Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Stage 6: La Tour de Carol to Villefranche de Conflet

Continuing our desire to get decent luggage space on small, local trains, we ambled along the platform with some time to go before departure. And it was high fives when we realised that the doors to Le Petit Train Jeune were unlocked.

Stashing bags, we took our pick of seats and settled down for three and a half hour trip through the mountains and down the Têt Valley.

It was bumpy. Very bumpy. But this isn't just a train for scenery-seekers; it's a vital service between towns and villages at the heart of French Catalan territory.

There are 22 stops - Bolquère-Eyne, at the midway point, is the highest railway station in France.

These are the sort of stations that Dr Beeching would have axed, with little thought for the impact on the communities that were affected.

Instead, tourism helps to maintain the 101-year old line, with many visitors taking a two-hour journey from Villefranche de Conflent and then returning.

Two hours, frankly, would have been more than enough.

After being jolted about as the train twisted and turned around the mountains, and after so many people joined it that it was rammed, upland pasture lost it's allure, the skies greyed and even the fleeting sightings we'd had of small birds of prey ceased.

If anyone fancies Le Petit Train Jeune, don't do more than two hours either way, unless, like us, you're using it less as a sightseeing trip and more as a method of transport from A to B.

I was utterly fazed out for the last 90 minutes or so; hungry (our picnic hadn't been anywhere near enough), uncomfortable and desperately needing to be able to stretch.

Fortunately, the B&B we were staying in was only around 100m from the station - and on seeing our weariness, our hostess instantly offered the most welcome beers of the entire week.

And with that, we settled in for the our brief stay.

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