Aching Thumbs
A Diary of a Hitching Holiday in 1982 - with LOTS of photos!
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Aching Thumbs

Coast to Coast

I awoke early, as planned, and was off the campsite by 7:15. I walked to the town for my breakfast as I had not paid for the last two nights' stay and needed every penny I could save.

Villefranche de Conflent Having left Canet Plage at eight thirty, I got my first lift an hour later and arrived at Perpignan at ten. It took thirty minutes to walk through the town to a decent spot for hitching, and another hour until I had a lift. This twenty-minute trip took me to St Feliu d'Avall, thirty kilometres from Prades.

Here I waited in unbearable heat, this was a change from the morning's drizzle but there was still no shelter until I was picked up by a driver who was wearing a beret and looked like the typical image one sees in school books. He had already picked up another hitcher who I had spotted back in Perpignan. The two Frenchmen had a conversation mainly between themselves with the occasional sentence or two from myself. One of the subjects of the conversation was the surprising sight of a camel, which was grazing at the side of the road. We were dropped off at Ille sur Têt at twelve thirty.

Rodreguez Moreira Here I stopped for my lunch, two coffees and a cheese sandwich. I hit the road again at one thirty, I waited at the edge of the village until I was picked up half an hour later by a couple of Chilean refugees who had left their native country six years ago and settled in France. Here they had started a family, a chatty four-year-old who spoke just as easily in French or Spanish.

We travelled in their Renault van for a mere half hour when they stopped for their lunch in a lay-by on the banks of the river Têt, just outside the walled medieval city of Villefranche de Conflent. They shared with me their picnic of baked fish, tomato and egg salad, bread and wine and then we carried on to Bourge Madame on the Franco-Spanish border. Here, they said they were going to do some shopping for quite some time, and I left them to carry on with my journey.

I waited under the bridge that carries the Route Neutre through France from Spain to its enclave, Llivia.

Llivia is a town that was separated from the rest of Spain when a treaty signed hundreds of years ago made one of those gems that politicians are famous for. The treaty stated that the frontier should run along the summit of the Pyrenees, but that the villages should belong to France, thus ensuring France's safety from Spain as it would not be overlooked from the entire summit. They did, however, forget that Llivia was not in fact a village, but a town, and so Spain contested that it was still part of their country. This it has remained until this day.

Pyrenees

The Little Yellow Train From this place, I was given a lift on the back of a small moped for a distance of about 3K to Ur. From here, I walked another few kilometres uphill, past a sign that read "Altitude 1251m", through Enveitg where I bought an ice-lolly, and on to La Tour de Carol. I had been walking for two hours, when the Chilean couple passed again, recognised me, and stopped.

I had not travelled far in the past two hours, even though I had not been standing still. The road was very steep, and was now at an altitude of 1915 metres and the wide-open views were beginning to disappear into fog. By six thirty, the visibility was down to ten metres or less. The driver told me that he would give me a lift right into Andorra la Vella as the weather was too cold to stay in the open at this altitude.

They were travelling from Perpignan to Bordeaux, but as they were on holiday, the detour would make an interesting night halt, as they had not been to this country themselves. If I wanted a lift the next day, they would pick me up just outside the hotel that they would later choose.

We crossed the frontier just after seven o'clock but we were not stopped. The customs staff were probably keeping warm in their offices, or better still, supping Brandy or cheap liquors in one of the cafes in Pas de la Casa, the first town after the border.

We climbed for a further fifteen minutes, then descended for almost an hour until we stopped at the capital of Andorra, Andorra La Vella. Here, Gonzalo and Maria Moreira and their son Rodreguez booked into a hotel where we all had a coffee.

I thanked them for their offer of a further lift and told them that I would accept, wished them a good nights rest and went to find a place for my own head.

Camp Site Edelweiss

At a quarter to nine, I had found a campsite, the Edelweiss. I chose a spot with some thick clover, which would provide me with a mattress, as I had neither lilo nor camp bed.

I was now well practised in erecting my tent, and had it up in about five minutes. I lay in the doorway, watching six Spaniards, who had just arrived on three motorcycles, struggling with their tent - they obviously hadn't practised prior to leaving on this holiday.

The site was a pleasant one, with a river bordering one side; to my left and right, mountains reached up. In front, a valley wound its way to the Spanish border and Seo d'Urgell, whose Bishop is one of the Co-Princes of this tiny mountain State, no bigger than the Isle of White. The other Co-Prince was the Comte (Count) de Foix, but when Henry II of Foix became King Henry IV of France, this title transferred to the Head of the State, originally the King of France but, since the Revolution, the President.

I woke at seven o'clock, and the sun was already high in the sky. After a short lie-in, I dressed and packed the tent and was off the site at eight o'clock; the early bird in this case not catching the worm, but saving the pennies (pesetas).

Church in Andorra la Vella

I walked around Andorra La Vella, taking in some of the sights, bought another film for my camera, and a breakfast of coffee and croissant.

Having met up with my friends, we left the capital of the Principat d'Andorra, and started climbing towards the Port d' Envilira, passing on the way the unusual Santuari de Meritxell, and some fields of snow. This was the first time that I had seen snow in June, some considerable surprise to one that rarely sees snow in February in his own country, England, several hundred miles further north.

At quarter to eleven, we went over the Port, at an altitude of 2407 metres. Within ten minutes, we reached the frontier zone. Yesterday's easy crossing was not to be repeated. There were long queues on the way out, but they were being stopped at the Andorran post. This was slightly amusing, as one would imagine that the Andorran customs officials would have been only too glad to see tourists leaving with boots filled and would have expected the hold-ups to be caused by the French officials.

We finally rolled over the border at quarter past twelve, an hour and twenty minutes after we first sighted it.

Myself on the International Bridge between Spain and France At half past one, we reached Foix, where the French Co-Prince of Andorra originated from, and this was where I said goodbye. My chauffeurs headed towards Bordeaux, and I turned left and walked through the town, heading towards the same coast, the Atlantic, but much further south, at Hendaye.

The next three and a quarter hours were spent in the company of Anne Tixier, who took me through St Girons, St Gaudens, Montrejeau, Tarbes and dropped me off on the outskirts of Pau, where, apparently, there is a large English community.

A 4-figure sum !!! I had a short lift to the start of the Autoroute, then a one and a half-hour lift to Bayonne with a guy who said that life would be more comfortable at the WMCA. He gave me 50 Francs for a night's lodging, which I gratefully accepted, but I decided to camp anyway.

I bought a ham baguette and a large coffee on the terrace of a riverside cafe, and within thirty minutes of my arrival in Bayonne, I was on the road again.

I found a campsite in Biarritz, quickly pitched my tent, then went into town with a couple of English guys that I had met on the site.

We strolled round the town, bought a couple of beers each, and then went back to the site.

St Jean de Luz

The next morning, I was off the site by eight o'clock again, and went to St Jean de Luz where I had a coffee and croissant for breakfast.

NOT the World Cup! The next six kilometres took two and a half hours, all walking, and occasionally stopping to admire the views over the almost enclosed bay. I finally got a lift that took me over the Spanish frontier into Irun. Here I changed a £10 traveller's cheque into 1,829 pesetas, bought a tee shirt as a souvenir, some small canapes and a beer for my lunch. I started my third roll of film, some Spanish children playing football in the square - not quite up to the standard of the World Cup which was currently taking place about 100 kilometres along the coast. I then walked over the border back into France.

After about five hours trying to get out of Hendaye, I finally got a lift to St Jean de Luz with a Spaniard, and by half eight, I was back in Bayonne. I was picked up by M et Mme Darrouzet, who gave me some sugar cubes and water, apparently very good for instant energy. They took me to a toll gate at an entrance to the Autoroute, but the gendarme on duty refused to let me hitch from here. I was taken to a "Les Routiers" cafe, where I was bought a sandwich and a beer.

No Hats!

I stayed at this cafe, unsuccessfully trying to talk my way into a lift, explaining that I was a lorry driver on holiday, until about half eleven, when I started looking for somewhere to sleep for the night.

Mairie Not far away, was the Benesse-Maremne Mairie, which was set in an unwalled garden, but which had high hedges to each side, and lawns. I went behind this Town Hall and laid out my sleeping bag on top of the waterproof liner and went to sleep. The hourly trains on the main Paris - Madrid line, constantly disturbed this slumber.

On Tuesday morning I woke up early, at about seven, and went back to the Relais Routiers for my usual coffee and croissant breakfast. I started hitching at eight, and got a lift to Dax.

From here, I had a lift to Tartas, where I walked through the Plane tree lined market place, to my exit road. Whilst awaiting my next lift, a Police van passed, and very shortly returned. They stopped in front of me, and asked to see my Passport, where I was going, and whom I was going to see. Satisfied that I wasn't an international terrorist, they left me to my wait.

The next 21 kilometres were spent with a fat guy who talked about nothing but killing cows and chickens for his food. The lift after that was with somebody a bit sportier - he played Rugby for Aire sur l'Adour and it was to here that he took me. From here, the road to Cahors, to which I had decided to return, passes through Condom, but it is a well known fact that nothing goes through condoms, so after two hours I changed my direction and caught a lift in an open top Land Rover to Mont de Marsan.

From here, after another tedious wait, I got a lift with a young girl through the forest of Les Landes, an eerie yet strangely beautiful area of pines, the largest man made forest in Europe.

After a short wait, I had a lift in a Mercedes 3.4 whose driver insisted in travelling at 130 kph all the way through Casteljaloux and Marmande to Bergerac, crossing plateaux then descending to river valleys via hairpin bends. I was quite relieved to say goodbye at Bergerac.

Between eight thirty and ten forty-five, I had about four lifts, through Creysse, Port de Couze, Beaumont en Perigord, passing inhabited caves in the cliffs at Bayac and finally to Monpazier, a fortified bastide which was illuminated during the evenings. I walked a short way down the road, past a couple of farms and towards a river, where I found a hayfield and made a comfortable mattress, and slept under the stars once more.

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