Brian Madden writes:
We arrived in Barcelona on 27 April, picked up some rented cars, and drove north. It was the feast-day of Our Lady of Montserrat, so we stopped off there, and spent a very pleasant hour with a lot of others who were celebrating the feast-day there. We arrived in Pallarols in the late afternoon, and hiked up to St Raphael's Cabin, where Fr Gavan celebrated Mass for us.
There were eleven in the party, all regular hikers, and our objective was to walk parts of the Andorra Trail over four days. The plan was to stay in the very hospitable Hotel del Llac in Coll de Nargo. From there, we would drive to our start point each day, do the hike, and then be picked up by local taxi at the finish point. This would get the party back to the Hotel, and the drivers back to the start point to collect the cars. It was a bit complicated, but it did work!
Our first hike started at Torrent. At Ribalera, Fr Gavan celebrated Mass on the rock where in 1937 St Josemaria said his last Mass before reaching Andorra four days later. It brought to mind the 'Mass Rock' of eighteenth century Ireland, when Mass was forbidden, and had to be secretly celebrated in hidden places in the mountains. We all found the Canal de Jaca ascent very challenging, but soon we were moving more comfortably across the slopes of Aubenc. After this, the way became more difficult due to the large number of trees, which had fallen in the recent snows and windstorms. We eventually reach l'Oliva where we met our taxi.
Next day, Sunday, started with very heavy rain. Jordi Piferrer had stayed overnight with us in the Hotel de Llac, and he invited us to visit the Rectory of Pallarols. This was really interesting, and with Jordi's explanations, and the magnificent presentation of photos and artefacts, everyone began to piece together the history of the 1937 expedition. The rain was continuing, so we drove over to Fenollet for a nice lunch provided by Rosa. Before that, Fr Gavan was able to celebrate Mass in the small chapel located in the Fenollet complex. The rain eventually stopped, so we had a short and pleasant afternoon climb to the summit of Santa Fe.
Monday's hike was from Riu de Cabo to Noves de Segre. The ascent of Ares was long and tedious, but the weather was perfect for hiking. Arriving at the deserted village of Ares, we found an old church, which had a somewhat ruinous altar. Nevertheless, we found it possible to have Mass there. The rest of the hike to Noves de Segre was straightforward, although there were places close to Cal Barida, where the vegetation had overcome the track. We just kept pushing through!
We were planning to return to Dublin on Tuesday 1 May, but we still had time for a short section of the route. This time we started at Riu de Civis, climbed over the Cabra Morta, and ended up at Argollel, just at the border of Andorra. Then we climbed into our cars and headed back to Barcelona, and the flight to Dublin.
It was a wonderful five days and four nights, and as evidenced by the short testimonies at the start of this account, everyone was very pleased with the experience. The marking of the Trail with the blue and yellow paint was excellent.
Our particular thanks to Jordi for his advice, his maps and his guide book. Our thanks also to Miquel and Marc Finestres and his parents who made us so welcome at the Hotel del Llac.
We are looking forward to our next visit to the Andorra Trail.