Via Tolosana Day 14: … gathers no moss

Fagairolles – Murat-sur-Vèbre 10kms

Awoke at 5.38, fresh from a nice dream about a bearded Netherlander.  That was altogether too early to get up, so I went back to sleep until 7.30am.  That’s more like it!  I wrote my pages and ate cold packet risotto because there was no power. Cold was actually quite good.  I need to buy toothpaste.  I tidied my belongings, pinned my still-cold socks to the backpack with my hat and went outside. The niggling irritation on my heel, ripe for a blister, wasn’t going to go away. I applied some of Isabelle’s Bandaid anti-blister magic.  (It seemed to work, because after 11am I noticed my heel was still OK).  I tried texting the woman who had met me yesterday to tell her about the power, but it didn’t work.

Gite in Fagairolles

Leaving Fagairolles

Ominous silver cloudy sky with sun emerging

Clouds leaving Fagairolees

It was a little strange being in a place out of the way from the route – it almost felt like no-one would find me there.  Maybe that’s what I wanted.  Being alone in my Australian life, I’d made solo living an art form.  I felt like I had come away ready to learn about relationships and compromise. It turned out it was more than that.  I’d taken the first offer of companionship that had come along, just to have company but there was so much compromise, I was totally lost in the equation. Again.  I wasn’t making any time for me.  How often does this happen.  I lose control of my life, for others, and then get angry that ‘they’ve taken my liberty away’, when actually I made the choice not to be free.  I had learned so much in the past few days, that I was happy with the solitude – really happy with it. Despite being a little incognito, it was also reassuring to be joining the GR653 again, although I didn’t see any other walkers on my short jaunt to Murat-sur-Vèbre.

I decided to take the road route, D53 back to the carrefour (crossroad) and I was treated with hedgerows along one side of the road, and open paddocks on the other.  More cows. In the distance more wind turbines. Blackberries – how could I resist when the branch was thrust into my path, and general direction? And more holly. Flies. It was still cloudy and I got rained on a little. A little further along the road, there was a small but poignant memorial to those who had lost their lives in a battle on 23rd August, 1944.  Only 14 days from today’s date. It was hard to imagine the surrounding fields being the site of such carnage and bloodshed – du Ponts de la Mouline.  The information board was graphic in its depiction of troop movements. I’m glad I stopped.

Wind turbines on the horizon

Les Éoliens

Blackberries encroaching the road verge

Blackberries poking themselves in my general direction

Information board about du Pont de la Mouline battle, 1944

du Pont de la Mouline battle, 23rd August 1944, last century

Ginestet sign with the Occitan/Cathar cross

Ginestet sign and Occitan cross – also the Cathar cross

Back into Ginestat for the second time and I find that it is another small hamlet, like Fagairolles only with denser, greener trees. With the moisture, comes moss – it was a theme today. This rolling stone might not be gathering any moss, but she’s certainly seeing lots of it. As I walked, I started to hear the sounds of logging, chainsaws up ahead, and behind me at the intersection, two big logging trucks thundering past.  I could smell the chopped pine wood even from several hundred metres up the valley.  As I climbed higher, I left the workers, for denser forest, and less sealed tracks.  As I did, I was hurrying from one piece of shade from rain to the next, a little as I had done the day before with the sun.  I heard lumberjack voices in the distance shouting instructions to each other. Is ‘lumberjack‘ a funny word, or is it just the connotation it has when you know this song?

Mossy huge beech tree, queen of the forest

Ancient beech tree – queen of the forest avec moss

Forest and road

Forest trees and road

I could have put my pack cover on, but couldn’t be bothered. I passed this strange adventure playground that although looked disused, could have been a fantastic team-bonding site if it didn’t look so post-apocalyptic. I kept walking and entered a really dark, sticky and humid forest of what I was later to work out, were beech trees. The air was still, the trees began sparsely and small at first, but gradually thickened and grew in stature.  The darkness contrasted with the iridescence of the light green leaves gave an other-worldly feeling.  Now I really felt like I was in a Robin Hood episode.  Pine branches unlike I’d seen so far also appeared.  I crossed a creek as the path hair-pinned.  As I ascended up the other side of the creek, the sun began to shine brighter into the canopy. A dappled light shone on my path which was made up of months of leaf litter, making my walk the most soft under foot in my 14 days. Mossy rocks and mossy trees were everywhere.  I switched back a number of times before reaching the top of the hill, the light had grown, and there was also a light breeze.  I’d worn short sleeves today, not expecting much sun. The breeze was fresh on my skin.  The sweat continues but now it cools me. Then up and up towards the more light at the end of the tunnel. I was glad at the top to see a sign forbidding wheeled vehicles of any kind.  I was happy this pristine forest would intended for preservation.  This place was magical. I don’t want to walk away from it, there is something extremely special about it.  Not in a thinking way, I can feel it. I feel calm and safe.  Almost like answered prayer, as I leave it on the crest of the hill, I realise in 50 metres, but wait, there’s more! The track plunged into darkness again, and I am in another beech forest.

Beech forest trail

In a scene from Robin Hood – beech forest

Wide fanned pine branches

Unfamiliar pine branches

Dappled light on beech saplings

Sun-shiny day

Ancient stone walls and beech trees

Ancient stone wall and beech

I hear distant planes overhead. Tall trees, then small ones and I breathe in this beautiful, moist, fresh air.  I follow the Routes des Saints as it coincides with the GR643.  Mossy walls appear in this next part of the forest, a remainder of an ancient time. Red/brown leaves under my feet are slippery from all of the rain.  Bellamy – more inappropriate 80s comedy comes to mind.  I notice a leaf pre-empting autumn – even nature has it’s trailblazers.  There are many rock piles today.

'Bellamy' on a large plastic lid handing on a string fence

Bellamy

Nature's trail blazer - an autumn leaf in summer

Outlier – autumn leaf in summer

Mossy rock with stones piled into pyramid

Rock pile and moss rock

Suddenly the forest is behind me and I have rejoined a farming community.  Wide open fields of crops and more cows.  I see wheat for the first time.

Profile of a pile of sawn logs

Log profile

Still it threatens to rain.  More blackberries, this time with spent honey suckle. I can’t pick the little trumpet flowers, pick the little green bud off the end and pull the stamen out to suck the sweet nectar, they’re all spent.  I am reminded that I’m not far from logging as I enter little Les Senausses.  Yet another quiet hamlet with many town folk outside for some reason – like the whole town. They seem to live a very close existence. I pass a magnificent vegetable garden plot of leeks, strawberries, pumpkin which shows what you can have when you devote time to tending the earth.

Large vegetable garden in back yard

Magnificent garden

I say bonjour a number of times to the people I pass and it is a real contrast to Fagairolles where I only met my hostess and a guy out with his boy on his bike in the afternoon. Some folk end up passing me in their cars on their short drive to Murat.  Just outside, there are more cows with bells – I need more cow bell!  A screeching bird. A Kate Bush pigeon coo-ing, and the constant sound of bees buzzing high in the trees.  More blackberries.

The verge of fresh and old bitumen

The verge

Man on bitumen laying truck

The workers of the world

Part way along the road I came across workers patching the road. It is still misty, and it blows over the road. A field of wheat. Small country road. A big pile of shit. Just at the edge of Les Senausses the saint trail turns left. I continue to Murat – now not much further.

A field of wheat stalks

Wheat?

I turn left at the next junction and walk again on the D922, and the right side has a shoulder, so I take it. La Poste passes me, and the road is quite busy with motorbikes, cars and trucks. There are big lavender bushes on the outskirts. I never saw lavender in Provence, so this was a nice change, and the perfume was gorgeous.

Lavender bushes by the side of the road

Provincial lavender

I continue into Murat and find the supermarket. It is 12pm, so I expect everything will be closed soon, but I just make it in to buy a peach.  I then go to the Mairie and pay my 6.50 euros for my bed for the night.  No, not chambre (room), lit(bed) – as it will always just be a bed in a dorm for that price.  I was to walk back out the council office, then to the left, up some stairs, up the hill, then down under a building.  I found it, up near the community camping ground.  Pelerin accommodation: basic and cheap. Perfect.

Pilgrim accommodation downstairs

Gite pelerins

I am so early that the cleaner is still there. I drop my pack and eat my peach. I close the windows for her as she asked, the floor still a bit wet from the mop.  The dorm is L-shaped and underground. It has a little chill to it.  You enter through the kitchen with a beige macaron tablecloth on the table, and it seems you have everything you need. The laundry is next door, as are the toilets and showers. Showers are reached by taking the key behind the door to unlock the door next to the toilets.

Tablecloth with macarons printed on it

Tablecloth

I go to find lunch, wandering past the ATM – yay, there is instant cash, and it all comes spitting out at me. Thank God!  I found the Office de Tourisme just next door which I’ll return to at 3pm.  I walked up and back along the main street checking lunch options.  I was trying to decide if I’d have a later start the next morning to catch this nice looking Boulangerie, but decided I’d wait.  The owner came along, and even though it had closed for lunch, he asked me if I wanted anything.  How great is that!  I’d been thinking the sandwich, biscuit and boisson option looked good for 4.50 euros, so that’s what I got.  He went in through the garage and got my lunch for me. What a kind man. I must really look like a pilgrim!

I walked back along the main drag to where I’d seen a sign for a public park and descended the steps into it.  I walked right to the back of it where there was a ricketty picnic table under a tall mulberry tree. Bellamy – the real one hopped into the next door paddock. I sat and ate my saucisson baguette and almond biscuit and drank Orangina while writing my journal.  This is truly the life.  I am so grateful to be going my own way.  Any trepidation about this has now passed.  Here’s to a great camino!  The town is quiet: everyone lunches here. I love a society that organises itself around a two hour lunch break. How civilised!

I walked back to the Gite communal, showered with a camping ground shower – ie. one that you push the button which lasts for 10 second, then it goes off, and washed my clothes in one of many big porcelein sinks in the large laundry room.  I thought it would be a good idea to get some Arnica lotion to rub on my muscles, but ended up getting Weleda oil.  After the supermarket opened again I bought food for today and tomorrow. I feel more prepared now.

I went to the Office de Tourisme to book to nights ahead. Jacques I had texted “Paths are easier now. In Angles with Jacques. You have to ring to be at the municipal.” The young woman was Jack (or maybe Jacqueline) of all trades. She doubles as La Poste staffer as well. I remembered I still need toothpaste.  Charlotte was a wonderful help. She booked my next nights for me.  I also asked her about getting to Carcassonne and Lourdes, and whether there were communal gites for St Jacques pilgrims. I knew it was a long shot – everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – aren’t they? She was so helpful, and told me a little about the megaliths that were were upstairs in the museum.  I wrote glowing comments on some forms she gave me about her service.  And I used wifi briefly, tried to blog, but it wasn’t cooperating, so I just checked email and instead decided to go upstairs to the museum. At first Charlotte said there were no tickets (I like to collect souvenirs as I go), but she said she had old ones and she’d find one before I came back down.  She explained about the Visigoths who had come from Western Europe prior to the Romans.

The exposed beams of the Tourist Office building

Like a boat

Murat Menhir museum - giant stones in the museum

Menhir museum – Office de Tourisme, Murat

I decided to walk early tomorrow.  I’d also planned out my next week of walking as I’d started to realise if I didn’t plan a little, I might not make it to Somport in time to get back to the conference in London in the second week of September.  I went to buy a baguette and went back to make dinner. I got a pre-packaged meal, but bought extra broccoli which I steamed.  There was jam in the fridge to have on the baguette in the morning, and coffee in the cupboard.  I’m not so practiced at making the drip coffee, but I’ll give it a go. A coffee is a good start to a walking day, so I’d found out.

It was still really light when I went to bed at 8.30pm. I should’ve closed the shutters on the outside of the windows, as the streetlights were bright.  And, I was a little silly, and I’d sent back my eye-patch to Paris.  It would turn out that I needed it more than once, and instead had broken sleep.  I was also a little cold, and had that kind of sleep you have when you are slightly too cold to be comfortable, but never get up to do anything about it!