Friday, 25 June 2004
For the first time in over a month, we had wheels under us. Our destination was Bagnères-de-Bigorre, a grand old spa town with its hotels pressed up against the towering Pyrenean forest.
Yoka led the way boldly into one of them, where overweight French people take the cure at the nation’s expense.
Inside the nineteenth-century façade was a scene of incredible luxury, with curved marble staircases, fountains, statues and tall mirrors. Everybody except us was wearing a white bath-robe and creeping along with lowered heads, like automatons, on their way to some appointment with the waters.
It was raining lightly so we had our coffee and pastries indoors at a bar. Keith and I felt sleepy and disinclined to move, but our hosts were more energetic.
We started our walk from Lesponne, higher up the valley, and ascended through the forest to a waterfall. The ground was like a mattress and the trees were huge and mysterious in the mist.
On the way back we took a small road. David suggested a visit to the Col de Beyrède, a place that he felt sure we had never heard of.
On the contrary, we said, we even knew the owner of the auberge there – the lanky, laid-back cyclist we had met at Saint-Maurice-Navacelles.
It was a rough road to get there and the auberge sat solitary at the head of the valley, commanding a wonderful view of the surrounding peaks.
As we drove up, a head appeared at an upper window and we recognised our companion. It took him a moment to place us, so far from our previous encounter, but was amazed when he did.
On the way home we stopped at Notre-Dame-de-Garaisson, a 16th century forerunner of Lourdes. The story was the same – a young girl saw a vision of the Virgin which commanded her to found an abbey on the site – but for some reason it did not attract the same frenzy that Lourdes did three hundred years later.
A bent old nun showed us the frescoes and a holy well, whose waters flow only in the presence of very distressed people. They did not flow for us.