Day 13 - Thursday 2nd August 2007

St Martin du Canigou, Vernet-les-Bains and Prades

Today we planned to visit the Abbey of St Martin du Canigou, just a few kilometres from Sahorre (where we are camping) - over the hill, and up the next valley to Casteil. We didn't make the early start we had originally planned as we decided to all go, but we were in Casteil soon after 11, found shady parking, and set out for the Abbey. First we walked through Casteil village, passing the church.

Then we discovered that the "30 minute walk" involved a trek up a driveway climbing 1,000 feet! Not everyone was keen but we all set out and went at our own pace up the drive.

Halfway up you pass the church of St Martin-le-Vieux, and a panoramic view - if only it was a clear day! Today was the coolest and cloudiest we'd had in the last week.

Meld and I managed to reach the abbey just in time to get on the 12 noon tour, with an English nun who gave a very good talk. First we saw the graves of the founder and his wife (under the little roof) and the bell tower. The abbey was built ages ago but abandoned around 1782. It was only retored in the 20th Century, and the order of the beatitudes moved in about 1988.

The church from the outside...

...and inside, romanesque simplicity.

The bishop who enabled the restoration

A remnant of altar cloth, possibly almost as old as the abbey itself.

In the crypt

Our guide tells us about the teaching power of the artwork on the capitals of the cloister.

The detail is impressive.

Originally the cloister would have been closed on all four sides, shutting the community off from the outside world, but here one side is open to give a view up the mountains (if the cloud were higher...)

Inside the cloister itself.

The gravestone of an abbot, originally in the crypt.

The statue of St Martin-de-Tours, dedicated to the restorer of the abbey.

Meanwhile, the others had reached the top and tucked into ice creams!

Mary and Mark decided to wait for the next tour at 2pm, whilst the youngsters would return to base with Meld and I. The troops were assembled...

...but took the command to fall out too literally.

On the way down we met a Land Rover taxi bringing up those who couldn't (or wouldn't) walk. The turns are so tight that even a Defender 90 had to take two bites at them.

As we passed the church in Casteil again we popped inside.

After lunch at the campsite we met up with Mary and Mark again at Vernet-les-Bains. Meld, Mark and I decided to walk up to the church and castle on the hill (only a small hill by recent standards).

On the way we passed the Place de l'Entente Cordialle, erected 2004 to celebrate 100 years of Entente Cordialle between France and the UK.

The sundial on the church - not much use on a cloudy day, although it was starting to brighten up.

The view up the valley over Vernet.

The church at Vernet.

There were some pretty houses and courtyards huddled on the side of the hill - reminding us of St Ives (without the seagulls).

We then drove to Prades. Before doing the food shopping we would look at the town. This was a mistake, as the Pablo Casals Music Festival as on, so the place was heaving. When we did park, Rosie found the state of the public loos leaving something to be desired.

The church - we couldn't go in because a concert was in full flow.

An unusual timbered building in the centre of Prades.

Perhaps the best thing about Prades is its position so close to the mountains.

And so, to Super U, shopping, back to camp for a mega paella, then our final night under canvas - the journey home starts tomorrow!