Three Cows

I love discovering interesting things about the paces that I visit on my trips. In particular I like the “human” things and on that note The Tribute of the Three Cows is right up there!

Harls snarled up Col de la Pierre St Martin, scraping metal on the asphalt as we climbed and me? I had a big stupid grin, I really hadn’t had this much fun in ages!

The Road to St Martin


At the top of the pass we did the customary thing, stop and take it all in.

This is a special place, a place where on of the oldest treaties in the world is ceremonially marked.

The ceremony takes place every 13th July on the summit of the Col de la Pierre St Martin and brings together the people of the neighbouring Pyrenean valleys of Barétous in France and Roncal, Spain.

Translated into English, Col de la Pierre St Martin means the Pass of St Martin’s Stone and for centuries this has marked the border between France and Spain at this point. Every year the people of Barétous, in France hand over three cows to the people of Roncal, Spain at the Col.

The Tribute of the Three Cows is frequently regarded as the oldest international treaty still being recognised. Although it is thought to date back to the 13th century it’s exact origin is unknown, the first written record of the Tribute was recorded in 1375, it believed to represent a peace settlement in a dispute over grazing and border rights.

The ceremony has only been suspended twice, in 1793 during the War of the Convention between France and Spain, and in 1940 during the Nazi occupation of France. In both cases, the Barétous people were prevented by regional authorities from attending the ceremony out of fear they would escape to Spain!

These days the ceremony is both culturally and economically important as it draws large numbers of tourists from around the world.

On the morning of the 13th July, the representatives of Roncal, wearing traditional costume, gather on the Spanish side of the Col.

The representatives of Barétous, approach the boundary marker from the French side. Traditionally, the Mayor of Isaba would hold a pike against the Barétous representatives, and these would also be held at gunpoint by the rest of representatives of Roncal; fortunately this custom was dropped in the late 19th century!

The Mayor of Isaba, presiding over the ceremony, asks the Barétous representatives three times whether they are willing, as in previous years, to pay the Tribute of the Three Cows of two years of age, of the same coat and with the same sort of horns, and without blemish or injury. Each time the Barétous representatives answer in Spanish “Si Senor.”

Following this, one of the representatives of Barétous places his or her right hand on the boundary marker. A representative from Roncal follows by placing his or her hand on top of it, and so on, until all representatives have placed their right hands on the boundary marker. The last one to placed his hands is the Mayor of Isaba, who then proclaims:

The Boundary Marker Stone


“Pax avant, pax avant, pax avant!” – “Let there be peace!”

All those witnessing the ceremony repeat the same words.

Traditionally the representatives of Roncal were then presented with the three cows, but I understand that these days, due to animal welfare and livestock importation controls, the equivalent value in money changes hands.

Needless to say, the rest of the day then descends into feasting and celebration!

That sounds pretty good to me…!

“Everyday is a winding road,
I get a little bit closer.”

Catch you soon,

Dookes

These Pyrenees Are Funny

They are almost predictable for being unpredictable and if that doesn’t make sense, let me explain.

The geography of the Pyrenees mountain chain is interesting. They run roughly West to East from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea and effectively cut the Iberian Peninsula off from the rest of Europe, according to some of my Spanish friends this is good, but for now we will ignore that bit!

By lying where they are, they act as a very effective weather-triggering machine; the damp winds blowing in off the Atlantic have nothing better to do than to drop all their water on the Pyrenees! This then creates what today is fashionably called the Foehn Effect, but when I was studying geography we called it a rain shadow. The most interesting thing about the Pyrenees is that their rain shadow can move from one side of the range to the other.

In other words, as my mate Gilles who is Pyrenees born and bred says, ”If it’s raining in France, go to Spain!” Of course the opposite applies if it’s raining in Spain.

I’ve always humoured Gilles on this but the other day I had the opportunity, no make that need, to test his theory out.

I woke to low cloud and swirling mist. The previous days jaunt over the big legendary Cols was a pleasant memory and thank goodness I wasn’t planning to try to ride them today.

Col d’Aspin


I did need to cross three other big ones though, Col d’Aspin 1489m, Col du Peyresourde 1569m and Col de Portillon1320m; the trouble was the cloud base was down to around 1000m!

Col de Peyresourde, legendary and wet!
Respect to the cyclist.


When you are doing a road trip in the way I do, in such circumstances there are two options.

1. Give up and go somewhere else.
2. Suck it up and get on with it.

Obviously if conditions were to make things really dangerous I would apply option 1, but as yet I can’t over the years really remember having ever done so! I’m not a “give up” sort of chap.

Peyresourde, apparently there’s a wonderful view here!


On that basis, it was option 2, as it always is!

Handlebar Cam. Yep, sometimes I wonder why too!


Yep, it’s not worth dwelling on what the roads over both Cols were like; it was foggy, it rained, it was slippery and not much fun. We did it though and can always remember that in spite of adversity the job was completed; anyway it’s a good excuse to go back when the sun is out!

The last bends on Portillon.


Portillon lies slap bang on thee Spanish border and once we dropped down into the valley one thing was noticeable, no rain! Gilles may be right after all.

I had a banker in my pocket, there was a pass further into Spain that I had considered climbing, Port de la Bonaigua 2072m, seriously higher that the others; lets go see if the theory really stacks up?

It does.

This is more like it!


A couple of kilometres down the road and out popped the sun. We had a glorious couple of hours wheeling around the slopes of Bonaigua and taking in the views an all in fantastic warm sunshine.

Port de la Bonaigua


Gilles, I owe you a beer!

Port de la Bonaigua


I think the photos speak for themselves, but I wanted to show the handlebar cam shot, because that was really all I could see!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

A Gastronomic Pilgrimage

My old and late lamented mate, Floyd, once said that a Cassoulet could be made very complicated or very simple, but to get the best out of it keep it simple…..and go to Carcassonne!

Well after years of talking about it, I’m here in the medieval city of Carcassonne.

It’s a place that Mrs Dookes loves and somewhere that I’ve planned to visit for years, but now that I’ve made it, I’ve got to say that I’m not greatly impressed. Underwhelmed is the word that come to mind.

OK, hands up, the reason I’m not a big fan is that the place is crawling with tourists. Yes I know, I’m here as, gulp, “a tourist,” but I’m a tourist that has ridden the high Cols and looked for solitude not to gawp at countless shops selling the same “Made in Taiwan souvenir of Carcassonne” crap!

That’s better, I got that off my chest…!

I’m here on serious business, Cassoulet business!

For those that don’t know what a Cassoulet is, I suggest you go Google, or better still go try a real authentic one, but you won’t get one like I just had!

I did what Floyd said and came to Carcassonne and more particularly to Le Maison du Cassoulet restaurant.

Now MdeC is like all the very best French restaurants, on the outside it looks plain, on the inside it looks dull….but the food does all the talking!

The place is without doubt “The” centre of the Cassoulet world.

I walked through the door as they opened at 19:00hrs and was promptly shown to the table of my choice. After enjoying a beer brewed in the city of Carcassonne, my order of Cassoulet Gourmand appeared along with a local full-bodied Corbières Rouge.

Fantastic doesn’t come close as a description; Floyd was right!

And now dear Blogonaughts, I must retire to reflect on the velvety glory that a perfect Cassoulet brings to a hungry Hogrider. It is mine to wallow in the knowledge of a job well done, a pilgrimage fulfilled….for you, like my mate Floyd said, “To get the best out of it keep it simple…and go to Carcassonne!”

Here’s to you Floyd, I miss you, but thank you for all the food and the good times!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Legends and Dreams

I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like the Pyrenees and I’m beginning to question why I haven’t been back here more often.

OK, this is the fourth time that I have been here, but it’s really the first visit that I’ve managed to get under the skin of these mountains and feel their life vibe.

Undoubtedly riding on near deserted roads has certainly swayed my view on things and good weather so far has certainly helped. A couple of nice blasts blew away some cobwebs, but all in all, these mountains have a much more relaxed way of life and I’m loving it!

I adore the Alps and as mountains go, in Europe anyway, they really don’t get much grander, but there’s a problem with the Alps, the place is getting full. When I first discovered their delights over 45 years ago, there were a whole lot less visitors about. Then, when I got to start motorcycling around them, again, there were not too many others about.

Fast-forward to 2019 and things are a sight more busy there now!

Yesterday I rode just over 160 miles of stress free lovely mountain roads. They varied from tight single-track twisty stuff to wide-open main routes and they all had one thing in common…hardly any traffic!

The scenery is right up there with the best and the people are lovely.

Then we hit some of the classic Tour de France Cols, plus a few others.

I’ve had a yearning to ride Col du Somport 1650m/5413ft, on the France/Spain border for some time and to, horror of horrors, ride back through the Somport Tunnel as well! Tick those two off and I’m pleased to report that, despite my usual hatred of the things, that the tunnel wasn’t too bad at all!

The blast back down the N134 was fun, except for a bunch of road works, which didn’t really spoil anything.

Next we tackled the Col de Marie Blanque 1036m/3399ft. At that height it doesn’t seem much on paper, but wow, it’s a cracker!

Starting from Escot I was watching the marker boards that the cycle-mad French put on all the main climbs. The average gradient for this Col is around 8%, but for the early kilometres the boards kept saying only 2 or 3%. As the km’s ticked by, still no change, then at 3km from the summit all of it came at once, 8%, 10% and for the final km 11%! What’s more, there are no hairpins to ease the grade, it’s basically a straight road to the stars, goodness knows how hard it is on a bicycle!

We dropped into the small town of Laruns and drew our breath for the first big one of this trip, Col d’Aubisque 1709m/5606ft. This is one of the legendary Tour de France climbs and seems to have featured every year that I can remember.

From Larums it’s pretty cool and a scattering of nice hairpins got us in the groove. Eaux-Bonnes comes after a few kilometres, once a vibrant thermal spa town, but now showing signs that the good days have long gone; it made for a strange interlude on the climb. If I thought that the last Col was steep a 13% gradient soon concentrated the old mind! Over 16km later and through countless hairpins we arrived at the summit, it was tough all the way, but stunningly wonderful and deeply satisfying.

There’s a funny homage to Le Tour at the summit, three massive bicycles, painted Green, Yellow and Polka Dot; that’s the jerseys of the Sprint Champion, General Classification Winner and of course King of The Mountains!

This Col truly is the stuff of Tour de France legend and I was humbled to have ridden it’s hallowed route, but there was no time for self congratulation, we still had more work to do.

From Aubisque the road descends slightly and then turns sharply to the left. If I thought that there were no further surprises, I was wrong, very wrong.

Over the next ten kilometres the road sort-of hangs in space. It’s not really been cut into the cliff; it’s more floating on the outside edge of the mountain. Oh and there’s not really much in the way of barrier either, plus it’s largely single track, so I was glad to have been on the inside!

That line along the mountain face is the road!


Anyway, all this engineering was to lead us to our next pass, Col du Soulor 1474m/4835ft. Two things struck me about Soulor, apart from the road to get there, was the almost vertical drop as the road began to descend and that the place smelt of sheep and goat poo; there were hundreds of four legged woolly things all over the place!

Our final challenge was the daddy of them all in Pyrenees terms, Col du Tourmalet 2115m/6938ft, the highest paved French pass in the mountain range.

I know I can get a bit carried away with superlatives when it come to my Col adventures, but seriously, Tourmalet is beyond a legend to anyone who has half an interest in Le Tour de France. I’ve dreamed about riding it for years and years.

The pass has been included in the race more times than any other pass in France, after the 2018 edition it had featured 86 times and this year will also see a stage finish at it’s summit. I

The road winding towards Tourmalet.


Tourmalet first appeared in 1910 and the leader over the Col was a chap named Octave Lapize who went on to win the race in Paris. Octave is famous for expressing his somewhat forthright views of the Tour organisers for routing the race over the Pyrenees high Cols, on Aubisque he shouted at them,

“Vous êtes des assassins! Oui, des assassins!’
“You are murderers! Yes, murderers!”

Octave Lapize on the summit of Tourmalet


He can’t have been thought of too badly though, as a statue of him is now mounted on the finish line at Tourmalet; here’s to you Octave!

Just Below the Summit of Tourmalet, the The Star of My Show!


For my part, with 1450cc of Harley engine pushing us along it was never going to be as tough as the cyclists have it, but it was hard enough work nonetheless. In addition it was great fun though!

Talking of cyclists, there was a cycling club from Holland making their annual pilgrimage to Tourmalet. It seemed to me that the plan was to ride to the summit and then drink as much beer as possible. To say that the top was a bit noisy and rowdy would be unfair, they’d peddled up there and in my book deserved all the beer that they could handle!

“Proost!”

Catch you soon.

Dookes

We Have Inversion!

Stick with me, you’’ll see what I mean in a few minutes….

I woke early again.

It’s not hard to do when the sun is streaming through you window at four thirty in the morning and one of the farmer’s goats is rubbing it’s alpine bell on a gate post almost underneath the same window!

I quick glance at the clock showed that it was far to early to think about getting out of bed. I couldn’t resist a glance out of the window though.

In a way I wished that I hadn’t, really I wished that I had not done that, because with what I could see outside there was absolutely no way that I could go back to sleep!

Spread out before me was one of my favourite mountain phenomena, cloud inversion.

Normally as you gain altitude the air temperature drops, but during an inversion warm air finds itself held above cooler air so meteorologists say that the temperature profile is “inverted.”

What then happens when warm air lies in a layer over cold damp air is that it traps water vapour in the form of cloud, mist or fog.

The result if you are in the valley is miserable foggy conditions, but if you are lucky enough to be above the division line between the two air masses….well, it’s just magical!

Anyway, enough of the chatter, look at the photos to see what I mean.

I did get out of bed, grab the camera and the results are before you now!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

La Route des Cols

I think I may just have found a little bit of heaven, but I’m not going to tell you about it because then everyone will want to go there….

Or as the Eagles wrote; “Call some place paradise, kiss it goodbye!”

Regular Blogonaughts will remember our adventure on La Route Des Grande Alpes last year, when we rode North to South from Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea, via all the high French Alpine Cols.

This year we have changed geographical area and are in the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that separates France from Spain. And this time we are heading West To East on what is locally called “La Route des Cols.”

My French chums claim that this is a tourist route that traverses 34 remarkable mountain Cols, or Passes if you’d rather.

Now, I my mind it’s pushing it a bit to claim that all 34 fall into the “remarkable” category. Indeed as you get past Andorra it’s a little hard to actually identify too many passes anyway, the land just falls away towards the Mediterranean, but top marks for trying.

The Route is a recent innovation to boost economic tourism and is to be applauded for that. It’s origins lie with a much smaller route that was first developed in the mid 1850’s la Route Thermale des Pyrénées which linked together four Spa resorts for which the region is still famous.

My plan is to ride from the Atlantic coast to either Andorra or Ax Les Thermes following the route as much as possible. If you want to follow us on a map, then look for the D918 road, which is largely the route, but it does vary in places.

Anyway back to the riding…

We left Saré this morning and headed straight back into Spain, crossing the Puerto de Otxondo 602m before hanging a left and attacking Col d’Iséguy 672m.

From Ispéguy, the call of the far away hills.


Somewhere on the climb to Iséguy the penny dropped…this is all very lovely!

Then, as the day went on and got hotter, a lot hotter actually, the riding just got better and better!

I’d ridden bits of the Pyrenees before, but this was way better than either I remembered or had expected.

The view from the office.


Firstly was the lack of traffic, true there were some other road users, but nothing like the chaos that can prevail in the Alps.

Then there was the road surface, generally very good indeed with no nasty surprise.

Finally was the road geometry and that can only be described as heavenly, really heavenly! Or it could be that I’ve just got better at riding hairpins?

Really, do I have to explain why?


The truth is, that Harls and I have had a ball sweeping around the bends and just enjoying being “off the leash.”

I knew I was really going for it when I grounded Harls rear brake lever going round one particularly enjoyable right-hander…I haven’t done that for years! This evening I’ve still got a big stupid grin on my face after that!

Somewhere down there I rubbed a bit of Harley metal on the road!


Ok, this is definitely not the Alps, the mountains are not anywhere near as high, nor are the passes, but they are still both impressive and challenging in their own right. The roads are definitely narrower than the major Alpine Cols and without guardrails in places you certainly need to concentrate.

Wiggly and lovely!


The lack of traffic is what I love. I may just have caught it right and missed the busier times, but I’m certainly not complaining.

In addition to those already mentioned, today we crossed the following Cols:

Col d’Haltza 782m
Col de Burdincurutcheta 1135m
Col Heguichouri 1284m
Col Bagargui 1327m
Col d’Erroymendi 1362m
Port de Larrau 1573m
Portillo de Eraice 1578m
Col de la Pierre St Martin 1760m
Col de Soudet 1540m
Col de Layae 1351m

As always, the star of the show!


Not bad, not bad at all!

Catch you soon.

Dookes

Something to Think About

Tomorrow, Harls and I are off on our latest adventure…a little trundle around the Pyrenees, the chain of mountains that stretch from the Atlantic Ocean to The Mediterranean Sea and largely form the border between France and Spain.

The first leg of our trip will be by ship from Plymouth to the port of Santander on the North Coast of Spain.

It’s all very routine really.

You turn up at the departure port, complete formalities of tickets and passports, pass through security and then roll onto the ship, secure Harls, find cabin, book table in the restaurant for dinner and relax.

Easy.

It wasn’t always like that and today is a good day to remember just how far we have come and how much we take travel for granted.

Exactly 100 years ago today the very first non-stop transatlantic flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place. British aviators John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew a modified First World War Vickers Vimy bomber from St John’s, Newfoundland to Ireland. In doing so they won a prize of £10,000 (roughly equivalent to £1million today) that had been offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the first to achieve the crossing in less than 72hours.

John Alcock (right) and Arthur Brown (Left).


At 13:45hrs on 14 June, the pair took off and headed East. The aircraft was powered two Rolls-Royce Eagle 360 hp engines and carried over 850 gallons of fuel.

It was to prove a difficult flight. The heavily loaded aircraft had difficulty taking off and only missed the tops of nearby trees by a few feet.

They recorded in the log that at 17:20hrs their wind-driven electrical generator had failed, depriving them of radio contact, their intercom and heating, which in an open cockpit must have been difficult to say the least!

An exhaust pipe burst shortly afterwards, causing a deafening noise which made conversation impossible and they had to communicate by writing notes to each other.

They encountered thick cloud and for hours flew on blind and without instruments.

Shortly after midnight Brown got a glimpse of the stars and could use his sextant, to check their position, which proved to be spot on course.

At 03:00hrs they flew into a large snowstorm. Ice formed on the wings and twice they nearly lost control and crashed into the sea. The carburettors also iced up. Some reports say that that Brown climbed out onto the wings to clear the engines, although there is no mention of that in their log.

They made landfall in County Galway on the West coast of Ireland and crash landed at 08:40hrs local time, just less that 16hours after taking off. It was unfortunate that the smooth grassy field that they chose to land in was actually a bog and their aircraft was badly damaged as it’s wheels dug into the soft ground, fortunately neither man was seriously injured.

Alcock and Brown were treated as heroes on the completion of their flight. In addition to the Daily Mail prize of £10,000, they also were awarded £2,100 from the Ardath Tobacco Company and £1,000 from Lawrence R. Phillips for being the first British Subjects to fly the Atlantic Ocean.

Both men were later knighted by King George V.

Sadly, Alcock was killed on 18th December 1919 when he crashed near Rouen whilst flying a new aircraft to the Paris Airshow. Brown died on 4th October 1948.

Eight years after Alcock and Brown’s pioneering flight, American aviator Charles Lindbergh made the first solo transatlantic flight. Upon landing in Paris after his own epic endeavour he told the crowd welcoming him, “Alcock and Brown showed me the way!”

Over the years I have flown many times across the Atlantic and as I cruise in air-conditioned comfort at altitudes around 30,00ft, I have often thought about those who flew before me.

The Vickers Vimy aircraft in the London Science Museum. Photo:Oxyman.


Today Alcock and Brown’s valiant little aircraft takes pride of place in the Aviation Gallery of the London Science Museum and serves as a reminder when travel really was a much more hazardous business than just checking in and off we go!

“This time tomorrow where will we be?
On a spaceship somewhere sailing across an empty sea.”

Catch you soon, on the road in the Pyrenees hopefully!

Dookes