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West Glos & Dean Forest
Motor Cycle Club

Celebrating 64 Years of Motor Cycling 1953 - 2017

Pyrenees 2007

Words and Photos By Ian Vessey

Jules and Vess go trail riding with Chris Evans (again!).

Our second visit to the Pyrenees was prompted by an email from Chris Evans offering places for September dates due to cancellations. A couple of beers in the Tufty made the decision very easy to make! Last year we took the ferry to Spain. This time we decided to cross the channel to St. Malo overnight on the Saturday, drive down and stay with friends near the start on the Sunday night. On the return trip, Glen suggested we stay at their cottage near St Malo with his parents. Seemed like a good plan. Just before we went, Jules put a Rekluse automatic clutch in his Honda CRF and my 525 developed an oil leak which I only discovered the Saturday we went, so we were both a little uncertain about our bikes, but off we went nevertheless.

The ferry had been booked through 'Allsports Logistics' as recommended on Chris' website (good discount too), so off we went to Portsmouth on Saturday afternoon for the 20:30 sailing. The ferry appeared to be fairly busy, and we ended up in a queue of vans which started to move just after we joined. Except for the van in front. The driver returned after half an hour – must have gone to the pub. Muppet. So we ended up sitting in the van for over an hour and being one of the last on. And we got searched by customs! This has happened the last 3 times I've crossed – do I look suspicious? (No answer required!!) Our Cabin was on deck 2 which regular ferry goers will know is way down in the bowels of the boat, but was surprisingly quiet and comfortable – or was that something to do with the 5 pints of 1664? The 5th one was probably not a good idea, as the first couple of hours driving from the ferry port at St. Malo were a bit hazy, but as we moved south, the mist cleared, and the temperature rose and we moved steadily southwards into a lovely warm sunny day.

Eight hours and few brief stops later, and we were turning into the drive of Tom and Di's house, somewhere near Auche. We were warmly welcomed and gently revived with cold beers. Tom and Di were fantastic hosts. We were wined and dined, and treated to a stunning serenade played on Tom's race bike – a BSA Rocket 3 with open pipe! The short video clip made on my tiny camera can only give a very limited impression of the incredible sound! While sitting sipping a cold beer, I gazed at the magnificent view from the terrace, watching the sunset over a hazy landscape of hills and valleys with distant clouds on the horizon. After some time it was pointed out that the darker clouds weren't actually moving. This was because they were mountains – the Pyrenees – which occupied the whole view from left to right!! The following morning we needed to be at the start point by about 8:30, and it was some 150 miles away. We were wakened at 5:30 and fed coffee and toast– definitely above and beyond the call of duty by our hosts – before departing into the early morning darkness.

The journey to St. Jean de Luz, took slightly longer than planned due to road works and an accident, but we arrived as the other members of the party were still sorting themselves out so we weren't really late! Chris gave his usual briefing, and after loading up roadbooks we were off. The first part of the route goes through woodland and requires some careful navigation. This bit can also be extremely slippery and can cause severe problems when wet (like Old Hendre), so it's just as well we'd booked some warm sunny weather. Very warm weather. After the first checkpoint, the route opened up a bit and we were soon starting up the first gentle hillclimbs. This lead us to a leisurely 3 course lunch, after which Chris followed me and Jules. He was supposed to be trying out his new 'head-cam', but it didn't work, so we didn't have to do any falling off in front of him! Later in the afternoon, we came across some squaddies on top of a ridge, with what was clearly a landing marker laid out. We had a chat and waited a short while, and sure enough, 15 minutes later Belgian Paratroopers invaded France! And nobody noticed except us!

The first night was at a hotel in Saint-Palais. Routine checks of the bikes revealed......nothing. No oil leaks or any other mechanicals, and Julian was pleased with the way his new clutch had performed during the day. We had a few beers, and retired to the restaurant where the menu seemed to consist mostly of fish, fish, and more fish. I'm not a big fish eater, but it was surprisingly good, except for the fish soup starter (which I avoided by going for the veg option) which came complete with whole crayfish. Can't say I would be happy eating food which is actually looking at you (dead or not, or was it?....). This was also the first time the whole group had sat down together, and they turned out to be a pretty friendly bunch.

Day two started with the usual mullucking around sorting out bikes, paying bar bills etc. followed by Chris' standard briefing to go through the day's roadbook. The route went up and down many hills and tested our navigational skills on several occasions where the route became indistinct on open hilltops. The last track before lunch was a long stoney rocky gently descent through a thickly wooded valley which is reasonably technical and quite tiring to ride. Apparently, the Shark Extreme challenge which uses this route, goes up this bit. In the dark! Shan't be doing that then! Lunch was another 3 course meal, this time with huge lamb steaks, and plenty of them. The afternoon's ride continued with more hill climbs and views as we moved further into the mountains. At one point we caught up with Chris who had found some new signs on part of his route – 'No motorised vehicles' – or something very much like that in French of course. This required him to invent a slight detour marked by tape. These signs had not been there the previous week, and are an indication that the French are slowly catching up with Britain in terms of restrictions on access, so even though Chris has negotiated access for much of the route, it's a sign that it won't last forever.

We finished the day at a little hotel up a valley near the Spanish border, just outside the village of Esterencuby. Nice place, a few other guests, and no fish! Big juicy chunks of pork – lovely! All washed down with a few beers and several glasses of wine, and much chat about the day's riding.

Day three started with the normal shinanigans, getting bikes and kit sorted out, and our final briefing from Chris. The morning ride included a couple of long steep climbs, not too bad in the dry weather we were having, but would have been tricky if wet. We caught up with Chris who was marking some difficult parts of the route with tape and stopped to chat and take in the spectacular views. Lunch on day three was in a restaurant somewhere next to the river and railway. I think it could have been lamb again. Not so good this time as we had to wait quite a while for some of the guys who had got a bit lost on the way. The last bit was back through the woods we went through at the start. Not too difficult again because it was dry, but a couple of the muddy crossings caused a few laughs as people got stuck for a while.

Chris had arranged an extra night in a hotel for us in St. Jean de Luz, and later that evening we all gathered as a group for a final meal (more lamb!) and a few drinks.

We departed in good time the following morning and eight hours later rolled up at the Thomas' cottage near Bazouges-la-Perouse. Again we found excellent hosts in Keith and Noreen who fed and watered us and put us up for the night – many thanks. In the morning we raided the beer and wine section of the St Malo 'Cora' supermarket and headed for the ferry. the crossing was fairly boring although the film 'The Bourne Ultimatum' was quite entertaining. At Portsmouth we were the last vehicle off the boat, but thankfully didn't get searched by customs, and were home by about 9:30.

All round a bloody long way to go, but still a very good trip, good lunches and hotels with some very interesting trail-riding to join them up!

Also worth a mention is the arrangement Chris has with John Hall. John carried a number of bikes down in his van and served as the backup for the trip. A very friendly and useful chap (fills petrol cans etc.) and his services are definitely worth consideration – as advertised on Chris' website www.sport-adventure.com.