Here we go. Apologies for the late update but I’m not going to move from my seat here in the garden of the Ibis hotel in central Perpignan until cycling days 35 & 36 are written. I may order another beer at some point. Life can be tough sometimes…
So, I take you back to Béziers, the town where everything was being prepared for ritual humiliation of a bull. That all starts tomorrow – Wednesday – but the stalls had already been set up in the town centre and the funfair had arrived in town. You see Mr. Bull!? They really go to some effort to make sure that everyone has lots of fun making fun of you. You should appreciate it! Breakfast for me was the usual croissants from a boulangerie and coffee in a café. It was actually the same square where I had eaten the evening before. It was just as quiet as it had been twelve hours earlier and I spent a good hour or so writing about cycling day 34. When I did eventually leave it was via the south east of the city and a wonderful view of the old bridge and the castle-like cathedral. Béziers didn’t quite have the elegance of Nîmes – it was a bit too rough around the edges for that – but it was nevertheless an interesting diversion along the road to Portugal.
The destination for day 35 was Eddy Voorspoels, a Belgian WarmShowers contact who lives on a remote rural retreat in the foothills of the Pyrenees. He had actually contacted me last year inviting me to spend some time at the place that he runs with his partner Katrien and I had gladly accepted his invitation. It would mean a slight deviation from the coast but for interesting experiences and interesting people, I was more than happy to do that.
Eddy had supplied me with a rough itinerary of villages that I should cycle through in order to each the ‘Pilgrims’ Nest’ so the route planning had already been done for me. It was simply a case of making sure that I was on the correct road from Béziers and then ticking off the villages; St. Laurent-de-la-Cabreirisse, Tournissant, St. Pierre-des-Champs, St. Martin-des-Puits, Vignevielle, Montjoi, Bouisse… Each one was more remote and more rudimentary as I climbed away and upwards into the mountains from the coast. For the first time on the trip I could also sense that Spain was approaching. The soil was just that little bit more orange, the trees just a little more sun bleached. Until, that is, I reached the higher ground that was a continuous carpet of forests and suddenly I was back in England. Ignore the mountains in the background and this was as English a countryside as I had yet come across. A bizarre contrast from earlier in the day.
When I arrived in Bouisse, the final village that Eddy had mentioned I paused to examine the map once again. An old guy asked if I was lost and I explained that I wasn’t really lost, I was just checking that I was indeed heading in the right direction. He spoke with a strong accent and it wasn’t possible to understand everything that he said but he did say something about ‘le col de l’homme…’ but I didn’t catch the whole thing. He would never go up there… He asked where I was heading to and I explained that I was meeting a Belgian man who lived just a few kilometres away. He said he knew of an Englishman in the hills, bit strange, better keep away…
I continued until the col. It was the ‘Col de l’Homme Mort’ or ‘Dead Man’s Pass’. Could the old chap have mixed up his nationalities? A Belgian could, to him, have been an Englishman. I paused and thought. Could this all be a grave mistake? Had I been lured high into the mountains on false pretences? Reasoning that the name of the col predated the arrival of Eddy by quite some time I continued and about ten minutes later I arrived at a sign welcoming me to the Pilgrims’ Nest. The reassuring sign of a bicycle was an indication that this was indeed a friendly place.
And it was. I was welcomed initially by Katrien who was quickly joined by the very affable Eddy. We sat and chatted for a few moments and he showed me around the place, including the area where I could pitch my tent. I felt immediately at ease in his company and once my tent was up we spent ten evening talking about my plans to cycle through Spain as well as his own experiences – considerable experiences – of cycling in various parts of the world. I had brought my own food including a bottle of local white wine but I barely had time to have but a couple of glasses before I was feeling the effects of the long cycling day. Although only 100km it had been a hard-working six and a half hour day in e saddle. I made my excuses, retreated to my tent and slept well.