It was with a certain amount of regret that we left Encamp in Andorra and headed for the French border, but all sadness at having to leave this beautiful place was soon supplanted by the joy of riding through the stunning scenery of the Pyrenees.
At one point we passed through a rare set of roadworks… or perhaps it would be more correct to say ‘wall works’ because the reason for the stretch of road being narrowed with cones was to allow a couple of dozen men to work on a sheer rock face about 40 feet above us where they were busy securing steel netting to protect road users from falling rocks. They even had some fairly heavy plant suspended on steel hawsers halfway up the rock face –damned impressive stuff!
A few miles further up the CG2 my mate Paul signalled me to pull into a rough car park at the top of Port d’Envalira which, at 2408m above sea level, is the highest paved road in the Pyrenees. Paul was riding a Honda DN01 trike and it’d begun overheating on the steady climb up from Encamp.
It was at this point that I pointed out that perhaps the very well paid and highly qualified Honda design engineers may have had a valid reason after all for fitting cowlings around the radiator. Paul’d earlier removed one to allow easier access to the radiator filler, and he was adamant that it was purely cosmetic. He grudgingly refitted the cowling and, by sheer coincidence, the trike didn’t overheat again for the rest of the trip.
The views from this high point were spectacular, and a few hundred feet below us there was a strange compact circuit nestling between bends in the road. At the time we thought it might be a go-kart circuit, but I later discovered that it’s used for racing cars on ice and in snow. At least that explains why it was deserted in July!
Another thing that was quite noticeable from our viewpoint was that we could see five petrol stations. In fact throughout Andorra there seem to be far more petrol stations than could feasibly be required in such a relatively small principality, so we came to the somewhat cynical, though thoroughly plausible, conclusion that it must have something to do with Andorra being a tax haven, and the big petrochemical companies needing outlets there so they can take advantage of the ludicrously fraudulent EEC taxation system.
Soon we were heading down some wonderfully steep and twisty roads and on through the ski resort of El Pas de la Casa before crossing the border into France. Half an hour later, the weather went from glorious to dull and rainy with an abruptness that was like emerging from Narnia. Some heavy weather had backed up against the French side of the Pyrenees, and we had to ride through it all the way to Toulouse. We’d originally hoped to visit the medieval city of Carcassonne, south-east of Toulouse, but the local campsites were expensive and most had a three-night minimum stay. I suppose that’s what you have to expect around popular tourist attractions, but it still pisses me off.
With all of the winding roads in the mountains, and the unexpected stop to sort out the overheating trike, it took longer than planned to reach our campsite at Cahors, about 100k north of Toulouse. We’d been hoping to take in some of the music and atmosphere of the Cahors blues festival that was on in the town at the time, but we were tired and the campsite was on the opposite side of the river Lot with a long and convoluted route into the town where parking is hard to find, so we decided to get pissed by the river instead. One of the reasons for camping at Cahors was that it gave us the option of diverting off the next leg of our main route to visit the famous Lascaux Caves at Montignac on the Dordogne, with their exceptional prehistoric paintings of animals that roamed the landscape 20,000 years ago. Montignac took a bit of finding, (we were courageously relying on maps rather than sat navs) and, sad to say, it wasn’t worth the effort.
We knew the Lascaux Caves that we were hoping to see were a recreation of the originals (which had to be protected from the effects of too many visitors), but we weren’t expecting such a Disneyesque tourist trap. At the door of the great concrete and glass monstrosity built around the caves (even more distasteful than what English Heritage have done at Stonehenge), a bored-looking gendarme with an impressive-looking machine gun stood by, stolidly ignoring me telling a security guard to ‘go f**k himself’ when he tried to search me. We then queued for 20 minutes, only to be told that it is strictly ‘guided tours’ and we would have to wait four hours until space was available on a tour (or five for the one in English). Needless to say, we declined their offer and left with just a brief pause for me to rant about the blatant exploitation of historic sites by greedy corporations. My advice, if you are ever in that area, is; don’t bother visiting the Lascaux Caves!
Our next campsite was at Limoges and our sole reason for choosing this location was so we could visit the Second World War massacre site at Oradour-Sur-Glane. As I’ve already covered that visit in a previous article (see issue 402), I will simply say that if you’re ever in the area, make a point of visiting Oradour-Sur-Glane, but be prepared for your heart breaking when you do.
The remainder of our trip consisted of two nights at my brother Bill’s place in Le Guedeniau near Baugé-en-Anjou, drinking with old friends and relaxing in the baking sun before returning to Blighty via the Caen-Portsmouth ferry. Altogether we did 2,500 miles in 14 days and we are already thinking about next year’s trip. I hope these travelogues have given some folk the urge to go touring themselves – for a biker, there are few things as exhilarating than a good long road trip with a few well-chosen friends.