The Pyrenees Run – Part 2 – Helicopters and the Holy Mother of God. PICS ADDED!

Home Forums Biking abroad Pyrenees, France The Pyrenees Run – Part 2 – Helicopters and the Holy Mother of God. PICS ADDED!

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  • #15103
    Radar
    Moderator

    As a good catholic boy (!) it seemed perfectly logical to make the famous town of Lourdes our target for our first days riding in the Pyrenees. It was in Lourdes that a young girl who was to become St.Bernadette is said to of been visited by the Virgin Mary, a very holy figure in the Catholic Church. Since then the waters that flow through this town, cascading down from the surrounding mountains have been said to hold healing powers. From a biking perspective the route to get there from Campan takes in some of the best roads in the region. So not perhaps the most usual start to one of my reviews…but we are getting there! The roads climb and twist up to a height of over 2200 metres and the views over the mountain vistas were said to be breathtaking. Just what we had travelled here for and it was with a great sense of anticipation that we made our way out of Campan and up the Vallee de Gripp (really!). As we steadily climbed the views got progressively more and more spectacular. However it was also the first time we encountered something that was to be a bit of a theme as our week progressed…loose gravel, or in local parlance ‘gravellions’. If you think the loose chippings that strewn the roads with in the UK are bad they are nothing compared to the little swines the French love to spread, seemingly randomly all over these lovely twisting roads. Without these the D918 would have been epic as it wound up to the summit, through the popular ski resort of LaMongie to the highest point at ‘Col du Tourmalet’. Sadly it was here that our fun was cut short – a member of the local plod, the Gendarmerie, was stationed there turning traffic back down the mountain. The whole area had been hit by floods when the snow melted and the local town of Bareges-Barzun had all but wiped off the map. The road through had also been badly affected and bridges destroyed. There was no way through. So we parked up the bikes and made our way to the highest point we could on foot.

    In a week to be dominated by breathtaking sights this was an amazing start. My Hyperbole metre is going to be off the scale by the end of the reviews! It is hard to convey just how beautiful the place is, and even the pictures (when I post them) don’t really do it justice either. In the bright sunshine and the crisp mountain air we could literally see for miles and miles. Despite the warming sun the ambient temp was in single figures and we could see our breath condensate as we exhaled. Amazing. We just stood in silence for a while and tried to absorb our surroundings. Moments like these are to be savoured.

    The situation for the locals is less romantic and they have to deal with the harsh realties’ living such places can bring. The Tour-de France cycle race was due to pass this way in less than a week from now and so important is it to the local economy that all efforts were being made to get the pass open again in time.  They were so desperate in fact that a helicopter had been drafted (ahem…) in to help efforts. So we were treated to an impromptu mountain top air show as a very skilled pilot threw the chopper around the mountain side, hovered with pin point precision while workers on the ground hooked up a line he had trailed down from his bird to a bag of materials that he promptly whisked away to the worst hit areas. We stood and watched transfixed, the flying was awesome. At one point his passenger calmly got out while was still in hover, stepped onto the side ski and then on to the ground with all the drama of getting out of a van! How cool is that!!?

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    The lads at LaMongie

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    To be honest the pictures really don’t capture the full majesty of what is before you

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    The helicopter was been thrown around with great skill and panache…

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    Seemed a nice spot to park!

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    Me, spoiling the view…

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    Four on top of a hill

    Anyway we had to retrace our steps and find another way to Lourdes. After a brief rest halt in local village for a drink were we got chatting to a couple of German bikers, one of whom was riding a BMW with the baldest front tyre I have ever seen, we head through Bagneres and onto Lourdes. First stop there wasn’t the holy shrine, but McDonalds where Champs pulled off his usual trick of getting his meal first – how does he do that!?

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    Zoom in and check out the front boot on the BMW

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    Champs gets to his burger first…!?

    We parked up the bikes just outside the gates of the shrine, or Grotto as the locals call it and were immediately blessed by a passing pilgrim who thought we had ridden all the way from the UK just to be here. I didn’t have the heart to say we in the area in any case.  The shrine is perhaps the most significant place to the church apart the Vatican itself and it has been developed into the most stunning place, we spent a couple of hours wondering around the grounds, chapels and churches that make up the complex. Whatever you may think of religion in general the place does have an atmosphere and it was an emotional day for me as my parents have both visited here when they were alive. Walking in their footsteps got to me more than I thought it would and was not at all what I was expecting when I got on the bike this morning! On a lighter note I think we might have been the first visitors to discuss the merits of beam frames and spiked electrical loadings on lighting as we sat and chilled in the grounds! It is a shame too that the streets surrounding it are lined with staggeringly tacky gift shops…hey ho, same the world over I suppose

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    Not influenced by the Beatles in any way…I am not sure that Thumper was completely on message!

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    Tacky gifts shops..

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    At the gates of Lourdes

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    In and around the shrine

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    Thumper and Champs checking out Lourdes at the shrine, discussing beam frames. God rides a Harley alledgely…

    Back on the bikes, a quick halt to change a headlight bulb in the ZX6R…the healing powers don’t stretch to H4 halogens obviously, we tried out the tight and demanding road that climbs up to the hamlet of Germs-sur Oussoulet. Ses and I rested in the village square while Thumper on the GS and Champs on the ZX6R pushed on further up the road until it just petered out on them. I would seriously doubt that too many ZX6Rs have been up there. Thumper was just happy to find a road with grass up the middle of it!

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    One of the Malvern Hills bits…

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    Champs right at the very edge of what the ZX6R can do…

    It had been a fantastic day, not quite what I had expected, but so varied. We made our way back to our base in Campan, stopping at the Lidl in Pouzac (Prozac as we affectionately dubbed it) for some supplies and beer. We had to buy a bloody rook sack to hold the beer…

    Another excellent evening passed quickly as Thumper knocked up a storming Bolognese for dinner , with help from Ses, washed down with wine and the beer we bought…oh hang on…beer? Champs made a bit of a schoolboy error and bought us two trays of SHANDY!!! Oh well, great evening nonetheless as we tried desperately to get drunk on 1% proof lemonade!

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    Gordon Ramsey eat your heart out!

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    Cracking meal…note the candles!

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    Don’t let Champs buy the ‘beer’…

    The riding has been good and rarely have I had such a diverse day on bike. Good times. 

     

    #66440
    ses310
    Moderator

    Excellent write up

    #66441
    Martin
    Participant

    Great Pics and write up Tony.  Makes me really miss our place in the Pyrenees – we are heading back for a week in October.

    You were really unlucky with the Col du Tourmalet, but lucky that your trip was not a couple of weeks earlier!!  The worst rain and snow melt combination for decades!  Lourdes was actually underwater up until a couple of weeks ago, believe it or not, and the whole of the grotto area was closed.  It is also unusual to see that much snow around this time of year, just goes to show what a fantastic ski season it had been.

    Keep me up to date with the northern Spain trip for next year mate.  Things are looking up here and a ride from Malta via our pad in France to meet up with you would be fantastic!  Where are you looking at?  The Picos de Europa?

    8) 8)

    #66442
    Speed Monster
    Participant

    Another quality report mate!!  8)

    #66443
    imperialdata
    Keymaster

    Some stunning pics there and a cracking read.

    Abbey Road spoilsport – funny  :D
    Panaché – hilarious!  ;D

    #66444
    Champs
    Participant

    haha, we needed a fourth person, I love andys twist on the classic. he’s such an artist  ::)

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    abbey-road_00262257.jpg

    #66445
    Radar
    Moderator

    Some stunning pics there and a cracking read.

    Abbey Road spoilsport – funny  :D
    Panaché – hilarious!  ;D

    Me and my bloody spellink

    #66446
    katana
    Participant

    Great write up and photos

    panache.jpg

    #66447
    HippoDrones
    Participant

    the views looked amazing, lovely job :-)

    #66448
    Thumper
    Participant

    I was really surprised at the wonderful atmosphere of Lourdes at a devout atheist – very nice.
    Happy days, thanks lads, and once again to Radar for the write-up.
    As for the Abbey road pic – I was waiting for my beard to grow!

    #66449
    katana
    Participant

    Abbey road?

    I was thinking more

    Genesis-We-Cant-Dance.jpg

    #66450
    Radar
    Moderator

    or maybe

    #66451
    ses310
    Moderator

    These were posted on another forum, it shows the other end of the road down from Col du Tourmalet
    Can see why it was closed!

    https://plus.google.com/photos/117593757311779894376/albums/5902698958968906449?banner=pwa&authkey=CNf1tIm3ocuj-QE

    #66452
    Radar
    Moderator

    Great Pics and write up Tony.  Makes me really miss our place in the Pyrenees – we are heading back for a week in October.

    You were really unlucky with the Col du Tourmalet, but lucky that your trip was not a couple of weeks earlier!!  The worst rain and snow melt combination for decades!  Lourdes was actually underwater up until a couple of weeks ago, believe it or not, and the whole of the grotto area was closed.  It is also unusual to see that much snow around this time of year, just goes to show what a fantastic ski season it had been.

    Keep me up to date with the northern Spain trip for next year mate.  Things are looking up here and a ride from Malta via our pad in France to meet up with you would be fantastic!  Where are you looking at?  The Picos de Europa?

    8) 8)

    Thanks for the feedback Martin. It is an amazing area, great roads and the views are well beyond my ability to describe them.

    Be great if you join us on the next run. I hadn’t really thought about a specific part of northern Spain to be honest, but I would like to drop slightly to check out Burgos too. The E623 (?) to there from Santander is supposed to be a really serious strip of tarmac…

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