Twixt France and Spain
E. Ernest Bilbrough
Part 3 out of 5
Marbore (9964 ft.) itself.
Between the Marbore and the Epaule de Marbore (10673 ft.), nearer the
centre of the Cirque, the celebrated Cascade du Marbore, (1380 ft. in
height) dashes during the warmer months. The curious summits known as
La Tour (9902 ft.) and La Casque (9862 ft.), almost equidistant from
the centre of the Cirque, on opposite sides, stood clearly before us,
with the snow lying below each in the serrated shapes which give rise
to the term "Chandelles du Marbore." The Breche de Roland was--as it
always is from this view--invisible, hidden behind the Pic de Sarradets
(8993 ft.); but the Fausse Breche beyond, and more to the right the
magnificent Taillon (10,323 ft.), and the Pic de Gabietou, with the
Port de Gavarnie--a peculiar shoulder-like rock, below them
both--filled up the semicircle in all its wonderful entirety. When at
last we reached the point whence the whole can be viewed to most
advantage, we did not require the assertion of the guide that we were
in enjoyment of one of the best days of the year, to increase our
admiration and delight.
The amphitheatre, standing before us like the ruins of some mighty
arena, in which the throngs of eager men and women and the blood of the
dying gladiator had long given place to the purifying snow; the summits
around uplifted towards the blue sky; the cascade, no longer dashing as
full of life and hope, but frozen in its course and hanging in icicles
between the rocks; the few uncovered crags scattered here and there,
relieving the dazzling whiteness of the "glace eternelle"; the sparse
trees down the outer slopes struggling to free themselves from their
winter cloak; the cloud of frost scintillating in the sunlight as a
mass of loosened snow rushed into the depths below;--was not such a
scene as this, presented to our gaze in unveiled splendour, more than
sufficient to bewilder in the intensity of its majesty and loveliness?
Yet even this was not all. The silence, the solemn and perfect silence,
that reigned over the whole, only broken by the dull sound of the
falling avalanche or the shrill voice of the restless crow, was so
evident and so powerful, and combined so impressively with the
marvellous beauty of the surroundings, that the heart could not fail to
recognise the sublimity of Nature and the omnipotence of Nature's God!
We stayed there for a long time, and with great reluctance turned our
horses' heads from the scene; while even when we had done so, we
stopped at nearly every bend of the road for another look.
[Illustration: THE CIRQUE OF GAVARNIE (IN SUMMER).]
The exact distance from the hotel to the extreme end of the Cirque is
calculated at 33/4 miles, but we traversed little more than two-thirds
of that distance, on account of the depth of the avalanches, which were
then melting far too quickly to allow of dry walking any further.
Arriving again at the hotel, the chatter of the women over some new
arrivals was as deafening as ever. Our good guide Poc considered it was
not to be borne any longer, so having counted the women and their
asses, he cleared a space in preparation for a mock sale at which they
were all to be put up, and having got us in front as make-believe
purchasers, proceeded with the business, which we called
"THE GUIDE'S AUCTION."
This way, sirs, this way! Will you please to walk up?
The auction I'm ready to start:
I'm instructed to sell all these valuable lots,
And the bidding I hope will be smart.
You see by the catalogue, forty clear lots--
Thirty women; ten asses; some small.
To proceed then, we'll take them, sirs, just as they are,
Say forty fine donkeys in all.
They've plenty of sinew, and as to their voice,
I think about that you well know.
The first lot then, gents; shall we say fifteen francs?
Well then, ten; but that's rather too low.
In our country for ladies we've heaps of respect,
But we've fully enough and to spare;
And we know that "two women a market will make,
And that three are enough for a fair."
* * * * *
Now then, gents, please be sharp! No advance? No advance?
The candle burns fast to the end.
Ten francs for this wonderful native--ten francs!
Why, surely, that's nothing to spend!
No bidding? Good gracious! Why what shall I do
To oblige you? I'll class them as one:
Now what do you say for the whole forty lots?
Make a bid, sirs, I want to have done.
Fifty francs for the lot; see the candle's nigh out:
Fifty francs, take them all as they rise.
What! No one will buy them? Alas! I must say
You're all most uncommonly wise.
They clamour and chatter the whole of the day,
I believe they snore loudly at night;
Oh, if only a Barnum would take them away,
You don't know how I'd dance with delight!
[Footnote 1: His exact words were, "Dans mon pays, monsieur, nous
disons qu'il faut trois femmes pour faire une foire, et deux pour un
[Footnote 2: Alluding to the custom in France of burning bits of candle
to denote the time in which the bidding may proceed; usually when the
third piece goes out the bidding for the special lot is finished, and
the next is proceeded with.]
This last verse was very easy to understand, as the women are always
anxious to obtain occupation for a lesser remuneration than the
qualified guides, who naturally dislike this interference between them
and their earnings, although no bad feeling really exists on the
[Footnote 1: There is a good tale told, _a propos_ of this, of a
gentleman in San Francisco who wanted some wood chopped. An American
offered to do it for a dollar, but a Chinaman asked only half. The
gentleman, thinking it best to help his own countryman, gave the Yankee
the job; but happening to pass the yard during the day, he found the
Chinaman busily at work. "Hullo!" cried he, "I didn't give the job to
you. Who told you to cut this wood?" "Melican man" (American man),
responded the pigtailer. "And how much is he paying you?" "Hap dollar,"
replied the Celestial. And the swell went away resolved never to help
his countryman again.]
After an enjoyable kettledrum, the tea being our own and made under
personal supervision, Miss Blunt perched herself on a hillock to
sketch, and Mr. Sydney explored the neighbourhood for flowers, of which
gentians were the principal object of his search. Both having in a
certain degree attained their ends, we started again at half-past four,
and after a pleasant drive, which lasted two hours instead of
three--the time occupied in coming--we reached our quarters in the best
of tempers and not with the worst of appetites.
FROM LUZ AND ST. SAUVEUR TO BAGNERES DE LUCHON.
A smiling valley--Lourdes again--The chapel in the crypt--St. Peter's
statue--Burnished toes--Solemn quietude--Preparing for the great
pilgrimage--"Ornamented" crosses--Mr. Sydney's new vocation, "guide,
philosopher, and friend"--Bigorre again--An open-air concert
--Harmonious echoes--Paying through the nose--The fete at
Payole--Sport a la francaise--Costumes--The view from the Col d'Aspin--
Arreau--Quaint houses--La Chapelle de St. Exupere--A whining
"gardien"--Eglise de Notre Dame--The River Neste--Hotel de
France--Borderes--Avajan--Louderville--Oxslips and cowslips--Wild
narcissus--Col de Peyresourde--The view--Garin--Cazaux--St.
Aventin--Lovely avenues--Our destination.
With a morning as lovely as the day of our arrival had been dreary, we
left at 9.15 for Bagneres de Bigorre, the first part of our long drive.
The valley, more fully clothed than it was a week ago, looked so fresh
in the warm sunlight, with the river winding along, that we felt very
loath to leave. The gorge below, all the way to Pierrefitte, added its
share of beauty, and the graceful white heath growing up its sides
loaded the air with a sweet scent. The wide expanse of the Argeles
valley, with the busy farmers ploughing, sowing, or cutting the heavy
clover crop; the lazy oxen ever patiently plodding beneath their heavy
burdens; the Chateau de Beaucens--where the orchids grow--perched up on
the hillside; the surrounding peaks throwing off their snowy garb; and
the beautiful young leaves and tints, everywhere mingling with the
brightness of the flowers blooming on the slopes or amid the waving
grasses, made a scene as picturesque as it was charming.
Compared with the scenery so far, the remainder of the drive to
Lourdes, which we reached in three hours from the time of starting,
though full of many pleasant corners in which the river heightened the
effect, was nevertheless not so fine; but Lourdes itself looked more
attractive than on our former visit. After lunch, while the horses were
resting, we drove in a local milord [Footnote: A kind of victoria.] to
the church, as we had omitted before to visit the chapel built in the
crypt underneath. In the entrance is the fine bronze statue of St Peter
clasping the key, similar to the one in Rome both in size and in the
highly-burnished appearance of the toes of the right foot, for which
latter the affectionate pilgrims are answerable. On either side of the
statue a corridor lined with marble tablets--presented by "grateful"
individuals in acknowledgment of cures and cleansings--and dotted with
confessional boxes, leads down to the chapel. The repulsive gaudiness
of the tinsel display in the church above it is almost absent here, and
though the same exaltation of the Virgin over our Saviour is manifest,
yet otherwise this chapel, with its vaulted roof and its quietude,
seems far more fitted for meditation and prayer.
Taking the easy gradient at the west end of the church, between the
grassy slopes planted with lilacs and other shrubs and trees, we
arrived at the grotto. A huge platform was in course of erection, for
the great pilgrimage expected from England in about a week, and the
noise of the workmen combined with the sparse gathering of
"worshippers" detracted greatly from the former pitiable solemnity of
the scene, though the stand of candles was flaring with light, and the
crutches, in their horrid rows, were still there.
We left Lourdes again at three o'clock, the sun still very warm, as the
lazy attitudes of the peasants working in the fields attested; and,
passing several crosses at the roadside--"ornamented" with pincers,
hammer, nails, and sword, with a bantam cock on the top--reached the
base of the col (600 feet high) which separates the respective basins
of the Adour and the Echez. Half-way up the hill we discovered Mr.
Sydney, who had walked on ahead, very busy with a team of oxen, towards
which, having encountered them without a driver, he had taken upon
himself to act as "guide, philosopher, and friend"; and by dint of
great application of his umbrella, open and shut, in the last-mentioned
capacity, he brought them to, and kept them at, a standstill by the
side of the road till the carriage passed.
From the top of the hill we enjoyed an extensive view, the Pic du Midi
de Bigorre standing out wonderfully clear. Descending again, we joined
the Tarbes road crowded with market carts, and leaving the village of
Montgaillard on the left, duly arrived at Bagneres de Bigorre, where we
were received with open arms by Monsieur and Madame Bourdette.
The morrow being Sunday, was spent in resting, the magnificent weather
still continuing. The trees on the Coustous and the different hills
around were at length well covered with foliage, and gave a prettier
appearance to the town, which the ever-flowing streams by the
roadsides greatly added to. In the evening the Orpheon (or local Choral
Society) gave an open-air concert from the roof of one of the Coustous
cafes. A tremendous crowd of some 2000 persons had gathered under the
trees to listen, and kept perfectly still while the songs proceeded.
The solos were not particularly wonderful, but the beautiful blending
of the voices in the Pyrenean part-songs was a very great treat, and
the sounds, floating deliciously away on the soft evening air, could be
heard like some whispering echo for a long distance.
We had some difficulty in arranging for a carriage, on the following
day, for Luchon, as a great number had been engaged for the fete at
Payole, and for those not yet taken high prices--considering the time
of year--were asked. Not wishing, however, to lose a day, we settled
for a landau and three horses to do the journey in two days--for 110
francs, including _pourboire_--stopping the night at Arreau. The
day broke, like its predecessors, perfectly fine, and at 10.30 we made
our adieus to Bigorre, and were on our way.
The scenery all the way to Payole was more charming than when we drove
there [Footnote: See pages 40-44.] previously, and on our arrival at
the Hotel de la Poste there was a considerable difference visible
there. The courtyard was filled with carriages, and a busy throng
buzzed about the doors, while the windows were occupied by a variety of
forms. Having with great difficulty secured utensils, we unearthed the
lunch, and proceeded with our meal at a side-table. The participators
in the fete, who were all men, occupied the centre table, and others
were at the side. The noise they made was not appetising, and though
they mixed wines considerably, their jokes did not improve; yet the
scene was a very typical one of "Frenchmen out for a holiday." After
our repast, we adjourned to see the fete, and a wonderful treat it was!
Tame rabbits and fowls, fastened to a stake driven into the hillside,
some 90 to 100 yards from the road, were the targets, at which a
perpetual round of shots soon commenced. Double-barrelled guns loaded
with ball were the usual weapons; one or two single-barrelled pieces
and a rifle or two being occasionally seen.
The marksmen seemed peculiarly poor ones, from the country lad, or the
genuine 'Arry, with huge check clothes, to the moustached "masher,"
with tight trousers and rounded jacket. About one "poulet" in fifty
shots succumbed, and a white rabbit's dismissal was received with loud
At 2.30, exactly two hours after our arrival, we were off again, and
soon entered the pine forest. It looked very bonny in the bright
sunlight, while the view from the Col d'Aspin was singularly
felicitous. Not a cloud anywhere. The mighty Posets, the Pic d'Arbizon,
and the other snow-crowned heights, softened by distance and beautified
by the tints in the foreground, stood out against the azure sky in all
The Aure valley, as we descended, and the tiny hamlet of Aspin, looked
very peaceful and lovely; in fact, the whole of the extensive
scene--considered one of the finest to be enjoyed by driving in the
Pyrenees--seemed to spread out its charms before us.
Winding down the splendid road, Arreau was soon in view, and at 4.30 we
drove under the portico of the Hotel de France, somewhat dusty, but
wholly pleased. With some time to spare before dinner, we set out to
explore this wonderfully quaint, and--though dirty--strikingly
picturesque old town. A road leads from the courtyard of the hotel
straight to the very ancient-looking market-place and the river, at
which point the latter is crossed by a very old wooden bridge.
Traversing this, and passing several curious houses with verandahs
reaching over the street, we found ourselves at the ancient Chapelle de
St. Exupere, built during the 9th and 10th centuries, but now restored.
The windows are of fine stained glass, and the view from the belfry
tower, over the peculiar old town--with its curious turrets and roofs,
whose best days have long passed--is worth the somewhat arduous mount
to get to it. The peasant girl who stands inside the door, and in a
sing-song voice that never varies mixes up saints, fathers, towns,
corn, potatoes, bells, and "quelque chose pour le gardien," in her
rigmarole, was the least attractive adjunct of the venerable pile!
Down a little alley, across the river, directly opposite the church,
Miss Blunt discovered a suitable spot for a sketch, [Footnote:
Unhappily this sketch was afterwards lost, so cannot be reproduced] and
on the production of materials and a chair from a neighbouring grocer's
she set to work, and in spite of the nearness--we might say the "too
odoriferous nearness "--of a dust-heap, a drain, and a swarm of midges,
she gallantly pursued her task till it reached a highly satisfactory
Leaving the "ambrosial spot" (Jupiter save us!) we followed the road
leading past the old market-place at right angles to the wooden bridge,
and reached the church of Notre Dame. Though more modern than the
"Chapelle," it is at least three centuries old, having been built on
the ruins of the one originally erected in the 12th century. The wooden
reredos behind the altar, and other wooden carvings, seemed especially
good, but the cure, jingling a bunch of keys, preceded by an abbe,
seemed anxious to see us depart; so we prematurely left. Strolling back
through the town, and over the stone bridge that spans the Neste, we
walked for a short distance on the other side, and then past the
post-office and the Hotel du Midi, to our own quarters for dinner. The
Hotel de France, as it is called, is the best in Arreau, but is
nevertheless not much more than a fairly large country inn. The rooms
are very clean, and the food good, but the arrangements are somewhat
primitive; yet for all this we were very well satisfied on the whole,
though the necessity of starting at nine o'clock next morning prevented
us indulging in rhapsodies.
When we left the courtyard and passed through the back part of the town
by the old church, the sky was still of the same lovely hue, though
unhappily there was hardly a breath of wind. Notwithstanding that
Arreau is charmingly placed, and that the trees were fairly forward
there, we soon found at a very slight increase of altitude that this
was not to last; in fact, almost at once after passing Borderes (2-1/4
miles)--an old village with a castle of Jean V., a change was
apparent. Two miles further brought us to the insignificant hamlet of
Avajan, and another three of continual ascent to the outskirts of
Louderville (3280 ft.), with its old watch-tower (14th cent.) and cool
cascade. Here we had a fine view of the valley below, and passed fields
covered with oxslips, cowslips, and other flowers; while lower down,
meadow after meadow was whitened by the lovely wild narcissus.
Following at a very easy pace the long zigzags (two hours and a half
from Arreau), we reached the highest point of the road at the Port or
Col de Peyresourde [Footnote: 35 miles from Bigorre, n. from Arreau.]
(5070 ft), whence the view, though much more limited than that from the
Col d'Aspin, extends over the valleys of Louron and Arboust, and many
snow-peaks as well.
As we descended the splendid winding road at a rattling pace, with the
slipper on the wheel, we quickly left barren trees and slopes behind,
and even at Garin, that curious village built among the rocks, the
silver birches were opening their leaves. Passing in turn the villages
of Cazaux, with its 12th century church, and St. Aventin, with its
double-towered church of a similar date, also, we sped under most
splendid avenues of sycamore, elm, lime, and ash, past dashing streams
and bright flower-clothed slopes--always descending--till we entered
Luchon: Luchon surrounded by magnificent hills, Luchon guarded by the
distant but ever-majestic snow summits, Luchon bathed in the scent of
lilac and other sweets, Luchon cooled and beautified by avenues and
squares of bright trees, and by gardens filled with the loveliest of
shrubs and flowers. Such was the Luchon presented to us as we drove
through the splendid streets and reached our hotel.
BAGNERES DE LUCHON.
The bathing establishment and its surroundings--The lovely
_Allees_--Montauban church and cascade--The Villa Russe and its
genial host--Various excursions--Orphanage of Notre Dame de Rocher--The
Vallee du Lys--The Rue d'Enfer and cascades--A lively scene--The view
from Superbagneres--Loading wood--"The Oxen's Appeal"--Visit to the
Orphanage--A "holy" relic--To Bosost--St. Mamet--"A Stumbling-block"
--Cascade of Sidonie--Horse tricks and jockey dodges--Lizards in
flight--Fashion on a donkey--On the Portillon 'twixt France and
Spain--The Valley of Aran--Snug Bosost--A curious inn--Children with
artistic bent--A bright pathway--Missing much, but thankful still.
The most delightful of weather throughout our stay doubtless added
greatly to our enjoyment of Luchon, and our willingness to agree with
its title as "The Pearl of the Pyrenees "; and, in fact, to all people
but those who love dust, noise, and fashion, this month of May is the
pleasantest time of the year to go, see, and be happy.
The great bathing establishment, situated as it is in a lovely garden
(Quinconces) with a charming lake overhung with the graceful weeping
willows, and under the wooded sides of Superbagneres, seems to invite
one to enter and bathe. When we looked in, very little business was
going on, and one of the attendants, in the hope of receiving a small
coin, was nothing loath to show us round.
It is the largest and most efficiently arranged of all the Pyrenean
establishments, and can accommodate over 200 people at the same time;
"douche" baths, swimming baths, ordinary baths, rooms for inhaling,
rooms for "pulverisation," seemed to succeed one another with unending
rapidity, as we followed our guide down long corridors or up flights of
stairs; and when at last it was all over, and he had quietly and
contentedly pocketed his coin, we felt as though we had been taking
quite a long walk.
[Illustration: "THE 'PEARL' IN THE PEERLESS VALLEY."]
The Allee d'Etigny--the principal street--and all the other
_allees_, notably the Allee des Bains, make most delightful
promenades, even in the heat of the day, so delightful is the shade
afforded by the trees that line the way on either side. To walk from
the "Thermes" along the Allee des Bains, turning into the Casino
gardens, or continuing further--leaving the "Chute de la Pique" on the
right--along the riverside till the road to Montauban cuts it at right
angles, is a most delicious evening stroll. We prolonged this, by
taking the road in question between the poplars up to the village of
Montauban itself; but found more interest in the beautiful new church
than in the waterfall at the back of the village, which is gained by
passing through the good cure's garden, and for which privilege half a
franc is charged. The church, of white stone, very symmetrically built
and of quite a different architecture from the usual French types,
stands out imposingly at the entrance to the village, backed up by the
tree-clad hills and the cottages beyond. The interior is most chaste
and tasteful, as different from the usual Roman Catholic interior as is
the outside from the general exterior, the texts on the pillars near
the entrance being quite an unusual feature. Whether the decoration was
not yet finished, and the tinsel therefore not yet arrived, we could
not learn; but are afraid it is only too probable, as the church, as it
stood, might have been one of our own; for even the gilt pulpit
harmonised so well with the rest, that it did not detract from the
religious and solemn effect, while the light through the
finely-coloured windows threw a softening glimmer over all.
[Illustration: THE CHURCH OF MONTAUBAN.]
We returned by a short cut through the fields on the left and the
garden of the Villa Russe, whose owner, "charmant et gentil," not only
showed us all over, but very kindly invited us to a strawberry feast a
month hence--which sorrowfully we had to decline--as well as making us
free of his garden and fields, the latter being filled with the
The Hotel Canton, in which we were staying, was very conveniently
situated and comfortable. While standing in a quiet part of the Rue
d'Espagne it was close to the post-office and casino on the one hand,
and the bathing establishment and the Jardin des Quinconces on the
other. Moreover, the stables of Jean Sanson--a most excellent guide for
all excursions--were close at hand, and his horses would be difficult
to beat; while his son Luis is experienced in all trips and ascents,
not only in the vicinity, but over a large part of the Pyrenees.
The new casino, barely three years old, is situated in as charming a
quarter as could well be imagined, for besides possessing a finely
laid-out garden with many fine shrubs and trees, it is bounded by three
beautiful _allees_ as well. As previously mentioned, it can be
gained by the Allee des Bains, but the most direct way to the building
itself, from our hotel, was by keeping to the right along the Rue
d'Espagne and the narrow street beyond (the post-office being to the
left), opposite which a side entrance leads to the imposing edifice.
The three most popular excursions from Luchon are those to the Port de
Venasque, the mountain pass at the head of the Pique Valley; the Vallee
du Lys and the Cascades; and thirdly, the ascent of Superbagneres.
The greatest of all, and in truth the greatest in the Pyrenees, is the
ascension of the Pic de Nethou (11,170 ft.), the highest of the range,
and its two great buttresses, the Pics Maladetta (10,867 ft.) and
Milieu (11,044 ft). None but experienced mountaineers, with the most
experienced guides, attempt this ascent, which is attended with much
danger; but there are many other delightful trips in the vicinity,
including a visit to the Spanish village of Bosost; up the Aran valley
to Viella; a drive to the picturesquely-placed St. Beat, or to the old
Roman town of St. Bertrand de Comminges.
Pleasant walks and drives are probably more numerous from Luchon than
from any other Pyrenean resort, and though we were rather too early in
the year for mountain climbing, the fine weather enabled us to enjoy
several other outings, which we will describe in turn.
The Vallee du Lys and the Rue d'Enfer make an agreeable picnic, either
in a carriage as far as the "Cabanes du Lys" (6-1/4 miles), and then
horses for the other 3-3/4 miles up to the abyss, the cascades, and the
Rue d'Enfer, or on horseback all the way. We preferred the latter, and
taking a good lunch in the saddle-bags, made a start at the favoured
hour of ten. Under the lee of the Quinconces, past the Hotel Richelieu,
Villa Richelieu, and the elevated Villa Marguerite, and we were fairly
on our way, the air sweetly laden with the scent from the flower-decked
fields and the lilac-trees in the gardens.
When we passed the little road on the left leading to the Orphanage of
Notre Dame du Rocher, the lilac-scent was very strong; and the position
of the various buildings in connection with the institution seemed so
attractive that we determined to take a stroll there later on. Pursuing
our way, with the restored ruin of the Castelvieil above us on its
"monticule" overlooking the Orphanage, we were soon in a narrower part
of the valley, with the wooded slopes on either side. Then we crossed
the river to the left bank, which we followed until reaching the point
where the road to the Hospice and the Port de Venasque led to the left,
and ours crossed the river by a neat bridge (the Pont de Ravi) to the
right bank again. A little beyond this, the route for Superbagneres
--which we hoped to take another day--struck off among the
trees on the right of the road, which in turn gradually bent in the
same direction all up the beautiful Lys valley, till it again curved in
the opposite direction and arrived at the base of the Cascades, where
there is a fair inn (Auberge du Lys).[Footnote: Only in summer.] From
thence the road forks, but the track to the left is the better of the
two, at any rate if on foot, and by it--after fifteen minutes'
labour--the foot of the Cascade d'Enfer is reached; and the Pont
d'Arrouge in another quarter of an hour. A similar length of time is
still necessary to reach a small tower whence a good view of the
Gouffre d'Enfer and the Pont de Nadie, above it, can be enjoyed. This
tower is about a mile distant from the foot of the lowest fall. The
other cascade (the Cascade du Coeur) is not a very difficult twenty
minutes' walk by a path that leads through the trees to Lac Vert, and
as there is a capital inn there (later in the season), we think that
this would be a good spot for lunch. Even as it was, we managed to
enjoy ours pretty well, for fresh air and sunshine are good appetisers,
and the ride had added its effect besides. The return ride in the
afternoon, when the sun was commencing to decline a little, was very
pleasant, and the snow-covered Port de Venasque, so beautiful in its
whiteness, and yet for the same reason quite inaccessible, looked very
lovely when tinged with the crimson hue that the setting sun shot o'er
it, as we arrived in Luchon again.
[Illustration: THE RUE D'ENFER AND CASCADES.]
The following morning broke beautifully fine, and Luis Sanson was at
the door punctually at seven, with the horses for our trip up to
The saddle-bags were again filled, and away we went, the horses--still
so fresh--being eager for a canter in the fresh morning air. In summer
the ascent is usually made by St. Aventin and the Granges de Gouron, in
which case the road towards the Col de Peyresourde is followed as far
as St. Aventin, and thence a way leading to the left; but we were too
early for that route, as an avalanche had only lately fallen, so were
obliged to go and return by the route used in the season for the return
only, viz., by the "Pont de Ravi" up the Vallee de la Pique. Having
reached the bridge and taken the path indicated by the sign-board on
the right, we were soon among the trees, which lent a very welcome
shade from the increasing heat, which even at this early hour (7.40
A.M.) the glorious Sol was not ashamed to diffuse.
At every fresh turn the strokes of the axe rang through the wood,
mingled with the sound of voices, and after making considerable
progress--during which our guide narrated incidents in his career as
hunter, guide, and jockey--we arrived in view of a very lively scene.
Workmen busy with the hatchet, the saw, and the plane, in the
foreground; others in the rear occupied with mortar and stones,
building a small but substantial house; a cart with oxen lazily
waiting, like Mr. Micawber, for "something to turn up"; a few superior
individuals in deep consultation, and the irrepressible sun struggling
through the beeches and pines to have "his finger in the pie"--such was
the scene we saw, but soon left behind. After this the good broad
carriage-road soon came to an end, and the easy gradient changed to a
steep path among a grove of nothing but beeches, which emerged later on
the slope of a somewhat bare and stony hill dotted with a few gentians.
The view improved with nearly every step, growing magnificently vast;
and when at length we reached the summit, or rather a mound a few feet
lower, but equally good as a point of sight (for the summit was covered
with snow), we gazed on as grand an expanse of mountains and
tree-clothed valleys as imagination could picture in the most lofty of
its lofty flights.
[Illustration: ON THE ROAD TO SUPERBAGNERES.]
Probably but few people will be disposed to deny that, considering the
comparatively small amount of labour necessary to attain the summit, it
is more than amply compensated for; and, when the height of
Superbagneres--which is only 5,900 ft.--is taken into account, such a
grand sight is almost unique. For over two-thirds of a circle the chain
of peaks continues, extending from the Cecire of Superbagneres to the
Cecire [Footnote 1: We have only the guide's authority for this name
here.] above Bosost, and even beyond. Beginning with the nearest, the
Cecire (8,025 ft.) of Superbagneres, then come the Pene de Montarque
(9685 ft.), and the cone-shaped Quairat (10,037 ft.), followed by the
huge glacier of Crabioules, which, in spite of its eternal snow,
supplies the various cascades in the Rue d'Enfer that flow into the Lys
valley. Above rise up the Pic de Crabioules (10,233 ft), the Pic de
Bourn (9,875 ft), and the peculiar Tuc de Maupas (10,204 ft.); after
which the Trous d'Enfer and the Pic de Sacroux (8,786 ft) appear. The
next of the near peaks is the Pic de Sauvegarde (9,145 ft), but between
the Sacroux and this, calm and clear, the highest peaks of the range,
the Milieu, the Maladetta, and the Nethou, with the dead white glacier
below them, rise in view. After the Sauvegarde, the Pic de la Mine
(9,048 ft.), the Port de Venasque (7,930 ft.), and the very pointed Pic
de la Pique (7,854 ft.) appear, followed by the Pas de l'Escalette
(7,877 ft.) and the Port de la Picade (8,219 ft.), towards which group
the Vallee de l'Hospice leads.
To the left of the Picade, the cone of the lofty "Posets" may be seen
in the distance, while more to the left, and more distant too, the Pena
Blanca (9222 ft.) is also visible. Further round, over the wooded
"cols" that guard the "Pique" valley, the Mont Segu [Footnote: We have
only the guide's authority for the name.] and Cecire near Bosost, and
the _Pyrenees Orientales_ beyond, finished the magnificent chain.
From another situation we could look down on Luchon and from this point
were endeavouring to reach the little hut, where fodder and a few
provisions can be found in the season, when an ancient shepherd bawled
out in _patois_ that the place was as yet tenantless, for which we
felt thankful to that peasant, as it saved us a long tramp through
rather deep snow, though for that same reason we were unable to reward
his forethought as it deserved. Leaving him to pursue his guileless
way, we descended into the beech grove for our lunch, and finding
grateful shade at the foot of a fine fir, we opened the saddle-bags and
proceeded to regale ourselves, finding some snow that we brought from
the top very useful to cool the rather heated claret. After nature was
satisfied we quickly descended past the previously busy scene, and when
near the high road again came in view of some woodmen loading a cart
with logs. To do this the logs had to be brought to an eminence above
the cart, and bullocks were employed to drag up the wood. The men were
treating them most cruelly, and once or twice they lowed so piteously,
that we have translated it into
"THE OXEN'S APPEAL."
Working and toiling the whole of the day,
Working and toiling without any pay,
Only perchance a few mouthfuls of hay,
From earliest dawn till late.
Held by the horns 'neath this cumbersome yoke,
Firmer fixed thus than a "pig in a poke,"
Feeling the "prong" and the lengthy stick's stroke,
Ours, alas, is a terrible fate.
When straining our utmost, you bring the stick down
On our miserable backs; and you swear, and you frown,
Never thinking the sun is just "doing us brown,"
As the furnace will do when we're slain.
We cannot pull more than we can, you must know,
And we cannot pull fast if we can but pull slow,
So why should you spike us, and ill-use us so,
And make our hides tingle with pain?
We serve you well always, draw heaviest loads,
And never complain of the worst of bad roads;
While you in return use those blood-drawing goads
At ev'ry conceivable time.
Be sure that no quicker or wiser are we,
But we _do_ sometimes think if we got our horns free,
The position in which you would probably be,
And you would not pronounce it sublime.
So listen, we pray, to our modest appeal:
With kindness more proud of our work we should feel;
And if those fierce blows you still ruthlessly deal,
You'll make our flesh horrible stuff;
For though steaks are good beaten, that's done when they're cold,
And we're certainly not, nor as yet very old;
But as some day we'll have to be butchered and sold,
We had better be tender than tough.
If you'll try our plan--that is enough!
At twenty minutes past one we had repassed the graceful Jardin des
Quinconces, with the weeping willows overhanging the lakelet, and were
within the cool precincts of the hotel.
Having a couple of hours to spare another morning, we wended our way
towards the Orphanage, "deep in the lilac grove." Turning off from the
road, we followed the narrow track over the rustic bridge, and were
received anything but hospitably by a huge white dog. We calmed him in
time, however, and proceeded to inspect the buildings, but found nearly
everyone shut up, though the little church--elevated above the
rest--was, unlike them, thrown open. Its very rusticity and simplicity
gave it a religious air which to us so few Roman Catholic edifices seem
to possess. The badly-spelt and feebly-worded address to the Pope, to
which he has affixed his signature, that hangs in a frame near the
door, we did not consider much of an attraction, though to the members
of the little congregation it would doubtless be a very holy relic.
Forsaking this peaceful retreat, we climbed up the ascent behind,
within view of the statue of the Virgin, but soon descended again, as
the sun was at that time particularly "baking," and we were not doughty
enough to pretend to resist it. After a cool spell near the
chapel-door, watching the "painted ladies" [Footnote: Butterflies, of
course!] playing with the lilac blossoms, we trudged slowly back again.
One of the pleasantest as well as most interesting of our trips in the
Pyrenees was from Luchon to the little Spanish village of Bosost, and
as it is one of the principal pillars that uphold the chief title of
this volume, it deserves a detailed mention.
This time the favourite hour of ten was not early enough for starting,
so we were on horseback by 9.15, going very leisurely, being quite
undesirous to force the pace, as the day was warm even at that hour.
Up the Rue d'Espagne for a short distance beyond the Hotel Richelieu
(which hotel, from all we have heard, though large, is not too moderate
nor owned by too polite a proprietor), and then we took the turning to
the left, which (as the signboard tells) leads to St. Mamet. Without
waiting to enter the old church to see its frescoes, we pursued the
road branching off to the right, which presently left the Orphanage
behind in the same direction. A few minutes later we had passed the
frontier (French) custom station, and leaving the isolated Castelvieil
(2514 ft.) for a short time on our right, and later in our rear, we
bore up the Vallee de Burbe. We had only progressed a short distance
when a huge rock was visible in the centre of the road, evidently a
very recent gift from the adjacent height. Our horses having been so
little used, were very fresh and rather fond of shying, and our
guide's, which was an Arab, not only shied at the impediment, but
wheeled round with the intention of going homewards. As we managed to
make our own, however, pass quietly, the obstreperous one, after a
brief struggle, was induced to follow their example. A little further
on, we met a fine team of Spanish mules in their full picturesque
trappings and bells. The two men in charge of them were dressed a
little untidily, but their attire was equally picturesque, the coloured
waistband, turban, and knee-breeches producing a very bright effect.
The bright yellow-green of the beeches, mingling with the dark and
gloomy olive shade of the firs; here and there fields laden with the
blue columbine and the "overrated" asphodel; the boulder-strewn slopes
on our left, and the snow-ridges on the right; and the strong, fresh,
and foaming cascade of Sidonie tumbling down beside us, made a very
delicious contemplation as we went on our way.
Our guide in a most "gallant" manner got off his steed to gather Miss
Blunt a few flowers, but when he endeavoured to assume his former
elevated position, the "Arab" didn't see it. In fact he _would not
be_ mounted, and the unevenness of the track added not a little to
the success of his manoeuvrings. "Luis" had not been six months a
"jockey" for nothing, however; so he lulled his steed into a sense of
security by walking beside it for some time in circus fashion, with his
right hand grasping the off side of the saddle, until a large stone
showed its head at the side of the road. As they passed, he ran up the
stone and was in the saddle before the animal realised that he was
beaten, and when he did, it seemed to humble him to that degree that he
never attempted even a curvet.
The number of lizards we disturbed was something wonderful. None of
them were very large or very striking in colour, but they made up for
this in animation; and their fearful trepidity and hurry to get
anywhere out of sight was wonderful.
Just before entering the sunlit beech glades we overtook a noble
cavalcade, consisting of three ladies on three donkeys, with a fat old
woman leading the way on foot. They had their lunch with them, and
apparently intended--judging by a certain hungry look they had--to make
their repast at the earliest opportunity. The young and beautiful lady
bringing up the rear was probably ignorant of the ludicrous figure she
made with her "ultra" fashionable arrangement of steels, that gave her
the appearance of having a large clothes-bag under her dress, or we
don't think she would have started on the excursion in such a garment.
If a member of the "Rational Dress Society" had seen her, there would
probably have been an "exhibition" on the spot, and a general one--with
all the latest "improvements" (?)--at Luchon a few weeks later.
After traversing a number of beautiful glades we entered the Firs--the
Black Forest as it is called,--where bears are hunted in the winter,
and through which the road ascends by a series of zigzags to the summit
of the Col de Portillon (4275 ft.), and then descends for a short
distance to the frontier, marked by a huge boulder, with the French
flag on one side and the Spanish on the other. As we reined in the
horses opposite to it for a moment, no one could dispute that we were
indeed "'twixt France and Spain." But we did not stay to enjoy this
enviable position long; and passing on, endeavoured to realise that we
were no longer in France by fixing our eyes on the _Pyrenees
Orientales_; we could also see the Poujastou (6332 ft.) on our left,
the Couradilles (6513 ft.), the Mont Segu, the Cecire, [Footnote: We
had only our guide's authority for these names] and further forward the
Entecade on our right. A short distance down the road there lay the
Casino du Portillon, not yet opened for the summer gambling, and not
very much further (viz., about a mile from the frontier), the Spanish
custom-house, and the Casino de Roulette. Here the road divides, the
branch to the Vallee d'Aran and Bosost bearing to the left, and the
other, to Viella and the Artiques-Tellin, in the opposite direction.
Passing some ruined houses and fertile slopes in our descent, we soon
obtained a fine view up both ends of the Aran valley, with the
diminutive Garonne winding through, and Bosost snugly situated on the
slopes of a hill round a bend in the road. The sun was pouring down in
all his midday strength as we passed the roadside chapel of St. Antoine
and entered the antiquated little village of Bosost, stopping at the
Fonda de Espana for lunch.
This inn, from the road, was as much unlike an inn as anything we ever
saw, and its ways and passages were somewhat unique; but upstairs there
was a large room with a wide terrace facing the river, which only
wanted an awning over to be rendered delicious. We were unfortunately
too early in the season for this luxury, so had to content ourselves
with lunching in the room, with wide-opened doors. When the provisions
were spread out, in rushed the guide with an official document, and a
franc to pay for having invaded Spain. We gave him the money, and asked
to taste some honest country wine, which resulted in the domestic
bringing us something rather strong, like new port, which did not go
badly with water.
After the repast had passed pleasantly, we strolled out into the
village, Miss Blunt being equipped with the requisites for a brilliant
sketch. Unhappily, the subject was not easy to find, though we marched
through most of the streets; but having visited the ancient
church--with its chime of bells, like many others in Spain, arranged on
a wheel--we found a spot by the side of a huge elm from which there was
a good view of the sacred edifice. But it was a case of sketching under
difficulties, as the whole or at least the greater part of the village
children crowded round us, some carrying smaller children in their
arms, some playing with flowers, others cutting bits of wood, and one
and all managing to do their utmost to bother poor Miss Blunt. She
accordingly finished the sketch as quickly as possible, and we all
returned to the hotel to keep out of the oppressive heat.
At three o'clock we started homewards, going rather faster than when we
came. Alternate clouds and sunshine overhead, the lights and shadows
over the trees, the fields--radiant with gentians, oxslips, columbine,
_polygaloe_, and asphodel--losing none of their charm.
At the Spanish custom-house we delivered up our passport, for which we
had paid the franc, and then wound over the Portillon and gently back
to our hotel, not arriving too late for the cup that soothes and
cheers, but never cheers too loudly.
The morrow was to see us leaving Luchon--the charming, the
beautiful--and all of us had a similar feeling, viz., that we might
soon come and see the "Pearl of the Pyrenees" again.
It was true that we had missed all the noise and excitement which comes
with the summer; that we had missed the troops of Pau-ites wearing out
such of their "robes" as the heat would allow, and the throngs of gay
Spaniards; that we had missed the crowds of invalids, the bands of
music, and the worst specimens of the travelling world, "French
tourists." But it was a truth for which we were very grateful, and we
would certainly advise future visitors to take Luchon in the spring,
and leave it before the heat and bustle of the season mar its peace,
and the summer's sun melts the snowy splendour of the surrounding
ST. BERTRAND DE COMMINGES.
Keeping to old friends--Valley history--Entering the Garonne
valley--The picturesque St. Beat--St. Beat to Viella--Memories of the
lovely Thames--Baths of Ste. Marie--Loures--The cross-roads--Weak
walls--Entering St. Bertrand--An ancient house--The inn--A charming
garden--The cathedral--A national disgrace--"The Crocodile of St.
Bertrand"--The tomb of Hugues de Chatillon--Travelling desecraters--St.
Bertrand's rod--The ruined cloisters--Desolation--Swine
feeding--Montrejeau--The buffet--No milk!--French railway
It was not many years ago that travellers with heavy luggage were
forced to travel in the clumsy diligence between Luchon and Montrejeau;
and, especially in the summer when the press for places was great, very
little comfort could be enjoyed during the journey, except perhaps on a
fine day, when for a short space the vehicle stopped at St. Bertrand de
Comminges. Now, the railway in an hour performs the whole distance; but
we preferred to keep to our old friends, a "landau and four horses,"
and with the weather still propitious, left the comfortable Hotel
Canton at our favourite time, and were soon bowling down the Allee
d'Etigny. In a short time the Allee Barcugna and the station were left
behind, and we entered the broader part of the valley of Luchon. This
valley was originally--_on dit_--a huge lake, and afterwards
--presumably when it had ceased to be such--became peopled by a Gallic
race, whose "divinity," Ilixo, [Footnote: Ilixo has now become Luchon.]
has given his name to the surroundings. We presume in this derivation
"consonants are interchangeable and vowels don't count."
Cier de Luchon (four and a quarter miles), above which to the west
stands the Pic d'Antenac (6470 ft), was soon passed through, as we
crossed and recrossed the railway line, now following the River Pique,
and now, for a short space, keeping along the line. Five miles further,
and we left the Pique valley for that of the Garonne, passing through
the village of Cierp, which lies to the right of Marignac, the station
where passengers alight for St. Beat. This is a very picturesque
village, about three miles east, perched above the Garonne in a narrow
defile, possessing an ancient church and a good inn. The Pic de Gar
(5860 ft.), which rears up to the north of the village, is very rich in
flora; and the road passing through it (St Beat) afterwards leads by
the villages of Arlos, Fos, and Les to Bosost (twelve miles), whence it
continues to Viella.
The valley at this point is particularly fertile and lovely, and as we
progressed, frequently following the windings of the Garonne, memories
of pleasant hours, both lively and dreamy, spent on some of the quiet
reaches on the dear old Thames, seemed naturally to recall themselves;
the similarity of the surroundings being in some parts so great.
At Salechan (thirteen miles) the beautiful valleys of Siradan and
Barousse branch off, and the scenery in the vicinity is deliciously
bright and peaceful-looking. The bathing resort of Ste. Marie lies a
mile northwards, and barely a mile to the west of it, on the road to
Mauleon, the baths of Siradan are situated. Mauleon (1960 ft.) is three
and a quarter miles west from Siradan by the village of Cazaril,
standing at the head of the Barousse valley.
Still passing through charming country, we reached Loures (not to be
confounded with Lourdes), at which place--being the railway station for
St. Bertrand--carriages can be hired for the drive, a distance of six
miles there and back. Traversing the village and crossing the bridge,
we issued again on a vista of fields bright with trefoil and waving
flowers, and backed up by finely-wooded hills. Away to the right,
nestling among the trees, stands a pretty little village and castle,
and as we passed on, St. Bertrand came in view over the crest of a
wooded hill; and, arriving at the junction where the roads from Auch,
Toulouse, and Ax join in, we ascended the hill on which this ancient
town is situated.
Founded by Pompey the Great, B.C. 69, Lugdunum Convenarum, or Lyon,
or--as it is now called--St. Bertrand de Comminges, though standing
only 1690 ft. above the sea, seems from its isolated position, to be
much higher; as the accompanying sketch by M. Dore testifies, though
the latter exaggerates the proportions of the cathedral.
Though in a ruinous state, much of the old ramparts and fortifications
remain, while in some parts many of the old stones seemed to us to have
been used for ornamental walls, such as no one would consider fit to
resist even a very modest cannon-ball.
Bearing to the left, we passed beneath the "Porte Cabirole," opposite
to which stands a small kiosque, built, on account of the beauty of the
view, at that point The road continues between high walls underneath
another archway, past the ruins of a curious house, with a winding
staircased tower of the 13th century, which alas! before this appears
in print, will probably have disappeared altogether; then bending to
the left, and again to the right after a few yards, we drew up at the
Cafe (called by courtesy Hotel) de Comminges, with the ancient
cathedral in full view. Having sent a telegram early in the morning, we
found lunch ready for us, and though we had fared better elsewhere, we
did not consider that for a "primitive Roman town" the meal was to be
found fault with while as to the garden belonging to the inn, it was
indeed a charming little spot. Although in truth but little more than a
"spot," the bright and varied hues of its stocks, columbines, pansies,
and sweet peas, with here and there a particularly fine iris,
contrasting so effectively with the dark green of the ivy leaves and
the blackness of the berries clustering over the old wall, gave it a
charm which we could not fail to feel; and the view from the
creeper-grown arbour over the richly-wooded hills and brilliant fields,
with the bright garden as a background, made a scene to remember and
[Illustration: St. Bertrand De Comminges.]
Notre Dame, or Sainte Marie, as the cathedral is called, attracted our
attention most, and though the front view is perfectly spoilt by the
lofty scaffolding erected before it, the inside fully compensates for
this defect, although it is impossible to view the ruinous state of
some portions without great regret.
The English are supposed to be a very lucky people, and at any rate we
have reason to be thankful that we are not a republic, nor as a rule
neglectful of old historical buildings; and the sight of this
magnificent old place, mouldering away with no apparent aid
forthcoming--except such as the liberality of occasional visitors
provides, and that, for such a work, is practically _nil_--did not
provoke any wish to change our nationality. It is not as if the French
said, "We are becoming a Protestant people, and therefore wish to
destroy all signs of our having once followed the faith of Rome;" for
in that case censure would be utterly misplaced; but surely if the
national religion remains Roman Catholic, an ancient and wonderfully
interesting old cathedral like this ought to be suitably preserved.
Having been built at two different periods (viz. the close of the 11th
and the middle of the 14th centuries), the architecture presents two
distinct styles, which in parts, are particularly incongruous. The
organ and pulpit combined, which are on the left of the entrance,
constitute a very handsome work of the "Renaissance" period, and are
most unique. On the opposite side of the building a crocodile--or the
remains of one--hangs from the wall, doubtless brought, as M. Joanne
suggests, from some Egyptian crusade; but the "church" puts a very
different complexion on the subject, as will be seen from the
following, which--with all its faults--will be, we trust, pardoned,
since it issues from the mouth of so badly-treated a reptile as
"THE CROCODILE OF ST. BERTRAND."
A crocodile truly, there's no one could doubt,
On taking a look at my skin:
It's as dry and as tough as a petrified clout,
Though, alas! there is nothing within.
I've been here on this wall for a jolly long time,
And the "cronies" a legend will tell
Of the wonderful things, void of reason and rhyme,
That during my lifetime befell.
They'll tell you I lived in "this" beautiful vale,
And found in the river a home;
While even the bravest would start and turn pale,
If they chanced in my pathway to roam.
They'll tell how I swallow'd the babies and lambs,
And harassed the cows in the mead;
And such slander completely my character damns,
While I've no one to help _me_ to plead.
And they'll whine how I met the great Bertrand himself,
The miracle-worker and saint.
But those women will tell any "walkers" for pelf,
And swear I'm all black--when I ain't.
Yes! they actually say that St. Bertrand came by,
And lifted his ivory stick,
Then dealt me a terrible blow in the eye,
Which levell'd me flat as a brick.
But it's false! Just as false
as that "here" I was
On the back of that
But the crones just repeat
what the "priesthood"
And it's part of a regular
Why, believe me, they
caught me afloat on
As my dinner I just had
I was chased by a host of
the picked "rank
And to them my destruction
And when I was dead they
anointed my bones,
And placed me up here
on the wall;
But that organ at first was
so loud in its tones,
Of rest I found nothing
A crocodile truly. You've
heard my sad tale,
And I say that such lies
are a sin;
While the protests I make,
seeming nought to
Are enough to make any
[Footnote 1: This is a Yorkshire word, meaning "cloth."]
[Illustration: THE CROCODILE OF ST. BERTRAND.]
Turning away from this "priestly" monument to St. Bertrand's miraculous
powers, we passed along the side of the remarkable choir stalls--which
take up the greater part of the edifice--and turned inside at an
opening, near the high altar. The latter, decorated with the ordinary
display of 19th century tinsel, does not call for much comment, but in
a passage close behind it stands the mausoleum of St. Bertrand, built
in 1432. The stalls were erected in the 16th century, and are worthy of
The rood loft, which is nearest the entrance to the cathedral, is
ornamented with figures of the Apostles and Saints, and the exterior
panels running along both sides, and divided by small choicely-carved
columns, represent a diversity of figures; none, however, seeming to
bear much, if at all, on religion. In the interior, besides the throne,
there is a remarkable "tree of Jesse "--near the first stall on the
right hand--which we thought was well done; but what with the different
figures above each stall, the arabesques uniting them, and the less
minute work under each seat, there was no lack of carving to be seen;
and even if it was not all of the highest order, the general effect was
strikingly good. It is worth noting that the cathedral, owing to some
great error, was built facing north instead of west, and that
consequently the east side is on the left of the entrance. Half-way up
this side is the small chapel of Notre Dame de Pitie, in which the fine
marble tomb of Hugues de Chatillon lies. The sculpture is especially
fine, though the beauty is somewhat marred by names scratched with a
pin or written in pencil, wherever sufficient level space is afforded.
Since English people as a rule are credited with being by far the most
numerous of this class of travelling desecraters, it was at least a
satisfaction to notice that most of the individuals, who had chosen
this objectionable--though probably the only--method of handing their
names down to posterity, were French. This tomb was only erected in the
15th century, although the good bishop died in 1352, the same year in
which the edifice was finished.
Several relics may be seen in the sacristy, and amongst them is the
wonderful ivory rod with which the great St. Bertrand is supposed to
have slain the much-maligned crocodile.
Close to the entrance to the sacristy a door leads into the cloisters,
where the scene of ruin and desolation is painfully evident. In the
portion nearest the church, which is roofed over, several curious
_sarcophagi_ may be seen; the rest is a series of pillars and
arches from which the roof has long vanished. In the photographs (which
may be bought at the inn) there is some appearance of order even in the
midst of the decay, but this was probably carefully effected prior to
the artist's visit; for when we were there the whole space was
overgrown completely with weeds, among which a rose-bush and a few
other flowers struggled to bloom, untended and apparently unthought of.
Passing again through the cathedral, whose windows are well worthy of
mention, we made a detour round the town, and then started for
The road does not pass through such charming country as we had seen in
the morning, but at times there are some pleasing little bits. At one
spot, where a grove of trees skirted the way, we noticed a large herd
of swine, watched over by a solitary and silent female, to whom they
appeared to give no trouble, never seeming to stray far.
Going at a fairly fast pace, we only took forty-five minutes to reach
the ancient town of Mons Regalis, now completely modernised into
Montrejeau. The advancing years have not only altered it in name, for,
with the exception of the ruins of a twelfth-century castle, there is
nothing to indicate its mediaeval origin; and as to the old-world look
that is so pleasant to meet with, but now so rare, this town of the
"Royal Mount" has no trace of it. The "buffet" at the station, however,
can be recommended, although the "lacteal fluid," either in its pure or
watered form, is decidedly scarce there. The dinner and coffee are
good, and, like most dinners at the stations (always excepting such
places as Amiens and Tours), moderate, when taken at the table d'hote.
We had plenty of time for a meal before the train destined to carry us
on to Pau was due, but in spite of that, through the boorishness of the
station porters and staff generally, we did not depart without a lively
It is well known that ladies as a rule are wont to travel with numerous
small parcels, and there was no exception in our party to this rule,
while Mr. Sydney and myself were not without _impedimenta_ as
well. In all, there were about a dozen--to put a familiar figure--too
small or too fragile to share the dangers of the luggage-van. These,
three respective porters promised to bring to the train, but as every
porter broke his word, they remained _in statu quo_. And we may
here remark how noticeable it is, that whereas English porters are
always on the alert to earn a few coppers, their French representatives
will rarely if ever help with anything but the registered luggage
(which of course is in the company's charge), while a higher official,
such as you would never ask in England, will occasionally assist--if
desired to do so with politeness--but only occasionally. It is evident
that the French Government reduce the staff to the narrowest limits,
and do not intend porters to help in transporting any luggage but that
which has been paid for in registration; and on the same principle as
armies are organised in South America, for every "porter" there will be
two or three superintendents.
To resume.--This perfidy of the porters placed us in a very unenviable
position; the train was due to start, the ladies were in the carriage,
but the luggage was in a pile at the other side of the station, and Mr.
Sydney, thinking all was well, had followed the ladies. I was requested
to do likewise, as the train was off; but instead of so doing, launched
such a tirade at the head of every official within reach, that they
kept the train waiting to return it; at last, seeing I was obdurate, at
least half a dozen rushed to the offending pile, collared the various
items, and bore them towards our compartment. As the first instalment
arrived I got up, and the train started. The rest of the laden
officials were ranged a few yards apart, and as our carriage passed,
the packages and cloaks were thrown in. The scene they presented when
the door was first shut was unique, but very deplorable, and it
required the whole of the journey of four and a half _hours_ to
Pau, to calm our troubled minds, cool our heated frames, and make us
look with equanimity on our experience. It would require _years_
to efface the opinion formed on "French railway station" management; so
in that we followed a method often pursued by schoolboys in early life,
over the "Pons asinorum," and gave it up.
EAUX BONNES AND EAUX CHAUDES.
Carriage _v_. diligence--Early birds--Height of
absurdity--Diminutive donkeys--A whitened region--"Crystal
clear"--Washerwomen and their gamps--A useful town-hall--A halfway
house--Moralising--A much-loved pipe--An historic ruin--A noteworthy
strong box--"Ici on rase"--Where are the bears?--Women in
gaiters--Picturesque costumes--A lovely road--A "perfect" cure--A
spring scene--A billiard-playing priest--A well-placed pavilion--The
Valentin and its cascades--Through solid rock--Gaps in the road--A
grand scene--Wanted, an artist--A fine torrent--Professional
fishers--Lucky guests--Musings--Poor Mr. Tubbins--Bonnes _v_.
Chaudes--Over the Col de Gourzy--Peculiar teams--Guelder
Next year, travellers with luggage will probably be able to reach Eaux
Bonnes in a much shorter time than now, since the railway ought then to
be in working order as far as Laruns; but at the period when this was
written, the only choice of conveyances lay between a clumsy diligence
and a comfortable carriage.
Very few people would be likely to hesitate between the two, provided
they were not travelling alone, and in that case even, they would
probably only take the former as an "experience."
The "diligence" which starts from the Hotel de la Poste at Pau has
three compartments, for a seat in any of which the respective charges
are 8 frs. 80 cents, 7 frs. 70 cents, and 6 frs. 60 cents. The
"first-class" seats--which are of course the best--are placed behind
the driver, and a large dusty-looking hood shields the passengers from
the rain, but not from the dust, nor, since it is black and low, from
the heat of the sun. The position therefore, even with ample
accommodation, is a trying one, but when tightly packed, and wedged in
with luggage to boot, on a warm summer or even spring day, the lot of
an individual during the 5-1/2 hours' journey, with only a half-hour's
break between, would, like the policeman's, be certainly not "a happy
When a party are going it is of course cheaper to take a carriage,
which may be had for from 35 to 50 francs to do the trip in one day, or
at the rate of 25 francs per diem, taking it for two days or more. As
the distance between Pau and either Eaux Bonnes or Eaux Chaudes is
271/2 miles, and the distance of the one watering-place from the other
61/4 miles, the actual mileage from Pau and back again is 611/4 miles,
to perform which in one day, and see the two towns as well, is a
feat--though often done--hardly to be recommended. At least two days
should be given to the task, and we do not think they would be
The heat in Val d'Ossau during the summer months is very great, and the
lumbering old diligence usually runs during the hottest part of the
day; we preferred an early start, and by half-past six were on the
road, meeting a few people apparently wending their way towards the
market, with flowers and vegetables for sale. Crossing the bridge and
through Jurancon, where hardly a soul was astir, we sped along the
dusty road to Gan (5 miles), at which town--one of the chief centres of
the wine district--a road to Oloron branches off to the right. Here the
inhabitants were really beginning to bustle; and as it was getting on
towards eight o'clock, they were nothing too early, although they may
have held a different opinion. At the corner of one of the streets we
came upon a team drawing a long cart, which we unanimously christened
the "height of absurdity." A pair of 17-hand horses were in the shafts,
and in front, attached as a leader, was the smallest of donkeys. Miss
Blunt thought it the _smallest donkey in the world_; but we have
met with so many lately in the Pyrenees which were in turn, in her
opinion, the smallest she had ever seen, that by this time the smallest
donkey might be but little bigger than a rat; this, however, was not
the case, as Mr. Sydney will attest.
The valley grew more lovely as we progressed, with the winding Neez
stream running with merry music beside the road, and although Mrs.
Blunt did not indulge--as on the way to Cauterets--in any raptures of
her own, she was quite willing to agree with the rest that the frequent
resemblance of the scenery to many of the lovely bits we have in Wales
was most pleasantly apparent.
Shortly before reaching the blanched region of the lime-works (71/2
miles), we caught a momentary glimpse of the Pic du Midi d'Ossau (9466
ft.), on which the summer sun had of late so relentlessly played, that
the snowy crown had quite disappeared. Rebenac (93/4 miles) was reached
at 8.40, and there we crossed the Neez by a stone bridge, the stream
then running on our right, and continuing thus for three kilometres
farther (11 miles from Pau), when it issues from the Grotto du
Neez--only a few yards from the road. From this grotto a great part of
the torrent is diverted, being utilised to supply Pau with its pure and
sparkling fluid. Half-an-hour after leaving Rebenac we passed through
the village of Sevignac, (123/4 miles), and had a splendid view of the
Val d'Ossau from the bridge which overlooks Arudy, and which is
overlooked in turn by a fine and well-situated house.
We had barely time to appreciate the curious rocks which abound near
Arudy, when we passed the road leading off through that town to Oloron,
and came in sight of a merry group of washerwomen, whose enormous
umbrellas--being unnecessary, since it was perfectly fine--were open in
a row, and with their shades of magenta, green, and blue, without
mentioning sundry patches of other shades, made a wonderful contrast to
the green bushes fringing the river.
At 9.40 we entered Louvie Juzon (16 miles), with its old church and
curious belfry-tower, and its "mairie" turned into a school--for the
nonce at least; and passing the latter, we crossed the fine bridge over
the Gave d'Ossau, on the other side of which the Oloron road leads off
through Izeste to the right, and the courtyard of the Hotel des
Pyrenees bids us enter and rest.
How gladly the occupants of the diligences descend, for the short while
adjudged sufficient, at this customary half-way house, who but
themselves can tell? Even we were glad to let the horses have an hour's
rest, and to enjoy meanwhile some good hot coffee and chicken. The inn
itself was certainly not a paradise; but there were some lovely fields
behind it, and in front, across the road, there was an old table and an
older seat among the trees, down by the swift-flowing river. A charming
place for moralising indeed! None of us, however, were much in the
style of the "melancholy Jacques," or, with our eyes on some vigorous
fisherman higher up the river, we might have begun:
"And yet it irks us, these bright speckled trout,
Being native swimmers in this river, should
From their own limpid pools, by gay, false flies
Be cruelly decoyed."
Instead of this, however, we returned to the inn, where we saw a worthy
count endeavouring to clean a huge meerschaum pipe that he handled with
evident fondness, and finding our carriage ready--it being then nearly
eleven o'clock--we continued our journey.
It was now that the real Val d'Ossau commenced, and though the drive so
far had been much enjoyed, we soon passed into scenery both more fine
and more wild. One kilometre from Louvie on the left stands the ancient
Chateau de Geloz (161/2 miles) on a small hill, and on another hill
beside it--of corresponding size--stands a church. The view here, with
the village of Castets behind, the beautiful river below, and the
wooded slopes and massive rocks above, was especially charming.
With many lovely fields on either side of us we drove at a smart pace
towards Bielle (181/4 miles), and at a quarter-past eleven entered the
town, which in bygone days was the capital of Ossau. Here the
celebrated Coffre d'Ossau, that contained archives dating from the year
1227, was kept; and it is a noteworthy fact that the presence of the
mayors of three towns, besides that of the President of the Valley
Council, was necessary before this "strong box" could be opened.
There are many old houses and objects of interest, including some
mosaics, to be seen in the town, and among other things that attracted
our attention was a large board, painted in the most modern style, with
a pair of scissors at one side and an open razor at the other, and the
"welcome" information--"Ici on rase" underneath.
The village of Bilheres, situated above Bielle on the slopes of the
hill, is not without interest on account of the richness of its copper
mines, while during the dry season a track leads from it over the Col
de Marie Blanque to the Vallee d'Aspe.
As we continued our journey the frequent puffs of dust alone gave us
any trouble, but they caused us at times to screen our eyes and miss
the view. The valley, now at its widest, with pastures high up on the
hills seemingly as fertile as those beside the river, all bright with
flowers or studded with well-leaved trees, spoke of peace and
prosperity. It would have been hard indeed to imagine a huge and
ferocious bear appearing among such cultivation, although the valley
still retains its ancient name, signifying that it was once the resort
of these animals; but a "dancing bear" is the only specimen of the race
seen about there now.
At half-past eleven we passed through the village of Belesten (20
miles), and a little beyond, when once more among the fields, came in
view of a curious sight. Among the many fields, variously cultivated,
was a square one dotted over with small manure heaps in rows. On the
top of several of the heaps, native aprons (belonging, we presumed, to
girls at work in the vicinity) were neatly placed. Was this a new
fashion of rearing mushrooms, or a native invention for the propagation
of aprons? No one could say, so we have given it up!
Further on we noticed a lovely little village among the trees on the
hillside to the left; our coachman called it Louvie la Haute, and we
have heard no other name, as it is too insignificant to be mentioned in
One peculiarity of this valley seemed to be the wearing of frilled
gaiters or leggings by the women. They seem to supply the place of
stockings and shoes, being visible from just below the knee, and
descending well over the instep, so as to hide everything but the toes.
It must have been market-day at Laruns (233/4 miles), for when we
arrived there at noon the streets were so full of carts and people that
it was a matter of difficulty to get past. If the extra bustle had
betokened one of the fetes, of which the chief is held on August 15th
annually, we should have been far from disposed to grumble, since it is
at these Laruns fetes alone now that the old picturesque Ossalois
costumes can be seen. M. Dore has depicted a few natives in these
costumes at their devotions in the ancient church that stood beside the
route; but no one is likely to do so again, as the edifice--when we
passed it--was falling into ruins and looked in a deplorable condition,
the finely-sculptured doorway being partly hidden by the fallen debris.
But not only the church, but more or less the whole village, seemed in
a tumble-down condition, and this appeared to us especially strange, as
everywhere around prosperity seemed to reign; and further, since the
railway from Pau, which was to be opened this year, appeared nearly
completed, the fact of Laruns being the terminus at this end of the
valley ought to render it yet more prosperous.
Just inside the village we crossed the bridge over the almost dry bed
of the Arricuze (beyond which the old road to Eaux Chaudes branches off
to the right), and then traversing the Gave d'Ossau, we continued under
the trees along the ancient route to Eaux Bonnes. But not for many
minutes, for, where the old road which leads to the Bear Grotto also
begins to ascend, the new route strikes up to the right, and continues
with an easy gradient to the point where it forks (24 miles), the
continuation to the right leading to Eaux Chaudes, and the branch to
the left--which we followed--to Eaux Bonnes.
No pains have been spared to render the remainder of the journey
attractive to either the rider or the pedestrian, and to us the drive
up the broad zigzags, planted with plane trees, silver beech, ash,
polonia, aspen, arbutus, burberis, and innumerable other handsome trees
and shrubs, was a pleasant one indeed. One rocky bit on the right of
the way, completely overhung with beautiful ivy, seemed to us
especially picturesque. Admiring thus all the poetic touches in form or
colouring as we passed, we suddenly, and almost without warning, found
ourselves entering Eaux Bonnes (271/2 miles), and but a very few
moments more sufficed for our conveyance to the excellent Hotel de
France, where the hostess was ready to receive us.
It would, indeed, be hard to find a more charmingly compact little town
than Eaux Bonnes, anywhere: a perfect little miniature, very happily
situated and beautifully clean and neat. What more could an invalid
desire? Why, the very beauty of the surroundings ought to act
perceptibly on the constitution, and when baths and perpetual tumblers
of the rotten-egg fluid are indulged in besides, a perfect cure
_must_ be guaranteed.
It requires but few words to describe the shape and appearance of the
place, but to convey an _accurate_ idea to the reader is, we are
afraid, a very difficult matter. The town is triangular in
shape--almost an isosceles triangle, in fact--and this triangle is
formed by the shape of the gorge, whose rocky, tree-clothed sides
overlook it. Fine rows of hotels and restaurants, and other
buildings--mostly let as furnished apartments--form the outer edge of
the triangle. A good road separates these from the Jardin Darralde,
which is likewise triangular, and planted with trees and shrubs in the
most agreeable manner, both for neatness and shade. In the centre is
the band-stand, and a bed of roses surrounds it. This is a general
description, but it does not speak of beauty, and we thought that Eaux
Bonnes was undoubtedly a beautiful place.
Suppose a triangular slice were cut out of Hyde Park, combining some
leafy trees and a pleasant flower-bed with a band-stand added, and
hotels and restaurants were erected around it; then, that it were
transported to a narrow part of the Llanberis Pass under the very frown
of Snowdon; and snow should fall on the surrounding summits; and
magnificent beech groves and cascades appear down the wild slopes
below, some idea of what Eaux Bonnes is like might be gained; but even
then it would be little more than an idea.
It certainly has not the grandeur of Cauterets, the freedom of St.
Sauveur, or the expansive loveliness of Luchon. It is hemmed in by the
surrounding heights, of which, at the head of the Sourde (or Soude)
valley (in which it lies) the magnificent Pic de Ger is most
conspicuous, and doubtless this renders it a "warm retreat" in summer;
but to see it as we saw it, with the sun shining on the rain-spangled
leaves of the trees in the Jardin Darralde, on the lighter green of the
beeches above, and glinting through the foam of the "Valentin"
cascades; with no invalids, no gallant French horsemen, no
gaily-dressed women, but only a few peasants dotted here and there, at
work, to give life to the scene--to see it, in short, as it is in
spring, can only give rise to pleasant feelings, which would mellow
into pleasanter and more appreciative memories!
The amount of rain we had during our stay was only sufficient to cool
the heated atmosphere and lay the dust; but Eaux Bonnes has rather a
watery reputation, and many are the times that the visitors become
victims to a shower, returning from their "constitutional" or their
visit to the baths.
When we arrived the hotel had only been open a very short time, as the
"season" was far from beginning, and the only other occupants, as
visitors, were a rather stout man and a fat, jovial-visaged priest. We
discovered them in the billiard-room as the priest was just in the
throes of a most simple cannon, and our entrance appeared to damage his
play, while his face rather lengthened, as though he felt ashamed at
having been surprised at a worldly game. This may have been our fancy,
as he was certainly the first R.C. priest we had seen with a cue in his
hand; perhaps, however, he will not be the last.
After this we lunched, and after that, left the hotel and walked up the
main road towards the Sourde Gorge, passing a choice marble shop, the
bathing establishment, the church, and the town-hall. Beyond this
last-named building the gorge narrows and extends to the base of the
Pic de Ger (8571 ft.). Leaving this on our right, we followed the
Promenade de l'Imperatrice, that ascends above the town-hall, till the
path leading to the little kiosque--built on the summit of a rocky
eminence called the "Butte du Tresor"--branched off to the right.
The view from the little pavilion is indeed a gratifying one, for
though not extended, it is so entirely choice and picturesque; while
the name of the eminence on which it stands, and from which some of the
healing springs are said to rise, is decidedly appropriate, since there
can be no doubt that they have proved a "mine of wealth" to several,
although, as M. Taine remarks, it is "grotesque that a little hot water
should have caused the introduction of civilised cooking in its very
Descending from the kiosque, we continued along the Route de
l'Imperatrice, over which the beeches and other trees made a pleasant
shade. This is a special walk for invalids, as it is constructed in
zigzags of the easiest gradient, and while being both sheltered from
west winds and open to the sun, it also commands at various points a
good view of the River Valentin, the lower or Discoo Cascade, and the
bridge which spans it; as well as the Route Thermale to Argeles, which
follows the right bank of the river.
[Illustration: CASCADE DU VALENTIN.]
Most of the numerous cascades in the neighbourhood--thanks to the
engineering of the "Empress's Walk" and the road to Argeles--are in
easy walking distance for most people, even invalids; those usually
visited being the Cascade des Eaux Bonnes, de Discoo, du Gros-Hetre and
du Serpent; the Cascade de Larsessec (33/4 miles) requires some fatigue
The road leading from the river back to the Hotel de France passes
between two walls of rock against which the houses are built. This
passage has been made by blasting the solid rock, and it seemed that
the work had been one of no small difficulty.
All great excursions were denied us, as neither the Pic de Ger nor the
fatiguing Pic de Gabizos were sufficiently free from snow; while the
road to Argeles still remained broken down in three places, and it
seemed as though July would disappear ere the terrible gaps made by the
avalanches could be built up anew.
We started for Eaux Chaudes in the cool of the afternoon, anticipating
a pleasant drive, and were very far from being disappointed. After
retraversing the road to the branching point above Laruns--near which
the fields and banks were rich in gentians, violets, scabii,
_linariae_, and columbines--we seemed suddenly to plunge into the
Gorge de Hourat. There can be little doubt that there is no truer
specimen of a gorge in the Pyrenees than this. The piled-up crags
overgrown with heather, and the splendid pastures above on the
hill-tops, seen in the Cauterets Gorge, were missing; so, too, the
varied tints and softer landscape bits of the St. Sauveur defile were
absent; but here the masses of rock rose straight up on either side, at
times seemingly ambitious to hide their summits in the clouds; while
the roar of the torrent issuing from the Hourat (or Trou, _i.e._
hole) above which the road passes, only served to heighten the grand
effect of the scene.
Just after the narrowest part is passed, a small chapel may be noticed
high above the river on the right. It marks the scene of a frightful
accident. The old road, which was in use till 1849, passed by the spot,
and a heavily-laden diligence full of passengers overturned--through
the horses taking fright, it is said--and the whole complement were
dashed over the rocks into the torrent below. The chapel has since been
erected, but though the old road still exists, and, in fact, joins the
new one at the Pont Crabe--which beautiful place is admirably depicted
in the sketch--there is little danger of such an accident occurring
A little further on--viz. about two miles from Eaux Chaudes--we noticed
below us as charming a subject as any painter could wish for. A small
plot of velvet-like green-sward beside the rushing river; some trees,
leafy almost to extravagance, gracefully arched above; a few sheep
descending a narrow track on the hillside; and above all, the immense
rocky heights, around the base of which beeches and other trees
luxuriantly grew, and many beautiful flowers bloomed; and, thus
garlanded at their base, their stern and massive summits looked grander
still, and completed such a picture of majestic beauty as no lover of
nature could fail to enthusiastically admire.
One mile further there is another fine sight, though not of the
comprehensive beauty of that just mentioned. This one doubtless is not
worth seeing in mid-summer, when the sun has dried up the mountain
streams, but when _we_ passed that way we could see from the very
summit of the hill--above which the pointed Pic de Laruns reared its
crest--a mass of foam issuing from between two rocks, no puny
meandering streamlet, but a strong torrent, which, as it dashed from
rock to rock, gathered strength and velocity till it rushed amid a
cloud of spray into the river below.
[Illustration: CRABE BRIDGE, IN THE EAUX CHAUDES GORGE.]
We saw one or two gentlemen--evidently early visitors like
ourselves--anxiously whipping the river for fish, but they caught
nothing; in fact, they told us afterwards that it was done with hardly
any hopes of catching, since the "professional"--save the name--element
came out with rods and nets, so that if the rods didn't answer they
could net the pools instead. It seemed to us a remarkably good thing
that "professionals" can't do the same in England!
There is another lovely scene not half a mile away from the town, where
a path leads from the road to the riverside. There is a plot of
green-sward here, and a grove of trees; and the river passes under a
bridge, that vibrates with the force of the torrent surging against its
rocky base. The path over the bridge leads through the leafy glades on
the heights that overlook the river, and the town may be regained by
crossing another bridge higher up.
Soon after, we were entering Eaux Chaudes (271/2 miles), and having
passed the Hotel de France on the left, and the gardens and bathing
establishment on the right, we drove up to the Hotel Baudot and were
courteously received by Madame.
It appeared that we had arrived a day too late, as the marriage of
Madame's niece with the hotel _chef_ had been celebrated the day
before, and wonderful festivities had taken place in their honour;
while the guests in the hotel (fortunately not more than eight in
number) had been regaled with champagne and many choice dishes.
While waiting for dinner we strolled about on the terrace, opening out
of the dining-room and overlooking the river. It did not need the boxes
of bright flowers that lined the terrace sides to entice us there, but
they certainly added to the delightful picture of river and trees; and
as one face reminds us of another, so this scene carried our memory
back to another, but a more lovely one even, because the beauty of the
trees was heightened by large bushes of azaleas--bright with
various-coloured blooms--growing between. But beauty and comfort do not
always go together, and for calm enjoyment this Pyrenean scene had the
preference; for the other was in the heart of Japan, at the tiny
village of Sakurazawa, and we gazed on the picture through the open
_shoji_, [Footnote: Sliding screens, being frames of wood pasted
over with paper, acting as doors and windows.] lying on the neat but
hard--very hard--mats, that were our tables, chairs, and beds in one;
which our host's assurance, that the Mikado himself had slept upon them
the year previous, didn't make any softer. The announcement of dinner
cut short further musings, and we took our places at the table,
profusely adorned with evidences of the previous day's ceremony.
At a table-d'hote of eight or ten people conversation is as a rule easy
and general. It requires a so-called "typical Englishman" to keep
himself within himself, in a shroud of pride and reserve, and the
"typical Englishman" is, thank goodness, nearly out of date. We were
very anxious to learn about the plateau above Gabas. Was this plateau
really worth seeing; and if so, when was it best to start? Everybody
was ready to give their version of the trip, but Mr. and Mrs. Tubbins
(if we recollect rightly) seemed the most anxious to speak. Mrs. T. was
simply a combination of bolsters which shook with the exertion of
speech, while poor Mr. T., a meek, thin, haggard-looking man--and no
wonder--seemed to be ready to put in a word if required, but looked in
momentary terror of getting a snub instead.
This look was not an unnecessary one; for Mrs. T., with all her anxiety
to give information, did not get on very fast, and made many mistakes
in names, &c., which her worse-half tried to rectify, with the result
that she turned on him with "Frank, I wish you wouldn't interrupt; you
are quite wrong, you know!"
However, from the general company we managed to gather a good deal of
information, which, as a cloudy day spoilt our own trip thither on the
morrow, it may be expedient to repeat. Gabas is only a hamlet of a few
houses, and is in itself uninteresting. Situated five miles from Eaux
Chaudes, it is reached by a good carriage road, which, crossing the
Pont d'Enfer, continues along the left bank of the river the rest of
the way, the views being chiefly of granite summits and thick pine
forests. But though Gabas makes an excellent resting-place or
starting-point for several excursions, no one stays there for any other
reason, and tourists from Eaux Chaudes usually pass it on the way to
the Plateau des Bious-Artigues or to Panticosa. The road forks at
Gabas, and becomes no longer anything but a bridle path, the right
branch leading to the plateau, the other passing by the Broussette
valley, across the Spanish frontier, to Panticosa. The plateau is
reached in one hour and a half, not without exertion, and the view over
the Pic du Midi d'Ossau is considered wonderfully fine. Several of our
informants, however, had chosen bad days, and after all their labour,
found a thick mist over everything that was worth seeing. Among these
Mrs. Tubbins had figured, and her goodman had suffered in consequence.
"The idea," she said, "of bringing me all this way, and at my time of
life too, simply to see a mist, as if I hadn't seen plenty of them at
home!" Of course she had come of her own accord, and the meek and
injured one had followed as a matter of course.
[Illustration: THE BIOUS-ARTIGUES.]
The journey from Gabas to Panticosa requires a good twelve hours, and
generally more; consequently an early start is advisable. It is a
favourite way of entering Spain, and much more practicable than the
route from Cauterets to the same spot.
Of Eaux Chaudes itself there is but little to say, for with the
exception of the hotels, the bathing establishment, and a few shops,
there is nothing to form a town. Like Eaux Bonnes it is shut in by the
mountains on either side, but it is more oblong in shape, with two
parallel streets. The Promenade du Henri IV., which leads southwards
from the Hotel Baudot along the side of the river, is a cool and
pleasant walk, especially of an evening.
Various opinions exist as to which place is most suitable for a
residence, the "Bonnes" or the "Chaudes." In spring probably the
former, but the latter certainly in summer; for not only is it free
from the bustling, gaily-dressed crowd which throngs its rival, but
there is a fresh breeze that blows up the valley which renders it
always cool and pleasant; while the scenery is as fine as the most
fastidious could wish for.
The Col de Gourzy and the lofty Pic of the same name tower above Eaux
Chaudes, and a route to Eaux Bonnes--which to good pedestrians is well
worth the exertion--passes over the former. The path strikes off from
the Gabas road to the left, while yet in the town, and passes by the
Minvieille "buvette." For the first half-hour the route is the same as
that to the Eaux Chaudes grotto; this is an excursion, of two hours
there and back, that is in great favour with tourists. Where the path
forks, the one to the grotto is left on the right, and after some
fatiguing work the Plateau de Gourzy is reached, from which the view on
a fine day is splendid. The track then leads through beech glades and
box thickets to the "Fontaine de Lagas" (near which a wild and
beautiful valley branches off to the right), and finally joins the
Promenade Jacqueminot at Eaux Bonnes. Horses may be taken the whole
distance, but it is easier for them--if tourists choose this
highly-recommended route--when the start is made from Eaux Bonnes.
It rained severely early on the morning of our departure, but later,
cleared up into a lovely day, enabling us to start at 8.30. The river
and the cascades were full, and the sun glinting on the wet leaves gave
a fairy-like appearance to this magnificent gorge. As we looked back
from the cascade, which seemed to tumble from the summit of the Pic de
Laruns, the clouds gradually rising over the head of the valley
disclosed a huge snow mountain [Footnote: The "cocher" called it the
Pic d'Estremere, but we had no confirmation of this] to view, that
appeared to form an impassable barrier 'twixt France and Spain.
When we reached Laruns we had a fine view of its pointed peak, and
through the morning haze the lofty Pic de Ger over Eaux Bonnes looked
imposing indeed. Travelling we found very pleasant. There was no dust,
the air was cool, the roads just soft enough for comfort, and the whole
valley refreshed with the morning's rain. The people in the fields
worked with greater energy, and the bright scarlet hoods of the
damsels, many of whom followed the plough, gave a pleasant colouring to
an animated scene. We passed several flocks of geese, apparently
unwilling to proceed at as rapid a pace as the good woman--with her
frilled gaiters--who was in charge of them wished; but with those
exceptions we hardly met anybody or anything on the road till we had
What we then met were a couple of carts filled with coal, and as we
never recollected having seen any such peculiar teams as they were
drawn by, we concluded they were "Ossalois," and "peculiar" to the
valley. There were eight animals to each cart, four bulls and four
horses. The bulls were harnessed in pairs (as in a four-in-hand coach),
and acted as wheelers, while the horses, acting as leaders, were
harnessed in line, one in front of another. Curious as this arrangement
seemed, they made good progress with a very heavy load!
[Illustration: THE PIC DE GER.]
At Sevignac a splendid Guelder rose-tree grew in a small garden over a
mill stream, and a very ancient dame very willingly sold us some
clusters which were peculiarly fine; in another garden a very fine bush
of white _cistus_ was completely covered with blooms. The
hedgerows, too, were bright with flowers; the wild Guelder roses and
medlars [Footnote: The "makilahs," or slicks peculiar to the Basque
people, are made from the wild medlar. They are very heavy, tipped with
iron, and unpleasant to carry.] preponderating, but elder bushes were
also plentiful, and covered with blossoms.
At Rebenac we stopped at the Hotel du Perigord for coffee and a fifteen
minutes' rest, the horses not requiring any more, as the day was so
cool. While drinking the "welcome liquid" we watched an old woman out
of the window, spinning. Her distaff was apparently very old and dirty,
and as she span she seemed to be crooning some ancient ditty to
herself, thinking, maybe, of her children and grandchildren, or even of
the days when she was herself a child.
We started again when the quarter of an hour was up, and bowled along
towards Gan, meeting on the way several natives (men) with their hair
in long pigtails, like Chinamen; they looked otherwise decidedly
_Bearnais_, but their appearance was peculiar, to say the least of
it. Beyond Gan we passed into full view of the lovely Coteaux, which
afford such pleasant rides and drives from Pau, and as we gradually
neared the town, the heat seemed to intensify to anything but a
Four hours forty minutes after starting we were once more under the
roof of Maison Colbert, with such a luncheon before us as fully
justified the hospitable repute that it has always borne.
But Pau was far too hot for us to remain for more than a few days,
although the heat was unusually great for that time of the year, and we
were very glad when once more on our journey towards the pleasant
breezes and blue waters of the Biscay.
A warm ride--Bayonne--A "Noah's ark" landscape--Amusements
--Bathing--Shells--Cavillers--A canine feat--The pier and rocks--A
restless sea--"The Three Cormorants"--Dragon's-mouth Rock--To the
lighthouse--Maiden-hair ferns--Mrs. Blunt's adventure--The drive round
the lakes--_Osmunda regalis_ ferns--The pine-woods near the
bar--St. Etienne and the Guards' cemetery--Croix de Mouguere--Cambo and
the Pas de Roland--Anemones--A fat couple--A French scholar
--Hendaye--Fuenterabia--A quaint old-world town--The Bidassoa
--Pasages--San Sebastien--The Citadol and graves--The "Silent
Sisters"--Raised prices--Parasols and spectacles.
The journey to Biarritz began comfortably enough, but after the first
few miles the heat became very oppressive, and though we had no
repetition of our Montrejeau experience at starting, we felt
nevertheless almost as warm as if we had.
Our arrival at Bayonne was a great relief, for the sun had partially
retired, and as we crossed in turn the Adour and the Nive, a scent of
the "briny" was borne into our omnibus with revivifying effect. Passing
up one of the narrow old streets to execute a few commissions, we
regained the "Place," crossed the drawbridge, and entered the lovely
avenues, from which, beyond the "fosse," the twin towers of the
beautiful cathedral come into view. On the right is the station of the
"steam tram-line," and some hundred yards beyond it the road to
Biarritz curves in the same direction.
This road cannot be called beautiful! The never-ending line of poplars
along each side turn the landscape into that Noah's ark style which
even the soul that could be "contented with a tulip or lily" would
hardly admire. Approaching Biarritz, however, the handsome villas and
their gardens fully deserve the epithet which cannot in justice be
applied to the road. They are indeed beautiful; and to pass them even
in winter, with the camellia trees laden with blossoms and the roses
scenting the air, makes comparison with our London gardens very odious
Under the small-gauge railway-bridge, and past the new "English Club,"
we soon entered the town, [Footnote: The distance between Bayonne and
Biarritz is 5 miles.] and driving down the Rue Mazagran into the Place
Sainte Eugenie, drew up at the familiar Hotel de Paris, in time for
Although Biarritz is in the department of the Basses-Pyrenees, it is so
far away from the mountains that many might consider its introduction
into this volume as questionable; we do not therefore intend to say as
much as could be said about it. At the same time, it is so greatly
recommended by doctors as a beneficial spot for a final "brace up"
before returning to England, after a mountain trip, and is, besides,
such a favourite winter residence, that we consider it would be more
"questionable" to omit it.
Unlike Pau, its amusements are not of a very varied character. In
winter, lawn-tennis and balls are the chief, and concerts occur
generally weekly or bi-weekly. As spring asserts herself, bathing
commences and picnics become the fashion; and in the early summer--as
long as the English remain--tennis and bathing go almost hand-in-hand.
The tennis-ground--which is only a short distance from the English
church of St. Andrew's--is well laid out and commodious, possessing an
excellent reading room for members' use, as well. Of bathing
establishments there are three; the large building in the Moorish style
on the Plage, the less pretentious but more picturesque one in the Port
Vieux, and the least pretentious and least protected one, under the
"falaises" [Footnote: Blue chalk cliffs.] beyond.
The first and last are only used in the height of summer; that in the
Port Vieux--from its sheltered position--opens its box-doors as soon as
winter really gives place to spring. The scene, when the tide is high
on a morning in June, is often an exceedingly pretty one, for to the
pristine picturesqueness of the surroundings is added those touches of
human nature enjoying itself, which, if it doesn't "make us kin," goes
a long way towards it.
The "Port Vieux" is triangular in shape, with the apex inland, along
the sides of which the boxes are erected, reaching to the water's edge
at high tide. In the middle lies an expanse of deep sand, and the blue
waters roll in between the rocks and gently break on a shingly beach,
where the tiniest shells and pebbles mingle to make the one drop of
bitterness in the bather's cup.
When the sandy expanse is crowded with merry children, the roads and
seats above filled with spectators, and the water with members of both
sexes in varied costumes and "headgears"--not forgetting the boatman in
the tiny skiff who is here, there, and everywhere in case he is
needed--the scene is a very pleasant one to look upon. Of course there
are always some narrow-minded individuals to find fault, some "maiden"
aunts "with spinster written on their brows," who will put up their
gold-rimmed glasses with that peculiar sniff that invariably prefaces
some _extra sweet_ remarks, such as, "Dear me, how wicked! Men and
women bathing together in that barefaced manner; and ... I do believe
there's that forward Miss Dimplechin actually taking hold of Captain
Smith's hand, and he a married man too! Thank goodness, I never did
such a thing--never!" [Footnote: Did she ever have the chance?]
Above the Port Vieux, on the left, stands Cape Atalaya, with the ruins
of an ancient tower, and a flagstaff on its summit. A road leads round
its base, passing between a circular mound overlooking the "old
harbour," and the yard where the concrete blocks are fashioned for the
strengthening of the pier.
There are seats on this mound, whence people can watch the bathing; and
we often saw a remarkable feat performed from it as well. A race of
wonderful water-dogs--said to be a cross between the Newfoundland and
the French poodle--is bred at St. Jean de Luz, eight miles from
Biarritz. One of their uses is to drive the fish into the nets, and for
this purpose one is taken in every boat that puts to sea. The method is
extremely simple. As soon as the net surrounds a shoal, the dog is put
in the centre, and by beating the water with his paws he effectually
drives the finny creatures into the meshes. It was one of this same
species of dogs that attracted so much attention at the Port Vieux by
leaping after a stick from the mound--a distance of some fifty
feet--into the sea. He would do it as often as his master would let
him, and appeared to enjoy it immensely, though he always reached the
water before the stick, and had then to turn round and hunt for it.
The road, after skirting one side of the yard, crosses the trackway
that runs down the pier and doubles up the other side, through the
tunnel and past the Port aux Pecheurs, into the Place Ste. Eugenie;
whence, continuing by the base of the Hotel d'Angleterre and the
casino, it extends to the bathing establishment on the Plage. In the
other direction it rounds the Port Vieux, and leads under the cliffs to
the other resort of summer bathers; consequently, it might be
appropriately termed the "Chemin des Bains."
The pier is a very favourite resort, and many a fierce fight with the
waves is enacted at its extremity, in which, alas! the sea has always
proved the stronger. As a rule, visitors are not permitted to pass the
"Cucurlon" rock, on which the Virgin's statue stands; but if the
weather is very fine, the gate is opened to admit of any who are so
minded going to the end. On a wild day, with a high wind blowing
inland, the "battle of the waves" is a fine sight, especially from the
platform erected below the flagstaff on Cape Atalaya. Thence the full
beauty of the huge billows, dashing into clouds of spray against the
pier, and, unallayed, pursuing their course with relentless energy till
they boom amid the hollow caverns of the hill, may be admired and
There are two rocks which (as one looks seaward) rise up to the left of
the pier, and serve to break in some measure the force of the waves.
The larger of these in calm weather is frequented by cormorants, and
has gained the name of "Cormorant Rock." There were three of these
birds on it one very rough day, and we saw a scene enacted which--with
due apologies to the late Rev. Charles Kingsley for thus adapting his
pathetic verses--we have commemorated in the following lines, under the
"THE THREE CORMORANTS."
Three cormorant dandies were perch'd on a rock,
Were perch'd on a rock as the waves dash'd high;
Each thought himself equal to any black cock,
And proudly determined the sea to defy.
For cormorants fish, and cormorants catch,
And they swallow their prey with the utmost despatch,
Without all the trouble of boning!
Three cormorant damsels were waiting at home,
Were waiting at home for the dandies so dear.
"Oh, say! are they fishing where fierce billows foam?"
And the damsels sat chattering their bills with fear!
For cormorant maidens _can fish_ and _can catch_,
And each one considered she'd made a good match.
And now for her dandy was moaning.
Three cormorant dandies were washed off the rock,
Were washed off the rock by a powerful wave;
And, quite unprepared for the terrible shock,
They sank in the depths of a watery grave.
For cormorants fish, and cormorants catch,
But if waves dash high they should use despatch,
Or their loved ones will always be groaning!
There are some curious rocks in front of the new harbour, notably the
"Dragon's-mouth Rock," through which on a rough day the water
continuously pours; more to the right, between this and the "Plage," is
a curious group known as the "Chinaougue." [Footnote: Have never found
any one able to account for this title, which is more barbaric than
pronounceable.] A bridge communicates with the largest, on which
"petticoat daffodils" grow, and the couples that may occasionally be
seen going over there _doubtless_ do so to gather these. Beyond
the Port Vieux and underneath the Villa Belzar other curious formations
may be seen, to which an iron gate at the head of a few damaged steps
At Biarritz itself there is really nothing to be seen except the sea.
And yet this sea is so beautiful in its varied moods, that a lover of
nature can watch it day after day for any reasonable period, without a
feeling of _ennui_ or a wish for anything more lovely!
[Illustration: THE ROCKS OF BIARRITZ.]
There are many pleasant walks and drives around, but most of them
require a whole day, and are more preferable as a drive than as a walk.
The shortest is to the lighthouse and back, and this is only a very
easy promenade, taking about an hour; so we will deal with it first,
leaving the longer ones to await their turn.
We started one afternoon when the sky was cloudless and the coastline
very clear, hoping to obtain a good view of the Spanish coast, and a
few specimens of maiden-hair fern, if fortune were favourable. We
traversed half the town, when Mrs. Blunt suddenly came to a halt
opposite the Hotel de France, and pointed to a three-wheeled vehicle of
the bath-chair type, to which a weird and very ancient-looking steed
was attached. "I think," said she, "that would be more comfortable for
me than walking; please inquire if it is on hire." So we applied to a
fat dame, who was busily knitting hard by, and having arranged terms,
Mrs. Blunt got in and we continued our way.
Down past the bank and at an easy pace to what was once the Villa
Eugenie, [Footnote: This building, where Emperor and Empress lived at
different times, now belongs to a company under the title of the
"Palais Biarritz," and is employed as a casino and restaurant. "Sic
transit gloria imperatorum."] and continuing up the hill at the same
speed, we gradually drew near the lighthouse, and when once the Villa
Noailles was left behind and the level road reached again, we were soon
at our destination. [Footnote: At low tide there is a way to the
lighthouse along the beach in front of the Palais Biarritz, and up a
steep path over the rocks. The other is much the better way, however,
at all times.] The view of the coast to St. Jean de Luz, San Sebastien,
and almost to Santander, was peculiarly good, as well as that on the
other side in the direction of Bayonne; and while Mrs. Blunt remained
in contemplation from her vehicle, we descended to view the rocks and
As a rule it is unwise to disclose where botanical treasures grow, as
they generally become extinct soon afterwards, from excess of
admiration on the part of collectors; but the maiden-hair ferns, for
which the lighthouse rocks are known, can take very fair care of
themselves, as they grow in such awkward positions--we might say
dangerous--that only a few real enthusiasts, or an anxious collector
with a _steady head_, are likely to venture to attack their
[Illustration: VILLA EUGENIE.]
We saw many specimens in the interstices of the rocks surrounding a
moss-grown pool, but they were quite unapproachable. One clump above we
did manage to reach and bear away a few roots of, in triumph; but at
one time there was only two inches of stone for the foot to rest on,
with sheer rocks below; and consequently, without a rope, the
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