Day 2 of our serialisation of Joseph Cullinane’s book The Cuckoo & The Pilgrim is taken from page 95 of the book which covers the route from the French town of St Jean Pied de Port over the Pyrenees into the Spanish village of Roncesvalles
It was a hot night in the dormitory and our supply of water was considerably depleted by morning. We set off early, as usual, down the Rue de la Citadelle, with its old rose coloured sandstone houses, hoping to avoid the hottest part of the day.
There was a mist but it started to lift quickly leaving some in the hollows looking like great lakes. Before long we were climbing steadily out of the valley and the sun rising to our left was a magnificent sight.
Everyone was in good spirits but I still had some worries about how little water we were carrying. We came to a gite where a young man was having coffee at a table outside. Jean Marc and myself requested some water which we took from the tap which is not always to be recommended but I was encouraged by the mental image of a sparkling Pyrenean mountain stream with pure, clean water. We continued climbing, corkscrewing steeply all the time and following a flock of sheep being driven to the higher pastures.
Paddy, in his usual manner when confronted with an obstacle, put on a spurt and gamely tried to pass them at one point but failed. The scenery behind us to the north now spread out in a huge brilliant panorama and St Jean was already a speck away in the distance. Mist still filled the hollows.
Then suddenly we were being viewed by what appeared to be three golden eagles, or were they vultures, surfing lazily on the thermals and at times dropping suddenly. I wanted to believe that they were eagles which are often sighted here in the Pyrenees and three types, the golden, the booted and Bonelli‘s have been identified.
Without binoculars it was difficult to be sure. It was a really unbelievable sight to see them in the wild for the first time. They stayed in view for as long as we climbed.
Charlie and Janique came up behind us and we walked together, climbing now less steeply passing old balconied farmhouses until we left the last dwellings behind. We were now a group of six.
The landscape had changed and was now a more open, rolling, mountain pastureland not unlike elevated downland. We came to a little statue of the Virgin Mary, La Vierge d’Orisson, brought from Lourdes by shepherds and placed here on a rocky plinth. This was a photo opportunity for all of us with the ragged snow-covered peaks of the central high Pyrenees as our magnificent backdrop.
We climbed towards the Spanish border and met the birdlike Francois on the way back. He had walked as far as the frontier and was now returning home hoping to complete the Camino at another date. There was no sign of the fussy French women in his wake. We wished him bon retour and made for the border. At La Fontaine de Roland there were taps with running water and our fellow travellers were filling their water bottles. The climb had drawn a lot of sweat from the body and there was still the danger of dehydration. All water bottles were refilled.
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