Falling in Love

If your soon-to-be spouse suggests a mountain trek for your honeymoon, consider it a little hint of your life to come. I may have longed for the ‘white sandy beaches’ honeymoon cliche, but with a proposal over mugs of wine on a river bank, you could say I was duly warned.

The day after our wedding we collapsed on to the overnight train from Paris to Pau. A brief hotel stopover only made the shift to hikers’ hostel all the more stark. Swapping a walk-in shower and enormous double bed for grimy tiles and a rickety bunk, I started dreaming of sandy beaches once again. Perhaps this mountain thing was overrated?

But here I was, clattering my cup down at the communal breakfast table, brushing aside the strong suspicion that every other person, from 6 to 86, was more capable than me. And after a final coffee there was no choice but to head on up that hill.

A world away from the sunny mountain meadows I’d pictured, we were instead beset by fog. No grand vistas to reward us for our steep steady slog uphill. Only the eery, ever-present ringing of cow bells from bovines in the mist.

Hours on, we reached the final pass that signalled the final point before an easy amble to our home for the night. I’d been picturing the view for hours, but when it came it was nothing but cloud. We picked our way down the track, using our dangerously-naive navigational skills to find the spot. Just at that moment there was a tiny tear in the cloud cover and we realised we were heading past it. We had almost missed our shelter entirely.

The hut’s designation as a ‘refuge’ was perfectly apt, as we bravely watched the afternoon thunderstorm, armed with tea and chocolate. That night, crammed in to our bunks, I was simply grateful for my full belly and sheltered sleep. Not a single whisper of white sandy beaches entered my thoughts.

Seemingly seconds later, someone’s alarm clock pulled us all out of bed, into a sunrise too spectacular for words. There was a hushed collective worship as every hiker stood in silence, facing Pic du Midi d’Ossau in the growing light. Right then, no one was dreaming of anywhere beyond that perfect moment.

A pyrenean read

Tom bought me “Love and War in the Pyrenees” for our first year anniversary.  We spent our honeymoon hiking in the Pyrenees and I was looking forward to a revisit of the beautiful scenery and a bit of a love story amidst the pages.  I hadn’t really taken into account the ‘war’ part of the title and found this book a far more harrowing read than I’d expected.  Sure, I studied the Second World War at school, and I guess I could regurgitate some names and dates; but the personal stories of struggle and resistance in this book, set in the familiar backdrop of this part of the world I love so much, hit me much harder.

These mountain passes are difficult enough in perfect sunshine, with a pack full of food and the promise of a warm bed at the end of the day.  Even with Bailey’s fantastic writing, it is hard to imagine how so many refugees covered these routes in such hard conditions.  True tragedies can be a depressing read, and perhaps that is why it’s taken me six months to getting around to reading this book.  It is almost impossible to believe the extent of man’s inhumanity to man, but equally incredible to read of the stories of resistance, bravery, and kindness.  This book has certainly given me a different perspective on this part of the world.  And whilst there is always an argument for simply soaking up the beauty of a place in the moment, this little bit of history has made me marvel at these mountains all the more.