31 August 2005

Week in Fitou - August 2005 - Aftermath - Part One

Day 1 - Motorail

Despite scare stories that P&O were charging a supplement on anyone arriving for the wrong boat, either early or late, we had no problems getting an earlier crossing with Steve and Bobby.

The mini-group for this tour was Claire and myself on the GS, and Steve and Bobby (S&B) on the FJR1300.

Although a Yamaha (!), I have read quite a bit on how this bike is a perfect tourer having luggage capacity as well as the means to get a shift on with its R1 derived engine. Steve has added a Melvyn seat and has changed the OEM panniers for larger Kappa items fitted with a QD kit to let him take it all off the bike, frames as well. Plus a PDA with Tom-Tom GPS software and their intercom.

As for our side of things, I had the usual three box BMW luggage and Touratech tank bag. My only new toy was the Quest GPS I bought in June and that I was still getting to terms with. We had nicknamed her "Doris", but the voice she emits is more Joanna Lumley than Barbara Windsor, so Doris may be doing it/her a dis-service. As I had only used Doris a few times and in the car I also had Michelin map 527 with me - the orange one!

I had planned a few trips out from Fitou on the Mapsource software on the PC at home and saved all the places I might want to go as "My Locations". This needed a bit of refining once I had a proper co-ord for the apartment in Fitou!

After lunch in Calais at the Café de Paris we made our way to the shops to buy dinner and then off to load. As if it was a parting gift it started to rain. Right up until we loaded the bikes on the train. As we were early enough we got on first, right at the front of the Narbonne carriages.

As things go the motorail saves riding down and gets you to within 40 miles of the Spanish border overnight. Although a touring motorcyclist, I have never done that sort of distance voluntarily and don't want to. As for the claims that it is cheaper than driving/rising? May be if you have a Roller or other gas guzzler.

We spent the evening eating our dinner as we sped southwards and then after a few beers in the cattle truck of a bar we settled down to kip.

Day 2 - Narbonne to Fitou

The train arrived a little later than scheduled and we were shepherded quite efficiently onto the buses to take us from Narbonne station to the Motorail depot about a mile away.

The bikes had been loaded first and the unloaders had unloaded them for us to get access to the many cars that were behind us. It saved us missing our breakfast in any case.

The apartment in Fitou is only 24 miles from the station and as it was barely 11am and we couldn't be in until 4pm we had to think of something to do. We decided to go to Fitou anyway and have a look where it was and on the off chance see if we could get in early. 

There have to be some perks knowing the owners. Sadly that had no effect and we had to go again and come back later! Not even drop the luggage into the apartment or garage. 

We made our way to the beachside at Leucate Plage for lunch. It was very windy. It turned out that this was the "tramontana" off shore winds, and the reason for the numerous wind farms all across the region. It was a bit irritating as eating outside was more difficult with everything being bolted down to avoid fighting through a meal!

Lunch stop
We then had a walk up the beach, in all our biking finery, before letting the GPS take us back to the door of the apartment.

Most evenings we ate in and so we needed to get some provisions and the local Intermarché provided us with all we could need.

Day 3 - Carcassonne Day

Although on holiday together as two couples it is sometimes a good idea to do your own thing, and this happened as we left for Carcassonne, purely by accident.

I misread the GPS and turned right and then onto a bumpy road, okay for the GS, but Steve was more apprehensive of taking his race-tourer on it. By the time we had found somewhere wide enough to turn to get back on the right route we had lost them. We decided to let Doris, as we had named the Quest, guide us to Carcassonne the shortest way across the Corbières whilst Steve's Tom-Tom went the motorway.

Our trip was on small roads and through villages yet to be touched by the incomers from the UK and other places turning them into little bits of England in the sun. We popped out onto the N113 about 20 miles east of the city.

The cross country route was through Treilles on the D50 to Fraissé des Corbières, Villesqué and onto the D611 to Thézan and across to Ferrals les Corbières.

There was a medieval festival on in the Cité and the place was packed and roads closed, but the police let bikes through. There is a bike park right outside the old city gates but it only holds about 6 bikes. In the end we parked across the road in the entrance to the bone yard. Amazingly as I was navigating backwards off the pavement, S&B arrived in the opposite direction.

The cité is on one side of the river and the modern city growing up from the 13th Century is across the river.

We did a couple of laps of the cité centre with obligatory stops firstly for lunch, and then for a drink before we set off home.

As we started to leave we got into a huge traffic jam of people by the gate where we came in. The people coming in all over the place and those of us trying to get out wedged in with them. Then a guy tried to drive his car out.... Finally, like a cork from a bottle we were out... Pop!

It started to drizzle and Claire tried her brand new waterproofs and so did I. As I use the bike more, I had a new pair of Swift unlined trousers but has left the braces at home. As she had her Draggin Jeans on she wanted a lighter pair, unnamed! We togged up and took the motorway back to Fitou. As it was Sunday and the last day of the holidays for many people the roads were quite busy.

Day 4 - Cathar Castles Day

I had read in the Michelin Green Guide about the Cathar Castles and the history of the Cathar people.  Two of the local castles were in easy riding distance and up in the mountainous area to the north-west of where we were staying.

S&B decided to go further afield to some villages to the north that are built on a curious system much like a Catherine wheel with the square in the centre... We decided to give that a miss and I programmed "Doris" to take us to Quéribus and Peyrepertuse.

We set off a little late after breakfast on the terrace and it was another warm day, but the wind was up again as we made our way up through Fitou and out into the hilly terrain behind. The tramontana is a semi-permanent wind and to take advantage of it there are wind farms everywhere. And as a tourist they don't look too bad. However, I might have other ideas if they stuck one near my house.. NIMBY? Moi?

We head in a different route to the Carcassonne day and the D9 to Opoule-Périllos was single track for much of it. Once again we went through small villages where tourist have yet to blight the area with their villas and bright blue swimming pools! Staying on the D9 was quite confusing as Doris became a little distracted by the sheer number of turns in the village, but once we navigated past the sleeping dog stretched across the road we were back on track.

At Vingrau we earmarked this for "another day" as it looked a nice place to have lunch. Of course, "another day" didn't happen on this trip. Doris took us down the D59 to Tautaval where there is a museum of prehistory (cavemen to us) that we glided past as the coaches in the parking put us off a little. Into Estagel, "off-route recalculating" Doris kept piping to us as we side tracked to fill the almost empty petrol tank.

Here the N117 is quite scenic and green lined on the Michelin Map and we followed it to Maury before making a right turn towards Cucugnan on the D19. Then simply follow the signs as the Chateau du Quéribus is clearly signposted and then clearly visible perched high on a mountain top.

The road up is twisty and the edges are rough and gravelly, and to my dismay there was a coach wedged in the entrance to the sloping car park. I parked up near the rear side of it and we untogged a lot of the bike gear intending to walk up to the castle. We had arrived at a popular time and the people climbing the path looked like ants and plenty of them so we decided to wait.

The wind was up and as we stood on the end of the car park overlooking the valley below the sudden gusts nearly had me over the edge and Claire almost suffered a similar fate as the wind caught her jacket and she nearly became a human kite!

Chateau du Quéribus
The coach party finally came together and from the cafe/visitor centre we watched it reverse and set off. Not really expecting to see the Italians again.. but....

After a coffee we decided to get some lunch and started back down the road towards the Peyrepertuse some 10 miles away. As we arrived in Duilhac sous Peyrepertuse we passed the coach stopped at the side of the road at a small diner, as we hairpinned up the slope we saw another one on the left and I pulled in. This one almost empty. And we had lunch.

As we sat under the trees the coach went past so we knew that they would be ahead of us a Peyrepertuse itself. I was in no hurry to get up there as a result, but off we went.

The guidebook doesn't mention how hard a climb it is to get to the castle once you have parked and paid your €5 each.

In the UK they would have banned the public from going in. The castle is built on what looks like a giant lower jaw of some immense animal, lion or wolf... It is hardly distinguishable from the rock as it is made out of the same grey rock itself!

Once parked you set off to the right and then climb up the path through the trees. Although they are building a new permanent visitor centre, the current one is a portakabin. For €4 you can hire an audio set that gives you a commentary as you climb and climb and climb....

As you climb the first section you have no idea that in fact you climb over the ridge to the other side and then walk up and down along the paths for about half a mile before you get to the entrance to the castle. In this distance you perhaps go up and down about 100 metres altitude.

The climb is worth it. You do need to have sensible footwear, and yes we did see flip-flops and shoes with heels. In fact bike boots were not that clever despite ankle protection, they aren't designed for the climbing.

Once up there the views are stunning and if you can avoid a heart attack, so much the better. The walk back was along the same route and the down bits were as tricky as they had been when the were up bits!

Once back in the car-park about 2 hours after we set off we enjoyed a drink before setting off for the third stop of the day, except this was not a castle but a Gorge - The Gorges de Galamus.

It was hot and sticky back inside the jackets, the Hood and Draggin jeans we were wearing are an alternative to leathers but not any cooler in this climate but at least look like you are in civvies...

Exiting Duilhac we had a hairy moment when the car in front stopped and the driver flung his door open, it missed my knee by about an inch. I stopped and gave him some Anglo-Saxon for his troubles, all the could do was shrug!

We continued on the D14 along another green lined section of road. From this side the chateau is clearly visible along the top of the "jaw". The road wound it's way through vineyards to Soulatgé where we encountered a load more sleeping dogs in the road and hanging off the pavement and where Doris said to turn left. Which we did, sailing past a house and a bemused old man in his garden.

A few metres on the road stopped in a vineyard. Perhaps I had turned left too early. Back up the road, past the man and then back to the top where really the road doglegged, not really a left in the real sense.... And off to Cubières and the left turn that takes you to the Gorges.

As the road is so narrow and overhung with rock, there are no buses and no RV's allowed on this section. Plus they are traffic light controlled to make the centre section, and the narrowest, one-way.

In summer, they don't trust the visitors and they provide and escort in each direction for you to follow and have marshal's at each end to ensure the drivers stop at the red light!

I was a bit slow off the mark after being ushered to the front by the marshal and a couple of frogs got past us to ruin the photos!

At the end of the narrow bit and beyond the next lights, the valley opens up wider to allow space for a car-park. As you look back up the gorge you can see the refuge for walkers clinging to the rock.

We had a quick drink and as it was getting late we decided to head back to Fitou and call in at a supermarket on the way...

End of Part One

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