Lovers and fishermen

With Salardú out of reach, we dusted off our hopes and took a bus as far as the foot of Estany de la Torrasa, where we camped just outside Espot alongside two English cycle tourists.  They had just crossed the Pyrenees by road from France; we were heading in the other direction following walking trails.

Espot's name is hardly evocative of mountain idyll and, since we were entirely uninformed about the town, we conjured up images based on the name alone and arrived expecting to find an unsightly pimple on the Pyrenees' untainted natural countenance.  The reality was altogether more pleasing.

Espot is all granite walls and slate roofs, their northerly slopes washed with broad brush strokes of mustard-yellow moss.  Squat stone cottage walls, as thick as they are high, silently allude to generations of townsfolk living in defiance of harsh winters.  And, to provide indisputable historical perspective, a Roman bridge spans the river, joining Espot Solau (Sunny Espot) on the northern side to its traditionally less affluent other half, which shivers in chilly morning shadows long after the sun has peeped over the steep valley walls and bathed the wealthier homes in warmth.

We made an early start the following morning to hitch as far as vehicles were allowed.  The path we set out on was well worn, being followed by droves of day walkers as well as a handful of hikers with more distant goals.  A gentle breeze sent ripples across the long, yellow grass of the wide open meadows we crossed.  To our left a river gleamed and rainbowed as it tumbled over rocks in the bright sunlight.  We breathed deeply, savouring the crisp mountain air, gently punctuated by the subtlest hint of scent from a thousand wild flowers hidden amidst the grasses.

Soon we were climbing higher, crunching gently through the fallen needles of tall pines.  Gnarled roots spread across the path and high above us the breeze tickled the topmost branches, sending a faint rustling tumbling down to the forest floor.

By now we were beyond the range of the average day walker, most of whom stayed close to their cars, sunbathing along the banks of the river or picnicking in the low-lying meadows.  But our trail aimed higher, winding alternately across hot open rock land or through the refreshing shade offered by the increasingly infrequent pine copses.

Several hours later the path passed a lonely building beneath a high escarpment: the Catholic Chapel of Sant Maurici.  Faint inscriptions on the woodwork, fading daily under the relentless attack of the sun, declared undying love for long forgotten sweethearts.  Peeping between heavy shutters into the gloomy interior, we could see a shrine to the Virgin Mary.

But beside the chapel, beneath the shade of a tree, lay our sanctuary of choice: clear, fresh mountain spring water flowed steadily across a boulder, bubbling cool and pure from the hillside.  The climb had sapped our strength and we drank long, refreshing draughts before filling our bottles and drinking again.

Revived, we climbed past Estany de St Maurici and onto Portarro d’Espot, 2429m above sea level.  From there the path meandered lazily downhill through Plato d’Erdo to Comarca dels Pescadors (Region of Fishermen) where a wide, open valley provided a scenic campsite.

Portarro d’Espot foot bridge
St. Maurici Chapel, or hermitage

Portarro d’Espot foot bridge                                    St. Maurici Chapel, or hermitage

Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page

Portarro d'Espot - our mountainously fortified kingdom for just one night

Portarro d'Espot - our mountainously fortified kingdom for just one night

The valley resembled a vast, shallow crater; we were in the centre of a broad, well watered valley, which stretched out in every direction towards a wide ring of mountains.  Their bare, granite faces rose some 500m on every side, like fortifications around a vast backyard.

Tonight, this was our kingdom.  We passed the evening savouring the splendid isolation and spent the night dreaming of long, lazy days lying by the river waiting for the faint twitch of a line that would announce the interest of a sumptuous trout..

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Links to other chapters:

Chapter 1: Pyrenean foothills, please; one way

Chapter 2: Lovers and fishermen

Chapter 3: Visions and vistas

Chapter 4: Shattered dreams

Chapter 5: The mountain gods

Chapter 6: Catching the drips 

Chapter 7: Ghosts on the col

Chapter 8: Teeth of the storm

Chapter 9: Stealing the solitude

Chapter 10: Voulez vous!

Chapter 11: The yellow goblin

Pyrenees photo album

Roman bridge connecting Espot's sunny and shady halves

Roman bridge connecting Espot's sunny and shady halves

Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page

A garnish of moss adorns the slate roofs of Espot, where cottage walls are built to last, sometimes with foundation stones where nature laid them.

A garnish of moss adorns the slate roofs of Espot, where cottage walls are built to last, sometimes with foundation stones where nature laid them
A garnish of moss adorns the slate roofs of Espot, where cottage walls are built to last, sometimes with foundation stones where nature laid them

Recommended reading

Long distance walks in the Pyrenees

The guide book used by the Backpacker Diaries author.  It is one of a series of trekking guides from Chris Townsend, which cover mountain ranges on several continents.  It is currently out of print but copies are available via the link below.

Walks & climbs in the Pyrenees

Since the first edition in 1978, this book has become the authoritative guide to the range.  The new edition incorporates many revisions and includes more than 170 day walks, multi-day walks, climbing routes and mountaineering ascents.

The Pyrenees

A resource book covering the finest walks, treks and climbs in the High Pyrenees from the Cirque de Lescun, on the edge of the Basque country in the west, to the Carlit massif and the Cerdagne to the east of Andorra.

Through the Spanish Pyrenees: GR11

The GR11 is a high-level mountain trail following tracks and footpaths.  Affectionately known as "La Senda" (The Track), it crosses the Pyrenees from coast to coast on the Spanish side of the border.

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