Day Nine – it’s not good when your brakes fail driving down a very big mountain!

And so we woke up on Day Nine, to a different view, and boy was it ten times better!

With yesterday’s four and a half hour drive out of the way, the Pyrenées was within our grasp. We were left with two options.

Option 1

Carry on avoiding the french toll roads and take the scenic route to a farm around an hour and a half from the main mountain region. Sean the satnav reckoned it would take four and a half hours to get there.

Option 2

Finally use the french toll roads we have been desperately trying to avoid on our journey so far. Sean reckoned only two and a half hours this way.

Last year, when we were traveling using the toll roads, we must have spent over €100 getting across the country. We have been quite happy to take a little longer, and enjoy the stunning countryside views, however the Marsilly had set us back two days, and we were quite keen to make our way to the tropical south coast.

With a destination located, we joined the toll road and put the pedal to the metal. Well a little bit. Well… at most about 50mph. Don’t want to risk overheating her after everything we have been through recently. We didn’t mind though; we were still moving.

We made slower time than Sean predicted, he obviously didn’t realise we would be travelling at half on the toll roads max speed limit. We also spent a combined total of €25 for the privilege of driving on the toll roads. Makes the M6 toll seem cheap in comparison.

We found the farm fairly easily, although we were unsure where to park as the sign literally pointed to someone’s back garden. We were welcomed by a young lad who seemed incredibly confused by an loud, old looking van turning up at his house. He spoke very good english and reassured us that we were fine to park in his garden, even recommending parking under the tree for shelter.

We are getting pretty good at the van life, and within 5 minutes, we had a washing line up, table and chairs out and were tucking into some lunch.

The advert in the France Passion guidebook said this site was a farm shop, although it was basically their house. From inspection of their website, Willow learned that their shop didn’t open until 5pm, and it was only lunch time.

After half an hour of awkwardly sitting in their back garden, we decided that after Marsilly, we had had enough of just sitting around. With no walks around us, our phones were out scouting a spot in the mountain range that we would like to walk. We settled on a circular walk up a mountain to a spectacular set of waterfalls. We even found a free parking spot at the start of the walk in the local village Aulus-Les-Bains.

With another hour and a half drive, we snuck off in stealth mode as Willow felt guilty for leaving so soon after arriving. Now for anyone who has heard Ruby, they will tell you that she doesn’t really do stealthy driving she does loud or loud. So our stealthy driving involved us driving out of there incredibly quickly, leaving before they had a chance to come out and see us driving off. It didn’t really work, they came out as soon as she roared to life. Oh well, we just put our foot down and got the hell out of there, waving and smiling politely as we passed. We’re not savages after all.

We stopped off at a supermarket on the way to restock food and beverages, and then attacked the Pyrenées mountains.

We should have realised when looking at the satnav, that the journey was going to be a slow climb up at massive mountain.

The views at the start were fantastic, and we made sure to pull over and take some pictures of Ruby near the top.

We were starting to get slightly worried by the amount of cloud drifting into the mountain. It was difficult enough, managing the engine temperature whilst passing over the mountain. Ruby’s handmade interior is obviously a strain on the engine, especially when you are climbing over 1000 metres. To make matters even worse, clouds had started to come down over the mountain, making it almost impossible to see where we were driving.

(Not what you want when driving up and over an incredibly big hill.)

Everything was going smoothly until we had the last part of the mountain to drive down. We could not see anything from the windows, and the Sean the satnav failed to give us any more information. It turned out that we had to drive down quite a steep road. I had tried to manage between stopping the engine over heating and the brakes overheating, and it was going quite well untill the last steep slope down to the village, apart from the strong smell of brakes burning.

And that’s when it happened… We lost the brakes completely. Let me tell you that losing your brakes, on a really steep slope, with poor visibility, surrounded by large drops next to the side of the road, is very terrifying. I desperately tried to shove the van into a low gear and put the handbrake on… But we were not stopping. So we had no alternative than to crash into the side of the road.

We have had to pull over in worse places.

Eventually, the brakes had cooled down enough for us to make it down the last part of the hill into the town of Aulus-Les-Bains.

We parked up in a free car park reserved for campers and set off on a quick tour of the village.

As I have mentioned previously, whilst blogging about our trip in Scotland. Washing in a van often involves baby wipes or a flannel. We had found a camp site down the road with shower facilities, and found the opportunity of seeking in for a free shower too hard to refuse. We decided that in order to succeed, we just needed to act confident. And it turned out that worked. I some how think it had more to do with the host not paying attention, than our attempts at confident walking. Either way, we were cleaner than we had been in days.

We then headed back to the van to chill out before our big mountain walk in the morning.

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