Tardets-Sorholus - The Wild Peak. Video.

85.5km, 2038m. Col de Suscousse, Col de Soudet, Col de la Pierre St Martin, Col de Labays

This area was not on our original itinerary, but the name 'wild peak', and the previous few days riding, made me want to explore these mountain roads.

I'm delighted we did, this was possibly the best one day ride of the whole trip.

Sadly my Garmin doesn't seem to have kept a record of our route so I'll try to describe it.

I had expected we'd jump from St Jean Pied de Port straight into the big mountains, but closer reading of the Graham Fife book, and better study of the map, revealed what seemed to be a 'gap' in my itinerary, between the two main roads to Spain the N134 and N135.

Two small D roads snake their way south across the Spanish border, crossing the Port de Larrau (1573m) and the Col de la Pierre St Martin (1760m). Well we had to try the big one, didn't we?

Tardets-Sorholus became our base for two nights, first in an informal Aire (not in the book) and the second in a rural campsite.

The usual route to the Col de la Pierre St Martin is from Arette up the D132, but I felt a more interesting approach would be up a smaller road from the other side. We started on the D26 to Larrau then branched off to rise along the Ste Engrace valley.

This is deep in Basque-land and for years the valley used to be a dead-end, except for smuggling routes across the frontier. Then a ski station was built and approach roads were needed, for which I ought to be more grateful.

The valley ride was lovely, albeit shrouded in mist and low cloud. Then the road reared up and we rose through dense forest, aiming for the first of a series of Cols on the route. Rain jackets were on and off throughout the climb. There were no other cyclists around and no other vehicles - we felt totally, wonderfully alone. (continues below)

Col de Suscousse comes first but is little more than a road junction.  On a clear day, I  think my descent route would be to come back to here then use the Col de Issarbe road to drop through Barlanes, but that will be another trip.

Yet more climbing and we're at the Col de Soudet, probably the most famous of the climbs on this route as it has been used a few times by the TdF.

Having spent all day in clammy mist, Liz wasn't too keen on continuing up to the Col de la Pierre St Martin, particularly as it involved riding through the mess of our first full-on ski station.

So I went ahead and, as I climbed, the most amazing change in the weather took place.

Twenty metres before the border, blue appeared in the sky, the mist melted away, and I reached the Col in blazing sunshine.

A complete transformation of the weather had occurred in fewer than twenty turns of my pedals.

Border marker
Liz joined me on the summit and we gazed (longingly) down, past the border marker post, at the excellent Spanish mountain road, in much better condition than its French continuation.

A small cabin a the summit advertised 'Fromage - Queso'. Mmmm, this could be good.

So we snuck past the snoozing pig, tip-toed around the dozing dog, and were led into a side room while being "hushhhh-ed" by the owner, a finger pressed to his lips.

It was clearly siesta time for family and farmyard alike.

A huge chunk of superb unpasteurised sheep cheese, pure Brebis, cost less than £5, around half what we'd subsequently pay in a valley shop for this superbly complex cheese.

Liz had plenty of pocket space for one large chunk because we pulled on every stitch of clothing for the descent. While Spain was sunny, a few metres away in France it was now chucking it down.  Rain and cloud combined to produce cold riding conditions that chilled us to the bone. 

Siesta time
We dropped down using D132, which is the main riding route up.

We spotted a good bike shop in the town of Arette before riding, heads down, along the D918 back to Tardets-Sorholus.

While cleaning the bikes later, Liz's headset started making awful grinding noises, so the following morning we were back at that bike shop first thing.

The mechanic replaced the headset and gave her Specialized Ruby a quick service, all while we waited.

As so often happened, when we were torn between staying longer and wanting to explore somewhere new, the wanderlust won.  And this time we decided we'd pull on the hiking boots and go for a walk.  That's tomorrow.

What's this about? We took our campervan down the Pyrenees this summer, riding classic cols and hiking great walks. Now I'm sharing the info about best campsites for the best rides.

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