Via Tolosana Day 22: Cathar country

Les Casses to Montferrand – 16kms, if that!
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Road from Les Casses to La Rigole

I woke at 4:30am and went to the toilet then slept again until Bernadette’s alarm went off. I got up, took my little plastic essentials tub downstairs and got dressed in the toilet. I like the way the packs are all in the one place, with only the essentials going up to your room. My essentials include a whole lot of technical equipment. It is funny, considering I’m a ‘technophobe’.  I went and wrote in the laundry area until Leonard and Oscar needed it to prepare their brekkie. The rest of us, Jean-Paul, Bernadette and Philippe were going to have breakfast in the dining room with Christiane (also part of the demi-pension). Leonard and Oscar are camping basically, so this overnight was unusual for them. They were also walking fast – doing around double the number of kilometres I was each day, and would often stop and sleep ‘wild’, or outside.

I went back upstairs to the bedroom to finish off my pages, coincidentally there was a desk there.  An old schoolhouse desk, with a bench attached to the desk – there may have even been an inkwell. It reminded me of the old yellow desk/bench I used to have at my grandparents house. I don’t remember doing homework at it, I was probably too young, however I do remember keeping track of my budget in my little lined notebook whilst sitting at it.  Perfect!  And maybe I’m working out I can write and be with people as well.  It takes a lot of composure to separate oneself to write.

It is a bleeding day.  My uterus feels like it is going to fall through the floor, deleting this month’s build up – there’s lots to let go of!  I am glad I will only be walking a short distance.

When I finished my pages I went down to breakfast. Beautiful white/brown bread, fresh jams, cheese and meat, yoghurt and coffee – loads of coffee. It was a magnificent spread. Christiane had us fill in little evaluation forms which go to the local Chemin St Jacques organisation that is in charge of checking the quality of the local gites. I take it membership is not obligatory, however I suppose it is a good network to be in, if you want to build your reputation as a good host.  I finished posting my second post – the youtube upload worked well at the breakfast table. It felt like another faux pas, but I’m just Australian, what would I know.

At first I thought that Christiane was going to walk with us as there looked like an extra pack, but it was Bernadette’s that was left there in the laundry.  We ended up leaving at around 7.30am with Christiane and Ania, her gorgeous dog, accompanying us to the main road where we could see the tree-lined La Rigole in the valley and could say goodbye.  I gave her a purple butterfly bush flower, its sweet honey smell one of my favourites.

It was a particularly beautiful morning, slightly misty as we walked down the hill. The saturated colours of the morning light could have been those of twilight. We turned right when we came to the river and walked at our own pace. I had a brief discussion with Bernadette and then we separated. Philippe was already on up ahead.  At the junction of what looked like the D58, I said goodbye to Bernadette and said I’d see her tomorrow night, as we’d be staying at the same place – Baziege. I’d probably see them out walking. I had elected to stay in Montferrand, once again a very short etape (stage).

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Track along La Rigole

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Champignon

The only drawback in not being on the route, is there are no markers. It was a pretty clear route and as a back-up alternate route was marked in my guide book – Variante par Les Pages. I think all up I think it will only be 16-17kms today.

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More sunflowers

It is strange the things that come to me as I’m walking – “sometimes it takes a long time to understand no one is trying to hurt you”. Certainly when you’re walking, you are at your most vulnerable.  I’m not consciously scared, but sometimes there are uneasy feelings.  But this idea comes not from this road, but from others, in other places.  The idea percolates as I continue walking.

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A shadow of my former self?

Last night confirmed why I hadn’t seen many other pilgrims.  The walkers that go 30kms/day often skip sections and follow different paths, so they won’t necessarily overtake slower walkers.  Ones that do the route, often also just go further than me. It is an interesting thing that we really all do go at our own pace, and in our own time.

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I continued along the back-roads for the subsequent 6 kms or so.  It was easy to see where to go.  I decided I wanted to stop for morning tea, although as was also the case yesterday, I couldn’t find anywhere suitable.  Eventually, after several hundred metres of singing “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me” and at a road junction, I found a good spot to rest, back to the sun to eat the pear from Christiane’s tree. Just as I was putting my pack down, I could see a peloton followed by 4 or 5 cars in the distance. I thought of my friend Ros, the keenest Tour enthusiast I know.  Why is it called a peloton, not a veloton?  Maybe I should campaign for a name change. They would be coming past in a minute.

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Christiane’s beautiful pear

So they went past and I threw down another butterfly bush flower I’d found. It was me being dramatic – its not every day you think you’ve seen the Tour de France! Or the closest thing you’ll get to it … and snap them for posterity.  I sat and ate my juicy pear with a view of the wind turbines.  It was only a couple more kilometres into town.

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Approaching Montferrand

I took a little climb up road towards the old part of town, and the Mairie. I was super early, and couldn’t check in, so I decided to hang around at the plaza opposite. There was a good info hut about Montferrand – I read it all.  I took the opportunity to use the toilet at the Mairie – thank God for public assets hey!  I sat on the park bench and wrote some postcards and my journal. Later on, the La Poste van came to collect the mail.  I told the woman that I look out for them every day, and she kindly waited while I finished my last postcard. I thought I might even do a blog post. I think I’ve worked out a technique – just keep doing the blog posts on iPad notes and transfer when I have wifi – it seems to work and it was quite quick yesterday. I lay in the sun on the grass for a while, just enjoying being in the warm sun, with the gentle breeze. What a perfect afternoon.  I ate my pre-prepared, bio-dynamic meal. There didn’t look to be any shops in this little hill-top town.

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Sitting on the park bench, a little skink/lizard came along the back, then went onto my journal. I wasn’t quick enough to get in the photo of it before it jumped down to the ground – then went under my shoe. It turned it’s head as if it were listening to me when I said it could come back up if it wanted to. It then scurried off across the plaza – expertly camouflaged like the plane tree seed pods that littered the pavement.

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Friendly skink

So I waited till after 1pm, then I went and circled the hill to the top by the small roads as Christiane had instructed. There was mostly just bushes on the way up, and as I got to the top, there were a few large houses with scattered cars.

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The fortified gate

I found my goal. It was nestled behind a tall, ancient gate, and the surrounds were beautiful – like she said. There was a small driveway, and a fenced off gravel garden with a picnic table.  Across the driveway there was a little bench outside the place where I would stay, so after briefly exploring the small compound, I sat and waited.  It wasn’t long before a car drove up, and out poured three men.  I explained that I knew I was really early, and I was happy to wait, but Rene-Claude greeted me and welcomed me, saying I might as well come in.

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The fortified gate

Rene-Claude made me a lovely cup of tea and told me about the centre. It is run by Caritas Christi. It has been an accueil (welcome) for pelerins for 18 years and was one of the original ones, but they also take guests on retreat, mostly religious. I told Rene-Claude that I’m interested in things Catholique, and he asked if I’d like to go to a mass in the parish at 6pm.  I said yes.

He showed me up the two floors to my room after I’d taken my boots off, then later he took the pack up to my room in a clear plastic bucket. My room is at the top floor under two massive beams of wood. I showered then washed my clothes over at their laundry in another building.  I typed a little using the wifi outside, had a little lie down, and at about 5.30pm went with Patrick -the other brother, to another town to get the chant sheet, then to a little church in the valley. It was a lowly service – with chanting again – a little different to En Calcat, but nice.

I spoke to Patrick on the way about the history of the Cathars. He said some interesting things.  From his perspective, he said there were three aspects – political, religious and the role of women. Very interesting. St Dominic set up the first female order in an Abbaye close by here in 1206. I’ve since researched and this is the Monastery of Prouilhe.  Barbara Beaumont has written an interesting paper about this – Cathars and Cathar Beliefs in the LanguedocDocuments: The Coming of the Preachers – Paper on Saint Dominic.

After church, which was officiated by a visiting priest from Togo, Patrick drove us back to the gite.  I sat outside until dinner, doing more writing, and we had dinner together at 8.00pm.  Another friend Jean-Charles was visiting from Denfert-Rochereau, Paris. Patrick had prepared a beautiful meal, salad of tomato, onion and leaves, stir-fry chicken with rice, followed by cheeses, bread and red wine.  Lovely conversation about France, Australia, travel and learning French. It was a convivial night.

I wasn’t long out of bed, and I climbed the couple of flights of stairs in this 300 year old building.  The church and associated buildings were constructed in the 14th Century, so I was in the young wing.  It was beautiful, elegantly decorated and luxurious.  I had my own little en suite and my room became very dark when the light was out and I snuggled under the doona (!!!) It bode well for a better sleep!

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