Wednesday, 17 August 2022

A New Spot in Town

I can't believe we haven't blogged about this before, nor that we have no more photos of it:

Late last year we began to hear rumours that a new venture was going to be opening in town - a bar was going to be using the old lavoir on the river under the plane trees. It was a rumour from a reliable source, but we weren't too sure how sucessful it would be.

It turns out - very. It's a great spot, the food and drinks are resonably priced, and they have live music at the weekend. A lot of people use it as a regular meeting spot, and it always seems to be buzzing whenever I cycle past or we are at the swimming pool.

It is a mark of how busy and disrupted this year has been that we have only been there together once

"le Lavoir Guinguette"

Tuesday, 16 August 2022

Eating at the top of the Pyrenees

The past two years we have eaten at a number of mountain refuges and restaurants that probably started as mountain refuges. Here's a rundown:

The first we ate at was last year at the refuge at lac d'Ilheou. They have a road (OK - track) they can drive up to get supplies in, but no internet or phone signal. That means they can serve a well cooked omlette served with a tomato salad for 7€, and drinks by the can for 3€, but not take credit card. Cash is needed. The second we ate at - also last year - was the Lac de Gaube, which we wrote about here. They also have a track, so they can drive in supplies and do a proper three course lunch.

This year we were more adventurous, and ate at two refuges which had signs saying that they had no facilities to deal with rubbish, and everything on site was delivered by helicopter. The first was at Refuge Oulettes de Gaube where we were lucky enough to get the last two picnic boxes, even though we were very late for lunch (15:15) and we hadn't placed an order. We had tried to, but either we had an old phone number or the phone wasn't working. The lunch wasn't spectacular - rice salad, a couple of pieces of cake, but it was fuel, and the view more than made up for it. We didnt order beer, even though they fly in kegs of a local artsan brew to serve on tap.

The refuge is protected from wind coming up the valley by being buried in a rock outcrop

Two days later we ate at the Refuge d'Estom. We had started our walk a couple of hours ealier than on the previous walk, so we arrived for lunch more or less at the same time as every other slow walker. It was a really good luch, too, a planche of mixed charcuterie, smoked fish rillettes, and cheese.

Once we work out how to make bookings and arrive at lunchtime we will dine at more refuges. They are without doubt dining experiences, and the people who run them work really hard under quite trying conditions. There's no electricity except for what they can capture from the sun, and having to fly in everything (although I am guessing that someone occasionally does the 15km return walk to get stuff as well) must make it a logistical challenge.

Saturday, 13 August 2022


Yesterday we retrieved Célestine from the gearbox whisperer. We went out relatively early because the weather forecast was for a scorcher. Needless to say, by the time we got to the gearbox whisperer's house, taken Célestine for a test drive, and had a polite cup of coffee, it was midday.

She was running well, if a little warm - unusual for Célestine, her running temperature is normally about 70°C, but she was showing above 80°C for the first 10km. Then, within the space of 2km, the temperature went off the gauge, at least 120°C.  I pulled over to be greeted by the sound of a kettle boiling.

Trying to cool down a boiling car in a cark park with no shade.

Susan had gone on ahead, in the Cactus, so I rang her, asked her to buy radiator liquid and return, which she duly did.

After a sufficient period of cooling I poured liquid in to Célestine, turned the engine on and topped her up. We drove to Garage Caillet in Bléré, by which time the gauge had returned to 110°C.

The garage are holding her there until we get a cooler day (Tuesday or Wednesday next week, hopefully) and we will go and retrieve her. With any luck the remedy will be flushing out the radiator and engine and descaling her, but it could be we'll need a new water pump and/or radiator.

Sighs all rounds...

Friday, 12 August 2022

About Cauterets

Cauterets has a very long history, stretching back to the Neolithic. There are supposedly many stone circles and dolmens in the area, although we have never seen them (or found them on a map). Later, the Romans identified the hot springs and built baths, traces of which have been found on terraces near the town.

The town didn't really gain popularity until the 18th century, when reliably passable roads were built, and people returned to take the waters. This reached its peak in the 19th century, when some of the spa buildings that can still be seen around the area were built, as well as the casino that now houses the cinema, a bar and the municipal swimming pool. The town was connected by electric train to the national network in 1899, and a couple of years before that a tramway had been built from Cauterets up the valley to the spa at La Raillère.

The tram station at Cauterets, built by the Eiffel company.

The tram station at Cauterets, built by the Eiffel company

The area was a great favorite of the Romantics. The mountains and wild nature attracted a number of wealthy (and very interesting) adventurers, who came to conquer nature whilst admiring and no doubt getting a frisson from how terrible (in the old sense of the word) it all was.

After the spa and taking the waters boom of the 19th century faded, Cauterets began to sink into obscurity. There were ski clubs started, but many of the winter sports tourists headed instead to the more fashionable Alps. Plans for hydro-electric dams in the valley were defeated in the 1950s, and this led to the declaration of the Pyrenees National Park in 1967. The railway from Lourdes had closed in 1949 and the tramway to La Raillère closed in 1970, but by then a cable car from the centre of town to the Cirque du Lys had been built and the tourists were starting to return.

The cable car to the Cirque du Lys starts close to the centre of town.

Not that life has been consistantly easy since then. In 2013 the road towards Lourdes (and the town's connection to the outside world) were washed away in a flood that also destroyed a number of  buildings in town. This resulted in the "laces" which can be seen at 3:50 in the video we took last year. The road was damaged again earlier this year, once again isolating the town, and also destroying telephone and internet connections. Our host Celine said it was slightly difficult - but rather nice.

Wednesday, 10 August 2022


If you had looked really closely at the background of last Thursday's photo (but why would you?) you would have noticed something a little odd. We certainly didn't notice it at the time.

In fact, it wasn't until the next day, as Susan and I were making our way to the station to leave Lyon, that I realised there was a bit of a commotion drifiting across the river. We couldn't quite work out what it was about, but there was what sounded like quite a heated discussion mixed in with machinery of some kind - we couldn't see anything anwhere you would expect to see people discussing things.

And then we lifted our eyes:

It looks like they are drilling holes in the cliff face to insert some sort of reinforcing, probably steel rods, to stabilise the rocks. The building below is the offices of the canal company. We have seen similar work done in caves, and the results of this sort of activity in rock faces above mountain roads, and we have even seen similar rods being used to hold up the cliffs of the Cité Royale in Loches, but we have never watched it being done in the middle of a big city.