Crossing the Albères

This poem was written some time ago at HMP Highpoint but was recently modified and not just for poetic reasons. We used to live in the early 90s below the border between France and Spain in a village called Laroque des Albères and I had to refer to maps to which I had no access at Highpoint. I dedicate this to Jen Scotney, who has been gracious enough to befriend me on Twitter and spends a lot of her time running on what the English call mountains (ie hills below 1000 metres of altitude), though I’m sure she does real mountains as well. I’m a little too old to run these days but I still get tremendous pleasure from feeling at one with nature, using my human engine to speed walk and needing nothing but natural resources as the ancients would have done. I know that she understands all that.

Crossing the Albères


Between Mediterranean and Pyrenees

Arise the astounding Albères

Overlooking the plain of Roussillon

And the Catalan, La Jonquère


A boundary built on tectonic plates

That separate Spain from France

A formidable force that for no man waits

Beauty built by geological chance


By misty morning I make the climb

As the road through Laroque turns to trail

Where others have passed since distant time

Each rocky outcrop tells its tale


Following the shallow, shimmering stream

Irrigating the gardens below

A real estate speculator’s dream

Where figs and olives once would grow


Here ancient man used to work the land

Cork oaks left among phantom crops

Signs of abandoned toil still stand

Ancient craft discarded for bottle tops


Horsewhips from micocoulier were made

In primitive workshops around Sorède

Those artisans may have been poorly paid

But their skills lie buried with the long since dead


Beehives still kept out of visitors’ reach

Now produce only connoisseur’s honey

While tourists flock to Argelès beach

To spend technology’s hard-earned money


Climbing I move from dark to light

My thirst quenched from eternal fountains

Then back into the forest night

Within the shadow of the magnificent mountains


Rising higher and higher, the trees more rare

The scent of different plants abounds

Breathing the wonderful wilderness air

All that’s heard are nature’s sounds


Natural barriers at every turn

Fallen trees and rocks and an old bull

Who roams wild – from the villagers we learn –

Those huntsmen who, sadly, relish the cull


By trees and rocks, the trace remains

Of these men who’ve killed by so-called right

Their empty bottles and rusty cans

All that remains of an unfair fight


But soon the climb becomes too steep

Arms supplement legs and feet

To a path between the boulders I keep

That I might my self-made schedule meet


Finally, the soaring summit I attain

Pic Neulos marks the border

The vista, vast, over France and Spain

Of sea, of sun, and natural disorder


Then descending by the tarmacked road

Much quicker than the track

By Spanish fields, all ploughed and mowed

Travelling fast, not looking back


Arriving, at last, at Le Perthus

The sight of a semblance of civilisation

The restaurant, Chez Grande Mère serves us

A well-earned revitalisation


May you all experience the satisfaction

Of human travel with no motorised tools

Far from the cities’ putrefaction

And those sun-soaked visitors and drunken fools


For to come to these parts without crossing that line

Though their children are drawn to the beach

Is like looking for gold in a deep coal mine

When nature’s diamonds are within one’s reach

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