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Arles to Toulouse solo by foot

M

Metropolly

Guest
I've walked several of the Camino routes and always alone. My last was from Toulouse to Logrono - and now the first half of the Arles route is calling me. The Camino has never let me down, and I've always sought out solitude, yet (perhaps due to my increasing age, who knows?) I'm starting to have fears about walking alone, particularly through long stretches of forest.

My question here is specifically to anyone who has WALKED, not cycled, this stretch before. Is it safe for a woman alone? I'm planning on the first two weeks of April. Am I unlikely to cross paths with anyone else on the mountainous stretch? One of the blessings of the forested sections between Toulouse and Oloron was the proliferation of mushroom-pickers in the forests - benevolent eyes in the darkness! I realise fear is one of the powerful emotions one has to experience on the Camino, and part of the spiritual journey, but I'd rather not be foolhardy.

Are there any experienced Arles pedestrian pelerins able to help me? Please understand I'm not in the market for links to pages of statistics or blogs - I'm just hoping for some one-to-one advice from someone who has actually done this.

Many thanks!
 

gittiharre

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF Austria Czech Le Puy Geneva RLS V. Jacobi V. Regia V. Baltica/Scandinavica Porto Muxia
Hello Metropolly, I see no one has responded to your post, I wish I could, but I have not walked this route. I had similar fears before I set off from Geneva, as it was meant to be a solitary route with lots of forest and very few pilgrims. The forest was a little spooky at times, mainly because I heard pigs grunting close to where I was walking and then there were the hunters with guns and dogs during the hunting season. Once or twice stupid people/men would ask, whether I was afraid walking alone as an attractive woman on my own, which unnerved me for a while, which made me feel angry in turn.
I had great experiences and everything went really well. For several days I did not meet any other walkers and most of the time I met perhaps one per day. In a way it was lovely to have the luxury of solitude and the time to just be. I had wonderful moments, when I felt tired or miserable and suddenly another pilgrim appeared out of the blue or I stumbled across kindness and generosity. There were lots of uplifting surprises. I hope someone, who has walked this route will respond, if not, just go for it anyway. Love, Gitti
 

falcon269

no commercial interests
Camino(s) past & future
yes
I cannot think of any reason why your experience on the first half of the Via Arles would be different from your experience on the second half. When I walked from Toulouse to Puenta de la Reina in the fall, I met about eight other pilgrims in two weeks plus. It is not a route with a lot of traffic. As a result, I suspect it is not a route where the robbers lie in wait; they will be in places with more things to steal.
 

Canuck

Veteran wanderer
Camino(s) past & future
?
Hi Metropolly,

I walked the Arles-SDC way in 2004. Arles-Toulouse was a very enjoyable portion. Not difficulties, except for the St Guilhem-le-Désert area, with lots to see and enjoy.

The only warning I received from the locals was concerning the exit of Montpellier(a nice city to visit). I was told I would have to go through a shady area and better take a bus to the next village(Montarnaud, 16 km), which I dit.

I had to go through/by a couple of Gypsy sites. Contrary to popular beliefs, these folks are friendly, helpful and respectful of others, especially pilgrims. Just don't show fear and/or disdain.

Don't worry and forge ahead,
Jean-Marc
 

justine03

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2010), Camino Fisterra (2010 & 2012), Voie du Puy (2012), Camino del Norte (2012), Camino Primitivo (2012), Camino Portuguese (2012)
How many pilgrim's are there normally on the Arles route through July and August???
 

jl

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances('05, '07), Aragonese ('05), del Norte / Primitivo ('09), Via Tolosana (Toulouse '05), Via Podiensis (Le Puy '07), Via Lemovicensis (Troyes '09), VF ('12), Winter Camino ('13/'14) Cammino d'Assisi ('14) Jakobseweg (Leipzig - Paris '15) San Salvador/Norte ('15) Ignaciano ('16) Invierno ('16)
I cant answer about numbers on the route, but just thought I would toss in a comment about the weather in that you are starting in July. I have begun each of my other caminos in France in July and August and just wanted to warn you that it will be quite hot in those months - and probably humid. I find France much more humid than Spain. That said, it is still quite manageable - just be prepared to start and stop early. Also for some of the way you will be in the mountains which should also have a moderating affect. Cheers, Janet
 

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
Metropolly said:
My question here is specifically to anyone who has WALKED, not cycled, this stretch before. Is it safe for a woman alone? I'm planning on the first two weeks of April. !

Sorry, I cycled, rather than walked that route. I'm not sure the distinction is so important, particularly in the mountains where we didn't make much better time than the walkers. Plus, we did it just 10 months ago, in April.

We found a beautiful, fairly well marked route. We saw hikers every day, not too many, but I'd say there was a pelerin every few hours. The places we stayed always had a few hikers. There was not one place where I could imagine much danger, either from people or natural hazards. Far safer than walking around any city at night, or walking on the ice covered sidewalks here at the moment. I think we had cell phone coverage for most of the way as well.
 
M

Metropolly

Guest
Sorry for the late reply everyone - I've just seen your very helpful posts.

Newfydog, you correctly surmised that my reason for originally discounting cyclists' advice was that I thought you'd have done longer stages/different routes through the mountains. But your reassurances are much appreciated! As you went in April, which is when I'll be going (where did the idea come from that I'd be doing this in July? Madness!), could you tell me how the weather was?

Falcon, it's not robbers I'm worried about so much, as the thought of losing my footing on a steep and treacherous path and having to wait three days for passing wolves to come and rescue me!

Gittihare, your Geneva walk sounds wonderful - and yes, I agree that my fear has grown through 'helpful' questions like 'aren't you worried at doing this alone?' (though I don't think anyone will be accusing me of being attractive! Especially on my no-shampoo, no make-up, grotty-clothes Camino).

All your wonderful replies make me feel as though I'm on my way already. Thank you all so much for sharing your thoughts xx
 

caminka

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
hello motropolly!

I walked the whole via tolosana in august 2009, alone. it was wonderful! I never had any problems with anyone, exept with two black dogs at Lussan (before Auch).

I met very few pilgrims. 8 to be precise, on the way to toulouse; and of that, one was a group of 6.
I was told that the route is much more popular in spring, when the heat is more bearable.
gites in general are fairly small. they can run out of beds. as this route has more or less gites sprinkled to about one per day (especially on the first half) and some are really small (6 beds only, eg. the beautiful one in salvetat, the dirty one in angles), so sometimes a call ahead might make things a whole lot less stressful.

some random bits and pieces that you might find useful:

- in Arles you can leave your backpack at the assocciations buildging on boulevard des lices, to the L of the post office.
- from Arles I took the route along Canal du Petit Rhone. it is waymarked with yellow arrows, much more shady, and involves almost no tarmac. after pont du trinquetaille turn L along Rhone, then turn R to rue Andre Benoit. follow straight until the bridge over Canal du Petit Rhone with a yellow arrow pointing L BEFORE the bridge. Lepere's description follows the other bank, but this bank has shade in the morning.
- the stretch from Gallargues to Montpellier is veery long. Isabelle advises taking the bus then the tram to Montpellier immediately when you reach Vendargues, to avoid the suburbs. I did.
- from Montpellier I took the tram to Halles de la Paillade, direction Mosson. there you have to head back along the street for about 200m and turn L to rue Tipasa. Before the river turn R to cross a park, the waymark is on a lamppost.
- in St Guilhelm-le-Desert go to Carmel st Jacques = Maison st Elie. ask in abbaye.
- the climb from there is fairly high but beautiful in the morning, then there is a long stretch of forest roads. the new waymarking goes via Le Barry and Montpeyroux (a gite here) then to Arboras.
- gite in Lodeve is always full. I stayed in the beautiful gite 2km onwards, Domaine de Belbezet.
- from there to Joncels there is only one small village, but you are on the main road for a little while.
- the most wild part is from St Martin d'Orb to Mecles. the climb is again farily steep but beautiful, then you are on forest roads and surrounded by forest almost the rest of the route. no villages and no fountains!
- gite in St Gervais is not signposted. when you ascend to the start of the old town and a little square on the L, it is a low building with green roof, I think, across that little square, beecked in greenery.
- gite communal in Murat has 8 beds. private gite also 8 beds.
- gite in Salvetat 6 beds only. private gite is after leaving the town, somewhere, but can pick you up.
- gite in Angles 6 beds only. it was very dirty and the lady in the bar that kept the key was very unfriendly. also private gite.
- from there forest and meadows and one small village. no fountains.
- in Castres try hotel Riviere and insist on a cheap room without shower, was €19.
- then you are on the rolling plains all the way to Canal du Midi or Toulouse, as you choose.
- the official route goes above Canal du Midi up and down the hills and visits the villages. pilgrim beds only in Montferrand and Baziege. alternative is along the tarmac bicycle path along Canal du Midi - refuge Viola near Renneville, then Baziege.
- it's still a long 36km from Baziege to the centre of Toulouse.

hope it helps!

caminka
 

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
Sorry not to get back sooner---I just saw your post.

Weather in April was spring like---a bit of rain, never too hot, but no dangerous cold. Much better time than mid summer. The one thing which stood out however was the wind in the Haute Aubrac. It seemed incessant, and I suspect, from the posters protesting proposed wind energy projects, it is typical. Have a nice hat which covers your ears and won't blow away!

The Petit Rhone variation sounds good. The main route was fine on a bike but has too much pavement for walkers.
 
M

Metropolly

Guest
Thanks again Newfydog and Caminka. Your information will be very useful. I've booked time off and flights, and have been busy snapping up every publication I can find on the Arles-Toulouse section in English or French! I'm sure I'll have to jettison some of the books before I attempt the climb out of Saint-Guilhem.

I've seen mention of a 'difficult secion' around Lodeve - could you tell me what the difficulty is, and whether you found it troubling? I'm fine with steep climbs, but I have nightmares about narrow, crumbling paths hacked into the side of a cliff with a sheer 300m fall below! Most camino paths I've done have sections like this, but I like to know where they are so I can factor them in time-wise, as I tend to crawl along in a cold sweat at about a metre per minute, trying to say Hail Marys instead of just swearing to myself as I go.

I'll be honest: I'm still petrified of Arles-Toulouse. It's those lonely forests. I'm sure it's a normal human reaction to be scared of such places. I know fear is one of the essential experiences of the Camino, and it certainly makes me walk faster. But if anyone has time to throw some extra reassurances my way, they'd be most welcome!

Thanks again for your wonderful, helpful replies
 

newfydog

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Pamplona-Santiago, Le Puy- Santiago, Prague- LePuy, Menton- Toulouse, Menton- Rome, Canterbury- Lausanne, Chemin Stevenson, Voie de Vezelay
I looked at my google earth GPS tracks around Lodeve, and found three different traces, an old route, a newer route, and a small road we actually used for the final descent. None of them look quite like the route on the FFRP map. I'm not sure any of them are the official route at the moment, but you should get the FFRP guide to GR 653 (Sentiers ver Saint Jaques de Compostelle, via Arles-Toulouse.). It is a 2010 version and has the latest route. There have been several changes in that area.

I don't think you'll find much carved into a cliff. Well, you will around St Guilhem la Desert, but they aren't that narrow, and certainly not crumbling.

We pushed loaded bikes through most of it. A friend in his 70's walked it a year before. We met some really happy older French pelerins doing great. (see my photos of their trailer-packs)
https://picasaweb.google.com/1161160265 ... directlink
You'll be fine. If you have some areas of concern keeping you from sleeping, send me your email and I'll send you some scanned maps showing a short detour or two on jeep roads.

Don't miss the Cathedral in Lodeve!.
 
M

Metropolly

Guest
Newfydog, you are SUCH a great help! Your photos are brilliant, and do somewhat allay my fears about narrow paths etc. There was a bit between Oloron and the Somport Pass, in the forests, that I still visit in my nightmares - you'd never have got any of that equipment over those paths!

Your reassurances are very welcome. Your positive thinking balances out the negativity of my friend in Castres, who keeps sending me gruesome French newspaper clippings of headless body finds in France... though, to be fair, with my dire map-reading skills I'm more of a headless chicken on the Camino!

Excellent help, thank you
 

caminka

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
metropolly, there are no fear-inducing paths in this part of via tolosana. you are more in danger of slipping on loose stones, so I recommend taking sticks/staff.

let's see:
- from arles streets and a ditch along canal du petit rhone, or road on GR, to st gilles. if you are going along canal, you cross a disused railway bridge. a board on it says that crossing is forbidden, but an arrow points right across. you then follow the former railway line to meet with GR. if you are reluctant to cross, follow the ditch to the main N572 road, go right and in a while meet with GR.
- from st gilles to montpellier there are roads and dirt tracks and gravel roads up and down the hills. after crossing canal du rhone, keep your eyes on the waymarks, as there is one right turn that is easy to miss. I think there are some cypresses on the left. I already described montpellier.
- from montpellier there are dirt tracks, gravel roads and roads to st guilhem. there is an alternative after le boissiere (2km shorter) that goes along the former railway line and through a 350m long tunnel with no lights. it was very interesting, crossing without lights. you emerge out in aniane. once in gorge de l'herault, the route runs on the road for a time, then on a small path below the road. take time to peek over the road railings!
- from st guilhem there is a climb on a 1m wide path that zig-zags up to the top. then there is a narrower stony path along the slope, across a scree. then a forest road for a long while. then a stony descend (plenty of very loose stones!) to tarmac road. then road to arboras. then a dirt track, a forest road, and a path along an old road with a fantastic dry stone wall. there were also some very high and steep steps down a small terrace just before st jean blaquiere but might have been improved since then.
- from blaquiere a road then a path down and up to uclas. then a forest road to gradmont (make a signposted 100m detour to a dolmen on the right). then a wonderful path through forest - take care of roots and branches, and small rocks. you also walk atop some small cliffs (about 5m high) but are very wide and mostly in the forest. then road and a steep and stony descent on a path to lodeve (this part might have been changed!).
- from lodeve road to belbezet then road, paths and tracks to the top, and a track down to D3 road. then road to bernague(?) village and from there wide but stony descent to joncels. then paths and tracks, sometimes muddy and stony, to lunas. then mostly road and gravel to st martin d'orb.
- from st martin d'orb a path climbs to the top, crossing a scree once. then forest tracks and forest road all the way across the mountains. plenty of ticks, too. then descent on tarmac and gravel road, then a path to mecle. then a lovely but sometimes overgrown narrow path with a fairly steep descent (in forest) to st gervais.
- from st gervais tracks, roads, forest roads to cap de faulet. in the last ascent though beautiful spruce forest keep your eyes open for waymarks. there way one turn right up that was unmarked but it had an arrow from tree branches on the ground, and another turn at a reservoir further up, that had very overgrown waymarks. you must reach windmills on top. then a descent on paths and tracks through forest then fields, and road, to murat.
- from murat pretty bucolic tracks and gravel, and roadwalk to salvetat.
- from salvetat lots of roadwalk, and tracks and gravel to angles.
- from angles mostly tracks and forest roads, with a path on the descent to boissezon. very muddy in rain.
- from boissezon some tracks and gravel, but lost of road to castres. look carefully for waymarks on the way in and out of castres.
- from castres to toulouse is all on rolling hills, tracks, gravel, roads (quite a lot), and an occasional path. canal de la robine is all flat, as is canal du midi (this one also all tarmac). I followed GR only as far as avignonet then went along canal du midi. it is recommended that you go along canal du midi at least from baziege because it saves you 10km.
- I recommend gite le pasuer-elle in les casses, 1.2km off route and signposted. the owner will point a very lovely short-cut for the next day, though you will need a bit of orientation skills at the end. there are several local waymarked trails in the area.

see, nothing to worry about. :)
 
M

Metropolly

Guest
For anyone looking for information on this section, here's my report! I've just returned, though I only managed to get as far as Castres. It was the first two weeks of April and there were plenty of pilgrims walking this route, though it is not so crowded as, say the Le Puy chemin.

I had been nervous about attempting this section, as it is described by the British Confraternity of St James as being a lonely route through forests and along isolated mountain paths. While this is true, there are perhaps only a couple of very short sections where the solitude felt creepy rather than restful, where foliage was so thick one could let one's instinctive fears take over! But mostly it felt very safe and good. No lurking predators!

However, it is extremely gruelling. I'd already walked the section from Toulouse over to Puenta La Reina, and crossing the Col de Somport was a DODDLE next to this. It's not so much that any one section is too strenuous, although the path does climb, and climb, and climb... But it's the accumulated exhaustion of day after day of difficult sections. For the first few days there was an unseasonal heatwave, where temperatures rose to the 30s, and the sun was relentless in the stony garrigues. I added dozens of kilometres to each day by getting lost frequently, and got sick through dehydration. Obviously with a little more care and better planning you could avoid that! Once in the mountains I was so grateful for the shade and cooler temperatures I barely noticed the steep climbs, but the exhaustion at the end of each day was profound.

So much for the difficulties. There is much to love about this route, from the beautiful mountain scenery to the kindness of those one meets along the way, not least at some of the wonderful, wonderful gites. As well as the gorgeous Issiata, a brilliant place to recuperate is Les Trefles in La Moutouse - it's like a home from home. There are amazing prehistoric sights along the way, as well as the stunning churches and cathedrals, particularly the superb one in Castres. On top of that, one eats and drinks very well in this part of France.

These are, of course, just my own experiences. Every Camino is different, but I've put this here in case anyone is looking for the kind of reassurances I was seeking before I started this trip.

Thanks again to all those who shared their own experiences before I left. Your help was priceless.
 

Caminando

Veteran Member
Excellent, Metro!! Well done to complete your walk. I was wondering how you were getting on, and regret that as I dont know this route I was unable to offer help when you first wrote of this.

I'm pleased for you that the walk was successful.

What's next?!
 
M

Metropolly

Guest
Thanks, Caminando, it's great to know your good wishes were with me! As for what's next? It occurred to me while walking this one that I may have finally reached the end of my Camino. I already have my Compostella. And when one starts thinking more of the negatives than the positives, perhaps one is no longer learning from l'esprit du chemin. So perhaps what's next is nothing. Or maybe - just maybe - in a couple of years' time I won't be able to resist the call of Vezelay, or will finally set out from my home in London and just keep walking for months to Santiago, as I had been yearning to do. Who knows? But for now, I wish the rest of you Buen Camino.
 

Caminando

Veteran Member
Metropolly said:
Thanks, Caminando, it's great to know your good wishes were with me! As for what's next? It occurred to me while walking this one that I may have finally reached the end of my Camino. I already have my Compostella. And when one starts thinking more of the negatives than the positives, perhaps one is no longer learning from l'esprit du chemin. So perhaps what's next is nothing. Or maybe - just maybe - in a couple of years' time I won't be able to resist the call of Vezelay, or will finally set out from my home in London and just keep walking for months to Santiago, as I had been yearning to do. Who knows? But for now, I wish the rest of you Buen Camino.
When I read that this may be the end of your camino, my first thoughts were that perhaps (unlike me) that you had found a "right" sense of completion in your walks. It seemed more mature than my repeated camino walks.

And I cannot fault your comments about stopping when one is no longer learning. You certainly described a tough camino, and that can cloud experience. Yet.... I do hope that you will continue with your walking when the time is right, and that you will find a way which is less demanding, or demanding in different ways.

On my first camino a long time ago, I found that after 3 weeks I was bone tired and had to stop for a few days to recharge my batteries. It made all the difference to my outlook and my initial enthusiasm and positivity returned. Previously my walking had been for no more than a few days duration and I was unused to such long walks, however gentle they were (this was the route from Le Puy -SDC).

I'm sorry that you were told in a guidebook about difficult forest sections - sometimes such comment is highly subjective from the guide and may have little relation to reality. Likewise your friend's info about headless corpses. A bit too much, IMO.

If you were to find a route which was less endlessly hilly then perhaps you might walk a camino again. Though maybe you have already walked such routes.

Anyway, I hope you return one day....

Best wishes,
Buen camino
 

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