Rob Ennals > Travel > Simon and Rob Invade and Conquer France

Day 11: Prelude to nothing


  • Col de Pente: 950m
  • two minor climbs of 150m and 250m

At 10am, we found out the true purpose of the loudspeaker. "Il est dix heure. Dix heuere est le heure pour les activites manuel pour les enfants." said the speaker in True hi-de-hi style (albeit French). I said something back, but the speaker chose not to respond. We left hastily, and began our final col of the Pyrenees.

It was a real bastard! I didn't like it, and it didn't like me. It was very steep, it had a nasty road surface, and it kept biting me. The biting was performed through the climb's evil insect minions. My recently cleaned cycling jersey soon become a blood stained killing ground, as I swatted the many huge bloodsucking insects that landed there. Simon, for some reason, was largely left alone by the local fauna, and seemed to be on very polite terms with the climb. The strange insects were accompanied by large, scary looking, triffid-like plants that somehow seemed to be looking at me - despite the fact that plants can't do that.

As we descended down the other side of the col, the scenery changed dramatically, as Languedoc imposed its house-style on us. The land became flatter, and duller, with huge vineyards dominating the area. Simon tried a grape, and reported that it was exquisitely revolting. This was also truly the land of French Toilets; a brief drink and toilet stop in Puivert forcing me to join Simon in the ranks of the initiated.

[Simon - this is also the land of religious persecution. We were entering what was Cathar territory, a Catholic movement who declared that everything of substance was the work of the devil. Unfortunately, they included the Virgin Mary and Jesus in this, so were crushed in the Albeginsian Crusades, part of the whole series of inquisitions. The leader of the crusades was one Simon de Montfort, a mercanary Bri, who was successful in laying siege to Carcassone and who accumulated large estates all round. Our cycle took us along the classic "Cathar Country Route" by following the River Albe from its source at the Col de Pente right to the sea, past shattered fortresses galore. The footnote to this is that a later, around 1700, the Huegenots had a big prescence in the region, but they were largely left alone. The chief reason? Their speciality was weaving heavy cotton cloth, particularly in Nimes, or "the cloth of Nimes", in French, "de Nimes", or denim. This specific examples are typical of the Pyrennees as a whole - a fragmented collection of isolated and thus still strongly-held cultures, from the Basques on the Atlantic through the Catalans on the Med. Some remote rural places didn't speak English and often, you felt, didn't really speak French.]

It soon became clear that a storm was brewing, and that it was going in the same direction we were. We decided that it might be a good idea to go rather fast, and so proceeded to cruise at a good steady speed down to Limoux. Our only stop was to look at a huge cockroach that Simon thought was beautiful. On reaching the Limoux municipal campsite, we demonstrated our mastery of rapid tent erection, and then watched as the storm failed to arrive. It seemed to have decided to lurk in the mountains. We could see lightning, hear thunder, and feel the wind, but we never quite got any rain. Somehow, this made us feel kind of cheated. [Simon - Watership Down eat your heart out, "running with the storm" - actually, it was really good fun to put the hard work of the last 10 days to good use and fly with the wind behind us mainly downhill into Limoux]

All though our journey we had been greeted with banners advertising festivals in towns on the days immediately following or proceeding the day we were there. However in Limoux we finally managed to coincide with something. It appeared to be some kind of Catalan festival. In true French style, we had to wait for a series of boring speeches by eminent people before the show started, but once it started it was fairly entertaining, consisting largely of Spanish-style dancing by people wearing MC-hammer style trousers. During the dull bits, we talked to a local youth about Counter-Strike.