Col du Soulor, Col des Borderes & Lac d’Estaing

Pyrenees Peaks – Day Six, Lourdes (8th September 2017).

Somehow today was the final day of cycling in The Pyrenees, where has the last 6 days gone? I spent 30 minutes last night looking for a replacement ride for today, as we used up our planned ride when we extended our day out to Col des Tentes yesterday.

I eventually came up with a plan to explore some quiet back lanes, tackle a couple of climbs & then loop back to Lourdes – all in all, about 55 miles of riding with 5,500 feet of climbing. The ride started outside the hotel door & as our way out of town took us past the Sanctuary, we stopped to admire the view & take a few photos.

As soon as we left town, we found ourselves on quiet roads with views of the large mountains in the far distance. At one point, we took a wrong turn & found ourselves on a small gravel lane that took us past some unusual wooden sculptures, before ending abruptly at a tiny convent – Lourdes, as you might expect is home to many convents, monasteries, churches & religious orders. It’s a strange mix of peace & tranquillity, offset by chaotic parties of pilgrims.

Once we were back on the right road, a fast flowing river guided us down the valley, as we passed miles of maize fields, where the corn on the cob looked like it was ready to be harvested. These were the quietest roads we’d cycled all week & it was one of the few occasions where we were on relatively flat roads – it made for very relaxed riding.

At Lestelle-Betharrem, we saw signs for Notre Dame de Betharrem, so pulled in to find out a little more – it’s a church that is set right next to the river & it has a large plot of hilly land, where 19 chapels have been built over time & it was an incredibly peaceful & tranquil place.

We turned off the main road & headed along remote country lanes towards the lower slopes of Col de Soulor, which begins in earnest at Farrieres – I had it in my mind that this would be a great place to stop for coffee….. except it was a far smaller place than I expected & it was only a small village!!

From here, the Soulor climbs 2,950 feet in 7.5 miles, at an average gradient of 7.4% – this was the first climb of the week where the gradient was fairly constant for the entire climb & it made such a difference! I chose a gear & then spent the next hour & a half enjoying the views & stopping every now & again to capture the stunning scenery & get out the way of the local wildlife.

At the summit, we stopped for a lunch of waffle with Nutella & a coffee, before descending back towards Argeles-Gazost. We took a right turn after about 5 miles & headed up the climb of the Col des Borderes that we descended on Sunday. As we reached the Col, we made an impromptu decision to take a side road up to Lac d’Estaing – we had no idea what to expect on the climb, but the point of exploring is to find out what’s there! I was a little nervous of what lay ahead, as I was having problems with my gearing, the cables have stretched slightly as the week’s worn on & I could no longer use 1st gear – not the ideal situation for a weak climber like me. However, I didn’t want the ride to end yet, so we set off for Lac d’Estaing.

As we climbed, the surrounding forest protected us from the sun. After about 5 miles, we crested a rise & there before us was the lake & we weren’t disappointed! It’s a beautiful expanse of open meadow, with a lake at its centre. There are strict rules & regulations for using the area & as a result it’s in pristine condition. They were people fishing on one side of the lake, while at one end there were wild horses frolicking in the shallows – before today, I’d never seen a horse in a large expanse of water. This is a place that’s well worth a visit & I’m sure I’ll be back again at some point in the future.

Although we were still more than 20 miles from our hotel, the first 10 was downhill, so in next to no time we were in Argeles-Gazost for a well-deserved fruit tart & coffee. From here we took the same route back to Lourdes as Sunday, again it was slightly downhill, but into a headwind – for every ying there’s a yang!

In the end today’s ride was just over 68 miles long & had 7,000 feet of climbing – both numbers were bigger than planned, but it was our last day of riding, the sun was out & we were keen to make our adventure last as long as possible!

As it was our final evening, we popped into town to watch the sun set over the Sanctuary, then raised a glass to celebrate a glorious week of riding. I’m sure I’ll be visiting The Pyrenees again in the not too distant future.

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