So after the Tour du Tandem 2015 it was time for Team Tandem Ecosse to enjoy some rest and recovery. We all bundled into Matilda Transport and headed two hours further south to Pau – to a lakeside mobile home park called Les o Kiri, in a fantastic setting in the shadow of the Pyrenees. (Take a look at their website for some great photographs.)
And what an outlook for the beach at the lake, having the majestic mountains as a backdrop. And to make the break even better, Ann and Jack – good friends of all three of us! – had driven down from Scotland in their motor home to meet up with us!
I was carefully unpacked out of Matilda Transport and made ready to ride, although I am not sure I am going to see much action to be honest – as the “old gal” was muttering something like “not b****y likely” when the “old git” said it was ideal tandeming territory! But I think she was joking! And Ann and Jack have brought their bikes with them – even if it is those pesky single e-bikes! – so you never know. My spokes are crossed!
The break was hardly uneventful however and included some adrenalin-fuelled drama, so read on as I pull together some of the highlights encountered by dynamic duo.
The first afternoon involved stocking up on supplies at a supermarket, before a walk to explore the beautiful camp site. Then a celebratory meal – with a few glasses of Bordeaux wine – to mark meeting up with Ann and Jack who we regularly see back in Matilda’s Rest’s hometown of Auchterarder in Perthshire.
After a welcome sleep, the first full day saw the four of them set off on a short half hour drive to explore the city of Pau. First stop was the Boulevard des Pyrenees – which is a splendid terrace overlooking the valley and the river up towards the vine-covered slopes of the Gelos and Jurancon foothills – before the view stretches onwards and upwards to the spectacular highest point of Pic du Midi d’Ossau standing out clearly in the background.
There is a lovely old funicular railway connecting the boulevard to the terraced gardens below – so naturally they all had a shot on that.
When they got to the bottom the “old git” noticed a display of lots of striking yellow display plinths. A short walk discovered this was a display to the history of the Tour de France – to mark the fact that a major stage near the end of this year’s race started from Pau and ended in the Pyrenees.
It was fascinating to explore all the facts and pictures – and see how the bikes and riders have changed over the years since the iconic race was launched in 1903.
Now the exhibit didn’t yet have a plinth for 2015 to mark Chris Froome’s win so the “old git” decided that the “old gal” and him should get their photos taken in the 2015 slot – to mark their victory in the Tour de Medoc du Tandem! I am sure Chris Froome wouldn’t have minded being temporarily substituted!
It was just a shame I wasn’t there, and that the dynamic duo were not kitted out in their day-glo bi-lingual yellow jerseys! I am sure no one would have known the difference!
Time for more exploring of the fascinating architecture of the old town’s network of narrow streets including the Navarre Parliament, the 14th century château, and the 15th century Eglise St-Martin.
A lovely cultural day – complete with lots of sunshine – was rounded up with a gastronomic feast in a restaurant which specialises in moules, or mussels. The “old gal” had hers with roquefort cheese while the “old git” chose prawns and fruit de mer.
Day two saw the four adventurers drive about an hour further south deep into the Pyrenees. And you know, I am glad I was not there, as the last part of the drive was a 30 km uphill stretch – which is one of the real killer hills on the actual Tour de France. Well its a mountain really, not just a hill. And as regular readers of my Musings well know, I don’t do hills!
Col du Tourmalet – with an elevation of 2,115 m (6,939 ft) – is the highest paved mountain road in the French Pyrenees.
The “old gal” said it just seemed to go on for ever – every time you came to a bend, there was another stretch of incline. And as she rightly pointed out: “Matilda wouldn’t like this!” Although I am sure that is speak for ” ‘the old gal’ and the ‘old git’ could never manage this!”
Amazingly we passed numerous lycra-clad cyclists who were doing the hill as their own personal challenge. But given it took about 20 minutes to drive up, the energy these cyclists must expend pedaling up that stretch doesn’t even bear thinking about!
Anyway today’s destination was Fabreges for a trip right into the Pyrenees by cable car and train! What could possibly go wrong?!
Well for most of the day everything went well. We boarded the cable car and swiftly were taken to the upper station of the La Sagette ski resort – a height of 1 950 metres.
From there we took the scenic Artouste train – a small tourist train which clings to the side of the mountain, climbing over 10 km to an altitude of 2000 metres. You can check out the fantastic route taken by the train here.
From the train – originally built to transport hydro-electric workers – you can enjoy plunging views 500 m down the valley below. Apparently there are even some pretty scary-looking mountain bike trails up there. I mean, they must be mad!
There are also tremendous views of the Pyrenees, including the magical Pic du Midi d’Ossau with a height of 2 884 metres.
Being up so high, the air was fairly cold – but, not surprisingly, the “old gal” was well prepared!
After an hour on the train there is the opportunity to take a 30 minute walking path to the impressive Lac d’Artouste – with its hydro dam, the azure blue water, and the backdrop of the granite mountains.
It was a really beautiful spot – with the air so clean and fresh. You certainly couldn’t mistake that you were at such a height.
All too soon it was time to get the return train and enjoy the mountain vista from a different direction and perspective. Then back at the station, it was time to board the cable car for the short ten minute trip back down to the car park.
But literally just as the gondola – carrying the “old git”, the “old gal, Ann and Jack – went over the edge from the top cable car station, it ominously ground to a halt!
And there we were suspended at nearly 2 000 metres – quite literally left dangling!
The initial atmosphere in the gondola was very jokey – with everyone fully expecting this was a minor hiccup and we would be on our way within minutes.
But this was no minor problem. We were stranded for 90 minutes without any communication to what had gone wrong, and how they planned to get us down.
As the “old gal” joked – trying to lighten the mood – it was just as well everyone went to the toilet before we got on the cable car!
It was relatively comfortable in the gondola – but frustrations were starting to rise at being stuck for so long. And the “old git” told me that no one dared move so not to rock the gondola. I am just glad this “old lady” wasn’t there because I am a bit scared of heights!
Eventually – after much imaginative thinking about how we would be rescued – the cable chugged into action again, but at a much slower pace.
After another 20 minutes we were finally back at the base station – after being effectively wound down by hand – to be told there had been a big electric fault at the top cable car station.
Profuse apologies all round from the operators, and a free refreshment to thank everyone for their patience. So no James Bond style rescue, but let’s just say I am told that everyone was a little shaken, if not stirred!
Back on terra firma the day’s trip continued with a drive further into the mountains to the French – Spanish border. This provided the opportunity for some cheap shopping, taking advantage of lower Spanish taxes.
Then it was time for a scenic drive back to the campsite this time down the Col du Tourmalet – which seemed a much better tandeming option … although really good brakes would be required! Certainly not for the faint-hearted!
After the high excitement of being stuck in the cable car, my dynamic duo decided that a bit of less dramatic activity was on the agenda for day three.
They finally got back on the saddle and took me for a spin – following some scenic cycle paths from the campsite, along the river, to the nearby town of Nay.
The “old git” was back in his element again and the “old gal” was enjoying being back in the saddle too. It was a lovely warm afternoon and just perfect conditions for a tandem ride.
I was really enjoying myself – and yes we did actually out-ride those e-bikes of Ann and Jack – just to show that our pre-tour training did actually pay off and to emphasise that you just can’t beat pedal power … well at least on the flat!
Nay itself was a lovely town – and after parking up the bikes, the cyclists went on a walking tour round the historic centre – with pre and after walk drinks to sample some of the local wine!
Believe it or not, despite the shortish journey, we did actually manage to get lost on the return journey. Not quite sure what actually happened – but I think my duo were simply enjoying just pedalling along and having such a good time that they somehow missed the all important left turn!
But fortunately all that meant was cycling round three sides of the lake, instead of just one. Told you, we can get lost anywhere!
Day four saw my dynamic duo booked for some more adrenalin-fuelled adventure – this time white water rafting.
Now the “old git” had done this before – but the “old gal” was a white water rafting virgin – a little apprehensive, but keen to have a shot.
So we drove to the nearby hamlet of Montaut to join our trip operator – appropriately named Ohlala!
The “old git” and the “old gal were given a set of dry suits – which had them in hysterics trying to wriggle in to! But they were glad they did as the water was fairly chilly being the Gave de Pau – which means it starts its life high in the Pyrenees.
My dynamic duo were with two others and a guide in their large inflatable raft. Just before they set out everyone was issued with a crash helmet – which added to the “fear” factor!
The route was a 12 km paddle downstream, through some pretty treacherous rapids which had the raft bobbing around quite violently, and lots of water splashing over the front where the “old git” and the “old gal” were situated.
The “old git” told me afterwards that the water levels were actually quite low, and he actually wished they had been able to do it when the water was higher – to get more of the white water experience!
For the “old gal” she thoroughly enjoyed it – and was heard to say she wanted to do it again sometime!
Back at the campsite Ann and Jack had fired up a most welcome and tasty barbecue – which marked the end of our few days with them as we were going our separate ways tomorrow. We were starting our journey home, while they continued touring.
The final day saw us all pack up into Matilda Transport and head just over two hours up the road for a visit to St-Emillion – another renowned wine centre and a fabulous historic town which is now a World Heritage site.
Surrounded by vineyards this delightful town offers ancient ramparts, monuments, a maze of narrow streets and stone stairways.
The town has to be explored on foot and the “old gal” and the “old git” had a great time exploring the medieval quarters – and enjoying a bit of retail therapy with their left over euros!
It was fair to say my dynamic duo were in high spirits – determined to squeeze every last ounce out of their final day before the long drive home.
And when in St-Emillion it would have been rude not to do at least a couple of wine tastings! And the result was that the Christmas wine was purchased – a wonderful collection of different vintages which will be stored away and not to be opened until December 25!
After enjoying some people watching in a local cafe, and then buying up supplies of cheese from the fromagerie, it was time for the last meal of the holiday.
And given the wonderful food all during this tour, the last meal certainly didn’t disappoint – with the food eaten al fresco, in the garden of another great French restaurant.
With the clock ticking past 9 pm it was time to get back to the car and start the long 1 200 mile trip direct back home.
And with the two hours on – two hours off – rota system employed by the “old gal” and the “old git” we whizzed up the French motorways through the night in great time and managed a couple of hours sleep before our Eurotunnel crossing. Then the last part of the journey, round the M25, up the M6 and M74 before the welcoming A9 and back to Matilda’s Rest – all achieved in less than 24 hours from our departure from St-Emillion.
Which leaves only two things to say – what a holiday … and when can we do it again!!!
I hope you enjoyed reliving the adventures of Team Tandem Ecosse through my Musings – and I promise I will have the “old git” and “old gal” back in the saddle very soon so I can continue to recount my adventures as we travel around Scotland.