Via Tolosana Day 26: Back to the future

Carcassonne to Toulouse

I awoke at 6am, but didn’t get up until just before 7am.  I wrote my pages in record time today and went down to breakfast, even managing to write a bit of journal before people came and conversation was required.  I had rested well overnight and awoke knowing that to return to Toulouse was the right thing to do today.

Michelle came a little while later as did two other pelerin, one we never said hello to and the other, Peter, English, but living in California for the past 28 years.  We had a very interesting breakfast time chat ranging over topics far and wide. We talked American foreign policy: economic, military, pharmaceutical and agribusiness. The modern ways the US dominates the world – eliminating threats by any means. It was a very animated discussion. Michelle has done interesting research on the ethics and laws around giving people placebos in research. It would not be any surprise to anyone, but the populations of prisons, and other people society chooses to forget, like prostitutes, are ripe for drug testing by pharmaceutical companies.

Michelle would have to be a second angel for me on my trip. Her quiet and gentle ways were very re-assuring. To have such a kind presence during my time in Carcassonne was nothing short of a bolt out of the blue.  She told me she moves slowly, in all senses, and finds that this ends up being a test for those she spends time with.  She can tell whether she is accepted by those around her if they tolerate her leisurely pace.  She likened herself to Marilyn Monroe, who was likewise always ‘plus tard‘ – slower or late. I like to think of it as going avec lentement or the opposite to ‘with haste’.  I think this kind of time-taking is different to the kind I used to experience – where I could tell the things I was reluctant to do, by how quickly (or not), I got ready for them and whether I was on time for them. Hers seemed more a permanent consideration of time, not feeling rushed by the expectations of others.  My second angel reinforcing the benefits of going my own way in my own time.

After a long breakfast, we made our way back upstairs and packed up.  Michelle brought me a little pice of paper she’d made – a practice piece for the little book she’s making with La Vie des fleurs (the life of flowers) printed on it in calligraphic script.  We both said goodbye to Peter (who’s room was coincidentally just near mine).  All packed, I went downstairs.  They had trouble with refunding my money, and Michelle said she would try while she was still there to see if she could get my money back.  I didn’t like her chances. Still no wifi, I realised I would need to return to the Office of Tourisme to retrieve my emails.  I also realised I had been walking for nearly 4 weeks and I was halfway through my trip.

Crossing the bridge back to the new town, I spy a woman photographing a big stork in the river. The name Pont Vieux is apt even though it means old bridge, it had the most stunning views of the river in both directions. I found more wall art facing the river and then a Bar Brasserie Florian for Flo.

At the Office de Tourisme I sourced the information about touring the Cathar region by deux chevaux  – now you’re talking! Next time. I found this great little pamphlet about a company that hires out these old gems for tours of the surrounding areas.  Their depot was in another town, so this would need to be another charming activity saved for next time.  I thought of Antoine in Melbourne, and took an extra pamphlet for him. For now, it became apparent to me that I just needed to get back on the road.

A neptune fountain and surprisingly beautiful slate floor of the square led me down one of the small streets on the way to the gare (station) where I bought a mini sandwich (actually a baguette with saucisson et beure) a perfect snack for later. Near the gare, I spotted me in my former life, carrying a cello case to the train. The line for a ticket was very long, and a guy had a complicated enquiry which meant we were all waiting about half an hour. There were  other walkers waiting from England but I didn’t feel like striking up a conversation as they seemed intent on bagging the service. I didn’t want to get into a discussion about it. I booked a ticket on the 12 midday train back to Toulouse.  About 5 minutes out, I took the underpass to the platform in the middle of several tracks.  On the way back I sat next to a guy completing his Baccalaureate and just about to start philosophy teaching studies philosophy.  Wow, how many 18 year old Australian men are just starting to learn to teach philosophy. The answer … not enough!!  I might be biased, but he was absolutely gorgeous – it was his mind I was completely taken with, of course. He was a scout, and had just been on a camping expedition and had stayed in a monastery.  We talked about my trip and his studies and the Cathares. He’d like to do the Camino with his brother, but is yet to convince him. His brother is 30, so quite a bit older than him. It seemed that my young philosopher friend had an intrinsic reason for wanting to walk, he was Catholic. But his brother wasn’t.  I said he might need to find some other motivating force – girls for instance.  He was amused by my idea.  I can’t remember his name, maybe Mikhail, perhaps with a Polish background.

As per usual SNCF style, we pulled into Toulouse station right on schedule. I made my way to the Capitole square, past the Donjon – I’d never stopped to think it really does sound like dungeon when you pay attention.  I wandered for a bit, past gorgeous buildings – turned into McDonalds with a gold sign – does it make it better?  I had spent several valuable minutes wandering in and out of exhibition spaces like the Musee-Théâtre du Capitole, over it’s creaking wooden floorboards reminiscent of many ancient French chateaus like Versailles, trying unsuccessfully to find a toilet – even opening my suspicious looking backpack for the inquisitive gendarme at the gate. The amusement of seeing a Toulouse hipster in the museum possibly made the toilet stop seem more urgent. The public ones behind the Office de Tourisme and dungeon were out of order.  Restaurants have toilets.  I decided to sit in a restaurant and eat lunch, as expensive as the pee stop would be.

Often the toilet justifies a more expensive meal than one really has the budget for.  At Le Paradis du fruit, under the colonnades opposite the Capitole building, I caught up on my journal while admiring the glass light fittings that reminded me of Chihuly’s. This restaurant was a bit of a cross between a Boost Juice chain store and Spats – all my Adelaide friends would know what I mean.  Incredible combinations of fruit juices with cocktail decorations, extremely fastidiously decorated desserts – beautiful.  The piddle-tax was high this day – 15.50 Euro for lunch.  It reminded me of my time working at a public service organisation in Adelaide where one of my colleagues was a long-serving member of the Adelaide City Council.  He was famous for opposing charges for toilets – the piddle tax. There aren’t many places in Australia where you are asked to pay to piddle, but it is quite common-place in Europe. The meal was worth it though. First a little board of dips and breads, then café gourmand with fantastic shot glass of caramel ice-cream with banana and strawberries and a coffee.

In the middle of the Place du Capitole, there is a zodiac with a symbol at every point of the Occitan cross.  Clever, or maybe that’s what that cross is all about.

Fully refreshed and free of liquid balast, I made my way to see St Sernin. After emerging from lunch en face the Capitole Square and building, above my head under the cloisters the ceiling was painted. Magnificent!  As I was about to walk to the Basilique Saint-Sernin, I noticed the Place was cordoned off and there was what looked like a drone flying above.  I saw the same people again a little later in front of the Eglise Notre-Dame du Taur and again after I came out of the Basilique.  They were making a commercial for UEFA in 2016, filming in every city that would be hosting the event.  I just missed the Cinema En Plein Air. Bummer. That would have been good.  The streets of Toulouse are fantastic.

I hadn’t yet decided on the place I would stay, and made the mistake I made in Arles, thinking that an accueil (welcome) in a church means they will arrange a bed for you. I had a lovely little tete-a-tete with a kind man in the basilica for several minutes before realising that all he was going to provide me was assistance.  Eventually I said I would stay at the same place as I stayed on the Friday night – the Jeune Travailleurs, and he kindly phoned them and booked me in. Perfect.  He was happy for me to leave my heavy backpack in the room he worked from at the back of the basilica while I took a tour of the crypt and the rest of the cavernous space.  There it sat being guarded by him and St Roch. I’d realised from talking with Philippe that the saint I saw at Villelongue was not St Jacques, but St Roch.  Funnily enough today was his fete day – 16th August.  He is always depicted with his dog, and has a wound on his leg – the two things that distinguish him from St Jacques as they share the coquille shell decoration.

Inside St Sernin has a very opulent feel – there are carpets covering some of the pillars in the church and it seemed that this may have been how they were decorated in centuries past.  It would have to be one of the most beautiful basilicas I’ve been in. It certainly rivals my favourite in Paris, Saint-Étienne-du-Mont. It has extra arches up top.  But the most amazing thing of all is the crypt below.  I have never seen so many reliquaries together in one place or saints for that matter. St Hilaire, beautiful saints carved from wood, Saint Papoul and statues of St Jacques. I took some photos of just a portion of the reliquaries too.  They remind me of giant versions of the tiny cut crystal memento mori jewellery, small parts of people are hidden behind the glass windows.  A lock of hair, a monogram, some part of a person’s life memorialised forever. These highly decorated containers put places like Howard’s Storage to shame.  These items also made me think of my French Huguenot ancestor, Alexis Pilleau (the elder) who was apparently known for making a gold reliquary for the local Catholic church in Le Mans in the 1600s. I wonder if they looked like these? There were some made in the 1600s, so the style would be right.  The church building reminded me of an Escher picture, and that scene from The Name of the Rose, where the library is burning and they are trying to escape through the labyrinth of staircases.

Once outside the building, my pack back on, it was a challenging matter to try to find the perfect angle to capture as much of the basilica as I could fit in my viewfinder.  And on this day avec drone. (See if you can spot it in my photos).  I wandered right around the place, getting a feel for the large footprint it made, and then back towards Capitole, clicking at every opportunity. The architecture of this city is quite different to any I’d walked through before. But whilst a rose city seems to be quite unusual here in France, for an Australian, not so much. Many of our buildings are these colours.  Every opportunity was taken to mount huge porcelain tiled maps of the ancient city on walls – grand and petite.  As I wandered ‘home’ I loved the way the afternoon blue sky and the orange-red of the bricks were playing.  I found it difficult to stop taking photos.

Back in familiar territory, I was close to the Jeune Travailleurs, and I elicited a bon route from a guy in a car. At the hostel, my host this time was possibly Spanish, and very flirty. He thought it exotic to be hosting an Australien. He gave me a large 3rd floor room that had two single beds in it, but which I’d have to myself. Two large windows looked out to the common courtyard below.  No bathroom in it this time, I’d have to go around the corner for a shower and the toilet along the corridor. Judging by the smell it seemed to be the location of choice for resident smokers.  I showered again with one of the push-button showers that delivers just enough water to get you wet, then stops again, demanding you push again for your next dose.  I did my washing under the shower, as I often did, as it was simpler.  Back in my room, I once again rigged my little stretchy clothes line into an intricate arrangement between a chair, a broken coat hanger and the window handle to dry my washing.  As I only had 6 pegs, I was glad I’d brought my twisted clothes lines that I could squeeze a little corner each item through to secure. It makes a funny sight – a room full of washing.

Not wanting to sit and watch it dry, I took a walk to the Musee and Jardin des Plantes.  I thought, from a map, that there was a labyrinth there, but I couldn’t find it.  Instead, I happened across naked couples canoodling, and the bells of L’église Saint Exupère doing their best impersonation of those at Baziege. Beautiful. The church inside was weird, but the bells were nice and the sweet Mary was a cute find too.

INSERT MEDIA WHEN MY INTERNET CONNECTION LETS ME!!!

I called in at Casino (supermarket chain) on my way back to the hostel and got a ham and beure sandwich which was in really bad white bread, but there wasn’t much else. Unlike two nights before, there was to be no banquet on a tray provided by the hostel. I passed by many hôtel particuliers then when I got back I took photos of the rooftops from my bedroom.

Downstairs again, I found some more young people who were very interested in what I was doing there. I was attempting to do some iPad blog writing, but instead got chatting to Hugo and then Sebastian until 10pm.  I amused myself showing these two young French men AFL.  They laughed and laughed. I don’t blame them.  The game would look so ridiculous to people only familiar with soccer and rugby.  Hugo was sweet. He’d repeat what I’d say, but with the correct French words. It was very helpful. That’s the way I like it – the patient corrections. He would make a great teacher, but I think he was going to be an accountant.  Sebastian was a computer systems administrator.

I retired to my laundry room, feeling old and illiterate!

 

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!

Via Tolosana Day 16 … and a partridge in a pear tree

Salvetat sur Agout – Anglès 18.7kms … or possibly 20kms, who knows!

That was another difficult night’s sleep. I couldn’t settle.  Maybe it was the people outside, not knowing whether I felt hot or cold, food, legs, bed, bed-clothes or all of the above – it was a challenge.  The alarm went at 6am and I dutifully, half asleep, got up and changed the morning ritual to partly pack first. I followed with writing. It is going consistently well now I’m on my own. The church bell chimes for 6.30am, twice.  I haven’t worked out why that is, but it happens for most bells I hear.

My socks didn’t dry, the nights are warm, but a dew kicks in during the early hours, leaving thicker items like my woollen socks damp.  It felt cool now, and overcast. I don’t know how this day will turn out. I packed up, checked I hadn’t left anything and went down to the grubby kitchen to eat my packet rice pudding and to retrieve lunch from the fridge.

Descending into the dark lobby, through the damp smell again, I unlocked then locked the big old wooden door. This musty smell is so French for me, I’d love to bottle it, but I fear the production of such a smell would take several hundred years to get it just right.  Writing about it now reminds me of that book, Perfume. Seventy-five steps around the corner and I deposited the key and the Office de Tourisme and checked my emails. Gas bills, Facebook messages and a morning/evening conversation with my ex-colleague. It felt strange to be a) not present in my old workplace and b) be talking to a work colleague from the other side of the world.  How close the ethernet enables us to feel.

Walking down toward the river end of town, I partially re-traced my trail of the night before. I followed the GR markers down stairs, across a bridge and along a major road with a steady upward climb. The road size diminished as I walked further away from the town, asphalt at first for 20 minutes up hill, then a single lane paved road, then dirt. The town outskirts gave way to more cows, farmland and the way eventually took me into the forest again.

On the big main road a jogger passed me. I wonder if he was smelling the fresh smells. It may have even rained overnight, no wonder my socks didn’t dry.  There were apples on the path today. Fresh silence. The sky seems to have cleared and wispy clouds are present now.

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Ever smaller roads

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Ever smaller roads

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Ever smaller roads

The tracks turned into dark ones, and commenced a stony descent into thicker forest. I walked resolutely. I’m not scared.  Pine trees on one side and thick green bushes with large leaves on the other.  I turned a corner then crossed a creek. I walked for what seemed like ages before seeing a marker, and I was getting worried that I was lost or had missed one. Rounding the next corner I saw the familiar red and white and said “Thank God” out loud, I was so relieved.  Firmly trekking in forest country today, I started to notice many small birds.  I also hear this banging sound in the distance. It is coming closer, weird.  I emerge into a cleared forest area and at the same time notice a small 4WD-like a Lada coming towards me, with a small trailer banging behind it.  Obviously here to collect firewood. He asked if I was hot and I told him yes, I’d walked from Salvetat.  He asked if I was heading to Angles and I said yes.  Angles is the last high town, then it is down hill to Boissezon,  Castres, and flatish for the rest of the walk until I climb to Somport.

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Ever smaller roads – in the shade

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St Jacques champignon

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Wet track

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Where once stood a majestic tree

A little later, I stopped on a tree stump to eat my peach.  Three women on mountain bikes rode past. After starting to walk again, I heard a chainsaw.  I walked through more of what I thought were elm forest (later found to be beech). They really are my favourite, calm and serene. In this one there were many that had been chopped down and it disappointed me somewhat, they are such elegant trees. Three creek crossings today. After the second one it got warmer all of a sudden. A four-wheeler raced along a track across from me, the young rider probably not even noticing me, he was going fast.  Then onto a logging road and met an old man with two sticks, out walking.  Back onto a smaller track and after a while I come across a middle-aged couple all dressed in white mushrooming by the looks.

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Shaggy tree

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Nothing better than a forest like this

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More wood piles

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Early lunch picnic spot

I crossed a road and found a little reserve/car park where they had parked their car, with a picnic table and benches with the bonus of a water tap.  I decided to st0p here to have my pizza with added avocado and tomato on top. Yum!  I filled up my water bottles and had a good pause.  The couple got into their matching white car and drove off, not before she stripped down to her bra to change her top, right there in front of me. But, unlike most everyone else I met, they didn’t acknowledge or greet me at all.  An older, slightly dishevelled guy on a scooter was filling up his bottles from the continuous fountain at the far end of the clearing and looked like he was a bin-checker. Not a vagrant, but someone working for the council.  Then I walked past him a little further on, chatting to a woman in a little village, and he seemed to be collecting leftover food from her, so he probably was a bin checker, not employed by the council. Social security is very personal here it seems.

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Wide open road

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A husband and wife passed on their mountain bikes, then two women in matching fluro pink and yellow gear rode past, then I passed a family of four adults, 2 kids and dogs. It was starting to feel like a day from the Twelve days of Christmas. Either that or Noah and the Ark.  I saw La Poste in Caussillols and then in Angles, two more cyclists and yet another cyclist. It is only a Thursday – have I missed a public holiday or something?

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More wide open road

On approach to Anglès it looked like a well-off town, but the buildings look neither old nor new.  I rested a couple of times during the walk. Once for a little bit in a meadow that sloped gently away from the road. I was admiring the diversity of different flowers and grasses when a man and two women, and two Shetland dogs wandered past. I always call them Collies, because that’s what they look like, but smaller versions. The other time on a park bench, well-placed next to an oversized pond just outside of the town.  It was a hard day of roads today, probably at least 10kms on asphalt. It takes a toll on my feet.

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Not this way – go back!

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Oversized pond

Thankfully it was a gentle downhill into town.  Strange little centre of town. I checked out the church, and the Mairie for the key – that’s easy. I climbed the stairs and a woman greeted me at the top, then got her small daughter or grand-daughter to escort me the short distance to the gite. I noted on the way past that the epicerie opens at 3.30pm.

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Angles

Stopping in at the bar for a Diablo Menthe and an ice-cream that I regretted was as much as anything a bid to sit in shade, but still outside. Why is it an ice-cream is never as good as it promises.  Note to self – stick to iceblocks.

After showering and hanging my clothes in the sun outside, I went to buy supplies for the evening meal and tomorrow. I bought up big.

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Vintage bikes

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Nice knocker

The only drawback about this town is that the Office of Tourisme is back out of town about 500 metres. It is cute though. A little wooden chalet-type hut with a wooden decking out front.  It sits in the triangular grassed area between two roads that meet at a roundabout. It has a shady tree outside which suited me perfectly for a place to sit under and attempt to blog.  I tried booking for Castres, but had no luck.  I’ll try again tomorrow with my host, or maybe I’ll just wait.

I got day one of my trip posted – at last! Into Great Silence.  I was just getting ready to pack up from my sunny deck spot, as I’d decided to call it a night, when I saw a guy walking down the road. He had the requisite shell so I called out to him and asked if he was a pilgrim.  He said yes, but that his French wasn’t so good. He didn’t seem to notice mine wasn’t either.  We continued in English. He was German.

It was 6.45pm, so the Mairie was long closed, and he asked me whether I could let him stay in the gite. I said I didn’t feel comfortable with that, because it wasn’t my decision to make, but that we should go and see what could be done.  We went to the Bar Chez Marie-Jo et David as this was where the key resided on weekends.  They were kind enough to take his money and stamp his credential.

I was going to write to Bettina in the morning that it would be nice if there were some company in the gites at night, then Manfred appeared.  Some of my wishes seem to get answered quickly.  He thinks he was lucky to meet me. I agreed.  I think I am lucky to meet another pilgrim, given I’d been walking for several days alone now.

Back at the gite I cooked dinner, made left overs for the next day’s lunch and wrote my journal. We chatted a little.  Manfred is an Occupational Therapist and it was interesting to compare notes about provision of supports for people with disabilities. A big day, but a good one.  It felt good sitting on the deck blogging. Copying and pasting seemed to work well.

Via Tolosana Day 15: Charlotte’s Web and another man’s poisson

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.

Bjork’s Aeroplane, Israel “Iz” Kaʻanoʻi Kamakawiwoʻole’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Supertramp’s Ain’t nobody but me.  Packing music that was urging me to get back on the road.

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.

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La luna

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.

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Mossiness

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Sit right down

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.

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Beautiful lake

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Beautiful lake

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Beautiful lake

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Smallest frog in the world

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.

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Robert’s bridge

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Robert’s bridge

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Teasing views of the lake

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.

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Blue skies

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Saint Francis (esca)

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.
“Bonjournee”

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.

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St Jacques?

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Villelongue

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.

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Woodpile

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.

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La Jasse da Baccut

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!

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‘Once were forests’

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.

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Hydrangea

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.

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Fantastic farms – hay bales

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Big pile of wood

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Soft steps

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.

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Sunflower

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St Etienne

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.

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Saint Jacques

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Communal gite – my resting place

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.

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Route map for Le Chemin d’Arles

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Thong surfing … again

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St Jacques shell

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Languedoc cross

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Love a good historic trail!

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.

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Menu in a kids grammar book

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Ancient child’s seat

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Galette

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Crepescule

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.

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Old clock box

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Festives d’Oc

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My friend from the Office de Tourisme

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.

Via Tolosana Day 14: … gathers no moss

Fagairolles – Murat-sur-Vèbre 10kms

Awoke at 5.38, fresh from a nice dream about a bearded Netherlander.  That was altogether too early to get up, so I went back to sleep until 7.30am.  That’s more like it!  I wrote my pages and ate cold packet risotto because there was no power. Cold was actually quite good.  I need to buy toothpaste.  I tidied my belongings, pinned my still-cold socks to the backpack with my hat and went outside. The niggling irritation on my heel, ripe for a blister, wasn’t going to go away. I applied some of Isabelle’s Bandaid anti-blister magic.  (It seemed to work, because after 11am I noticed my heel was still OK).  I tried texting the woman who had met me yesterday to tell her about the power, but it didn’t work.

Gite in Fagairolles

Leaving Fagairolles

Ominous silver cloudy sky with sun emerging

Clouds leaving Fagairolees

It was a little strange being in a place out of the way from the route – it almost felt like no-one would find me there.  Maybe that’s what I wanted.  Being alone in my Australian life, I’d made solo living an art form.  I felt like I had come away ready to learn about relationships and compromise. It turned out it was more than that.  I’d taken the first offer of companionship that had come along, just to have company but there was so much compromise, I was totally lost in the equation. Again.  I wasn’t making any time for me.  How often does this happen.  I lose control of my life, for others, and then get angry that ‘they’ve taken my liberty away’, when actually I made the choice not to be free.  I had learned so much in the past few days, that I was happy with the solitude – really happy with it. Despite being a little incognito, it was also reassuring to be joining the GR653 again, although I didn’t see any other walkers on my short jaunt to Murat-sur-Vèbre.

I decided to take the road route, D53 back to the carrefour (crossroad) and I was treated with hedgerows along one side of the road, and open paddocks on the other.  More cows. In the distance more wind turbines. Blackberries – how could I resist when the branch was thrust into my path, and general direction? And more holly. Flies. It was still cloudy and I got rained on a little. A little further along the road, there was a small but poignant memorial to those who had lost their lives in a battle on 23rd August, 1944.  Only 14 days from today’s date. It was hard to imagine the surrounding fields being the site of such carnage and bloodshed – du Ponts de la Mouline.  The information board was graphic in its depiction of troop movements. I’m glad I stopped.

Wind turbines on the horizon

Les Éoliens

Blackberries encroaching the road verge

Blackberries poking themselves in my general direction

Information board about du Pont de la Mouline battle, 1944

du Pont de la Mouline battle, 23rd August 1944, last century

Ginestet sign with the Occitan/Cathar cross

Ginestet sign and Occitan cross – also the Cathar cross

Back into Ginestat for the second time and I find that it is another small hamlet, like Fagairolles only with denser, greener trees. With the moisture, comes moss – it was a theme today. This rolling stone might not be gathering any moss, but she’s certainly seeing lots of it. As I walked, I started to hear the sounds of logging, chainsaws up ahead, and behind me at the intersection, two big logging trucks thundering past.  I could smell the chopped pine wood even from several hundred metres up the valley.  As I climbed higher, I left the workers, for denser forest, and less sealed tracks.  As I did, I was hurrying from one piece of shade from rain to the next, a little as I had done the day before with the sun.  I heard lumberjack voices in the distance shouting instructions to each other. Is ‘lumberjack‘ a funny word, or is it just the connotation it has when you know this song?

Mossy huge beech tree, queen of the forest

Ancient beech tree – queen of the forest avec moss

Forest and road

Forest trees and road

I could have put my pack cover on, but couldn’t be bothered. I passed this strange adventure playground that although looked disused, could have been a fantastic team-bonding site if it didn’t look so post-apocalyptic. I kept walking and entered a really dark, sticky and humid forest of what I was later to work out, were beech trees. The air was still, the trees began sparsely and small at first, but gradually thickened and grew in stature.  The darkness contrasted with the iridescence of the light green leaves gave an other-worldly feeling.  Now I really felt like I was in a Robin Hood episode.  Pine branches unlike I’d seen so far also appeared.  I crossed a creek as the path hair-pinned.  As I ascended up the other side of the creek, the sun began to shine brighter into the canopy. A dappled light shone on my path which was made up of months of leaf litter, making my walk the most soft under foot in my 14 days. Mossy rocks and mossy trees were everywhere.  I switched back a number of times before reaching the top of the hill, the light had grown, and there was also a light breeze.  I’d worn short sleeves today, not expecting much sun. The breeze was fresh on my skin.  The sweat continues but now it cools me. Then up and up towards the more light at the end of the tunnel. I was glad at the top to see a sign forbidding wheeled vehicles of any kind.  I was happy this pristine forest would intended for preservation.  This place was magical. I don’t want to walk away from it, there is something extremely special about it.  Not in a thinking way, I can feel it. I feel calm and safe.  Almost like answered prayer, as I leave it on the crest of the hill, I realise in 50 metres, but wait, there’s more! The track plunged into darkness again, and I am in another beech forest.

Beech forest trail

In a scene from Robin Hood – beech forest

Wide fanned pine branches

Unfamiliar pine branches

Dappled light on beech saplings

Sun-shiny day

Ancient stone walls and beech trees

Ancient stone wall and beech

I hear distant planes overhead. Tall trees, then small ones and I breathe in this beautiful, moist, fresh air.  I follow the Routes des Saints as it coincides with the GR643.  Mossy walls appear in this next part of the forest, a remainder of an ancient time. Red/brown leaves under my feet are slippery from all of the rain.  Bellamy – more inappropriate 80s comedy comes to mind.  I notice a leaf pre-empting autumn – even nature has it’s trailblazers.  There are many rock piles today.

'Bellamy' on a large plastic lid handing on a string fence

Bellamy

Nature's trail blazer - an autumn leaf in summer

Outlier – autumn leaf in summer

Mossy rock with stones piled into pyramid

Rock pile and moss rock

Suddenly the forest is behind me and I have rejoined a farming community.  Wide open fields of crops and more cows.  I see wheat for the first time.

Profile of a pile of sawn logs

Log profile

Still it threatens to rain.  More blackberries, this time with spent honey suckle. I can’t pick the little trumpet flowers, pick the little green bud off the end and pull the stamen out to suck the sweet nectar, they’re all spent.  I am reminded that I’m not far from logging as I enter little Les Senausses.  Yet another quiet hamlet with many town folk outside for some reason – like the whole town. They seem to live a very close existence. I pass a magnificent vegetable garden plot of leeks, strawberries, pumpkin which shows what you can have when you devote time to tending the earth.

Large vegetable garden in back yard

Magnificent garden

I say bonjour a number of times to the people I pass and it is a real contrast to Fagairolles where I only met my hostess and a guy out with his boy on his bike in the afternoon. Some folk end up passing me in their cars on their short drive to Murat.  Just outside, there are more cows with bells – I need more cow bell!  A screeching bird. A Kate Bush pigeon coo-ing, and the constant sound of bees buzzing high in the trees.  More blackberries.

The verge of fresh and old bitumen

The verge

Man on bitumen laying truck

The workers of the world

Part way along the road I came across workers patching the road. It is still misty, and it blows over the road. A field of wheat. Small country road. A big pile of shit. Just at the edge of Les Senausses the saint trail turns left. I continue to Murat – now not much further.

A field of wheat stalks

Wheat?

I turn left at the next junction and walk again on the D922, and the right side has a shoulder, so I take it. La Poste passes me, and the road is quite busy with motorbikes, cars and trucks. There are big lavender bushes on the outskirts. I never saw lavender in Provence, so this was a nice change, and the perfume was gorgeous.

Lavender bushes by the side of the road

Provincial lavender

I continue into Murat and find the supermarket. It is 12pm, so I expect everything will be closed soon, but I just make it in to buy a peach.  I then go to the Mairie and pay my 6.50 euros for my bed for the night.  No, not chambre (room), lit(bed) – as it will always just be a bed in a dorm for that price.  I was to walk back out the council office, then to the left, up some stairs, up the hill, then down under a building.  I found it, up near the community camping ground.  Pelerin accommodation: basic and cheap. Perfect.

Pilgrim accommodation downstairs

Gite pelerins

I am so early that the cleaner is still there. I drop my pack and eat my peach. I close the windows for her as she asked, the floor still a bit wet from the mop.  The dorm is L-shaped and underground. It has a little chill to it.  You enter through the kitchen with a beige macaron tablecloth on the table, and it seems you have everything you need. The laundry is next door, as are the toilets and showers. Showers are reached by taking the key behind the door to unlock the door next to the toilets.

Tablecloth with macarons printed on it

Tablecloth

I go to find lunch, wandering past the ATM – yay, there is instant cash, and it all comes spitting out at me. Thank God!  I found the Office de Tourisme just next door which I’ll return to at 3pm.  I walked up and back along the main street checking lunch options.  I was trying to decide if I’d have a later start the next morning to catch this nice looking Boulangerie, but decided I’d wait.  The owner came along, and even though it had closed for lunch, he asked me if I wanted anything.  How great is that!  I’d been thinking the sandwich, biscuit and boisson option looked good for 4.50 euros, so that’s what I got.  He went in through the garage and got my lunch for me. What a kind man. I must really look like a pilgrim!

I walked back along the main drag to where I’d seen a sign for a public park and descended the steps into it.  I walked right to the back of it where there was a ricketty picnic table under a tall mulberry tree. Bellamy – the real one hopped into the next door paddock. I sat and ate my saucisson baguette and almond biscuit and drank Orangina while writing my journal.  This is truly the life.  I am so grateful to be going my own way.  Any trepidation about this has now passed.  Here’s to a great camino!  The town is quiet: everyone lunches here. I love a society that organises itself around a two hour lunch break. How civilised!

I walked back to the Gite communal, showered with a camping ground shower – ie. one that you push the button which lasts for 10 second, then it goes off, and washed my clothes in one of many big porcelein sinks in the large laundry room.  I thought it would be a good idea to get some Arnica lotion to rub on my muscles, but ended up getting Weleda oil.  After the supermarket opened again I bought food for today and tomorrow. I feel more prepared now.

I went to the Office de Tourisme to book to nights ahead. Jacques I had texted “Paths are easier now. In Angles with Jacques. You have to ring to be at the municipal.” The young woman was Jack (or maybe Jacqueline) of all trades. She doubles as La Poste staffer as well. I remembered I still need toothpaste.  Charlotte was a wonderful help. She booked my next nights for me.  I also asked her about getting to Carcassonne and Lourdes, and whether there were communal gites for St Jacques pilgrims. I knew it was a long shot – everyone is a pilgrim in Lourdes – aren’t they? She was so helpful, and told me a little about the megaliths that were were upstairs in the museum.  I wrote glowing comments on some forms she gave me about her service.  And I used wifi briefly, tried to blog, but it wasn’t cooperating, so I just checked email and instead decided to go upstairs to the museum. At first Charlotte said there were no tickets (I like to collect souvenirs as I go), but she said she had old ones and she’d find one before I came back down.  She explained about the Visigoths who had come from Western Europe prior to the Romans.

The exposed beams of the Tourist Office building

Like a boat

Murat Menhir museum - giant stones in the museum

Menhir museum – Office de Tourisme, Murat

I decided to walk early tomorrow.  I’d also planned out my next week of walking as I’d started to realise if I didn’t plan a little, I might not make it to Somport in time to get back to the conference in London in the second week of September.  I went to buy a baguette and went back to make dinner. I got a pre-packaged meal, but bought extra broccoli which I steamed.  There was jam in the fridge to have on the baguette in the morning, and coffee in the cupboard.  I’m not so practiced at making the drip coffee, but I’ll give it a go. A coffee is a good start to a walking day, so I’d found out.

It was still really light when I went to bed at 8.30pm. I should’ve closed the shutters on the outside of the windows, as the streetlights were bright.  And, I was a little silly, and I’d sent back my eye-patch to Paris.  It would turn out that I needed it more than once, and instead had broken sleep.  I was also a little cold, and had that kind of sleep you have when you are slightly too cold to be comfortable, but never get up to do anything about it!

Via Tolosana Day 13: One day I walk

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.

One Day I Walk – Bruce Cockburn

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.

St Gervais beagle for Anita

St Gervais beagle for Anita

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.

Narrow lanes exiting St Gervais

St Gervais maze

St Jacques shells in shape of arrow with message from St Gervais residents

I think I go … this way! Via tolosane … Les amis du vieux St Gervais vous souhaitent bon chemin.

Small mini car reminder of a googomobil

Goggomobil

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.

Forest trees

Robin Hood country

Distant views of mountains

Distant views

Giant chestnut tree?

Giant chestnut?

Large trunk with huge hollow knots

A beech tree perhaps

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.

Gnome holding a nautical telescope

Andabre nautical gnome

Flamingo statue

Andabre flamingo

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.

Dry stone wall and trees with Visigoth sign

Visigoth site

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.

Roof tops and tiles in Castanet-le-Haut

Castanet-le-Haut skyline

Walls, balisage, cross and slate roof

GR653 sign and cross

Slate wall fixed with metal pins

Ingenious slate wall

Paved path out of Castanet-le-Haut

Exit to the mountains

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.

Pine forest trail

Pine forest trail

Rocky track up hill

Rocky road

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.

Track disappearing into trees with fence posts and distant structure

Beautiful farm land

Track disappearing into trees with fence posts and farm land in foreground

Elysian Fields?

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 …

Mountain views, flowers in foreground

Mountain views

Cottage herbs/flowers next to track

Just like a country garden

Shaded forest track

Shaded forest track

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.

Grassy track, GR71

Chemin de terre GR71

A metal filigree cross

Filigree cross

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.

Brown cows

Just like Brown’s cows

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.

Prickly holly leaves

The holly … and the ivy?

Hedgerow tunnel

Hedgerow tunnel

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.

Via Tolosana Day 12: A Pilgrim’s Progress

Rest Day – Saint-Gervais-sur-Mare

I slept well so when Jacques got up, I was ready to get up too. The parade of departing long walkers was akin to the last movement of the Haydn Farewell Symphony, only I hope everyone took their lights with them.  I hung around in the kitchen and said goodbye to them.

First Jacques I. He wished me happiness for my chemin. I can see why.  I’d been a blubbering mess at the end of each day’s walk, the embodiment of Sturm und Drang, so I suppose he must have thought that happiness was somewhat out of my reach.  I realised that while walking with him it was.

Then Sonia, who was so very helpful and just as much an angel as when she’d walked into my chemin the day before. I had told her the night before about my Carcassone and Lourdes plans. She said the guy we’d seen at Mecle was making up his route from different GRs to get to Carcassone and Lourdes. It’s a pity there is not much information about the other routes in the gites along this one.  I knew I wanted to visit these places, but it wasn’t clear to me which paths would take me there. In the end it was easier to get close, and catch a train. I didn’t think I had the extra days to walk, and I didn’t want to veer from my course. If I had been alone, I would have stayed in Mecle for the night. I would’ve met another interesting pilgrim. Sonia reassured me I would get my confidence back, then light as a feather, she departed.

I said a grateful goodbye to Jacques II. What a kind and trusting soul. He was gracious and gave me two lovely kisses on the cheek, as the French do.

I had a lovely chat to Claudine and Isabelle who had been so kind to me the day before. They saw I was wrecked and Claudine had brought me a cup of tea in bed the previous afternoon when I was so exhausted and Jacques was trying to work out how he could get his money back from me. We joked about making a film of my adventure. They are happy to star in it and thought it could be called Extreme Pilgrimage. They were also really pleased for me that I had made such a strong decision. It was a surprisingly happy morning of goodbyes.  I remained, feeling like the keeper of the keys.  I had the gite to myself.

I’d sorted two piles: post and carry. I continued to ruminate about whether to keep my SLR camera. It took up lots of room, but I had a dry run, and found that now it fit inside my backpack. Previously I’d been carrying it separately over a shoulder, and then for the last couple of days hung over the back of the pack, both options weren’t ideal. Sonia had suggested I might like to keep it to take photos of Carcassone. That was a good idea.

It was a Sunday, the day of rest, and it felt luxuriant to take my time to wash my clothes and the opportunity to wash many as they would all dry in the heat. I was washing the whole experience out, leaving only the threads of my original intentions for this walk. As the dirt and dust flowed out, I let the new reality sink in.  I was alone again. I was hopeful. I was excited. I was free.

Gite municipal Le Chalet

Gite municipal Le Chalet

I sat out in the warm air at one of the picnic tables and wrote my morning pages for the first time in over a week.  I felt better already.   I was listening to the birds in the tree above, some choral music from a window a little further away, and in the far distance, a band playing what sounded like a really long warm up to Those were the days my friend. We thought they’d never end …

Yesterday when we arrived, there was a stage being set up and a band doing sound checks. It was the annual St Gervais sur Mare Fête (it literally means festival – the symbol over the ‘e’ replaces an ‘s’ following, so the word would have originally looked a lot like its English equivalent – Feste). These fêtes are lovely summer features of many French towns and consist of free entertainment over three days.  It is amazing, considering this little town only has just over 800 people. They go to a lot of trouble to celebrate.

I thought what I could hear was the day time entertainment on that stage. It was only after writing for some time, that I realised that the sound was getting louder, maybe they were sound checking? Finally I twigged, the band were mobile, getting closer, and they had turned off the main street into the little cul-de-sac where the gite was … and soon enough, like Goldilocks discovering baby bear, there they were! I was excited and couldn’t stop smiling as they rounded the corner next to some other communal accommodation units. They all had yellow t-shirts on, and the band were accompanied by several dancers, two of whom danced toward me, a guy giving out roses and a woman offering bon bons (boiled lollies) from a basket. I donated a euro. If this was ‘going my own way’, BRING IT ON!

Town band and singers

Those were the days my friend

Roses and lolly rapper on picnic table

Days of wine and roses

Music. Happiness.  The leitmotif of all pilgrims, the cigale, started singing in the tree above. It was going to be a warm day. Perfect for getting washing dry. Perfect for not walking! I finished my pages and my journal. I suppose you’re wondering how I can still tell this tale. Thankfully, despite no reliable wi-fi connection, I have, with great discipline, kept writing my daily journal.

I walked to the Office de Tourisme to sort out the money and to use Wi-fi. I met the same young man who told me he is studying history at university and was on his summer holidays. I asked him whether he would help me out by booking my next night’s accommodation at Fagairolles. He said this was fine and that his friend’s mother was the woman who looked after the communal gite there. It was a reassuring connection.  The Office de Tourisme has a quaint display of the features of the area, and I leafed through a small plastic folder about the stèles discoïdales (I had seen previously) and asked him about them. Some are from medieval times, 1000 AD, although those specimens are usually housed in museums these days.

The office was really busy, with several groups coming in and out while I was there still madly blogging.  I saw a couple I’d seen at the Office de Tourisme in Lodeve – witnesses of my sturm und drang.  The were also walking a GR, but it was a different one.  I got talking to them. They were staying at le camping – the same place as the other pilgrim, the Mecle man. They walked relatively slowly, and carried a tent, so it was interesting to hear about their experience – well as much as I could understand in my baby French. At 12pm when nominally the office should have closed for the young student to go on his lunch break, I left. Better to be part of his lunch break solution than problem.  No-one else seemed to get the idea that he needed lunch, so I left a hive of activity. I would come back later.

Statue of Mary high in wall alcove

Mary watches everything

Cemetery plaque for Manuel Gonzalez died 1944

Cemetery

I wandered along the Rue de Villeneuve to the lower cemetery in the warm noon time sun, juggling the cheese Danish from the boulangerie while taking photos. The town band were somewhere up ahead, but the music disappeared after a while. I kept running into Mary and it reminded me of the Luka Bloom song, Mary Watches Everything. She’s everywhere.  Again I saw the Mecle man. He was hippyish and, it seemed, everywhere I was. I walked up to the upper cemetery (did I tell you I like cemeteries) via the ramparts of the old town and looked across the valley to the old ruin we’d walked past yesterday. Down again by paved steps I came to the l’Eglise St Gervais su Mare which was really dark and dank.  The organ is apparently a really good one from the workshop of Theodore Puget signed in 1840. Doing a bit of Googling I find out it is still a popular drawcard, attracting half of the townsfolk to concerts that are held. I didn’t notice it though, it was so dark. But I did see the Mecle man.

Another statue of Mary high in an alcove

Mary’s everywhere

View over town rooftops to ancient ruin and mountains

Rooftop view to Castrum de Neyran (11th – 14th century)

Family vaults and crypts

Real estate for the other world

I walked back to the gite past the pub and noticed a young ginger-haired man eating lunch, his backpack beside him next to the table. Walkers have a certain look about them which is hard to mistake. An older Italian man, Luigi was sitting outside on the picnic table when I returned to the gite. We couldn’t communicate very well, as my Italian is virtually non-existent, although I managed to describe to him where to go to the Office de Tourisme to pay his money. I ate my lunch and highlighted my journal with the things I wanted to include in the blog. I thought I should use my time wisely while I actually had wi-fi, not be trying to work out what I wanted to write when I should just be uploading.

Old door with coloured stonework

Knock and the door will opened unto you

Back to my bureau at 3pm and once again I met the town band and had another listen to those were the days, and the other three songs they recycled for the whole day.  All the roses and bonbons were long gone. The ginger-haired man, Florian, walked up to me and asked about the tourist office. I explained he’d found it and he, Luigi and I walked in. I went straight to the table to sit and use wi-fi and the guys asked about a place for the night. I don’t know what happened, but somehow Luigi was redirected to another gite or chambre d’hotes so I didn’t see him again (although did hear about him through the pilgrim grapevine), but Florian ended up at the same place as me.

I managed to post one more blog. Writing blogs as I go is like cooking a recipe where you have a couple of separate steps then mix the two results together at the end to cook. The only trouble is you have to walk another 15kms to get to the oven.  I upload the photos via iPhone, then type what is in my journal onto the WordPress site on the iPad. However it has taken me a while to realise that I can type the text onto the iPad anytime, then copy that all over to the blog. The iPad is a lovely ‘vintage’ item that Bettina loaned me (she’s my IT go-to girl). It is great but a little sticky. With patchy wi-fi it is also a little unreliable. I have lost whole versions more than once. This makes blogging painstaking. I have written the last Arles blog, and can now start the Via Tolosana proper – only twelve days behind. Sigh.

Cinema Paradiso - old cinema building

Cinema Paradiso

St Gervais sur Mare town square

Town square without people

I returned to the gite and had some dinner at about 6pm. Florian returned. He has walked from Arles also and will go as far as Castres. He is a teacher from Nantes who works in Paris, but has a dream to move to Brittany. We had a great discussion as he spoke English well, and I muddled through with a bit of French.  At 8pm we decided to go out to see what was going on in the town square. Nothing was due to happen until 10pm and despite to having not ‘done’ anything all day, I was getting tired. He ate dinner, an ‘American’, a hot dog with chips in it – like a chip butty. I helped him with a couple of chips and had a ‘quiet one’ (as a colleague, Mal at ABS was fond of saying). A muscat. Lovely.  I was in a good mood. Calm and smiling.

Stage lighting at night

fête night

Pink stage lighting

fête night

At 10.30pm, after watching half a set of the band, we walked back leaving the growing crowd of locals behind us to boogie.  We had a room and a half each!

I felt relieved and relaxed. I’d had a chilled out day where I’d really slowly and aimlessly explored the parts of the town I was interested in. It was nice to meet several other pilgrims and to chat to a new person. I felt good about my decision to rest.  I am over half way to Toulouse now.  I walk and I write to heal and to discover what waits for me.

This pilgrim is making progress.

Via Tolosana Day 10: A stitch in time saves nine

Lodeve to Lunas 22 kms

Last night I think I got sleep. I can’t really tell.

We were up at 5.00am to get ready to walk another big day as we were intending to get to Joncels. Jacques I and I left at 6am. It was cool and a good time to start. We ate a sunrise for breakfast. Pink sky in the morning, shepherd’s warning, as it turns out, was correct.

Sunrise through blackened trees

Sunrise

Sunrise - yellow clouds above blackened landscape

Sunrise

We first left by road, and wound our way up to meet the chemin (our gite was on an alternate, parallel route out to the west of Lodeve) so we needed to turn left to find the GR653 again. We left the road to the right and followed a fire track circling slowly upwards around a hill for about an hour an a half.

Pines aglow with morning sun next to dirt track

Pines aglow

Balisage - white and red GR653 marker on pile of stones

Balisage

Once again we had gorgeous views; a patchwork of cropped fields, forests and even the large lake we could see yesterday from the table d’orientation.  We continue to cover so much ground.

Patched Grandeur - distant view of mountains, lake and fields and forests

Patched grandeur

The chemin Via Tolosana, dirt track and blue sky

The chemin

Which way? Hay bale behind signpost pointing in many directions

Which way?

At the top of one section large rounds of hay confronted us and we turned right.  Heading towards the summit Jacques commented on how he thought I was strong to carry such a heavy backpack. I knew it was heavier than it needed to be, but was not thinking I could get rid of very much. Plus we were never in a town at the right time to post anything. We left well before 9am, and never reached a town with La Poste before 12pm and they rarely opened in the afternoons.  He hadn’t suggested we stop for a day so I could post my excess. I wasn’t using my sleeping bag, and my Keen sandals were far too heavy for this exercise. I also took the comment metaphorically and I told him, I’ve had to be strong in my life as I was taken advantage of as a young child. I said I’m only just becoming comfortable with letting down my guard and showing my sensitive and vulnerable side. I’m learning how to use something different to sheer brute strength to keep myself strong, and sane. Reflecting on this conversation I am realising that it also takes constant attention and skill working out who to safely surround myself with, in order that I don’t experience overload. Working this out now, gives me more power and strength than anything else.  Sometimes however, it takes a while to sink in, 10 days perhaps.

When I was leaving the monastery at Bouchard, one of the sweet, yet simple monks who had showed me the little chapel the day before when I was wandering around the grounds returned to the breakfast dining room and brought me a small heart locket on a leather cord.  I was very touched, and in addition to the little pendant I have worn every day from my friend Jo, I put it on and had worn it religiously.  In Gallargues I nearly lost it – I left it hanging in the shower, but remembered it in time.  Today I found myself without my heart-shaped locket and I knew now I was really lost.  I still had the leather cord, so I might replace the locket when I get back, but I realised now, something really had to change.

False friends - berries that look like blueberries

False friends – not blueberries

Just like an Australian walk, the familiar fronds of bracken appeared. Blue berries that looked edible, but apparently are not started clumping along the grassy track. Achy foot arches and achy right knee, my ACL knee (drat).

Grassy track

Grassy track

Don't go there donkey! Rocks with GR653 'wrong way' marker

Don’t go there donkey!

Rocks and grass and GR653 marker

Rocks and grass

Distant view of hills with road winding looking like the seam on a pair of jeans

Like the seam on a pair of jeans

As I was walking up the side of the bitumen road, I thought about the speed of walking as opposed to riding. As I’d found when riding the Vezelay route, the dashed lines along the side of the road are actually joined by a very fine white line, just like you make when you’re patching squares together en masse and you don’t break the cotton (for my quilting relatives).  You can only see it when you’re riding or walking. Car drivers wouldn’t be let into the secret, that line markers all know, there is one continuous line, even for dashes.

Pilgrimage appeals to many, but the many variants of the Chemin St Jacques are not the only form of long-distance walking you can do. The Grande Randonnée network spreads like crisscrossed stitching on a quilt across France and Europe, and many people do different parts of it each holiday.

Photo of lines marked on bitumen

Sewing those patchwork squares together

Later wind turbines debuted. They are called éoliennes here. Yes Tony Abbott, Europe has loads of them! They are not without their dissenters though. Some locals obviously believe they are messing with the local Royal eagle population. Controversial, wherever you are! I might have thought that eagles would be a little too clever to get caught up in wind turbines, but maybe not, and they are dying in their 100s. Who would know? I’m wondering whether the energy companies would let environmental scientists even close. Maybe I’m just being cynical. When I spoke of them later to Jacques I & II, they said éoliennes are named for the God of Wind, Aeolius. I said in Australia we just call them wind turbines – maybe we prefer to keep the Gods out of it.

(I know of him from the Aeolian mode in music which according to wiki is the natural minor mode of the Bob Dylan song, All Along the Watchtower and the R.E.M. song, Losing my Religion. I spent 6 years “prostrate to the higher mind, got my paper and I was” … none the wiser about those facts! Prizes for anyone who knows who wrote those words).

Not everyone likes éoliennes - La population sit non aux eoliennes sure l'escandorgue

Not everyone likes éoliennes

Hills and wind turbines

éoliennes

Jacques II caught us up where we’d stopped for our second break, just past the Col de la Baraque de Bral corner and the turbine protest. We’d been walking for 45 minutes on bitumen, and a total of four hours already, so my legs were dead. Even the sound of cowbells in the valley was not enough to amuse me and distract from my leg tiredness.

From our resting place we tried ringing to book beds for the night. Somewhere, somehow, someone decided that we should walk further than Joncels, to Lunas.  We were going to pass through Joncels on the way, but then Jacques II thought better of the idea. I think both Jacques were trying to make it easier for me so they suggested we go straight down the valley to Lunas, cutting off several kilometres. Here again we were skipping bits, but I was now resigned to it. I just had to walk at their pace. Both Jacques tried ringing our intended place of abode for the night, but couldn’t seem to get through. We joked that we must indeed be in ‘deep’ France as there was no mobile reception. So we took the most direct route down, continuing straight through the little hamlet of Bernagues instead of veering right. There was only one house there that we could see and a little further down the track a big abandoned house, well maybe half-abandoned. This ended up being a very difficult 5km track down into Lunas and quite hot and exposed in the post midday sun (as usual). We stopped a little way along to eat lunch on the shady side of the hill (thankfully). It was nice because it was the first time all three of us had stopped together. The Jacques continued to try the accommodation to no avail. I just enjoyed the peace of the present location.

Chemin Via Tolosana, GR653 dirt track across paddocks with blue sky

Neverending story

When we were nearly there, Jacques I took a big fall, but luckily only skinned his knees. Tiny blue, orange and yellow butterflies mimicked the colours of the flowers next to the road, and flitted around at our feet. As yesterday, there were sand-coloured crickets which when disturbed, jumped away, revealing their amazingly bright orange underbellies.

I hung back a little again, preferring to walk on my own, keeping my pain to myself.  I’ve worked out a few logistical realities from walking with others. For instance, the pee stop, usually sets one back at least 100 metres from one’s colleagues. Jacques called these stops escales, like the stops a ship takes at different ports.

When we got to the bottom of the hill, it was only 500 metres into Lunas along the jean-seam of a road, but it felt like another 5 kms. The bitumen was a new form of torture for my feet. Passing Roland Garros (I didn’t think it was this far south), I once again hobbled to the finish line and the Office de Tourisme.

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In Lunas at last

Sign above doorway - Roland Garros

For Uncle Geof

Lunas is yet another town made beautiful by the river running through it and people had clearly built to take in the view. A large château/hotel/restaurant was perched right on its banks. It took a gorgeous picture and looked really popular with the lunchtime crowd. It was nearly 2pm, and we camped outside our favourite place until it opened. I was desperate, in a messy way, for the toilet, so took my toilet paper with me around the back of the building. Luckily where there are tourists, there are toilets. My feet were killing me and I couldn’t bear to walk a moment longer. The Jacques were contemplating walking to the next town, Le Bousquet d’Orb, another 3.5kms but I said no way. The woman gave them all the options, in French at first, then Jacques I explained to me an abbreviated form in English. They were struggling to find cheap options. I indicated once again my strong preference for staying in this town, as I really couldn’t go any further physically.

Reflections of the Restaurant du château in a river, Lunas

Reflections of the Restaurant du château

I took the opportunity, while they were exploring options, to have a brief sojourn with Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) in the chapel next door without my pack on. L’église Saint-Pancrace was cool, calm, and literally 10 steps from the office. I am always quite fascinated by Jeanne in chapels. She seems somewhat out-of-place, and I never think of her as a saint, I suppose because she was a martyr first.  I try to forget that if she had lived just two hundred years later, she would have been one of the opponents of my Huguenot ancestors, waging war against protestant English sympathisers. I try not to like her, because clearly she was a violent young woman, but there is something in this portrayal of her: innocent childlike  demeanour (she possibly was only 19 when she was burnt), peasant clothes, and battle garb in such a sacred place that screams of an attitude that women just aren’t meant to have.  You have to admire that! For audacity alone.  The West has certainly had its share of ‘holy warriors’ and now I notice there is even a tactical role-playing Play-Station game named in her honour.  She is clearly breaking down traditional roles of women even in the 21st century, over five hundred years later.

Statue of Jeanne d'Art (Joan of Arc), L'église Saint-Pancrace

Jeanne d’Arc

Tiled roof building with faces sculpted in the lintels

Kitchen lintel sculptures

While I was absent, there was a little to-ing and fro-ing between the two Jacques and the woman at the office, then the unimaginable happened. I still don’t know how. The reason the two Jacques couldn’t get through to the L’Auberge Gourmande where we had wanted to stay, was because the new owners had closed it for renovations. I don’t know whether it was pressure from Jacques I (I’ve noticed he can be very insistent), or just happenstance, but the woman ended up having the owners on the phone, and asked them whether it would be possible to put 3 pilgrims up. They agreed, and they were fantastic. We thanked her for her assistance and went to wait for the owner just across the river on some little benches across the road from the accommodation.  An old man was sitting there and we said our bon jours.  As it often does, the conversation turned quickly to the weather, and he told us that they did have rain earlier in the week, and made us laugh when he said it wasn’t enough to fill a glass.  He was later joined by what looked like all of the old men of the town who only disbanded at the threat of the storm that was forecast.

We stayed in a building site basically (don’t tell anyone!), but there was one room with three beds in it that they hadn’t been working on. They were also living there upstairs, so it was well habitable, and our hosts were quick to point out the hazards (most of which were probably there well before the building work anyway). It was cool and there was lovely coir matting on the floor which gave excellent relief when I rubbed my tired feet on it.  We were given towels (luxury – with shoe box in middle of road accent), bath mats and guest soaps. Plus they allowed us to use their washing machine and makeshift kitchen out back. The Hilton!

As we were settling in to our accommodation, Jacques II had a search through his pack, and realised he had left his medications in Lodeve, so he disappeared to try to ring the madame from the gite. We said we’d organise dinner so he could concentrate on getting his medications back. Madame wasn’t answering her telephone and he came back looking a little dejected. Luckily, I had kept both of her phone numbers on my Lodeve map, and he was able to ring her. Fortuitously, she had cousins who were visiting Lodeve from Lunas that night, and they agreed to deliver his medicines back to him. We shared pizza, tomato/mozzarella salad and crusty bread, and part-way through, our hostess came to tell us the medications had been dropped off. Voila!

Still persevering with my blog attempts, after dinner I sat downstairs in the lounge room and used wi-fi! Yay! Only 53 unread emails.  I didn’t get very far again with the blog, so I snuck upstairs and went to bed.

Moon and clouds in Lunas

Lunar sky after rain in Lunas

Via Tolosana Day 9: Attention a la marche: glisser!

Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière to Lodève 15kms

Sitting in the garden of a château with a driveway lined with chestnut trees, it is hard to believe the highs and the lows I have been through today. And I’m not talking about altitude.

I didn’t sleep, I didn’t feel rested, and was exhausted. I didn’t have a headache during the night as I usually do when I am dehydrated, but instead a temperature and I woke with my nose blocked up. Uh oh. I’m confused. In addition to this, when I first walked into the little gite, it smelled of piss and a strange damp smell.

Preparation was slow this morning. It had rained a little overnight and was cool outside. I decided my toenails needed cutting or I might have more sources of pain by the end of the day. Knowing the walk would be in the sun the previous day, I’d exchanged my short-sleeved t-shirt for a long-sleeved one, but I thought given the overcast start today, that I’d be safe with short sleeves. It wasn’t raining heavily, but enough to get the pack wet, so the yellow cover went on.

Seeing a gorgeous blue 2CV put me in a slightly better mood as we left the little town with the tongue-twister name and I walked ahead for the first part of the morning.  I glimpsed a La Poste scooter and I found a Domaine de Flo.

IMG_1683

Domaine de Flo

Wet dry stone wall

Watery path

The path was completely covered with water early on, but we took a way around it. The smells of wet grass and pine were gorgeous in the rain and mostly it continued to sprinkle lightly. The way was again well-marked, but in parts rocky – perhaps a reflection of my state of mind. I was angry with Jacques, but of course, mostly with myself, for once again ‘fitting in’ with someone else, and going their way. I had stopped listening to myself. I had stopped writing. I felt like I had compromised my ‘way’ to fit in with his, and lost myself in the process. I had expected to walk for 6 weeks by myself, and sadly, I resented the intrusion into my trip. At first it had been fun. Now it just felt like hard work walking with this invisible expectation that I would keep up and have the same way. Getting to Montpelier, I had been prepared to walk the ‘boring’ bits. I could have stopped to listen to myself, but didn’t. I’d done it again, like I often do, compromise my way to fit in with someone else. I found myself feeling sorry for myself.  Where is that companion who will want to walk with me at my pace? When will someone compromise their trip for me? 

Roman road?

We were walking to Lodeve today, a smaller étape (stage), and I had decided that once there I would take the opportunity to rest and let Jacques I and II go on without me. I felt like the only option I had was to stay to do my writing and get myself together again, alone.  Best laid plans.

Usclas-du-Bosc

We passed through Usclas-du-Bosc and it was still spitting. Jacques, with his random door-opening habit opened the big green iron door to the cemetery. There were stèles discoïdales there – ancient tomb stones from the 1600s and earlier. I was impressed as I thought Jacques had just found them by luck but I realise now they were probably in his guide-book. I needed to find a toilet however, and went off to the Mairie. The toilet was behind the building, but locked. I went in to the Mairie and asked the woman for the key, dumped my pack and was relieved – just in time. Afterwards I went back to take more photos of the cemetery.

stèle discoïdales

IMG_1701

Dry stone wall

The cigales were absent all day – they obviously don’t like getting wet. Small bushes were sending their herbal fragrances out to all and sundry, making the air smell aromatic and providing good competition for my own pungency (usually well before 10am I’m drowning in sweat).  Today was a day of dry-stone walls, made wet with the rain. They gave way to shale paths and then a long track upwards to an intersection had us turn onto a cushioned pine forest path. Pilgrims had gone wild and creative with their rock piles, even on large dolmen-like rocks. Pine trees whispered as I walked, sounding like the ocean. The air was fresh through my sweaty clothes.

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Soft pine path

rock sculpture

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Dolmen rock art

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Grandmont horses

If yesterday’s theme was Attention à la marche, today’s was attention à la marche – glisser (slippery). After the pine forest, we walked along large flat slippery rocks for many minutes before coming upon a pine avenue bordered with a stone wall next to a horse paddock leading to le prieuré Saint-Michel de Grandmont. According to the sign board outside, in addition to cloisters, there is Le dolmen de Coste-Rouge (an ancient megalith), old stone wells and woods surrounding the priory. It looked deserted, and as I didn’t want to hold Jacques up, I didn’t pursue researches to see if it was open. Once again I missed out. For the next week or so, I kept meeting pilgrims who raved about this place. It would have been a couple of minute wait for it to open, but I kept walking. Doing some research later, thanks Wiki, I found that the Grandmontine order was basically one of austere hermits, who wore no shoes, and spent their whole lives in silence, eating no meat and fasting regularly.  Sounds like medieval Vipassana. Sounds like just the kind of place I would’ve enjoyed seeing! No joke.

the path

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Attention glisser!

The whole landscape today, with what could well have been Roman built walls, dripped with history and geological significance. After the priory it was full on and the rocks were slippery as. After stepping up and down as the track passed over rocks for a little while, we came out on the top a massive rock plateau. When I took a leak, I could see down a crevice to another level below where we were. Cave men and women lived here. It was just like Korg: 70,000 BC. Jacques walked on ahead.

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Rock shelf

This rock shelf lasted for several hundred metres and is appropriately known as ‘La Roch’, although I can’t confirm, as it doesn’t appear on any maps. On the final stretch of it, enthusiastic visitors had built a labyrinth marked by small stones, so of course I walked it remembering my trip to the park with Jo in Sydney, and my friend Maureen’s love of all things labyrinthine. Walking carefully so as not to slip, I entered with an intention of composing myself and exiting into a new way, my way. Take companionship from people who would support me to walk my way. Remain true to myself.

Labyrinth

Further along the track, deep grooves in the rock, about 30cms wide and the same deep, had me wondering whether these were prehistoric rainwater collecting mechanisms. I had a momentary panic when I thought I had lost him, but eventually I caught Jacques up.  This annoyed me, not because I’d lost him, but that it mattered that I’d lost him, as I was trying so very hard to feel independent. I said I would stop for some morning tea in a highly wooded path adjoining one last large flat-topped rock shelf. We ate pain aux raisins that we’d bought at the Boulangerie that morning.  We briefly talked about La Fontaine again, who Jacques describes as a ‘fabulist’, which always sounds like ‘fabulous’ when he says it, and it takes a moment to work out what he’s talking about. It seems that the language confusion worked both ways for us.  French speakers have trouble with my name. It is completely un-French so usually people I meet have never heard it before. So, I get all sorts of pronunciations. Jacques thought my name was Bronwell. He thought this was curious because in Dutch, ‘bron’ means ‘source’. To have a name: ‘wellwell’ was amusing to him. Until I corrected him, and said, no, it’s Bronwen. I have found as soon as I spell it, people seem to understand how to say it. I keep meaning to write a card with ‘Bron-wen’ on it. This would make my name absolutely clear.

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Prehistoric rainwater collection

the pack

My pack felt heavy, but thankfully with a night’s healing sleep, my chaffed legs were not bothering me as they had the day before.  There was generous provision of water fountains and picnic spots on the first day so far in which we neither felt like drinking so much, or needed to sit down so desperately. View-worthy locations were the most popular. We bypassed the little town of Saumont, but not the table d’orientation just outside with it’s lovely old cross.

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Tractor seat picnic spot

Table d’orientation

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Saumont

It never ceases to amaze me how many terrains we pass through each day. When we started the ground was purple, but we ended up with rocks and large saltbush-like bushes with long thing spiky foliage. Just after Saumont, we sat on one of the many park benches of the day for a break. Minutes later and we were joined by Jacques II. Then another 5 minutes passed and there was Hugo. He’d brought a thermos with him for coffee, and he shared his boisson chaud (hot drink) with us – how fantastic. Jacques phoned ahead only to find that the Gite de la Megisserie was closed permanently. We would need to visit the Office de Tourisme for more assistance with finding a bed for the night. Hugo disappeared as quickly as he’d appeared and I never met him on the chemin again. For the rest of the way to Lodeve, we more or less traversed with Jacques II. I hung back, I was still exhausted and preferred to walk alone-ish.

I dropped my phone on day 7, and the sound had stopped working. I had missed the little camera shutter sound when I took photos. But today as I was crossing a grassy field, and took a photo of the Jacques ahead, I realised the sound had returned. But just because I’m paying attention and doing my best to listen, but it doesn’t necessarily mean things get instantly easier.

IMG_1762

Red rocks

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Rocky wood pile

Right next to the path outside Lodeve, there was a tiny hut. We joked that this was our gite for the night. Next to it, there was a rock pile that resembled the woodpiles I’d seen in Lithuania – a beautiful piece of handiwork.

walls

Le Lergue

Mary watches over all

Lodeve is a large-ish town spread along the valley of the Le Lergue river. Walking towards the centre we passed Mary looking down protectively over us. At the tourist office, the woman was very helpful and found the three of us accommodation for 15 euros each. I was missing my wi-fi and really wanted to read emails. I had left my Airbnb rooms open back in Australia, but I hadn’t had wi-fi to be able to check for any bookings. There was wi-fi in the office, but I just had to charge my phone first. After having decided I wanted to walk on my own, and stay in Lodeve for two nights, having a booking for a gite with the two Jacques didn’t feel like I was asserting my new independence. I left my pack at the office, and went to find some food for dinner at Monoprix – a cheap eat of carbonara for 2 euro 38 centimes. That’s a bargain.

I went back to the Office de Tourisme having tried to get money from three ATMs with my VISA and AMEX. I would have topped up in Montpelier, but had been too distracted to remember. Now I had 15 euros cash, and no cash until Tuesday when my master card topped up.  I was in a bind. I could go on with the two Jacques and pay my 15 euros for the night and not have anything for the next three days, or I could find a hotel to stay in that took AMEX. I got back to the tourist office just as Jacques II was picking up his backpack, and I asked him to tell Jacques I that I wouldn’t be staying tonight. I explained my situation, and he said he would wait while I tried one last possibility at the Post Office. This didn’t work. I spent 30 minutes on the phone to VISA and they had difficulty dealing with my request for a new card, said they’d put me through to somewhere else who didn’t have any idea why I’d been put through to them, and were likewise extremely unhelpful given I had no money, and a VISA card that didn’t work.

I went back to find Jacques II patiently waiting and he offered to lend me money. I was really tearful and humbled that someone who had known me only a couple of days would offer to help like this. I had just decided to go my own way, and now I had no means. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to rely on others, but it seemed this was the only option. I left to go to the gite with Jacques II but part way there I was getting the strong feeling not to go on. I tried to explain in my limited French, why I was upset, but actually I didn’t really know. I said for him to go on, and I would go back to the Office de Tourisme. I’d been there several times now, and they probably thought, oh no, not the crying Australian again. The woman checked for me whether there were any hotels that took Amex with a room available for two nights. Complet (full)! I needed more time to think. I checked my Airbnb account. I had missed two bookings, they had expired. This affects my response rate, so I decided to block out August bookings because the stress of having to find wi-fi to keep up with them, was taking its toll. With space to feel, I realised that my only option was to continue with the two Jacques. Jack High! I would take up Jacques II on his offer, and continue walking until my money cleared. I needed a break desperately, but I didn’t have the means to have one.

The woman gave me the directions to the gite. I was hoping it was a nice one, but was thinking it could be awful given the day I’d just had. At a roundabout I tried to take in the peaceful offering a gorgeous olive tree was extending.  Maybe it was reminding me of grace, or maybe charity. I felt relieved at having made a decision, but I was realising the consequences of the last 8 days. I wasn’t feeling much peace about becoming distracted enough not to look after myself financially. Stupid Bronwen.

For two kilometres I followed the avenue of plane trees out-of-town, walking on the left-hand side of the road facing the traffic, stepping aside into the grass if a car passed. I checked the house numbers, but they didn’t follow a sequence. I kept walking and there it was, #762, and no I wasn’t imagining it – it was a château, with a coach house no less. Another avenue of tall trees took a right from the road and I followed them and found Jacques I. Jacques II had told him I wouldn’t be coming, so he was surprised to see me. I went upstairs to see the madame of the house and glimpsed where she lived with her husband. She received me in a little room with bay doors leading into a sitting room. Conservatively upholstered chairs, carpet and a mirror above a fireplace welcomed personal visitors, but I sat down next to the pilgrim stamp at the beautiful table in the lobby. She only spoke French, but it was not a complicated exchange when I was just paying for a bed and getting my credentiale stamped. She did mention however that some of her family had travelled to Australia, and we had a brief discussion about this.

There are only 3 beds in this gite, and it seems that it is not generally listed, a place of last resort perhaps. A small kitchen, a long bed chamber with three beds, and a bathroom/toilet in which the small internal window opens up into the garage under the house. In addition to the musty bathroom smell, you get a hint of mechanics when you’re drying yourself after your shower. We ate dinner together, and surprisingly I was genuinely happy to be back. I showered and did my washing, but as it was already after 6pm, there was not much hope of it drying over night. Jacques I asked what I would do about money, and I told him Jacques II had offered to lend some. Jacques I offered too, so having known him just a little longer I took a loan.

château

Yesterday I honed some tips for discouraged pilgrims:

Methods for walking up long, rocky paths:
1. Little old lady, bent double method (self-explanatory)
2. Standing erect, butt cheeks clenched technique
3. Holding onto backpack straps method
4. Hands on hips technique

Vary as each one becomes ineffective.

Via Tolosana Day 8: Attention a la Marche on that Road to Nowhere

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert to Saint-Jean-de-la-Blaquière 26kms

I noticed when I was in Paris this time, that they are now including an English and German translation in the Metro when the Attention a la marche! (watch your step!) announcement is given. As with many things French/English there are mirror images on the other side of the channel. In the Tube, the same announcement is Mind the gap!  Sometimes despite all our best efforts, our attention is taken and before we know it we are lost. Sometimes we haven’t been listening to our own needs and our focus is on someone else. Sometimes it is simply fatigue and sleep deprivation. Whatever the cause, when our focus returns, or we awake from our slumber we find ourselves in uncomfortable territory.

Jacques and I were able to get up really early to undertake the biggest day so far – probably well over 26 kms. I saw 5:55 on my phone as we were leaving. It was another beautiful morning as we ascended what I will refer to as ‘El Capitan’, because of its resemblance to the one in Yosemite. The sun rose colouring the sheer cliffs and trees with a gentle orange-pink. The path was steep, straight up following switchbacks for the first hour and a half. I was scared by the drop away from the path in some places. When you see the shale rocks spilling down the hill, it doesn’t fill one with confidence. ‘El Capitan’ or Roc de la Bissone was in our sights from many angles and it looked so high that we would never reach it. In the end, we walked right on top of it. The vegetation varied also. A thick covering in some place, and none in others – leaving you to tumble down the hill if you lost your footing.  I found myself savouring the small trees and vegetation and walking quickly past the exposed parts, with that slight feeling of panic never far away.

‘El Capitan’ or Roc de la Bissone

Looking back to where we’d come from, there was a beautiful view of the ruined castle we could see from St Guilhem and a subtle sunrise. The path was rocky, but consistent.

Ruined Visigoth castle

Sunrise for mum

El Capitan

El Capitan

When we reached the top, we crossed the saddle of the mountain over to the other side of the range and would stay there for the rest of the day. Just before we reached this point, we were shocked to meet two mountain bikers. There were no other routes but the one we’d just come up. The path was good, but prone to rock slides and I wondered how long it will last when it becomes frequented by wheels.

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

Looking forward into the next valley we could see all of the little towns we had walked through for the last day or so. Pine trees and cones on the path appeared again, and so by 10-11am, the cigales were back too. The track opened up and changed from red to white dirt.

Heavy weight way markers

Stunning views avec insect

High on the mountain range, the views were spectacular. After a short break for ‘hotdogs’, we were off along the track, which had widened to fire track size. We followed it for some time. Jacques sang the Chanson de Pelerins – Ultreia and patiently repeated it while I tried to learn it. Later I had my head down, watching my step down a steep, rough track and for some reason we were both singing Frère Jacques. In a round. Dormez-vous? Do you sleep? We were both asleep. We realised we hadn’t seen a way marker in a while, and this was unusual, as the track had been well-marked up until then. We tried turning right, but so no confirmation of the way, so we doubled back and continued downwards, but something was telling me we were heading in the wrong direction. We’re on a road to nowhere.  We turned around and climbed back up the slippery rocks back to the fork in the road, and continued roughly west.  After following this for a few minutes we came across Jacques II as he was joining our track from the right. We had missed our turn to the right, oblivious.  The moral: the signs are great, if you pay attention to them.

Our second morning tea was at Enclos Neolithic. We found Jacques II there and had a brief discussion about how old Neolithic was. None of us was sure.

Enclos Neolithic

After our break, we continued along the track and could see La Berry in the distance and a ruined castle, before Montpeyroux. Voices told us there were people walking around it, and we saw them in the distance. To find the way down would be our second challenge.  Following a marker, we left the dirt track for knee-high vegetation, but the track was lost after a time, and our way again became unclear. Despite no way markers, Jacques pressed on. We ended up in a gully in the midst of thick prickly trees that there seemed no way out of. We got lost for 2nd time. There is a saying in French, Jamais deux sans trois. It is the same as in English, never two without three – things always happen in threes.

Castellas de Montpeyroux

Fortunately we didn’t get lost a third time, however Jacques had instead tripped three times that day. We got out of the ‘thicket’ and up to the base of the castle walls, however there still was no obvious way down. The sun was really burning already, and it was only 11am. I was getting frustrated at being hot, still out in the sun and lost a second time, and Jacques’s continued insistence to continue bush-bashing rather than finding a track. So I went my own way. The track we had left for the ‘thicket’ ended up winding around the back of the castle, so I joined it, and encouraged Jacques to come with me. We followed it down, past some decrepit stations of the cross. The castle is off-limits to visitors as apparently bits fall off of it, I can understand concerns for the safety of walls over 800 years old.

Castellas de Montpeyroux

Our expectations were high at Le Barry because we thought we’d reached Arboras – we wanted our 8 euro pilgrim meal. We again had further to go so followed a really grassy farm track and hit the outskirts of Arboras. A big bridge, then a little bridge, another steep ascent, and we were at our cafe for lunch – with Jacques II and Hugo. Just around the corner we had passed what looked like a mobile wine bottling operation on the back of a semi – a very interesting idea for small wine producers who can’t invest in the bottling and don’t want to transport the wine somewhere else.  We continued up a small, steep road past some houses and a guy tuning his very impressive motorbike. We said bon jour and he asked where we were from. I said Australie, and he smiled knowingly, and said “Ah, Phillip Island“, in his adorable French accent.  I was pleased to be able to claim it, now I’m living in Melbourne.  Some discerning French people know Australia for more than it’s sharks, snakes and spiders obviously.

The big bridge

Cafe Atelier des Hommes d’Argille was a great little arty cafe. We sat across the road shaded by trees and canvas. The atelier was a cartoonist seemingly obsessed with time. His witty observations reminded me of Michael Leunig. I wish I’d had the budget and the space to buy some. There were also lots of public fountains in this town and we all filled our water bottles prior to departure. Some beautiful dogs accompanied us for lunch – ‘La vie en douce’ – take it easy. It was a sweet little town, the cafe being the central feature really. There was a castle with a tower, but it looked to be private.

prendre du bon temps – to have a good time

The Castle

Lunching friend

We thought we were in for a good afternoon, but despite being partially refreshed by a lovely lunch, it was relentless. We followed bitumen out of the town, then turned right and mounted a consistent hill via a wide dirt track to the Rocher des Vierges – the virgins, well their car park anyway. It took ages and ages, up. It was slightly unnerving seeing spent bullet casings along the path for the first time.  After this we thought again we were on the home stretch, and again we went up on a rocky and small track. There were some shady patches under what I thought were elm trees, then we crossed into another valley. We saw distant purple rock formations in the valley. It got drier and drier, and the track ended up like a goat track with many loose rocks but I was very grateful for my (plug) Salomon shoes – they are excellent. Then came red earth and the cigales, many dragonflies at a still pond. The vegetation changed to saltbush. It was 4.00pm and really, really hot now. I was hoping to be out of the sun well before this late hour.  At the signpost to Rocher des Vierges, it had promised 4.75kms.  True to form, this last ‘hour’ was excruciating.

Saltbush

Terrain change

My legs had rubbed together uncomfortably all day with the perspiration, and now I was beside myself with the pain, every step causing more torture between my legs. With the very long walk, being lost twice and scratched in the thicket, I was on my last legs, and broke down eventually, Jacques providing a shoulder to cry on. Maybe he should be called St Jacques? My feet were so tired, my legs were in pain, I was barely walking when we passed the rubbish dump – surely we must be close now? Vertical stone wall, vertical path. What is it about steep descents into towns at the end of the day? We arrived at 4.55pm. Save about an hour an a half of breaks, we had walked all day, and I was absolutely spent.

Poubelle planet

Vertical rock wall

Jacques had phoned ahead and booked a gite, and as we walked toward the town’s epicerie to ask of it, a guy came up to us and said we were staying at his house. The gite wasn’t available, and the woman had said we could stay with her friends, opposite the church. He took us to a self-contained two bedroom unit downstairs from his house. I broke down crying again when his wife came in and kindly provided us with towels and fresh tomatoes from her garden. After I gingerly showered and hobbled, legs apart around the little space, I managed to slowly accompany Jacques shopping. The epicerie was really well set up with lots of mini things that suit pilgrims. Little serves of Roquefort cheese were the ones that caught my eye, but there were also small jars of bonne maman confiture and little pats of butter. Good sized supplies for breakfast. They also had the ready-made meals, so Boeuf Bourgogne was on the menu. We ran into Jacques II and Hugo and they were going to a cafe for dinner. They had got worried that something had happened to us when we didn’t come to their gite, and Jacques II had come looking for us out on the road. I was dead, but I was still walking. Once we’d finished our shopping, we joined them for a drink at the pizzeria. I ordered my favourite – Diablo Menthe.  It helped a little.

Back at the gite, I was feeling dehydrated and burnt, and I had the shivers, which could only mean one thing – heat stroke. It was the most ridiculously long and tiring day, and I was very upset and overwhelmed. Each day up until now had got more difficult. The distances too had got much longer. Whereas I had wanted to do around 20kms a day, with wrong turns and scorching sun, it felt like 30kms. I started to get an idea that walking at this pace was not proving to be the best thing for me. I was angry, sleep-deprived, and I hadn’t written pages for days. This arrangement, whilst good for companionship, was sucking me dry. Out in the hot sun that afternoon, I really could have just sat where I was and not gone any further. I was so wrung out from it. My body and my mind were saying no more.

It is strange that the terrain can look so beautiful, though the way is so hard. The photos don’t say anything about the pain and exhaustion my body was experiencing. And what was so frustrating was that this was meant to be enjoyable!

This wasn’t fun anymore.

I had just woken up.