Thursday

Masseube to Bagneres de Bigorre (Lourdes) 46 miles 28th 29th/06/04

27.06.2004
Day off, eat, sleep, look after my foot. Huge Mosquito bite and bad (3" x 3") sunburn blister, can't stand on just the one foot. Thank God for Savlon.

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28/06/2004
Masseube to Bagneres de Bigorre D929 - a long - straight -boring road.
For the most part level, if slightly uphill. Fell asleep when I got here, woke at 21.30, just in time for the mosquitos, what few there are here.
Marvellous!
Eat, shower, write, and try to plan tomorrows route in the dark! The road picks up after Lannamazan, another scruffy town, cross the motorway and take the D938 into the hills.


See a panoramic series of live webcams of the area here.
Scroll down, there's a lot of information there.

Wow. Real hills! Pyrennean foothills. 3*** campsite at Capvern, will have that one on the way back from Lourdes. Leaving Capvern on a long descent is another amazing vista. Perched on top of a hill all on its own, a castle couldn't have been built in a better place. Chateau de Gaston Phoebus. One hell of a sight, this road takes me straight past it. Drop down the hill seems like forever, Molere and Mauvezin.
I could live here, rural, not dressed up at all, slightly unkempt but not uncared for, farmyards opening straight onto the road. Old Old buildings, SOLID!
Peaceful.
Chickens and dogs running around, no cars past me at all here. Past the Abbey in the bottom of the valley and now the same hill up again. A one hour push. Get off and walk it, now the cars are all here! Didn't look at the drivers after the first few, they just stare and passengers point and laugh! Ha!
Pull my hat down a little and get on with it. Another tiny church almost at the top, has a barred, glassless window at ground level, can see to the alter, 12th century, why built here? Why not in the valley? WAY too exposed here in the winter? Another drop to Bagneres, don't worry about campsites, the signs say there are seven in one town.
Must be the mountain, can't see it for the mist and low cloud, but can see its base, huge! Looked in a postcard shop, this would be a nice sight on a clear day. Camp at Pouzac, just off the main road E7.83.
Smallest shower cubicles yet. Shortest shower yet! the damn light is on a timer, didn't get the chance to get the soap out!
Woke the camp up coming back, is the first time I've used the bike headlights for a while. Put them on full beam and caught a poodle full on, yapping and yelping, the frenchman chasing is sounded nearly as bad Ha Ha! Round and round me, I just rode slowly on. First night the solar lamps haven't worked, glad there's no gypsies here! Bagneres is a nice town, not dressy or smart, the traffic flow system a little off putting on a bike, but I like it here. Looks of genuine surprise at the trailer, guy on a moped at lights asking where I got it, "C'est Bon", "tres bien". Hard looks from the police here, smile, nod, and keep my head down, keep moving.
46.01 miles in 4 hours 23 mins riding time.
Hope its a clear day tomorrow, want to see these mountains.
11.30pm and now I can't sleep, wish it would rain and shut these crickets up.
Signs for winter skiing, and apparently theres a tunnel to Spain somewhere around here.
3inch grasshoper in my tent, keep evicting it but it comes back!

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29/06/2004
Been to Lourdes today.
Wasn't sure whether or not to write today, spent a while deciding.
Here's the basics.
First couple of miles flat and easy riding till the turn off left just through Trebons. Uphill for about 2-3km,(long push!) to Loucrup, more spectacular views of the foothills, and glimpses of Biggore through her clouds, then downhill most of the way! The last 6-7 km are mostly flat, roads running on what look like flood plains between the hills.
Got to Lourdes and kept taking the signs for the centre of town, till I found the tourist information office. Large glass building, rode around it twice trying to find a way past the multitude of stairs!! wheelchair ramp, sorted!
I'm not a Catholic, so didn't know what I was looking for, went to Eglise de Sacre Coeur, very quiet, roads closed no cars allowed, rode on pavements, ha! Thought I'd got the wrong place until a huge flock of nuns appeared, all guiding people in wheelchairs to the church.
Stayed a while but still didn't seem right.
Back to the T.I. looked at the map again. Picked a route to the largest of the churches but could not find it. Only a couple of turns from the office, but couldn't do it!! round and round in circles.
Took signs for hospital, maybe thats it? ......no.
Past the hospital is a level crossing on a H shaped junction. Could see an old church on a HUGE boulder on my left, kept going - this it? - no.
Down a small hill, all people on pavement walking opposite direction to mine - not good, kept going. Saw a guy trying to park his car, wife got out just stood there looking through a fence, rode past, looks like playing fields, a few nuns 200 - 300 yards away playing with kids (nuns everywhere here - nothing special seeing more) thought I'd go and ask them.
Gate in the fence, wheeled the bike and trailer in, bingo! its a backdoor to the Sanctuary grounds (but I didn't know it yet.)
Couple of large signs, no smoking no mobile phones no swimming costumes, etc. etc.
No Bikes. NO!!
Decided to get off and push, if I go slowly and smile a lot I might get away with it.
Stroll down the hill, very slow, nobody here, lots of people on the other side of a river, large crowds, but very few in the 30 acres or so on my side. Slowly down towards the river, smile bonjour, nobody saying no bikes! good!
People sat in wheelchairs under some trees opposite a cave on the other side of the river.
Is Mass, large crowd around the Grotto, singing, priest speaking. Stood a while and watched. Turned right, walked along riverbank, past the bridge, past collection of 'statues' or 'reliefs' depicting life of Christ, less people again, nun praying on her own, 300 yards from the Grotto and I'm alone on riverbank, collect some water, (still not sure what to do here!) River is bright luminous green/blue and very cold. Fast running snow melt, cloudy and clear at same time, strange.
In the shadow of a tree it glowed, actually shone! Luminous greeny blue, reflected or refracted sunlight? who knows...is a sunny day, a little spooky.
Back along to the bridge, cross over, up to the crowd at the Grotto, walked past lots of partitioned areas with candles all lit and flickering, didn't light one, not my religion, didn't want to intrude.
Webcam of the Grotto here
Watched at the Grotto a while, wanted to get past, through out of the other side but crowd too tight for the bike, back over the bridge along far bank to next bridge, cross that, under an archway to walk across in front of the church. Got about 20 paces and was stopped. Can't bring a bike into here! (What!! to myself, been here over an hour none of the religious people mind!) Been all over the site, everyone happy, all smiles, kids pointing at trailer, people taking photo's (felt a REAL fraud, I'm not a pilgrim) nuns pointing, monks laughing!.
But this officious GIT in his blue uniform flashing the walky talky radio stops me crossing 200 yards to the main bridge exit/entry, won't let me past. (there's two ways am thinking about this, more in a minute), no bikes allowed! Turned me back over the bridge, follow the river right - upsteam - phone call home stand and watch people, look around, within 250 yards I'm at the main entry /exit bridge approaching the same guy but from the other side. Can see the church facade, the whole 9 yards from here, impressive. Cross the bridge into the site but stop short of approaching him again. Stand and look for another few minutes, glad I came in the back way. Too many peoople here, videos and photographs, poses and cheesy smiles, masses of souvenir shops and people hurrying.
I walked into a quiet field with 6 nuns wearing "Deeley Bobbers" playing with some kids.
Took a last look, crossed the bridge out, another phone call home, and left.

This is a powerful place, and I won't forget it, and if anyone reading this is planning to come here, use the back door.

(My two ways of looking at this)
One. I am extremely lucky to not have found the main entrance first, this guy would have stopped me before I had a chance to see or do anything and once you have been told to leave you can't really get away with sneaking back in, whereas, if you plead ignorance and nobody has told you to go, you can get away with pretty much anything - lucky.

Two. (This didn't occur to me until much later today)
The guy in the blue uniform was right. I just wheeled a bicycle with a large trailer (covered with an anonymous tarpaulin and heavily loaded) within 100 feet of one of the most famous Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. I spent perhaps an hour and a half - maybe more - in the buildings and on this site. I was in amongst a large crowd, at Mass at Lourdes, carrying an anonymous 80lb loaded trailer! In the current global climate of fear of terrorism I'm lucky to be here writing this! By rights I should be in a cell somewhere awaiting interrogation as to my motives for taking that trailer to that place - king lucky !! My apologies to the security guards !

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Good luck with your own journey.
Thanks for visiting,
Rob.