Murat-sur-Vèbre to La Salvetat-sur-Agout 20 kms
It was easy to get up a 6 am this morning – I couldn’t bear to be in bed any longer. I’d been in bed for over 9 hours, but had woken several times through the night, after I had finally got to sleep, and each time I couldn’t work out whether I was hot or cold. Whatever, I was not comfortable. I find it restrictive to sleep in the orange cocoon of Filipino material that a student activist, Malou, had given me on my first night in Manila all those years ago (1991) when I visited as a student activist exchangee. It is a sheet sewn into a tube, but just that little bit too short, so I have a fine balance between having my feet covered and the top pulled up near my face. It has a rip in it, which continues to grow with each use, so when I turn in the night, I am conscious to turn carefully so as not to completely tear this thinning sheet to shreds.
However, once out of bed, and dressed, I successfully made a filter coffee (coffee and paper provided) and sat at the kitchen table of perfect height, and wrote my pages. I should have measure it, because with the chair it was really comfortable. My baguette with half fraises (strawberry) and half abricot (apricot) jam (both in the fridge) went down really nicely with the coffee (the first I’d had since sweet Hugo had bounded up to us to offer us some from his thermos).
My pages remind me I’d sent an email to Jacques when I arrived at Murat the afternoon before, “Hi Jacques, happily arrived in Murat, and installed in the site nice and early. Washing done, shopping done and morning pages and journal done for today. Just about to start writing more blog. I am feeling much better on my own. Sorry our ‘ways’ don’t coincide as you would like. After Toulouse I’ll be taking that side trip to Carcassonne. I don’t expect to catch ‘the two Jacques’ again as I am taking it easy. Around 20kms/day seems to suit me, although today I only did 11kms. Thanks for the tip about booking Angles – I have booked ahead for both there and Salvetat. The Office of Tourism are always so helpful.”
I decided this morning I needed a sound track while packing and cleaning my teeth. It was pretty unoriginal as it is just my iTunes list starting from ‘a’, but it was helpful to start the morning being reminded “nothing’s gonna change my world” by the Beatles and Jai Guru Deva,
Pools of sorrow waves of joy
Are drifting through my opened mind
Possessing and caressing me … Jai Guru Deva, om
and then Kate Bush “I feel I want to be up on the roof, I feel I gotta get up on the roof“, which because I didn’t know what the lyrics were, sounded very much like getting up on the road! I laugh at myself now.
I tidied up after myself and started my days walk at 7.15am. Looking south, wind turbines again poked their rotor blades over the hill quite close. I could have gone back out of town the way I’d come in because the route bypassed Murat, but I decided to continue forward rather than back and made my way out along the main road, until I met the church and turned left at another big Chemin de Compostelle sign. It felt right. Over the river the track turned into a vegetated one – full shade, but mostly because the sun wasn’t quite up yet. Charlotte at the Office de Tourisme said that I’d be in shade today, and she wasn’t wrong. She said she had done a part of the way on her horse, as she moved it between agistments. I didn’t end up putting my hat on until 11.00am.
Continuing in cow country, the agricultural smells remained with me, as did the flies, although they seemed more interested in the dung than me. Considering the large amount of farm land I’ve been traversing, I feel like I will have collected half of the south of France’s cattle industry on my hiking boots. I’ll have plenty to declare to customs.
I notice the moon is at about 1pm in the sky – it hasn’t left for the day yet. It stayed with me in that position until Villelongue, then I left it behind. I walk along the road for a while and pass an old cement seat that reminded me of women skeleton’s waiting on the side of a road for a ‘decent man’. I don’t know why that came to me then. I hope it is not prophetic. The long shadows of morning continue to accompany me as I walk past a new house, something that looks a little strange here. I got to Candoubre and was disappointed to see I’d missed another dolmen. Maybe next time I’ll take a dolmen walking tour.
The paths continue in shade and relative darkness and the air is crisp for the first few hours. The theme for today is creek crossings and damp paths. A long way before I got to an ancient settlement, I started seeing many, many paths and sections of ancient walls in various states of repair, although it doesn’t look like anyone has paid any attention to them in centuries. I wondered what this place was called.
Walking alone, I’m appreciating the signs. They guide my direction and once I’ve made a turn, they confirm I’m on the right track. Life is like that. I can remember when I was considering a change to leave Adelaide to study baroque cello in Sydney, I was late for a quartet gig. In the 5 years I’d been gigging with Aurora Strings, I had never got to a gig so late that the group had to start without me. I was staying only 10 minutes away from the city, but for some reason, the taxi was late, and it took half an hour to get to the gig. The cogs of time start to slow, and it is like a bad dream where you just can’t get to an airport quick enough to catch a plane. It is like the universe slowing everything down for you and saying “here, do you get it now? This is no longer working for you. Don’t you think you need a change?” With experience I have learned to discern sign like these which point to a change of direction. When you have the courage to make that change, things keep happening to suggest you have taken the right path. Small connected events then occur which when you look back, make you realise the path was guided in a way. I had the feeling I was being followed this morning and I found myself checking over my shoulder often. Nothing came of it. Maybe it was my guides.
I think about the guidance I have received on this way, and continue to. I think about Sonia. It comes to me that she smiles with her whole being. I come across a 4WD next to a creek, no driver in sight. Perhaps they are fishing. I admit, vehicles out in the middle of nowhere do make me nervous. There were quite a few marks on the track. Later it became apparent they were made by a motorbike.
When the sun came up higher, the freshness was replaced by humidity. More of Charlotte’s Webs grab me. I find a little track after seeing cows and then come to a grassy clearing decorated with a rock in the middle. It reminds me of the Kröller-Müller Museum sculpture garden. A tractor seat provides a quirky ending to the path as it hits the road.
Butterfly bushes, their aroma overpowering in this humid warm air. Onto the D162C, then quickly back off again onto a path that the Dodo says is going to take me next to the lake. My feet revel in the springy peaty paths – they are so much better for my feet. At some points it feels like I’m walking on a mattress. Someone has chosen to signpost a ‘Chene Remarkable’ – isn’t every oak tree remarkable – I remember my oak heritage and the Paris restaurant, Bistro au Vieux Chêne. After a while following the mossy edged paths, the tree canopy starts to tease me with little views of a lake. But I don’t get to see it properly until I come to a corner of a number of tracks which open out onto the beach.
I decide to take my morning tea as the setting is just beautiful and the sun has not found this corner of the world yet. I walk across the narrow pebbly beach and find a big rock to sit on. I sit for a few minutes just watching the lake’s stillness and movement. While I sit there I feel the fresh morning air being pushed away by a warm breeze. The red van with campers, the big house with joggers emerging to start their run all take my attention on the other side.
After eating the other half of my walnut biscuit from lunch yesterday, I happen to look down to my left, at the stones near my pack because I caught a glimpse of something moving. I thought it may be a skink, but it wasn’t. It was the tiniest little frog I’d ever seen. About a centimetre long. At first it was reluctant to come closer, and froze when I put out my finger, but after a while it climbed closer to my pack. We enjoyed each other’s company for a time, but I chose to put on my pack when it seemed to coming so close that I was scared I’d trample it when I got up to leave if I stayed longer. I bid it farewell.
On I went along a track which diverted a little way from the lakeside, and up a really steep incline where obviously motorbikes had ‘cut loose’. More rocks, more ancient, mossy, stone buildings. Another view of the lake had me singing Highland Cathedral again. I crossed a cute little footbridge over a creek, made cuter by a little sign on each side naming it Pont de Robert. I remembered another lovely dining experience in Paris at Robert et Louise. I looked through the trees towards the lake, I could still glimpse it between the leaves. The beautiful lake.
Villelongue looks to be a lovely town from a distance. I could see it now. The covered green path has given way to a more open lakeside track and the sun is up. Another man is standing by the lakeside with a fishing rod – a recurring theme today. It is a bit difficult to have a lake with out fishermen I reckon. I remember I saw a fisherman on my first walk day. I’m reminded of Mal Webb’s song, One Man’s Fish is another Man’s Poisson which I feel is abundantly apt for right here, right now! I walk about 30 metres away from this guy. He has come to this spot in a little tinny which is moored nearby. I call out in my strange French,
“Le poisson bien?”
“No” he answers
“Je suis désolé!” I commiserate
“Pas grave” (it is not a problem) he says
“Silence, reste, calme” I call back.
“Oui”, he nods.
I think this is what Henry Thoreau was alluding to when he said, “Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
I continue around the lake and say bonjour to two guys and their dog walking the other way. Instead of turning away from the lake with the path, I instead take the opportunity to sit and write. I found a spot on the sand a little way from a mother and her baby boy there to have a play at the beach. Their sweet conversation provides a little sound-track to my journalling. Several walkers go past along the water’s edge. The military planes speed past again, disturbing the tranquility, as they did yesterday in Murat. There are distant sounds of a radio out on the water and a beautiful green bug lands on my cream page. I feel like St Francesca today, attracting lots of animals. Those were the days my friend.
I took a nice break and afterward, made my way into the town along shaded roads, past a camping ground, which was full of retirees and holiday makers. I knew I would be heading towards the church spire I had seen from the lake, and I made my way there. A couple of boys played on the cemetery wall, and there was an eau portable tap on the hall wall. I filled up, then went inside to fill up on statues of saints. St Jacques was there and he was lifting his robes rather suggestively I thought, until I noticed he was pointing to an injury. That’s not the St Jacques I know and love – avec stigmata? Well, a wound at least. I was to find out the truth of this saint a little further on my walk.
As I climbed the paved road from the church, the bells started chiming. I wasn’t quick enough to catch the whole carrion call, but it seemed the more impressive thing about these bells was the long decay of the sound – nearly 30 seconds before it disappeared completely. It is strange the things you remember from your childhood, like my dad being so totally amazed by how long Barbra Streisand held on that note in the middle of Woman in Love. We had the cassette (remember them?) of the Guilty album. He used to time her. I’m not so sure it was just her singing he was so captivated with. A lot of music is about the silence between the notes, but the tension and expectation built by a long note is so evocative! And those key changes. Wow! What a goddess. I digress, or maybe I don’t!
As I turned to record the bells, I caught the breath-taking view of the lake and the direction I had come from. Woodpiles greeted me as I ascended past old stone walls bordering their small laneways, still soft under foot. This has been a real blessing for the day.
I saw this funny white installation on a hill in the distance. It looked satellite, military-ish. Who knows. It might have something to do with the multitudes of jets that constantly fly overhead. More cows. I came across a strange little church, La Jasse da Baccut, half buried in the ground on all sides except one where a path led to a side door. The Dodo marked it as a church, but I’m not so sure. It was tiny. I hummed Ravel’s Bolero.
More piles of rocks, huge old trees and a new kind of GR sign – FF Randonee nailed to trees. Where at some stages there has been a lack of signs, in this leg there are beaucoup (many), giving not only distance, but also hours to the next/previous stop. The problem comes though when you get signage competition, as I did today. Which do you choose to believe? Maybe global warming accounts for the differences in altitude indicated at this junction. I had 5.5kms or 6kms to reach Salvetat – what’s 500 metres between friends? The shaded passages can be a little unnerving, well they were today. I suppose I’d best get used to them, they’ll continue for days I expect. And then, the forest landscape changed and I was in ‘Once Were Forests’ landscape. I found myself walking through a denuded pine landscape in full sun which guaranteed pine-o-clean smells. Even in the dark parts, civilisation was never far away, signalled by more cows and a rooster. I passed a field of some kind of grain, bordered by a crop of potatoes and string beans. Lizards cross my path. A day in nature most certainly!
The little lake near La Moutouse was pretty, however there were a paucity of markers at the settlement. Luckily the route past the couple of gites was fairly obvious. The hydrangeas reminded me of my own beautiful ones at my home in Springbank Rd, Colonel Light Gardens all those years ago now. I love hydrangeas. Those were the days … again. Home grown peaches, that were a little too close to civilisation to pick, and another beautiful butterfly bush, avec des papillons this time.
It was 1.30pm and I wanted lunch. I continued walking past the little settlement but couldn’t find a suitable place to stop. There was no shoulder on the road, and there was no shade where I could have stopped. After several hundred metres, in the warm midday sun, I decided I couldn’t wait for lunch any longer, so I stopped literally on the side of the road. I made my tuna/mayo and fresh tomato baguette, and cleverly licked the lid of the ring-pull can, cutting my lip. It was a bloody great baguette. It was an uncomfortable spot, the road kind of coming out of a bend, and it felt precarious, so I put off my rice pudding dessert. Instead I got up and walked … more. I was getting tired.
Cows again, impressive hay bales and a John Deere tractor that reminded me of my farming family and friends. Then quite an exposed last 2.8kms into La Salvetat-sur-Agout past a crucifix of powerlines carrying energy probably from all the wind turbines. I found a standing stone a menhir, just in a paddock, once again a reminder of ancient times long passed. I still hadn’t left logging country as there were huge piles of wood.
At the point where the shoulder of the road turned mossy as well, I felt I needed help getting home, so onto my iTunes I jumped finding Elvis Costello’s Burt Bacharach album. Toledo was a welcome, if a little twee, addition to my descent into Salvetat. Well, it was about a Spanish citadel, that’s gotta sound a bit relevant. Previously I had thought that it was a bit of a cop out playing your own music, but today, I needed a pick up. Never with earphones though, I spread Burt love all along the road entertaining the birds of prey that circled overhead. My last descent was down one more shaded, wet, large stone pebbly path, damp from previous days of rain into the back end of the town, past vegetable gardens so big, fig tree smells and a lovely sunflower by a wall.
I walked into the business end of town where the Mairie and aged public fountain (1882) resided, conscious that there seemed more of the town up on the hill above. I asked a local where the Office de Tourisme was, and they instructed me to monter the hill. Clearly this was where the action happened. Several supermarkets, boulangeries, charcuteries and many restaurants and even a discotheque with the best medieval statues outside the entrance. It reminded me of Sylvain’s visit to Hobbiton in New Zealand. I past an amusement lane which looked ready for use in another town fetes – maybe it was this weekend. Then, of course, l’église Saint Étienne. Inside I found information about St Jacques.
The Office de Tourisme is in a small building with tall arches that looks like it was at one stage the town market building – les halles (the halls). Guillaume found my booking and I got a key to my ancient apartment. He suggested I settle in while he booked my night in Boissezon in two nights time. I walked just around the corner and after negotiating the old lock and heavy door, I entered into a cool, dark entrance that quickly turned into stone steps up to the 1st floor where the kitchen, a thin L-shaped room was to be found. My first impressions were that it was dirty so I left it and ventured up another flight of stairs to the 3 separate rooms upstairs. I chose the one facing the street where the entrance was, foregoing the view of the church tower. It looked like, once again, I might be en solo (alone) for the night. I showered, got my bed sorted, covering the pillow with the supplied cover, like the material interfacing is made from (surprisingly not too uncomfortable to sleep on), massaged my feet with Aveda foot relief and legs with Weleda Arnica Massage Oil and washed my clothes. Every day I walk gingerly at the end, and it is always a challenge to keep thongs on as I walk around on the streets. Nevertheless, I prepared to darken the tourist offices door again for it’s wi-fi, which I did until 6.50pm. I was not the only one, again. I tried to ignore my lower leg aches, but sitting still almost encourages them. In the early evening like this it is the perfect time to look around a town. It is not so hot, and it is a great time for photo-taking. This town has a trail, according to the little brochure I found on the desk in my room.
While at the office, it was confirmed I was the only guest. It felt like it was a little less cared for than others I had stayed in, but I couldn’t go past the 10 Euro a night tariff! I found a great poster of the Chemin in Haut-Languedoc. Charlotte at Murat was telling me there are plans to amalgamate the two regions, so it will be interesting to see what happens. I asked about the festivities that looked to be planned, and whether there was any music on tonight. Guillaume thought not, but the woman who was climbing up and down the stairs in the office, told me she is singing with her band at the Petite Table Tranquille, Esplanade des Troubabdours, so I said I would come and hear her.
I carefully trod the little trail around the town which gave context to this historic centre and through little plaques, spoke of it’s history, including Protestant. There was a beautiful stained glass shell interpretation, which I would never have seen without exploring. Beautiful doorways displaying the regional symbol, a little Dorothy sign and a purple deux cheveaux – I’m collecting quite a number for Antoine. Towards the end of my wander, I passed the old gates of a hotel particulaire, no longer there.
After returning to my room, I collected my journal and iPad with a plan of having dinner before listening to some music. As I didn’t have a reservation, they seated me upstairs next to the window overlooking the street at first. I was the only one up there too. It was warm from the pizzas oven and kitchen below. I asked a waitress if a table became available whether I could moved downstairs outside to watch the music, and after my first galette avec beure, they came and relocated me – nice work! It was a gorgeous, warm night and it was lovely to be entertained outside – far better than spending time in the dirty gite kitchen. Perfect atmosphere – young people on dates, 50-somethings having a group night out, older couples having a romantic night and families with kids inside the restaurant.
My big surprise came when I went to the toilet. There were beautiful posters of all the music events for the past years plastered in the toilet, and the shell of an old clock in the washroom. There is always something surprising.
I heard many singers before the woman I had met, some professional, some a little way off professional, but many people sang along to the popular songs, so music was most certainly the winner. My Office of Tourism woman came on late, and she sang mostly American songs like These Boots are Made for Walking. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hung around to hear, but I though it apt for my situation. I stayed for a few songs, and then retreated to my renaissance tower.