Via Tolosana Day 41: Thy will be done

Oloron-Sainte-Marie to Sarrance – 19kms

I didn’t sleep very well. I tossed and turned and my knees hurt. It was not great.  I got up for pages. After breakfast, Anne, putting on a brave face, told me she wasn’t continuing. It made me sad for her that she wouldn’t be going any further.  After my interesting chat yesterday, today I made a commitment.  Thy will be done. Along with walking today for Anne, this was my mantra.

It took a while to leave this morning.  I went to the park to try for wifi, but it didn’t happen. I ended up leaving by the route which took me past the Post Office, just as the Dutch couple who’d been en velo and staying at the gite, rode past.  I saw them again when I found my way to a boulangerie that was open so I could find my lunch. It was good, and decorated in some very appropriate bread art.

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I crossed the river after descending the stairs to find the public toilet – nearly at river level. I started up Rue d’Aspe and found myself thinking of the Bible or Shakespeare, ancient books that speak of aspes. I hoped this wouldn’t mean I’d see any.

I was again sweating profusely by the time I’d scaled the hill, past a huge sculpture of a woman in front of another church, L’église Sainte-Croix. It was a Monument Historique, but not the one I thought it might be – I saw a diagram showing the main Oloron-Sainte-Marie cathedrale, and this wasn’t it.  Maybe on my way back to Pau I’d get to see it.  Inside the little chapel it was dim and musty, but I was drawn to the front where there was a coffin with a glass front with what looked like a small child inside – yes, a real, small, dead child.  It was supposedly the relics of St Clement, but I can’t find any reference to it. To be honest, it was quite eerie.  I didn’t stay long.

I walked out into the street, leaving this ancient, and creepy place, and found myself in the midst of renaissance buildings, the moon still in the sky.  The road ahead was long and straight  and I thought to myself, I’m leaving Matthieu’s town.

A gaggle of geese and ducks eyed me from a raised vacant block next to an old house, and despite the fact they could’ve flown at me at any time, they were content to survey me walking along the road below.

By the time I got out of Oloron, I’d reached the next little village, Soeix, and had views of the Pyrenees – now up really, really close.  It really did now feel like I was walking into them. Looking at them, and soon in them. It was warm but a little overcast, promising to rain in the afternoon, so I wanted to keep walking. I had many kilometres ahead of me – 20 or so, I think.

All through the Foret Communal- Oloron-St-Marie I caught webs again. The sweet smell of budleias, on a perfect, not sunny day for walking.  Big slugs were on the path again as were big bales of hay plonked right in the way of probably wheeled transport rather than pilgrims.  “No quarry in the forest”. The universal green movement.  I passed a school with bright coloured buildings and walked through little towns, by very big pumpkins, very ladensome apple trees and barbed wire to keep wheeled things out.

I found a nearly impassable fork where the dirt track left the road, but there was a huge tree down over the track.  I made my way carefully up the embankment, trying to go around the tree which had fallen on a power line (well what looked like a power line). I tried a few times to scale the steep, grassy incline and eventually made it up.  A little hairy though, trying to balance and avoid touching the tree.

In all my days of walking – now over forty, I came to my first gate. It had me thinking I had come the wrong way. I was a little taken aback, and confused, but the trail continued.  I carefully opened, then closed it after walking through. There would be two more before the day was out. Matthieu’s promise of some more corn continued, although I suspect today to be the last day of it.

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There was a long walk along a very straight road to St Christau, next to the river L’ourtau. I recorded the water as I walked.

A little further on and I came across a very Fawlty Towers-like spa/sauna retreat and quaint chapel across the road. It was a huge property which had clearly seen better days.  The eerie feeling returned: a strange place and quite deserted.  I asked whether there were any hot baths (thermes) of a woman who was leaving in a car, but she said they’d closed 2-3 years ago. Pity.  She said there was one in the Ossau valley but it seemed quite difficult to get to from the end of my route.  A hot spring would do wonders for my body!  I continued up to a large junction with a main road, and saw the sign for the resort. It even looked like the Fawlty Towers one. I chuckled to myself. I constantly amuse myself.

A short walk along the really busy road, D918, with a few large trucks passing, and then I was off the road again and walking along a grassy track that looked like it just disappeared up into the fields. It eventually turned into a steep and really cool and rocky little back track (that made my knees hurt again) down into the next town, Lurbe.  Interesting name.  There was an opportunity to stop where the road passed over a little, but rushing river, but I kept walking, visiting the church which was locked. I found little offerings on the way for pilgrims, out the front of someone’s house in the next town – walnuts and apples.  Next time I’ll bring my nutcracker with me.

I then continued walking what seemed like ages before I found a pile of rocks to sit on, next to a wall, under a walnut tree to have my saucisson and cheese sesame seed roll. I also ate a peach and picked some figs. I was right next to a small single-laned road, but not one car passed while I stopped for the half hour for lunch.  My lunch town had many ‘compostelle’ signs and a couple of gites according to my Miam Miam Dodo, but they weren’t in my price range.

Getting up from lunch, I put on my pack again, and started toward large hills – the last wide valley before I’d be walking in the deep river-cut valley.  As I walked, I could hear rumbling.  It grew louder and louder as I walked towards the malaise, or cliff which appeared to be being open cut right in front of me.  The sound was like a waterfall, but more industrial. It was a strange mix that sounded like a big monster crushing rocks, but eventually I did see a processing shed across the river.  I also saw there was another cutting below the level of the road I was on. I passed several groups of abandoned machinery, still in their lunchtime idleness and I later found a map showing a new light rail they were cutting – Oloron – Bedous.  God I love the French. Still building railroads!!  As I walked on, jumping over little streams that crossed the path, through paddocks and next to houses, it became obvious from the old bridges, that there had always been a railway line, and that this one was being re-claimed.

The Police came to me, We are spirits in the material world for some reason.

My great walking weather continued, budleias smelled in my general direction and there was more corn. After more building works and a slight feeling of uneasiness, I come across Sylvia lying on a random park bench, appropriately put in the middle of nowhere. She was siesta-ing and I said hello but declined to stop – I wanted to keep walking so as not to get wet.

In the little hillside town of Escot, I asked a man loading his truck where a fountain might be, and he directed me onwards. Sylvia caught me up where I was collecting water from an ancient water fountain while taking photos of La Fontaine cut outs – yes really!  Things do always happen in threes. I’d now had three La Fontaine experiences on this trip.  All through the town, there were wooden cutout characters of the various stories.  I tried to find a La Fontaine connection to this town, but I don’t think there is one, just some enthusiastic local(s).  Some characters were looking a little worse for wear, but it was an impressive display.  I missed the L’Ane veto de la Peau du Lion, number 5, but I snapped all the others.

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L’Ours et les deux Compagnons

Le Lièvre et la Tortue

Le Loup et la Cigogne

Le Corbeau et le Renard

L’Aigle, la Laie, et la Chatte

Le Loup et la chien

I saw La Poste. The little chapel looked cool – a white building with grey slate roof. I explained to Sylvia that I wouldn’t be able to talk today, as I get really tired from trying to talk in French after walking a whole day. My mood was descending fast into an abyss.

Just out of Escot we crossed the major road. It must be like Russian roulette in pilgrim high season, and then we were onto a little tiny track – a goat track that followed the river along the cliff above for the first 2.7 kilometres to Sarrance.  It seemed like many more steps than that.

The road wasn’t far away, and passing cars imposed on the rush of the river every now and again.

At first the track was wide, then under the beautiful old train bridge it narrowed to being a goat track, at some points close to the river, at others far away.  Some of the time it felt like I was walking on top of the river, several hundred trees and ancient rocks being the only thing suspending me above it. The path always sloped toward the river, so it felt precarious and with a little rain could be quite slippery and dangerous.  Then a gate, the second in 41 days, a compostelle and a sign on the gate saying the cows thanked you for closing it.  It was such a majestic environment.  The river was rushing, the cliffs imposing and the path shady: once again like a scene from a fantasy book – complete with ancient ruined buildings along the way – presumably from a time when this was the road into the mountains.

At one point I could see high above me to the greened cliffs, and I watched as a dozen eagles played in the jet streams. It reminded me of a sport I’ve seen, a kind of base jumping, where the jumper scales tall peaks then catches all the jet streams down wearing a suit with bat-like webbed wings.

There were starting to be autumn leaves on the track in some sections – my old favourite trees again, lots of them.  Finally, the track took me to a junction with the road again and the final gate for the day.  A brief walk along the busy major road and then Sarrance, not that I was making it a brief road. The hills during the day ascended 200 metres, then the up and down of the last goat track exhausted me completely. It certainly seemed like the longest 3 kms of the trip. I was doing the Cliff Young Shuffle again.

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Sarrance is beautiful.  It is nestled in an elbow of the river, and there were rock piles and nice sentiments greeting my ‘tre fatigue‘ disposition. Sylvia had just arrived also and was asking of the site – the acciuel for pelerins.  It was just near the church.  Sonnet et entier, sound the bell and enter.  On the edge of the square in front of the entrance, is a large love rounded stone love heart made from carefully laid river stones, but I was too tired and emotional to notice it until the next day when I did go into chapel.

We were led around a cloister containing a garden complete with coquille decoration and more carefully-laid stone. I later met Nicholas who was putting a similar stone border around the herb garden near the washing lines.  Great black ones with white streaks through them. I was exhausted and in the foulest of moods when I took off my boots, leaving my backpack in the small ‘wood room’, then up a couple of stairs, through a big door, into a biggish hall with big beams and a 16th century look and a sign which did not match my disposition – joie.

I opened the door and there was Marion – who came to give me a big hug. She sensed how difficult the day had been. She asked about Anne, and I said it was sad, but she had to retire.  I sat for a long time, drinking menthe syrop, barely able to walk.  A couple had come to start their walk, they’d just got married, and would be setting out in the morning. I eventually showered and washed my clothes. They were on the line for only minutes before the showers that had been promising themselves all day, finally arrived.  I made a quick grab for them and replaced them in the small shed holding the heating unit for the place. It was toasty and the clothes would dry quickly in there. The thunder lasted an hour, then the rain lasted until mid-morning the next day.

Blessing of blessings, there is wifi.  I accessed it, I had expected a booking for my home in Australia, but nothing came of it. September 1st tomorrow. Reminded myself to text Anita a Happy Birthday. Sat on the couch and chatted with Marion for a while – was going to go to chapel, but then decided not to.

I had a nap from 6 – 7:30pm, when Marion called me for dinner. She was self-catering, so  I walked with Sylvia to try and find the dining room.  We could smell it, but not see it and wandered around the cloister for a few minutes, trying to work it out.  Soup, fish, cheese & bonbonierie from the happy couple. Everyone helped with the washing up.  It seems like a little community of religious and non-religious make up this little establishment, and it reminded me a little of the meal I’d had at En Calcat as it had a musical accompaniment.  Maybe monks is the common theme there.  There is a tingly energy in this place. It is dim and musty, but rustic and homely in some way. All the participants helped with clearing the table and washing the dishes.

Via Tolosana Day 35: Donkey Kong dodging sprinklers

Maubourguet to Anoye – 22 kms

I awoke to Christian’s alarm.  I didn’t get up until about 6:30am though.  I half packed and took my pack out on the tiny verandah and wrote my pages from 7am – 7:45am. I said goodbye to Christian when he left.  I found this intriguing.  He arrived before the others the day before, and he left before the others.  I admired this independence. I wonder whether men can tolerate it of each other more than women can.  Maybe I will evolve into someone who will really be at ease with ‘going my own way’, because I certainly can’t feel it quite yet. If I had come on a long ride with my friends, I would feel that invisible pressure to go with them, not go my own way.  Is this how we are socialised as women and men, or is there something more primal about the difference between testosterone and oestrogen and it’s effects on our relating?

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I got my pages finished and then Patrice appeared, and later still Laurent.  Patrice rode to find out whether Casino (supermarket) was open, and it was.  So I gathered up the final few things into my pack and said goodbye to the guys.  It had been a great night. Off I went with my pack, after taking a photo of them in front of our cute chalet.  Seeing people on bikes took me back to my Vezelay route ride.  It is still a taxing way to travel, but riding another 5 kilometres to find a place to stay at night is less arduous than walking it.  I envied their mobility.

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Espaliered plane trees

I walked back into town to Casino also for today’s lunch, tonight’s dinner and the next day’s lunch. In some parts of the walk, it really does require that much forward planning, if your next stop is not in a town with an epicerie/boulangerie. You also have to consider that everything you carry is weighty, and after 20 kilometres, it can make a huge difference to how tired you get.  I bought pain at the boulangerie. All set.  It was 9:00am already – a late start. On the way out of town I passed my favourites, the Gendarmerie.  Matthieu said there would be a lot of corn from now on, and there was.  All day, right to the end.  There were also great views again of the Pyrenees, although this time it felt like instead of looking across hills at them, you were starting to look up at them from the plains.  It was a flat walk to start with, then a gentle hill took me upwards towards Lahitte-Toupiere.

The gazelle may have bounded away in the flesh, but I walked with him most of the day, thinking about the things he said and did, carrying some faint hope that I might, by some weird coincidence, catch him again.  Blackberries reminded me of our slim pickings, and his concern for other pilgrims and I said to myself, no, toujours beaucoup (no, always plenty) for everyone when you take only what you need.

I feel like a walking smell. I stink, my pack stinks, my t-shirts are manky and even after washing, they still reek. Yuk!

I came to a big road, the D943, and observed that the GR101 crossed heading south towards Lourdes. It was well-signposted. Perhaps this is where the guy in St Gervais sur Mare was heading. If I’d had more time, maybe this is the way I would have reached Lourdes.  As it was I preferred my detour-by-train plan.

10:10 when I next checked my phone.  Loud helicopters made their presence felt overhead as I was getting to Lahitte-Toupière, where Matthieu was planning to stay the night. The gite advertised yoga. I thought that was a lovely coincidence as he had said he’d like to take it up, and I was encouraging him to, given I had got so much out of yoga at various times in my life.

Just past the gite, thoughts a little diverted by a beret, I neglected to take the right fork in the road, and continued along a road – distracted also by the La Poste van that met me.  So when I got to the main road, I decided instead of just taking it into town, to re-trace my steps so as to walk the marked way.  It rewarded me with the most beautiful little paddock of sheep, some with big bells around their necks which tinkled and clanged in time with their tugging at the grass.  After some minutes recording this and photographing them, one walked up to me. I wondered if they’d also chatted to the gazelle this morning. (I might add, that I hadn’t realised that a possible reason for Matthieu’s sporting of a beret was a very good one. They had been produced in the town in which he lived since 1840 – I only found this out months after the walk.  If I’d noted out loud his unusual head gear, I might have found this out yesterday!).

Another four kilometres on and I rested for a while under the verandah of a church in Vidouze to eat a peach. There was a fantastically signposted water tap also, especially for pilgrims.  Just as I was going to leave, along rode Patrice and Laurent – they hadn’t left Maubourguet until 10am.  We chatted and joked again and then they rode off down the hill that I was to walk down.  What lovely men. What a happy meeting.

I left the road again, and was walking in fields of high corn, with sprinklers just starting up.  I crossed a small creek on a footbridge that had a hidden approach, and then walked onto farm tracks made of orange clay and small rocks.  The tracks were wet, and I realised this was where I play Donkey Kong Junior for real, and dodge sprinklers. I made one attempt, between two circulating pivots, and realised I wouldn’t make it through so I retreated.  Maybe those 24 hours playing these little beeping games high in the skies between Melbourne, Bangkok and Dhaka when I was twelve paid off. Thanks Nintendo 1982, I managed to make it through without getting soaked. Thanks Paul for the heads up about the sprinklers.

I looked down at the path I was walking along after this, and realised the set of tyre tracks differed.  Sometimes there was water pooled on one side, and not the other. Sometimes it was dry and rocky on one side and not the other. Some sides were tricky, and the other you could navigate without watching your step.  I realised that you may be walking in the same direction, on the same track as someone else, but still experience different terrain. Everyone’s path is absolutely unique.  I heard the helicopter overhead again. Out in the open for a while and I came across a large dry paddock of pigs.  They had some mud, and seemed happy in it.

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It was getting on to lunch time, and I had continued on in the cornfields for some time past Dexpers (nice name for a settlement), when up ahead, who do I see but my cheeky friends, Sophie et Virginie sitting down to have lunch on some big wooden crates on the edge of the track. How lovely. I joined them for lunch and for the next few hours of walking.  There were a few big hills to ascend and descend today, but thankfully the destination, Anoye, was in a valley.

In one part that was more dense trees, there were these strange contraptions in the forest.  It looked like there were platforms suspended high up, with ropes and pulleys to bring things up and down.  They were a little more sophisticated than what could be made by children, but it certainly looked like someone liked playing up high.

Today I saw espaliered plane trees, signs that said Arles was 560 kms away (which didn’t seem quite right), more orange slugs and road signs that now say ‘Cami’ rather than ‘Chemin’.  I spotted Chinese lantern plants again and a new occurrence that would last for many kilometres and the final days of my walk, ancient fruit varieties.

Planted by friends of the way, partly I suppose in commemoration of the trail, and partly to feed the pilgrims that traverse it, they were a sweet reminder that the path is cared for by a whole army of unseen caretakers.  It was nice to see these ancient varieties being resurrected, and the signs on the plants gave great information about them.

Just past Lucarré, there is a big lake, and the girls wanted to take their time and stop by it, so I walked back up another hill, on through Momy, stopping to look in the beautiful l’eglise with another rendition of St Roch with his sore leg, chuckling at a place called ‘Samson’s Lion’ and finally getting back on the road down the hill into Anoye.  It was a hot day on the road today, so I wanted to make sure to leave earlier tomorrow. I will have more sleep and less wine!

I arrived in the small town, once again being welcomed by fast-running water and found the communal gite which was a beautiful two story house.  The large front door was open and I went in, left my shoes downstairs and then climbed (with difficulty), the creaking wooden stairs, opened the tight door at the top and got acquainted with the sleeping quarters. Around 15 minutes later so did the girls.  And then who should show up, but Francois and Cloudine.  It is strange isn’t it?  You could hold on to make the good times last longer, clinging and desperately orchestrating your travel to stay with nice people, or you could continue in your own way, never knowing if you might come into contact with your lovely friends again, but in the intervening times, experiencing the lessons that are just for you to learn. The posse was back together again.  The way is a great teacher about letting go and having faith in your own time and pace. And of course, F & C had spent the night in the same place as the gazelle, so it was nice to share my excitement at having met him.

Even though it was upstairs, it was cool, and comfortable. The bunk beds were nice and the bathroom was good, and appropriately decorated with shell motifs.  What none of us realised was that there was also a little epicerie downstairs, that is magically opened when the clock strikes 6pm by local volunteers who look after this communal gite. All kinds of supplies can be purchased. Nice supplies, like chocolate! The kitchen upstairs is small and basic, but well stocked with cooking utensils for preparing food. I needn’t have hung around for Casino and the boulangerie this morning, but who would have known. The table was large, and would easily fit us all around it when we’d prepared our food.

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After showering I tried writing my journal, outside on the picnic bench but couldn’t seem to get into the mood. That and les bothersome moustiques. I went for a small walk around the town: past donkeys that were well on heat (what, is this spring or something??), to the little church – which was shut, and to the fontaine (fountain) – a pure spring, said to have healing qualities, made in 1652 according to the plaque. It was close to the gite, just around the back, luckily for my tired and aching legs. A few of us cooperated and chipped in for the 3Euro washing machine fee and got our clothes washed.  We were really late, so they didn’t quite dry, but that’s what all the spare bunk beds are for – drying washing while you sleep.

I’d bought some nice bio rice with salmon and I heated in the microwave for dinner. We all ate together at the kitchen table.  I finished writing my journal, and went to bed.