E. Ernest Bilbrough.

Twixt France and Spain online

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were only waiting for a fine day to make an excursion. But fine days
just then were rather hard to find, so we contented ourselves with one
that did not look very ominous, and taking a good lunch with us,
started in a landau and four at ten o'clock.

[Illustration: THE CASTLE OF STE. MARIE.]

The road after leaving Luz follows the course of the Gave de Bastan,
skirting in turn the base of the Montaigu [Footnote: Not to be in any
way confounded with the Montaigu near Bigorre. The French mountain
vocabulary is so defective, they often call several heights by the same
name.] and that of the Pic d'Ayré, and, passing through the villages of
Esterre (2 miles), Viella (2-1/4 miles), and Betpouey (3-1/2 miles),
winds in steep zigzags up to Barèges (4064 ft.).

This valley, after what we had seen, did not give us much pleasure; its
appearance on the whole being sterile, though after leaving Luz as far
as Esterre, the brightness of the fields and trees, and the splashing
of the water overflowing the miniature mill conduits, made a pleasant

The actual distance from Luz to Barèges is barely four miles, and yet
so great is the height of the latter (1600 ft. above Luz) that it was
nearly one o'clock when we pulled up at the Cercle des Etrangers - the
only specimen of a hotel or café open - for our lunch.

After a pleasant meal we made a move to inspect the town and its
environs, and were not long in forming an opinion, at any rate, on the
former, which we think most visitors at this season of the year would
be inclined to endorse. One long ascending street lined with houses all
shut up, occasional breaks where a narrow alley or the roads to the
hospitals and promenades branched off, the bathing establishments under
much-needed repair, the dirty-looking river dashing down behind, on the
left; the beech boughs clad in dead leaves rustling on the slopes, in
the opposite direction; and a few natives here and there, very untidy
and sleepy-looking, as though with difficulty awaking from the
"dormouse" state, complete the picture of Barèges, which we need hardly
add is in itself a most desolate and dreary-looking place. In
mid-summer, with the sun shining and the trees in full leaf, an
improvement in the scene would be noticeable; but very few, except
invalids specially recommended for a course of the waters, are at
anytime likely to stay there more than a few hours.

[Illustration: BARÈGES.]

We took the road leading up, to the right of the "Grand Etablissement,"
to the Promenade Horizontale, the great summer rendezvous, and passing
the "Hospice de Ste. Eugénie" began the ascent up the easy zigzags of
the "Allée Verte." We had not made much progress when we startled, from
what was doubtless a contemplative mood, a very fine jay. He did not
seem to like the disturbance at all, but kept flying from branch to
branch in the vicinity, repeatedly uttering his guttural cries.

As the tenor of his thoughts - uttered in rather a shrill treble - seemed
to bear considerably on topics of general interest, in spite of the
apparent selfishness that was the key-note of the whole, we think it
expedient to let posterity enjoy the enlightenment we received from


Lawks a mussy! and shiver my feathers!
Why this is a wonderful sight;
In spite of my earnest endeavours,
I can't quite get over my fright.

'Tis so long since the strangers departed,
They ne'er would return, I had thought;
So no shame at their coming I started,
Though perchance I felt worse than I ought.

Still to think through the days cold and lonely
I've wandered about at my will,
With no one to chase me, and only
The need to prevent getting chill.

Well, I say - when I think of the quiet
And rest that is now at its close -
I have doubts of enduring the riot
After such a long time of repose.

It is not that I hate to see pleasure,
It is not that the world I detest;
But I like to have comfort and leisure,
And not to be teased and oppress'd.

I don't mind the smell from the fountains,
- Though a rotten-egg scent is not sweet -
For I always can fly to the mountains
And seek some umbrageous retreat.

Then the season for shooting is over,
So the sportsmen[1] will leave me alone,
And I'll pose as a Go(u)ld Jay in clover,
Avoiding a _dollar_ous tone.

To my doctor, perhaps, 'twould be better
The final decision to leave;
And I'll follow his choice to the letter,
He's a bird I can always believe.

That reminds me 'tis time for my dinner,
And as I don't wish it to wait,
As sure as I'm saint and no sinner,
I'll be off at my very best rate.

[Footnote 1: The jay, with all its sophistry, did not apparently know
that French sportsmen only kill what they can eat, and therefore its
fears would in any case have been groundless.]

And with a concluding chuckle the bright bird disappeared. We were by
this time beyond the "Forest Administration" hut, and close upon the
snow, which lay in narrow but deep drifts among the trees, the wood
anemones and fine hepaticas growing in groups close by.

As we gradually progressed, the snow occupied the greater part of the
way, and we were forced to betake ourselves to the extreme edge; and
when at last we emerged into the Vallée de Lienz, trees and branches
had to be scrambled over to avoid a wetting, although we were obliged
to cross one or two drifts after all. Getting clear of the trees, we
came in full view of the imposing Pic de Lienz (7501 ft.) on the left,
and the rounded summit of the Pic d'Ayré (7931 ft.). Passing the two
cabins constructed among the rocks in the open, we crossed the swift
brook and began the ascent of the inferior but well-wooded hill below
the Pic de Lienz. There is no proper path up to this Pic (as to most
others), and the grass is rather bad for walking; but the views up the
valley to the mighty Pic de Néouville (10,146 ft.), and the whole range
behind the Pic d'Ayré, are very grand. We only went to the bend just
before the summit of the Col, resting awhile among a huge pile of
boulders, brightened by bushes of the mountain rhododendron, before
commencing to descend. A fine specimen of the rather rare _Anemone
vernalis_ was a prize that fell to us as we carefully balanced
ourselves on the slippery tufts which so often, carrying the feet along
at an increased speed, cause the owner to find himself rather
unpleasantly acquainted with mother earth. However, we reached the huts
again in safety, and made considerably shorter cuts on our way back to
the town, encountering a solitary sheep with a very young lamb at one
of our sharp turns.

We arrived at the café just in time for tea, and then the horses were
put in and we rattled back, having, in spite of the barrenness of
Barèges, spent a very pleasant day.



Pont de Pescadère - Sassis - Gave de Gavarnie - St. Sauveur - Hotel de
France - Pont Napoléon - Napoleon's pillar - Bee orchids - Chapel of
Solferino - The view from thence - Ne'er a hermit but for gold - Luz
Cemetery - Luz Post Office - Short cuts - Pharmacie Claverie - Jardin à
l'Anglaise - Ascent of Pic de Bergons - Villenave - The shepherds'
huts - Lunch - Snow, its use and abuse - On foot - "Excelsior" - Dangerous
footing - The last crest but one - The view - Gavarnie and Argelès in
sight - A lazy guide - A "fast" bit - Mountain flowers - Mr. Sydney to the
fore - A short walk and a good view - To Sazos and Grust - The bathing
establishments - Sazos: the old church - The belfry - Chiming
extraordinary - Various promenades - Gems of hill and vale.

At the bridge known as the Pont de Pescadère the road from Pierrefitte
forks; the branch to the left leads to Luz, while the road to St.
Sauveur branches off to the right, and passes through the village of
Sassis, above which is the more important one of Sazos. Then, keeping
to the riverside till within half a mile of the town, it throws out a
branch over the Gave de Gavarnie to Luz, and bending in the opposite
direction, winds steeply past the baths to the hotels.

Like many of the villages in Japan, and especially along the great
Nakasendo, St. Sauveur possesses one single street. The resemblance
continues further with the fine scenery, but there it ends. The look of
the houses and the comfort of the Hôtel de France find, alas! no
parallel yet in the interior of that wonderful country.

[Illustration: ST. SAUVEUR.]

We came to St. Sauveur direct without stopping at Luz, but as the
latter is the larger town - in fact the mainstay of the former, and also
the nearer to Pierrefitte - we have given it precedence. For situation
and all other qualifications, except as a residence in winter, St.
Sauveur easily bears away the palm. The morning after our arrival, when
the sun was shining brightly, we walked up through the remainder of the
diminutive town to the Pont Napoléon, one of the most remarkable
bridges in the Pyrenees. The bridge itself is 216 feet above the river,
and sixty-nine feet wide; but it is not so much the construction
- though that is well carried out - as the position, which
especially attracts on a lovely spring morning. The river, of a
beautiful light green tint, wandering down the valley towards
Pierrefitte, the trees with varied foliage crowding the slopes above,
the glimpse of Saint Sauveur with its church, and the hills with the
snowpeaks beyond, on either side - made such a glorious _ensemble_
as we were not slow to appreciate.


But this was not all - nor nearly all - for not only had we the view of
the grand rocky gorge from which the river issues above, but we could
also take the easy gradient down to the riverside itself, which leads
from the near side of the bridge, as well as survey the loveliness from
the terrace at the base of the arch, on the side beyond. Having crossed
this fine piece of engineering, and passed the pillar surmounted by an
eagle erected in honour of Napoleon III. and the Empress Eugénie, we
found the road led at right angles in both directions. The one to the
right, to Gavarnie, we hoped to take thither later; the one to the
left, leading to Luz, we followed there and then. After curving once or
twice within view of the bridge, it bifurcates, forming an upper and a
lower route, both of which lead to Luz, if desired. The lower, which is
the direct route from Gavarnie to Luz, we abstained from taking,
preferring the upper road to the right, which leads past fields
resplendent with flowers (among which the "bee" orchid is noticeable),
to the chapel of Solferino.

The view from the hill on which the chapel is built is an excellent
one. Looking towards Luz, several small villages may be seen up the
Barèges valley, with the Pic de Mont Aigu, and the Pic d'Ayré (7931
feet) on the right, and - immediately over against the town - the Pic de
Néré on the left. Looking towards Pierrefitte, other small villages,
and the whole of the Luz valley; on the left, St. Sauveur, and, above
the almost indistinguishable village of Sassis, the Col de Riou, with
the Pic de Viscos beyond. Looking towards the Pont Napoléon, the Pic de
Bergons (6792 ft.) towers up on the left, and on the right may be
easily noted the toothed Pic du Lac Grand the Col d'Aubiste, and the
loftier Pic (8863 ft.) of the same name, besides a glimpse of pastures
and foaming cascades as well. There is very little in the chapel itself
except its history and its cold atmosphere. It is supposed to be an
exact copy of the ancient Hermitage of St. Peter, which formerly stood
on the same spot. The bones of the last good man, for whom "gaieties
had no attraction whatever," and who consequently shut himself up for
"years and years" in the dismal building, were collected by Napoleon
III.'s command, and buried under the statue erected in front. There is
a woman that calls herself the guardian (not angel) of the place, and
demands a small gratuity in exchange for any amount of unnecessary
talking; judging by her appearance, we decided she was _not_ a
hermit nor a particularly small eater either, though her stature was
decidedly diminutive. Two tracks lead from this hill to Luz. One
winding down on the left forms the branch route to St. Sauveur, the
other, to the right - which we took - passes the cemetery, and leaving
the new church in the same direction, leads to the back of the ancient
fane of the Templars, through the town.

After transacting a little business at the post-office (there is none
at St. Sauveur except in the season), which stands in one of the
principal streets traversed on the route to Barèges, we returned to St.
Sauveur by another way. The ordinary short cut from Luz to St. Sauveur
crosses the bridge over the Gave leaving the Gavarnie road on the left,
and turning sharply up a short distance beyond the river, joins the
high road above the "Pharmacie Clavarie," near an ornamental pillar.
We, however, bore up the Gavarnie road till, reaching a cottage, we
pursued the narrow path obviously conducting to the river, over which a
wooden bridge - whence a pretty view can be obtained, - leads to the
Jardin à l'Anglaise. This garden, much frequented during the summer
months, brought us in turn, by means of zigzags and steps, close to our
hotel, and though it may be slightly longer than the "short cut," we
certainly found it prettier and more agreeable.

There is one excursion from St. Sauveur, which is not very difficult
nor laborious, and which well repays the certain amount of exertion
that is at all times associated with ascents. This is the ascent of the
Pic de Bergons. Although we could tell before we started that the snow
would prevent us from reaching the summit, we nevertheless had hopes of
arriving very near it; and finding a beautiful day, as it were, staring
us in the face, we ordered round the horses and a somewhat aged guide,
and were in motion by ten o'clock. Reaching the further end of the Pont
Napoléon, we found the path striking off immediately before us, and the
work began. The gradient for several minutes rose rather sharply, and
as the road was anything but a pleasant or even one, the labour for the
horses was considerable; but they went very willingly, until, at our
arrival at a couple of cottages, we halted to give them a few minutes'

Until then we had been winding up the face of the hill, but after
leaving the cottages, the track bearing round to the side brought us
above Luz, over which and the whole valley we had a splendid view. Not
far from this point, the path from Luz, _viâ_ Villenave, joined
in, but no improvement in the general unevenness and stoniness of it
was effected. With a barren gorge on our left, and the green pastures
with the snow-peaks of Bugaret and Maucapéra towering behind them,
straight before us, we followed the disagreeable zigzags, our horses
always on the very edge, as though courting our overthrow, till,
finding on reaching the "cabanes" some shepherds kindly and well
disposed, we repaired to the shelter that their cow-house wall
afforded, to eat our lunch. The meal was a success, as such meals, when
the victuals are good and the appetites hearty, usually are, and the
_vin ordinaire_, cooled to a pleasant extent with snow from a
neighbouring drift, tasted like nectar. But the same snow which was so
delightful in the claret, interfered sadly with our locomotion, and
having finished our luncheon, we had next to dispose of our horses, and
commence the rest of the ascent on foot. Striking straight up from the
hut, we soon attained a narrow track winding up the wooded hill to the
left, and without much difficulty or exertion, found ourselves within
view of St. Sauveur, and a great part of the mountains and valleys.
However, we were yet some way from the summit, or even the highest
attainable point (the summit being unattainable on account of snow), so
we pulled ourselves into form, and whispering to one another to have
"courage," we moved upwards again. A small rocky backbone was next
attained, but still the higher crests remained, and seemed to say,
"Excelsior." The guide got lazy, and preferred to study a little
geology to mounting any higher, so we left him to pursue his researches
and strode on. Between the next point, gained after some little work,
and the last crête below the actual summit, several banks of snow lay,
and rendered progress difficult. In two places a sharp decline, with no
chance of clutching anything in case of falling, presented itself to
dull our hopes, but by dint of using the alpenstocks well, and making
deep tracks in the semi-melting snow, we reached the desired crest,
with nothing but the white and inaccessible summit above. The view was
a very fine one, and fully justified all expectations, although our
lazy guide was effectually shut out from our gaze. The miniature town
of St. Sauveur looked like a tiny model, with every accessory that
could add to its charming position. To the left, high above us, the
mighty Barbe de Bouch (9624 ft.) stood out just below the clouds, in
which the still loftier and very stony Pic d'Ardiden (9804 ft.) was
partially hidden. Further in the same direction the familiar forms of
the Pics d'Aubiste and Litouèse, and further yet, the Tour and Casque
of the Gavarnie Cirque, stood out as snowy and as clear as the most
eager sightseer could wish. Over the town itself the Pic du Lacgrand,
and down the valley to the right, the Col de Riou and the Pic de
Viscos, were plainly visible; while the town of Argelès and the hills
beyond it, required no glass to point out their position at the end of
the splendid gorge. Over against Luz the Col d'Arbéousse and the Pic de
Néré (7880 ft.); with the Pic Bugaret (8859 ft.), the Maucapéra (8893
ft.), and the massive Mont Arrouye (10,299 ft.), facing them, above the
hut where we had lunched, added their attractions to swell the beauty
of our view.

When we thought we had really taken in all that we could, we did not
stay on our lofty perch much longer, fearing the result of our guide's
geological researches; however, we found him still fairly well, and
very little less lazy, so took him for a little jolting down a rather
"fast" bit, which not only woke him up, but brought us quickly down to
our shepherd's hut again. Partly riding and partly walking, the rest of
the descent was successfully accomplished, including the gathering of
gentians, bee orchids, mountain violets, and both _Polygalae_;
[Footnote: _Polygala rosea_ and _P. amara._] while Mr. Sydney
triumphed in the very laudable effort of showing the lazy guide how
things could be managed, by arriving at the foot of the mountain some
twenty minutes before him. A very short trot brought us to the hotel in
time for some half-past five tea, having taken seven and a half hours
over our trip, including the hour spent for lunch.

Between the Hôtel de France and the Pont Napoléon a narrow path strikes
up to the right, almost opposite a large white house a short distance
beyond the church; this we found a very pleasant quarter of an hour's
walk, leading by an easy gradient to a good point of view. Box plants,
with their bright leaves here and there changing into a rich red, lined
the way, and many flowers, including gentians, added their charm. From
the rock at which we terminated our walks, a fine view of the Pic de
Bergons, two cascades, the gorge towards Gavarnie and St. Sauveur, the
Pont Napoléon, and a small defile on the immediate right, was our

Another pleasant promenade and not a very long one, which we much
enjoyed, was to the villages of Sazos and Grust, in the direction of
the ascent of the Col de Riou and the Pic de Viscos. We followed the
high road down through the town, passing in turn the Roman-like and
commodious baths, the path leading to the Hontalade establishment on
the left, and the Pharmacie Claverie on the right; and just before the
branch route from Luz joins in, took the left track up the side of the
hill. Pretty views of the different valleys unfolded to our gaze as we
continued on our way, while a splendid vista of villages lay before us
when we reached the platform space on which an iron cross is erected, a
short way below Sazos. The village itself, as well as that of Grust,
which lies within easy distance above it, is a quaint, old-fashioned
place. The church is the chief attraction; in fact, immediately Miss
Blunt found herself within the ancient exterior portal, she demanded
paper and pencil, and although all the paper forthcoming was the back
of an envelope and a telegraph form, managed to turn out an efficient
representation of the old Roman fane. In exploring it afterwards at our
leisure, we were struck by several peculiarities which produced mingled
feelings. Inside the doorway, two curious flights of steps lead to the
narrow galleries and the belfry, the final flight being totally devoid
of either "sweetness" or light. Having examined the bells and heard the
clock strike three, we began the descent. In the darkness we certainly
did clutch a vertical rope, but could that simple act - we ask in a
whisper - have had such an unusual effect as causing the clock to repeat
its striking? For, whether or not, before we reached the ground, the
three strokes rang out again. The carving over the altar is good, and
the general effect of the whole church is likewise; but the supposed
model of the grotto at Lourdes, and the awful painting in the side
altar on the left, certainly do not add to its beauty.

The children regarded us with inquisitive looks as we came away, but
seemed to wish to keep at a safe distance. Whether the double striking
of the clock had had a peculiar effect on them we did not, however,
wait to inquire, but after taking a drink at the fountain, proceeded on
our homeward way.

Any one making a lengthened stay can find out plenty of similarly
enjoyable walks; in fact, one of St. Sauveur's chief charms lies in its
favourable situation for such pursuits. The neighbourhood is very rich
in flora, small jonquils, daffodils, oxslips, hyacinths, violets,
_polygala, potentilla_, anemones, _Ramondia pyrenaïca, Primula
farinosa,_ large and small gentians, _linaria,_ and bee orchids
being among the easiest to find.

Before we started on the great drive to Luchon, we successfully
accomplished a delightful day's outing to Gavarnie, but as it is full
of interest and majesty, we give it a chapter to itself.



A "falling glass" - The wonderful echo - Cascade Lassariou - Sia and its
bridge - Pont de Desdouroucat - "Changing scenes" - Bugaret torrent - The
Piméné - Bué - Gèdre - Brêche de Roland in the distance - The
"Grotto" - Scenery at fivepence per head - Daffodils - Lofty
summits - Cascade d'Arroudet - Chaos - Valley of the "Ten Thousand Rocks,"
Amoy - A dirty avalanche - The Sugar-loaf - Travellers' troubles
- Importunate females - Hôtel des Voyageurs - Poc - Guide or no
guide - Chute de Lapaca - The guardian summits of the Cirque - Cascade du
Marboré - Chandelles du Marboré - The Cirque - Its marvellous
beauty - Reluctantly returning - "The Guide's Auction" - "Two women
enough for a market, and three for a fair" - A Yankee tale - Sketching
and flowers - Tempers and appetites.

There is no excursion from Luz or St. Sauveur for which it is so
necessary to have a fine day, or which is so wonderfully unique, as
that to the Cirque of Gavarnie. We were forced to wait several days;
the barometer always, stupidly enough, wanting to fall, until on the
third day of the moon it slowly began to rise, and gave us hopes for a
start on the following morning. The following morning arrived, and with
it a heavy fall of snow, decking the hills quite low down with a white
mantle, and gloomily screening the view.

However, about nine o'clock, the sun burst forth, the clouds rose, the
blue sky appeared, and we felt that our opportunity had come. The lunch
and the landau, with four horses, were ordered for ten o'clock, and at
10.15 we were on our way. Through the town, past the church and over
the fine Pont Napoléon we went, our hearts - eager to appreciate
- finding no lack of food.

Keeping along the base of the Pic de Bergons, with the Pic du Lac Grand
rivalling it on the other side of the defile, we soon sighted the chasm
and cascade of Rioumaou on our left, and reached the Pas de l'Echelle.
At 1 metre 50 centimetres, or 43/4 feet, from the extremity of the
ornamental facing which marks the place, we pulled up, to try the
magnificent echo, and were in no way disappointed. Our voices came back

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Online LibraryE. Ernest BilbroughTwixt France and Spain → online text (page 8 of 19)