Back in September 2017 the former Club Secretary, Norrie Shand had a chance meeting outside a neighbour’s house with a French lady, Caroline David and her Spanish partner, Javier. Together with their teenage son and daughter, Oscar and Inis – and their dog Lobo they were looking for accommodation in Perthshire for 6 or 7 months. It transpired that Caroline was a mountain guide based in the village of Loudervielle in the Louron Valley which sits in the Hautes-Pyrenees region.
Caroline was keen to meet hillwalkers based in Scotland and accompany them on their expeditions in the Scottish mountains. In the months that followed she accompanied Norrie on several outings and also attended quite a few club meets where she met and became friends with the rest of the members.
On her return to France in May 2018 she promised that she would put an itinerary together for a possible 45 Degrees trip to the Pyrenees the following year. Most of the club members had some experience of trekking/climbing overseas but we had never ventured overseas before as a club. Sure enough, an enticing programme was forwarded to the club at the end of her summer season and soon flights and car hire options were being researched.
And so it was that the 45 Degrees 1st XI headed off to Edinburgh Airport on 01/09/19 bound for Toulouse. Having successfully navigated Ryanair’s baggage regulations surely any navigation in the Pyrenees would be a piece of cake.
Jim Aire, John Calder, Bill Dallas, Raymond Evenden, James Fraser, George Henderson, Susan Henderson, Neil Morrison, Norrie Shand, Lorn Smith, Gerry Weir
The flight was only slightly delayed and at just over three hours flying time, James took the opportunity to practice his French with the young lady who was, unfortunately for her, seated between him and Norrie. His technique of talking in a loud voice, throwing in one French word every sentence and vigorous hand gestures ensured that she understood everything he was saying – a feat never quite attained by his fellow club members.
Two large vehicles had been booked in advance with two drivers attached to each – the volunteers were Jim, Bill, Neil and Lorn, their sacrifice very much appreciated by everyone else.
With luggage crammed into the car boots and Sat Navs set, they set off 160 km South West towards the mountains. There were no major misadventures en route and after a brief comfort/refreshment stop in the small commune of Sarrancolin, they pushed further South eventually reaching the even tinier Loudervielle, where Caroline was eagerly looking out for them.
The accommodation was a decent sized Gite which slept up to 14 people, so – perfect for our group of 11. Individual bedrooms were located upstairs (crampons required), sleeping two/three people in each. Downstairs was open plan with a lounge area around a log fire and large dining space and kitchen. Outside there was a barbeque area and a splendid patio where it was possible to have a drink and enjoy the view over to the high peaks – a view which improved as the week progressed.
Caroline had prepared an excellent pot of vegetable soup and sundries having witnessed in the past the voracious appetites of the 45 Degrees. She had also managed to dig out an item central to the enjoyment of a club meet – an old acoustic guitar which was rejuvenated with some replacement strings. Gerry had also succeeded in smuggling his mandolin through customs, so there was no doubt that the rafters in the gite would be raised at some point during the week.
Day 1 was intended to be a relatively gentle introduction to the days ahead, with a hike up a nearby hill, Pic de l’Aigle at 2078m which would give a splendid outlook over the Louron Valley. Unfortunately, someone had carelessly slipped the Scottish weather into their rucksack and even Gerry was unable to translate “dreich” into French.
But first – some culture. The starting point, the small village of Mont is home to the Église Saint-Barthélemy de Mont, an old church dating from the 13th century, with modifications in the 16th. A brief visit was paid to this outstanding monument. The exterior fresco has withstood the ravages of time (like some members) and the interior fresco depicting the Devil and the Last Judgement was no doubt Caroline’s warning for everyone to be on their best behaviour.
The pull up to Le Pic was enjoyable enough but the spectacular views of the Louron Valley would have to wait until later in the trip. After reaching the summit, the walk was extended slightly as the party headed north to the slightly higher Pouy-Louby 2091m. Bizarrely, the only other people encountered on the hill that day was a couple from Fife – perhaps the weather was their fault.
A couple of Pyrenean mountain dogs were encountered – one seemed friendly enough but the other was given a wide berth. The descent was reminiscent of many damp days spent in Scotland’s Central Highlands, but spirits were still high as the forecast for the week ahead was looking good. There was even an opportunity for a bit of scrambling practice on a pinacle inaccessible.
There is a small supermarket in the larger and confusingly named Loudenvielle, a 10 minute drive away. It also boasts a lake, campsite, thermal spa and waterpark – and the soon-to-be discovered “Boaby’s Bar”. It is also the closest town to the Peyragudes and Val-Louron ski resorts. A quick stock up of supplies saw the first kitchen shift prepare the evening’s communal supper while George reassumed fire-starter duties.
A pleasant evening followed including a brief test run with the musical instruments.
Sure enough, Day 2 dawned bright and sunny and the mountain on the day’s agenda, Pic de Hourgade would be a completely different kettle de poisson from the hills climbed the previous day. The start was only a short drive away at the ski centre of Peyragudes where it was possible to take the cars up a single-track road to gain some distance and commence the walk at around 1600m. Javier took advantage of the good conditions and joined the party.
After an initial climb, the route flanks the mountainside as the views open up revealing a jumble of peaks and hinting at the huge expanse of the Pyrenees massif. Eventually the trail leads to the gorgeous Lacs de Nere nestled among the surrounding mountains – a delightfully tranquil spot.
Unfortunately, Gerry had been struggling a bit on the ascent with what was later diagnosed as a chest infection. As height was gained beyond the first two lakes his symptoms were not improving and he was forced to retreat to the lakes below where he would rest and rejoin the party on the descent.
The climb continued past a final small lake before a steep and rocky clamber west led up onto the ridge and some straightforward scrambling eventually revealed the airy summit – a cheveux en boule below 3000m at 2964m. The views in all directions were fabulous including the view back to Lac de Ganos at Loudenvielle and the Val Louron. A well deserved lunch in the sunshine was heartily consumed along with the panorama
After carefully descending the ridge, the party made their way back to the lower lake where Gerry had been snoozing with the marmots. A few hardy souls decided that a refreshing dip in the lake would freshen them up – but sitting at over 2000m the water temperature was on the cool side.
The walk back to the cars was a joy in the afternoon sun and a short jouney back to gite gave plenty time for a shower and a change of clothes before a few opted for some internal refreshement in Loudenvielle. A saltire in the sky above the mountains was a positive sign for the days ahead.
Day 3 was designated a rest day ! It also happened to coïncide with Norrie’s birthday – not that any additional excuse was really needed to ensure everyone rehydrated properly.
Bill and Gerry took Norrie down to the village for a coffee and a pastry before a pleasant morning was spent on the patio reflecting on the previous day and the climbs on the horizon.
Later, as the sun crossed the yardarm the majority of the group decided to venture back down to Loudenvielle and enjoy a relaxing afternoon.
Gerry had a doctor’s appointment later in the day to get treatment for his infection and Neil graciously agreed to stay behind and drive him there and back. Neil and Gerry also kindly offered to do some shopping – while George stayed behind and did some chopping.
The others enjoyed their 15 minute stroll downhill, initially to the fantastic Lac de Genos. The water looked beautifully enticing – too enticing for Jim who lept from the bridge into the basin for a refreshing dook before continuing. A circuit round the lake took them into the village where a détour was made to the paragliding station where 8 slots were booked for the next rest day, with Norrie, Neil and James opting out – at this stage !
“Boaby’s Bar” was soon relocated and a great afternoon was spent in the sunny courtyard keeping Boaby on his toes, sipping beer and exchanging banter.
At one point in the afternoon, the locals may have seen the Rolling Stones rehearsing for their next tour on the park bandstand. A lift was arranged to save the walk back up the hill and car boot karaoke reached new heights on the trip back to the gite.
A party was always going to be on the cards that evening, birthday or no birthday and Caroline and her family joined the group in the gite with some extra “goodies” to eat and drink.
The musical instruments got a more serious airing as strings were bashed, vocal chords strained and cutlery clattered in time-honoured tradition. There would be an early start the next day though, so the lights were out reasonably early.
An early start on Day 4 saw the troop bundle into the cars and head south over the mountain passes and tunnel into Spain where two days would be spent climbing in the Spanish Pyrenees. Oscar joined his mother on this trip – he would have the opportunity to improve his French, walking with Gerry for a couple of days.
The roads over the mountains were typically snake-like with some long drops at the edge. In Car 2, as Lorn turned round from his seat in the front to discuss the day’s plans with those in the back, James screamed at him maniacally to keep his ****** eyes on the road ahead. Reassurance was provided though when it was hysterically pointed out that, in fact, Bill was driving – the steering wheel being on the other side in left-hand drive vehicles.
The itinerary for the next two days had been reversed from the original plan. On the first day we would tackle Peña Montanesa, described by Caroline as an “imposing limestone citadel”. It was a very apt depiction. Situated in the Cinca valley in the region of Aragon Its highest point reaches 2295m and it was once a stronghold of Spanish Republican resistance against invading troops supporting General Franco during the Spanish Civil War.
The massif was approached from the Southern side, initially through a wooded area which would provide some welcome relief from the Spanish sun on the descent. There were no complications on the route and the trail spectacularly contoured below the towering limestone crags winding its way upwards where the vista gradually revealed itself – with a great view down the valley over the Cinca river and the Embalse de Mediano, the great reservoir of the area.
In other directions the striking landscapes of the jumbled Spanish Pyrenees peaks could be viewed. A leisurely lunch was enjoyed on the summit rocks.
Just beside the summit cairn was a nifty little metal pyramid with a drawer at the bottom where people could leave written messages – a 45 Degrees calling card was left for posterity.
Beyond the summit there were dramatic rocky outcrops providing great opportunities for heroic photos.
The descent completed the loop and provided some wildlife spotting – a pair of sure-footed chamois skittering over the rocks below.
Before heading off to locate our digs for the evening a quick visit was made to the nearby small town of Ainsa where the area around the Old Town square boasted some very impressive architecture from the 11th and 12th centuries.
Impressive as the old church was, parched throats influenced the priorities of some members whose whistle had to be wet before further exploration could take place.
An archway framed a perfect vista of the Peña Montanesa and there were sharp elbows flying around in the attempt to get the best shot.
Our accommodation was only a further 15 minutes away in the small municipality of Laspuna sitting below the Pena. Casa Sidora is a small family run hotel – and tonight our supper would be cooked for us. The place was an absolute delight, very comfortable and the service was exceptional. Kintail has Five Sisters and Glencoe has three, but the Four Sisters of Casa Sidora easily take their place amongst those icons. The food was bountiful and extremely tasty. Two or three helpings of the magnificent bean soup ensured some extra propulsion up the following day’s hill – with an added incentive to keep close to the front of the line.
The sisters managed to locate an old bottle of Spanish brandy which had been lying around, and being helpful souls, every effort was made by club members to ensure that an empty bottle could soon be recycled.
An earlyish start the next day would see the team head a few kilometers north up some winding lanes to the start point for the ascent, from the south, of the “Big Castle” – the limestone hulk of Castillo Mayor, whose outline has been likened also to the hull of a boat. At around 2014m, the mountain is lower than most of its neighbours but it is famed for its lapiaz – a weathered limestone surface found in karst regions and consisting of etched, fluted, and pitted rock pinnacles separated by deep grooves, from a few millimeters to several metres.
Once again, a wooded approach would provide some respite from the afternoon heat on the return. Before the walk began though, the issue of “Best Arch Photo of Montanesa” was settled beyond doubt.
An enjoyable scrubby trail wound its way around and up the rocky fortress, and once on the summit ridge the outlook over the barren landscape and to the previous day’s mountain was superb.
A concrete pillar defined the summit and yet again a reasonable pace had allowed plenty time for a relaxed lunch – although Lorn took “relaxed lunch” to new heights as he stole 45 winks at the top.
Bill took off to a secluded spot 100 yards away to do his pencil sketches of the panorama. At the same time, Gerry was attempting to set up the self-timer on his camera for a group summit photo – Bill managed to complete both his sketches before Gerry finally succeeded in his efforts.
The descent took them beyond the summit and round overlooking a deep valley where more wildlife was spotted – wild boars, marmots, Griffon and Egyptian vultures amongst them. At this point James’ must have been feeling peckish as the question was put to Caroline – “can you manger a marmot”? Thankfully, trapping them is now banned and they would be spared the bbq that evening.
Once down off the higher ground it was an enjoyable stroll back to the cars in the sunshine. Having visited this area with his mother previously, Oscar knew of a great spot in the nearby river where it would be possible to enjoy a refreshing dook. In a few minutes time most of the party were splashing around in the pools acting their shoe size and ridding themselves of all the accumulated limestone dust.
After their swim and some improvised drying off they were soon headed back over the border to France and the gite – stopping of course to replenish some essential supplies, and also to buy some food. A relatively relaxed evening followed reflecting on a great couple of days on the Spanish side of the massif.
There weren’t many opportunities for lie-ins on the trip and the following day another early start saw the squad head off on another two-day mini adventure to some peaks whose ridges encompass the border between France and Spain. The start point was Hospice de France just over 30k south east.
Before making their way there though it was necessary to stop off at the glass recycling station – for five minutes the valley echoed to the clink and crash of countless empty bottles as a team of six hurled them energentically into the (thankfully) sizeable vessel.
The Hospice sits at 1385m at the end of the Pique valley and forms an intersection for a number of hiking routes. The Hospice which was reopened in 2009 originated as a staging post for pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela. It was also a destination for Spanish refugees fleeing Franco in 1939 but is now a trekkers hostel.
It transpired that our arrival coincided with a market being held in the grounds. Parking was at a premium and some nerve-wracking maneuvering was required to squeeze the cars in to precarious spots a short walk away. A brief visit was made around the various vendors stalls, but nobody was of the mind to take home a sheep – or any of the other items on sale.
A Pyrenean pipe trio, who would be entertaining the crowds during the day were warming up outside the Hospice – and primed by Caroline they sent us on our way with a rousing rendition of Scotland the Brave.
If the place wasn’t busy enough with the market, our trek also coincided with a grueling cross-Country cross-country race involving hundreds of runners – the TRAIL 2 HEAVEN, a 50k race from Spain, over the mountain pass to France and back to Spain again.
Overnight accommodation had been booked at the Refuge de Venasque sitting high up the valley at 2239m. Unfortunately, the stampede of runners careering down the valley meant that the direct route could not be taken to the refuge. Plan B saw the troop head east through the woods along the Chemin de l’Emperatrice. The trail runners were also following this route but presumably our group were less of a hazard on the more level ground. Progress was fairly slow as it was necessary to give way to the runners, whilst offering encouragement of course. Eventually the woods were exited, and the party broke off from the route of the race.
It was another glorious day and Raymond was able to improvise a sun-shade when a break was finally called.
A long climb followed up steep ground, becoming rockier as height was gained. The route eventually led to the small Lac du Maille where some sustenance was taken before moving on a short distance to the larger Lac de la Montagnette.
The packs were dropped, and grassy slopes were followed up on the ridge which led to the Pic de la Montagnette at 2558m. Once on the ridge, the views were absolutely jaw-dropping. Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees dominated the landscape on the Spanish side, still clinging on to its glaciers despite the impact of climate change.
On the summit of the Pic de la Montagnette, the usual group summit photos were taken – but this time there was added spice as a tuneful(?) full blooded rendition of The Braes o’ Killiecrankie was belted out and echoed over the valleys.
The packs retrieved, there was a short pull up to the Col de la Montagnette before dropping down to the lake on the other side, where the refuge sat at the far end.
Gloriously situated, the tiny refuge can sleep around 20 – 12 in one dormitory and a further 8 in a Marabout tent. To say the dorm was tiny would be an understatement, but it was quite comfortable and warmed nicely by the dozen bodies crammed inside.
A supper was served in a tent next door, together with the other guests. Considering the difficulty caused by the cramped conditions and the elevation, the kitchen staff did an amazing job providing a multi-course meal that would replace most of the day’s burnt calories. Further calorie intake was ensured by the availability of some very reasonably priced carafes of red wine which would also assist everyone in getting off to sleep – it was a very early night.
The night temperature at that elevation was unsurprisingly very low but the nocturnal widdlers were treated to some amazing views which compensated for them having to crawl out of a cozy dorm.
Following a rudimentary breakfast the next day, the first target was the Port de Venasque at 2,444m – a popular mountain pass on the border between France and Spain. The rising sun was doing its best to dispel the early morning chill and the views of the lakes and back down to the refuge were stunning.
Bill took the opportunity to stand with one foot in France and the other in Spain – it is not recorded in which country he “dressed”
The route to the day’s destination Pic de Sauvegard (2738m) involved a sharp turn west over some angled rocky terrain.
A cable was in place for a small part of the route for those requiring a handrail.
Once again there were scintillating views south to the Maladeta massif dominated by Aneto. The Refugio de la Renclusa, the biggest in the Pyrenees and a base for climbing the range’s highest peaks could be seen across the deep valley below.
After the cabled section, some straightforward scrambling leads up to the summit where a quick bite was enjoyed in the cool but brilliantly clear morning atmosphere.
The ascent route was followed back down to just south of the Port. Keeping on the Spanish side for a kilometer or so the unit crossed over Port dera Picada and up onto the Crete de Crabides, the ridge forming the border.
Nobody was quite sure if James was auditioning for the part of Moses or Gandalf the Grecian 2000.
A few minor peaks were crossed with an extended break on one to refuel, take in the outstanding panorama and grab some “zeds”.
A leisurely lope down grassy slopes eventually led back to the Hospice where, as one or two remained outside to enjoy the sunshine, others were unable to resist the temptation of a thirst-quenching quaff indoors.
The vehicles were rescued from their perilous locations and pointed back in the direction of the gite where there would be much to discuss.
The original plan had the following day as the 2nd rest day. With 8 paragliding slots having been booked in advance, rest days always have an offbeat twist in the 45 Degrees MC. Also in the original plan, the day after that (the last of the trip) would involve a climb up a 3000m mountain – higher than any of the other peaks climbed. The problem was that the weather was forecast to turn nasty after the next day and it would not be feasible to climb to over 3000m on the last day. The choice was either to cancel the paragliding and climb the following day – or forsake the chance to break the 3000m barrier.
7 of the 8 people who had booked paragliding were keen to experience motorless flight over the Louron valley and wanted to stick with their original plan. The exception was Lorn who decided, along with James and Neil that they would prefer to keep their feet on terra firma. Norrie agreed to take Lorn’s paragliding slot, and so consensus was reached.
With the gliders looking forward to rare lie-in, the three amigos had to set their alarms for a very early start. Although James was looking to get higher than 3000m the next day, he was higher than a kite that evening in the gite. While the others were enjoying a quiet drink and wee sing-song, James seemed to feel it was his duty to add as many empty bottles as possible to the recycling. Some hilarious banter followed and when James was eventually sent to bed some serious doubts were raised as to whether he would manage to make the trip the following day.
Next morning as Neil and Lorn were having a wee whistle whilst getting packed, James who had been dragged from his slumber was pouring copious mugs of coffee down his throat in preparation for the day. Caroline had two other clients who would be joining them on the trip, Gilles and Gabi, a couple of “senior” Frenchmen.
A steady pace would need to be set as the club were taking Caroline and her family out for dinner that evening.
The initial target had been Pics d’Estaragne , (3006m) and Pic de Campbielh (3173m) – but the best laid plans de souris et des hommes………… A jackknifed lorry on a hairpin bend at 1800m on their approach thwarted their efforts. A quick rethink found them heading up the Vallee de Rioumajou and zooming up a dirt track to a hospice at 1600m.
Up against it now timewise, the ascent took them up a very steep face through a beautiful woodland, then out on to a slate/shale scree slope for 900m to the Port de Cauarere (2526m). James was playing squaddie to Caroline’s drill sergeant as he gulped in what oxygen could moving at the required pace. After a quick refuel it was onward to the first peak of the day, ‘Pic de Cauarere’ at 2901m, which offered some of the best scrambling of the trip. One of two honorary 45 Degrees day-members, Gabi, opted to call it a day here and sit it out until the others returned from the day’s primary objective, the 3000m+ summit of “Pic de Batoua” or “de Culfreda”.
The views to many of the peaks that had been summited on previous days were pretty special with all the biggies putting in an appearance. A little height loss followed by more scrambling and ascent, saw James, Lorn, Neil, Gilles and Caroline reach the 3034m summit. The club banner was proudly raised – to date the highest it has been on dry land.
A late lunch on top was followed by a re-ascent of the first peak and a long, slow descent via a different, but equally steep, route and a dip in the icy waters of Le Rioumajou. It had been a tough but great finish to the trip and bragging rights over the sky-fallers had clearly been established – and would be exercised ad infinitum, at times reaching 11 on the Smugometer.
In the meantime, the others enjoyed a leisurely start to the day before heading down to the Virevolte paragliding station near the lake in Loudenvielle. The weather was still onside, and a few minutes were enjoyed watching some other groups soaring over the valley and floating down to land on the large field.
It would be a game of two halves – the flights were in tandem with an instructor of course, as nobody had previous experience and there were four allocated to the party.
First to head off were Susan, George, Jim and Raymond. After getting matched up with an instructor and getting their harnesses on they jumped into the large vehicle which was soon wending its way up the serpentine roads which would take them high up into the hills overlooking Lake Genos and the village.
Once hooked up with their “pilot” and having received the required instruction it was simply a case of running like fury down a fairly easy-angled slope before the wind caught the chute and lifted them high into the wild blue yonder.
The flights managed to be both relaxing and exhilarating at the same time – and if the views of the Louron Valley had been subdued on Day 1, they could hardly have been better from this vulture’s vantage point. The grassy hills of the first day could be easily seen and standing prominent in the middle distance was Pic de Hourgade, our summit on the second day.
The guides were magnificently skillful – steering adroitly into the air currents. Every now and then came the thrill of being wheeched up by the thermals – an ordeal a few had endured previously in different circumstances!
George was first to land. He did not have to say anything as his ear to ear grin told the whole story.
The other three in Group 1 followed shortly after before the same instructors hooked up with the other four to head back up to the launch site. As Norrie introduced himself to his pilot, he responded “are you a leetle bit crazee too like Jeem”. He said it with a huge grin though so he must have enjoyed his company.
Back at the top the hill, instructions given, it was time for take-off. Despite Norrie’s past experience of leaping off mountains, he fluffed his lines as his feet refused to cooperate. Thankfully, his pilot was in control and they were quickly airborne along with other three pairs. Drifting and swooping gloriously through the clean air, all too soon their euphoria was ended as they landed like hummingbirds on the grass below.
At that point nobody would have swapped their day for a 900m trudge up a scree slope, but that debate would continue over the next few days.
With the flying corps back at the ranch, the infantry were still somewhere in the outback as the hours ticked by. There was a mini crisis as the original dinner booking fell through but after a series of frantic phone calls an alternative reservation was found.
After a ridiculously quick turnaround, everyone was in a vehicle heading to the small town of Arreau, 13k north. The club members were treating Caroline and her family to dinner in appreciation of their generous hospitality during the trip. Unfortunately, Inis was off at school but Oscar was able to join his parents.
La Crepe d’Aure were hosts for what was left of the evening as the group were led through to two large tables in a back room. The restaurant was an inspired choice and a hugely enjoyable meal was devoured – generous pizza for the unadventurous and Garbure Royale Maison – a vegetable stew with duck – for the Francophiles. James decided that his efforts that day had used up too many calories and tried to replace them all in one go with a monumental dessert. Caroline gave a short speech celebrating the new auld alliance and before long everyone was back at gite relaxing with a nightcap.
Sadly, the weather forecasters were accurate, and the final day of the trip dawned with a distinctly wintry feel in the air. Most of the party decided that they would while a few hours away in the spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon, 20k east.
Bill’s boat was not rocked by the prospect and stayed behind. Norrie and James decided that they would remain at the gite and prepare the meal for the “Last Supper”.
After a quick spin down to the local supermarket in the morning to grab what ingredients were available, both carloads set off for their destination, without too much enthusiasm it must be said.
With James playing Johnny to Norrie’s Fanny, vegetables were peeled and chopped and meat sizzled. The pair of them and the onions were sweating nicely. Eventually, with everything prepared and pre-cooked, they were able to relax and open a bottle of beer. Their peace was not to last long though.
In the meantime, Bill had set off for a run from the gite up to the Col d’Azet (2036m) high in the hills west of Loudenvielle close to where the paragliders had taken flight the previous day. He then broke off south onto the higher slopes, now snow covered, as he reached Cap de Toudous at 2266m. A marmot preparing for hibernation was spotted, but unfortunately for James in was too late to have it added to the Menu de Jour.
It was amazing how quickly conditions had changed – but after years spent in the Scottish Highlands, nobody should have been too surprised.
The spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon with its thermal baths had previously been invaded by the Goths and the Moors – today it was the turn of the 45 Degrees MC. The locals must have had advance warning though as it seemed that the town was undergoing a lockdown rehearsal. An hour or so was spent wandering around and light refreshment taken but the town was not exactly heaving. After the preceding week it was a bit of an anti-climax, but George and Susan did find a bear doing what bears do in the woods. Soon they bundled themselves back in the car in preparation for the final evening in Loudervielle.
The stage was finally set for the farewell ceilidh. There was enough food to feed the Foreign Legion, but it seemed that there might have been an over estimation of how much beer and wine could be consumed on our final soiree.
Raymond and Lorn fashioned a French Tricolour from appropriately coloured t-shirts and it hung proudly alongside the cross of St Andrew.
The food soon disappeared – there would be no leftovers for Lobo and some serious inroads had already been made into the beverage supply.
With the table cleared and the dishes done, it was time for everyone to really let their hair down – although with a couple of exceptions there wasn’t much to let down. The guitar and mandolin were unleashed again and the gite was soon reverberating to the sound of old favourites being belted out with added gusto. Nobody would have mistaken it for a church choir practice.
Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms saw every kitchen utensil in the gite put to imaginative and rhythmic purpose as the clang, rattle and thump of a dozen percussionists propelled the song along.
Peter, Paul and Mary aka Gerry, Raymond and Caroline then eased the pace with an emotional French ballad. Finally, the inevitable Sweet Caroline saw the dancers take to the floor, their enthusiasm and originality more than making up for the lack of technical merit.
The time flew by and then miraculously at around 11.45 pm it was declared – “there’s nae drink left!” Once again, the club had come through. It was probably a blessing in disguise though and everyone drifted off to bed for the last time in the gite.
In the morning, with glances over to the mountains, now snow-capped, fond Au Revoirs were exchanged with our marvelous hosts and soon the cars were speeding back to Toulouse airport.
Having arrived there very early, some of the gang elected to head into town, wander around, photograph the Basilique Saint-Sernin and have some lunch whilst the others hung around the airport spending their last few euros on overpriced coffee.
Eventually, everyone was aboard the aircraft and late on a Wednesday evening the plane taxied to a halt at a dark and dank Edinburgh airport.
The adventure was over, but the memories will linger for a long time to come. There were more than enough stories to be told and re-told around a fire at future meets. The clubs first overseas meet was a resounding success and there is every likelihood there will be others in future.
Contact details for Caroline: