|HRP - Day 23|
I got up quietly to have a 6am breakfast with the Gite owner Laurent. There were a couple of other guys helping at the gite as part of the WWOOF project for developing organic farming. After a long leisurely breakfast, the other hikers were emerging. I managed to get going by 7am, but almost immediately reached a fork on the trail and took the wrong option. I should have taken the lefthand upper trail, but the lower track looked like the main route.
I followed this through a gate and up some switchbacks which I should have realised were heading the wrong way, when suddenly 2 dogs starting barking insanely and a guy came out of the farm I was trying to pass unnoticed. He looked at my map, and told me I was heading up the wrong hill. I tried to find my compass to confirm this, but he said a compass would be of now use. He told the only way to navigate these hills was to watch the sun, but then looked up and said "only there is no sun today". I thanked him as I turned around to head back down again, and he said "today I saved your life".
Soon I was back at the fork, and took the upper trail and found the small wooden sign pointing to "Roc de France" with blue marks. This was quite a fiddly trail that lead up to Col Cerda 1058m, which would have made a good camping spot. The trail then improved as it re-joined the GR10, but became quite fiddly again as I tried to follow the high ground over Roc de Frausa which had several rocky summits.
I took a short break once I reached the Refuge des Salines (briefly back in Spain), then followed forest tracks back to the border at Col de Lly for the short descent to Las Illas.
The section from Las Illas to Col du Perthus was mainly along forestry pistas, and with afternoon fatigue kicking in, it was quite hard to stay awake. It was after 4pm when I reached the grim border town of Le Perthus. This really is a place you want to get in and out of as quickly as possible. I grabbed a bagful of shopping from the first supermarket, and starting walking up the hill straightaway. The GR10 has recently be re-routed at this point to take you through rough scrubland, rather than hiking up the road. It would probably have been quicker to have walked up the road, since the marked trail took a pretty tortuous route.
For some reason my feet decided to be unbelievably sore again, so I needed to stop and take ibuprofen to be able to walk properly without hobbling. My plan at this point was to stop at the Refuge at Col de l'Ouillat, but when I reached it I wasn't in the mood for sitting with noisy people smoking and drinking, so I didn't even break step, but marched straight past and onwards and upwards towards Pic Neulos. By this stage I was far more comfortable in my own company, and preferred to by high on a windswept hill with shards of light breaking through the oppressively dark sky.
It was quite exhilarating to be right at the summit of Pic Neulos in fading light, and in a blasting wind, and knowing that the only shelter was the unmanned bothy Refuge de la Tagnarede in another kilometre or so. I reached the bothy just before 9.30pm, and luckily the place was deserted. All night the wind slammed and rattled the roof, which gave the place a spooky atmosphere.
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