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Barcelona to Avignon: with two diversions

It’s Thursday 2 March and we really MUST head north if we’re to reach Murren, Switzerland, by Sunday lunchtime, so we agree to take the hit with French motorway tolls and head off from the campsite with some of the washing still hanging up in the van, at 1130. We skirt round Barcelona making for the border and Perpignan. A trip to Barcelona will have to wait for another time, and the weather’s been much better by staying further south in Spain. After making excellent progress on the fast roads, Steve makes an error of judgement at the French border. He takes what looks like the toll booth lane and we end up at a barrier into the French Customs area . . . he’s told to reverse back onto the motorway and take the next exit!!

Mid-afternoon we review progress against where might be a good place to stop and decide there’s time to take a detour to visit Carcassonne. Bev was last there over 40 years ago, and Steve’s never been, so we leave the motorway for the scenic ‘Route des vins’ D117 and D22. The road winds up through a misty valley under impressive limestone crags forming a huge gorge alongside the tracks of ‘le Train Rouge’, clinging to the cliff edges, crossing the road on iron viaducts or disappearing into a tunnel at the roadside. The line was originally built in 1904 and, following its closure in the 1970s it has been resurrected as a tourist route, unfortunately not open at this time of year. One of the stations is at Puilaurens-Lapradelle, dominated not only by the railway viaduct but also an impressive mediaeval fortress castle high above the village. Certainly another area to return for a longer visit.

We continue our journey to Carcassonne and find the excellent city motorhome camping area within walking distance of the old city via a lit path along the river. Sadly, our evening stroll into the city in the dark was fruitless. Only one restaurant was open and it had a huge queue of hopeful prospective diners, so we returned to the van and Steve found the ingredients to rustle up a very tasty omelette. We’ve done 230 miles and the pressure’s a bit less for getting to Switzerland. After a brief stroll round Carcassonne and breakfast at the only cafe that’s open, we fill up with diesel and LPG before heading back to the motorway. Mid-afternoon, we decide on another diversion, and spend an enjoyable couple of hours wandering the quaysides of Sète in the sunshine, in search of where ‘Cachalot’ may have moored up in 1955, based on a photo from ‘Yachting Monthly’, May 1956. Find out more about ‘Cachalot’ here.

Moving on, we decide to keep to an earlier planned stopover at Remoulins, near Pont du Gard, even though we’ve only done 161 miles and are now a day behind our already fairly tight schedule. However, it would be a shame to miss seeing this remarkable feat of Roman engineering as we’re so close . . . and we do still have a day ‘in hand’.