Taunted by the Pyrenees mountains and itching to climb one we figured a nice trip up La Rhune in a rickety old train was a good idea. Especially given the surf was flat for a week. Little did we know we would be the youngest on the train by numerous decades and that this outing would end up on a surprise pilgrimage to Pamplona.
The carriages smelt of century old wood and the elder generations stared at our speedy use of technology. As soon as the ascent started things got arrestingly beautiful. Thankfully our nimble legs meant we could run ahead at the summit and explore the rocky landscape away from fellow passengers.
There isn't a whole lot at the summit, you can eat and drink, admire the 900m view or learn something from the few locals. Ponies up here aren't interested in being friends even if you speak French and offer apples...
There was also hundreds of Cairns strewn across the summit, which makes sense given the abundance of stone to stack. After two hours of peaceful exploration we were back down the mountain. On the slow moving train home there was a heated debate on whether to jump off and walk down just for kicks but the sighting of an Eagle squashed the debate. Clearly we hadn't scratched our itch for the Pyrenees mountains.
We returned to our van and it was time to make a new plan, back to the flat sea or into the high mountains? I'd heard Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (meaning at the foot of the pass) was a beautiful valley so we decided to go.
We arrived after an hour drive and it was like history had slapped us in the face. We explored the old town and citadel that was once the capital of Lower Navarre, where the quaint streets have barely changed for hundreds of years. The Sheriff's citadel and stately old gaff on top of the hill is now a school where no student will ever escape over the huge walls.
We noted rugged ramblers everywhere with large shells on their bags. A bit of Google cramming later revealed this town as part of a well trodden (since 950AD) and epic (770 kilometres) pilgrimage to the Santiago de Compostela in North West Spain. Apparently plenty of people (200,000 per year) are still mad for this walking odyssey and many start their journey here.
We wanted to retrace the steps of bygone generations on the Camino pilgrimage. So we set off following the shell insignia, in the hope of finding a hiking adventure.