Last week my OH and I headed off towards Perpignan, which neither of us had been to before, for a bit of exploring.  We had lunch in a delightful little town on the edge of the Pyrenees – I have no idea what it’s called because it was on the edge of the map on two pages of our French road atlas, the atlas had kind ly overwritten it with ‘See Page …’ in both places.  Afterwards we’d decided to do a leisurely drive through the Pyrenees via the scenic route, a wise choice since we met a ‘Route barré’ sign about 20 minutes out of ‘See Page…’  and discovered that they don’t seem to sign deviation signs in the Pyrenees.

The sun was out, the scenery was stunning and there weren’t any caravans so that was OK.  Presently, after we’d been around and up several mountains, the OH went, ‘Just look at that!’

That was the Chateau de Peyrepertuse, a Cathar castle perched high on the spine of a mountain.  Very high indeed.  The OH got vertigo in the car park and announced he couldn’t go any further.

IMGP1072aTo be fair the drop in front of where the car was parked was similar to the drop from the castle above.  I left the OH to take pictures while I walked up to the castle, which a sign said would take about 15 minutes.

Peyrepertuse was never a place for softies, the men who lived in it didn’t bother with anything like roads leading up to the main gate.  Instead you got there by a mule track that went around the back of the mountain, probably much like the path that visitors take now, only easier to navigate.  Mules aren’t that stupid.

The present path is about one mule wide, is made of uneven rocks and earth, goes up and down, has the mountain on one side and on the other – let’s put it this way, there are several places where is you tripped you’d find yourself doing a vertical hundred metres in under ten seconds.  There are no rails, no posts, nothing to help you apart from some bushes which were occasionally very necessary.

This was one of the really easy parts

This was one of the really easy parts

It was quite slippery too.

The castle itself was fascinating but had its – ahem, interesting moments.  I was following la sens de la visite, came out of the keep and was presented with this to get back down to ground level:

March 13 016 I stopped worrying about looking stupid and descended on my bottom.

The French attitude to places like this is that you should look after yourself.  I suppose it works, I doubt anyone has actually fallen over the edge at Peyrepertuse.  Otherwise  I’m sure there would be the odd warning notice with a bit more than the existing one that states the path is unsuitable for pushchairs and the castle is closed during summer storms because of the risk of lightning strikes.

However it is apparently OK for small children and the infirm.  There is a handicappé entrance.  I kid you not.  It’s a ramp which avoids two wooden steps up to the gift shop and ticket office.  Sadly due to his vertigo, the OH, who has a gammy leg, was still in the car park so we weren’t able to put it to the test and see if they’d have sold him an entrance ticket.

It was getting late so I turned down the chance of climbing up to the Chateau du Queribus

March 13 023it actually had quite a reasonable gravelled path leading up to it but I’d had enough of drops by then.

Of course we didn’t know what was awaiting us at our chambre d’hotes.

We didn’t get off to a good start.  It had an electric gate, no bell and Madame had switched her mobile off.  Luckily someone living in one of the mobile homes scattered over the property (certainly not visible in the brochure) arrived and let us in.  Madame emerged, full of apologies.

‘Is your husband all right with stairs?’ asked Madame’s daughter, who’d noticed he has a limp.

‘Perfectly,’ I said breezily.

‘Good,’ she said, ‘because you’re up there-‘

March 13 030‘We did have a rail along the outside but it broke,’  she added cheerfully.  What she didn’t say was the rail on the other side was also cracked and wobbled atrociously if you put any weight on it.

We made it to our room and found it had this-

March 13 029directly opposite the bed.  The curtain didn’t have an opaque lining either so you had to use the facilities without turning the light on; otherwise whoever was lying on the bed, reading a book, got to see a lot more than they wanted.

We’d thought about having one of those flying loos when we were doing up the house but the OH, who is 6’2″ and not fat but built on a Viking scale, said that he’d always be worried about whether it could bear his weight properly.  This one was set so high up the wall that when I discreetly left him alone after breakfast his feet didn’t touch the ground properly.

There was a general systems failure.

If Madame and the rest of her family hadn’t been so utterly charming we’d have felt justifiied in slapping warnings all over Tripadvisor and the like, but they were delightful and it would be just mean.  So I suppose there’ll be other visitors experiencing the delights of that staircase after an excellent fish dinner and half a bottle of wine… at least it’ll give them more to talk about than when they stayed in a Mercure with a fully functioing lift