Boissezon to Castres – 16.5kms
Awoke this morning having possibly finally slept at the end of the night, i.e. in the morning. I don’t know why I haven’t been sleeping. It is a little strange. I came downstairs and went to the toilet. This little guesthouse is so tiny, and two walls of it are solid rock. The floor is beautifully and artisically tiled and it is very particular. As I sat surveying this amazing artistic accomplishment from my seat on the toilet, I realised there was an irregular white pattern I hadn’t noticed yesterday. Then I saw it was a kind of stream that led to the kitchen cupboard. Then I realised that it came from the little box of petit dejeuner Annie had left for me, with a large bottle of milk laying down next to jam, yoghurt and biscuits. The milk had leaked. Through the cardboard box, onto the bench, then dripped down the back of the bench – oh no!
I lay paper towels on the milk, but had nothing to mop up the mess with, so I made a coffee, turning the portable gas bottle on and heating up the water. It felt markedly agricultural, but such was the simplicity of this humble place. The fresh jam might not have been so fresh as it was mouldy, and I wondered how long it had been since someone stayed here. Annie had said just a few days earlier. Maybe people don’t eat jam or no-one had the heart to tell her.
I’m glad I stayed here though. I wanted to explain what had happened to Annie, but she had told me she wouldn’t be up until 8am, so at 7.25, not seeing any sign of her, I continued on my way. I felt guilty, but you can’t cry over spilt milk, so they say. I left a note – je suis desole, I’m sorry.
At the bottom of Annie’s little laneway, I crossed a bridge and continued on the other side of the racing river straight upwards. Once again I am exiting a town with a climb – the first 30 minutes, straight up. Past a woman re-arranging deck chairs on … her patio. Boissezon ended up being a deep dip in the way, a massive crevice in the plateau that apparently I’m meant to descend from today. Well, I can’t wait to see that when it happens. It is cool and muggy, and again I am soaked with sweat within minutes.
Again passing more agricultural land, once out of town, I was flanked by lots of greenery. Two coquilles appeared with potager garden in the background. Once up higher, I had great views of the surrounding area. I passed several large farm houses then went back down the hill into Noailhac. On the way was a grand house, Chateau de Roqueperlic, a Chambres d’hotes (bed and breakfast). I wonder what it would be like to do the walk and stay instead in the the most expensive accommodation every night – what a honeymoon! This one is one for that trek.
I mused once again about skipping bits that aren’t interesting (as I would be walking through reputedly ‘boring’ parts on the outskirts of Castres later this day). I’ll happily take the high moral ground, to walk the ‘whole’ way. I’ll also laugh at myself for this, because the route these days (and probably of all days gone by also) is so very arbitrary, with the GR people changing it to suit local conditions. It doesn’t mean anything to do the ‘whole’ way, and yet it might mean everything. This is a construct in my own head – a way for me to make myself right or wrong. I see it.
Noailhac. I know this name somehow, but can’t think how. I seek out a toilet, and say hello to Mary, still watching everything in the main square. As I make to leave (and don’t seem to see any sign of an open boulangerie), I pass a Michelin rated restaurant – in the middle of literally nowhere avec cigalle. Hostellerie d’Oc. Next time.
At the top of the stony ascent out of Noailhac, where I had to watch my footing, after a paddock of cows and birds, I am rewarded by a stretch along the most beautiful avenue, about a car-width again, straight, perfectly flat and soft. As I progressed I gathered a flotilla of flies with me, not those nice Australian ones, but those sticky march-fly types, like we had ascending out of Bousquet d’Orb. They bite. I didn’t let them, but they accompanied me through pine forests and random other greenery before passing along with my thoughts by Doulatgès. They seem to be more prevalent on these muggy, overcast days.
I see more stones in stoby poles. Bamboo – what? In the middle of France, what’s that doing here? More hoary chestnuts, grapevines, corn and lots of farm dogs at Les Gourgs. I walk away from the cacophony of barks. Fields of flowers and hay bales complete this pastoral scene. Even free-range chickens crossed my path.
Just before the little settlement of Le Castelet, I stopped on a very big rock and ate another peach. These peaches, someone told me, are that shape because they are grown espalier next to grape vines. I was also to find out later, are often boycotted by French people, because they are mass-produced in Spain. They are convenient for walking though as they are squashed flat-ish and fit perfectly in the little flat pocket at the top of my backpack. Whilst I might try and dutifully walk ‘the whole way’, there are other practicalities around food, that have me consuming things I would normally think twice about. It is a useful exercise to acknowledge which rules of the road I will follow, and pragmatically which I will not.
As I walk on I become aware that my pack is really uncomfortable today. My left shoulder seems to be bearing the brunt of it. I can’t work out what it is. It starts to rain, proper rain, but not too heavy. Enough to make me wet. Oak trees are the best for rain shade, so I pause to put the pack cover on.
Fungus photos for Natalie – several kinds so far along the shoulder of the road – I will blog them. (Little do I know I am in the process of creating a champignon monster and that this will be one of the things all pilgrims I meet from now on will remember me for). I see bee-hives.
Menstruating tree, foretelling what is to come. That must be the reason I get to Castres and want to eat the whole town!
I see La Poste at St Hippolyte, still impressed that the post also gets delivered on Saturdays. I am enjoying the little yellow emblematic anchor of my trip. It is only a day of rest on Sundays for these little vans. I stop at the little church here. It has a little grotto outside named for Notre Dame, Lourdes which makes me think of my plans to get there. Inside the church, there is not much of interest, except the really sad looking Saint Rita, according to Wiki, patron saint of the Impossible, abused wives and widows and of course, the usual Jean d’Arc – I love seeing the variety in her statues.
I am conscious the route is taking me along the top of a range of hills, which is slowly going to taper to deposit me close to Castres. I am walking on the road again, and it is hard-going. I choose Billy Joel, She’s always a woman and Just the Way you are to me to assist me with my final gentle slope into civilisation. I love his music. When I was a teenager, I admired his insightful wordsmithery and great tunes. His songs seem to suggest he understands women. His numerous marriages may suggest otherwise. He’s certainly right, Honesty is so hard to give and is such a lonely word.
An unexpected but welcome gate sign – Namaste. I see a lone jogger climbing towards the hill I’ve just come down, and after joining the outskirts, I meet two walkers with matching outfits setting out up the hill. They didn’t ask me for directions, but I confirmed that the way I’d come from was the right way. I am getting much closer to Castres now, I join the web of suburban streets, pass a big hospital, and then sit at a bus shelter admiring the double-denim making a come back on the more than life-sized advertisement while I eat my favourite, saucisson and cheese baguette.
Later, Carpe Diem! on another wall. I am doing nothing if not seizing the day – actually several weeks of them. For several blocks I walk past a huge army barracks with all manner of personnel-carrying vehicles. Green astro turf as a fence gave me a really interesting entree to this town – who’d want to skip green astro turf as a fence? There’s nothing boring about that!
St Jacques references everywhere also. I can tell I’m getting closer to the centre of town because the buildings are getting older. It is a beautiful city/town. Despite being very tired, I still pause to take my photos: a green vespa, Place St Jacques, a town button in the roadway and lots of photos of Castres in the rain. Christian Decor, maybe the cousin of the famous Christian Dior. I’m distracted by the Saturday market on my way to find the Office of Tourism.
After receiving directions, I found the Office de Tourisme. They were another very helpful lot, arming me with lots of maps, a Castres Pass en ville, directions to the two museums I was interested in and directions to what seemed like the only pilgrim accommodation left, the Hotel Riviere. It was only 21 euro a night, so I took it, and they phoned ahead to say I was coming.
I took my smelly self to the the hotel, which was, as the name suggested, en face (facing) the river and the beautiful facade of apartments by the water. You enter into a small lobby and immediately climb a set of stairs to the first floor reception. Along the way, you realise they are experienced in catering to pilgrims as you see a big poster of the Cathar history of the area, and St Jacques souvenirs.
The room is small, with a window view into an internal atrium (and other people’s windows), a small hand basin, and single bed. My room is right next to the shower, the door of which opens straight into the corridor, and is only shower sized. The toilet is at the end of the short passage past 2 other rooms. It is a bargain and perfect for me, as I have wifi, and a towel. The towel is almost more longed for than the wifi.
I separated out my washing after I showered, deciding that I would take it all to a laundromat for a thorough wash. I ate the remainder of my baguette then checked the internet, Facebook and went for a walk. I did a reconnoiter of the laundromat, and found it was open till 9pm. I had a ridiculously expensive, yet fantastic hot chocolate and then tolerated the increasingly heavy rain to go to the Musée Jean Jaurès. I was a little cold, as I didn’t have a long sleeve top that wasn’t filthy, so just had to wear a t-shirt and my rain jacket – which I needed, as I’d sent my umbrella back to Paris.
The name Jean Jaurès will be familiar to anyone who has spent any time wandering the streets of French cities and towns, as there is frequently an avenue or rue named in his honour. I had always wondered who he was, and today I was going to be educated. The small, but comprehensive museum I found was absolutely wonderful, and his story is fascinating and inspirational. From his modest bourgeois beginnings in Castres, to his leadership of the French Socialist Party and then untimely assassination in 1914, Jaures was a dude. He was an historian, philosopher and anti-militarist, who questioned French colonial policy, long before it was at all fashionable to do so. He was known for his eloquent speeches and it seems, had his life not been cut short, destined to be one of the great diplomatic leaders of the world.
I again dodged rain drops to get to the other end of Castres city, to visit the Musée Goya. Goya too was well aware of the politics of Spanish colonial interests, and his largest work, The Junta of the Philippines, (1815) hangs here. I find Andrew Green’s blog later refers to it: “Robert Hughes, in his book on Goya, calls this picture ‘the grandfather of all boardroom portraits’. He goes on, ‘For anyone who has had to endure a full shareholders’ meeting of a large modern corporation, its mood is instantly recognizable’.” But the other reason I loved being in this museum, was the Goya seen by Ocampo, the Junta of the Philippines 1815-2015 exhibition that was showing. In it, the modern, internationally renowned painter, Manuel Ocampo and the museum celebrate the bicentenary of Goya’s The Junta of the Philippines. Ocampo re-interpret’s Goya’s themes in his own style. It was great to be again reminded of my time in the Philippines where I also met a journalist/photographer of the same surname. I love this aspect of my travels. Finding similar threads and connections to other parts of my life and the world give me a real buzz.
The permanent collection is splendid. A sculpture of St Theresa of Avila, in her ecstasy, a long wooden carving of a procession, a nun praying in sky blue dress, an intricate secretaire (cabinets with little drawers) and tiny keys and shells, a portrait of a man with several faces hidden in it also. Socrates. Lucienne Breval (I wonder if any relation of the composer of much cello music), a beautiful painting of windows, Don Quixote, a Picasso of an ecrivant (writer). St Joachim. A feast for my eyes.
I entered the building with one wedding (the Mairie where Saturday weddings happen is co-located with the museum), and I left with another. And I remember that when I passed St Hippolite, I’d seen balloons on the side of the road signalling a wedding reception perhaps. There was what looked like a large function house at Le Castelet, so maybe one of these would adjourn there later. It was my day of weddings – Four Weddings and a …
I crossed the plaza to visit Cathédrale Saint-Benoît de Castres, also with a wedding in it. This church was very old, and had a huge net strung up high, presumably to catch the falling plaster work. It was dark, but temporarily made lighter by a gorgeous bridal party and lots of smart clothes. I do love an excuse to dress up! I felt modestly out of place in my parka, and didn’t in fact know whether it was the ‘done thing’ to enter a church when there was a wedding party retreating, but hey, I’m a tourist!
On my way back to the hotel, the light had changed and I took some better photos of the river and the buildings next to it. It creates a particular mood being overcast, not quite like the tourist brochures, but spectacular nevertheless. I passed all of the smart shops – you could really do some damage if you were into the big name labels. It seemed like the shops catered to a haughty clientele – more Christian Dior, than Christian Decor. But I enjoyed looking. Jack Kornfield writes “Even Socrates, who lived a very frugal and simple life, loved to go to the market. When his students asked about this, he replied, “I love to go and see all the things I am happy without.” I get that.
I was going to go back to the Office of Tourisme to see if I could find out information about Lourdes, but I was a little side-lined by meeting a woman coming up the stairs. Her name was Marielise and she was from Switzerland. She’d seen Luigi and Manfred – it is a very special group that assembles along a way. She wants to go to Lourdes also, and is investigating alternatives. We sat in the lobby area for a good little while having a chat about our journeys and French (including Huguenot) history. She shared Huguenot ancestry although was not sure how her ancestors came to Switzerland. She was going to take a taxi in the morning about 10kms out of town, to skip ‘the boring bits’, and asked whether I’d like to share. I declined saying that I’d prefer to walk to Dourgne. It will be a longer walk tomorrow, but I was prepared for it.
We parted ways, she had wanted to check out the La Venise, Italian restaurant, and I wanted to go to do my washing. I sat in the laundromat for about 45 minutes watching my clothes spin around in the water, then in hot air drying. I foolishly didn’t take the advice of a regular, and used the 30C rather than the 60C cycle, so the clothes didn’t wash very thoroughly, and it was a little of a waste using a laundromat, but who’s going to smell me … really? I dropped my warm washing back at the hotel, then went just around the corner to a Creperie – La Broceliande, creperie bretonne and got my fill of cider and galette. Perfect Saturday night.
Back to my room to blog and bed. My body is tired, my feet and legs sore. I need a massage. Where do I find a massage? However, I love this travelling thing, I’m really enjoying this, especially with the museums I’m finding in the bigger towns.
Tomorrow is Sunday, and I will be staying overnight at an Abbaye – it seems perfect and reminds me of the first night of my Camino. What a lovely thought of Sonja to email me her suggestion about staying at Abbaye d’en Calcat rather than Abbaye Sainte-Scholastique (they are across the road from each other at Dourgne). It feels cosy in a hotel bed with the rain falling outside most of the night.