Oh Canigou! How much do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to they depth and breadth and height. Yet, ere now, you remain out of my grasp. Not so much a dusting of midsummer snow on your upper reaches this morning, more like a good dollop, I think I'd have struggled up there.
Vernet to Mariailles: it looks straightforward, probably should've been straightforward, but I didn't even get as far as the Col de Jou
But I was struggling down here, too. I took the bus to Vernet-les-Bains and has a quick look around the fading spa town, just to make sure my knee was okay. I'd been here many years ago, back in 2000, and failed to climb Canigou. History looked about to repeat itself, even the gentle road walk up to Casteil was an effort. Nothing was working, physically or mentally, and I took every opportunity to stop and take a breather.
There were three coaches waiting in the parking lot of the Casteil Animal Park. Their cargo of schoolkids having been safely disgorged, the drivers were enjoying cigarettes and gazing lovingly at their vehicles; I can only imagine that they were either discussing the merits of each particular bus or, perhaps, ruminating, wistfully or otherwise, over journeys now spent. They didn't seem particularly perturbed by the sight of a lone hiker passing them and then returing, some minutes later and them repeating the process all over again.
I did try. The first effort was aborted because I wasn't sure I was on the right path, a local subsequently advised me that I was and that the track was preferable to following the paved road all the way to Mariailles. On the second effort I made it up through a wooded valley out onto the pasture; I'd gone barely two kilometres but it was already quite apparent that today was one of those days. The clouds had already descended, the Canigou massif looked unwelcoming and angry and my ambulatory zeal had fled back down the valley, leaving me to wallow, without purpose or direction, in a pool of sweat.
Back in Vernet I licked my wounds and considered my options. The intention had been to descend from Mariailles into the Tech valley, spend the night at Prats-de-Mollo then cross into Spanish Catalunya. Metereologically, the immediate prognosis was poor but there was a nice high building up over the Med. I took the bus and train to Perpignan, spent a night in the excellent value Hotel Mondial and consumed a bottle of impossibly cheap white plonk.
SATURDAY 18 JUNE
I paid for my parisomy the following morning with one of those niggling headaches that never quite goes away. A single, shiny euro took me all the way from Perpignan to Prats-de-Mollo, a 60km bus journey that takes the best part of an hour and a half. I might have been in Prats but the hotel I'd booked, alas, was not. Just as well I hadn't clambered down the precipitious slopes to find my bed another 5km up the road, the expletives would have been echoing around the valley. I cut my losses, kissed good by to 25€ and checked into a guest house on the square.
That's right, just one euro. Right across the Pyrenees Orientales and on the train as well as the bus
Poor Prats has surely seen better times. Or was it just the out-of-season vibe? It felt all dressed up with no place to go, vacant restaurant tables, half-empty streets. By nine o'clock it had more or less shut down for the night; fine by me, a good night's sleep then back on the trail.
Fort Lagarde, Prats-de-Mollo