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Wolseley – Grau Roig – 1926

Published in Inter-Comm Spring 1994

1926 Wolseley on track to Grau Roig

More about Roads in Andorra

An article in the last issue of this magazine commented on motoring into Andorra in the 1950’s There are some earlier reports on the subject of roads and motoring in Bernard Newman’s book on Andorra, published in 1928, and describing his visits here before that date. (However he was not an enthusiastic motorist, and clearly thought that the true way to visit Andorra was to walk, preferably from Ax-les-Thermes or Mont Louis, even Escaldes was only a forty minute walk away from the capital.) Newman relates that the Bishop of Urgel opposed a French proposal of 1893 to construct a telegraph line to Andorra la Vella, and adds that earlier this century “ theFrench proposal that a road should be cut into Andorra, branching off the main road from Ax-les_Thermes to Bourg Madame. The Spanish party objected, on the grounds that it was undesirable to open the gates of Andorra to foreigners. Yet a year or two later the capital of the vally was connected to Urgel by road. Some of the dignity of Andorran independence is necessarily lost by these unworthy squabbles” So in 1928 Newman wrote that there were only two roads into Andorra (which will not surprise us today) From France, he wrote, “the road has been constructed in a rough and ready fashion as far as Soldeu, which you can reach if you have a good car and a very good driver. I would recommend no one who is not a really good driver to attempt the Embalmira pass. There a second’s fluster or carelessness would mean disaster. From Soldeu a mule track leads to Encamp. The map shows first and second class mule tracks, and this one is shown as in the former class. From Seo d’urged the other road went as far as Encamp. There was a regular autos service, three times a day, to Andorra la Vella, and even to Encamp. The bus service, be it noted, and for lengthy periods are impassable for wheeled traffic. A friend of mine had the honour of driving the first “baby Austin” into Andorra, to the intense surprise of the inhabitants … the passes, whilst exacting, are by no means impossible. The Austin mounted them without failure”. The friend reached Toulouse from London in six days, went to Foix on the seventh, and on the eight (presumably in the summer) drove to Soldeu, and back to Bourg Madame.  Later he entered Andorra from Seo d’urged and stayed at Les Escaldes, “where there are two or three little hotels which are quite clean and reasonably comfortable, with pension terms of 12 pesetas a day and accommodation at other Andorran inns was not quite as bad as it had been painted.”

Whilst in Andorra, Newman met the President and members of the general Council (Concell General). One member complained of the opening of Andorra. “But why did you allow the road to Seo d’Urgel to be build?”, I asked, “or even the road from Soldeu over the Embalira?” “Ah”’ he replied. “very few people in Andorra favoured either scheme. But France and the Bishop are very strong, and we could not resist”. When Newman said that their grandfathers had resisted, the reply was, again, that France and the Bishop were now very strong. This, possibly prejudiced, view was not allowed to go unchallenged. Newman was unable to see the Bishop, as he was away, but his “chaplain” received me with the upmost courtesy.. We discussed Andorra at great length, and I found that he had every detail of its history and constitution at his fingertips. He was very sympathetic with the Andorrans, and remarked that the Bishop was determined to protect them against French aggression. This struck me as being something of a coincidence, for in Perpignan I found that the French officials were very sympathetic with the Andorrans and fully determined to protect them against the Spanish aggression. Newman looked to the future “The question of the construction of the road between Encamp and Soldeu will probably agitate Andorran politics for some years to come. If the road were completed, Andorra’s seclusion would be gone forever. The passes of the Pyrenees suited to motor traffic are so few that they are much used. And in a case of war between Franc and Spain the pass would offer an irresistible temptation. It is often asserted that the Andorrans have opposed construction of roads because it would interfere with the smuggling traffic. This is picturesque, but absurd. The smuggling traffic in cattle has been facilitated considerably by the construction of roads. The principal route, whether it be metalled road or mule track”  And there are other dangers: “The unbeaten tracks of the Pyrenees are not without their minor dangers, I have never yet encountered a bear or wolf, but have met snakes in plenty. Once I was bitten by a small viper when ten kilometres from the nearest house. That was one of the few occasions when I wished that I were not alone. an old man in Massana showed with pride the skin of a bear which his son had killed. But within a few more generations the bear and the wolf will be extinct in the Pyrenees.” Nevertheless tourism existed: :Since it is so easily to reached from the Spanish side, rich Spaniards from Northern Spain pay flying visits in their cars, a visitor is no novelty – the capital will have as many as a dozen a week.” Perhaps we would do better without a road through Andorra?”

Richard Hooper  Inter-Comm spring 1993