Herefordshire Week 192: Tuesday 29 August – Monday 04 September 2023

Off Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso and Manu. Part 1: London, Lourdes and the easier half of the Carros de Foc.

Off to Lourdes
Off to Lourdes

Tuesday morning, R came to finish cutting the hedges and we had a look around the “Estate” for other jobs.

The Victoria Plum wedding tree that A&M got for us is laden – and last year the entire crop numbered 5. This year the weight of the plum crop has caused two of the older branches to snap. I should have checked in on it earlier.

The rest of my busy Tuesday morning featured home insurance renewal, picking all the plums I could reach, washing old bed headboards in case I could donate them at the tip, going to the tip and binning our old microwave, headboards (booo) and a box of foil, batteries and light bulbs.

And then the 13.18 HFD to PAD on the first leg of my journey Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso and Manu.

Rendezvoused with S at H’s, catching up over wine and nibbles in the back garden before ordering Takeout Thai for Tea – because in London you can, and in rural Herefordshire and Pembrokeshire you can’t.

We are at Hazel's......
We are at Hazel’s……

Compared kit and finalised packing…. then bed.

Wednesday was travel day: Breakfast – Northern Line to Moorgate – rendezvous with Rach in Liverpool Street – Stansted Express to Stansted – Ryanair self checkin and bag drop (somehow we each had 40+kg hold baggage allowance. Go figure) – Security (surprisingly civilised) – Non-priority boarding for our (slightly delayed) flight to Lourdes.

We landed at Aéroport Tarbes Lourdes Pyrénées in a downpour and high winds. Uh oh.

Got the last seat on the Airport Shuttle Bus from the airport to Lourdes station, then Hazel navigated us to our Luxury Loft Lourdes where we settled in, unpacked and then headed out for cocktails and dinner at the lovely Le Passage.

Cocktail Hour in Lourdes
Cocktail Hour in Lourdes

I’m only giving an outline for the rest of the week (and next week). For the detail, you’ll have to wait for the write up – aka Into the Pyrenees with Alfonso and Manu: Photos & Notes.

Thursday saw us meet Alfonso in Lourdes, drive to Vielha and rendezvous with Manu, convoy to Esterri d’Àneu to meet up with E and to have lunch on the terrace of the lovely Restaurant Vall d’Àneu, drive to Espot and into the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park where we parked at Parking de Prat Pierró.

Then the short walk through forests and meadows to the Estany* de Sant Maurici and on to our first hut, Refugio Ernest Mallafrè – the most compact and bijou of our Carros de Foc mountain huts, and the one with the most challenging ascent / descent in / out of the platform bunks….

* Estany = Catalan for Lake, and the Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park is FULL of gorgeous lakes, many of them naturalised reservoirs.

Friday was the first full day trekking the Carros de Foc, from R. Ernest Mallafrè to Refugio J.M. Blanc. Forests and flowers, mountain streams and mirror lakes, over the Coll de Monestero, the stunning first sight of R. J.M. Blanc ….

Love at first sight: Refugio J.M. Blanc
Love at first sight: Refugio J.M. Blanc

… and a beer at a picnic table on the shores of Estany Tort de Peguera.

Two speedy dinner sittings. Noisy night in our dorm. Thankfully we were on bottom bunks.

Saturday was Carros de Foc day 2, trekking from R. J.M Blanc to Refugio Colomina via Estany Negre de Peguera, the Coll de Saburó and the Pas de l’Os, and Estany Saburó, Estany de Mar and Estany Colomina.

We arrived just before the weather turned. Later arrivals came in cold and drenched.

R. Colomina was my favourite hut on this trek. Others have the glamour, the views and the sundecks, Colomnia has the ambience and the team. It also has the essential guide book for those doing the Carros de Foc, Tina en la Carros de Foc:

Tina en la Carros de Foc - the only map the professionals use
Tina en la Carros de Foc – the only map the professionals use

Sunday, Carros de Foc day 3: R. Colomina to Refugio Estany Llong.

The wet day, but we made it over the Colladata de Dellui before the rain really set in, and reached the refugio in time for a late picnic lunch inside in the warm and dry having walked through some lovely landscapes: high valleys and mountain lakes, deep valleys and long lakes, forests, bilberries, juniper.

Team Mucho Gusto: Still happy even on a wet day
Team Mucho Gusto: Still happy even on a wet day

A hot and sunny afternoon tempted us outside and down into the Valle de Sant Nicolau and the Aigüestortes part of the Park for a cold water paddle, riddles and pooh sticks.

Monday, Carros de Foc day 4: R. Estany Llong – Refugio Amitges.

This was the day we diverged from the standard Carros de Foc route and instead followed Franco’s Road past Estany Llong and up to the Portarró d’Espot, before dropping down towards Estany de Sant Maurici and contouring north round to El Mirador de L’Estany, lunching en route to Estany de les Obagues de Ratera and finally the long hot climb up to glamorous Refugio Amitges.

It was also the day of the 3min 30 sec dash over scree slopes and hidden gullies to the Lone Pine – that was Alfonso and Manu, obviously – from Mirador del Portarró.

The race to the Lone Pine: Winners!
The race to the Lone Pine: Winners!

And of late afternoon chanting on the shores of Estany dels Barbs – beautiful.

Too windy to enjoy the fabulous deck with views out over Estany de Sant Maurici and the valley below, and Saharan sand made the mountain views hazy. But we didn’t let that deny us beer and nibbles, or thirds of the best lentils of the whole trip. Vegetarians got a wide variety of veggie burgers on the Carros de Foc.

TV: Something at Hazel’s, possibly.

Podcasts: Forgotten! Anyway, I slept on the train to London.

Photos: Herefordshire week 192 on Flickr.

Phil: w/e 2023-09-03.