Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare – Fagairolles 17 kms
My favourite singer/guitarist/poet, seems to have amazing insight into what it is to walk in this life. I have many of his albums and several of his beautiful songs speak of travelling, walking and getting home. It is a profound realisation, that we only ever walk alone in this world, no matter how many other beings surround us. I realise on this day, that I was choosing to walk home, in a way, to myself.
Oh I have been a beggar
And shall be one again
And few the ones with help to lend
Within the world of men
One day I walk in flowers
one day I walk on stones
Today I walk in hours
One day I shall be home
I have sat on the street corner
And watched the boot heels shine
And cried out glad and cried out sad
With every voice but mine
One day I walk in flowers
one day I walk on stones
Today I walk in hours
One day I shall be home
One day I shall be home
I awoke early, but wasn’t in any hurry to get up quickly because I needed to go to the La Poste to post my extras back to Paris before I could walk anywhere. I said goodbye to Florian, closed the door after him and once again felt like the keeper of the house. I wrote morning pages, my journal and had breakfast, all before 8am.
I was all packed, and I didn’t feel like waiting around, so I left, depositing the key in the post box next to the door. I felt so free walking from the gite my plastic bag of postage swinging by my side. As it was still way before La Poste opening time, I checked my emails at the Office de Tourisme (the nifty thing is I could still use the wi-fi even though it was closed). I wasn’t the only one. Another woman came with her black laptop to check hers too. My money had still not cleared so I had to hope that sending a package to Paris wasn’t going to be too expensive.
La Poste wasn’t open when I walked there. I waited for a couple of minutes, but it was obviously going to open late, and so instead I left to use the public toilet under the town square down next to the river. By the time I returned to the office, there was a line, so I ended up waiting for about 15 minutes to get served. I didn’t leave until 9.45am having sent my sleeping bag and my heavy sandals, umbrella and assorted power cords back to Jerome in Paris. It all fit perfectly in a ready-made box for 13 euros. Even though my money hadn’t cleared I didn’t feel worried. It will all be OK. I’m sure in Murat I will be able to sort it all out. I’ll take my time and write.
There was a cute baby in the post office who was more than a little frustrated that my enquiry was taking so long, so I assisted his mother to amuse him with peek-a-boos and my baby French. Actually talking to young children is the best. They repeat things over and over, and don’t get frustrated when you don’t understand. But he was just a baby and wasn’t going to help teach me French.
My pack felt so much lighter as I walked toward the Boulangerie to get lunch, a quiche, and morning tea, an escargot. I felt lighter too. It all feels right. At the little epicerie next door I found a perfect 1 litre bottle that fits into my pack pocket easily. Crossing back over the river, I passed my new baby friend and his mother. That was sweet.
The way out of St Gervais was a maze of small walled laneways which eventually turned into a forest track, not before I discovered the resting place of the Goggomobil (it wasn’t actually a Goggomobil, but it was a micro car. It needed to be, a normal car wouldn’t have made it up the tiny lane). I’d seen it the day before zipping around the town, crossing paths with the town band. I was telling Florian about the Yellow Pages advertisement all those years ago on Australian television after I saw the little 3-wheeler again when we were eating dinner. Tommy Dysart’s adorable Scottish accent G-O-G-G-O has proven to be unforgettable to me and probably millions of Australians – no wonder the ad won awards.
I kept walking up the steep track which didn’t look like the right way but it was. It became a wider fire track before long. I had received a text from Sonia the day before to remind me to pay attention to the markers. She had gone so far out-of-the-way, that she had lost several hours. Jacques I had also texted, “I was lost twice, Jacques once … Viola is here.” So that’s where Viola is! It was so nice to get news of her. The signs were a little confusing and I nearly went the wrong way once, but managed to stay on course. Once off the fire track again it was a really shady tramp through chestnut groves until Castanet-le-Haut. Thank goodness for small mercies as it was already warm. Today felt like an 80s Michael Praed, Robin Hood set. The landscape seems more lush somehow, maybe catching up with the rain we got some days ago.
As I continued I could hear the not too distant sound of a tree being chainsawed. I hoped I wasn’t walking into a falling tree. I had views of the mountains on the other side of the river valley between huge chestnut trees and many dry stone walls. Different pine trees with elongated cones joined the path and then I came upon the most massive chestnut tree I’d seen, covered with moss. I had to touch it, and talk to it, it was so magnificent.
The little town of Andabre appeared out of nowhere, at the end of a fast and short descent and I got up close and personal with someone’s back door as the way traced two edges of the house down to the road. Passing through the town quickly, past the local gnomes and sighting the flamingo I didn’t see in the Camargue, the path followed the creek for a little time. I was still getting used to the idea that it was just me. I was now fully responsible for my direction and speed.
Just before I came to the D22E12, I saw a sign pointing to Ancien Chapelle Notre Dame de St Eutrope up on the mountain and I remember Florian told me it had a dolmen. I’ll see it next time – when I have the energy to go up 700 metres in altitude and back down. Just across the main road, next to the La Mare (the same river that runs through St Gervais) I stopped at the site of an ancient mill, Ancien Moulin du Nougayrol. I put my pack down at a nearby picnic bench and checked it out, and could see the giant holding pond (like a good-sized circular swimming pool) that the water channelled into. On the outside of it, large flat stones were set into the stone wall as steps up to the top. Back at the bench, I took my time. I wrote again (!!!) despite being bothered by wasps as I was eating my snail. I filled up on water, as I’d already built up the usual sweat. A motorcycle touring couple pull up. They were completely kitted out with panniers, full leathers. He speaks German quietly, she speaks really loudly, they decide on a direction and leave again then double back. A child is playing near the river, I can hear their voice. A dog barks, and the sound gets closer, and it barks more, probably as it realises I’m sitting close by on the park bench. It’s owner is trying to pacify it. I can’t see anything though as the trees mask the river – they must be on the other bank. It might be time to move on.
Across the road again from this picnic spot I walk past an embankment and a sign that indicates a Visigoth (Vestiges wisighotiques) site which I couldn’t see an entrance to. Mostly these sites seem to be huge sites of mossy rocks, and there is not a great deal of explanation unless they are in the midst of another cared-for property. I continued on the road for a while until I got to Castenet-le-Haut. La Poste drives past and sweeps up the peppermint smell for me from the shoulder strip. My shoe starts to squeak. It also comes to mind that when you’re walking through a town, you need to find a ‘proper’ place to go to the toilet. It is easier in the forest. I keep walking.
I cross the bridge and walk into the town past the most interesting type of shingles on the outside of houses that I’ve never seen before. Large rectangles of slate held in place by metal pins. Other medieval architecture, and a new kind of paved path took me out of this dear little place. Crossing back over the river, which is more like a creek now, I join a wider track under pine trees.
I come across the couple from the Office of Tourisme again having a break. I find out they are from Valence near Grenoble. They had walked from there and were very much in agreement in the ‘go your own way, at your own speed’ philosophy. I walked on ahead of them with their advice ‘take it easy’ ringing in my ears. From here it was a constant, sometimes steep ascent (especially the part where Sonia was warning me of a turn) up around the edge of the mountain, along a narrow and rocky path, which became really exposed. Climb every mountain wasn’t even enough to make this an easier climb. I got really hot, and for the first time my heart beat really fast with the exertion. I realise that sometimes if you knew how hard things were going to be, you would never start. This climb was one of them. The views however, got better and better. I rested half-way up in the shade – under pines and chestnuts and noticed I’d done so under a little red and white sign. I’ve noticed this, just from a couple of hours walking alone. I tend to look up just at the right moment to see a sign confirming my way. I walked through beautiful avenues of tall trees.
At Sayret, reaching the crest of a hill, more open farmland greeted me. The view from the top was amazing, and I’d got there quicker than I expected. The characteristic hay bales started to dot the landscape. I chose a beautiful lunch spot on a track overlooking open paddocks. The French couple passed me after I’d finished my quiche. At some point an eagle circled overhead, and for some reason the tune of Borodin’s Polotzvian Dances came to mind. I googled the words … here are some of them …
Fly on the wings of the wind
To our native land, dear song of ours,
There, where we have sung you at liberty,
Where we felt so free in singing you.
There, under the hot sky,
The air is full of bliss,
There to the sound of the sea
The mountains doze in the clouds;
There the sun shines so brightly,
Bathing the native mountains in light,
Splendid roses blossom in the valleys,
And nightingales sing in the green forests.
And sweet grapes grow.
You are free there, song,
Fly home …
When I got going again, it was not long before I joined an even more used vehicle track and came quite quickly to a 4 way corner just outside Ginestet. Here I had to make a choice. There was a sign indicating the GR71, and it descended gradually down a hill via a grassy track. It was on my Dodo mud map so knew that this would link with another road that would take me to Fagairolles, but I didn’t know whether it was a good route to take. Alternatively, I could stay on the bitumen and follow the D53 which would take me straight to my end goal in full sun. I didn’t fancy walking by road for two kilometres, as my feet were already tired. The GR offered shade. I put off my decision.
“Sometimes the best map will not guide you
You can’t see what’s round the bend
Sometimes the road leads through dark places
Sometimes the darkness is your friend” Jimmy Buffet (and Bruce Cockburn)
I had used up all my water before lunch, so I walked the short few hundred metres into the little settlement and a kind resident obliged me by filling my large bottle. I made my way back out to the 5 way corner. I chose grass and shade.
It was a track fenced off from farmland. It was clear from the droppings, that people also rode horses along it. I descended, then turned a wide-angled corner only to find my way obstructed by a massive tree. I thought, how am I going to get around this? As I got closer, my question was answered. There was a clear track up over the huge root ball. So I climbed over it as others had done before me. It must have fallen a few weeks before.
I was passing cows in the paddocks to both sides, but at one point it looked like the cows were on my side of the fence. I paused briefly to plot how I’d negotiate around 5 cows on a path only 3 metres wide, but realised when I came upon them, that it was just an interesting optical illusion. My path was clear and fenced. I said hello to the brown cows on the other side, as I usually do to the animals I pass, and went on my way. I’m a taurean, so I feel a special affinity for these animals.
I kept walking, noticing black and white feathers and small apples on the path. Gorgeous bushes of holly formed the hedgerow. More cows, this time Friesians – bos taurus. I did choose well, the shade continued. More round hay bales. I saw a man and his son splitting wood in his yard, and I confirmed with him that I was on the right track to Fagairolles.
The track met the D922 and I crossed to join a small one lane road into the town. It was a tiny place, a hameau or hamlet nestled in a hill. It might have to take the award for tiniest town I stayed in on the trip. There were many cars parked, but deserted of people, and it seems to be the site for Office National de la Chasse et de la Faune Sauvage, which I didn’t realise was Hunting and Wildlife. Tiny town, and a little creepy also, now I think about it. Fagairolles is not on the chemin, but I didn’t think that the first day after my rest I could do another big walk. This was a compromise. I recognised the Gites of France sign and proceeded to ring the numbers on the front door. The sign said something about ‘relais de ouveture a 17:00’, so I wasn’t too fussed if I had to wait. There was a nice picnic table there. After about 45 minutes my hostess arrived and let me in. She signed my credentiale, drew me a little picture of the St Eutrope Chapel that I missed and took my 12 euros. I had the place to myself.
I had arrived at 3.45pm and walked about 17 kms. Taking off 45 minutes for lunch and breaks, that makes 5 hours of walking, pretty good. Just over 3 kms per hour. The gite was really comfy if a little cavernous with just me in it. The bathroom was really clean and the kitchen well-appointed, with a lovely long table for big groups. There were two rooms each with several beds downstairs, then there were more upstairs on a mezzanine. So it felt a little cathedral-like. I rattled around in it by myself. There was a big window facing west that the sun shone in as it descended. I chose a room with two bunk beds. I think there was more accommodation next door which was closed off from my part.
I showered, washed my clothes and put them outside on the washing rack. Claudine gave me a packet of risotto yesterday, so I’m thinking of her as I watch it heat up. There will be enough for breakfast too – lucky, there’s certainly no boulangerie or epicerie in this little place.
After dinner, and still walking gingerly, I went to have a look at the ancient bread-making site le four à pain de Fagairolles – the apparent highlight of this place. I wasn’t long out of bed on my return and as I was trying to get to sleep, lightning penetrated even my closed eyelids. I rushed out to save my clothes from the rain.