Category Archives: Outdoors

DD’s First Big Ride! Esperaza-Campagne and Back

She started pedalling at the beginning of the holidays. I was impressed with how easily she migrated to pedals and attribute that to her riding the same bike without pedals for the prior 9 months. It meant she got her confidence on it, grew into it, and was as confident on the bigger bike as she had been on her little balance bike. After that the switch to pedals was straightforward.

She was so pleased with herself but still getting frustrated as she couldn’t start off by herself. She tried and failed. We reassured her that once her feet knew what to do she’d just start doing it and for now the best thing was not to worry about it. And then, one afternoon when we’d popped out to a quiet, traffic-free path with them, she just did it. the smile on her face said it all.

She was only riding in short stretches because we were on foot alongside, so we’d help her get going then she’d pedal a short distance away before stopping to wait for us. To help her actually ride and have a good go at pedalling, I dug out the old Trailorgator attachment that I bought for my oldest nephew close to a decade ago and hatched a plan with a friend, also keen to get her daughter happy on two wheels, to meet and ride out as a four while the two little ones were at crèche. She had the TrailAngel attachment, which is the upgraded and slightly more expensive version of the Trailorgator, for her daughter’s bike.

After an hour fiddling with the parts the fittings seemed robust enough for the ride ahead. It was definitely a job of bad-workwoman-blames-tools, as lack of the appropriately sized socket meant alot of swearing while using a just-about-fitting-but-almost-impossible-to-use spanner. All in a good cause. We were ready to go.

I didn’t get any pictures of that ride, unfortunately: I had my hands full with the two bikes and the every-so-slightly-twisted Trailorgator we came back with. Think bike in front at 90 degress and the one behind nearing 45 and you get the picture. We hadn’t gone that far, mostly because with all my bolt-wrangling we’d set off much later than planned, which turned out to be for the best given my kit wasn’t performing properly. Of course I’d forgotten the lacklustre spanner so any on-trail repair wasn’t an option. Lucky for us DD was a tired of cycling and wanted to run back! Sometimes I swear she’s part sheepdog.

After the relative success of that ride, I hatched a new plan. I wanted to try a short local ride to see whether I could manage DD and DS, both their bikes AND the trailer. Really my concern was the trailer: could I safely transport everyone and everything or did I need to hack a contraption (or find an extra trailer) so that I could keep the children and bikes separate? My friend also has a trailer and was planning to bring it along. It would be a good chance to test it out and with another adult as back up.

The day of the ride it was raining. In France that means no-one goes outside unless they have to, so I checked the forecast – still predicting a cloudy but dry morning – and messaged my friend to make sure she was still up for it (she was but her husband wasn’t so sure). All good. Then she sent a picture of the hole in the tyre of her trailer. Then another saying that her son, who’s a little older than DD, would just bring his bike and she’d carry her DD on the bike seat. Sorted! DD would bring her bike and ride too, I said.

DD was excited to be going on a proper bike ride with her friend! I was a bit excited too of course, but also worried: would she make it there and back, and – if she needed a rest, would the trailer carry everything given I’d also said the DS could take his balance bike along. In family-bike-ride mode I started packing food and quickly realised a trip to the shop was needed. As usual I had apples and water and no a lot else. Bad planning but better than nothing at all.

After meeting our friends we got all our kit together and set off. I didn’t quite know the first part of the route and whether we could get there totally off road, so we did the first part on the road altogether. It was only a short way and both of the two smalls on their big bikes were very well behaved. Watching your own child cycle their own bike on a real road is way more stressful than a group of children or adults wobbling around for a Bikeability session! We made it to the totally traffic free section without any issues: a tarmaced but restricted road between Esperaza and Campagne-sur-Aude. Now we could relax. And just pedal.

IMG_2336.JPG

So we did. DD pedalled along. DS got bike envy and came out on his balance bike for a bit but couldn’t keep up and soon needed a rest, so back in the trailer he went. Thanks to my excellent planning skills and experience in planning these family rides (ahem) there was a playground at the other end, which served as a place to let the trailer and bike seat-bound little ones stretch their legs and the big ones chance to stock up on food. In my case that was the aforementioned apples and also some cheese. Luckily my friend also had biscuits, which went down very well.

After a brief rest, worried the big ones would wear themselves out on the play area and be too tired to pedal back, we got everyone organised and started the ride back. The two biggies were definitely tired by now. DD’s friend was wobbling around a bit. DD was starting to get a bit stroppy. DS was asleep in the trailer (bless) and my friend’s youngest was happily bobbing along in the bike seat. At one point DS almost bailed: she misjudged a gap between a rock and the barrier (tired) blaming her friend for bumping into her, which maybe he did but we didn’t see. I persuaded her to stay on her bike because we were nearly back – and she did. She made it!

At 4.1 miles it was the longest ride she’s ever done and I am so proud of her for making it and also for sticking it out when it got a bit tough at the end. She had an epic first ride and then topped it off by tearing round the “bike park” (in inverted commans because it’s really just a couple of ramps – but hey) with DS and her friend while my friend and I ate most of the picnic.

Having done it this one time it’s definitely one to do again: it’s great route for a socialable ride that’s just right for little legs.

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Riding the Voie Verte from Lavelanet-Mirepoix (Part 2)

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.

A bike propped up against a large metal bridge with a child in a bike seat and a man wearing a blue t-shirt looking at another child in a bike trailer
Getting ready to go on the bridge in Chalabre

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.

A child with her face covered in a cycling helmet sits in a bike seat resting her feet on her mother's back. Another child is in a yellow child trailer behind.
Looks no hands

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.

A metal sculpture of two horses rearing with their front hooves touching in the air
A metal sculpture alongside the trail leaving Chalabre

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.

A stony track leading to a bridge with flower baskets along the top, green fields and woodland in the background
Approaching the bridge at Camon

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.

A field of corn (maize) with two children playing in the foreground and an adult and child walking away down the track. The village can be seen in the distance.
Our picnic spot, with the ruined chateau at Lagarde in the distance

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!

Two small animal footprints dried in the cracked mud.
Wild boar tracks in the corn field where we picniced

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.

A farm building with a large roof and the ruin of Lagarde chateau beyond
The trail as it approaches the village of Lagarde

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.

A narrow shady path with a small group of cyclists in the distance
Some cyclists approach!

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!

Looking through blue metal railings down to the a wide and tree-lined river
Crossing Le Grand Hers river at Moulin-Neuf

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.

A wide tree-lined and shady path with a graffitied building on the left had side.
Arriving in Mirepoix!

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 wide and tree-lined path leading from the current end of the voie verte into Mirepoix and beyond

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
rando-pyreneesaudoises.com.

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!

First Family Camp in the Pyrénées-Orientales

It’s the summer holidays and we live somewhere breathtakingly beautiful. In the UK we were always off camping for the weekend, usually to Wales, sometimes to the Lakes. We would walk, rest, read, revive and restore ourselves. Then we had DD, then DS, and then we left the UK and moved to France. We were busy and didn’t have chance to get away. Consequently, the summer holidays dragged on and on. We missed our little camping trips. That wasn’t going to happen again this year, so we decided on a few two-night stays way, to give us a much-needed change of scene and also as a way of checking out other areas we might like to live, since we’re doing so badly at finding a house where we are now! With a few changes to our original Welsh-holiday setup we were ready to go for our first family-of-four camping trip.

What camping used to look like

A field, a tipi, and a wood burner: child-free, all-weather camping

We managed two camping trips with DD: one when she was about 18 months old and another later that same year when she was a little older. The first was less than a success: the temperature dropped to minus something that night which meant we’d heat the stove and we’d all drop off to sleep sweltering hot then we’d wake up once the fire had burnt out, all freezingl. DD somehow managed to sleep pretty well until 5am but then was wide awake and crying. Just what you want when you’re the only couple with a small child on a mountain biking weekend away with the club of mostly child-free by choice 30 somethings (okay, we weren’t the only couple there with a small child but our friends were in a camper and so were much more soundproofed!) I was as tired as hell the next day and James was ready to go home, which really took the edge of my mountain bike ride, as did the torrential rain that followed. It was really good fun – not.

Scotland in May – Camping with DD: All smiles before a night of minus temperatures

The second time was much more relaxing. We had a few days with a toddling DD at the lovely Graig Web campsite would no doubt have gone again if I hadn’t been the world’s most grumpy and uncomfortable pregnant mummy to be. And after that, once DS was born, we were preoccupied with our move to The Continent. And now here we are.

Finding a family tent

Another barrier to a big camping trip was that we didn’t have anywhere to sleep. We decided we needed to “upgrade” the tipi for something more… wildlife proof. Here there are ants, snakes, and – maybe not worst but certainly most annoying of all – mosquitoes. Our tipi, being single-skin canvas was bought on the basis of having a wood burning stove, keeping us both warm and dry in autumn, winter, and spring, and cool, if it ever got warm enough to want to be cool, in summer. Pests were not on radar. Nor were two small children.

After extensive research, reading reviews, trawling websites, Facebook lurking to see what tents friends had and recommended, I took the executive decision to buy the HiGear Zenobia Elite 6 from Go Outdoors (which seems to now be out of stock and replaced by the Eclipse, which is of an almost identical design). In years gone by, while in thrawl to my corporate job, I’d probably have made quite a different purchase (hence the Tentipi) but having a limited budget made it quite a different proposition. I wouldn’t have thought of HiGear except that friends had recently gone down the family tent route and recommended it. Since I know they’re both pretty discerning when it comes to outdoor gear I decided it was a pretty solid recommendation. And that’s how I ended up with the Zenobia. We toyed with the idea of getting the inner for the tipi but we decided that 500 quid was a bit steep and ideally we could use more space. With a budget of 300 quid the Zenobia fitted the bill and had pretty good reviews. Good enough. Not so much Go Outdoors but that was a chance we were going to have to take, given HiGear is their own brand. Postage was a bit steep – £39.99 on top of the cost of the tent – but I managed to pick it up for a great price and even with the postage we were in budget. And it came with a carpet too. Very grown up!

Choosing a campsite

Another reason it had taken us so long to get our camping shizzle together is that we tend to like a certain kind of campsite. In days gone by we were always looking out for remote and quite wild locations, happy with or without hot water, even toilets. There were a few sites we liked but only ever at times when most other people were away somewhere else: with the Welsh mountains’ proximity to several major cities there was a tendency for campsite to turn into giant drinking parties, especially on public holidays – and we hated them when they were busy. We also rejected any site that was good for caravans, so any sanitised site with electric hook up available or, god-forbid, static vans. Oh My Days, noooo! We would not be seen dead on one of those sites (actually, I camped at a few like that and had a perfectly nice time but that was on mountain bike weekends with “The Girls”. For James, if it had a no-fires policy it was a no. And no, chucking a few cheeky sticks onto a barbecue is not the same as having a fire.)

Our favourite site: no neighbours and a “weather-proof” fire

Such sites being hard to find here in France, a new campsite in a new place is always a bit of gamble. With kids, however, and now we’re on The Continent, camping takes a different turn. We are all about sites that are bursting with facilities. Okay, maybe not bursting, but at the very least our list includes: a play area (parc de joue)? check; hot running water and showers? check; a swimming pool (or access to a swimming lake)? check; allocated pitches? check! We still love the mountains though and I struggled with the idea of booking somewhere close to the sea with more of a “holiday camp” feel. But I’m sure I’m just getting warmed up to it and it won’t be long. Maybe next year.

Choosing a location

So having decided that we were ready to brave a well-managed site with good facilities, we then had to decide where to go. Given France is vastly larger than the UK and we don’t know any of it, how to narrow it down?

Apart from having a well-needed change of scenery and chance to just chill for a few days, we definitely feel it’s time to explore some new areas. Remember, we came here to find a house, and that hasn’t gone so well. We’ve ended up renting, which we didn’t want to do, and having seen many, many shoddy and overpriced houses, we’ve also started searching for land with a view to building. Given we’re not doing much better in the search for land we’ve decided it’s time to start searching further afield. First though we need to figure out where we might want to go. Hence our little mini-trips branching outwards from our home and planned in all directions.

In May we spent a few days with my parents in Ceret. 
I wanted to write about it but the opportunity has passed. If we go there again I’ll make sure I try a bit harder and share my thoughts about the place. In short, I liked it. I’d read a bit about the fairly recent history of the area when I fell into a WWII reading rabbit hole last year, discovering Love And War in The Pyrenees: a really fascinating book that makes grim and humbling reading.

That aside, it was nice to be somewhere a bit… smarter – and busier. To say it’s quiet here is an understatement. It’s not just that there’s not a lot going on. It’s also that there isn’t anyone here! The houses are run down, they’re overpriced, there’s no work. It’s really quite dead. We like that but because of that it’s always quite exciting to spend time somewhere that has a bit of a buzz about it. And then leave, of course.

Rather than going back to Ceret I decided it would be quite nice to explore the next valley along, which is therefore a bit closer to our home, making it easier to get to and easier to abort our trip if for any reason it wasn’t going so well.

And so we ended up at Camping Lac du Vinca.

Our Campsite & the Surrounding Area

Vinca is a small village just off the N116, which is the main road running from Perpignan into Andorra via Prades. It’s on the edge of lake that was formed in 1976 as a means of serving the city below with water.

The campsite itself borders the section of the lake that is to the West of the N116. When we first pulled off the main road we thought I might have cocked up with the site choice, as we could see camping cars from the road. Luckily that was the municipal site and our site was a bit further away from the road, tucked away at the other end of the village. It’s a 3*** site, which by UK standards means a well-equipped site, usually with a simple pool or access to a swimming area, hot running water for showers, a laundry room, usually a kid’s play area, and often, in high-season at least, a snack bar/buvette.

The area is good as it’s fairly close to the sea (about 30 minutes) and also close to the mountains. I wasn’t expecting we’d do much on our first visit: usually the first time anywhere we have a good look around, pick up a tonne of leaflets, scour the map for interesting places to go, and make more touristy plans for subsequent visits.

And the outcome?

I won’t go into too much detail about the site (I wrote a Trip Advisor review when we got back, and that says it all) and will just say we all had a fabululous time! The small beach, which was just perfect for the little ones, was barely a minute away from our pitch. We also had a steady stream of “friends” for DD in adjacent pitches, and she and DS had alot of fun interacting with their new companions. The first family – German – had two children who spoke German and some English but DD insisted on speaking to them in French, which was quite entertaining. They left after our first night but were replaced by an large (and sometimes rowdy!) group of French and Spanish women – relatives and friends – with a 6-year-old boy who DD spent the rest of the time we were there playing with. One of the reasons we didn’t bother going anywhere was because DS and DD were fully occupied and content on the site, and it was nice for us just to stop and do not much at all other than just hang out with them.

Our Family Tent and Pitch

Despite having a really nice time in our little camp, we weren’t that excited about the area, at least from what we saw as we drove along the main routes. Prades was nice – quite busy and less shabby than Quillan but not as polished as Ceret – and next time we head that way we’ll go onto Villefranche-et-Conflent, which is an old fortified town which some interesting tourist sites. We were a little underwhelmed by Marquixanes, where I’d seen a number of houses for sale. They looked to be in good condition (nicely renovated stone houses) and at sensible prices so, but that may be because there’s the threat of an enormous road building programme looming over the area, if the signs alongside the route are anything to go by. After all my efforts with the Save Swallow’s Wood campaign at our old house, I don’t really have the stomach for another anti-road campaign!

But back to the camping trip.

DS was so sad when we left the site. He really had a lovely time. DD was devistated that we were taking her away from her new friend. I think being somewhere with a steady stream of children to play with, along with a nice swimming spot, is her (current) idea of heaven. We asked if they want to go again and it was a definite yes. So we definitely will. Now we have all the gear it’s just a case of deciding when and where.

A screenshot of a 5-star review with the title "Nice spot for a family camping trip"
My Trip Advisor Review of Camping Lac du Vinca in the Pyrenees Orientales

Disclaimer: This article contains affliate links, which pay a teeny amount of money to me if you click on the link and then make a purchase.

Riding the Voie Verte from Lavelanet to Mirepoix (Part 1)

Before the holidays, determined to make a better job of it than last year, I started putting together a list of microadventures we could have over the summer. One of the things high on that list was riding the voie verte that is closest to us here: the 38km trail from Lavelanet to Mirepoix. My original plan involved an overnight camp, with James acting as chauffeur enabling us to ride the route in sections then spend the night in a tent before carrying on the next day. I originally thought three short rides with two overnights. Then I thought it would be fun to do this with friends. Then I decided the logistics of organising said trip with friends or even just between the two of us was giving me a headache and that I’d do it alone. Then I decided that it was too sunny and hot for any kind of bike ride let alone with children and a trailer, so sacked the whole thing off and tried not to be down about it. Did I let it go? Of course not.

Then we spent the morning up on the mountain at Bonascre where there are some pretty sweet looking downhill mountain bike trails. I got excited about riding my bike. I needed to ride my bike.

Me & DS having a “babychino” and getting fired up about bikes – Bonascre 2018

As luck would have it the forecast for the day after our visit to Bonascre changed from upwards of 30 degrees with full sun to an overcast morning topping out at about 24 with rain to follow. I needed something to do with the two smalls as James planned to work, so what to do, what to do? A morning ride then. Yippee!! In my head the route was 45km (I’m sure I’d read that somewhere) so I figured three rides of 15km would keep it nice and short for the smalls and also fit well around the weather forecast.

After an early start (as is usual these days) and a half-arsed attempt at breakfast, my two passengers were briefed and ready to go. I was worried that they’d both want to bring/ride their own bikes, only one of which has pedals, which would involve a whole lot of stop-starting, an epic amount of faffing, not least I still haven’t figured out how to attach their bikes to the trailer while they are also in the trailer. I was starting to get planning fatigue again so was relieved when DD said she didn’t want to ride her bike and just wanted a trailer ride. DS was not so readily convinced but I got around that by leaving his balance bike here accidentally on purpose. Oops, sorry. Car packed, children loaded and secured, bike unelegentally lifted onto the roof (I am soooo unfit!) and we were off.

The advice online is to start the ride in Lavelanet as then more of it is downhill than up. That certainly proved to be true for the first 5km or so. It was a breeze! The surface was good, there was plenty of shade (not that that mattered as there wasn’t any sun to hide from) and we were all happy to be off on a little adventure together. The last trailer ride was me and DS alone while DD was at maternelle – and he hadn’t liked it at all! But now with his big sister holding his little hand (cute), DS was calling out, “faster mummy!” too. Just brilliant.

Passing under a bridge en-route from Lavelanet to Chalabre

I didn’t want to stop to take pictures because stopping and starting was a massive faff, so I had the camera round my neck and took pics as we came to the main crossings or places of interest. I did really well on that front for the first half of the ride, which was actually pretty easy thanks to the terrain and the surface. We quickly got to the 8km marker and I was starting to think we’d shoot for 20km and not the 15 I’d planned.

By now the sun was out and I realised I had forgotten the suncream. Actually not forgotten but dismissed because we were half way out of the village when I realised I didn’t have it – and we trusted the meteo. Fools. Now DD was hot and hungry. Time for a snack stop. We pressed on, past La Peyrat, to the junction with the D620 just before Sainte-Colombe-Sur-l’Hers where I hoped there was a picnic bench. There was. We crossed over the road and stopped under a shady tree for a snack.  My kids are so spoiled: I’d packed apples. Just three of them. And water. They did the job. DD of course wanted more so after a happy little jump around the picnic table we continued on.

A snack stop alongside the D620 between La Peyrat and Sainte-Colombe-Sur-l’Hers

It was at this point that my legs started to feel like lead (I was pulling about 40kg in combined child-trailer weight), I was worrying a bit about the suncream, and the track surface turned from leg-friendly, trailer-friendly pedal turner to bumpy farm track and ever-so-slightly up hill. Not as easy goibg as before. DD was still mithering for food but DS was soon asleep, thankfully. I called James to report on our progress and requested lunch at the park in Chalabre for 12h30. Confirmation received, I started to fantasise about food, which is a bit tragic given I’d only ridden 11km by this point.

Voie Verte Lavelanet-Mirepoix: The bumpy approach to Sainte-Colombe-Sur-l’Hers

Full sun, some shade and still a terrible track, from Sainte-Colombe onwards was some welcome almost downhill again. I say almost because mountain bike plus trailer doesn’t roll too well on a rough track, so there was quite a lot of pedalling. DD helped to keep me motivated by whining from the back about being hot and hungry. I pedalled on. DS continued to sleep despite bumps and also the squeak that had developed, and eventually we arrived at our destination: Chalabre.

A shady old railway bridge between Sainte-Colombe and the old station at Rivel

I didn’t get any photos from there, unfornately. We were too busy tucking into our picnic! I like Chalabre. We spend quite alot of time there these days – it’s where DS goes to crèche. I like it there. For anyone attempting to ride the voie verte in a day and looking for a place to rest midway – or a place to camp (there’s a municipal site as well as a nice but unofficial spot by the river) – you can do worse than the stop there. You’ll find some shops (chemist, grocer, butcher, boulongerie), which are open in the mornings and afternoons (usually everything is shut for lunch, so you’ll struggle between 12h30 and 2h30), and some cafes. The best place for a picnic is down by the river, where there’s also a little park. The park is tucked away under the big red metal bridge, which is the continuation of the voie verte towards Camon, over the L’Hers river. The park has shade and is a good place to contain small children while also allowing them to let off some steam in the playground, where there’s a climbing frame, slide, and a see-saw. Because it’s right next to the river, which you can walk down to to sit on the bank and have a paddle, or have yourself a proper cooling off just a few meters down where it gets a bit deeper. For grown ups sans children there’s a picnic bench there and, again, big trees so plenty of shade.

After eating our picnic and having a little play, we headed home. In the end we’d ridden 17km and just under half of the route. This makes the rest is manageable in a single day as long as I plan a decent midway stop. Now all I need is another un-sunny day. I’m sure one will be along at some point but until then we can settle back into good-weather-mode.

Part 1, done!

We did it! Read all about the second part of our adventure here:
https://aleapintothevoid.wordpress.com/2018/09/01/riding-the-voie-verte-from-lavelanet-mirepoix-part-2/

A Day in the Woods

Yesterday, except for the bit where I lost my bank card and DS screamed the whole time that I was on the phone to the bank, I think we had the perfect day. The sun shone, we met some friends, we played in the woods. All Day Long.

Some friends are organising regular get togethers, just a day every week when like-minds meet up in a local park. The kids can play in the woods, the stream or on the swings, we can chat as well as join in with the little ones, we build a fire and cook together. Yesterday P kept the two eldest girls busy by mixing ash from the fire with water to make a black paste. They painted every bare inch of themselves, spread a lot of it on their clothes and faces, and had a great time. The younger ones tended to muddle around, exploring cautiously either with a parent in hand orbiting us close by. The sun shone, we found a leech in the stream (not a snake, sadly, but not an earthworm, much to P’s relief!), contributed sticks to the shelter that S has started to construct, and had fun defending their space which, according to DD, was a wild panthers’ den for most of the time.

Five hours of play later we were on our way home with smiles on our faces, the smell of woodsmoke in our clothes and two very tired children. Days like this are why we’re here, why we uprooted our family and moved to this back-end-of-nowhere part of France hoping to find a house or piece of land to call home and also find a way to live day-to-day, as financially free as possible. We’re not getting so far with the house/land but we do have a place that feels like home and the money side of things is work in progress. Yes, there are definitely challenges: the language being the main one. It’s too quiet for some with a slow pace of life but we’re getting the hang of it and we really feel the difference during the times we’re back in the UK; too busy, too many people, not enough mental or physical space. Days spent mucking about in the woods are normal here. There may come a time when we all need more than that but for now it’s perfect and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be.

The only downer is that we were all so busy enjoying ourselves, there aren’t any pics to share. Next time. Because I really think every blog post needs a picture, here’s one from walk we did the other day: DD and James walked and talked while DS and me followed along behind saying, “choo choo!” Happy days.

And adult and child walking in a disused railway tunnel followed by a small child in a green helmet on a balance bike
Walking through an old railway tunnel on the Lavelanet-Mirepoix Voie Vert

A Short Walk along a Long Distance Path (GR7)

We used to walk a lot both before DD and when she was still small enough to carry. Since having DS and also moving, we’ve mostly been limited to short works to and from the park or thereabouts; walks of a distance just far enough for the big one to walk both ways and the small one to walk or be carried as far as he wants or is able. It causes that parenting conflict where on the one hand you don’t want to be wishing their little lives away, but on the other you do kind of look forward to being able to do some proper walks again. The only way round this with children of their ages (2 and 4) is to carry the little one and make sure you have the capability of carrying the bigger one once she decides she’s had enough. When you’re carrying the little one, is often within the first 5 minutes of the walk, so we always have to factor that in when thinking about distance. Sigh. That means it’s really much simpler to walk with just one of them and, if it means carrying, that’s definitely easier with the little one.

So when DD was going to play at a friend’s house just over the hill I decided that, rather than just stay at home and try to get DS down for a nap (he’s started napping in the morning again!) I’d pop him in the sling and walk over to meet James and DD, then catch a lift back. I wasn’t exactly sure how far it was – there wasn’t time to check an online map or plot the route – so I figured it “wasn’t far” (that’s a technical term) and allowed myself an hour to get there. It was a cool weather day, warm but overcast, so a good temperature for walking, especially with a sling. I wasn’t worried about route finding because for most of the way, until the path rejoined the road, I’d be following GR7. GR is short for Grande Randonnée, which is the designation for a long-distance route that is well marked using the standard. There are over 100 of these criss-crossing Europe. GR7 is 1900 km long, starting in Spain then passing through Andorra and into France. The French part is 1400 km long. The section I was walking was from Puivert in the direction from Chalabre, heading North.

The Walk

This was a pretty interesting walk. There was plenty to see nature-wise with lots of spring flowers on the edges of the path both in the field and through the woods. There was plenty of evidence of the damage done by the moth that invaded last year – the Pyral du Buis (Box Tree Moth) – which I wrote about in a blog post. At the time I was quite blase about it. I don’t think I realised just how much boxwood was around here as I am more accustomed to the smaller-leaved versions that we have in the UK than the larger-leaved variety that’s around here. Now winter has passed and everything is greening up it’s really obvious how much damage there is. All along the first half of this week, where the landscape is open, the box has been decimated. This picture is an example.

Three boxwood bushes with brown leaves damaged by the Boxwood Month (Cydalima perspectalis)
The Impact of the Damaged Boxwood on the Landscape

Here you can see the damage close up.

Brown leaves of boxwood plants
A Closeup of Boxwood Damaged by the Boxwood (Cydalima Perspectalis) Moth

It wasn’t until I got deeper into the wood that I saw healthier specimens. Perhaps those within the wood were protected by the trees, out of sight, perhaps? Either way, I do wonder whether we’ll see them again this year given how much damage they did. There may not be much left for them to eat. I also worry a little about the fire risk given there’s so much dead vegetation around. I’m not sure how prone this area is to fires but I know that they get them regularly further down the valley, however, there also seems to be much less box down there and I’m not sure the moths ventured that way. Time will tell on the fire front.

Tragic decimation of the many boxwood trees aside, there were plenty of living plants to see – and evidence of wild animals. I took as many pictures as I could but DS started to get impatient with my stops and starts so I gave up after a while. Here are a few plant pics that I managed to grab, of the Early Purple Orchid and a small blue flower I’m not familiar with and need to identify. I also saw two different types of vetch, cowslips, clover, buttercups, another small blue flower on a tall stem which as bit like self-heal with a more orchid-like flower so another one to identify.

A purple flower on a all green stem on a grassy track
A slightly out-of-focus (blaming DS for wriggling) Early Purple Orchid
Small blue flowers amongst the wet and dry grass
A small blue flower to ID later. Any ideas?

One of the reasons I was keen to do this walk was that I hoped it would be cycle worthy. Which it is, absolutely is – on a mountain bike. It’s up there on there on my to-do list and will be welcome relief from sensible trailer-friendly tracks and tarmac. Oh yes.

But it’s really not one for the trailer. It nearly wasn’t one for a child-carrying solo parent: at one point there’s a fairly steep near-on scramble up a muddy, and slipping in the damp, bank. There were just enough rocks for me to get a steady footing and we made it. It was made all the more exciting by DS cheering me along with fearful cries of, “No, Stop!” – which suggests he didn’t have every confidence in me, the cheeky little so-and-so. We made it, of course, and continued, but it’s something to consider if a near vertical scramble isn’t your thing. I did wonder how that would work out for someone travelling with horses or a pack mule. Or actually just on a mountain bike. Can I get my bike up there by myself? There’s only one way to find out.

A muddy bank with rocks on a path lined with yellow broom plants
The steep and slippy bank rising up into the woods towards Col de Lapeyrouse on GR7
A rocky path through woodland
Rocky happiness, right there. I want to ride my bike, tra-la-la…

Having done it on foot I’m quite excited to the point of impatience about the possibility of scaring myself shitless clattering down the rocky descent from the Col de Lapeyrouse to the D121. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden anything that hectic – maybe Potato Alley in the Peak District comes close? I’ll find out, soon I hope, and will then report back. See, now I’m excited about it again!

A rocky path lined by tall boxwood trees
A landscape very similar to the labyrinth at Nebias – hardly surprising since it’s just up the road!

If you’re interested in the route and the map, read on.

The Route

From the village, cross the D117 and follow the D121 up the hill and towards Saint-Jean de Paracol. At the turning to Métairie d’on Bor, turn right onto the track and then immediately left. Follow this track through the field (conveniently edged by electric fence) and up towards the woods.

The rest of the way is easy to find as it’s an obvious path and waymarked using the standard white and red lines.

This is a one-way route so you can either come back the way you came or take the D121. It’s not as picturesque but is a pretty quiet road – no problem if you’re riding and not likely to be a problem on foot either. In future I hope to explore a few of the other tracks around and pick the brains of knowledgeable locals so that I can make it into a more interesting loop.

Map and GPX Track Download

To view the full-size map or download the GPX track, click on the map below to go to the main GPSies site.

//www.gpsies.com/mapOnly.do?fileId=zutrkceruzqgcash

Where to Park, Eat, Pee, etc.

There’s parking outside the Mairie in Puivert, in many side streets, or in the small car park on the D117.

As far as eateries go, there’s nothing at the Tougnets end so take food and water with you. On your return you can try: the Brasserie du Quercorb (an English-run microbrewery, civilized enough to also serve tea and coffee but no food); Adeline & Joan, a cafe/bar that has a menu and a small shop area – excellent coffee and free WiFi too; or try one of the buvettes down by the Lac du Puivert. Of the three that are there, my preference is for the L’escale.

Toilets can be found next door to the Mairie and also at the Lake.

Accessibility

Definitely not suitable for pushchairs, wheelchairs, or bike trailers! Also not recommended for anyone who is uncomfortable walking on steep or unsteady ground. A walking pole or stick is recommended.


Have you followed this route before? Are you planning a walk that way in future? A ride, maybe? Please comment and share your story!