'Where's the Brew Stop? The off-road cycle touring website'. About off- road cycle touring routes, cyclist’s cafes, off-road cycle touring, local group events and good photos. For cyclists who love off-road leisure cycling in Northern England
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Cycling touring articles by Pat Lloyd and other folk
Chemin dee Bonhommes (and his good woman) by Pat Lloyd The bike bus had deposited us at Bayonne and we had planned on a leisurely 19 days before the pick up at Perpignan.Having done all the main cols on a previous holiday we intended keeping north avoiding the highest bills for an easier ride.. You cannot go far in this part of France before coming across accounts of the Cathars, a religious sect who believed the creator of the material world was the Devil and Christ a messenger from the world of light. Their leaders were known as parfaits and parfaites and the ordinary people as bonhonunes and bonnesfemmes. They denied the doctrine of the Virgin Birth and were anti material wealth and were pacifists who condemned the crusades. They also believed that they were exempt from feudal vows or allegence so it was hardly surprising that they soon fell foul of the king and also the Catholic Church. In 1198 the current pope called for a crusade against the Cathers and in 1233 the Inquisition was created with a view to exterminating these heratics.The greatest of the Cathar castles was Montsegur and was one of the last to fall after being beseiged by 10,000 men.When they finally surrendered 225 of the Cathars were burned on a mass pyre. A walk the Sentier Cathare starts at Foix and ends near the Mediterranean, the GR107 is the part of the walk going from Montsegur to the Sierra del Cadi and is known as the Chemin des Bonshommes for it is claimed to be the route taken by escaping Cathars. It would cut a corner for us and the fact that it went through the Gorges de la Frau and was off road did not seen too hard a prospect. We arrived at Montsegur after climbing to the top of a 12l6metre col from where we could see the castle perched on the top of a high limestone plug. We were very hot and thirsty and in no mood for a thirty minute climb up to the castle. The Rough Guide admitted that this was best viewed from the road as apart from a plaque showing where the Cathars were burnt there was not a lot to see,so regretably we took the book's advise and abandoned the castle and zoomed down the bends to the village for cool drinks.The weather had deteriated so we booked in at the excellent gite d'etape connected to the hotel Costas, A Dutch couple who had started the Sentier Cathare two and a half weeks previously at Narbonne said that we would not be able to take our bikes through the Gorges de la Frau as we would need boots as it was very rocky. A book at the gite said that it had been proposed to build a road through in 1907 so we thought that it could not be too bad, it also said that it had been abandoned after flooding washed the road works away perhaps not too good. Next morning the hills were obscured by thick clouds but it was not actually raining so after a freezing descent to Fougax et Barrineuf at 549 metres we turned on to the very minor D5, a lovely lane with the infant River Hers meandering through woods of various varieties of trees. We soon arrived at a picnic place with toilets where the GR107 turned off to get to Montsegur by an off road route. We kept on to where the tarmac ended at a small parking area with a sign advising us to be beware of falling rocks The start of the track looked very promising with a pile of horse droppings making us think that if horses went through it could not be too bad. We were able too wheel the loaded bikes for quite a way but got some strange looks from parties of walkers coming towards us, they having started out from the gite d'etape at Comus.Further on a solitary walker wished us Bon Chance and we soon realised why as the walls of the gorge closed in until there was only room for the track and the narrowing stream. We could not see the tops of the cliffs as the mist obscured any views, the Rough Guide said that they were a 1000 metres high so we had to take their word for it. The limestone was pitted with small caves which had provided useful hiding places for smugglers who had used the route in the past. We now faced a long stretch of slippy rocks where the bikes had to be taken up one at a time, the front man steering and the bonne femme at the back lifting and pushing, knew he brought me for something. We had two separate lengths of this and eventually removed Fred's saddlebag which contained the tent and tools and carried that up separately. Once over the rocks the gorge widened to allow a double line track which ended at a signpost informing us that Comus was three kilometres ahead. This was a nice ridable gravel track and hopefully downhill so we donned our jackets ready for the descent as we were wet through with perspiration and water dripping from the trees. We were able to ride but it was in bottom gear as the track was still climbing. We finally reached tarmac just short of Comus at 1166 metres It had taken us three hours from tarmac to tarmac and had been quite hard work but would be much easier going the opposite way as apart from the rocky sections it would be mostly rideable as the gradient would be in your favour Map used was Michelin 235 Midi Pyrenees.