Monday 6 June
“I am a fool who with his longing for love and tenderness runs up cold mountains.”
– Reinhold Messner
I met two English bikers at the campsite, to whom I had lent a corkscrew last night. They had no set itinerary but thought they might just bike through the mountains and down to Girona. The serendipity appealed. This lifted me a little from my own thoughts of simply racing to the coast and made me think about my options at this point.
Sophie back at base had thoughtfully put together a new route for me which used an old pilgrims path, the GR78, following it northeast where it would meet the Cathar trail and then onto the coast at Narbonne.
I picked up my now fully charged phone which the campsite owner, a white bearded grandfather, had kindly charged for me overnight and set off for the town square and a bus from Laruns. There was plenty of time to kill until the bus so I grabbed some groceries, a phone adaptor, bread, breakfast, camping gaz from the hardware store, dried sausage from the butcher and some tins of cassoulet. The rucksack, Beast, was now ridiculously heavy .
With time still to spare I explored the Museum of the Pyrenees where I ticked off all the animals that I had managed to see and even get a souvenir T-shirt.
The bus north cost all of two euros and I got off at Aurudy. Two stops too early it transpired, but the walk up through the village (why is it always up?) was picturesque.
I started to walk following the GR78, the Camino de Santiago but heading east, down through the woods. Shortly after this I came across an enormous cart horse who was blocking the track. We managed to negotiate my safe passage with some friendly pats on the nose.
The path soon became tarmac and wound through a succession of pretty, medieval but similar villages. St Columba for example dates back to the 1100’s. The Camino seems to be easy walking, usually tarmac straight and flat. The trails are preserved as UNESCO sites of historic importance. This reminded me of the M2 motorway in Kent which runs along the old Pilgrims Way from Rochester to Canterbury – but it doesn’t make it a footpath.
Every village and many strategic points are now marked with crosses and crucifixes and I was grateful for those villages that had not turned their fountains into fire hydrants and the heat today reached 30 degrees. I was very much in rural France with farming much in evidence. Some of the lanes were clearly ancient and laid with cobbles, and I passed several ruins of monasteries and churches.
As the afternoon wore on the thunder rolled all around, often behind or to the front of me. I stopped to shelter under a tree by the church in Asson when a small portly man in his underpants, who clearly had a dental phobia, thew open a window shutter and asked me if I was looking for the communal gîte. I wasn’t.
Two hundred yards later the skies opened and the surprisingly warm rain water came flooding down in torrents. I retraced my steps and sheepishly asked the small man, Lawrence, about the offer of the gîte . After a bit of grumbling about not telephoning ahead, he dressed himself and in the pouring rain took me round to the lady who had the key. I thanked him profusely and paid the lady ten euros as I didn’t have a pilgrims card to stamp.
That night I shared a small room in the gite with Janice and John, two Catholic pilgrims from Melbourne, Australia who had just come west from from Lourdes. He was a retired accountant. We chatted about a good many things and exchanged tips on accommodation, blisters and food – all the important things for long distance walkers. John had left his sunglasses at their last lunch stop and I promised to look out for them the next day.