A Day of Ups and Downs

Do you ever wake up with a pain in your shoulder?  I do. Last night before I went to bed I googled “why do I have pain in my shoulder when I sleep?”  Apparently, it’s common with side sleepers.  The solution is to keep your arms by your side or hug a pillow and bring your knees up together to improve your posture.  I tried this last night and slept dreadfully. I had a fitful night and woke at 4:00 and gave up, got up and made myself a cup of tea. Eventually I did go back to bed and I must have slept and although my night was restless I didn’t have any shoulder pain! 

I told Gerry in the morning and he took umbrage that I made tea for myself and not for him. I told him that actually I did make him one, and I was most put out that he never even bothered to drink it!  He laughed out loud and so our day started.

Today we were going on what Gerry named our ‘overseas holiday’.  We were driving across the border heading to Roncesvalles.  As we drove away from St Jean Pied de Port Gerry laughed and said “that’s a very funny name for an albergue!  Gite Compost?”  I looked back… Gite Compostella dear… the ella was hidden behind a tree… DUH!

We drove on in silence following the road out of town and onwards towards Valcarlos and the Spanish border.  I’ve never walked this route, it seems to be a lot of road walking which I don’t think I’d enjoy, but I feel as though I should give it a go just to say that I have!  Gerry talked about how he felt the first time he dropped me off here. He said he drove away wondering what on earth I was letting myself in for… and yet here we are, both of us addicted to this form of travel!

Up and up we drove along the road, switching one way and then the other.  The beech forests gleaming majestically in the morning sun.  Today was one of those glorious cold autumn days.  The sky was blue blue blue and the seasonal colours were at the very best! 

We arrived.  Our plan was to walk the ‘road’ way up to the Col de Lepeoder.  Whenever I’ve walked from St Jean and Orisson, I’ve always taken the route down through the beech forest to Roncesvalles.  It’s very steep and that puts some pilgrims off but I’ve never fancied taking the road option.  So today was a new path for me and I would discover that rather than being just a safe alternative, this route is actually really beautiful and pretty steep too! 

As we set off, all around us the guns of the hunters were going; some really quite close.  I hate this!  We have hunters at home and every year people are injured and killed in the name of sport… not to mention the destruction of the wild life!  I was very glad when we’d walked up high enough to not hear the guns.  Up and up and up and up.  There was 4km of up, gaining about 600m in elevation.  Some was along an old road now best left to 4 x 4’s or tractors.  Sometimes we left the road and wandered on soft grass trails, albeit still steep!  We took our time.  Soaking in the views.  We stopped halfway for a cup of tea and looked across at the bronze and moss coloured mountains and decided that it really didn’t take much to make us very very happy.  Here we were, sat on a little grassy knoll with a hot cup of tea, looking out at such a stunning landscape. 

We dragged ourselves away.  There was still more up to walk.  A tractor passed and chugged his way up the hill.  We watched him as he reached the very top.  Slowly he was joined by one horse and then another and when he’d collected his little herd he made his way back down.  On the back of his tractor was a bale of hay and he was obviously enticing the horses down to lower slopes with the promise of fresh hay. 

On we went.  I could recognise the trail now.  There were a few patches of snow.  Nothing like the April I walked this stage with Maggie, when there were drifts of snow, but still a surprise to see white patches on this sunny October day. Onwards and onwards and finally we reached the top.  Gosh my legs could feel this workout! We found another grassy knoll and settled down for our picnic.  Egg sandwiches and more hot tea!  Gerry even made room for his tangerine; indeed he munched his way through the entire picnic and would regret this later as we walked on!

We could have stayed right there.  We chatted with a couple of French pilgrims who were off to Santiago.  We looked out at the distant views and tried to trace the route onwards beyond Roncesvalles and Zubiri.  Oooh I really wanted to just turn round and keep walking onwards with the French chaps, Instead I asked them to say hello to St James for me and we bid them a Bon Chemin and walked onwards to the hut. 

We’d given ourselves a time limit today.  We hadn’t expected to make such good progress so we decided the hut would be an easy target for us.  Onwards we walked.  In my head I’d remembered the path as quite a gentle slope but in reality it had a bit of a bite in places!  But we paid no heed because on our right were the snowy peaks of the high Pyrenees and they looked amazing! 

Onwards an onwards looking at the mountains and the kilometres fell away easily and in no time we were at the hut.  I took a photo here in 2015 and my friend Maggie entered it into a competition in Australia. It won and was published as part of a travel company calendar.  I tried to recreate that photo today but the weather wasn’t as extreme… then we had grey skies and snow all around.  Today it looked glorious but not quite as dramatic.

As we’d made such good times we convinced ourselves to keep walking.  With hindsight this was probably not the wisest choice but hindsight is a wonderful thing.  Onwards through the forest, pointing out landmarks to Gerry… I had a picnic on those rocks… Me and Maggie sat over there and decided it was just too darn cold to stop for lunch… I took the ‘sheep in the trees’ photo over there… and onwards we walked.  Chatting, chatting, chatting. 

The forest floor became wet and sticky and Gerry said he wasn’t enjoying this so much.  He looked on the map and declared that according to Google we were now in France.  We’d not reached the fountain or the big rock declaring the entrance to Navarra but we’d come too far really and it was time to go back. 

We hadn’t noticed our path had been going down for a few kilometres, which meant of course that we had more up before we reached the Col.  My legs were tired.  We haven’t trained for this walk and yesterdays’ adventures were hard.  But… there was nothing for it.  We had to walk on.  First back to the hut and then passing the distant snowy mountains and finally back at the top. 

We paused and finished the last of our tea.  We looked at the views around us and decided it had been the most glorious of days.  Just a matter of the down now!

Down and down and down.  Toes pushed hard against our shoes and thighs burning from the tension.  Sometimes we stayed on the road and sometimes on the soft grass.  Down and down.  Passing the horses with their hay spilled out down the hill, passing the grassy knoll that became the best tea break in the world.  Down we went until the guns became louder and finally we could see our car.  Down and down and down and finally we made it.  We walked just short of 17km and today had either been all up or all down.  I’m pretty sure our legs will hurt in the morning but it was worth it! And thankfully we have a much more gentle walk planned for tomorrow!

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