Pau to Gavarnie along the GR10, August 1993. Climbing Pic du Midi D'Ossau, Grande Fache and Vignemale.
The day arrived for the annual Clachaig holiday abroad. It had started with me and Alan deciding to go to Andorra and the Pyrenees and had ended with about a dozen others jumping on the bandwagon - Me, Alan English, Big Scott, Jools, Cap'n Bob, John B, Brian D, wee Fifi frae Dundee and Eric the Wad, who went for a week.
The plan was for Scott, Jools and Alan to drive to London, leave the car at Keith's and I'd get the train down. The others all flew to Toulouse. I left Glasgow on the twelve o'clock train and got stuck behind a broken down goods train at Motherwell, taking us two hours to get to Edinburgh. Overhead line failure at Darlington delayed me too much to make the boat-train at London Victoria and I finally arrived at King's Cross three hours late.
Good old BR, again! They booked me into the Great Northern Hotel, with a room on the 5th floor and I dumped the gear and got the underground to Victoria to find out that I could get a connection to Paris at 10:30 - it was 9:45!
So, I ran back to the underground and a bomb scare at Warren Street meant we didn't stop there, which saved a few minutes and I ran back to the hotel, up to the 5th floor, back down, checked out, panted back to the underground, Warren Street open again, blast (or not as the case was!) and made it to Victoria with five minutes to spare. The train then left ten minutes late!
An hour and a half to Dover and buses took everyone to the docks where I just made the 1am Sealink ferry "Invicta" to Calais. I ran up to customs, forgot to go through the security channel and had to run round and back through, then forgot to show my passport, running past the chap on the desk who hauled me back, inspected my documents and shoved me up the corridor with the sound of laughter ringing in my ears. My secret was out. This was my first trip abroad! An hour and a half later we docked at Calais with the last hurdle between me and foreign soil being the exit and I couldn't find it. Eventually it appeared and I put my watch ceremoniously forward one hour and stepped out into the cool morning air and onto the concrete of Calais harbour. The breeze sighed through large gaunt skeletons of cranes and gigantic black bings. Bienvenue a la France.
A bus took us into the centre where another would arrive in an hour for the station and I took my chance to exercise my Gallic glottal muscles by asking the lady in the office "Je voudrai aller a la gare" and she answered me in English! Ah well, I mean eh bien! Got the first train from Gare de la Ville to Paris, Gare du Nord, went up to the info desk and was told in French to take the Metro, line 4, Pont d'Orleans, for Paris Montparnasse and I actually understood every word of it! 6France 50 on the tube and I sat outside the station in beautiful sunshine and a clear blue sky under the Montparnasse Tower and I stayed there until an hour before the train was due to leave at which point I sought it out, boarded and proceeded to find my seat in the mellee of fussing Frenchies. I couldn't find a seat as they'd all been booked but I didn't realise that this was indeed the correct train and the others had my seat ready for my arrival, which they had doubted would ever occur and after tottering down the carriages as the train sped across the plains of France I finally stumbled into the edge of their table and duly took my pew in their midst. They were in a sorry state though, having spent a lively night in London with Keith and a tour of Paris the next day. They were severely hungover! We blethered and snoozed the five hours to Pau and I noticed the windows had grills that blew cold air vertically. I asked myself why. Well, I found out when I got off the train and a solid wall of heat smacked me in the puss, so to speak. I wondered if it was just the heat of the engine I was standing beside but the others assured me that it was the heat of France and I was horrified to discover that we would be subjected to this tropical onslaught for the full two weeks of our sojourn in the Pyrenees. I walked up to the campsite, drenched in sweat and erected the flysheet - I hadn't brought the inner as we didn't expect too much rain - cooked the first of many disgusting pots of Pasta Choice, phoned home and we all then sauntered into town and parked ourselves outside a pub and began drinking half pints at two quid a throw! Very French we were, sitting there discussing life, the only difference being that we were trying to get pissed but couldn't afford to! I don't think the French get drunk very often. Lightning flashed over the mountains and I slept outside as it was incredibly humid. The others finally arrived from Toulouse and found us all comatose under the trees, out of the count on cheapo Kronenberg booze. Us Scots always find a way of getting swaalleyed!
Saturday dawned muggy and we noticed the hills were clagged in as we walked into town to catch the morning bus into the mountains. Alan was last and caused some concern as there was only one bus that day. Up the funicular we went to the upper town and we dashed everywhere, here and there, looking for the bus and were finally told that it was leaving from the lower station. So we ran back down the hill (with full packs on) and over to the bus. The only reason we made it was because his ticket machine had jammed! The bus then took us out of Pau and along past Laruns with a nice looking girl directing the driver along the dusty rural roads. A French choir was singing beautifully on the radio and we passed tall pointed, red tiled spires, with whitewashed walls beneath cloud topped, wooded hillsides. We then climbed up the side of a rocky gorge and passed Laruns in the middle of a fete and passed the sign advertising "Savage Duck Nougat!" On up to Gabas in fantastic sunshine and we got off the bus and slogged up the road to the campsite and had our lunch. Afterwards we walked up the hill to the dam at Lac du Brioces Artigues and looked in wonder at "Jean-Pierre", the local name for Pic du Midi d'Ossau with it's twin peaks soaring into the humid afternoon sky. We stopped at the café for a while then continued the long pull up through the woods, past two donkeys grazing in the trees, moving lazily in the stifling heat.
A final stiff slope took us back into the sunshine on the small Col Long de Magnabaigt, with it's beautiful short grass but complete lack of water. The walk up the Magnabaigt valley was absolutely beautiful with a good track winding easily up the hillside high above the green of the valley floor, which was filled with the sound of cow bells which announced that we had finally arrived in the mountains. We were worried about Alan so I lay in the grass for half an hour watching the clouds rise slowly up the valley, silhouetting then covering giant buttresses of clean rock. Big drops of rain came and went and I moved on. I was a long plod up to the Col du Suzon with occasional thunderclaps resounding off the sheer walls of "Jean-Pierre" on the right. A final pull and I met Scott and Jools on the col and some French climbers who said they had met Alan lower down and plied him liberally with wild strawberries so we decided to go down to the hut and set up camp before the weather, which was closing in, did something nasty on us. The path led across the boulderfield left by the long dead glacier, below the gigantic south face of "du Midi" and popped out at the Lac de Pombie on whose shores nestled out objective for the night. The Pombie refuge. I set the flysheet up in what was now a howling gale and made my dinner, which I had chosen from my stash of twenty Past Choice and ten Savoury Rice! Alan appeared later and as dusk settled on our motley crew we adjourned to the hut for some light refreshments and convivial banter. Sat round a table inside, the storm raged outside. Torrential rain battered on the windows and everyone gasped as brilliant lightning lit up the sky for miles around and deafening thunder reverberated from the mountain walls around us. When the time came to leave we all followed the one headtorch back to the tents, the ground lit up by brilliantly electric blue lightning flashes which were immediately followed by ear splitting thunderclaps. Our dosh had run out at the height of the storm. My flysheet was drenched and I climbed into the plastic bin liner (orange bivvy bag!) and fell asleep to the roar and blasts of the wind and the heavy drumming of angry rain on Alan's posterior as he lay bunched against the side, snoring like a pig. Later on, when the storm had passed, I got up and watched rapid flashes like a bombing raid over the distant mountains and the faint sound of thunder, far off in the distance.
Sunday was cloudy so we hurriedly got everything together and header up to the Col where Alan turned back due to badly aching feet and myself, Scott, Jools, Eric and John B all donned helmets and header up the ridge of Pic du Midi to the foot of the rocks. A plaque indicated someone's death, reassuring, not. We bypassed the start and scrambled up open chossy chimneys and onto more open rock. Up a long corner on the left and another shorter, wetter one with a metal spike marking the route. Then up a very chossy gully on the left, past a roped party and popped out at a big metal cross. By now the cloud had enveloped us and in shorts I was a wee bit chilly. On up scree and boulder slopes and left along the narrow shattered ridge above sickening drops and we finally reached the summit. No view, two large black circling birds and a surfeit of small rocks, each perched atop a squashed mound of shite!
Chilly, so we went straight back down and the cloud cleared, revealing the hut a long long way away and several thousand feet below. The ridge fell in a long sweep down to the Col de Suzon and then rose to the green slopes of Pic Saoubiste, which was in the process of emerging from the fluffy clouds. We abseiled a long corner and romped down to the hut to find Alan had departed, mysteriously letting the tent down and everything was lying all over the place so Bob had stuffed it all into Scott's tent. He was a marked man and the "Mauvais Garcons" weren't too pleased at him leaving litter lying around too! "There'll be a stabbing tonight" bellowed Big Willie Scott and a flock of those scruffy and ragged choughs flew away up the mountain. At night these birds congregated on the face and their screeching continued until sundown. The walk down the valley was pleasant in the afternoon sun and after passing the Cabane de Pouchioux, surrounded by sheep and a few pigs we crossed the tumbling burn and walked along the valley floor then across a footbridge and down through a beautifully shaded forest to Caillon de Socques and a small café on the road to the frontier. Brian D and party had set off up the hill ahead of the main group to find a camp stop for the night and so the rest of us dallied at the café, relaxing in the sunshine. A slightly chilly wind blew up the valley from Gabas as we eventually headed up a winding path through the trees and along the side of a burn that seemed to go on for ever until we reached the Cabane d'Arrious, a shepherd's bothy just below the col. Limited flat space decided my camp site behind a rock and surrounded by sheep shite, with some horses mingling with the tents as the sun sank low in the sky, sending shadows racing across the twin peak of "Jean-Pierre" across the valley. I cooked my dinner in the bothy as everyone played cards round the candlelit table and the beasties moved noisily in the woodwork and my stomach complained even noisier at yet another influx of Past Choice. A cold and strong wind blew all night and the altitude seemed to bung up my tubes so that I didn't sleep well at all. In fact I must have picked an infection up as I started to get fluid in my ears. Tilting my head one way caused it to rush to one ear and tilting it the other gave me the sound of rushing waters going to the opposite ear. What was going on? Oh dear, my foreign trip wasn't going too well at all at all!
Monday was bright and I packed up the tent after a breakfast of stodgy porridge and walked up the path that wandered up the hillside and into a wee coire of green turf, then up a steep pull, zig zagging to the Col d'Arrious, a flat rocky area adorned with signposts. I continued up the path and emerged at the Lac d'Arrious, at eye level with it as the path gradually climbed to it's rocky shore. Immediately left the lakeside and walked up a path to the left across some rocks and came across Alan and Fiona waiting at the "bad step", a narrow path which crossed a very steep rock face with a vertical drop of about 200 feet on the left. A metal cable stretched the full length of the face and below us, the deep blue Lacs d'Arrimoulit curled round the base of the cliffs. The path then crossed a rough boulder area and down the clean slabs to the Arrimoulit Hut which nestled on the shore of the lake, Pic d'Arriel and Pic Palas shimmering overhead despite a nippy breeze. Le Lurien across the way had a horizontal band of white rock around it's summit.
Tea and Savoury Rice for lunch and we lazed at the hut for a while and I decided to have a wash and a shave. Alan asked what the white stuff near the mountain summits was and received the gruff answer "dandruff!". It was snow! Well, we packed up and header off up the path into the coire, passing a girl being helped down with a damaged foot or something. The heat on the climb up to the Col du Palas was incredible as we boulder hopped all the way apart from the murderous scree at the top. "Col du Palas" was painted on a rock here and suddenly we had a clear view to Balaitous, rising behind it's protective walls and high lonely coires, ringed by snow and shimmering in the intense heat.
Here our ways parted for a couple of days, with Brian, Cap'n Bob and John B heading for the Refuge Larribet on the French side of the border, which we now straddled, while the rest of us were heading down the steep scree slopes into Spain and the Arriel Lakes. The descent was as murderous as the ascent, down a field of giant boulders and very mobile scree, it was a wonder no damage was done. However, once in the glen we relaxed on the shore of the lake and swam in the emerald green waters, cool to our scorching skins. We walked round the lake on a good path, under the approach gully to Balaitous and past several other small lochans high above the floor of the main valley which we were now entering. Ahead, the dam on the Ibon del Respumosa was dwarfed into insignificance by smooth sided gigantic pyramids of ochre mountains marking the frontier. The Picos del Infierno soared to the cloudless sky and shimmered in the intense heat. We headed down the long winding path above tremendous drops and eventually reached the dam, tired and very hot indeed. Apparently the path we were on had been used by the navvies building the dam and gravel sifting apparatus was built into the hillside.
Ibon del Respumosa was a gigantic hole in the ground with not much water in it and ancient drowned trees stood bare and gaunt on a mound in the middle which must have been an island at one time. The hut marked on the map wasn't there but a new one stood about ten minutes walk from the dam, the Alfonso XIII refuge, a massive youth hostel type building full of Spanish tourists. Jools arrived later and warned us about Alan. He was totally shagged and in a foul mood! He certainly was. Our problem was he was the only one of us who could speak Spanish and on arrival he promptly fell asleep and became dead to the world for the remainder of the evening! After dinner we went into the hut and perused the menu and found straight away what we were looking for - a "famous golfer" - "Lee Trevino!" "A Lee Trevino and four glasses", I asked the waiter! The sun set behind the Picos del Infierno and the sky turned aqua blue then deepest black. The place closed at ten and two more "golfers" were purchased before heading back to the tents and our snoring interpreter! I actually got a good night's sleep that night as apparently Alan snored like a buzz saw all night and I didn't hear a thing! Jools in the next tent did though! A billion stars over the Spanish mountains promised a cold night and I cooried doon and fell asleep under the influence of our "famous golfer".
Tuesday did indeed dawn cold and the tent had a coating of ice, much to Alan's consternation, "Burnt bloody rotten one day, frozen the next! Christ", he moaned as he puffed on his fag. Scott and Jools were champing at the bit and set off, then I left and after much wandering and map consulting I met them at Ibon Campo Plano. The Campo Plano hut was an open doss, full of bods and an old hut stood on the abandoned dam. To save reascent I balanced across the rounder top of the dam above an enormous drop and past the hut with a dog inside and we sheltered from the sun, waiting for the others. Eventually they arrived and we toiled in the early morning heat up a delightful gorge beside the tumbling, crystal clear and cold burn. However, the slog up the scree was complete murder as usual but it took us into a beautiful coire and we had to cross a large area of snow which dropped steeply into the green lochan, just at it's deepest part. Another steep grind and we reached the Col de la Fache and we were back into France.
The heat here was unbearable and we all lay under the same rock with the rucksacks piled on top for shade and slept for an hour. The ascent of Grande Fache was a great scramble up a shattered ridge in scorching sunshine while Alan watched the packs as he was done in! A Madonna in a shrine adorned the summit and Vignemale shimmered in the blue haze in the far distance. Behind us, Jean-Pierre watched our steady progress along the frontier. Back down the very loose scree to the searing col and down the long long long path into the Marceadau valley, first over dead glacier debris, then long zig zags down the grassy hillside that seemed to go on for ever. A Marmot sat on a rock and called to us. Finally down to the burn and onto the Wallon hut where the others had arrived from the Larribet hut, I soaked my battered feet in the burn and had dinner. Lying in the evening sunshine, the steam rising from the stove, the gear airing on the tent and a herd of cows clanging past, sheer bliss! The jagged ridge of Pic Falisse sawed the heavy hot air and as I tucked into my usual Pasta Choice, Alan arrived knackered! We all sat outside the hut that night and discussed a rest day or days at Cauterets and two days were argued and finally agreed on, much to the disgust of Jools! I talked with Alan about the stars that night as we sat outside the tent, the Milky Way arching across the night sky with the odd shooting star streaking to it's death a rake of miles above our sleepy heads. Poor sod had an attack of the trots that night and crapped thirteen times in the burn!
More sunshine on Wednesday and we all walked down to Pont D'Espagne, along a path under giant cliffs with great looking rock routes on them, past hundreds of tourists to the car park that was absolutely heaving with bods. Then a beautiful two hour walk down a rough path to Cauterets "par La Rive Gauche", the burn which followed us down the gorge. At one point everyone congregated on a clifftop where the spray from a thunderous waterfall rose into the air and soaked us all to the skin, wonderfully refreshing! Fiona also changed into trainers as her sole parted company with her boot! Coke at Cascade du Lutour, La Raillere and the short walk down to Cauterets. We found a campsite and a got two litres of milk and a huge tin of sausages and lentils from the supermarket. I dropped one litre before I reached the checkout and had to scarper before I had to pay for it though! Jools was ill from the water somewhere and I gorged myself on cheese, mustard and baguettes, with the cost being: Baguettes - 4F 70, a litre of milk - 5F 70, cheese - 7F 70. Sent postcards home, and also to Janet and Stuart. Went into the town that night and a band played French traditional music as the sun set over the towering hills above the brightly painted village. The thermometer in the square read 70 degF at midnight.
Thursday was split decision day with Me, Alan, Fiona (with new boots), Scott and Jools got a taxi back up to Pont D'Espagne in 120degF heat and took the chairlift to the Lac de Gaube at 26degF and walked to the Ouellettes de Gaube hut at the foot of our next objective, Vignemale. Our driver couldn't get over the bridge at Pont D'Espagne as literally hundreds of cars were coming down the valley. He just got out and walked across, waving his arms and shouting but to no avail. So we walked the last wee bit to the chairlift. The Telecierge was packed with people going down and we were practically the only ones going up! I put my feet on the white marks and the giant wheel brought an empty seat round and I jumped on, seated the rucksack next to me and pulled the bar down over my legs and enjoyed an airy ascent above the trees and the rough zig zagging path which transported tired and stumbling walkers to the hot valley. I looked behind me and saw Alan lift his bar up and fidget with everything and I could see him joining the walkers on the path below! A quick jump at the top and I was off and we set off up the crowded path to the Hotellerie. Lac de Gaube was fantastic, greeny blue under the trees and boulders of the mountains. A good path took us up through the trees through hanging valleys and dead glacier terrain before finally zig zagging up rough boulders to the Refuge Des Oullettes de Gaube. I pitched the tent on the silty glacier outflow beneath the soaring north face of Vignemale, 3000 feet of vertical and overhanging rock, towering straight to the summit of Pic Longue, the Couloir de Gaube blocked at it's base by an old bank of snow wedged in the gully. Piton Carre and Pointe Chausenque were silhouetted in the sunset. Jet streamers of clouds glowed pink in the evening and a few bright stars came out over the gigantic cliffs as I sipped minestrone soup and once more gorged on cheese, mustard and baguettes which I'd carried up from Cauterets. We lay for a long time outside the tents that night, drinking coffee, blethering and watching the stars. The forecast for tomorrow was storm.
Friday was beautiful as we packed up and headed off up the steep zig zag path, past the Spanish walkers and their "Ola" and the French with their "Bonjour" and on up to the Hourguette D'Ossoue. A short day to the Refuge de Baysellance in a sea of boulders and dirt. I pitched the tent in a ring of rocks on hard packed dirt, I didn't like this place much. No sign of the storm yet. I lazed in the scorching heat all day, had a wash and a shave and the water out of the tap was warm - a bad sign, a bad sign indeed!
The others arrived from Cauterets later on and we arranged two ropes for the crossing of the glacier on Vignemale the next day. Sat outside the tent at sunset and looked out over to Monte Perdido and through the strange gap of the Breche de Roland and the block shaped Taillon, the easiest 3000 metre peak in the Pyrenees. The sky turned dark blue and dirty brown above the Cirque de Gavarnie with the top of the cascade just showing. We chatted with an Austrian guide whose face was a rough and brown as the walls of the hut and I finally turned in as the stars came out and a slight breeze blew a film of dirt over everything.
We rose early on Saturday and I breakfasted on porridge and set off down the path which branched off to the right and crossed an exposed rock band, traversed the glacier debris and finally reached the Ossoue Glacier at it's heavily crevassed snout, the first glacier I had ever seen! A jaunt up smooth rock, scoured recently by the receding glacier. Where the rock met the ice we roped up, Jools, myself, Alan and Scott on one rope, Cap'n Bob, Fifi, Brian and John B on the other and eminently more sensible one! We'd lost Eric at Cauterets as he only had a week's holiday.
The glacier was old and for the most part free of crevasses and to boot we seemed to be the only roped party on the mountain - everyone else was just walking up as normal as if the glacier was just a snow field. What's worse, out of our group only Scott had been on a glacier before and knew the etiquette. The other three of us hadn't and didn't, and it showed! Curses flew everywhere. "hurry up ya fat b*d", "slow down ya *", "*'s sake do we have to go this slow\fast?", "that's a good pace Jools", "watch that crevasse boys!", "I'm in charge", bellowed big Scott, "away an' se" came from one of the novices! Our leader, big Willie Scott had banned fag stops so we soon reached the rocks, took the rope off and scrambled the short distance to the summit. Fantastic view, straight down to the Ouellettes area and the Baysellance hut and the Couloir de Gaube. A Spanish climber on the summit remarked, "Ah, you cannot be Scottish, you are not drinking beer!", "how'd you like to fly back amigo?", barked Big Willie Scott!
Peak upon peak shimmered in the afternoon sun and the feed basin of the glacier was black with fallen rocks and heavily crevassed. I didn't feel well. I didn't know it then but the derriere Olympics had just begun and my arse had been chosen to run with the flame! I had been the only one not affected by any bugs but that was to change, and pretty soon too. It was a sheer toil back down the rocks, knocking down huge blocks before we got back to the glacier and roped up again, and the curses returned. "Have you got drag me down?", "I dragged ye up ya fat b**d, I'll drag ye down", "stop fighting", roared our leader, "let's go back through the crevasses", said Jools, "yeh, yeh", we all chanted, "oh my godfathers", moaned big Scott. "Alan's in a crevasse", "cut the rope", "leave 'im".
We eventually got off the glacier alive and header back down the rocks. Alan had a hard time on the snow patches and I waited for him at the tent. I was now quite weak and ill and everyone headed off except myself and Alan. We left later, in a strong gale and flying dirt and toiled down the steep track below the glacier. I found Grotte Bellvue, Henry Russell's caves, just in time as my arse exploded inside the dirtiest of them. Sorry Henry, but I had to and anyway they were all crammed full of litter. A long long walk down to the lake and Alan fell and hurt his ankle but it was ok. A French walker carried on after I assured him, "C'est bon". We reached the lake and rested in the shade. I was done in and a two hour walk down to the road awaited our aching feet. It was the worst bit of the trip, mile upon mile upon mile upon mile of tarred road zig zagged down to Gavarnie under a blazing sun. I was completely dehydrated and exhausted. So thirsty that I just had to have a few sips from the river, not a good idea at all. I detested that road and that sun The French walker we'd met gave me a lift the last mile into Gavarnie. I would not like to think what would have happened had he not. I was now dead outside a café. We fell in and had a few drinks. An English family laughed at us. We humoured them. A little humour survived though. All I needed on that road was the spaghetti western music to play and a wee Mexican to jump out of the bushes and say "What did you say your name was, senior?", so I could struggle up, brush the dirt from my clothes, say "I didn't" and walk off into the sunset! Found the campsite after much confusion and Scott and Jools pitched out tent for us as the two of were now extras from "Night of the living dead", "Na, don't want you two, you're too dead looking!". Apparently Scott and Jools had got a lift the whole way to Gavarnie!
Half and hour later and everyone piled into a restaurant surrounded by horseshit for an impromptu club dinner. 98F got us a huge melon, Jambon (raw ham), Cote de Mutton (half raw mutton) and brilliant profiteroles, three of them smothered in thick cream and a fantastic cup of coffee to finish it off. The mutton came crappy French fries. Wine flowed all night but I couldn't drink any. I was burnt and stinking but ate everything I could get my hands on. Sunday was hot, humid and cloudy and I had the shits from hell. All day, all night, the Cirque de Gavarnie and the Grande Cascade went unnoticed on my frequent trips to the toilet block. I shit everywhere, not just the toilet. I threw my plastic bivvy bag in the skip when I had to crouch in it in the tent during a particularly violent attack and I had to wash all my clothes as well. I was in a terrible state. The ritual went something like, lie in tent doing nothing. Violent gas bubbling sounds from stomach, start running. If toilet block reached sit on pan with forehead on door, sweat removing the paint. Shit myself cross-eyed. Wash arse in sink and return slowly (uphill) to tent to lie down again. One time I didn't make it to the toilet and had to drop my breeks in the middle of the camp site and squat down. I was past caring. At one point Alan returned from the village with a miracle cure (I was sceptical as I'd already eaten everyone else's Imodium with no effect) and it turned out to a pack of half frozen hamburgers which he proceeded to fry at the tent door. I thought about strangling him but couldn't raise the strength! Gavarnie is a stinking hole. Full of tourists and overworked donkeys who have to transport fat slobs up to the cirque. In the evening the owners sweep out the barns and literally tons of desiccated dung gets dumped in the river or rises into the air to choke lungs and sting eyes. This was hell. You can keep Gavarnie, I'll never be back, for sure.
Monday arrived and the others all left for the hills again for the last three days of the trip but I was too ill and Alan's feet too sore so we left Gavarnie for ever on the 6:45pm bus for Luz (26F). We changed at Luz, where I blocked the station toilet and headed on for Lourdes (55F) passing through a bleak town with a giant incinerator, the flames visible from outside. We got to Lourdes and got on the couchette. The guard found us - "Vous avez payez pour une couchette? - 172F pour deux - Non? eh bien, a Pau, OFF!". So, we were kicked off at Pau in a thunder and lightning storm and torrential rain. The storm had finally arrived! Got a train to Paris half an hour later and slept most of the way. Alan put his bum bag in the basket behind the seat in front of him and by the time we reached Paris it was gone, nicked. Money, tickets, passport, the lot. We naively went to lost luggage three times, zilcho. We then went to the police and finally to 9 Avenue Hale at the Arc de Triomphe, Charles de Gaule metro station for the British Embassy, but not before I'd spent an uncomfortable half hour in a superloo opposite the Arc. It kept threatening to open and I managed to stop it each time with a violent stab of the button. I eventually had to leave when it started going through it's self clean cycle!
Well, it had come to this. The British Embassy in Paris. A six foot leggy blond watching us from behind a glass screen (probably hastily erected when they saw us coming) and an armed guard in the waiting room. Alan was covered in plukes and blisters and was in a raging mood as his fags had been in the bum bag. I was thin, grey and gaunt with tweed breeches and big heavy climbing boots on and constantly went to the toilet. I thought of leaning over to the guard and asking him to shoot me. We both stank, terribly. Alan's sister wired him some money and I left him for the train. He eventually got the bus home. I shit myself at the Arc de Triomphe again, though not in the loo this time. Cleaned myself up at the station and got the 14:18 to Calais, having to stand the whole way as the train was crowded. 6pm at Calais, feeling really bad. An hour and a half of Tom and Jerry cartoons on the ferry, I lay semi conscious across the seats amid a crazed group of rug rats watching cartoons. Coming off the ferry, a line of pensioners blocked my escape to the toilets, too late, I shit myself again. By this time I had my Buffalo on so I did up the crotch strap very tight and squelched onto the bus for the station. It was packed and a kid kept looking up at me. I wanted to box his ears. Desperate journey to Victoria, thought I was going to die. Took a chance on the underground to Euston and had to squeeze in next to hundreds of Arsenal fans "wat's that pong mate?". Barely made the 23:50 to Glasgow. I had a sleep for a while, felt a tiny bit better and ate an apple. The pieces came out immediately, undigested and covered in blood. Finally reached home and spent the next week in bed. The doctor never did tell me what I had. I think the sample he asked for convinced him that I must have died in the meantime!