Monday, 11 February 2008

Bienvenue en France

Having read the web diary, it seems that Mark went on yesterday a little further than the GPS tracker led us to believe and that he stopped overnight just a few kilometres short of the French border in the village of Luzaide....The image above, sourced from Flickr, gives some impression of the terrain he tackled at the end of the day yesterday ! At this altitude (over 1000m) in the Pyrenees the predominant land use is woodland and pasture. It is, on average, 6 degrees cooler up here than at sea level and this dramatically shortens the growing season. In addition there is little flat land. However, it is also very wet! This area receives between 1500 and 2000mm of rain with no seasonal let -up. Rain bearing winds enter the Bay of Biscay from the Atlantic and there is nowhere for them to go except up. Believe me - this is the voice of experience talking. A camping holiday in the Western Pyrenees should not be undertaken lightly!

Shortly after setting out this morning, Mark crossed the French border. It is strange to think that after six months of watching him cross national borders, this is the last one. Of all the borders he crossed, I think it was the one between Turkey and Iran which sticks most in my mind. You can reread the relevant post here . At the time it seemed to me to be a crossing into the unknown and yet, as things turned out, both for Mark on the ground and for me 'virtually', Iran was a revelation and probably the place on his route which I'd most now like to visit. But I digress.......

The image right shows the border crossing which Mark would have passed through this morning before entering the region of Aquitaine and the département of Pyrenees Atlantiques. The administrative division of France is quite complicated but basically there are 22 regions which are sub-divided into 96 départments. These in turn are further sub divided into arondissements, cantons and communes. This hierarchical administrative system is explained here and the map below links to a website offering clickable maps of regions and départements....
Despite a cold start to the day, it looks as if the high pressure is, as predicted, holding fast. The satellite image left, courtesy of the Met Office, shows clear skies over Western Europe extending over the UK - except for the fog bank over eastern Scotland!

Isobars are still widely spaced meaning light winds and with the pressure situation not predicted to change much all week, the weather is likely to stay fine with sunshine predicted for Paris all week until Friday and beyond. So for those bound for Paris, the good news is that you shouldn't require your brollies!

By lunchtime today, Mark was already at Orthez....
Interestingly, when you read the web diary for today, there is a suggestion that after descending the north side of the Pyrenees, Mark was surprised by the very rolling nature of the terrain in eastern Aquitaine. The Pyrenees are drained by many rivers which flow north and west towards the Bay of Biscay, each separated by higher interfluve areas, so unfortunately he was cutting across all of these valleys and ridges as he cycled towards Orthez. The little clouds on the map above mark out these areas of higher ground where rising air has led to condensation of water vapour in air which has probably come in from the west.

Orthez itself is situated at a bridging point on one of these rivers - the Gave de Pau. Unfortunately, as you can see below, the boundary between some low res imagery (left) and high res imagery (right) cuts right through the town...

However, the imagery was evidently captured at different seasons and so provides a contrast between the greening fields of spring and the harvested fields of mid summer.

Beyond Orthez there is a pronounced change of land use as Mont de Marsan is approached. It is very clearly visible from 'space' as a dark triangle pushing in from the coast...
This is the Landes - an extensive area of managed pine forest which dates from the 18th century.... "Most of the region now occupied by the Landes forest was swampy land that was sparsely inhabited until the 19th century. The forest was planted to rehabilitate the landscape and provide for regional economic development. Since the 1970s, parts of the forest have given way to intensive agriculture (in particular, grain farming.)Many local people are still employed in forest-related pursuits, including forestry, sawmills and papermills, woodcrafts and fabrication of paper-based products."

It's almost like being back in the southern states if the USA again! If you'd like to get a better impression of the landscape of this quite unique corner of France, click here to take a virtual walk through the pine forests.

According to the web diary, Mark reached Roquefort this evening - not the Roquefort but one of at least another three in France which carry the same name.

The 'big picture' today is very reassuring as the head and tail of the blue line draw ever closer together .....
However, I thought you might also like to see a couple of images of our very low tech tracker at school. In August the map was covered in a trail of yellow pins, which one by one have given way to red...... ...and now there are only two more to go.....








3 comments:

TecnoTeach said...

Two more pins to go - it is very exciting seeing this visual aspect of the journey. Can I ask, who is putting hte final red pin in if you are not there?

Mrs Tonner (Ted's Mum)

Justin said...

Dear Mrs V

Before the end of this epic journey (when the plaudits will be coming thick and fast) may I take this opportunity to thank you for the creation of the Geoblog.

I have followed your posts regularly and just wish that I had spent more time awake during my geography lessons 25 odd years ago!!

You have turned this fantastic achievement of Mark's into an education and I, for one, am very grateful... Many thanks

Justin (Neighbour of Mark's father at Crowhill)

Mrs V said...

Justin,

Thank you so much for your kind comments. I am delighted that my geographical ramblings have found an audience. As you can imagine, I am very proud to be associated with Mark's incredible journey.

Geo Blog!