While I was up north in Spain, I was super close to the French border. You could actually just see France from most places in the village I was in. So I decided it would make a good story to walk to France, even though I was still a few weeks away from my planned visit there. The family friends I was staying with told me about a 750 year old chapel (Chapelle de Belloc) that was on the top of a large hill just on the other side of the border. I looked at the route and figured I could leave right after lunch and still make it back to the house I was staying at before sunset.
Spanish restaurants aren’t exactly speedy, so I didn’t finish and get paid up until about 3:00pm. Which still gave me 4 hours to do the hike, so I wasn’t worried! I left the town of Puigcerdà (which I’m still not entirely sure how to pronounce but it doesn’t look even sort of like it sounds… Poocherda maybe?) and made my way toward the chapel. The border crossing was super anticlimactic. I don’t even think there was a sign. I just suddenly realized I was in the town of Ur, which I knew was in France. Ur looked exactly like the town that Belle grew up in right before she left and got Stockholm syndrome.
The map said there was a road that led up to the chapel, but it also looked reasonably easy to just walk straight up the hill after town. It was a little bit forested, but mostly open fields. There were a few little fences, but we all know how I feel about those so I just took the straight path up the hill. I found a good route up pretty quickly, but it didn’t take long before I was wading through wild rose bushes and climbing over awkward stone formations. I’m not one to live my life with regrets, but I was starting to wonder what the road was like. Luckily, the rose brambles didn’t last too long and I was into the fields. They were clearly someone’s property, but they didn’t really look like crops and there was nothing grazing on them, so I figured it was fine. If it was America I probably would have been shot at some point for trespassing, but as this was France I wasn’t super concerned.
It was about 3 minutes into my serene experience with the pastures that it started to rain. Since this was March in the Pyrenees, it was not a warm rain either. Per usual, I was not prepared for this, but there was no turning back now. Because of some amazing karma or something, I immediately saw a little shelter built into the hillside. It was like a very small cave that was dug into the dirt and then lined with stones and ended up looking like a little natural fireplace. It was the perfect spot to hunker down and wait out the storm. I was pretty high up by then, so I could see that the clouds were moving through really fast. I was only sort of worried about the fact that it was now 4:30 and I had less than 3 hours of daylight left. Fortunately the rain only lasted about 15 more minutes and I was off!
By the time I got to the top, the clouds had mostly parted and the sun was shining down on the valley below in an extremely majestic fashion. The building was actually partially ruined, but still had an intact room inside and a tiny stained-glass window letting in barely enough light to look around. As it was now 5:15, I decided it was a good idea to head back down. But since I hate “there and back” hikes, I decided to take a more western route to get back to Puigcerdà through a different French town called Enveitg (still not a damn clue how to pronounce that.) The route looked more or less the same distance, and I could see the town from where I was, so what could go wrong?
It turns out a lot of things can go wrong when you’re relying on the Google Maps app on your phone. It doesn’t show topography, and views from the top of a mountain can be deceptive. So as I made a straight line for a few kilometers towards the southwest, I soon realized that the river that was shown on the map was actually down in a pretty deep ravine with steep cliffs on my side. So that wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to go all the way back the way I came, so I decided to follow the edge of ravine down as far as I could hoping that it would let me down easily at some point. It did eventually, but first I slid down quite a ways into a herd of red deer, which was only sort of terrifying but mostly kind of awesome. And I only scraped up my hand a bit, so it was fine!
When I got to the bottom, I encountered the next issue: crossing the river. It was not super wide, but also not super shallow. I found a part that was narrower than the rest and had a fallen tree crossing most of it, but not enough to jump across. So I gathered a few more trees that were lying around and threw them over that section to kind of make a bridge. It almost worked, but I still fell in. Oh well. After that I was basically back to Ur, so I scrapped the plan of trying to get to Enveitg and just meandered through a different rose bramble toward Puigcerdà. It’s actually kind of amazing to me that I haven’t died in the wilderness yet.