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Chapter Twentyfour

Day 67

Andorra – Lourdes

We rise early and after a quick cup of coffe to start the day we leave the camperstop and park up closer to the town and the main shoppping area and the ski slopes. Taking a wander around the town we see coaches coming from France so that people can shop here and even though it is still early the shops are quite busy. We buy some chorizo and local cheeses and some olives along with a bit of brandy which was unbelievably cheap, would have bought more but you are only allowed one litre bottle each. Leaving Andorra we pass through the customs check point and then carry on down the long and steep mountain road taking the turn off for Foux. As we drop the snow thins out and we leave the clouds behind so all is a lot brighter now although it is still very cold. One village we pass through really catches our eye as it is so pretty, Merens Les Vals, the houses blend perfectly into their surroundings being built of natural stones from the region and the natural wooden shutters and doors. A fast flowing stream runs through the village and past the gardens of some of the houses it all looked very pretty. The stream that runs through Merens Les Vals grew bigger as it was fed by the many waterfalls that cascade down the mountainside. By the time we reached Ax les Thermes the stream was a fast flowing river. Ax les Thermes is a busy little spa town and her you can see the difference in the construction of the houses as the walls are now rendered and painted instead of the stone houses of the mountains. At Ax les Thermes ther are campsites and hotels and as we passed through we spotted the thermal baths near to the main square.

The blossom is out on the trees in the fields and gardens as we pass by, bringing a springlike feeling with their white and pink-tinged flowers. Along the road are several municipal campsites advertised, this says to me that the towns are welcoming visitors. At Sinsat, a beautiful village again with lovely houses and Craftsmen gardens a narrow-gauge railway passes by and also a stream meanders along past the ends of the gardens.

High up along the left hand side of the road are huge rocky cliffs with caves, some small and other huge make us wonder how many people have climbed up the rockface to have a look inside. A sign points the way towards the nearby ‘Pre-historic Parc’ so off we go to take a quick look. The Pre Historic Parc’ at Tarascon-sur-Ariege is a site of 13 hectares and covers over 14,000 years of history. Here you can find so much to do and look at you will need a full day and it is also a great day out for children as there are lots of activities for them to participate in.As most things are under cover it is suitable in any weather. There are the Caves with their pre-historic drawings, fossils, workshops and activities there are also shops and a picnic area.

Another great day out is the ‘Forges de Pyrene’ at Montgaillard which is a timeless hamlet on a five hectare site.There is a museum of around 6,500 tools, 120 crafts tell thier own story and secrets, there is the only tilt-hammered forge in France powered by a waterwheel,watch the blacksmith, clogmaker, farrier, antler comb-maker,baker, cutler and goldwasher at work. Again I would think that this is something that would keep adults and children enthralled.

We drive through Foix which is quite a large town with everything that you would expect from a largish town, but driving through it seemed to us the the atmosphere of Foix was that of a much smaller and traditional French town which we found very nice. In the centre a covered square had market stalls and all around people were enjoying a coffee and a chat at the outdoor cafes. A castle stands on a large rocky outcrop above the town as though keeping a close eye over its inhabitants, maybe it does!

Spotting an Aires (Camperstop) in ‘Castelnau Durban’ a very quiet town, we stop off to top up with water and give our poor motorhome a short rest after the hectic mountain passes and roads she has had to deal with today. The Aires is situated along a tree lined avenue alongside the main road and has water, emptying facilities and toilets. The river L’Artillac runs past on the other side and has a few wooden tables and benches for picnics all very well thought out and pleasant. On the far side of the road is the church of St.Micheal next to the ‘Maire de Castelnau Durban’ and the local school ‘Ecole’. The place would not be complete without the small square with men playing boules!

We have passed several farms on our way today selling regional products and just outside Castelnau is a sign for goats cheeses. The scenery is a little brighter now that we have moved away from the high rocky mountainsides and the landscape has opened out and there are quite a lot of large farmhouses and herds of cows. At Rimont there is sign for an abbey and in the town we can see a large belltower that acctually looks like a miniture version of a coloseum.

Next comes St.Girons, a fairly large town and one that our SatNav did not recognise so we decided to do it the old fashioned way and use a ‘map’. A little further along the road and we spot the old town of St.Lizier on the far side of the fast flowing river which has several rocks and drops and water flowing from just about everywhere. The houses on the far side are built onto the side of the rocks and it all looks as though it is full of narrow streets and houses all close together so we just take our photos from this side and do not take the van over. The more modern part of the town is on this side of the river and has a variety of shops and businesses.

We stop at the Aires in St.Martory as it looks a lovely place and the sun has come out. The town is situated either side of the River La Garonne over which there is an old bridge with an arch on one side. Looking out over the river towards the church of St.Martory there is a large weir and the water is rushing over the top. A few fishermen are standing hopefully along the river bank, I have yet to see one of them carch anything other than a cold! The old church of St.Martory is adorned with statues and paintings and has some beautiful stained glass windows. Across the river from the Car park and Aires is the XVIth century Chateau, visible from the car park but a notice on the gates states that it is private property. The tariff for parking was €3.50 for the day and €10 per night (for two people) €3 for electric and town tax.

Continuing along the road towards Lourdes the Pyrenees are situated all along to our left, today there is a big black cloud sitting right on top of them but at least to our right the sky is quite bright. As it is a Sunday today all the shops are shut and the roads are fairly quiet. Arriving in Lourdes we park up in the Supermarket E.LECLERc where they have a section of the car park for motorhome stopovers. Taking off the scooter we make our way to the centre of town and the Grotto of Our Lady. The many gift shops are open and busy around the entrance of St,Joseph and we buy our candles to join the evening procession. It is such an amazing sight to see so many people with candles lit and walking in the procession saying the rosary and singing. The candles show up wonderfully in the darkness of the night. Afterwards we walk down to the shrine and light a candle along with lots of others and some of the candles are enormous and have been brought here by people on a pilgrimage. It is now getting quite late and it is time to head back to the motorhome and to bed.

Day 68

Lourdes

The day dawns brightly and we hope that we are in for a nice day. After a lie in and a tidy up we make our way back into the centre of town and the shrine. We visit the churches that are at the head if the square, three churches built one on top of the other and a huge golden crown sits at the top of the steps. In the crypt is the shrine to St.Bernadette and holds relics of the saint on the altar.

Some of our group have come in earlier and we are waiting to meet up so we sit on the benches at the Grotto to wait for them. I decide to walk along towards to bridge over the river Gave and pass the baths it is nearly four o’clock when they close for the day and on impluse I decide to go in. The people who help you through the ritual are so lovely and the whole experience is amazing, I am so glad that I was drawn in.

The skies are starting to darken and as we want to walk the way of the cross on the high road, we decide to do it now before the rain comes. By the time we reach the first station of the cross the rain has started to fall and as this station has steps to go up on your knees we are quite wet by the time we have done this. The path is very steep and the rain is getting heavier all the time but we carry on and complete the full walk. The statues which form the stations are wonderful, golden and lifesized, and the expresions on the faces of the statues are just so true to life. There are not too many people doing the walk at this time as it is getting late and it is raining very much.

We decide thatit is about time to go and have something to eat and maybe dry out a little as most of us are literally soaked to the skin, the rain is so heavy the it has come right through our coats and everything is wet. We have a nice meal and sit for a while hoping that the rain will slow down a little, it does not! We take a wander through the gift shops and look at the lovely things that they have before going back to the grotto for the evening procession which will still take place. People are sheltering their candles from the rain under unbrellas and despite the rain there is still a wonderful atmosphere.

By the time we arrive back at the motorhome we are well and truely drenched, there are coats and clothes hanging up and dripping everywhere, so a brandy along with our hot drink is very welcome. By the time we go to bed the rain stops!

Day 69

At least it is dry this morning and we hang our coats outside, to blow in the wind, while we put the scooter back on the back of the motorhome.A few purchases in the supermarket and the tank topped up and we are off. We take the motorhome into the centre and find a spot to park close to the shrine. We have decided what we want to buy and so we head off to the shops. Making one last visit to the shrine before we go, we linger a while and think how lucky we have been to come here. Our driver leaves by St.Joseph’s gate and the rest of us walk slowly down towards St.Micheal’s gate taking a few more photos while we go. Reluctantly we leave.

With the beautiful snow-capped Pyrenees still alongside us we start our drive towards Moissac. Passing the airport which serves Lourdes at Ossun we head towards Tarbes. Once past the towns we are out into the countryside which is quite hilly, giving the farmhouses on the hillsides lovely views with the Pyrenees in the distance. There are large yellow fields full of Rape flowers which look so pretty in the sunshine. There are also the lovely long straight, tree-lined roads which are a joy to drive along. Passing through Auch we see a sign for a statue of D’Artagion and pictures of the musketeers, unfortunately we are unable to stop as it is rush hour and the traffic is very heavy, also with leaving later today than we had planned, we need to carry on our way. We pass through some lovely villages all looking so much nicer as the sun is shining, where was it yesterday? not to worry at least it makes sure that we will remember our day.

Not long after Auch we leave the main road and take the turn off on to the D953, a small road that will take us through some of the smaller villages and more remote countryside. Running along the ridge of a hill we have a lovely view over the surrounding countryside. We pass freshly ploughed fields and fields filled with the first little shoots of this years crop just starting to peep out of the soil. Small lakes are dotted around here and we wonder if they are man made for trout fishing maybe. We pass through sleepy hamlets and even though ther are houses and parkes cars the streets are deserted. The road gets narrower and the scenery is well worth our coming off the larger roads. Along the way we see some tiny places and even though we are off the beaten track there are campsites and Aires for those who enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside. The number of the road keeps changing and on the D13 it is little more than a single track, and the farmhouses are old but really lovely. Chickens scratch around in the gardens and herds of cows sit together in the undulating fields. Some parts of the road gives fantastic, far-reaching views.

Arriving in Moissac we look for the Abbey and cloisters and park on the far side of the railway lines. Looking at the front of the abbey buildings it does not look very good and we can see that the insides look derelict. Reading the information signs nearby we read that the main abbey is situated on the other side of the railway which cut the abbey in half in the 1850s. We have left our driver sitting in the motorhome while we go to se what we can find, when we came back he said that he saw several people walking their dogs along the tree lined walkway and letting them do their business on the floor without attempting to pick it up and it was indeed covered in dog poo, what a shame and also a danger to children playing there. Walking over the railway bridge we can see the old buildings of the abbey and the very old but still majestic archway at the front. The cloisters here are said to be wonderful and it is a great shame that we have not been able to see them and we are therefore unable to give our opinion of them. There is a Tourist Information Office next door. The square in front of the abbey has a couple of cafes but on the whole is deserted maybe it is the time of year. There is nothing open and the whole feeling about the place was one of disappointment. There is a campsite on the other side of the river, that too was closed. I am afraid that this is not the best place we have visited. We invite comments from others who may have visited here. We leave and carry on with our journey.

Putting Cahors into the Sat Nav we end up along very narrow country lanes where we are lucky enough to see quite a few deers grazing in the fields, and at one place there is one very close to the road and we got a good look at him.The hilly landscape contains a few houses nestles inbetween trees with woodsmoke spiraling from the chimneys. We spot a town quite high on a hill and as it is getting time to stop for the night we have a look. The town is called Lauzerte and signs indicate that it is a medieval town. There is a small Aires at the approach to the town and has good services. There is one other van there and speaking to the French couple in there they tell us a little about the town and also that this whole area is a wealth of interesting places and things to see. They have been to the abbey and cloisters of Moissac and they liked it very much.

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