due to an appalling road surface – an unseen pot-hole could put me in hospital.
Then starts the great climb – I later discover to a height of 2,194 ft. I am now definitely in the Pyrenees, possibly for the first time.
Part way up, I stop for lunch at the only bar in the delightful village of Bugarach. Drink, but no food! Oh well, better than nothing. As the only person in the bar (and possibly the whole village) I start chatting to the proprietor, who is keen to show that his English is better than my French. Not difficult!
He mentions something about the “end of the world”. Having now researched this, and I do remember this being reported in the media, I can store in my Cabinet an ultimate curiosity. In 2012 a large group of new-agers camped at the foot of the Pic de Bugarach (the highest mountain in the region) in the belief that it was inhabited by aliens living in a spacecraft. They thought that on 21st Dec. 2012 an apocalypse would consume the planet and that they, the “believers”, would escape on the spacecraft. The French police were so worried about the possibility of a mass suicide that they blocked the approach road! The locals, who smiled to themselves as the “believers” went up, must have enjoyed a good laugh as they traipsed down. There’s nothing so curious as folk.
After my serendipitous lunch, I continue up to the Col, 2,194 ft, only half a mile from the said mountain peak. No aliens, I’m afraid!
At the Col I overhear a small group of Australian women; approaching me, they ask if I speak English. Having confirmed that I was , in fact English, I ripost that they also speak “a sort” of English. They laugh.
They inform me they come from Perth.
A wonderful descent follows; I take in the Galumas Gorge and continue to Duilhac sous Peyrepertuse. I find it so enchanting that I book into a hotel. Serendipidy to the end!
It’s been a vintage day.
Distance 42 miles
Average speed 9 mph
Elevation gained 4,764 ft.