Stage 8 - Carcassonne to Lodeve. Version 2

Having completed the itinerary from Tarifa to Budapest I'm now going through it again, checking it, and in particular trying to confirm precisely where I'm going to stay.  Believe it or not I'm going to try and produce a calender saying where I'm going to be on a given date.  Of course things will go wrong and dates will get missed.     On the other hand Christine, my wife, and other friends are proposing to join me for the really nice bits and they need to book their holidays and plan journeys.

Have already worked my through the Spain plan and discovered that when I originally did the plan my glasses were slightly rose tinted and what I thought was accommodation wasn't.  Some of the Hotels have closed down in the six months since I did the initial piece of planning.  Sometimes I just made mistakes.  Where changes have been needed I have just gone back to the relevant blogs and made them.

For Stage 8 the extent of my mistake has meant a complete redraft of the itinerary.  Although the E4 does go from Carcassonne to Lodeve it doesn't go along the route I was proposing.  Thankfully my mistake has been spotted and Menno Wolters, who has walked much of the E4, has kindly gone through my plan and identified where it goes wrong.  He is doing this for the whole route and has provided comments on a number of the sections, particularly in France.

My mistake on Stage 8 was to follow the GR7 rather than the GR71.  The ERA web-site talks about the GR 71 but the IGN GR Map for the whole of France (Map 903) has the E4 going along the GR7.  It takes a slightly more direct travelling along the southern edge of the Parc Du Haut Languedoc while the GR71 goes further north and straight through the middle.  

Menno, as well as experience of actually walking much of the E4, had the necessary FFRP (the French Ramblers Association) Topoguides and these make it clear that the E4 stays on the GR 36 a little bit longer than I had planned and joins the GR 71 at Hautpoul  and does not join the GR 7 until Lodeve.  I need to challenge my mean streak and invest in the Topoguides.

The net effect of the change is a longer walk - around 180 km as opposed to 155 km - over 7 days.  There is a definite option to complete it in 6 although that involves a long day at the end.  Stage 8  takes you through the heart of the Haut Langedoc Natural Park.

The Park runs along the top of the Departments of Aude, Gard and Herault.  Located at the southern end of the Massif Central, including the Black Mountain range, it's a relatively empty area with few significant towns.  Although mountainous, it's not massively so with few "peaks" getting above 1,000 metres.  The mountains are important however and without the rainfall they receive the coastal plan below, its fields and cities, would be sun-baked and dry as a desert.

Heading out of Carcassonne on Day 1 the first 8 kms take you along the banks of the Canel du Midi - the famous canel connecting the Atlantic with the Mediterranean.  You then head directly north via the town of Conques-sur-Orbiel and into the Black Mountains and the Haut Langedoc National Park.  The first place where I can find accommodation on the route is at Pradelles-Cabardes and walking that far involves a tough 34 km walk with a climb of around 1,000 metres.  Instead I think I have found somewhere to stay at Limousis which is just of the trail and about 22 kms from Carcassonne.
Canel du Midi at Carcassonne

Day 2 takes you over the  1,991 metre Pic Noir, the highest point in the Black Mountain Range, and then down to Mazamet.  This looks like a great walk and a tough one involving  just over a 1,000 metres of climb (and a similar amount of descent) and 30 km.   Mazamet is a town (pop 10,000) and has plenty of accommodation.

Day 3 and at last on the GR 71 and, after a few kilometres from Mazamet, heading east.  The countryside looks a lot more remote and accommodation is again scarce.  The best option looks like the village of Angles which has an auberge.   Another good walk, around 800 metres of climb (back to the top of the Black Mountains) over 25 kms.

Day 4 is an easier walk with a lot less climbing - 24 kms and 600 metres the target is Fraisse-sur-Agout where there are two gîte d'étapes (one with a web-site which I consider a good sign!).  At Fraisse-sur-Agout the GR 71 joins the GR 7 before heading of again in a more northerly direction.

Day 5 and it's getting very remote with little in the way of accommodation.  The best option I think is a 24 km walk (600 metres of climb) to Castenet le Haut where there is an auberge at Le Fau.

Around Castenet le Haut

A short Day 6 would set up the option of doing a mega 40 plus kms walk all the way to Lodeve.  The last part of the walk in particular is downhill but there is hilly country to cross before you get there.  If I don't make it all the way to Lodeve than the obvious half way stop is Ceilhas-et-Rocozels where there are bed and breakfasts and a Hotel and perhaps a lake to swim in.

Lodeve itself will seem like a metropolis after the villages of the previous six/seven days although in reality it's a small town with a population of a little over 7,000.  It sits in a valley at the meeting points of the rivers Lerge and Soulard.  It has a cathedral, plenty of other things to see and lots of accommodation.

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