We awake on the peak to a complete white out, and it doesn’t matter how effectively I drag my heels about the business of inhaling a mandatory morning coffee, insisting on cheese on toast, a little nap and faffing about getting ready, I can’t delay departure much past 11 am. And I tried, trust me. The thought of driving down steep, narrow, winding mountain roads in treacherous conditions with no visibility is not my idea of a good time. Nor Squiz’s I think.
And so it begins, our drive down the Pyrenees, hereafter known as “The Descent of Terror”. The options are few: a) make a mistake to the left and plummet thousands of feet to your death or b) make a mistake to your right to fall into a deep ditch with no hope of recovery outside of a winch, perhaps pushing another car thousands of feet to their death, or c) execute a perfect dismount in no visibility, on what seems a three feet wide, narrow, steep, endlessly winding, slippery road, avoiding every other terrified driver coming at you.
You know of course which one Fearless himself delivered, don’t you? And with the handicap of me swinging between chanting “were all going to die”/squealing in terror or otherwise trying to get the best shot by hanging out of a window.
Even with the fog, rain, tiny roads, sheer drops and endless terror, the drive down through the Pyrenees is breathtakingly beautiful. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, even an offer of slightly less burnt out adrenal glands.
On the way down, we have a first hand encounter with one of the sheep guardian Maremma dogs, chasing off a car coming in the other direction. He gives us the once over, deciding we’re not a threat and disappears into the mist. He’s a stunning boy, I hope he gets an early, quiet retirement, like this wonderfully sleepy boy I saw breifly yesterday.
We’ve missed the excellent French bread with its unique taste – it’s the same yeasty flavour that permeates white mould cheeses and champagne, a feature inherent in French wheat apparently, a gift from the spores in French soils.
As we descend, minute villages grow to dollhouse then full proportions. Most houses are ancient, built from stone and slate roofed, incredibly picturesque.
We’ve set an ambitious target, some 300 km away, back in the Mid Pyrenees amongst the Le Plus Beaux Villages of southwest France.
The plan was to drive as far as possible, but not all the way, but like all best laid plans, it doesn’t come to pass. I do spot a pretty deer though, grazing at the edge of a corn field at the base of the mountains. Ten points to Gryffindor!
The weather clears by the time we descend, but an accident reroutes us backwards a significant distance, onto freeways. We then go through virtually every weather condition imaginable bar snow, from warmth to pelting rain, rendering stopping early a moot point.
In the end we drive through the rest of the day, aiming to arrive in Lautrec by late afternoon. That doesn’t come to pass either. With only 26 km to go, endless roadblocks push us into circles on every increasingly smaller country roads in teeming rain and lightening, until we’re on a one lane challenge.
Like us, many vehicles have been rerouted onto this small road, giving even Chris a few hairy moments when passing. At one point, with us and another motorhome inching past each other on a road barely wide enough for one, no room for error either side, I find myself longing for the mountains. Really, it was that tight.
The late summer country views, meanwhile, are lovely. You could very easily feel you’ve stepped into a Van Gough painting.
It’s been a long, scary day, and I’m very glad to be still, in one piece, thanks to Chris’s nerve and driving skills. Fearless, as I have nicknamed him, indeed.