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Valira Torrent:   Contents | Subject index

Perforation image from Serif Art Gallery. © Serif Inc, 1996

Valira Torrent - bulletin of the Andorran Philatelic Study Circle. Issue 12, pp1-4 (October 1980).

Copyright notice

Andorra Revisited - 1958 (Part 3)

by John Mashiter

Sunday was another great day with blistering heat. Equipped with a packed lunch we were off in the car, down through Canillo to the Barranc de Uina, where, with difficulty, we disposed of the vehicle, since parking places are rare in the narrow gorge. We followed up the watercourse for a way but got into a tangle of pine forest and scrub at a most atrocious angle. After a futile half hour we studied the map intently and, as a result, returned almost to the main road. We found, behind a ruined barn, a perfectly good track which took us quickly to a great height on to the cliffs above the gorge. We could peer down on the coaches winding down the road far below. Across the gorge we looked straight at the Sanctuary of Meritxell and the hamlet of Prats, whilst to the north the heights above the Col d'Envalira still showed snow on their summits.

Zigzagging ever upwards we passed by a tiny farm and on to the alps above, where we had our first lunch, comfortably enough in a shady copse. Higher still we came to a wide grassy circle of alp, fringed by a ridge of rock and covered with pine trees. This was the top of the Col d'Ordino, 1981 metres or 7,800 feet. Leaving the others here I turned along the ridge to the bare slopes of Casamanya. For the first time I realised the meaning of "the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land". In the shimmering heat of mid-day, with no breath of wind, every rock and every scrubby pine tree produced a faint shiver of cool breeze and I used them to the full. The time came, however, when all shade ceased, and I had to face the last 1000 feet up nearly vertical slopes to the summit. I had to drive myself every foot but the view from the top exceeded, I think, anything I have ever seen from a mountain top. From its isolated central position Casamanya is the perfect view point, 2702 metres high or almost exactly 10,000 feet. It dominates the whole area.

To the north were the highest peaks in the Pyrenean range, to east and west I looked along the whole range for countless miles. To the south, into Spain, the sierra del Cadi, range after range of parallel foothills led away right to the lowlands beyond Lerida. I got back to the others just where a rough wooden cross marks the top of the Col and we went a little way down through the pines to look into the Ordino valley. Then, weary and sun burnt, we trudged slowly homeward well content with our day.

The sunset was particularly lovely this evening with Casamanya sharply outlined against a clear sky. Monday was hotter than ever and we felt little like exertion. We took the car down to Canillo and looked over the old church and the narrow cobbled streets, and then went further down the pass to the Barranc d'Uina where we left the car. After climbing down into the gorge of the Valira we climbed up a rough steep track to Meritxell. As we approached a priest came scrambling up over the fields accompanied by a sturdy peasant carrying his equipment for conducting Mass. Most of the natives of the hamlet turned out to greet him and they all went along to the sanctuary for service. We contented ourselves with a look in to see the famous statue of the Virgin and then scrambled along the hill track to Prats.

After lunch we went down the track to the torrent much to the alarm of a fisherman who was presumably poaching. Richard and I had another plunge into our swimming pool and I collected holly ferns and semperiviums growing in plenty near the river. Then we zigzagged up the hillside of the Bosc de Soldeu and nearly reached the top, but the heat was too much and we gave it up and went back to drink tea in the shade. I was concerned about getting the car out of Andorra in view of the heat but next morning it was overcast and there was a light drizzle, so we packed our things and left the Bonells with regret.

Halfway down the valley I stopped at Encamp to buy bread and then we went on through Las Escaldes and La Vella to St. Julia, the lowest village in the valley, and so to the Spanish frontier. We were stopped first by soldiers who could not find Richard in my passport until I explained, then on to the Customs shed where everyone was very slack. I had to insist on getting a currency declaration at a second stopping place.

Enquiries revealed that we still had a police check a mile further on to have passports stamped. We found no barrier but a great queue outside a building with everyone upset - the Spanish officials behaving as they always do in a Police state. Everyone had to fill in a form and the poor old peasants with nothing to write with were simply booted out to find a pencil and then queue again to get back in. I was with two Andorran girls and they relieved their feelings in French about all this caper. I was a bit alarmed but they evidently knew that the Spaniards were too arrogant and idle to learn French. I had no real difficulty but we wasted an hour and I was so fed up with being bustled around that I could not stop to see Seo de Urgel. It had obviously changed and grown since my previous visit but I stopped in the outskirts and demanded of a worthy citizen the road for Puigcerda.

This was little changed and the little hamlets Pont de Bar, Martinet, Bellver, Isobel, All and Ger brought back memories but the stony road, the magpies, the frogs croaking in the wayside pools and above all the hoopoes, had gone. The road was much like any other tarred highway. Near Ger we came on an armed patrol having trouble with a car and they hastened to seize my passport to illustrate their requirements. The couple in the car could not understand French or Spanish and I tried them in German and Italian as well with no success; but they heard me talking English to Muriel and the man could manage English. They had passed the police post in Andorra and had not had their pass stamped. I pleaded with the young tough in charge for them and promised to see them safely out of Spain at Puigcerda but he was adamant. I had to tell them to turn round and go back 50 miles to Seo again. They looked very upset and no doubt their reception at Seo would not be pleasant. We, of course, were the good boys and were sent on our way with smiles and handshakes.

Arriving in Puigcerda we wound up into the Plaza and left the car to do some shopping. It was knocked about in the Civil War but many old corners remain. The view from the cliff edge at one end of the Plaza out over the Cerdagne is as breath-taking as ever. We enjoyed Puigcerda but, somehow, when we stepped over the frontier at Bourg Madame a mile away and dealt with the cheerful French officials it was rather a relief. The valley widens out here and looks quite different but we were soon climbing again.

Passing the entrance to the strange little enclave of Llivia, a bit of Spain in France, we brewed up for lunch on the Col de Nous. Then we went on to the Col de la Perche with a view of Saillagouse across the valley and so to Mont Louis, the highest town of any size in France. It is walled and heavily fortified and obviously exists for the Army alone. We had a look at it then set off over a high wild plateau, with the great mass of the Puig Carlitte on our left till we came to the Col de Lloge and the Col de la Quillance. We were still over 6,000 feet and there were many lakes and scrub pine woods in this area. At Formigueres we began to go down into the Gorges of the Aude and of St. Georges. For many miles we were in dense forest descending all the time with most alarming hairpin bends. Wonderful country which deserved far more time than we could give to it. At Axat we struck a bigger road for a short way to Quillan then by quiet ways again via Alet and Limoux we came to Carcassonne, an amazing sight at anytime and from whatever angle you approach. We went straight through and a mile or two on the Narbonne road we found lodgings at the Logis de Frinkelague. Having dumped our bags we hastened back to Carcassonne to catch the sunset on the towers. The Son et Lumiere season was ending and they were taking down some of the lighting, but what remained was indeed most effective. The Logis was a famous eating place and we fed well. Afterwards, in the darkness, we walked along a country road to a hamlet already fast asleep. The road went no further and we retreated lest we be taken for marauders. We slept well at the Logis and if the bill was heavy the accommodation was well above our normal.

We went back to Carcassonne, explored it, and took many photographs in the morning sunlight. Off we set again, following a pleasant canal on the main road for Magamet but at a junction not many miles on I took the right fork and started a really adventurous trip through wildest France. From Caunes we followed the valley of the Argentdouble and by hair-raising virages climbed to Lespinassiere and over the Col de Serières to Labastide de Rouairoux and over the Col de Fenille to St. Pons and Olargues in the valley of the Orb.

Agaragemon in Bedaneux gave us a short cut to cut out Lodève and put us on the way to Le Caylar, but what a wilderness. We climbed to the plateau de Grezac and were really up in the limestone deserts of Auvergne. Le Caylar is a tiny oasis in the wilds but at least we found a better road. From here we went across the famous Causse de Larzac past La Caralerie and La Convertoirade, past great caves and limestone formations which we ought to have explored, but time pushed us on to Millau and the tremendous Gorges of the Tarn. On the way to Séverac we touched the fringe of the Causse de Sauveterre and got into the valley of the Lot at Espalion. Estaing and Entraggues were busy, and we were surprised to be refused lodgings at the latter. It was getting dark by now and raining a little so we were relieved to find shelter at the Auberge du Nord at Montsalvy. The inn was full of French families but we ate and slept well. We discovered that Montsalvy had a tiny walled town of its own, only one street and quite separate from the modern village. It rained all night and was still very damp as we descended from the heights into the valley of the Cère and headed for Aurillac.

As we stopped for petrol I asked the attendant to diagnose the gasket noise in the exhaust and to my surprise he spotted the trouble at once. Although I produced my spares he sent me to the other side of the town to a garage who put matters right in 20 minutes and we went on our way rejoicing. From Aurillac we went by quiet ways and a barren countryside to Mauriac seeking a bank to change a travellers cheque but Mauriac manages without. We crossed the Dordogne at the Pont de St. Projet and came by wooded gorges to Neuvic d'Ussel, and still no bank.

Just north of here was a bunch of lakes, the Barrage de la Triougoune, and a rather wonderful dam across which the road run. On to Ussel which a citizen proudly told me had a bank and indeed, he took me by back alleys to it. The two clerks there were indeed amiable but as they were a branch of some tiny savings bank from Marseilles and as the total cash in hand was less than £10 my cheque remained uncashed. We sped on by tiny roads to La Courtine which borders a huge artillery area of the Army. We dodged it and passed on to Crocq over the plateau de Millevaches, peaty and heath and one of the wettest regions of France. From Crocq on to St. Bard, Auzances; still no bank and to Evaux and along the left bank of the Cher river to Montbeçon, still no bank.

Here we struck a main fast road and still following the Cher we sped on 59 miles to Bourges where just on 4p.m. and closing time we burst into the Societé Générale and, after much hoo ha, managed to get £10.

We also collected our first mail for many days at the Post Office and, refreshed, we took the N140 for a few miles into the country and found lodgings at the roadside hotel of St. Georges and St. Martin d'Auxigny where the coq au vin was excellent. After dinner we wandered into the village which sleeps well off the main road and had much of interest.

Next morning the road spread dead straight before us for countless miles but was not monotonous, plenty of forest and heath. We got to the Loire at Gien and turned along the bank to Sully with its fine Château in the water. By quiet ways through Bellegarde and Malesherbes we got into the forest of Fontainebleau where we had a picnic and saw much of interest including some rather mangy camels.

On to Melun and across to Meaux in the Forest of Crécy and so to Compiegne in the Forest of Compiegne. This night, as on other occasions, we finished at Poix where the norman cider is wonderful and a good selection of pubs makes accommodation easy. Next morning we had an easy run to Abbeville and then along the coast by Berck and Le Touquet through pine woods where we lunched before getting the mid-day boat at Boulogne.

Part 1 | Part 2
"My First Visit to Andorra (1929)"

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Updated 8 August 1998