Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Petite Rhune

Sunday 23 June 1996

We woke to a dismal cloudy day, not the best of starts. However we did have a wonderful view of The Rhune, our destination for our first walk.

In November 1813 Wellington occupied The Grande Rhune, the higher peak on the left. The French had fortified The Petite Rhune on the right. There is a steep valley between the two peaks, which was a sort of “no man’s land”.

The Petite Rhune was defended by a French division, which had its headquarters in Sare. The whole area was covered by redoubts, including three made of rocks on the Petite Rhune itself. The garrison of Sare provided the troops who held the mountain, and all the supplies, including food water and ammunition, had to be carried up to them on foot. So there had to be a good path from the village.

We came prepared to explore The Petite Rhune with this excellent detailed map. Our Gite was just outside Hembiscaye (bottom right on the map), and there is a circular path shown from Sare to the Petite Rhune and down to Hembiscaye. This was the path we hoped to cover today.

We took the map to our landlord, a very pleasant young Frenchman who, unfortunately, spoke no English. Jan has a smattering of “schoolgirl French”, but not really up to explaining what we wanted. However we showed him the map, and pointed out both Hembiscaye and the highlighted circular route. He seemed to understand and gave us directions to the end of the path, nearest Hembiscaye.

We set off in light rain, which soon turned to quite heavy rain. We found the unmarked path without too much trouble, and set off to climb. However after half an hour it became obvious that it was heading for The Grande Rhune. Apparently our landlord had assumed that we wanted to find this, the more popular and more frequently visited peak.

So it was with much disappointment that we retraced our steps back down, and then on to Sare for a much needed hot cup of coffee and some lunch. Being Sunday the tourist information office was closed, so we showed our damp map to the café owner. She spoke a little English, and I kept repeating Petite Rhune to avoid a repeat of the earlier mistake. She gave us directions to the start of a marked path leading from the village to the Petite Rhune.

By now the rain had stopped, though the clouds were low and all very damp. After about an hour we met a young couple coming down towards Sare. The girl turned out to be a local school teacher, and spoke excellent English. She confirmed that we were on the right path, and that we were about half way to the top.

Half an hour later we found the railway line which takes visitors to the top of The Grande Rhune. It runs between the two peaks, and our path crossed it and continued upwards. Just as we reached the track we heard a train coming downhill towards us. In the background of the photo the building with the aerial is the top of The Grande Rhune.

By now we were feeling too tired to want to explore further. We returned to Sare, and by the time we reached the Gite in great need of a hot bath and a warm meal.

The day had not been a complete success, but nor had it been a complete waste. We had found the main path to The Petite Rhune, explored Sare and got a feel for the surrounding area.

This is very much the way walking battlefields goes. It is very different from the guided coach tours such as Holts, where the coach takes you right to the spot where you can view the field and take your photographs. But if you want to get a real feel for a battlefield then you have to be prepared for bad weather and sometimes following the wrong route.

We were not discouraged, and very much looking to the next day. However we did hope that the weather might be a little kinder.

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