Who benefits from the Bedroom Tax?

The government will deny there is such a thing as a bedroom tax. The changes to the Housing Benefit system whereby people deemed to have more space than they need will have their benefits reduced is not a tax on the poor but a necessary move to free up homes for the homeless.

Ah so the homeless will benefit. People will be forced by debt, if not eviction, to vacate two and three bedroom homes in the social sector freeing them up for homeless families and others in overcrowded private sector accommodation. If this works at all, one household will replace another left in crippling debt.

Why are they in debt?
The under-occupying household will have a straight reduction in their Housing Benefit of either 14% or 25%. If their rent was fully paid by HB before they will now have to find the balance of their rent from their other income that is from their other benefits.
So out of an income which already leaves them below the poverty line they will have to find this money. For the family experiencing this it is not a reduction in Housing Benefit but a tax on their small amount of money to feed themselves and pay domestic bills. A bedroom tax.

For social landlords this is a disaster. They depend on the regular payment of rents by by stable tenants. They put resources into managing and minimising arrears and and having a predictable turnover of stock. Since 1st April many more tenants, most of whom have probably never been in arrears before, are in debt. The normally predictable income of the landlord is falling dramatically and tenants who have lived in homes for decades and form a stabilising core to many communities are being forced to look for alternative accommodation.
So all the landlord has to do is move them to smaller properties. Fat chance of that when largely because of government's failure to invest in housing those properties do not exist.
The only option left for the tenant is the private sector where rents will be higher and moving costs will not be supported. Many private sector landlords will not want a tenant in debt who has no access to resources to
pay bonds or rent in advance. This policy will create homelessness.

Private landlords will benefit as demand for their properties increases.

The government i.e. the taxpayer will benefit because the welfare bill will be reduced. Well no actually. Any tenants moving to the private sector will probably cost the state more in benefit costs. Legal actions to evict tenants will cost thousands of pounds each. Children will have their education disrupted as they move schools. Some may end up in care as families become homeless, a very expensive process.

The Bedroom Tax is only the most visible of a number of startling benefit changes driving more people into real hardship.

The bedroom tax is based on the concept that families are only entitled to the minimum amount of space to live in. Any more is a luxury. When Bevan started the building of council houses under the Atlee government his response to the slums was high quality decent homes which his government were proud to build, recession or not. Now the box room which doubles up as a spare bedroom where visiting family and friends can sleep is an unaffordable luxury.

Tory ideologues love this tax because they at core believe economic decline has been caused by idle people who refuse to work and are softened by generous state benefits to the point where they lack any entrepreneurial spirit. The argument that the jobs don't exist doesn't work for them. Go out and make a job, sell jars of jam to your neighbours.. use your initiative. These are the people who opposed the minimum wage and would like to remove it. Nothing like hunger to incentive initiative. These hateful bastards of course dine on inherited wealth and financial scams. They also believe that like them, the majority of 'decent' people will have no sympathy for those struggling on benefits. Wrong again.

All over the country Bedroom Tax campaign groups are springing up. And check out this list of stories in the Manchester Evening News  which is dedicating pages to the issue.
There is a real coalition building of people and organisations revolted by the callousness of this act of a government giving tax breaks to the rich.
Arguments have so far focussed on people with special needs. What about the right to a decent home for all as Bevan thought. You shouldn't have to qualify for a boxroom. This is being imposed by a party whose members have got away with claiming expenses for a duck house and having a moat cleaned.


The Tour de France passes through Lancashire

There is big excitement that the Tour De France will be in England again next year and especially in Yorkshire where two stages will be held. Among the most excited must be the people of Skipton where it passes on both days. A close second will be my home town of Mytholmroyd.

So What has Mytholmroyd got to do with cycling? Cragg Vale thats what. The road up through Cragg Vale from Mytholmroyd is the longest continuous incline in England and much appreciated by local cyclists, at least until you get to the top.
After cyclists in enthusiasm for the tour comes motorists as they anticipate that the roads of Yorkshire are about to benefit from very special attention.

What people have missed though is that the route dips ever so briefly into Yorkshire's traditional rival, Lancashire. And the road surface here, at the very top of Cragg Vale is about as bad as it gets. If the War of the Roses is not to go into extra time someone in Rochdale is going to have to pull their finger out and put their hand in their pocket.

Now I note that Rochdale is twinned with the French town of Tourcoing. Maybe the good people of Tourcoing could be called upon to have a word with the burghers of Rochdale to ensure that at least if Yorkshire pride is not protected at least French lives and limbs are.

Large group pano

This panorama is a stitched image from three separate photographs.
I was photographing a wedding recently when, though a wonderful day was had by all, from a photographer's point of view, much that could go wrong, did.

The weather was dire and many roads around the hotel, in Cumbria, were blocked. Most of the guests got there apart from those stuck in Irish airports.

Plans for some scenic outdoor shots were abandoned early as a very chill wind threatened exposed and unexposed extremities.

I had taken a number of small group shots in the porch of the hotel with my 17-55 zoom. I had also with me my 85mm prime for portrait shots. However in the excitement of getting the group shots I dropped my camera from the tripod head to the stone flags and removed the zoom lens from any further responsibility for the days pictures.

I did however have 50 people standing around in the cold waiting for the large group shot.

I stood on a plastic patio table and shouted instructions trying to arrange the group so that everyone was visible...failed.

Tried to get them looking like they were enjoying themselves...modest success.

And fired a burst,with my 85mm lens, using the grid lines on my viewfinder to line up my shots so that I had a decent overlap between frames.... and crossed my fingers until they were white. They were already blue.
Below is a selection to the ten shots I took.

I processed them initially in Lightroom and exported them to my desktop to work on in PTGUI. I don't know of a means of directly exporting to PTGUI.

Now shooting panoramas is fairly straightforward if certain things remain constant. Exposure for one, was no problem on a consistently dull day. Neither was focus much of a problem. Though best practice would be to shoot in manual I used autofocus. Subject movement was the joker in the pack.

I've said that exposure wasn't an issue but in one sense it was. When I exported images from Lightroom I kept them in 'original' format, as I knew that PTGUI can deal with Nikon Raw files and I thought this would give best quality. Except in my first few attempts the detail in the wedding dress was lost, completely bleached out. I realized that when exporting in 'Original' format form Lightroom I was losing all the edits I had already done on the pictures. I solved this by exporting as TIFs.

Subject movement I dealt with using PTGUI's masking functions. Wherever a head moves or eyes closed between shots I could chose which head to use as long as I had more than one to chose from. I had to do this less than half a dozen times.

The result is a 65 megapixel image. To give you an idea of how big that is here is the brides face from one of the pictures

The sinking of the Whacker Quacker.

Stricken duckmarine being towed to the slipway.
On Easter Saturday I was returning to the conference centre in Liverpool where I was an observer at the NUT national conference when I noticed something amiss with one of the yellow Duckmarines.
The duckmarines are Liverpool's distinctive tour vehicles based on the Beatles song Yellow Submarine. These are amphibious vehicles from World War 11.
As I approached I noticed that a small boat was attempting to tow an empty duckmarine which was clearly sitting low in the water. A few people were standing around watching but there was no great excitement. As I watched the vehicle did not appear to be sinking at all, though I was bemused at the attempts to tow it with a small boat with an outboard motor.
However thinking things here could get more interesting I walked along keeping a close eye on things.
Suddenly I noticed the smaller boat casting off as the front of the duckmarine dipped. Clearly they were afraid of being dragged under. 29 seconds later the duckmarine was on the bottom and I had a fine set of pictures 'in the can'. I had propped my elbow on a railing post to support my camera and shot a series of pictures from a fixed position. I was shooting with a Nikon D800 on 50mm f1.8 lens, ISO 140 at 1/250 sec at F8.0. I knew my pictures could hardly be of better quality.
Time to let go.

I had come to Liverpool uncharacteristically ill-equipped.  I had one camera, no battery charger or spare battery and no usb cable to connect my camera to a computer or card reader. I had left behind my eye fi card which would have enabled me to directly upload pictures to the internet. I was shooting Nikon raw files (NEFs) and not JPEGs.

After taking the pictures I met my partner for lunch and went to a conference fringe meeting. I exercised no sense of urgency in trying to sell my pictures.

After the fringe meeting I went to the press office at the conference centre and enquired after contacts with the local paper the Liverpool Echo. I left a message on a journalists mobile and another journalist got back to me. At this stage they were unaware of the sinking. Soon I was in the Echo office trying to find a way of converting my files that didn't involve downloading software or spending money. They had Photoshop installed, used Nikon cameras but couldn't open a Nikon raw file. I wondered who the amateurs were. When I suggested I would like to be paid for my images there was much humming and haa ing. There seemed to be no system in place for buying pictures from freelancers other than to depend on generosity of the freelancer.
Anyway a price was agreed and my pictures were, that evening, on the Echo website with a prominent byline.
I was feeling pleased with myself and made no further effort to promote my images other than a few comments on Facebook.
The next day driving back from Southport I had a call from BBC North West. They wanted my images for a news programme going out one and a half hours later. I was half an hour from my camera and a laptop and aware that I still didn't have a cable or means of converting my files.
I got back to the hotel, borrowed a flash card reader from a passing IT teacher and downloaded UFRaw the open software. Five minutes before they were aired I was still emailing JPEGs to the Beeb.
I asked the Beeb for the same amount I had squeezed out of the Echo....dinner was paid for.

Next morning I headed out to get a copy of the Echo and found two of my pictures dominating page 3 where the sinking occupied most of the page. They had also used a picture taken by a staffer of the aftermath. Then my phone started to ring. The Daily Telegraph were first followed by The Mail, the Mirror and the Sun.
Hats off to the Telegraph, They were the straightest and easiest to deal with though, in the end, not the most profitable. The Telegraph had a schedule of rates for pictures which they emailed me.
The man from the Mirror started by impugning the quality of my images and said they would have to consider what they were worth. HE HAD PHONED ME to get the pictures.
The man from the Mail was interesting. After making me a decent offer which I accepted he said, "The Mirror want them also will you accept the same from them?" What was the Mail doing negotiating the purchase of pictures for a rival paper?
When the Sun got in touch they new exactly what I'd accepted from the Mail and Mirror.
No matter I was very pleased with myself. The Sun didn't use my pictures but the others did.

When I googled 'sinking duckmarine' I found that The Wirral News  and Scotland's Daily Record had also used my pictures.

I have invoiced the for the same amount I was offered by the Mail and Mirror.

Full frame image uncropped.

Close crop of one the picture on the left.
So I learned a few lessons;

  • Don't go away without battery charger and cables.
  • Backup on JPEG so that pictures are easily shared and emailed. 
  • Don't always expect the pros to know what you are talking about when things get technical.
  • Try to know in advance what something is worth. 
  • Write up the story yourself. 
  • Be clear that you are not selling, or giving away, copyright.
  • Know that even rival papers talk to each other.
I made a point of only sending pictures after I had received email confirmation of the agreement but in retrospect I know my agreements should have been tighter.
None of the papers had a good account of events because I hadn't given them one. The papers showed the sinking as taking place at 1-45, my camera recorded the time as 12-30. It also shows that from being cast off by the tow boat to hitting the bottom took 29 seconds. I had been in a position to write up the drama and not taken it.
Had I circulated my pictures with a story on Saturday afternoon they would have been more widely used. The fact that national papers still found them interesting on the Tuesday after demonstrates their interest value.

I have put together a slideshow of the images i took which you can see on YouTube.



These icicles were photographed a short distance from the Pennine Way near Hebden Bridge.

Looking up.

I thought Black and White for a change. 

That is me in the picture. The camera was on a tripod.

Hungry looking


Andorra to Banyuls sur Mer

 On route to Refuge Mariailles. I know how the horse felt.

 This is the last stage of my journey. I will at last be in a Mediterranean climate with air temperatures over 40 degrees at lower levels. Some days I didn't take any pictures and I'm now regretting it.

Day 30 l’Hospitalet Pres l’Andorra to wild camp.

Cattle near Etang des Besines.
The climb out of l'Hospitalet was initially steep but settled into contouring along the valley above the road. I was looking forward to getting away from the noise of traffic. Eventually I reached the lake, Etang des Besines.  This is an idyllic spot and a few families were picnicking at the waterside.  At the far end of the lake the ground levels to a flat plain where cattle were grazing. I noted a bull among the herd. I passed the refuge without stopping and started to climb towards Col de Coume d’Agnel. I met a lovely couple who had were walking a stretch of the GR7. We compared cameras. The GR7 and GR10 coincide on this stretch. I was to pay for not attending to where they diverge.
The HRP also takes a divergent route taking it over the summit of Pic Carlit. Dark clouds were building but I had already decided not to climb Carlit (though in the long run it would have been quicker if I had).  I descended to Etang de Lanoux. I continued to follow the red and white slashes marking the GR but was now blithely following the GR7. The route I was on took me into a complex series of cols with a boulder  descent into a valley. The route was arduous. The grey clouds didn’t produce rain but the evening and the night that followed were cold.
It wasn’t until I had set up camp along the river and started to prepare food that I realised my mistake. I studied my maps closely trying to figure an alternative route that would not involve retracing my steps but it was futile. I was resigned to hauling myself back up over those sharp granite boulders that I had just needlessly come down.
I saw no other human since the couple near Besines and was watching nervous group of Ibex.

Day 31, Wild camp to Campsite near Planes.

I was glad I had brought a warm jacket. This was the coldest morning yet.  I started at first light, feeling philosophical and warned myself not to rush and take risks on this terrain. I was at the col sooner than I expected but the col is complex and the route not obvious. I had to stop a couple of times to get my bearings but was determined to take it a s slowly as necessary rather than risk another navigational error.
Eventually I was looking down towards the lake and could see an orange tent that I recognised from the night before. I approached the ten to say hello and ask about the route. The couple were packing up by the time I reached them and I surprised them in a state of undress. They were not expecting anyone to come wandering along that path at that time of the morning. They directed me to the point near cabane de Rouzet where the GR 7 and GR10 merge. I could now see Portielle de la Grave that I should have crossed the previous evening and it was a much gentler route than the one I had taken. Indeed the broad clear path I should have taken rebuked me for my negligence.
Yellow algae on granite. It is hard to get the scale here,
this is a large rock face.
I watched some wild horses as I ascended the col and began the long decent to Lac des Bouillouses.
The day was hot but the route was gentle. The lake is massive and the walk alongside it mostly shaded. I reached the Refuge des Bouillouses at lunchtime and decided to eat there. The refuge was busy with day trippers and it took time to get a seat and get served. This was a popular stop with coaches in the nearby carpark. This is a good example of a refuge that isn’t really a refuge but a very nice country pub.
I now wanted to make up lost time and decided to reach Planes that day. I had arranged to meet my partner at Amelie les Bains in a few days.
The route continued to descend  through rough forest tracks. The area was more touristy.  Bolquere was impressive for its architecture and I regretted not taking more pictures.  These were not curious old buildings but modern heavily build log cabins and massive chalets with large conservatories. Some were quite beautiful though looked as if they had been built for the winter rather than the strong sunlight of summer.
I was now at an altitude, about 1500m that I hadn’t been down to for weeks. I had wondered when I would feel more in a Mediterranean climate than Atlantic and expected to notice the change much sooner. It was only at this stage and dropping to this altitude that I sensed the shift.
Wild horses
I carried on following the GR10 to a campsite near La Cabanasse. By the time I arrived I was footsore and in need of a shower. It was a small and very welcoming site, though not very well provided. It had few toilets and no shop and was being run by an elderly gentleman who was scrupulous (to the point of irritation) about keeping things ship shape.
I had a lovely flat open pitch, enjoyed my evening meal and several cups of tea. I slept well and woke refreshed.

Day 32 El Moli del Riu to Refuge du Ras de la Caranca.

The day started well with a visit to a shop to gorge on peaches and croissants and stock up with essential pasta and sardines. It was a short walk into Planes but not so easy getting out.
The first problem is that the red and white stripes are not where they should be and I suspect a local refuge of directing walkers to its door. Once back on the GR10 the path climbs out of the town to a forest track. Here the path continuing up the hill is not visible and a broken signpost suggests you carry on on the forest track. This is not the way. The actual path starts exactly at the bend in the forest track that you have come out onto. You may need to push through bushes to see it clearly.
 I assumed for a while that the track had been redirected but it hadn’t  though it cost me time before I realised the error. Thankfully the climb to the Pla de Cedeilles was  sheltered from the strengthening sun. The decent on the other side was pleasant walking and well marked. But by the time I reached the ascent to Coll Mitja the day was hot and the initial climb gruelling. Thankfully the steep climb to the ridge takes you into shade. The path is soon crossing the zigzags of forest tracks and sometimes I would just take the forest track for comfort.
Similarly the decent on the other side crosses forest tracks. And occasionally the track is the more inviting route. I met a farmer bring cattle up the track and had to take care not to startle them as they passed. A young bull accompanied the cows and despite a verbal language barrier I managed to exchange a joke with the farmer about its endowment.
Eventually I reached the plane near the refuge and set up camp. I was disturbed by the evidence of campfires here and even piles of wood left by previous inhabitants. I was just feet away from tinder dry forest and the evening was breezy. A fire would have been a foolhardy risk.
I cooked by my tent and didn’t visit the refuge.  The potable water supply was a small pipe in the stream.
That night I finally made up my mind about cowbells. Romantic associations about the tinkling of bells are common. Often the sound of bells would give you warning about cattle upstream making you take care about drinking. Tonight they were cacophonous, a veritable noise nuisance. I felt sorry for the cattle so burdened who would never know silence. I could understand the farmers view that it helped find cattle and sheep on the hill, but why did every animal have one? I saw sheep with massive bells on that acted as weights to slow them down. I watched one sheep try to sctratch itself with a rear hoof and stop every time it caused the bell to ring. I had no doubt now that these bells frequently caused distress to the animals.

Day 33  Refuge du Ras de la Caranca to Py.
The day started with the climb to Col de Pal. This was an easy and varied walk through trees and open grassland before becoming stony. The col itself when you reach it is a wide grassy expanse with glorious panoramic views. It was very windy at the top. I met another walker there where we calibrated our altimeters at the signpost and discussed their value as navigational aids. Many walkers I met carried altimeters but not maps, preferring for lightness to use the French topo manuals which gave detailed altitude profiles.
The decent towards Mantet was a bit of a chore. Mantet itself was beautiful but the day was now scorchingly hot. I was footsore and resented the climb through cobbled streets to the restaurant at the top of the village.
The restaurant was however a delight. I had a couple of omelettes and sang a Dylan duet with the barman.
The route out of Mantet takes you further uphill to the Col de Mantet.  This is a short and steep climb and not enjoyable in the temperatures that prevailed. The route down the other side is in the shelter of woodland.  It is downhill all the way to Py. I was now down to about 1000m and the increase in heat this brought was noticeable.
Py is a pretty little village with not a lot going for it from the hiker’s perspective. I bought cheese in a street market but couldn’t find bread. There was a gite but no campsite and no obvious place to camp. I found no public toilets. This is a place the English describe as ‘twee’. On the way out of town I spoke to an elderly gentlemen at a garage. I was sure from my map that it wouldn’t be easy finding a flat pitch. He suggested I camp on a rough piece of ground opposite the garage. This had some unused caravans parked on it and was covered in thistles and nettles. However it was good enough for me. It was only about 6-00pm when I stopped to camp but I saw no purpose in continuing.
The next morning I noticed that others had camped in a children’s play park in the town.

Day 34 Py to Refuge de Bonne-Aigue
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I needed to find bread before leaving Py. It would take a more than three hours climbing to reach Refuge de Mariailles and I was loathe to do that on an empty stomach. Good luck prevailed. I was up and about early and met an elderly lady attending to her allotment. I asked her where I could buy bread and she walked me to her home and gave me a couple of stale-ish  loaves.  Manna from heaven, I was on my way.
The walk to the refuge was notable for the extensive irrigation channels on the mountain side. Water was being channelled for miles in shallow trenches a that often ran alongside the track. Sometimes the track would be on a low dyke that edged the channels. Stream beds were being used as water was directed from one stream to another. I wondered how much maintenance of the channels was going on as it was obvious that they could be blocked by a very modest land lip or rock fall.
The refuge itself was beautiful. A wonderful set of black and white photographs decorated he walls. The warden was welcoming and I ordered an omelette to be eaten outside on the balcony. Unfortunately the refuge is an accessible one and  I had to share the balcony with a group of young men skinning up and acting like this was there space exclusively.  The warden spoke to them but they were a dull surly lot.

The route would now take me towards Canigou, the last big mountain on my route.  I had yet to decide whether to take the route over the summit or the much longer circuit that the gr10 follows. It was the heat of the day that decided the issue. I spoke to a number of people coming from Canigou who told me they had started early to avoid the heat of the day. The temperature was well into the 30s so I went for the circuit.
This path is not an easy option. Apart from being a much longer route it contours around he mountain going in and out of every gully and crossing countless scree slopes and rock falls. Most of these have well flattened and visible paths through but it is still possible to lose the path.  It was about 67-00pm when I reached Refuge de Bonne Aigue. This is an unstaffed shepard’s hut and a family were in occupation. I hadn’t been intending to use the hut but wanted a flat area near it to camp and to make use of the water source nearby.
The only flat spot for a tent was on the edge of the forest track running past the refuge. This had clearly been used before. The views from this spot are exceptional. I was invited into the hut by the family for a cup of coffee which I gladly accepted and enjoyed teaching their child a few words of English. My attempts at a singalong  were a bit less successful.

Day 35 Bonne –Aigue to  somewhere between Batere and Arles sur Tech.
A vast sea of mist filled the valleys next morning with the most magnificent cloud inversion. I was so pleased to be above it. Mountain peaks looked like islands and valleys and gorges, fjords.  The day would start with a climb before dropping to refuge de Cortalets. I hoped to do this stage quickly so wasn’t planning to stop on the ascent.
Just at the orry (ancient cabin) I met Carlos. I asked him about the path ahead and he replied, ‘let’s have a cup of tea’. He dug out his stove and I dug out my tea bags and we had a wonderful chat about the hills, photography and life in general. He was a very skilled photographer and carrying an even heavier camera than mine. He told me of his visits to England and photography workshops he had attended.
On the decent towards Cortalets I met a steady stream of people heading up Canigou.  One man asked me if there was a water source ahead. He was climbing the mountain on a scorchingly hot day with two children and no water. I told him about a water source mentioned in the guide book but advised him to return to the refuge and stock up with water there and start again. I thought the risks of dehydration and exhaustion were all too real.
Young sanglier
I refilled my bottle at the refuge and carried on. Canigou is a massive mountain. In reality I had been on it since shortly after leaving Py and would still be on it when I reached Mines de Batere. The path continued to contour around the hill. Many of the streams were dry but occasionally the path would cut into a gully blessed by the water god and crowned with trees. At one of these I stopped and met two women who at first seemed to resent my intrusion. They told me they had walked from Hendaye and when I mentioned that I was following a similar trail their mood relaxed. Carlos had told me of a hippy camp between Batere and Arles sur Tech where he had stopped and I shared the information with them.
The climb to Batere is through trees which provided welcome shade but the day was starting to cool by the time I was in the open again. I was now very conscious of the scarcity of water.
The ground levels out on a grassy plain and there is a water pipe flowing from a stream by the path. Another couple were already camped there and though tempted to stop, I decided to carry on. I was ahead of schedule and would reach  Amelie on time. I called at the Gite hoping to eat there but they were not serving food yet, so again I carried on.
The path continues through a long valley. A long dry valley. I kept a look out for water and flat ground to pitch on but found nothing until I reached the place Carlos had told me of. The people there were very welcoming but were themselves short of water and worried about being able to stay there for much longer without it. They were mostly local people who had cars and were able to fetch what they needed. I was given a large bottle of chilled water and camped nearby. I was up and gone in the morning before my hosts had risen.

Looking back towards Amelie les Bains

Day 36  to Camping Vallespir.
Over 40 degrees at 4-00 o'clock.

I continued down the path towards Arles. I was approaching civilization. I was dropping in altitude, Arles is below 300m. Evidence of mountain biking and campfires was frequent. However as I walked along I heard shuffling in the undergrowth and as I looked I disturbed three young sanglier, the first I had seen on my journey. I even managed a rather blurry photograph of one. I hope the hunters don’t find them.
I walked into Arles and took the road to Amelie. About halfway I arrived at Camping Vallespir and booked in. This was a welcoming family campsite, but it is probably not the best for hikers in the area. It was expensive at 20 euros per night. The pitches provided little shelter from the sun. It was close to the river where you could swim and  had a decent cafe.
Border stone
By lunchtime my tent was pitched and I was tucking into a pizza. My partner would arrive the next day and I had 24 hours to rest, wash and clean some clothes. I was somewhat lighter and hairier than when we had parted nearly 6 weeks earlier.
Jane arrived the next day on a 1euro bus from Perpignan. She had booked an apartment for 10 days starting later that week so that we could have a holiday together at the end of my walk. The temptation to hang around for a few days was strong and with temperatures now in the low 40s, irresistible.  We spent three nights in the campsite and moved into the apartment. The weather forecast that evening was for a cold front bringing rain and strong winds over the next few days.  This offered a big improvement on the heat wave and I set off the next morning to complete the walk. I anticipated completing in three days but did it in two.
Day 37 Amelie Les Bains to wild camp beyond Col du Perthus
The day started with a long slow climb out of Amelie to Roc de Frausa (Roc de France). This follows the original HRP route and has many redundant faded markers on it. The climb is gentle, through woodland and easy to follow. Near the rock the path meets the redirected GR10 and there is no obvious route through to the rock. This is the international boundary and the HRP at this stage crosses into Spain. True to form the GR10 backs away from anything so daring. I met a couple of walkers doing a section  of  the GR10 who had come up from Arles. Their plan was to carry on to Col Del Pou de la Neu, cross into Spain and return into France at Coll de Lli. So even committed GR10 walkers were using the more interesting and shorter routes that crossed into Spain.
Col de Lli
I wished to walk alone and parted company with them. The route around to Coll de Lli is unexciting being mostly through forest and on forest tracks. The col though was for me both the dullest and most interesting of the walk. I couldn’t recognise it as a col at all, It was a route through an old gate at the back of a house. But this gate had been the escape route for many Catalan republicans escaping Franco to  the nearby village of Las Illas in France, their welcoming place of refuge. Memorials have been placed on both sides of the fence and only these memorials indicate to the passing stranger that this is an international boundary. This was the only crossing of the boundary I found on my walk that was indicated on the ground and that is a tribute to those who resisted fascism.
Beware nudists!
I carried on to Las Illas but didn’t stop. The promised rain arrived but didn’t slow me down. Here the walk took me through a naturist reserve where signs warned me not to take photographs. The rain and mist would anyway have frustrated any attempts. The permissive path through the reserve lasts for 5 kilometres through which I did not meet another person.
The path then drops down to the road and leads to Col del Perthus. There is a military fort and cemetery and a number of historical remains.  I had braced myself to expect the worst of Col del Perthus having read about it as a border shopping mall on a motorway. Yes the road was a bit disturbing but I was able stop to buy food and eat some fruit and get out of the town easily without trauma. I was very satisfied with my progress but it was evening and I decided that I would camp now where ever I could find a suitable spot.
I took the D71 out of Perthus. The road climbs in zigzags across a steep slope and I was beginning to worry if I would find a safe place to stop when I came to an old disused barn. There was a flat area to the rear of the barn where I was able to camp. The wind was strengthening and I was glad to have some shelter from the building and put out some extra guy lines. As the sun set I had an amazing view back across to Canigou.

Day 38 Wild Camp to Banyuls Sur Mer.
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I started early and was confident I would reach the sea today and texted Jane to let her know. I continued up the road for a while before entering woods where the track was poorly marked but made my way through to Saint Martin de l’Albere. I was now following signs for the Gite on Col de l’Ouillat leading up a wooded slope. This was another refuge with road access and true to expectation the day trippers were gathering and the bar was doing business. I stopped to refill my water bottle but was not inclined to stay longer.
The path carried on uphill and turned towards a transmitter mast at the summit. From here I had my first view of the sea. The route from here to Banyuls is magnificent and follows a ridge most of the way. The path remains high (relatively) providing excellent views across flat lands of southern France and northern Spain. The route hugs the boundary which is marked by old rusting fenceposts.
A warning.
 I found the geology reminiscent of Cornwall with great outcrops of rock, though mostly limestone rather than granite. I took lunch in the shelter of an outcrop at Pic Quatre des Termes where the wind threatened to clean me off the hillside.
The sun was bright and the wind was punishing. This last day was not going to be an easy downward saunter into town. It was long and challenging and when I reached the campsite at Banyuls my legs could take me no further.
The last couple of miles were on road and only the sight of the sea mitigated this.
The campsite was on barren stony ground (where seeds wither and die) and I had trouble getting pegs into the ground. A pizza van was based on the site so I was able to eat and have a couple of beers (to replenish minerals) before bedding down. I didn’t go straight to the sea, I left that treat until morning. I had arranged to meet Jane at Colioure up the coast from Banyuls and would get a bus.
I had actually considered changing my route at the end to drop down into Collioure rather than Banyuls, but having had Banyuls in my sights for so long couldn’t do it. I do think it is an option though.
My experience next morning was different from the accounts I had read of other walkers. Helpfully the campsite provides a street map showing the shortest route to the shore. I arrived early when few people were on the beach. There was no brass band waiting for me and I will have looked odd compared to the few people around sunbathing but I didn’t have to pick my way through crowds to reach the water.
I have arrived
I knew something about myself now that I didn’t know before. I knew I could walk from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean along a 500 mile chain of rugged mountains. A certain song by the Proclaimers filled my head.

My gear,
I’m often asked how my gear worked. It all worked well though I would make different choices with hindsight. The one piece that failed totally and potentially very expensively, was my camera strap. This was an expensive Black Rapid Sport used by professionals. On my second last day the shackle holding my camera came apart through wear and dropped my camera on the ground. Thankfully this was on soft grass and not steep scree where I might have lost it completely. It was a new strap at the beginning of the walk. By the end it was scrap.

Check out the panoramic view here The original is a 45 mega pixel image.