The End of the Arles

Day 9 | Urdos to Somport

Surprisingly the larks were quiet today, or I was just really tired! It was the alarm that woke us at 6:45 this morning. We were prepared today. Picnic in the fridge, bottles of water chilling, bags packed and flasks ready to be filled. Today was the day that we were heading back to France to walk the final stage of the Arles Camino (also called the Via Tolosana – with it’s name taken from it’s starting point of Toulouse in SW France). Bad weather had prevented us making this stage last week, today the weather looked good and it was the right time for us to return.

We had wanted to pick up the path at Urdos, making a round trip of around 18km but as were still not sure how Gerry’s ankle will hold up we started a little further along the trail. Our thinking was that if he was feeling good we could always return to the village and walk some more. As it happened he was limping when we returned to the car so we made a good choice.

One of the problems with our ‘there and back’ camino is that we always need to find a spot where the camino is near a road and where we can park. In the mountains and in these rural areas that’s never easy and today was no exception but we did find a small layby on the main road just off of the Somport Tunnel. We parked and set off, hoping that we’d find the arrows. It actually took us longer than we expected but we were hampered by having no phone signal so I wasn’t able to check on the Gronze map. But we decided it didn’t matter, we’d just keep walking until we found the trail. We started at around 1000m elevation so we knew we had about 650m to climb today and we figured we had around 7km of up before facing 7km of down.

At first the road took us through thick forest with very little in the way of views. It was still early and the sun hadn’t broken over the mountains so the air was cool and we made good time. It’s always a little nerve wracking walking on small mountain roads with switchbacks and sharp bends; especially when the odd lorry and coach come speeding by! We decided the safest way was to keep switching from one side of the road to the other as we walked… if we could see far ahead we figured cars would see us too and we would be safe. And it gave us a different viewpoint as we crossed. Up and up we walked and the tops of the mountains were visible from beyond the trees. The sun rose and half of our road was bathed in sunshine but whenever possible we stayed on the shady side! Up and up with only the odd cyclist for company. Gerry used to cycle and I asked him how on earth these folks manage to keep peddling? I mean they must have legs of steel? He said that you have to keep peddling because if you stop then you wont start again. It just looks like too much hard work for me and I’m much happier walking; Gerry suggested that maybe they were asking themselves why we would want to walk… I guess he has a point!

9:00 am came and went and we rolled on to 10:00 am… and the mountains rose above us along with the sun. We were coming out from above the trees and all around there were amazing views. We pushed on until finally we broke out of the trees and also found our first yellow arrow. Finally too we were off the road and across country.

Onwards and upwards we walked. Sometimes it was quite gentle, through green green meadows full of summer flowers and sometimes it was quite steep, through forests with great ferns pushing up from the river edge that we scrambled along. This walk is nothing like the crossing from St Jean and the path is much more rustic. In places the grasses and foliage had engulfed the trail and in other places wet sticky mud and mountain streams meant we were jumping across stepping stones to continue. The walk from St Jean to Roncesvalles offers big wide open views where as this walk is more contained, but all the while today the sun shone, the sky was the bluest of blue and the views were simply majestic.

Onwards and upwards and we could hear heavy engine noises. Could it be trains or the bus station? We had no idea what we would find at the top. We knew there was a border between France and Spain but apart from that we knew nothing. I kind of expected a little village but it’s really just a few buildings. The noise was from workers who were resurfacing the road! Which kind of broke our mountain spell for a moment… until we looked up and realised that we were almost there. It was really hot now and we paused under a tree before making the final climb… Gerry is like the cyclists and hates to stop on a hill… I’m the opposite. For one I’m usually totally exhausted and in need of a break and two, I like to take photos and just soak it all in. Gerry reached the top first and gave me a triumphant wave… I meandered up a few minutes later and we just stood and caught our breath and congratulated ourselves.

Looking back at the mountains it was easy to see the difference in rock. The French side is so very different to the Spanish side and from our viewpoint you could almost see where the rock changes. Maybe that’s the point where the island of Spain and Portugal drifted into France all those millions of years ago?

There was a hotel or some kind of centre that was closed, and another hotel with a big for sale sign on it. A few metres further was the border. Gerry walked across and shouted back “stay there and we can have a long distance relationship!” I ignored him and walked across to join him. I’ve walked from St Jean to Roncesvalles 5 times but for Gerry this is the first time he’s crossed a mountain pass. He reminded me that he has walked from Hendaye to Irun before but that’s not quite the same! We wandered on because in Spain there was a bar! We first found a seat in the shade but actually felt chilly so changed to a place in the sun. Gerry ordered and I looked at my photos… and then I just looked at the view. Oh how I longed to just keep walking. Our ‘there and back’ camino is great and I know we’re lucky to be here in these difficult days but gosh it’s not the same as walking forward to the horizon and beyond every day… and I long for the time when we can do that again without fear.

But for now we contended ourselves with cold drinks and shared a ration of patatas bravas. Life was good.

Once we’d rested it was time to get moving again. Somport is the start of the Camino Aragones. If we were walking normally we would have continued onwards to Canfranc and maybe spent the night opposite the big station… instead we were heading back down the mountain. We decided that we would stick to the road. There were places on the way up with rocks to scramble across. It’s fine on the way up but not so easy on the way down if you can’t bend your ankle. And it was a good choice as we had a very different view on the way down via the road. Down and down passing the cows and the sheep and the farmers, we even passed a girl walking up with a donkey! It reminded me of my first dalliance with the Camino in 2013 when Gerry gave me Spanish Steps by Tim Moore; the idea was that it would put me off wanting to walk but ended up being one of my favourite books and encouraged me even more to follow in his (and Shinto’s) footsteps.

Down and down and I knew that Gerry was slowing . Downhill is harder for his foot so we slowed our pace. I stopped to take photos and admire the flowers and he slowly made his way down. Towards the end we kept thinking… the next bend will be the last… or the next… or the next… until finally we saw a flash of red amongst the trees and we knew that was our car. We’d walked over 14km and they were glorious.

We put Canal du Berdun in the sat nav and headed back to Spain, via the tunnel that goes through the mountains we’d just climbed. Back in Spain we could trace the trails that we walked earlier, Canfranc on to Villanua on to Jaca and then back to our valley. What a day! I’m so glad we went back!

I’m home now in our little village house and I’m just about to cook a yummy risotto for dinner. I found a tick on my calf which Gerry removed… a word to the wise when walking these country trails… always always check for ticks. https://forestryandland.gov.scot/visit/activities/walking/check-for-ticks

6 thoughts on “The End of the Arles

    • We will! We have a few more wonderful days left… but it is getting hotter so we’ll have to be done by lunchtime 😀

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