With the last week of the holidays looming, I really wanted to get out and finish the remaining 20km of Lavelanet-Mirepoix voie vert (greenway). I rode the first “half” (from Lavelanet to Chalabre) with DD and DS a few weeks before and it worked out well. It was much easier than I thought it would be and surprisingly enjoyable considering it was just me and the two smalls with the trailer. For the second half, not wanting to jinx it by expecting a carbon copy of the first ride, I asked a friend, P, if she wanted to come along with her daughters – both friends with my DD and DS. She agreed but was a little apprehensive about the distance and how it would work out with her two (who fought for most of the way back the last time we did a trailer-ride together!) but I was confident we could do it. We just had to take our time and make sure we had plenty of food.
With a couple of day of warm but cloudy days forecast, Thursday was the day. We met at bridge over the river L’hers in Chalabre – the end point from the last ride – and after a quick bike check and a short delay while we waited for James to go back for my bag which I’d left at home (oops) we were off. Because P was a bit worried about the weight of the trailer over the distance, I took DD and L, the two oldest and heaviest children, for the first half. DS had a trailer all to himself, which he didn’t look all that sure about, and P’s youngest daughter was in the bike seat. We set off.
DS was tired and looked like he wasn’t sure what was going on for most of the way. On the bike seat, I, was making herself very comfortable, having a nice chat with P as we rode along, and the two oldest girls, DS and L were chattering away in the trailer together, reading a book about The Romans that L had brought along.
A short way out of Chalabre, past the rearing horses statue (that DD loves) and through the tunnel, and we were into unchartered territory as I’d not ridden far past there before. The trail was in good enough shape for us to ride comfortably side-by-side and we talked about student life in London and French feminism, amongst other things.
We soon arrived at Camon – the furthest point along the route that P had ventured before. When planning the trip I had considered stopping there – there’s a nice park, a picnic spot by the river, and also a snack bar (that’s open, sometimes) – but once we got to that point, not all that long after leaving Chalabre, and given it was a bit of a faff to get leave the trail and find these places, we decided to carry on.
What we really wanted was a nice spot by the river somewhere, so we kept on, keeping an eye out for the river and easy access from the trail. Past Sonnac-sur-l’Hers towards Lagarde, still nothing. By now we were starting to get a few whinges from the trailers behind and DS was looking incredibly tired so whether we had the perfect place or not it was time to stop. We came to a junction with the road leading up to a small hameau (Bordébasse) and could hear the river close by came off the trail onto road to look for a nice spot. Unfortunately access to the river wasn’t possible: it was shady and shallow on the opposite bank but there was no safe way to get there and on our side the water was deep and about 2 metres down from the bank. Shame, but we could see the river moving away from us after this to wandered down the track and found a grassy spot in the field that would do just nicely.
The smalls were perfectly happy with our choice: there was a big pile of soil for dinosaur excavations and it was safe and quiet so they could run around. They played cache-cache (hide and seek) on the edge of the corn while P and I speculated whether it was possible to lose your children in a field of corn (we were fairly sure it was possible so this wasn’t very relaxing for us!) Then P also mentioned that snakes quite like it in the corn fields, so we were glad with the smalls decided to come out of there and play in the dirt instead. We talked some more, nibbled at the picnic while they played. They played some more, then they started to fall out a bit (there’s been a bit of a threes-a-crowd dynamic of late and I’m not really sure how we resolve it) so we decided, tired, it was time to put them back in their trailers and seats and carry on with the ride. So far we’d ridden for one hour and spent two playing in a field. I knew we’d be slow but hah!
We set off again – this time with DS and DD together with me in our trailer and P’s two girls back with her. This next stretch, where the trail skirted Lagarde, was full of blackberries, rose hips and apple trees. We stopped and started a few times, picking some and sharing them out, but our tired cargo was getting restless and complaining about the frequent stops, so we carried on.
It was just after Lagarde that the trail changed from a nice wide track with a good surface to a narrow path through the trees, riding in single file. There were also the odd stretches where it was definitely going up rather than down or flat. By the end of the rough section it opened out again.
We reached a junction, crossed a small road, and it seemed that we were heading in a different direction, perhaps on a different section of railway from before. The signs went a bit strange at this point so we had to check the map to make sure were chose the right section on track to follow. Then, shortly after crossing the bridge at Moulin Neuf, we arrived at slightly busier road and the route took us under a bridge on the road leading up to Roumengoux. A steep and uneven path led away from the road up to the trail, which carried on across the bridge that we’d just ridden under. At this point I think I would have struggled on my own and would probably have had to remove the smalls from the trailer and take everything up piece by piece because with DS and DD in the trailer, DS asleep, and got stuck about half way up! Thankfully L had extracted herself from her trailer and came along to give me a push. Saved by a five-year-old!
I got to the top, secured our bike and trailer against the bridge, then rushed back to help P, who had I (now awake) in the bike seat. L came to the rescue again. We high-fived then got back on the bikes and set off. I was hoping DS would go back to sleep but it looked like that had done it. Oh well.
Despite the tricky ascent to reach it, the trail was much improved from this point on. Surely our next stop was Mirepoix? I was ready for it now but suspected we still have about 5km to go. I hadn’t looked at the map since a few days before and couldn’t quite remember the details. I’d picked up a message from James earlier and replied to say we were about 20 minutes from Mirepoix – about 30 minutes before. I really had no idea! The landscape had opened up, we passed a few fields of sunflowers and then started to see more people coming our way. As we’d hardly seen another soul day (a handful of cyclists, walkers and the odd owner-less dog) this suggested we were nearing the end. Before long the church spire came into view. Mirepoix!
The trail spits you out unceremoniously at the Super U car park on the main roundabout into the town. What was a car park (I presume for the trail) when we first came to the area about 10 years ago is now a petrol station. There is what looked to be a nice shady spot with access to the river right on the edge of the carpark but there was a “yoof” with a radio blaring, a large untethered dog, and what looked like a can of lager, so we decided to give our paddle in the river a miss, which was a shame because we’d earned it. We made up for the paddling deficit by offering ice-cream. A popular decision.
While heading towards the supermarket entrance we spotted James, waiting for us there. He’d been there about 10 minutes, so the timing wasn’t too bad afterall. Because P couldn’t get a lift home for a while, we all went over together to a little park that has recently been refurbished. This gave our trailer-bound cargo a chance to let off some steam, which they duly did, while we (P and I) sat wearily on the bench chatting some more.
The park is just off what looks like a newly-renovated area, which I suspect will lead onto the next section of vioe verte, which is due to be extended from Mirepoix up to Bram, making it possible, in future, to ride all the way from Lavelanet to join the Canal du Midi. Once there there’s the possibility to head west towards Toulouse, eventually reaching the coast at Bordeaux, or heading south east towards Carcassone and joining the coast at Narbonne on a route called le Canal des 2 Mers à Vélo route. That’s 400km of traffic-free cycling and the seaside at either end!
This being France, it’s almost impossible to find out when this new route is likely to be finished but that’s okay because we’re not ready for a 400km ride – or even a multiday ride from Chalabre to Carcassone, just yet. We have plenty to keep us busy locally and some training to do. Next in my sights is the voie verte from Foix to Saint Girons – another 40km ish route and top of the list for next summer. Given it’s a similar distance to Lavelanet-Mirepoix it would work best for us – with small children and trailers – to break it up over two days. Of course by the time we left for home I’d already gained approval from James for a potential overnight camp (or B&B) stop and may even have persuaded P to come along too. I may also ride all or part of the Lavelanet-Mirepoix route again on my own as that will give me the chance to stop at a few more places along the way and explore a little. And for day-to-day riding I think my next ride will be to take the trailer from Chalabre to Camon, which is such a pretty village it definitely deserves a good look around. There are always more rides so it’s great that we all had a good day together as riding is always more fun with ride buddies!
Download the route information brochure from
Download the GPX track from GPSies.
Have you ridden or would you like to ride this route? Do you have any questions about it? Please post in the comments below!