Shattered dreams

The next day, spurred on by the prospect of countless gastronomic temptations, we hit the trail with renewed vigour, following the shore of Estany de Mar across silt covered beaches and over rocky headlands.

At the lake’s head lay a broad, flat area. It was as large as a cricket pitch with a covering of dense, closely cropped grass, but the entire area was liberally dotted with rocks and boulders. On the far side stood a score-box with a large screen announcing that an avalanche had stopped play.  At least that is how I remember it.

Beyond the boulder strewn ‘cricket pitch’ the trail began to climb. We had been too slow to reach this point and the sun beat relentlessly on our backs as we hauled one dusty foot past another on the long, switch-backed trail to the top of the col.

But the final few miles beyond the col were described in our guidebook as “enchanted mountains… not an area to hurry through.” This tantalising depiction enticed us onward with an inquisitive surge of energy.

Reaching the col, we gazed out across the ruggedly beautiful Estany Tort de Rius and murmured agreement – this was a hard won reward and we savoured it.

Estany de Mar Tort de Rius

Estany de Mar Tort de Rius          Hey, that's my photo!  See my message on the Pyrenees home page

Several hours later we stood in sight of Hospice de Vielha - our long awaited Promised Land, flowing with milk and honey.

The view hit us like a below-the-belt sucker punch.  The heavy drone of traffic echoed incessantly from the mouth of a nearby tunnel; an all but abandoned café frowned at us uninvitingly; and the foreground was littered with moulding mattresses and rusting car bodies.

We sank to the ground, doubled up in disappointment, and sat in desultory silence, our shattered hopes scattered amongst the dereliction that lay before us.

Fresh fruit, my principle fantasy and driving force for the previous three hours, was out of the question. We weren’t sure that we could buy a drink at all; the buildings hardly had a ‘visitors welcome’ aspect about them. There wasn’t even a rusting sign to indicate a shop.

Curiosity and a niggling desire for redress coaxed us forward. Tucked between disused cow sheds, we found an unmarked door in a formidable stone wall. The door stood ajar and we glimpsed dusty shelves stacked with long-life products.

There were none of the fresh foods of our fantasies but we were soon greedily enjoying a consolation prize of ice-cold coke and chocolate.

Half a mile down the road stood the hostel, where we had imagined we might stay the night. It offered excellent views of passing traffic and promised to be full of image conscious outdoor-types cheerfully roughing it in this isolated spot, their gleaming four-wheel-drives never more than a dozen paces away.

Shouldering our packs, we turned our weathered hiking boots towards a more exclusive habitat: the real wilderness.


Have you recently visited Hospice de Vielha?

We were there in 1998.  Has it changed since then... for better or for worse?

Leave a comment or send me a message so I can keep the story up to date. Thanks.

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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

Estany de Mar

Estany de Mar

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

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.

Heading into the real wilderness from Hospice de Vielha (Photo: Alan Ross)

Heading into the real wilderness from Hospice de Vielha

Photo: Alan Ross (Please contact me if you wish to use this photo)

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