Friday 20th May Carcassonne to Mazemet

It might seem mad to walk all the way to Mazemet and then have a rest day when I could have stayed in Carcassonne and had a rest day's there, but there was a tiny bit of method in my madness. My main concern was that I couldn't find anywhere to stay in between so splitting the journey would have meant a taxi back to Carcassone, or forward to Mazemet, and not taking a day's rest. To add slightly to the complexity, I was going to be walking with a friend from today and the Carcassone to Mazemet start would have been a bit tough. As it is my friend has injured his foot and has had to cancel his trip.

Although Carcassone is an incredibly pretty place it's also an intense tourist honey pot. Inside the walls every available space is given over to cafes and restaurants, and on Thursday night it was full. Have been there before, have now seen it again, that's enough for me.

According to my schedule Carcassone to Mazemet is 51 kilometres with a climb up the 1200 metre Pic Noire in between. Having decided I wanted to try and do it there was no getting out of it. I have now worked out that I'm not very good at finding my reverse gear which may be a bit of a personal weakness!

One thing I have worked out is that you can walk a long way if you start early enough. I was out of my very nice, expensive Hotel at six o'clock. Given how late I was when I arrived and how soon I left they should have given me a discount.

Not thinking things through a six in the morning I decided the straight line approach to navigation was best and instead of heading back into town to pick up the GR 36 headed directly north. After spending time finding my way across the high speed railway line I was then confronted the barrier of the River Aude. Ended up having to follow this all the way back into town. Found the GR 36 at the SNCF station where there are of course lots of hotels and places to eat, and which would have been the perfect place for me to have stayed the night before.

So it was seven o'clock by the time I was marching along the bank of the Canal du Midi and by seven fifteen I had stopped swearing at myself. It is really pretty, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, it's wider than your standard canal. Have often been tempted by the idea of a cruise along it, Rick Stein style, but I really wouldn't fancy falling in the water. Did see a couple of things which I took to be otters, although the given the water they could just have been supersized water rats.

Canal du Midi

Fat Otter?

The worst thing about the walk along the Canal du Midi was that it didn't seem to be contributing much in terms of getting closer to Mazemet. The last three of four kilometres were heading south east and by the time I was heading north again, and high enough to see Carcassonne, it still looked painfully close.


Shortly after leaving the town of Conquers sur Orbiel there was a conflict between the route way marks on the ground and the route on my GPS. After the experience of a couple of days ago, when the I had followed a variant, I decided to retrace my steps. Following the GPS route I did indeed find some GR signs but they were very faded and after a whole reconnected with a better marked trail. Can only conclude that the route had been changed, changes which are unlikely to show up on a paper map, but which definitely cost me some time.

Was at last climbing up into Montaignes Noire. The weather was very hot and sticky but for once had plenty of water. Had bought a local cake, chocolate, bread and cheese but cake power alone was getting me up the hill. By mid-afternoon I thought I had worked out where the top was. There was a wind farm and behind that a communications tower. Was at the wind farm at about 3.45, walked around it and then, merde, starting going again. From 1,000 metres dropped all the way down to under 800 and to the village of Pardelles-Cabardes at the base of Pic Noire.

Still had a long way to go and was tempted to either get a taxi or stay at the Gite d'Etape, (hadn't realised there was one) in Pardelles-Cabardes. Spent 10 minutes like the rat in Skinner's famous (and very cruel) rat experiment trying to work out what to do and then decided to reject the cheese and head of up the mountain. Got to the top, a 400 metre climb, by 5.30. The views would have been amazing on a clear day, comparable with the views I would have got on Canigou if it had been clear then. The view was just good enough however to give me an idea of a good view would have looked like (if you know what I mean).

The communications tower was shaped like a rocket, very fifties. Despite the fact that the French are supposed to hate the Americans it also reminded me that they do, after all, play host to Eurodisney

Is it a rocket?

The weather at this point was starting to look stormy, near but not quite. Given the time I wasn't hanging about. After another 10 minutes saw my first sign to Mazemet, "Mazemet, 13 kilometres, 3 hours 15 minutes". Despite the distance I was actually encouraged and set of off determined to beat the clock.

It was downhill all the way, and through lovely forest, and given the time and the that day off next day, I wasn't trying to save my feet. By 8.15, and after a 20 minutes of seemingly endless zig-zags down a really steep bit of mountain side I was on the road leading into Mazemet. Fortunately the roadside sign which said Mazemet was another 4 kilometres proved to be wrong when the GR 36 took me on a more direct route.

In the forest heading down to Mazamet

The final sting in the tail involved trying to find the Cheval Blanc. This had been booked by my friend and I had assumed it was a hotel. Looked around the centre and couldn't find it. Was then sent up the road to a hotel, a Logis, which was in the process of closing (permanently) and they didn't know where it was. Asked in a bar and got directions from a man who was drunk and which proved to be useless. Happened to see him a few minutes later and he kindly took me straight to the door (although his walking was not very straight). It was a bed and breakfast with no obvious sign so good on him for knowing where it was.

Anyway I made it. My feet were truly wacked and painful, really bruised and I needed to dose up on painkillers to sleep. Insanely long day, 15 hours on my feet, 56 kilometres and 1700 metres of up and nearly as much down.


  1. Well done John, at that time probably you are in the middle of your trek as there are nearly three months since we met in Campo de Gibraltar and I remember as if it was yesterday, a pity I did not have a picture of that british chap at that precise moment.

  2. A Cheval Blanc is a White Horse, John. Usually occupied by a handsome (and unmarried) prince, but in your case it might have been a princess. Sorry for you that you missed it (if I understand you well) and had to accept the lodgings of a drunkard.
    More important after this Kennedy's March: did you sleep well - and how long? Menno

  3. Hi Juan. Not quite half way yet, the end of next week, not that I'm counting. I wishI had taken a picture of you as well. Next time!

  4. Hi Menno

    I diidn't stay with the drunk, he found me the princess who was happily married (like me I should stress)