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Luggage Transfer Correos

From Geneva to the End of the World.....

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 54 – May 29th
Castet-Arrouy to Marsolan
19 km

‘A tiring day and a thunderstorm’

I woke up late in my tent at 9.30am to find everyone else had already left. Going into the gîte looking for coffee I bumped into the hospitalera who was cleaning. Not only did she make me a fresh pot of coffee she made us both breakfast – for free! She was a beautiful lady and over breakfast we had a long chat. She told me that she would love to walk the Camino but her husband was against her walking it, even though he has walked it before. This didn’t sound right to me, what was his problem? It must hurt her to volunteer in the gîte and see pilgrims every day knowing she cannot walk it too. She seemed such a sad person, I really felt sorry for her. As I was in no rush I offered to help her clean the gîte, but she said she was ok on her own and I should push on.

I finally left the gîte at 11.30am even though pilgrims are supposed to be out by 10am. It was an interesting walking day today mostly across fields with some woodland paths. The weather started off very hot and humid; not good for when carrying a large backpack.

To Lectoure

My plan for the day was to get to Lectoure for lunch which was 10 km from Castet-Arrouy. It was pretty walking and when I got about halfway the path passed a beautiful small reservoir where I stopped for a break. I hadn’t been there five minutes when it suddenly rained for a short while then went back to being hot and humid again. Weird.

Soon I could see the large town of Lectoure on the horizon, sitting on a hilltop as is usual in this part of France. By now I could clearly hear thunder ahead, there was going to be a storm. At least it would clear the humidity; I just hoped I could get to Lectoure before it broke.

There was a very steep road climb into town, and as I arrived the storm broke and it started raining heavily so I dived into a café for a few beers. I didn’t much like the look or feel of Lectoure; it was a noisy ugly place. I could have been on any town high street in the UK. I certainly didn’t want to stay here, but luckily after about one and a half hours the storm abated so I once more set off. Leaving Lectoure I bumped into Kim Hyosun the South Korean author again at the church. She was looking a bit wet and miserable; she must have been caught in the storm poor lass.

To Marsolan

The storm had not got rid of the humidity unfortunately, so it was a hot and sticky but beautiful 9 km through the village of Espazot and on to Marsolan. I didn’t see one other pilgrim on The Way either; I think they had all found accommodation as soon as the storm had broken earlier.

I arrived in the pretty village of Marsolan around 6pm very tired and dripping in sweat from the humidity. As I entered the village I spotted a nice looking café with locals sat outside and decided a nice cold beer was in order while I decided whether to stay here or press on further. Over my first beer I decided to try and get in the local gîte here which looked good, and if it was full I would find some place to freecamp. While I was sat there a man asked if I was looking for a gîte and I replied that I was going to try the Gîte le Bourdon and see if there was a vacancy. It turned out he was the gîte owner and there was indeed a spare bed for me! He said that he was staying for a drink but I could just go and let myself in, but I decided another beer was in order and waited for him.

The Gîte le Bourdon, Marsolan

What had attracted me to the Gîte le Bourdon was that it was a pilgrim only gîte and only for those with a valid credencial and carrying their own packs; it didn’t allow those using transport or baggage transfers. It did allow pilgrims on bicycles and with donkeys too though. It was also a good price at 15 Euro’s plus 3 for breakfast, plus I could cook my own meals. Soon Philippe the owner took me back to the gîte where I was given a warm welcome. There was only one other pilgrim there, an older French guy. The gîte was beautiful, clean and modern but in an old village house. The dormitory was not only spacious but had only one bunk bed and three single beds in it, so I even got a proper bed for the night!

054-03 The Way towards Barrachin.JPG
The Way towards Barrachin

054-05 Resting by a reservoir after passing Barrachin.JPG
Resting by a reservoir after passing Barrachin

054-08 The Way towards Lectoure.JPG
The Way towards Lectoure

054-09 Pilgrims heading towards Lectoure.JPG
Looking back. Pilgrims heading towards Lectoure

054-11 The Way towards Lectoure.JPG
The Way towards Lectoure. A storm is brewing ahead.

054-16 The Way out of Lectoure.JPG
Leaving Lectoure after the storm

054-19 Le Petite Pont de Pile after Lectoure.JPG
After Lectoure I crossed the ancient bridge Le Petite Pont de Pile

054-21 Looking back at Lectoure.JPG
Looking back at Lectoure

054-23 The Way to Marsolan.JPG
The Way towards Marsolan

054-31 Gite Le Bourdon in Marsolan.JPG
The excelent Gîte le Bourdon, Marsolan
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 55 – May 30th
Marsolan to Condom
21 km

‘Beers with a fisherman’

When I woke up in the gîte around 9am my French roommate had already left. I hadn’t slept too well despite a comfy bed as the guy snored on and off all night. The gîte was deserted when I got up and I found some half cold coffee (I must learn how to use a coffee percolator) and sorted out my kit for the day. I decided to visit the wonderful café in the village for a proper coffee before setting off late at 11am.

The Way today was really lovely across fields mostly. The weather had started off cloudy and threatening rain but by the time I set off it was hot and sunny, and it was to remain so all day.

The Castelnau variants

After 5 km I came to the Chapelle d’Aubrin, a pretty church in the middle of nowhere. Here there was a choice of routes; there was the GR65 route to Castelnau sur l’Auvignon via Le Romieu or the shorter more direct route that goes to just south of Castelnau sur l’Auvignon. The route via Le Romieu had the advantage that even though it was 26 km to my destination at Condom there were café’s along the route. The shorter route to Condom at 21 km only had one café along the whole route and that was in Castelnau which I would have to backtrack 1.5 km to get to. Thinking that most pilgrims would take the Le Romieu route I decided to take the short route, and I was correct, I never saw one person for 9 km until Castelnau.

This route was very pretty though the way marking wasn’t so good. At one point I had to use my compass to find The Way. The route rejoined the GR65 just south of Castelnau and I decided to head into the village as the guide said there was a café there.

Castelnau sur l’Auvignon

Well the guidebook lied. If there was a café there I never found it and I even asked the locals. There wasn’t even water either and I saw pilgrims knocking on doors to ask for some. However, I was glad I went out of my way to come here. The village had been rebuilt after WWII when it was largely destroyed in a fierce battle between the resistance (including British agents and Spanish anti-fascists from the Spanish Civil War) and the 2 SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’ in 1944. It was a pretty place full of history and well worth visiting.

Luckily I had food in my rucksack (I always carried food on me just in case of times like this and for when I decide to freecamp) so I had lunch at a picnic spot in the village before setting off once more.

Lac de Bousquètara

About 9 km from Castelnau I came across the huge Lac (lake) de Bousquètara. Up ahead of me was a fisherman and just as I was about to pass him he caught a large Carp. I shouted “Bravo!” and stayed to watch him. After he had put the fish safely back into the lake we started chatting and he invited me for a beer. Mathieu was a young lad in his late twenties from northern France. He was a working class lad who works in a factory who spends as much of his free time, wife permitting, travelling around France fishing, and Lac de Bousquètara was one of his favourite spots. Indeed it was a beautiful place. He had a good set up, he had a van that was equipped with everything he needed to camp in, including a large awning providing shade from the now fierce sun and a large coolbox full of beer. I stayed with Mathieu for a few hours drinking beer and chatting about pilgrims, fishing and France. When I said goodbye to leave he gave me a couple of bottles of beer for my journey; I tried to pay him for them but he wasn’t having it. He was a nice lad.

To Condom

It was 7 more kilometres to Condom from the lake, mostly on country roads. A few kilometres before I arrived I sat in the sun on a hill overlooking the town drinking the beer Mathieu had given me. I was enjoying the countryside and wanted to delay having to enter into the mayhem of the town. On the road near where I sat a stone road marker bearing the scallop shell symbol read 'Pilgrims, the friends of The Way of Condom salute you'. I thought that was nice.

I finally arrived in Condom around 8pm and headed for the tourist information office to get a town map and directions to the local campsite. I also asked if there were any Indian or Chinese restaurants in Condom because I fancied something a little different for dinner. The tourist office pointed out that there was a Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurant on my way to the campsite so I headed off there first. It was a little expensive but truly delicious; especially the crab omelette!

It was getting late when I finally checked into the municipal campsite, which as usual was way out of town. At least the walk there was through an enormous beautiful park alongside the River La Baïse. As I arrived I noticed Anaïs and Julien the older French couple were camping here also so I set up my tent near them. When they saw me they grinned and Anaïs came over and said “We love you!”

055-01 Leaving Marsolan.JPG
Leaving Marsolan

055-03 Passing a reservoir just past Marsolan.JPG
Passing a reservoir just past Marsolan

055-06 The alternate route to Castelnau sur l'Auvignon.JPG
On the alternate route to Castelnau sur l'Auvignon

055-08 The Bastide in Castelnau sur l'Auvignon.JPG
The Bastide in Castelnau sur l'Auvignon. The site of a major battle in 1944 which largely destroyed the village


055-11 The Way to Le Baradieu.JPG
The Way towards Le Baradieu


055-13 Lake Bousquetara past Le Baradieu where I had beers with a fisherman.JPG
Passing Lac de Bousquètara where I had beers with the fisherman


055-16 'Pilgrims, the friends of The Way of Condom salute you'.JPG
'Pilgrims, The friends of the way of Condom salute you'


055-19 A beer above Condom.JPG
Beer above Condom

055-20 The Way into Condom.JPG
The Way into Condom

056-09 View of Condom cathedral from the municipal park.JPG
In Condom. Passing through the beautiful park municipal on the way to the campsite
 

OzAnnie

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
'Portuguese,Frances,Norte,Salvador/primitivo,Le puy, Inglés, CDM, Invierno, Fin/Mux, VDLP spring19
Davey Boy
This is so good to read., and the pics are certainly icing on the cake .
I seem to be reading bits and jumping all over the place though as I've only got iPhone access and it's a long thread.
You sure are a relaxed pilgrim- you wouldn't be criticised for rattling plastic bags early in the morning. You don't seem to mind carrying the odd extra kg either. (The odd bottle of beer and supplies ). It's a great relaxing read and so inspiring/motivating.
Thankyou and Buen Camino
Annie
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Davey Boy
This is so good to read., and the pics are certainly icing on the cake .
I seem to be reading bits and jumping all over the place though as I've only got iPhone access and it's a long thread.
You sure are a relaxed pilgrim- you wouldn't be criticised for rattling plastic bags early in the morning. You don't seem to mind carrying the odd extra kg either. (The odd bottle of beer and supplies ). It's a great relaxing read and so inspiring/motivating.
Thankyou and Buen Camino
Annie
Thank you Annie

Yes I relaxed into my Camino! I just let the Way guide me really, no expectations, not too much thinking ahead. I just concentrated on the day in hand and what was around me at the time. As I walked across France alone 99% of the time I had nobody else to think about either. This changed when I got to Spain and I rarely walked alone! My 'style' of walking was often commented on, (leaving late, walking into the late afternoons and evenings, having long siestas during the day, not caring about accommodation or the overused word 'kilometers' etc) and some people copied me, some asked to walk with me too. And I enjoyed letting my various Camino families do what they want, when they want and just tagged along for the ride, watching them grow (as I was growing too).

And another thing which made this possible was the fact that I was extremely lucky, I had no time constraints whatsoever. It did not matter how long I took, and this in turn meant I never really thought about 'arriving' until I was almost there. This meant of course I never had any schedule and rarely thought about where I was going to end up at the end of the day.

As for the pack weight, it hovered around the 16 kilo mark. It took around 2-3 weeks to get used to (I went through the pain barrier, believe me)! But after that it became part of me and very comfortable. Later in Spain I often carried other pilgrims possessions for them if they were struggling.

Part of the weight thing was that I always carried what I needed to be self sufficient at any time. At least one days food, two days water at times, tent of course, and my evening beer. With that I could stop anywhere at anytime and for as long as I wished.

It was a truly liberating experience.

Buen Camino
Davey
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 56 – May 31st
Rest day Condom
0 km

‘A boring, expensive and wasted day’

I had a nice long sleep in this morning as I had decided to take a rest day in Condom. Later I was to wish I hadn’t bothered. At the campsite municipal I rented a washing machine and washed all my clothes and hung them out to dry before heading into town for a look around. The weather today was sunny and absolutely roasting hot.

Condom is a nice place but I soon got bored. I treated myself to a rare steak dinner in the main square near the cathedral, it was expensive (20 Euro’s) but very nice. Whilst there I chatted to a young Swiss pilgrim for a while before he went off to find his mates. After checking out the cathedral (nice, but a still a cathedral) I headed back to the campsite.

There is absolutely nothing all at the municipal campsite in Condom, no café, no beer and food, so I decided to walk 2 km down a horrible main road to a large supermarket to stock up on food for walking tomorrow and grab beer and food for tonight. It was closed. It was a Sunday. So it was a 2 km walk back under a boiling sun and wonder what to do now.

In the end I went back into town to the Chinese/Vietnamese/Thai restaurant that I had gone to yesterday. I really fancied another crab omelette. Again I was to later regret this!

It was a bit of a wasted day looking back. I could have easily walked today, I didn’t really need a rest, and I felt lonely for most of today too. I was looking forward to being back on the road again tomorrow.

055-22 Bridge over the River Baise in Condom.JPG
Bridge over the River Baise in Condom

055-23 The River Baise in Condom.JPG
The River Baise in Condom (The Way out of town is along the right bank)

056-02 Rare steak dinner in Condom.JPG
A (very) rare steak dinner in Condom. I might regret this tomorrow!

056-03 The cathedral in Condom.JPG
The Cathedral in Condom

056-06 Medieval door with scallop shell at Condom cathedral.JPG
Medieval door with scallop shell at Condom cathedral

056-05 Statue of the three musketeers in Condom.JPG
Statue of the Musketeers in Condom
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 57 – June 1st
Condom to Chapelle de Routges
8 km

‘Walking with food poisoning is not good’

A bad start to a bad day; I woke up in my tent with the shits. And it was raining. I didn’t make it to the toilet block fast enough, so showering and washing underwear was in order before I could do anything. There is absolutely nothing on the campsite foodwise so after spending a long time getting acquainted with the toilets I walked into town for coffee feeling awful. It feels like I have got food poisoning and I have no energy at all. It could have been the rare steak yesterday, the crab omelette or just dirty water. Who knows? Usually I would not walk if I felt this ill, but I‘m really tired of Condom now.

I stayed at the café for a few hours as I needed to be near a toilet for a while, but I finally set off at midday. I was hoping to get as far as Montréal 17 km away. At least it had stopped raining. Now it was worse; cloudy and warm but really humid.

I noticed leaving Condom that The Way in this area was marked by real scallop shells, some of them painted in bright colours. After only 8 km of walking mostly on tarmac on empty country lanes I arrived at Chapelle de Routges, a church in the middle of nowhere on a hilltop overlooking miles of vineyards. I could not possibly go on so I decided to freecamp here. It had fresh water, a porch if the weather was bad and it was a very beautiful place. In fact the chapel was open (as they tend to be in France, unlike in England or Spain for that matter) so I could chill out in there if need be, and it was very beautiful and cool inside.

I snoozed on and off on the lawn outside getting covered in black ants and spiders all afternoon (the ants were ok, not like red ants or wood ants that bite). I didn’t have much food on me thanks to the supermarket being shut yesterday, not that I felt like eating much anyway. I did eat a bit of an old sandwich I found in my pack though. A farmer saw me chilling out but didn’t seem to mind me being there.

Around 9pm I decided to move behind the chapel and bed down properly (using just my sleeping bag, not using my tent as it was so warm). I could have slept inside the chapel as it was unlocked all night but I thought this a bit disrespectful, and would probably have been woken up early by passing pilgrims wanting to come in to visit. I could have moved into the porch if it had rained though.

While I was there I cleaned up the rear of the chapel of s*** and bog roll which pilgrims had used as a toilet – the dirty **********. (There were rubbish bins there to use)

I never saw one other pilgrim all day today!

057-01 The Way towards Larressingle.JPG
The Way towards Larressingle

057-02 A beautiful sign points The Way to Santiago.JPG
A beautiful sign points The Way towards Santiago

057-03 A scallop shell points The Way towards Larressingle.JPG
A scallop shell points The Way towards Larressingle

057-04 Le Pont l'Artigue just past the turning to Larressingle.JPG
Le Pont l'Artigue just past the turning to Larressingle

057-06 A colourful scallop shell points the way towards Chapelle de Routges.JPG
A colourful scallop shell points the way towards Chapelle de Routges

057-08 The Way towards Chapelle de Routges.JPG
The Way towards Chapelle de Routges

057-10 Chapelle de Routges.JPG
The turning off towards Chapelle de Routges

057-11 Resting with food poisoning at Chapelle de Routges.JPG
Resting with food poisoning at Chapelle de Routges

057-14 Where I slept behind Chapelle de Routges.JPG
Where I slept behind Chapelle de Routges
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 58 – June 2nd
Chapelle de Routges to Éauze
25 km

‘Meeting Tsujimoto for the first time’

I woke up behind the chapel at 6.30am feeling totally refreshed after lots and lots of sleep. And I was glad it didn’t rain in the night like I thought it would.

Ants in Montréal

I left the chapel at 7.30am and it was a fast and easy 9 km walk in cool and cloudy weather into the village of Montréal where I arrived at 9am. In Montréal I finally got some food shopping done and ensconced myself in a café in the main square for coffee and a spot of people watching. Montréal is a really nice place with a friendly vibe to it. It would have been a great place to have stopped last night if I hadn’t been so ill and had to stop early.

A strange thing happened when I was sat in the café. I had my pack leant up against a pillar outside on the café terrace and my staff lent against my pack. After I had been there about an hour I turned around and there were hundreds of ants covering the top of my staff which was in the air. And there were more climbing up, but there was nowhere for them to go. I was baffled for a while until I realised they were coming from out of my rucksack! They must have all got in there last night when I was sleeping at Chapelle de Routges. I shuddered to think that I had been using my pack as a pillow! I don’t know why when they left my rucksack they had decided to walk up my staff and not go down to the floor; I thought ants were clever. Well, they either all have a long way to go home, or I wonder if they would like Montréal as much I did and decided to settle down there?

Casa d’Elena at Lamothe

I finally left Montréal around 10.40am and a beautiful 9 km later I arrived at the Gîte Casa d’Elena at Lamothe. The Casa d’Elena was not only a gîte but a café/bar and a stunning pilgrim rest stop with magnificent views. There were quite a few pilgrims there either sunning themselves on sun loungers or eating lunch in the shady picnic area. The Way here had been very hot and humid and I was really glad to get here and find a bar for a much needed cold beer and to get my boots off for a while. I asked a pretty young girl working there for a beer and she served me no problem. A few minutes later her and her dad got in a car to drive away. I was worried because I hadn’t paid for my beer so I stopped them before they left. The girl explained that the café was closed today and they were just the gardeners! She had still served me a beer though! Bless her cotton socks. I had wondered why the other pilgrims were looking at me strange; they were wondering how I had got a beer from a closed café!

The Bas-Armagnac

I was now entering the Bas-Armagnac region famous for Armagnac brandy. The Bas-Armagnac (Lower-Armagnac) region is named for its lower altitude and sand-based soil, often with high iron content or with small pieces of clay that yield good brandy. The region is full of vineyards which The Way passes through or traverses constantly. I would be walking through the Bas-Armagnac for the next four days.

Meeting Tsujimoto

The sun was out in force now but at least the 6 km to Éauze was along a flat and straight tree lined disused railway line that had plenty of shade. Despite the heat I was feeling good and had a really fast pace going on and I overtook everyone I met. I felt like a new person compared to yesterday. I also had my brolly up to the usual mirth and admiration of my fellow pilgrims.

It was along this stretch that I overtook an Asian pilgrim who seemed to be struggling; he was going slow and was completely drenched in sweat. I stopped to ask if he was ok and he said he was fine. Not that he spoke any English at all, but he knew I was concerned about him and I understood his answer. I saw him later shopping in Éauze so he must have been ok.

He turned out to be Tsujimoto from Japan, he was somewhere in his sixties I guess, and was walking all The Way from Le Puy to Santiago. He didn’t speak anything apart from Japanese and I thought it must be tough for him. But he always had a massive grin on his face and gave off the most wonderful energy that everybody who met him loved him to bits. We were to become good friends and I was to bump in to him constantly all The Way across the rest of France and Spain. I always had a massive respect for Tsujimoto; he was well out of his comfort zone travelling like this alone, with no common language and he was probably in total culture shock too. And yet he always shared what he had with anyone around him, food, wine and first aid supplies.

Éauze

I arrived in the pretty town of Éauze around 4.30pm and managed to book into the gîte communal where I got the last bed. It was a nice gîte full of friendly French pilgrims, and unlike some gîte communals this one was part of the tourist information office rather than the local school. It was also conveniently located in the dead centre of town next to the main square; probably the reason why it was full. Some of the French blokes invited me to join them in a café for dinner but I decided to cook my own in the gîte (a ham and potato hash thing I got in a supermarket). I wished later I had gone with them, not because my dinner was bad, but for the company. In the evening I chilled out with a few beers in the town square.

I’m sharing a dormitory tonight with five older blokes so there is probably not much chance of a good sleep!

058-03 Montreal.JPG
Montréal

058-04 Mural of village life in Montreal.JPG
Mural of village life in Montréal

058-05 Leaving Montreal. The Way is on the right.JPG
Leaving Montréal. The Way is on the right

058-09 The Way towards Lamothe.JPG
The Way towards Lamothe

058-11 The Way towards Lamothe.JPG
The Way towards Lamothe

058-14 Chateau de Montaut.JPG
Passing Chateau de Montaut

058-15 The great gite-cafe Casa d'Elena at Limothe.JPG
Gîte Casa d’Elena at Lamothe

058-19 The Way is an old railway line to Eauze. This is where I met Tsujimoto.JPG
The shady old railway line to Éauze. This is where I met Tsujimoto

058-21 Pilgrims passing through Eauze.JPG
Pilgrims passing through Éauze

058-25 Strange murals in Eauze.JPG
Very strange mural in Éauze
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 59 – June 3rd
Éauze to Nogaro
21 km

‘Spanish truckers say hi’

Just as I expected I didn’t get much sleep due to a night of head torch waving toilet goers and snoring. Then I got woken up at 6am by the early risers and their bag rustling. Such is communal living on The Way. And sharing a dorm with five old men does not help. As there was no coffee or even a kettle to make it at the gîte communal I headed to a café on the main town square. After three very large coffees I was on my way by 9am.

It was good walking today. The Way was a mix of woodland lanes and tracks around fields and the many vineyards of the Bas-Armagnac region. The weather started out cool, but from midday onwards it was boiling hot again.

Pilgrims rest near Moussinot

After 7.5 km I came to an excellent pilgrim rest stop at a farm just past the turning to Moussinot. There was a picnic table with hot coffee and cakes on it as well as a fridge with (very welcome) cold drinks in. It was serve yourself and put the money in a pot on the table. While I was there the lady owner and her gorgeous and very friendly Alsatian dog came out and we sat chatting for a while. She told me to look out because her dog has a habit of following pilgrims; he obviously wants to go to Santiago!

Manciet

It was a pretty 3 km (passing a large lake, the Étang du Pouy on the way) to the town of Manciet which was a bit of a dog hole, but at least it had a shop where I stocked up on food and a nice café where I had a few beers. Manciet has a major road running through it and the town seems to serve as a glorified truck stop. I did notice that a large percentage of the huge articulated trucks flying through were Spanish.

Walking out of Manciet was hell. The Way out of town was alongside the main road for 3-4 km with huge trucks speeding very close by; in fact it was a bit scary. However, a few of the Spanish truckers must have seen the scallop shell on my pack as they beeped their horns and waved out of their windows at me in a friendly way. They obviously knew of the Camino and knew that I was walking to Spain. I was really glad when The Way turned off into the countryside once more.

L'Eglise de l'Hôpital

After a further 5 km of walking under the now scorching sun I arrived at the L'Eglise de l'Hôpital (Church) near the hamlet of Le Haget. I needed a water top up and knew that in France that churches and cemeteries are good bets. The L'Eglise de l'Hôpital was a pretty place surrounded by woods and decided to take a lunch break there, and as the church was open it also had good shade from the sun. I was sitting on the doorstep with my boots and socks off while cutting my toenails when a bunch of older female French pilgrims turned up to look at the church. If this was in England I would probably have been given disgusted looks, but this was usual practice for a pilgrim on The Way and they didn’t even bat an eyelid. The L'Eglise de l'Hôpital would be a good place to freecamp as it had a large porch, but it was still early and I was feeling refreshed after my break so I decided to press on.

Crossing the Greenwich Meridian to Nogaro

It was 4.5 km to the next town of Nogaro. I was about halfway there when I passed a sign saying I was crossing the Greenwich Meridian. The Greenwich Meridian separates east from west in the same way that the Equator separates north from south. While stood there I was no longer east or west in the world, and if I wasn’t then where was I? After contemplating that for a while I stepped over and crossed from the east to the west of planet earth and trudged onwards.

I pushed on feeling good but soaking wet from sweat. My pace was fast even in this heat and I was often overtaking other pilgrims (I think I can safely say I was now as walking fit as I could be and totally acclimatised to the heat).

I arrived in Nogaro around 4pm and headed to the tourist information office to find directions to the gîte communal as I had decided to stop here for the night. In the tourist information office I met a young and beautiful pilgrim who was talking in English with a US accent. I asked her where she was from and she said Texas. “Oh you must be Kathy” I replied much to her surprise! I explained I had been seeing her written comments in the guest books in churches and gîtes I had been to, and as us English speakers were in a minority on this route I had remembered her name. We had a good chat and she seemed really nice, in fact I was to see her often on The Way and get to walk with her for a while in the future.

The Gîte Communal in Nogaro

The gîte communal turned out to be about a kilometre walk out of the town centre situated near the sports ground. This gîte was one of the best gîte communals I had come across. It was a modern purpose built building set next to a small park and was clean and spacious. It had a large well equipped kitchen and the dormitory was one of the best I had ever seen. It comprised a roughly circular room with single beds well spaced out around the edge. No bunk beds here! It also had some rooms with two beds in and for some reason I was given one of these, and I had the room to myself; luxury. Oh, and they sold beer.

After hand washing some of my clothes and hanging them outside to dry I cooked up a packet of Japanese soup to which I added some ham in the kitchen and a group of us sat down together for dinner. There were two older French ladies, two Brazilian bicegrino blokes, my friend Tsujimoto from Japan and me. Tsujimoto thought it was funny that I was eating Japanese soup while he was eating Italian pasta. We had a great time, the two Brazilians were exceptionally funny people, and much food, wine and beer was shared. It had been a good day.

059-01 The Way between Eauze and Moussinot.JPG
The Way between Éauze and Moussinot

059-06 The Way between Eauze and Moussinot.JPG
The Way between Éauze and Moussinot

059-08 Pilgrim rest stop just past the turning to Moussinot.JPG
Pilgrim oasis just past the turning to Moussinot

059-09 The Way towards Manciet.JPG
The Way towards Manciet

059-11 Abandoned car on The Way towards Manciet.JPG
Man and nature in not so perfect harmony. Towards Manciet

059-14 The Way towards Le Haget.JPG
Skirting fields towards Le Haget

059-17 Entrance to L'Eglise de l'Hôpital near Le Haget The Way is centre right .JPG
Entrance to L'Eglise de l'Hôpital near Le Haget The Way is centre right

059-21 Crossing the Greenwich Meridian just before Nogaro.JPG
Crossing the Greenwich Meridian just before Nogaro

059-22 Nogaro comes into view.JPG
Nogaro comes into view

059-27 Fantastic Dormitory at the Gite Communal in Nogaro.JPG
The Gîte Communal in Nogaro. The best dormitory I came across on The Way in any French Communal Gîte/Albergue Municipal/Xunta. 8 Euro's!
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 60 – June 4th
Nogaro to Dubarry
14 km

‘Walking with Kathy from Texas’

Even though I had my own room in the gîte communal in Nogaro I was woken up at 6.30am by the racket of the early risers, which was everyone except me. I was glad to be woken up early though and I felt fully refreshed after an excellent sleep. I then went and ruined the early start by faffing around drinking coffee and by the time I had another in town it was 9.30am when I finally set off; which I was to come to regret in the heat later!

To Lanne-Soubiran

The Way out of Nogaro is a long 2 km uphill drag beside a main road that seems to go on forever to the Château d’Eau. Just after Château d’Eau there is a choice of two routes. You can carry straight on the shorter 5 km road route that passes through Arblade le Haut to Maison Labarde, or turn right off-road on the slightly longer countryside route that rejoins the road route just after Arblade le Haut. I chose the pretty country route. After the routes rejoin there is a short 2 km horrible and quite scary section that runs alongside the busy D931 with trucks hurtling past very close to you before Maison Labarde. The weather today was stupid hot by 10am, but The Way passed along lots of shady woodland trails.

After 9 km I got to Lanne-Soubiran where there was a church that had refreshments for donations at the entrance. A sign read; ‘Friends, Pilgrims. Please help yourself’. They had coffee, water and cake; it was all very civilised indeed. Whilst I was resting there Kathy from Texas turned up who I had met yesterday in the tourist office in Nogaro and we started chatting. It turns out she is a professional opera singer! She is walking from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port near the Spanish border. Soon Kathy went on while I stayed and chilled out for a while.

Walking with Kathy

The Way from Lanne-Soubiran was a lot of beautiful woodland walking which was nice and cool being shaded from the fierce sun, but the woods were full of mosquitoes and I was bitten relentlessly. However, when The Way traversed open fields and vineyards there was respite from the mosquitoes but it was hell under a direct burning sun.

I soon caught up with Kathy from Texas in the middle of a wood. I was walking just behind her on a narrow path when she suddenly screamed and jumped back into me. She said a large snake had just crossed the path only a few feet in front of her! She asked me if I had seen any snakes whilst walking and when I confirmed that I had she asked me to walk with her for a while, at least until we were out of the woods.

I was ready to stop for lunch by now, and usually when it is this hot I would have sheltered and ate in the woods. But the relentless mosquitoes put me off stopping in the woods and Kathy was not keen because of the snakes. Soon we were finally clear of the woodland we were back under the boiling sun, but we found a shady tree and had lunch there instead. After lunch I did my usual hot day foot routine; I took my boots and socks off to air and dry out my damp sweaty feet then applied a generous coating of Vaseline before putting on fresh dry socks. The damp socks I pinned to my rucksack to dry out. Kathy not being a walker herself in real life was fascinated and after I explained what I was up to she copied me.

After about 4 km The Way split again with two choices of routes to the large town of Aire sur L’Adour 15 km away. The ‘official’ GR65 route went via Lelin-Lapujolle where there were toilets and a café. The alternate route went via Arblade le Bas where there was a gîte. There was not much in it so we just stuck to the GR65 route thinking it would be better route marked.

Gîte La Grange Dubarry

We were both feeling the heat by now and taking a break from the sun in some shade Kathy stated that she was going to head to Dubarry which was nearby and had a gîte but was a kilometre or so off route. She said that the heat was just too much for her, which I thought was funny coming from a Texan. It turns out though that she lives in Texas but comes from Chicago, so I let her off. My plan was to either carry on to the large town of Aire sur L’Adour 13 km away or try and find somewhere to freecamp on The Way. With this in mind I set off again leaving Kathy resting under a tree. However, I only got about 1.5 km down the road when I came to the turn off for Dubarry and I had second thoughts. Given the heat I didn’t think getting to Aire sur L’Adour was doable today and the gîte at Dubarry had camping so I headed there instead. It turned out to be a good move.

I arrived at the Gîte La Grange Dubarry around 2 pm but it was deserted. It was an impressive and beautiful place on what was once an old farm. Soon an old French pilgrim turned up also, and we both chilled out in the beautiful garden waiting for the owner to turn up. It was not long before Philippe the owner arrived and made us both very welcome. Camping was only 8 Euro’s, there was a fantastic kitchen to cook in and they had beer too! Not long after I had set the tent up a weary Kathy arrived, she was surprised to see me there!

I cooked up a packet of Chinese soup and added ham for my dinner but both Kathy and the Frenchman had booked the full meal at the gîte. I felt a little left out when they went inside to sit down for dinner which looked magnificent. I wish I could have afforded the dinner!

We spent a wonderful evening in the garden of the gîte, having a few beers and meeting Philippe’s wife Veronique and their children. I couldn’t persuade Kathy to sing opera for us though!

060-02 Looking back on Nogaro as I leave.JPG
Looking back on Nogaro

060-03 The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian.JPG
The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian

060-04 The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian.JPG
The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian. The woods were full of mosquito's

060-06 The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian.JPG
The Way towards Lanne-Soubrian under a boiling hot sun with no shade

060-07 The church at Lanne-Soubiran had refreshments for donations.JPG
The church at Lanne-Soubrian had refreshments for donations (and shade)!

060-12 The excellent Gite La Grange a Dubarry where I camped.JPG
The beautiful Gîte La Grange Dubarry where I camped for 8 Euro's
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 61 – June 5th
Dubarry to near Matilas
22 km

‘Hunters in the night’

When I got up and out of my tent at 8.30am both Kathy and the Frenchman had already left. Veronique the landlady was a diamond and made me some fresh coffee before I finally left at around 9.30am. Yesterday I said it was stupid hot by 10am, well today it was stupid hot by 9am!

The killer walk to Barcelonne du Gers

There was a lot of tarmac walking today albeit on very quiet country roads, and little or no shade. From Dubarry it was only a few kilometres to the small hamlet of Lelin-Lapujolle where the guide book said there was a café but if there was one I never found it. Just past Lelin-Lapujolle at another hamlet called Manet I came across a sign pointing to a pilgrim refuge and got excited; even though this turned out to be nothing more than a bus shelter with a fresh water tap I was very glad of the water.

From Manet to Barcelonne du Gers it was 10 km of hell; after a few kilometres The Way joined a long, flat road running alongside a railway line that seemed to go on forever with no shade at all, it was a real killer in this heat. However, about halfway along there was a pretty pilgrim rest stop under some shady trees with chairs and tables set out. There was no water here though so it was lucky I had picked some up in Manet.

It was just after this rest stop that I came across some graffiti on a road sign saying Elias was here on May 25th. That means he is now ten days ahead of me! (I had met Elias at Chavanay on the Geneva route on April 15th seven weeks ago. He was the one walking from Geneva to Finisterra for a pint).

I arrived in Barcelonne du Gers at 11am dripping wet with sweat, hot, exhausted and hungry. I came across a huge ornate lavoir (communal washing place) and sheltered there from the sun and had some lunch from out of my pack, and while there a nice Dutch pilgrim turned up and shared some dried fruit with me. While I was there Kathy from Texas came past and stopped for a chat, I have no idea how I had overtaken her! There were plenty of bars in Barcelonne du Gers but the large town of Aire sur L’Adour was only a couple of kilometres down the road so thought I would stop there for a beer instead.

Aire sur L’Adour

Aire sur L’Adour was a large pretty and friendly tourist town, though most of the tourists were French. It was however jam packed with pilgrims, where they had all materialised from I have no idea, such is the vagaries of The Way. My plan was to stop here for the afternoon, get a decent meal and walk again in the evening when it was cooler. It looked the perfect place to chill out and have a look around.

So off to the bar it was then. There were dozens of bars so I chose the one with the prettiest waitress, for no other reason than she was absolutely stunning and a bit punky too. I know I’m shallow but I would rather look at her than a cathedral any day. And a cathedral does not serve you a beer with a sexy smile. Both at the bar and walking past I noticed a lot of pilgrims from the USA, Canada and Australia, it was funny to think I had never seen any of them before (and never saw any of them again either for that matter), but it was interesting to see and hear so many pilgrims speaking English! After two very cold grande blondes (beers not waitresses) Kathy came by and joined me for an hour and we ordered some ice creams. After a while Kathy went off to find her gîte as she was staying here for the night. It was an emotional goodbye as we didn’t know if we would see each other again (sadly we never did).

While I was here I thought I would find the internet somewhere and check my bank balance and pay my rent at home. After some hunting around I found a free computer in the town library to find that after paying the rent I only had £79 in my account. Oh dear, I will have to live frugally for a while now then, which scuppered my plans for a decent meal and more beer in bars today.

I ended up having a burger in a baguette (not good) from a takeaway van and sitting with a few cheap cans of beer from a shop beside the river under the shade of a tree. Some of the locals were looking at me as if I was some homeless vagabond. They were almost right.

Lac du Broussau

I finally left Aire sur L’Adour at 6.30pm after stocking up on food and some cans of beer. While walking out of town with my rucksack on fellow pilgrims kept offering to find me accommodation. They thought I was weird still walking at this time of day, and even weirder when I told them I was going to find somewhere to freecamp even though there were beds in town, but alas I was officially broke until I got paid next.

After only a few kilometres I came to a huge lake, the Lac du Broussau, which The Way follows the banks of through a forest for about 4 km. This was a stunning place and the walk around it was superb. There was even a wooden patio overlooking the lake with a concrete sun lounger where I seriously considered sleeping for the night (I did try it out but it was a bit uncomfortable). However, it was still early so decided to move on.

Freecamping on The Way

From Lac du Broussau The Way crossed a motorway and I found myself on a flat plain where once again the roads and tracks seemed to go on forever as straight as a die. I also found it was very windy on this stretch, probably because it was so flat, and it got windier as the evening went on. By now I was completely shattered.

It was starting to get dark when I got to a stretch of track that was about 4 km long in a perfect straight line, and I had not come across anywhere half decent to freecamp yet, so I gave up and just set up camp right there on the track. This was seriously in the middle of nowhere so I thought it would be ok. I didn’t use my tent, I just rolled out my sleeping bag on my rollmat, but at least the hedge was keeping most of the wind off me. I knew that passing pilgrims would wake me up in the morning as they went by. It wasn’t ideal as tomorrow I would have a 9 km walk to the nearest coffee, but I had some food and beers for now. I was in bed and tucked up by last light. It took a while to get to sleep though, for one a large beetle kept trying to get in bed with me. No matter how many times I turfed it out it kept on coming back. In the end I had to get up and relocate the daft thing down the road.

Woken by a stranger

I had finally got to sleep when a strange thing happened. A car came cruising slowly down the track around 3am and woke me up. When it spotted me lying there in its headlights it just stopped. After about five minutes a bloke got out and I started to get worried, but then I noticed some dogs had been following the car. Then the bloke put the dogs into the car, got in, turned the headlights off and slowly reversed all the way back the way it had came. I didn’t get much sleep after that. Some French pilgrims I spoke to later reckoned it was probably a hunter, possibly hunting illegally, and that his hunting would have been no good with me lying there so he cleared off. Who knows?

061-02 Pilgrims have built cairns on The Way to Lelin-Lapujolle.JPG
Pilgrims have built cairns on The Way to Lelin-Lapujolle

061-07 Sign at Manet points to a pilgrim refuge.JPG
Sign at Manet points to a pilgrim refuge which turned out to be the bus shelter in the background. It had (much needed) water and a map

061-09 The long road to Barcelonne du Gers.JPG
The long hot road to Barcelonne du Gers

061-11 Pilgrim rest stop on the long road to Barcelonne du Gers.JPG
A very welcome shady pilgrims rest spot on The Way to Barcelonne du Gers

061-13 Ultreia! Pilgrim rest stop on the long road to Barcelonne du Gers.JPG
Ultreia!

061-22 The Way to Barcelonne du Gers.JPG
The Way to Barcelonne du Gers

061-23 Lunch break at a lavoir in Barcelonne du Gers.JPG
Lunch break at a communal lavoir in Barcelonne du Gers

061-26 Lac du Broussau.JPG
The Way passes the beautiful Lac du Broussau

061-31 Never ending road towards Matilas.JPG
The never ending road to Matilas

061-36 Sleeping out on The Way 3.5km before Matilas.JPG
Sleeping out on The Way 4 km before Matilas
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 62 – June 6th
Matilas to Arzacq-Arraziguet
25 km

‘Two months walking today’

As expected I got woken up by a pilgrim trudging past me at 6.15am, only God knows what he thought when he saw me lying there on the track. I was glad to be woken up early and was on my way by 7am while it was still nice and cool. Typically only a few kilometres down the road I came across a pilgrim refuge (basically a bus shelter with a map in it) where it would have been better to stay last night. This one didn’t have water though which I was short of, but just around the corner there was a factory with a tap. The weather today was very hot and humid; I was going to need a lot of water today.

An angel in Miramont-Sensacq

The 8 km to Miramont-Sensacq was mostly on tarmac country roads with hardly any traffic at all. Each section of these roads was extremely straight and flat but it was an enjoyable walk nonetheless. I passed through tiny Matilas and soon arrived at the village of Miramont-Sensacq which I thought was a very nice and pretty place that had a chilled out vibe to it.

I was glad to see a little shop there that had a coffee machine installed as I wanted my morning caffeine hit. I ordered a coffee and a cake from a pretty young girl who was still in her dressing gown who must have been about twelve years old. She smiled and went to make the coffee but her dad shouted at her in French telling her that the shop wasn’t selling coffees yet. My heart sank as it would be 8.3 km or two hours walking to the next place with a café. However, the little girl just shouted at him back and a bit of a row ensued which the little girl won hands down. She served my coffee and cake with a charming smile looking very pleased with herself. I know who the boss is in that household! Soon some other pilgrims turned up who were glad to get a coffee also. Little girl, I grant you an ‘Angel of The Way’ award.

The church at Sensacq

From Miramont-Sensacq The Way carried on by road for a few kilometres before finally turning off onto farm tracks and paths through beautiful woodland, even passing directly through farmyards at times. After 6 km I came across the church at Sensacq (not to be confused with the separate town of Miramont-Sensacq) that had a fresh water tap and a nice shaded picnic area where I stopped for lunch and aired out my feet. The church was a nice place with a big porch and somebody, obviously a pilgrim, had put some benches together in there to make a bed. It looked like a good freecamping place.

No beer at Pimbo

From Sensacq church to Pimbo was only a further 4 km, it was an uphill climb though nothing too strenuous. Pimbo could be seen on its hilltop from afar and it looked impressive. The village itself is dominated by Saint-Barthélemy Collegiate church and the nearby pilgrim’s centre. The pilgrim’s centre had a gîte and a large café that many pilgrims were taking advantage of. Unfortunately the café only sold non-alcoholic beer, though strangely it did sell wine. I decided to take a big break here until the weather cooled down and so I bought some bread which I ate with a tin of mackerel I had.

I almost decided to stay here for the night, the gîte was relatively cheap and it was a pretty place. Not only that but there was a band setting up outside the pilgrim centre with a barbecue too. It looked like it was going to be a good night and it would have been a good way to celebrate the fact I had now been walking for two months exactly. But they didn’t sell beer, sorry Pimbo!

Free beer in the valley

I left Pimbo at 5pm planning to get to the great sounding town of Arzacq-Arraziguet where the gîte communal there had camping. To give you some idea of how inaccurate the guidebooks were, my Michelin guide said it was 10 km from Pimbo to Arzacq-Arraziguet, while my Miam Miam Dodo told me it was only 5.5 km. That is some difference of opinion! So unsure of how far it actually was I set off.

From the hill where Pimbo was I could see The Way ahead and it looked awesome. From Pimbo The Way dropped steeply down into a river valley and across the other side I could see where I was to climb back out again. The Way to Arzacq-Arraziguet was to be mainly on country roads.

Halfway across the valley, having not seen another soul, I came across a few cars parked by the side of the road. There was a group of people with a table set up and they seemed to be waiting for something. And they had crates of beer, lots of them. Intrigued but not being able to speak much French I wandered over to figure out what was going on. In broken English they told me there was an annual village running race going on and they were a checkpoint. When I asked if I could possibly buy some beer off them they happily gave me a few bottles for nothing. Thank you lads, I’ll give St. Jacques a hug for you when I get to Santiago!

Arzacq-Arraziguet

The weather was really hot and sticky and I finally arrived at Arzacq-Arraziguet at 6pm dripping wet with sweat and bone weary. Before heading off to find the gîte communal I stopped off at a bar for a cold beer and cool down. The bar I chose was an interesting place, a real locals bar pumping out loud music. The bar was packed with locals with it being a summers evening on a Saturday and was a good chance for me to people watch for a while. I liked what I saw of Arzacq-Arraziguet; the locals all seemed happy and chilled which tells you a lot about the town.

The gîte communal was an enormous place, I never did count how many dormitories it had, but it was nice enough and friendly. When I arrived I could tell that it was complete (full) by the sad and embarrassed looks on the faces of the other pilgrims as I arrived; they knew I was going to get turned away. However, when the hospitalero came over to tell me the bad news I informed her I had a tent, “non problem” she said and charged me 4 Euro’s, what a bargain! Not only that but the campsite area was huge and beautiful too.

There was only one other pilgrim that was camping outside and that was a pilgrim who was disabled. I never really got the chance to talk to him unfortunately, as I wanted to ask him many questions about his mode of transport. It was an amazing hand built electric bicycle chariot type contraption that was incredible!

I saw that my friend Tsujimoto from Japan was staying here too and we had a happy re-union, though I never got to talk to him much as he was called through for dinner, which I was too late for and anyway couldn’t afford. Dinner for me was an Asian pot-noodle affair cooked in the gîtes well equipped kitchen.

After a beer at a nearby hotel bar I got my head down completely exhausted at 9pm.

062-03 The Way towards Miramont-Sensacq.JPG
The Way towards Miramont-Sensacq

062-16 Resting in a wood on The Way to Sensacq.JPG
Resting in a wood on the way to the church at Sensacq. I didn't stop long as the woods were full of mosquito's

062-17 A marker says 911km to Santiago at Sensacq.JPG
A waymarker tells me it is 911 km to Santiago
(A sign only 6 km before told me it was 953 km)!


062-20 The church at Sensacq.JPG
The church at Sensacq

062-22 Strange engraving on the church at Sensacq.JPG
A strange engraving on the church at Sensacq

062-26 The Way towards Pimbo.JPG
The Way towards Pimbo

062-29 The Way towards Pimbo.JPG
The Way towards Pimbo

062-30 Pimbo comes into view.JPG
Pimbo comes into view

062-33 The pilgrims centre, gite and cafe in Pimbo.JPG
The pilgrims centre, gite and cafe at Pimbo

062-42 A disabled pilgrims chariot in Arzacq-Arraziguet.JPG
A disabled pilgrims transport at the gîte communal in Arzacq-Arraziguet
 
Last edited:

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 63 – June 7th
Arzacq-Arraziguet to Géus d’Arzacq
18 km

‘Freecamping next to an insect hotel’

I woke up in my tent around 9am finding the gîte deserted, all the other pilgrims had already set off. I always preferred leaving later as I then had The Way to myself and wasn’t in the middle of a pilgrim ‘bubble’; a habit that stuck with me on the whole of my journey. As I was camping and not sleeping in the gîte the cleaning staff wasn’t bothered that I hung around in the kitchen making an awful cup of coffee from a sachet. I packed up around 10am and headed straight to a hotel bar for a proper coffee, then across the road to a shop to stock up on bread, tobacco and a cream cake for breakfast. I finally left town at 11am.

The weather today was hot with a cooling breeze in the morning, but by the afternoon the breeze had died off and it became boiling hot. It was interesting walking today and the terrain was once more getting hilly; I was now entering the region of Béarn in the French department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques.

Arzacq-Arraziguet to Fichous-Riumayou

The Way left Arzacq-Arraziguet on the aptly named street ‘Chemin du St. Jacques’, before skirting the beautiful Lac d'Arzacq where the locals were out in force fishing and picnicking as it was as Sunday. My first stop was 4.5 km away in the tiny village of Louvigny, which had a pretty picnic area next to the church and toilet facilities behind the Marie (town hall). After a ham baguette I carried on up a long steep hill under a now boiling sun with no shade through tiny Lou Castet where The Way finally left tarmacced roads for a while and onto tiny farm tracks.

Just before Lou Castet I came across a sign by the association of the Chemin St. Jacques informing me that they were planting a variety of ancient fruit trees along The Way. These trees were what medieval pilgrims would have come across whilst walking The Way in the 12th century and would have been a source of food. It was a wonderful thing they were doing, and I was to come across these plantations a few times before I reached St. Jean Pied de Port.

Wandering down a farm track I came across at what first looked like a massacre. There were half a dozen bodies sprawled in a field with clothes and belongings strewn around. It turned out to be a group of French pilgrims having an afternoon nap. One of them lazily waved at me and called “Bon Chemin!” as I passed.

After a few kilometres I arrived in Fichous-Riumayou where I stopped to shelter from the sun in the church porch and stock up on water. The church porch was huge and was lined with benches; it looked like an excellent place to freecamp, especially as the church had water too. There was a bird’s nest under the porch roof and I spent a while in fascination watching the bird’s fly in and out feeding their chicks with my boots and socks off. I was soon joined by the group of French pilgrims from the field earlier. I had seen this group around before and I liked them, and while here they took the time to water the flowers in the cemetery which I thought was really thoughtful of them.

To Larreule

Leaving Fichous-Riumayou it was 4.5 km steeply downhill on country roads into the next valley and the village of Larreule. Just as you enter Larreule I passed a pretty lavoir with a picnic table, but as there was no shade there I carried on. Just a bit further on I passed a turning for the St. Pierre church and went to investigate. The church turned out to be on top of a steep hill so I never bothered going, but at the base there was a pilgrim rest stop with benches and a public toilet set into a building. I noted that this also looked like a good place to freecamp. There was also an information board telling tourists the history of the church and of the pilgrimage to Santiago. At the end it said: ‘Some walk to find themselves only to find each other’. I pondered this for a while, not knowing that it would be weeks from now before I understood the meaning completely.

The last building in the village turned out to be the Gîte L’Escale which had a café so I popped in for an ice-cream and my first beer or two of the day. It was now nearly 5pm and soon pilgrims were arriving to check in for the night, including the French group I saw before. It was a nice and friendly gîte on an old farm and I was tempted to stop myself too; it even had camping for only 3.50 Euro’s, but I decided to press on now that the weather was getting cooler. At the entrance of the gîte I noticed that they had a vending machine catering for pilgrims. It had the usual snacks, chocolate and cold drinks as well as fresh fruit and packs of compeed blister treatment!

Finding Pilgrim Heaven

After 4.5 km I came across a large church just before the village of Uzan where I stopped for a break and to top up with water from the cemetery. I was getting tired by now and was beginning to regret not stopping at Gite L’Escale in Larreule, but I had no choice but to carry on. I decided I would look for somewhere to freecamp along The Way.

Not even two kilometres later just before the village of Géus d’Arzacq after crossing a bridge on a country road, I came across an amazing sight. To this weary pilgrim it looked like heaven. It was a pilgrim rest spot in a small field next to The Way. It is difficult to describe it in words; you really need to see the photographs to get an idea how beautiful this place really was. There was a lot of art there in various forms as well as the usual picnic table and signing in book. There was also a very strange looking object that looked like a tall set of drawers with the actual drawers removed that was labelled as an insect hotel! Best of all there was a sturdy looking hammock tied between two trees! That’s my freecamp sorted then!

I spent the evening chilling out and enjoying the beauty and tranquillity next to a babbling brook and finally crashing out in the hammock around 10pm. My last thought as I drifted off into a comfortable sleep was wondering what passing pilgrims would think as they passed me in the morning!

063-03 The Way passes Lac d'Arzacq.JPG
Passing Lac d'Arzacq just after Arzacq-Arraziguet

063-06 The Way towards Vignes.JPG
The Way towards Vignes

063-07 Pilgrims have left offerings on a roadside cross before Vignes.JPG
A roadside cross just before Vignes

063-09 A tree decorated by pilgrimas at Vignes.JPG
A tree decorated by pilgrims at Vignes

063-13 Lou Castet comes into view. (Louvigny is in the valley before).JPG
Lou Castet comes into view on the hill (Louvigny is in the valley before)

063-22 Long uphill road through Lou Castet.JPG
The long uphill road through Lou Castet

063-25 The Way towards Fichous-Riumayou.JPG
The Way towards Fichous-Riumayou. Near to where I found the French pilgrims asleep in a field

063-27 The church at Fichous-Riumayou where I stopped for a break.JPG
The church at Fichous-Riumayou where I stopped for a break

063-31 Steep hill into Larreule. Church in distance is at Uzan..JPG
The steep hill into the next valley towards Larreule. The church at Uzan is in the distance

063-42 The Way towards Geus d'Arzacq.JPG
The Way towards Géus d’Arzacq
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 64 – June 8th
Géus d’Arzacq to Chapelle Notre-Dame du Muret
23.5 km

‘Celebrating walking 1,000 kilometres’

I woke up after a good sleep in the hammock around 9am to find the guy who looks after the pilgrim oasis pottering around gardening. He didn’t seem at all bothered at all that I had slept there; he even wished me a good morning as I got my things together. In fact he explained that he needed to use his electric strimmer and didn’t want to disturb me so he had patiently waited until I had got up! What a star!

The weather today was pretty much the same as yesterday; hot with a cooling breeze in the morning, but by the afternoon the breeze had died off and it became extremely hot for the rest of the day. The walking was to be pretty flat, a lot of it on beautiful off-road tracks for the first 7.5 km before becoming hilly again. I was now approaching the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Today I was to reach the 1,000 km point on my route and I was planning to celebrate somehow. I knew where it was as I had worked it out on my map (it was 2 km after Arthez de Béarn), and I hoped to find a pretty place there to chill out and have a beer or two.

“The Way is beautiful because you are”

I passed through Géus d’Arzacq just past where I had slept hoping to find somewhere for a coffee but without any luck. Just afterwards I came across a tree on the way to Pomps that had a quote in French from ‘The Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho that read; ‘The Way is beautiful because you are’. (Paulo Coelho had walked The Way in Spain and wrote a book about it). I had been seeing these quotes by Paulo Coelho in random places along The Way for weeks now; unfortunately I didn’t understand most of them because I don’t understand French.

Soon after Geus d’Arzacq I passed through tiny Pomps where I came across another plantation of ancient fruit trees planted by the local Friends of The Way. It was only 4.5 km more from Pomps to the village of Castillon which was perched on top of a hill, and though I failed once more to find a coffee I did manage to stock up on water at the churchyard as I passed through.

Arthez de Béarn

It was a very hot and hilly 4 km to the town of Arthez de Béarn but I did stop off at the pretty Chapelle de Caubin on the way for a break from the heat (even churches that are in the middle of nowhere are often open in France and are wonderful places to rest and contemplate in). Arthez de Béarn wasn’t much to look at but it had a ruggedness that I liked, it was also a fair sized town and so had cafés and shops which I needed badly. First stop was a café where I was surprised to find the cheapest beer I had yet come across, only 2 Euro’s; that is much cheaper than a coffee! As today was a celebration I ordered the meal of the day (menu du jour), a rare steak and chips which turned out to be far from the best meal I had had in France, but to be fair they were about to close when I ordered so I was lucky to get it at all.

Just down the road was a supermarket where I stocked up on food and beer for later. I also wanted to use the internet to check my funds which I was worried about, but the library was closed today as it was a Monday. Walking out of town I came across a square with magnificent views towards the Pyrenees Mountains, but unfortunately because of the heat haze today the mountains were obscured.

A Celebration

So, as I said, I knew my 1,000 km point was just two kilometres past Arthez de Béarn, which is about half an hours walking. Imagine my surprise when half an hour later I came across a beautiful pilgrim oasis in a farmer’s field with a barn; perfect! A sign outside read; 'For the exclusive use of Pilgrims on foot'. It had picnic tables and even a sun lounger, but my favourite was the toilet facilities. I needed the loo and there was a sign saying ‘WC, Nature’ and an arrow pointing to a nearby wood! It was a perfect place to celebrate; I sprawled out on the sun lounger, boots and socks off, drinking the beer I had bought earlier, and contemplating how far I had come and how much I had changed. I knew also that my Camino was also soon about to change; in a few days I would be in St. Jean Pied de Port having walked across the whole of France and about to climb over the Pyrenees into Spain. There had been many moments on The Way that when I thought I would never make it this far. I felt a little bit proud of myself.

When I was leaving this pilgrim haven I came across something that was sobering and brought me back down to earth. Just outside where I had been resting was a memorial cross to pilgrim Henry Dreno who had died here in 2002 whilst walking The Way. Not all of us do make it.

To Maslacq

It was 7.5 km of hot, fast enjoyable walking much of it on forested roads into the village of Aragnon where I stopped for a rest and a beer or two. Just after Aragnon I crossed a large bridge over the River Gave de Pau before arriving a short 2 km later in the town of Maslacq. I was getting tired by now and considered looking for somewhere to freecamp and so I passed through Maslacq without stopping.

On the outskirts of town I came across an ancient ruined tower standing in a park and thought I would check it out to see if it was worth freecamping there. It was a beautiful place but the inside was strewn with rubbish and decided against it. Instead I decided I would press on to check out Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret 3.4 km away. In my guide it showed that it was in the middle of nowhere in a forest and I hoped that it had a porch that I could sleep in.

To Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret

The Way from Maslacq to the chapel was a long, flat, straight track through farm fields that seemed to go on forever and I was getting exhausted in the heat by now. The track finally left the open fields behind and entered a thick forest, though glad that I now had shade I wasn’t impressed by the killer climb of 120 metres to the top of a hill that completely wore me out. I was also getting worried by the constant rumble of thunder coming from ahead; there was a storm brewing and I was heading straight into it.

According to my map the chapel was before I got to the top f the hill, but I reached the summit without finding any sign of its existence, there were definitely no signs showing where it was. At the top however, there was a large park where I happily decided to camp. Even though the thunder was still roaring it did not look like it was going to rain at all, it seemed that the storm was passing me by across the next valley. I decided to take the chance and sleep out under the stars just in my sleeping bag and not use the tent. (I later found out that the chapel was down a track on the other side of the park, but it didn’t have a porch anyway).

064-01 Between Geus d'Arzacq and Pomps.JPG
On the outskirts of Geus d'Arzacq

064-03 GR marking shows The Way towards Pomps.JPG
A GR marker points The Way towards Pomps

064-08 The way to Arthez de Bearn.JPG
The Way towards Arthez de Béarn

064-10 Chapelle de Caubin on The way to Arthez de Bearn.JPG
Chapelle de Caubin on The way to Arthez de Béarn where I sheltered from the heat

064-15 Pilgrim rest stop just past Arthez de Bearn where I celebrated 1000km.JPG
The pilgrim oasis just past Arthez de Béarn where I celebrated walking 1,000 km
The sign reads 'For the exclusive use of Pilgrims on foot'.

064-18 The toilet is 'pick a tree'.JPG
The toilet is pick a tree

064-25 Ruins of an old chateau leaving Maslacq.JPG
The old tower just past Maslacq where I contemplated freecamping

064-28 Long hot straight road to Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret.JPG
The long hot straight road towards Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret

064-30 The field I slept in a thunderstorm near Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret.JPG
The park where I slept in a thunderstorm near Chapelle Notre-Dame de Muret






 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 65 – June 9th
Chapelle Notre-Dame du Muret to Navarrenx
16 km

‘Meeting Retno and Maria’

I woke up in the park near Chapelle Notre-Dame du Muret thankful that it hadn’t rained last night during the storm. I hadn’t slept much as the thunder went on most of the night and I got plagued by mosquitoes, which meant I had to start walking already feeling shattered.

Le P'tit Laa in Sauvelade

It was just over 4 km mostly by road to the village and abbey of Sauvelade, but when The Way did cut across country I had to pass through numerous electric fences. At first these looked impossible, they were at a height I could not easily get over the top of but extremely difficult to get underneath too. It took me a while to notice you could open them using a black Bakelite handle attached to the wire which acted like a gate.

It was about 9.30am when I walked into Sauvelade. As I entered the small village I passed the impressive abbey to find the Gîte P’tit Laa and café next door where I went in for my morning coffee. The staff there were extremely friendly and were all pilgrims themselves who had walked The Way before, I immediately liked the place.

The staff in the gîte were helping a pilgrim who was injured with bad blisters and tendonitis to organise some transport to a town where he could get treatment. The pilgrim, a Frenchman in his thirties, was worried that his Camino was over. When he found out that I had walked from Geneva and that my feet were still in good order he asked me to take a look at his feet and give him some advice. What had happened was a common story; he had developed bad blisters on one foot and when walking had over compensated with his other foot to reduce the pain. This had caused the tendonitis in his other leg. I gave him the same advice that the doctor would for tendonitis; rest. He needed a couple of days off from walking at least. I also gave him advice on daily feet routine, the ‘magic’ of vaseline and the need to not over compensate with a foot or leg injury. Little did I know this was the start of me getting a reputation amongst pilgrims as some sort of foot doctor! I would often be looking after stranger’s feet for the rest of my journey. (I was a red cross medic in a past life).

The incredible Charlotte

While I was sat outside with my second coffee I heard someone shouting my name and looked up to see Charlotte, a Swiss lady in her thirties I hadn’t seen since back in Chanaz on the Geneva route at the beginning of my pilgrimage eight weeks ago! She came running over and gave me a big hug saying “Wow! You made it this far!” I asked her where she had been, I hadn’t seen her once since Chanaz all that time ago. She then showed me her arm, there was a fresh vivid red scar running up the inside of her arm from her wrist to her elbow! She explained that she had slipped on the treacherous descent down from Chapelle St. Romain near Yenne (see day 6) and had fell forward onto her front, the weight of her pack meant she had shattered her wrist as she put her arms out to block her fall. She had been travelling alone and had to call for her own ambulance, luckily there had been phone coverage up there when she fell. She was immediately taken to the nearest hospital and operated on; she had to have metal pins inserted into her arm.

Most people would have gone home after being released from hospital with an injury as bad as this, but not Charlotte. She had been in the hospital for nearly a week when they said she was now well enough to travel back home to Switzerland to recuperate. To the shock of the doctors she said she wasn’t going to abandon her pilgrimage, and had instead caught the train to Le Puy en Velay where she resumed walking to Santiago! Not only that, she was still travelling alone! She became a legend on the Camino, even though I never saw her again (I think she was slower than me), I often heard of her progress on the Camino grapevine and was proud of her spirit and tenacity. What a woman!

To Navarrenx

From Sauvelade it was 12 km of walking on quiet country tarmacced roads over numerous hills to the large medieval fortified town of Navarrenx. The weather was hot but there was a gentle breeze which aided walking. The journey was pleasant and uneventful, though I did stop in the small village of Meritain a few kilometres before Navarrenx for a picnic and to watch a local farmer herding his sheep through the village streets. I passed through the impressive fortified town walls that led into Navarrenx just after 3pm.

My first impression of Navarrenx was excellent. There was a huge banner across the road welcoming pilgrims into town, and for some reason music played from loudspeakers set up along the high street. It was a busy place but it had a chilled out vibe going on. There seemed to be a few gîte communals in Navarrenx so my first port of call was the tourist information office to get the details and directions. While I was looking for the tourist office I was stopped by an Asian lady in her mid fifties asking if she could help. She turned out to be Retno, a pilgrim from Indonesia who I was to meet later, and she told me where I needed to go.

The Gîte L’Arsenal

The tourist information office explained that there was a donativo gîte in Navarrenx but it was full (the wonderful sounding Gîte L’Alchimiste). They also did camping there and I could probably have got a spot, but I needed to do some clothes washing and it looked like it was going to rain. There were however three gîte communals in town. They had a strange booking in procedure here however; I had to go to a certain bar to check in and there I would be allocated a bed in one of the gîte communals. I was allocated to the Gîte L’Arsenal.

The Gîte L’Arsenal looked an impressive place, as the name suggests it was set in the old arsenal of the fortified town and looked like an old beautifully renovated barrack block from the 18th century. Most of the blocks were now converted into flats for the locals, with one of them being the gîte and another one a museum. It was nice to be staying around the locals for once, and it was strange to be stepping over children’s toys on the stairs to the gîte.

I arrived in the gîte to find chaos reigning as pilgrims fought for the washing and drying machines until Retno the Indonesian lady I had met earlier somehow took charge of the whole process. She told me to leave my stuff by the machine and she would sort it out for me which she did. I was to learn that Retno was a real ‘Camino mum’, that is she mothered anyone that came near her, she was a true superstar and we were soon to become good friends. I was also pleased to find that my friend Tsujimoto from Japan was staying here also; I was really glad I came here.

Meeting Maria

After having a shower I was in the dormitory sorting out some kit when a woman in her sixties came over to me and asked if I was David from Brighton! When I informed her that I was indeed she exclaimed “I’ve been trying to catch up with you for weeks!” She explained she had been seeing my entries in guest books in churches and gîtes all the way back as far as Le Puy (I always signed in ‘Love to all, David from Brighton, England’) and she wanted to find me. She introduced herself as ‘Maria from Scotland’ even though her accent sounded far from Scottish. I would hear her incredible story soon enough. Without even a pause she then asked “Will you look at my friend’s feet for me.”

Fixing feet again

‘Here we go again!’ I thought as she led me into the next dormitory. Her friend turned out to be Retno from Indonesia, and her feet turned out to be a mess. When she took her socks off her feet were shocking, all her toes had turned black and she was missing half of her toenails, and the toenails she still had were about to fall off.

I recognised the problem immediately; I had seen it before in the army and had read up on it while researching my pilgrimage before I had set off. It looked far worse than it really was, I don’t know if it had a name but was caused by walking steeply downhill for prolonged periods in ill fitting boots. If the foot is able to slide forward in the boot while walking down a steep slope the toes tend to bash into the front of the boot, in time resulting in loosing your nails and black toes. There was a simple way to prevent this; by lacing your boots in a special ‘downhill lacing technique’ that keeps your foot still in the boot. I then showed both Retno and Maria how this was done (There are videos showing this technique on You Tube if you are interested).

Retno asked me what she should do and I told her that she could not walk for a while as her feet needed to recover. I put her mind to rest telling her that her nails would grow back eventually but she could not walk like that. She especially needed to rest her feet because in about four days she would be crossing over the Pyrenees Mountains, the toughest section of the Camino and not a place to get crippled and unable to walk. If she got a few days rest there was no reason why she couldn’t make it over the Pyrenees on foot. I also added that if it does not start to clear up she would be wise to get her feet checked out by a doctor in St. Jean Pied de Port before attempting crossing the mountains. She agreed and booked a taxi for tomorrow to where she was going to meet up with Maria at a gîte further down the route.

In the evening Me, Retno, Maria, Tsujimoto and a French pilgrim called Olivier chilled out in the gîte sharing food, beer and wine. I had been seeing Olivier on The Way often from Le Puy but never really had a chance to speak to him. He was also injured badly, he had tendonitis and was struggling to walk, but every day he just kept going albeit slowly. I told him that he would need to rest too before crossing the Pyrenees and he confirmed that he intended to rest up in St. Jean. I hoped he would or else he would never make it to Santiago.

065-01 A pilgrim information point on the way towards Sauvelade.JPG

A pilgrim information point on the way towards Sauvelade

065-02 The Way towards Sauvelade.JPG
The Way towards Sauvelade

065-05 Gite Le P'tit Laa at Sauvelade where I stopped for a break.JPG
Gîte Le P’tit Laa at Sauvelade where I stopped for a break and I bumped into the incredible Charlotte

065-09 The Way to Meritain.JPG
The Way towards Meritain

065-11 View towards the Pyrenees near Meritain.JPG
Looking towards the Pyrenees near Meritain

065-13 Farmer with his sheep in Meritain.JPG
A farmer herds his sheep through Meritain

065-16 The city walls entering Navarrenx.JPG
Entering Navarrenx through the old city walls

065-18 Signpost says 873km to Santiago in Navarrenx.JPG
Only 873 km left to Santiago!

065-23 The Gite L'Arsenal in Navarrenx.JPG
The courtyard of The Gîte L’Arsenal in Navarrenx

065-25 Retno, Maria, Olivier and Tsujimoto in Gite L'Arsenal in Navarrenx.JPG
Olivier (France), Retno (Indonesia), Maria (Scotland) and Tsujimoto (Japan) in The Gîte L’Arsenal in Navarrenx
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 66 – June 10th
Navarrenx to Aroue
15 km

‘Having to sleep with the dog’

I was woken up in the dormitory at 7am by the other pilgrims getting ready to go. I had a pretty good sleep considering there was a loud snorer in the room. I was the last to leave as usual except for Maria and Retno. Retno had taken my advice and was taking a taxi to the next gîte today thank God, there was no way she could walk with her foot like that. It was absolutely pouring down with rain this morning and I was in no rush, so after saying goodbye to Maria as she set off on The Way Retno and I went to a local café for coffee. After making sure Retno had her lift sorted out I finally set off in the rain at 9.30am. I would have liked to have stayed for a while longer and explored Navarrenx but it was just too wet and I wanted to get on.

After crossing the beautiful bridge over the river Gave d’Oloron out of Navarrenx it was 2.5 km of walking alongside busy roads to Castetnau-Camblong. But from Castetnau-Camblong The Way became beautiful again and I enjoyed myself as I stomped along a muddy track through a forest in the pouring rain. Whilst in the forest I stopped off under the shelter of a tree for a rest and a bite to eat to see Maria coming along singing and splashing through puddles wearing only sandals on her feet behind me. She stopped to join me for a while and we shared some food. I had no idea how I had managed to get in front of her!

Maria’s story

Maria was either slightly crazy or eccentric depending on your view, but to me she was amazing. She was a very religious lady in her mid sixties and was travelling all The Way from Le Puy to Santiago in her own style and alone. Her equipment was basic at best, she only wore sandals on her bare feet (and had never had a blister or any other problem with them) and didn’t even have a proper raincoat. She certainly had no dedicated hiking gear apart from an old rucksack she had borrowed off her daughter. She had been walking ‘unplanned’ that is not booking accommodation or knowing where she would end up at the end of the day. Not only that but she slept outside a lot, under bushes, in barns, in ruined houses or just beside the track she was walking, she didn’t even use a tent. When I asked her about sleeping rough she just shrugged and said “God will provide and protect me”. Even as a non-believer myself I had to admire her conviction.

Over the time I knew Maria she told me her story, which explains to some extent her ability to endure the hardships and uncertainty of her journey. As I said before, she always introduced herself as ‘Maria from Scotland’ although her accent was far from Scottish or even English. She did however sound posh and obviously came from a privileged background, or so I thought. The truth was she had married into money and indeed now lived a comfortable life in a large house in Scotland surrounded by her now large family and her horses. But her history was far from privileged, in fact it was tragic.

In the 1960’s Maria was working in England as an au-pair having come over from her native Czechoslovakia. She was happily working when world events changed her life forever. It was 1968 and Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia taking over her country in what is now known as the Prague Spring. Maria immediately left her job and set off to London to get to the Czechoslovak embassy, her only thought was to get home to be with her family. On the way she was robbed at knifepoint of everything she possessed, including all her money and her passport. When she finally made it to London by hitchhiking and sleeping rough she found that because of the Soviet takeover the Czechoslovak embassy didn’t exist anymore. In fact there was no way home at all, the Soviets had closed her country off. Her home and her family were now firmly behind the Iron Curtain. She would not see her parents and siblings again for over twenty years. Her first night in London was spent in a police cell. She was alone, destitute, homeless, stateless and only sixteen years old. I cannot even imagine what this poor girl felt that night in that police cell, she must have been terrified. But she survived.

Whilst walking The Way Maria had met Retno from Indonesia and they had become firm friends. Though they both walked alone they would meet up in gîtes in the evening where they would cook and eat together. But now Retno was injured and Maria had determined that she would help Retno make it to Santiago. Maria was one of the most inspirational people I had ever met. I was truly blessed that these amazing ladies had taken to me and became my friends.

A pilgrim oasis and a warning in Cherbys

After resting for a while in the forest Maria decided to carry on. Off she went soaking wet and happily singing and jumping in puddles. We would overtake each other a few times during the day; and she always put a smile on my face whenever I saw her.

I soon left the forest and it was quiet country roads the 8 km or so to the tiny settlement of Cherbys, it had also now stopped raining. Whilst walking through Cherbys I came across a sight for sore eyes; a wonderful pilgrim oasis set up in somebody’s garage. At the entrance to a driveway a sign read ‘A small break is required’ and an arrow pointing to the garage. The garage was open and inside was what looked like a café set up. It had a large table and a fridge, a kettle and various boxes containing goodies. Inside a sign told me to help myself and if I could to put a donation in a money jar that was there. They had tea, coffee, cold cans of drink, biscuits and some lovely cakes. The owners were obviously pilgrims as there were photographs of them walking The Way on the garage walls; after returning from their pilgrimage they had decided to do something to help their fellow pilgrims.

While I was there a neighbour came over to say hi and to give me a warning. He told me that further down the road another local would stop to talk to me and offer me a break but I was not to trust him. “He is a bad man” he told me. After a welcome stop in the garage I carried on and sure enough just down the road a hippy looking older guy stopped me and invited me in to his house to rest. He said I could stay there too if I wanted. He also explained to me about the place, telling me it was a ‘community’ dedicated to God though from his explanation it sounded more like a hippy commune or a cult. It didn’t sound like any money was involved, you helped out and you could eat and stay there for free. I would probably have stopped to check it out if it hadn’t been such a religious place, but from what happened next I was glad I didn’t.

When I declined his offer to stop the guy got a bit frantic so I walked off, but he actually followed me down the trail. He was rabbiting on and on about why I should stay. He was getting scary as he was so intense, and for a moment I thought he might even try and physically stop me walking away. When I finally got rid of him and walked off I thought he would have terrified some of the female pilgrims walking on their own. He had given me some leaflets about the place and his ‘group’, and it seems they have communities around the world. I threw the leaflets away later and I cannot remember who they are or what they called themselves (on Google Earth the community in Cherbys is called the ‘Ojo Congregacion’ but I could not find out anything about them online). I also bumped into people from the same organisation a few times later in Spain and found them intimidating too.

To Aroue and into French Basque country

From Cherbys it was only a couple of kilometres by road to the village of Lichos where I had a decision to make. The next place up ahead according to the Michelin guide was Aroue-Ithorots-Olhaïby but this was misleading. The ‘official’ Way, the GR65, bypasses all of these places, but there was an alternate route that passes through Aroue which joins up with the GR65 later on. If I took the GR65 it would mean there would be 15 km of walking before the next gîte, but there was a gîte in Aroue with camping only 3 km away from Lichos on the alternate route. Considering I was still damp and muddy from this mornings downpour and the weather looked like a storm was brewing I decided to take the alternate route to Aroue. Once there I hoped to get something hot to eat then make a decision whether to stay or carry on and freecamp.

I arrived in Aroue at 4pm having crossed into French Basque country to find everything closed so headed to the church to stock up on water from the cemetery. As I sat there pondering my next move I decided to check in to the Gîte Communal as it looked like it was going to rain again and I could cook there.

The Gîte Communal in Aroue

When I arrived at the gîte I was informed it was complete (full) but I knew they did camping there and there wasn’t a problem with me staying (there is always camping space as pilgrims rarely use a tent). Just after checking in the storm broke and the rain that had started soon turned into a complete downpour. The landlady must of seen the look on my face that I wasn’t too thrilled at having to set up my tent in the storm and kindly offered that I could set up my tent in the porch instead, However, my tent cannot be pitched on concrete so I decided to just sleep there in my sleeping bag. I still had to pay the 5 Euro camping fee, but that was ok as I still got full use of the gîtes facilities so I could cook and shower. They also had a little shop and I managed to buy some bread, tinned fish and most importantly some beers.

The gîte was packed out. Most of the pilgrims were French including a large group walking with a support car which I was dubious about at first, I thought that they would be using the car to carry their rucksacks and thought they were ‘cheating’. However, this turned out not to be the case at all. They had a friend with them who had recently had a stroke and was unable to walk with them, so he travelled in the car so he could at least accompany his friends on their pilgrimage. I thought this was a good idea. They also used the car to go to a town further away to use a supermarket and kindly took orders from the other pilgrims, however they had already done this before I had arrived so I missed out on a decent meal.

Apart from the large group with the car there was a Frenchman walking to St. Jean Pied de Port with his cute Border Collie dog who I had been seeing over the past week. There was also a beautiful young South African couple also going as far as St. Jean Pied de Port who I had met earlier today when we stopped to say hi to some horses in a field. I also met Mark and Helmi for the first time that were walking all the way to Santiago. Helmi was Finnish and her husband Mark was from the USA but had been living in Finland for many years. I would see them many times over the coming weeks all across Spain and would become good friends with them. They always took the time to make sure I was ok and I think they looked out for me, they knew I had little money and they were a bit concerned that I freecamped outside a lot! Bless them!

I ate my baguette with tinned fish as the French contingent had a full four course meal they had prepared from the supermarket run. As usual the French all stuck together to the exclusion of everyone who didn’t speak French. This was something I was now used to and didn’t think anything of it, it didn’t mean they were unfriendly at all; it was just the language barrier. I was in France and I don’t speak French after all, and most of the French here didn’t speak a word of English. Sat next to me were the beautiful South African couple (they were a very pretty pair and very friendly) who had also been excluded as they spoke only Afrikaans and English. The South Africans had cooked a huge pasta dish and they kindly shared this with me, they wouldn’t even let me help wash up. Proving the French weren’t really being rude to us they shared with us their final course of cheeses and offered us some wine. It was a good night in good company.

The Border Collie dog wasn’t allowed to sleep in the gîte of course and was relegated to the porch with me. When I was bedding down I saw that some of the other pilgrims felt sorry for me having to sleep out with the dog, but to be honest I was very happy with the arrangement. It also meant I could stay up a bit later and have a beer or two after the 10pm curfew.

I wondered how Maria and Retno had got on today as I fell asleep with the storm howling outside the porch.

066-03 A pilgrim on The Way towards Cherbys.JPG
A pilgrim on The Way towards Cherbys

066-05 The Way towards Cherbys.JPG
The Way towards Cherbys

066-08 Pilgrim oasis for donations in Cherbys.JPG
The pilgrim oasis in someones garage in Cherbys

066-14 The Way towards Bohoteguia.JPG
The Way towards Bohoteguia

066-20 A South African pilgrim before Bohoteguia.JPG
A South African pilgrim chatting to the locals before Bohoteguia

066-16 Rest stop before Bohoteguia.JPG
A rest stop before Bohoteguia

066-22 View towards the Pyrenees before Bohoteguia.JPG
Looking towards the Pyrenees before Bohoteguia

066-23 A GR marking points The Way towards Bohoteguia.JPG
A GR marker on a tree points The Way towards Bohoteguia

066-24 The Way towards Bohoteguia.JPG
The Way towards Bohoteguia

066-25 Gite Communal in Aroue where I slept in the porch with the dog.JPG
The Gite Communal in Aroue where I slept in the porch with the dog
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 67 – June 11th
Aroue to Ostabat
19 km

‘The day of the storms’

I was woken up in the porch by the other pilgrims getting ready at 6am after a great sleep. After asking the others how they had slept I was glad I had stayed in the porch after all, the South Africans said they had little sleep due to a few people loudly snoring all night and that I had the best deal! (The dog did not snore)! After a coffee and packing away my gear I set off around 7am with the weather cool and cloudy with intermittent sunshine.

The alternate route I was on followed the main road out of Aroue before turning off down a country track for about 3-4 km where it rejoined the ‘official’ GR65 route. Many of us found The Way after Aroue until it rejoined the GR65 not very well marked and difficult to follow in places. This was made up though by the stunning views of the Pyrenees Mountains ahead of us. They looked completely awesome and formidable, and it was a little scary thinking I would be crossing them on foot in just a few days time. The fact that there was still some snow up there didn’t help! There were a few variant route options today but I hadn’t planned which way I would go, I thought I would just see how I got on and decide at the time. However, I did know my destination was Ostabat 19 km away as from there was an easy 20 km one day’s walk to St. Jean Pied de Port, the last town in France and the end of the Via Podiensis.

To Uhart-Mixe

I was soon back on the GR65 and within a few kilometres I passed the turning for the church at Olhaïby. The church there I noted had a good porch and fresh water and looked a good likely place to freecamp. After another 4 km of road work on country lanes I came to the Cavalaire de Benta, basically a roadside cross that marks the turning off for the St. Palais variant. This route heads north to the large town of St. Palais before heading back south to rejoin the GR65. It is a long major detour of around 12 km and I decided to ignore it and carry on the GR65. (I have heard that the St. Palais variant is beautiful too though).

After just over a kilometre after the St. Palais turn off The Way turned on to the D242 which turned out to be a busy road and was far from pretty. However, only a kilometre down the road I came across the turning off for the Navarre route variant. It was getting hot by now so I sat down beside some rubbish bins in the shade to figure out which way to go. The GR65 route carries on down the main road for a short while before turning cross country north-west through the hamlet of Larribar-Sorhapuru and on to La Stèle de Gibraltar, a monument that marks the historic place where both the Paris and Vézelay pilgrimage routes join up with the Le Puy route before crossing the Pyrenees into Spain. The other option was the shorter Navarre variant that goes via Uhart-Mixe before rejoining the GR65 just before the hamlet of Harambels.

While I was in the gîte in Aroue last night many of the pilgrims were talking about the Navarre option and told me that it was a beautiful walk. But the clincher for me was that there was a café at a gîte at Uhart-Mixe about 3 km away which I had heard was excellent. So in the end I decided on the Navarre route as it was the quickest way to a beer!

While I was sat there by the bins a group of French pilgrims turned up with a guide (some people walk the Camino by booking on a guided tour which includes accommodation etc, though the accommodation is usually in hotels. They can also have their baggage transported for them to the next hotel too if they wish. Unfortunately they rarely mix with us lot staying in gîtes and walking alone). The guide was letting the group decide which way to go and while they decided she came across to chat to me. I told her I was going to the café at Uhart-Mixe, and though she agreed it was a good idea her group chose the GR65 route. She wasn’t pleased, as that meant a 12 km walk before she got her next coffee!

The Way to Uhart-Mixe did turn out to be a beautiful walk, and instead of following the normal white/red GR markings I ended up following the blue snail markings that line this route. About an hour later I walked into the beautiful village past the first of many ETA graffiti slogans I would see passing through the Basque country and headed to the café.

The Gîte L’Escargot

The café in Uhart-Mixe was part of the excellent Gîte L’Escargot. It was a friendly place that lets pilgrims eat their own lunch from their packs at their tables as long as you buy a drink. I bought a beer and made a sandwich out of my pack enjoying the fact it was sunny and warm again, and then the owner brought me a jug of water and wished me ‘Bon appetite’. I was soon ordering my second beer and while I was at it I ordered a slice of Basque Gateau, the wonderful local almond cake.

I was happily sat there watching pilgrims come and go when someone caught my eye. Two female pilgrims turned up but one of them was extraordinary, she was not only very beautiful, she was also very glamorous. Most pilgrims tend to look pretty similar after being on the road for so long, and our hiking gear and clothing are pretty similar too. But this lady had a style of her own that was unique, and her clothes were very bright! There was also something else about her, she had an infectious grin across her face and looked like she was enjoying herself immensely. I thought to myself that she would be good to get to know, she looked fun. Little did I know that I would be soon crossing the Pyrenees Mountains with her. In fact we were going to be walking together across Spain for weeks to come.

Just after these ladies turned up I got up to leave. When I went to pay my bill the owner said that a gentleman had already paid it. It turned out to be one of the French pilgrims from the gîte in Aroue last night. They must have felt sorry for me having to sleep with the dog last night in the porch! It was a nice gesture and I thanked him before I left.

The Storms hit

After leaving Uhart-Mixe The Way headed uphill for a few kilometres before entering a large forest. There was definitely a storm brewing, there was a loud rumble of thunder coming from up ahead and the sky was turning black. I reached the tiny hamlet of Harambels now back on the GR65 just as the rain started. There is nothing in Harambels except for a gîte and an ancient chapel which luckily had a large porch which I dived into to change into my wet weather gear and get my waterproof pack cover on. I wasn’t alone, some of the French pilgrims from last night were sheltering in there also. (Incidentally, this chapel had a sign on the entrance to the porch saying no overnight camping or sleeping in the porch allowed; the first and only time I saw this in France). The rain was getting worse and the storm louder but I decided to press on the final 5 km to my destination of Ostabat instead of staying here for the night at the gîte.

After Harambels it was back into the forest to see lighting crashing to the ground ahead to my left and a separate electrical storm ahead to my right. The two storms were converging and we were heading straight into them. The rain was intense, it was like a monsoon and visibility was only a few feet in front of me. At one point I dived into a farmers shed to find it packed with dripping wet pilgrims where I sorted out my brolly. We were already soaked to the skin, no amount of Gortex could keep this rain out, but everyone seemed in good spirits and enjoying themselves. I set off once more, the lightning now crashing to the ground all around us and managed about half a kilometre before realising that I had left my walking staff back in the shed and had to go back for it!

After a short time the forest track dropped downhill where it met a small road and as I got there chaos reigned. A group of pilgrims had given up and had called a taxi to pick them up. But the road where it descended into the forest had turned into a river and the taxi was stranded in the middle with water flowing all around it. The driver and these pilgrims were getting even more soaked as they tried to push the taxi out. There was talk of getting a tractor to rescue the taxi. I bet they regretted calling the taxi! I plodded on.

It was around 4pm as I neared Ostabat. There were two ways into the village; the road way which took you into the main part or upper village, or there was a steep and rocky footpath that led downhill to the lower village. I was getting extremely anxious now that Ostabat would be complete and I would have nowhere to stay, it seemed all the other pilgrims were heading there also and had probably booked accommodation by phone in advance. As most of them were heading up the road to the main part of the village I took the footpath instead. It was lucky I did.

Gîte Ospitalia in Ostabat

The track down into lower Ostabat was steep, rocky and now a fast flowing stream which made it slippy too. As I neared the bottom the water flowing down the track got deeper and deeper until it was over the top of my boots, not that this mattered much as my feet were already soaked.

As I entered the village I was passing a house when I heard someone shouting my name and I turned around to find Retno from Indonesia’s smiling face sheltering under a porch. After a big hug she explained this was a gîte and she pointed to a note pinned to the door. On the handwritten note was written nine names of those who were booked in and there were ten beds! I quickly wrote my name on the list and secured my bed for the night. I later found out the whole of Ostabat was indeed complete, there wasn’t a bed left in town. I had been lucky, I didn’t want to carry on walking to the next town to try and find a bed, and I didn’t fancy the prospect of freecamping as soaked through as I was.

I was glad to get indoors where Retno immediately made me a hot cup of coffee. After a hot shower and getting into dry clothes I had a look around. Gîte Ospitalia was an interesting place, an old rickety building, it had been housing pilgrims since the 12th century when it had been built as a pilgrim hospital. One could only imagine the stories this place could tell. Though a little dilapidated, it was warm and cosy and had a huge well equipped kitchen where we could cook. As it had now stopped raining Retno and I headed up the extremely steep hill to the upper village to find a shop and buy provisions (Retno; fresh vegetables and pasta, me; beer and a tin of sausage and lentil stew), before we headed back to cook.

Soon Maria arrived drenched but happy. Retno had caught a taxi again today and had booked Maria in to the gîte. Retno’s feet were recovering and her toes were not as black as before. She was going to catch a taxi once more tomorrow to St. Jean Pied de Port, but it looked like she would be able to walk from there over the Pyrenees into Spain.

As we cooked and chatted to some friendly young German pilgrims the owner of the gîte popped in and presented us with a bottle of port and two bottles of local liquor “to warm you all up” he said. What a nice thought! He even brought more around later too! I heard later that this gîte had some bad reports from pilgrims, I cannot understand why though, we all thought it was excellent.

I had mentioned to Retno that I hadn’t listened to music for a long time. Later that evening I was sat outside on the porch smoking and having a beer. I was chatting to a Swiss bicegrino and watching a farmer herd his sheep through the village streets when Retno came out and pushed a set of headphones in my ears and handed me her music player. I can only say that her music tastes are quite eclectic. The Indonesian folk music was very strange but beautiful, but I was more surprised that an Indonesian lady in her mid fifties was into punk ska!

The talk in the gîte that evening was about one thing; tomorrow was our last day walking across France. Tomorrow we would arrive in St. Jean Pied de Port, 20 km away, the last French town before Spain. Everyone, including myself, was excited and also apprehensive of crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain on foot. We knew it was going to be tough, what would the weather be like? What would walking across Spain be like?

Would my clothes be dry in the morning?

067-02 The Pyrenees. I will be crossing them in a few days!.JPG
View of the Pyrenees Mountains on the way to Uhart-Mixe. I will be crossing them into Spain in three days time!


067-10 The Way towards Uhart-Mixe.JPG
The alternate route towards Uhart-Mixe is very beautiful

067-17 The excellent Gite and cafe L'Escargot in Uhart-Mixe.JPG
The calm before the storm. French pilgrims who I had stayed with last night having lunch at the excellent Gîte and Café L'Escargot in Uhart-Mixe


067-21 Shepherds dog on the way to Harambels.JPG
A beautiful shepherd’s dog guards his flock on the way to Harambels next to an ancient roadside cross


067-25 The Way towards Harambels.JPG
Heading into the storm. The Way towards Harambels

067-27 The chapel at Harambels where we sheltered from the storm.JPG
The chapel at Harambels where we sheltered as the storm hit

067-30 View towards Ostabat.JPG
Ostabat comes into view

067-33 The waterlogged path into lower Ostabat.JPG
The slippy waterlogged path into lower Ostabat

067-35 Gite Ospitalia in Ostabat.JPG
Gîte Ospitalia in Ostabat has been sheltering pilgrims since the 12th century

067-36 Retno outside Gite Ospitalia in Ostabat.JPG
Walking into Ostabat I was welcomed by the beautiful smile of Retno from Indonesia
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 68 – June 12th
Ostabat to St. Jean Pied de Port
20 km

‘I’m suddenly a tourist attraction’

I woke up in the Gîte Ospitalia to find my clothes from yesterday still damp, but the storm had passes and the weather was cloudy and warm so they would soon dry out on me. After I packed up and said goodbye to Maria and Retno I headed into the upper village to grab a coffee or two before setting off. Retno’s feet were recovering well but she was taking a taxi to St. Jean Pied de Port today and we would meet her there.

This was to be my last full day walking across France (apart from the last 12 km or so from St. Jean to the Spanish border in the Pyrenees Mountains) and I was apprehensive and a little excited. I was excited that I was soon to be walking through Spain; I knew it was going to be very different (and cheaper) and I was looking forward to the adventure. I was apprehensive of St. Jean Pied de Port, or the fact that most pilgrims who walk the Camino start from there, and being June it was going to be packed. There would be around a hundred new shiny pilgrims starting from there every day. But there is a saying on the Camino; ‘Walking in France you walk with the French, walking in Spain you walk with the world’ so it was going to be very different indeed. Then there was the small matter of crossing the Pyrenees on foot.

Ostabat – Larceveau – Utziate

The first 3 km to the village of Larceveau was pretty flat on country lanes. The Way bypasses Larceveau just to the north, but the village is large enough to have shops and is a good place to stock up on food. I was sitting just before the turn off for the village having a cigarette and debating whether to bother popping in when Maria came past and stopped for a chat. We decided not to go into Larceveau and carried on.

The Way from Larceveau was on country lanes that shadowed the busy D933 for the next 4.5 km to Gamarthe where I hoped to find a café. Though the route was pretty I was never far from the sound of roaring traffic which wasn’t nice, though it did cross my mind that each car going past would be in St. Jean in under an hour while it would take me all day to walk there!

The Hôpital d’Utziat

On the way the route passed through the tiny hamlet of Utziate where I came across an amazing restored 12th century pilgrim hospital. The medieval word hospital (hôpital in French), does not mean exactly the same as in English, i.e. a purely medical facility. The word comes from the same word as ‘hospitality’, and the medieval pilgrim hospitals were much like the gîtes and albergues of today, offering shelter, a bed and sometimes food to the poorer pilgrims (the rich pilgrims would of stayed at inns).

The hôpital d’Utziat is a squat one story, one roomed stone building complete with mattresses on the floor, and a large dining table and chairs inside. It was open and passing pilgrims could rest, shelter and eat there. It looked like an amazing place to stay the night. Maybe next time!

Pilgrim oasis at Gamarthe

From Utziate The Way carried on shadowing the main road until it came to the ancient wayside cross, the Croix de Galzetaburu (dated 1714 and with an extremely strange Jesus on the cross) where the route crossed over the main road and headed into beautiful hilly farmland on quiet country roads. A few kilometres on from the cross I came to the village of Gamarthe where I was hoping to get lunch and possibly a beer. Unfortunately I was out of luck, there was nothing there, even though my guidebook said there was a café there. Feeling hungry and a little despondent I carried on, wishing I had bothered to stop off to buy some food earlier in Larceveau. Not only that but I had run out of tobacco!

What the guidebook didn’t tell me was that the café was at a farm (La Ferme Uhartia) just past the village. It sold bio foods from the farm itself and not only that it had cold drinks, coffee, yoghurt, jam, bread, biscuits and cakes for donation! It was an amazing place with beautiful views and I was happy to chill out here for a while.

Mongelos – Bussunarits – St. Jean le Vieux

I really needed tobacco by now (a bad habit I know) and the next likely place I could buy some was in the large town of St. Jean le Vieux 7.5 km away. The Way to St. Jean le Vieux was mainly on tarmacced roads though they were very quiet and mostly pretty. The weather was still cloudy but it was very muggy and humid, not so nice to walk in.

Just past Gamarthe The Way rejoined the busy D933 for a short while as it bypassed the small village of Mongelos before it turned back south-west on country roads once more. The Way was very hilly for the next 5 km to Bussunarits and by the time I got there I was feeling shattered by the humidity. Just outside of the village near the Château d’Aphat the weather broke for a while and started to rain. As I sheltered in a bus shelter I was a happy bunny, thinking that at least now it would not be so humid and it would be easier walking.

It was then an easy 2.5 km to St. Jean le Vieux where I found a Tabac (a shop licensed to sell tobacco in France. Unlike the UK where tobacco can be bought everywhere, in France you have to go to a Tabac. The problem for me is they only exist in the larger towns and were not always open when I got there). In this case I was even luckier in that the Tabac I found was in a bar. By now it was definitely beer O’clock so I settled in for a pint or two. The staff and customers in the bar were extremely friendly and I could of stayed here a while, but wanted to get to St. Jean Pied de Port early as I could so I could guarantee a bed at the Refuge Municipal. The Refuge Municipal in St. Jean Pied de Port is the main pilgrim gîte and the cheapest, but it does not take bookings in advance; it operates on a first come first served basis.

I saw a strange sight whilst passing through St. Jean le Vieux, wandering around loose in a car park was a large dog that looked like a lion. Its fur had been cut just like a male lion with a mane and such that it gave me quite a scare when I bumped into it! Obviously some local thinks this is funny. It is really.

An embarrassing arrival in St. Jean Pied de Port

The final 4 km into St. Jean Pied de Port was uneventful, but my arrival into town was extremely embarrassing. Pilgrims arriving into St. Jean Pied de Port on foot enter via a magnificent ancient arch in the city walls aptly named the Port St. Jacques. Picture the scene. There is a coach trip of tourists from around the world gathered at the Port St. Jacques listening to their guide telling them of the ancient pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. “The route is still walked by pilgrims to this day” he said, just as I trudged down towards them, very tired, muddy and damp still from the storms yesterday, carrying a unfeasibly large rucksack and a walking staff. The guide smiled and looked at me. The tourists went bonkers, “A pilgrim!” they cried as all thirty or forty of them started photographing and filming me. To make matters worse a car was trying to get through the Port St. Jacques just as a tourist ‘train’ was trying to pass through the other side and both came to a halt, blocking my way past. I was stuck in front of the tourists feeling like something from another planet as they ooohed and ahhhed at me. The guide was looking very pleased with himself as I stood there p***** off. It was a few minutes before I could make my escape.

The Pilgrims office

The first thing I needed to do was head straight to the pilgrims’ office to find out where the Refuge Municipal was so I could make sure I got a bed. St. Jean Pied de Port is such a popular starting point with so many pilgrims arriving daily that the town has a large dedicated pilgrim’s office. The office is staffed by volunteers who are pilgrims themselves, and to qualify as one you must have walked the Camino to Santiago. The role of the office is to issue credencials (pilgrim passports) to new pilgrims and to stamp the credencial of people like me that have walked there. They also offer advice and encouragement and help pilgrims find accommodation. They also give pilgrims a very detailed map of the Pyrenees crossing and also an up to date list of albergues in Spain all the way to Santiago. Their most important role however is advising of the weather conditions prevailing in the Pyrenees. There are two routes across the mountains into Spain; The Route Napoleon also known as the Artillery Route and the Valcarlos Route.

The Route Napoleon or Artillery Route is the high mountain route across the Pyrenees; 26 km long it involves a climb from 170 metres at St. Jean Pied de Port to 1,450 metres at the summit and a decent to 950 metres to Roncesvalles in Spain. It is so called because Napoleon used this route during the Napoleonic Wars to get his artillery into Spain. It was also used by the Emperor Charlemagne in 778AD in the war against the Muslims who then occupied Spain (incidentally, this predates the cult of St. James who’s remains were allegedly found at Compostela in approximately 813AD). This is also the traditional route for pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela, as hundreds of years ago this route had less trees than the heavily wooded Valcarlos route, so there was less chance of being attacked by bandits. However, the route can be dangerous, especially in bad weather, as can be seen by the number of pilgrims who have died crossing there even in recent years (one was to die up there in 2015 not long after I crossed). Every year many pilgrims have to be rescued off the mountain who have run into trouble (four South Korean pilgrims had to be rescued off the mountain not long after I had crossed, they had got lost in fog). In bad weather the pilgrims office will ‘close’ the Napoleon Route and advise pilgrims to take the Valcarlos route instead. The problem is that the weather on the crossing can change in minutes and it is very easy to get lost up there when thick mist or fog descends. Either way it is a tough crossing and pilgrims should take the advice given by the office.

The Valcarlos route is an easier option though still tough. It climbs steadily from St. Jean Pied de Port (170 metres) until it reaches Roncesvalles (950 metres) and is about the same length as the Napoleon Route. This is the route that bicegrino’s (pilgrims on bicycles) take, and pilgrims on foot when the Route Napoleon is closed due to bad weather. The Valcarlos Route is open in all weathers all year around. The downside is that this route is alongside a busy main road with pilgrims literally on the hard shoulder some of the time. A plus is that it passes through the villages of Arnéguy and Valcarlos that both have shops and accommodation, so the route can be broken up into stages for those pilgrims who can only walk short distances.

I quickly found the pilgrims office and sat down with a volunteer to get my credencial stamped. Then things got embarrassing again; some of the tourists from earlier had followed me into the pilgrims’ office! First I knew about it was when I got out my credencial and opened it up on the table to be stamped. Suddenly there were gasps and more ooohes and ahhhs as the tourists spotted the many colourful stamps in my credencial. This was followed by flashes going off as they tried to photograph me with the credencial open. Worse, they attracted the attention of some new pilgrims who were starting off tomorrow and they joined in too. I looked up at the office volunteer and he was getting as p***** off as I was. As nobody was going to throw them out of the office I decided to let them photograph my credencial before they finally left me alone. At last I could get on and sort out what I needed to do here.

My plan

My plan was this; I wanted to stay in St. Jean Pied de Port for two nights as I needed a day off to get my washing done and have a break. Also St. Jean is an extremely beautiful town and well worth a look around. The office gave me directions to the Refuge Municipal but they couldn’t tell me if it was full or not, I would just have to go there and try my luck. If it was full I would have to get a private gîte which would be more expensive.

Second thing was I wanted to walk the Napoleon Route and so I asked what the current conditions were like. They told me the route was open, but the weather tomorrow was looking grim, a rain storm was predicted, but not bad enough to close the pass. As I was going over in two days time I would check again tomorrow, but it looked like I would be able to cross over on the Napoleon Route as planned.

The third thing was I wanted to break up the crossing over the Pyrenees into two stages. There is a pilgrim refuge at Orisson 8 km from St. Jean Pied de Port on the Napoleon Route giving me a short day followed by an 18 km day to Roncesvalles in Spain. The nature of the Napoleon Route is that the first 8 km to Orisson is by far the hardest; it is extremely steep, a really unrelenting 8 km killer climb. After Orisson the route isn’t too bad (in good weather anyway). Also, I had heard doing my research that Refuge Orisson is a great place to stay with an incredible atmosphere. By staying there you also get to watch a spectacular sunset and sunrise in the mountains; Orisson is a very beautiful place. There is nothing there except the Refuge and the mountains. The trouble with Orisson is that it is small; it has only 18 beds and has to be booked in advance. Most pilgrims who want to stay there book a place before they even set off from home, but of course I couldn’t do that as I didn’t know when I would get there. I did know however that the pilgrim office could book for me so I asked the volunteer to try and book me in for two days time. He rang Orisson for me and managed to get the last bed booked. Success!

The Refuge Municipal

I walked back up the hill to the Refuge Municipal which is near the Port St. Jacques where I had entered the town earlier. There was already a queue of pilgrims snaking out of the door but luckily they still had beds available. As I neared the front of the queue where the hospitalero was sat in the kitchen booking pilgrims in I noticed a group of pilgrims sat at another table. They definitely weren’t new shiny pilgrims, I could tell by the look of them that they had been on the road for a while. One of them spotted me and smiled as he said “Ah! It looks like you have been walking for a long time pilgrim, welcome”. This guy turned out to be Ruben from the Netherlands who I was to meet later; he was a bicegrino who had cycled from his home in Holland via the Paris route.

The Refuge Municipal was a nice place; it housed 24 pilgrims in two spacious dormitories and had a large communal kitchen and dining area. It cost me only 8 Euro’s including breakfast. I had booked in for two nights as planned. Pilgrims are not usually allowed to stay for more than one night, but just like the pilgrim gîte in Le Puy an exception is made if you have walked there and are not starting your pilgrimage from there. After a shower and putting on some clean clothes I set off to explore St. Jean and do some shopping.

Chilling out in St. Jean

As I was heading back into town I bumped into Retno and Maria looking for the pilgrims’ office. Retno had arrived from Ostabat by taxi earlier and had booked a gîte for her and Maria. Her feet were getting better and she was confident she could walk from now on. Maria had not long arrived. Both of them were also staying in St. Jean for two nights. After showing them where the pilgrims office was I hung around while they got sorted. I invited them for dinner but they had a communal meal booked in their gîte, and before I headed off we agreed to meet up tomorrow.

I headed off to find dinner and was soon ensconced in a restaurant with a large beer. St. Jean is a tourist town in its own right and there were tourists everywhere (and hundreds of motorcyclists), but they were totally outnumbered by the pilgrims that were knocking about. I was amazed at just how many of us there were; I saw more pilgrims while sat there than I had seen so far on my whole journey! Another thing was that the average age of pilgrims starting from St. Jean is much younger than the Le Puy route, many of the pilgrims I saw knocking about town were in their twenties. For example on the Via Gebennensis from Geneva I was one of the younger pilgrims at 48 years old. On the Via Podiensis from Le Puy I was about average age, here, I’m definitely old! (The reason we think that the older pilgrims walk further distances is one of time constraints; usually only retired people can get the 3-4 months off to walk from say Geneva, but a young student may be able to get the 6 weeks or so off to walk from St. Jean). Walking in Spain was going to be very different I thought.

I ordered a menu of the day (steak and chips) which came with a half bottle of wine (I’m not keen on wine and had a beer but at least it was free). The price was extortionate reflecting the tourist trap the town was but there was nothing I could do about that. Also I found the staff in the bars and shops to be not as friendly as non-tourist places. Oh well.

Sat at a table next to me was a middle aged couple who were English, they were obviously on holiday and we soon got chatting. They asked me what was going on as half of the town seemed to be carrying rucksacks around and I explained we were pilgrims walking to Santiago de Compostela. They had never heard of the Camino de Santiago and were bemused by the whole thing. I noticed they were drinking wine so I gave them my half bottle as I didn’t want it as I was sticking to drinking beer. A few minutes later the waiter came across to ask how my meal was and he noticed I had no wine, he thought he had forgotten to bring it out and brought me another half bottle!

I chilled out at the bar for the evening before heading back to the refuge for an early night. As usual there was a 10pm curfew and I knew that as most of the pilgrims would be up at daft O’clock for the Pyrenees crossing they would no doubt wake me up too.

Back at the refuge before finally crashing out for the night I shared a glass of wine with a few pilgrims including Ruben from the Netherlands I had met earlier and a very beautiful young Swedish girl called Anna. Anna was in her early twenties and seemed a very friendly and confident girl; she was looking forward to heading off over the Pyrenees tomorrow alone despite the forecast of bad weather. Young, fit, intelligent and with her confidence I am sure she would make it to Santiago no problem. Ruben, who had cycled here from home in Holland was also staying here two nights so I would see him again tomorrow.

After a long day I slept like a baby!

068-01 The Way near Gaineko-Exta.JPG
The Way near Gaineko-Exta

068-05 Pine cone pilgrims near Larceveau.JPG
Pine cone pilgrims decorate a house near Larceveau

068-06 Restored Medieval pilgrim hospital at Utziate.JPG
The restored 12th Century pilgrim hospital at Utziate

068-09 Restored Medieval pilgrim hospital at Utziate.JPG
Inside the restored Medieval Hôpital d’Utziat

068-08 Restored Medieval pilgrim hospital at Utziate.JPG
Inside the restored Medieval Hôpital d’Utziat

068-11 Looking back. The Way towards Gamarthe.JPG
The Way towards Gamarthe runs alongside the busy D933

068-12 The Croix de Galzetaburu.JPG
The Croix de Galzetaburu just before Gamarthe dated 1714 with a very strange Jesus

068-14 Donativo Cafe on a farm just past Gamarthe.JPG
Donativo café on a farm (La Ferme Uhartia) just past Gamarthe

068-18 Pilgrims on The Way towards Bussunarits.JPG
Pilgrims on The Way towards Bussunarits and St. Jean le Vieux

068-19 Strange Lion-Dog in St. Jean le Vieux.JPG
The strange Lion-Dog in St. Jean le Vieux
 
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Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Arriving in St Jean Pied de Port...

068-22 The Way into St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
Heading towards St. Jean Pied de Port from St. Jean le Vieux

068-23 Entering St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
Entering the outskirts of St. Jean Pied de Port
The end of the Via Podiensis and the beginning of the Camino Francés

068-24 Port St. Jacques. The pilgrim entrance to St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
The Port St. Jacques. The medieval pilgrim entrance to St. Jean Pied de Port
This is where I became an unwilling tourist attraction

068-25 St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
St Jean Pied de Port

068-26 The Pilgrims office in St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
The pilgrim’s office in St. Jean Pied de Port

068-29 Retno and Maria in the Pilgrims office in St. Jean Pied de Port.JPG
Pilgrims (including Retno and Maria) getting their credencials in order in the Pilgrims office
068-31 Maria, Retno and me in St.Jean Pied de Port.JPG
Maria, Retno and me in St. Jean Pied de Port

068-38 The dormitory in the Refuge Municipal in St. Jean.JPG
One of the spacious dormitory’s in the Refuge Municipal in St. Jean Pied de Port

068-36 Signs on the Refuge Municipal say it is complete.JPG
Signs outside the Refuge Municipal in St. Jean Pied de Port
The refuge is now ‘complete’
 

caminka

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
see signature
thank you, Davey, for your wonderful blog! you made the route so vivid I sometimes had the feeling I was there myself. not to mention all the useful little observations I have dutifully marked into my notes for this summer. can't wait!
please continue your story across spain!
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 69 – June 13th
Rest day in St. Jean Pied de Port
0 km

‘Meeting Odyl and a shrink’

As expected I was woken up really early by pilgrims wanting to make an early start crossing the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain. I was first woken up at 5.30am to the usual bag rustling and head torch waving, but I did not mind at all. For most of these pilgrims it was their first day, and a daunting one for them at that; today would be the toughest day on the whole of their pilgrimage to Santiago. Besides, I was interested in watching them set off, so I got up and shared breakfast with them before they departed. I did not envy them setting off today, the weather this morning was awful, it was cloudy and drizzling with rain with a storm forecast in the mountains; not a good day to cross. However, the weather was forecast to clear back to warm sunshine by the afternoon, not a lot of help for these poor pilgrims though as the weather would clear just about as they arrived in Roncesvalles. I was glad I was having a rest day and crossing over the mountains tomorrow!

A free consultation by a shrink

While having breakfast and wishing the departing pilgrims a “Buen Camino!” (rather than the “Bon Chemin!” I was used to across France) I sat with Ruben the Dutch bicegrino who was also having a day off. We had a few hours to kill before 10am when we would get officially turfed out of the refuge for the day so they could clean up for the next intake (the refuge re-opens at 2.30pm), so we got chatting. It turned out that Ruben is a serving officer in the Medical Corps of the Dutch army where he is a leading psychotherapist who specialises in war related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

I briefly mentioned before in the prologue to this book (not included in this blog) that I suffer from PTSD. I didn’t mention that my illness is also war related. In 2003 during the Second Gulf War I was in Baghdad as a human shield. It is enough to say here that it was a grim experience that made me very ill afterwards. I was still suffering from the effects of PTSD when I started my pilgrimage, in fact it was one of the original reasons why I decided to walk in the first place.

Ruben was intrigued when I told him my story and he soon turned into doctor mode. We had the refuge to ourselves for a good few hours and we had a good long chat. I had of course had treatment before (many times) back in the UK, but by civilians who didn’t really understand what goes on in a modern war. Ruben did. The effect of his counselling on me that day in St. Jean Pied de Port was remarkable. He gave me the mental toolbox to overcome my illness. After our conversation I was a different person. I can honestly say it was worth every step I walked across France just to meet him. I really think that the Camino put us together in that time and space; I was supposed to meet him. As they say; ‘The Camino Provides’.

Into town and an angel in the launderette

It was soon 10am and the cleaning staff at the refuge made it clear that we should bugger off so they could get on with their job. I had chores to do in town, I had to find a launderette and do my washing and stock up on supplies for the next stage of my journey. I had also agreed to meet up with Maria and Retno, but that wasn’t fixed to a time and place; St. Jean isn’t that big, we knew we would find each other somewhere.

I soon found the launderette, but I could not figure out how to use the machines as the instructions were all in French of course! As I was fumbling with a handful of change trying to work things out a lovely local lady who didn’t speak a word of English just came up to me and took over. She put money in the machine to get the powder I needed and then got my washing machine going. And she refused to let me pay her the money back! What a lovely person! Not only that, but when I was sat outside having a cigarette while waiting for my washing Maria turned up. It turned out that the launderette was directly opposite her gîte.

Poncho shopping with Maria

Soon my washing was done I went to meet Maria and Retno in a café for a coffee. Maria said he wanted to go shopping; I wanted to buy a guidebook for the Camino Francés and she wanted to buy a proper hiking poncho and asked if I would come with her to give her some advice. I think with the weather being as wet as it is at the moment and having to cross the Pyrenees tomorrow that Maria had relented and decided to buy some proper gear. A hiking poncho is one that goes over the top of you and your rucksack; they are excellent pieces of kit as long as you don’t buy a cheap one. They are much better than wearing a Gortex jacket for instance, as when wearing a poncho you do not tend to sweat so much. The downside is when wearing one you look like a deformed alien, but who cares if you are dry? The only two types of hiking poncho that I recommend (in my opinion) are those made by either the Italian company Ferrino or the Spanish company Altus.

Me and Maria spent a good few hours going around the various hiking shops in St. Jean, before she finally decided on an excellent Ferrino poncho. It was quite expensive at around 65 Euro’s, but I know from talking to pilgrims that use them that they do the job well. In fact if I had the cash the Ferrino poncho would be my waterproof of choice for long distance hiking (the Altus is also good too, though I marginally prefer the Ferrino). Then Maria really surprised me and bought me one! She made me promise that I would not tell anyone that she had bought it for me – a promise I have kept up until now. Thank you Maria, because that poncho became a lifesaver on my further travels, especially in rain-soaked Galicia later on. (It also made a great groundsheet when freecamping when not using my tent).

The Brierley guidebook

The guidebook I wanted to buy was the infamous John Brierley guide which is the most common guide for English speakers. Technically a guidebook isn’t really needed for the Camino Francés, The Way is so well marked and there are so many pilgrims about it is difficult (though not impossible) to get lost. Also, the Pilgrims Office in St. Jean gives each pilgrim an up to date list of the albergues (pilgrim hostels) for the route so a guidebook isn’t really necessary for accommodation either. However, the guide I wanted, the map only version of the Brierley guide, would tell me what facilities each village on the route has (I always like to know where the next beer is or how long I would have to walk for my morning coffee), and it does show all the different variants of the route too. Plus I like to have a map with me and I use that to make notes as I walk like a rudimentary diary.

The problem with the Brierley guide is that each page is between two towns that people stick to religiously and walk as a day’s stage. So if a lot of people use the Brierley guide and stick to these ‘stages’ the problem is that the towns at the beginning and end of each page become full and overcrowded with pilgrims. It is best to ignore Brierley’s set stages and head for town or village in between. So by having the guide I would know which places to avoid. Some people forget that a guidebook is just a ‘guide’ and not the bible that has to be followed exactly. It is not a rulebook. Unfortunately people are like sheep sometimes!

Another problem with the Brierley guidebook (and all guidebooks really) is that the distances seem to be totally inaccurate and sometimes contradict distances on signposts on the ground. For instance John Brierley measures distance between villages from church to church (or the Cathedral in cities), whereas the signposts on the ground measure to the outskirts of the next village or town. With a large city like León or Burgos the difference between the outskirts and he Cathedral can be 5-8 km! This is not a problem if you realise this, and anyway, as one person said to me “when walking the Camino, never mention the word kilometre. Just walk.” The Brierley guide is so famous for its strange measurement of distances that somebody wrote one of my favourite pieces of graffiti on an underpass on The Way, it said “John Brierley for best fiction writer 2015”. A bit unfair perhaps but it goes to show that you should take all distances you see with a pinch of salt.

Also, people forget that the Camino moves! Every year slight alterations to the route, maybe because of some building work or such, means that the Camino can be slightly diverted (longer or shorter). These small variations can add up over time and throw out the distances on sign posts and in the guidebooks by a wide margin. In fact the Camino can be seen as a river winding its way to Santiago, and like a river, the flow is constantly changing and moving.

Meeting Odyl

After shopping Maria and I went back to the café where we had left Retno. The weather in town was now warm and gloriously sunny, (though we could see that the mountains of the Pyrenees that towered above us were still shrouded in mist) and for me it was now beer O’clock. We were soon joined by a French lady who was staying in the same gîte as Maria and Retno and I recognised her immediately. She was the stunningly beautiful and glamorous pilgrim I had seen at the café at The Gîte L’Escargot in Uhart-Mixe a few days ago. She instantly recognised me from there too.

Her name was Odyl, a French nurse who lives in New Caledonia (a tropical paradise of islands in the Pacific Ocean that is part of France). She was walking all The Way to Santiago but oddly had started her pilgrimage in Navarrenx which is three days walk before St. Jean Pied de Port. When I asked Odyl why she had started in Navarrenx she explained that she wanted to get a few days walking done before crossing the Pyrenees, rather than starting here and having to cross the mountains on her first day. What a good idea I thought!

I would guess that Odyl was in her mid or late thirties and she told me it had been a dream of hers to walk the Camino for many years. After recently having gone through a messy divorce she was now free to make her dream come true and so here she was. Odyl always seemed to have a huge grin across her face; she was clearly loving the experience. She was an extremely friendly and chatty lady and I liked her a lot immediately.

The four of us soon got planning for tomorrow. Earlier when shopping I had popped into the pilgrims office to get the latest weather forecast for the Pyrenees and tomorrow was looking good, it was forecast to be a lovely summers day so I would be able to take the Napoleon Route over the mountains as planned. Retno felt that her feet were good to walk again though just to be sure she had decided to take the less strenuous Valcarlos Route. Maria then decided that she would accompany Retno on the Valcarlos Route just in case she did have any trouble with her feet. Odyl said she wanted to take the higher Napoleon Route and that she was planning to break up her journey over the mountains into two and had booked into Refuge Orisson for the same night I had. She then asked if she could walk with me; “Well”, I thought, “If you are going to cross the Pyrenees on foot why not do it in the company of a beautiful nurse?” There was also the fact that up to now I had walked mostly alone. This is what I had wanted to begin with, but now I was ready to walk with company. On the few times during which I had walked with someone I had found it a delight. Not only do you learn from each other but there is something about being able to share and talk about the beauty around you. Of course I agreed, little did I know that not only would Odyl become a big part of my life for weeks to come but we would also gather around us a beautiful Camino family too.

It was now lunch time and as the weather was beautiful we decided to get a picnic and take it up to the old Citadel where we spent a lovely afternoon chilling out. Before the girls went back to their gîte I agreed to meet up with Odyl tomorrow morning at 7.30am. We didn’t really need to set off that early as we were only going 8 km to Orisson, but we knew that the other pilgrims would wake us up early, and besides, we were excited to get off!

An eclectic evening in the Refuge Municipal

The Refuge Municipal where I was staying reopened at 2.30pm and I wanted to get back and sort my kit out and grab a decent bed. When I arrived around 3pm there were pilgrims queuing out of the door and into the street booking in, and in a short space of time the refuge was complete (full) once again. The pilgrims in the refuge were in two distinct ‘camps’. All the new shiny pilgrims arriving by bus and train to start their new pilgrimage were quiet and subdued and busy tending to their kit and off exploring town. They were a bit bemused by the ‘old hands’ who were congregating in the kitchen sharing out food, wine and beer and loudly greeting pilgrims we knew from The Way and sharing stories from the pilgrims that had come in from the different routes into St. Jean Pied de Port.

I bumped into my friend Tsujimoto from Japan who was quickly joined by Olivier from France who I both knew from the Via Podiensis route from Le Puy en Velay. We were joined by Ruben the shrink from the Netherlands, a young girl in her twenties who had walked from home in Breton, and two Dutch brothers in their early thirties who had walked from home from the Hook of Holland. All this lot had come down via the Paris/Tours route. We were joined later by even more Dutch pilgrims including some middle aged ladies who had cycled from Holland and a group of older French ladies who had walked from Le Puy. Tsujimoto had bumped into another Japanese pilgrim who was starting from here in St. Jean and had just arrived; I think he was really glad to be able to converse in his own language again! Our ‘old hands’ group were also joined by pilgrims that were starting out tomorrow but had walked the Camino before. It was really noticeable that we all found it easy to mix, talk, share food and just be together whereas the new pilgrims were still into themselves and somewhat shy of each other. Give them one week on the road and they would be ‘old hands’ too!

The only other group congregating and mixing openly right from the start were a group of young South Koreans, most of whom had just met, they seemed less shy than the westerners and were great company. As all the tables and chairs in the kitchen area were taken they simply spread mats on the floor and had their dinner there. The most shy seemed to be those from the USA who I was to notice found it the hardest to mix with strangers or foreigners at first, but even they soon opened up and became great to get to know. The less shy of the pilgrims were always the Australians, Irish and pilgrims from the Scandinavian countries, they were always very quick to blend in due to their naturally open nature.

The eclectic mix of pilgrims in the Refuge Municipal in St. Jean was a sign of how things were to be walking across Spain, proving the old adage that ‘walking across France you walk with the French, walking across Spain you walk with the world”.

069-02 Pilgrims heading out to cross the Pyrenees mountains early on a misty morning.JPG
Pilgrims leaving the Refuge Municipal in St. Jean Pied de Port on a cloudy wet morning head off to cross the Pyrenees mountains into Spain

069-07 Inside the Pilgrim Refuge.JPG
Inside the Pilgrim Refuge in St. Jean Pied de Port
Pilgrims from Japan, France, Holland and Breton share an evening meal




 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Chapter 3

The Camino Francés
St. Jean Pied de Port France to León Spain
473 km

‘Some walk to find themselves only to find each other’

The Route

The Camino Francés (‘The French Way’, so called because it is the main pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela from France and beyond) begins at St. Jean Pied de Port in France and ends in Santiago de Compostela 776 km later. It is one of the oldest pilgrimage routes and is by far the most travelled. In fact most of the 250,000 pilgrims that arrived in Santiago in 2015 had walked the Camino Francés. Because of the huge numbers of pilgrims using this route the infrastructure for pilgrims is immense and you are rarely far away from a café or an albergue (a cheap pilgrim hostel, like a gîte in France) anywhere along the route.

My Plan

I had two options in mind for the Camino Francés. I could of course walk the whole 776 km to Santiago via the Camino Francés as almost all the other pilgrims using this route would. This would be the most direct (and obvious) route. However, when I was planning my pilgrimage I had heard of another option. I could walk the Camino Francés for 473 km as far as the city of León then turn North up the Camino San Salvador to Oviedo. From Oviedo I could then take the Camino Primitivo to Melide where it rejoins the Camino Francés for the final 57 km or just over two days to Santiago. This route is 917 km long in total from St Jean Pied de Port, or 141 km (approximately one week) longer than the direct route straight down the Camino Francés.

What had attracted me to this variant was the nature of the Camino’s San Salvador and Primitivo. If the Camino Francés is the busiest route with the most pilgrim infrastructure then the Camino San Salvador is its opposite. 130 km long the San Salvador is one of the less travelled Camino’s, I had been warned that it was likely I may not meet another pilgrim on this route. In fact it does not even appear on many of the maps depicting pilgrimage routes to Santiago and is almost unheard of outside of Spain. Not only that but it is a very remote and mountainous route with very little pilgrim infrastructure. The Camino Primitivo (314 km to Santiago) is the oldest of all the Camino’s to Santiago; it was in fact the original Camino. Not only is it a lot less travelled than the Francés, it is also very mountainous and is widely reported as the most beautiful of all the Camino’s. Both of these Camino’s are considered tough walking. In my mind after walking the busy Camino Francés as far as León it would be great to head into Santiago on these beautiful but less travelled routes. Also, from Burgos to León I would be crossing the mostly flat and unforgiving Spanish Meseta; it would be good to go from the flatness of the Meseta straight back into the mountains.

I had decided not to make the decision on which route to take until I got to León. Though I had my heart set on walking the San Salvador/Primitivo variants I had been warned on the pilgrim forums that by the time I had reached León I may be dissuaded from my plan because I may have a Camino family who were going the other way. This in fact came true, and I had to make a very big decision when I finally got to León as we shall see.

Either way, I was going to walk the Camino Francés 473 km to León so here is a brief description of that section of the route.

The Camino Francés begins in the French town of St. Jean pied de Port and from there pilgrims cross the Pyrenees Mountains (highest point 1,450 metres) to the monastery at Roncesvalles in Spain. From Roncesvalles pilgrims will pass through Pamplona (famous for the running of the bulls) in the hilly Basque Navarre region of Spain, Logrono in the famous wine growing region of La Rioja, Burgos in the Castilla and León region, crossing both the Alto’s (mountains) of Mojapán and Pedraja (1,200 and 1,100 Metres respectively), across the rolling plains that make up the region of Palencia and then finally into the city of León. Except for between Burgos and León The Way is very hilly and can be quite steep at times and a pilgrim is usually not much more than 5 km away from a café or a bed.

Between Burgos and León however, The Way crosses the infamous and dreaded high sierras or vast plains of the Spanish Meseta. The Meseta, with its roads and tracks stretching to infinity and weather that is always unforgiving with little or no shade is only crossed by 'shepherds, pilgrims and the foolish' (to quote one local). In summer the locals call it ‘The Cauldron’. There is also the fact that up here it may be 15 or 20 km between cafés, water or a bed. Its reputation is such that many pilgrims will catch a bus and skip it rather than walk it. It is also extremely beautiful and I was very much looking forward to crossing it.
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
Day 70 – June 14th
St. Jean Pied de Port to Orisson
8 km

‘Into the Pyrenees Mountains with Odyl’

I woke up with the usual racket of pilgrims getting ready just before 6.30am. Most of the pilgrims I had met here at the Refuge Municipal were going straight to Roncesvalles in Spain, a long 26 km slog through the mountains and were all eager to set off early and get going. (The two Dutch brothers who had walked from home from the Hook of Holland were walking to Santiago via the coastal Camino del Norte so were heading off north to Irún as the del Norte begins there). I wished them all a ‘Buen Camino’ as they departed as I had a more leisurely breakfast than them before I had to go and meet Odyl. Breakfast in the refuge was a chaotic affair, just imagine 24 bleary eyed pilgrims all trying to get a hot coffee and get together their breakfast in a confined space at the same time! It was something I was to get used to from now on.

At 7.30am I was outside the gîte Odyl was staying in with Maria and Retno. I was surprised that Maria and Retno were still there. While Odyl and I were taking the Route Napoleon and cutting the journey to Roncesvalles into two by staying a night at Orisson, Maria and Retno were taking the Valcarlos Route and also thinking of cutting the journey to Roncesvalles into two by staying in the village of Valcarlos as Retno wanted to take it easy to begin with. This would mean Odyl and I would meet up with them tomorrow night when we all got to Roncesvalles. After lots of hugs and saying goodbye to Maria and Retno, Odyl and I set off.

The killer climb to Orisson

From St. Jean Pied de Port to the refuge at Orisson is only 8 km, but as I have said before this 8 km is the hardest part of the crossing over the Pyrenees. The walk began by passing under the tower that is the Porte Notre-Dame, across the bridge over the River Nive and then through the Porte d'Espagne before finally leaving St. Jean. On the outskirts of town we passed the turning where the route splits; The Route Napoleon via Orisson and the Valcarlos Route along the road. From here the Route Napoleon goes upwards and upwards. It wasn’t steep at first but after a few kilometres it got steeper. Then it continued to get even steeper still. The weather was hot and sunny which meant as we climbed we were soon dripping in sweat. We could see up ahead however that it was very misty higher up, and as we walked we would occasionally pass through thick banks of mist before breaking back out into sunshine again. Except for one short section The Way to Orisson is on tarmac roads, not good for the ankles and feet, but at least the traffic was minimal, usually just shepherds going up or returning from the mountains.

Not even halfway up to Orisson Odyl and I were passing a young pilgrim from the USA who turned and looked at me and asked “are we at the top yet?” When I laughed and told him that he was nowhere near the top yet the poor lad looked at me in complete despair!

Another crazy thing I saw on the climb to Orisson was a girl walking dressed as if she was going for a stroll in the park in summer. She was wearing a tiny pink mini dress and sandals, a small rucksack and carrying two carrier bags, one of which contained make-up. She had no hiking gear that I could see at all. If the weather changed for the worse on top of the mountain she would have been screwed. No wonder pilgrims are constantly being rescued from this route and that deaths are not unheard of. (As I said before, somebody died a few weeks after we had crossed, they had got lost after the mist suddenly descended).

After plenty of short breaks for rest, water and stripping off layers of clothing we were soon getting close to Orisson. Just when we thought The Way could not get any steeper it did, the cheerful banter between pilgrims was now replaced by a quiet determinism as each individual struggled on upwards. Soon we were walking in thick mist and the world turned white, but suddenly we popped out above the mist and the views of the mountains were to die for, it was absolutely stunning! And minutes later we went around a bend in the road and there it was, our destination for the day; Refuge Orisson.

Refuge Orisson

The pilgrim refuge at Orisson is a beautiful place. It is a fully modern and comfortable gîte that also has a café with a terrace overlooking the mountains. It only has only 18 beds however, so most pilgrims have to go on to Roncesvalles in Spain, but almost all of them stop off at Orisson for a break at least. We were lucky to have got a bed there. As it was still only 10am when we arrived both Odyl and I contemplated cancelling our booking and carrying on; the walk so far had been tough but we were still more than able to walk on to Roncesvalles. In the end we decided to stay; and later we were glad we did. We both chilled out having a beer or two until the refuge officially opened at 2pm and we could claim our beds and get a shower.

We spent the afternoon greeting friends old and new as they passed through Orisson. My friend Tsujimoto from Japan came through walking with a young girl from Breton. I also noticed a very large group of young teenagers from the USA who seemed to be together, there must have been twenty of them! When I got talking to some of them it turned out they were on a school trip walking with their teacher. What an amazing thing for them to be able to walk for six weeks across Spain as a school trip! It would be an amazing learning experience for them.

Walking the wrong way

We had been at Orisson for a few hours when I saw a young bloke walking towards us from the direction of Roncesvalles. I immediately thought he was a ‘returnee’; a pilgrim who had walked to Santiago and was now walking back home again. However, this young lad was slightly different. As he came past I stopped him for a chat, he was looking exhausted and had the ‘look’ that somebody who has been walking a long time has. As he stopped he asked me “how far is it to France?” When I told him he was in France he looked behind him at the way he had just come and said “how did that happen?” We laughed and explained that he had walked over the border a few hours ago and that it is in the mountains and is unmarked.

It turned out he was from Hungary and had in fact started walking from Finisterre and the end of his pilgrimage was St. Jean Pied de Port; he was in fact walking The Way backwards. When I asked him why he just replied “because everybody goes the other way, I like to be different” Fair enough I suppose. He rested with us for a while and we had a good chat about the vagaries of walking ‘backwards’, how you meet every pilgrim for a second as you pass them, how everybody tells you constantly that you are walking ‘the wrong way’, and the difficulties of finding the route as the signs only point towards Santiago but not back again. Little did I know that I would be walking ‘backwards’ one day too.

Meeting Rolf

Later in the afternoon I went into the refuge to buy a beer before lunch and saw a pilgrim sitting by himself who I had seen earlier on the walk up. After getting my beer I asked if I could join him and we started chatting. Rolf was in his early to mid fifties and from Germany. He was an experienced pilgrim who had walked The Way before on various routes across Europe including over the Pyrenees. This year he was on a short walk from St. Jean Pied de Port going as far as Pamplona. We were soon joined by Odyl and we both got on with Rolf like a house on fire, he was a really lovely bloke. Rolf was to be really influential on my pilgrimage and was to become the third member of our Camino family alongside Odyl and I, we were to walk with him into Pamplona.

Dinner at Refuge Orisson

One of the reasons I had wanted to stay at Refuge Orisson was because of their legendary communal dinner. I had read numerous times during my research that the people you meet at Orisson can become friends for life and that many Camino families form here. Such is the atmosphere at Orisson, and it was true for us because we had met Rolf here. Before dinner begins each pilgrim is asked to introduce themselves and say a little about why you are walking or what the Camino means to you. After that all the pilgrims sit and eat with each other. And the food at Orisson is simply superb!

Soon it was time to bed down. We all had a tough 18 km walk tomorrow over the mountains and into Spain. As I got to sleep I wondered how Maria and Retno had got on over on the Valcarlos Route. I hoped they were ok and we would see them tomorrow at Roncesvalles.

070-03 Me and Odyl from French New Caledonia ready to set off to cross the Pyrenees.JPG
Me and Odyl from French New Caledonia in St. Jean Pied de Port ready to set off to cross the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain

070-07 Early morning mist on the climb to Refuge Orisson.JPG
Early morning mist on the climb to Refuge Orisson

070-12 Early morning sun over the foothills of the Pyrenees.JPG


070-15 Climbing above the mist to Refuge Orisson.JPG

070-22 Clouds in the Pyrenees.JPG

070-24 Clouds in the Pyrenees.JPG

070-26 Me and Odyl make it to the Pilgrim Refuge in Orisson..JPG
Me and Odyl arrive at Refuge Orisson still soaked in sweat from the climb

070-27 Pilgrims stop for a break at Refuge Orisson while crossing the Pyrenees.JPG
Pilgrims rest at Orisson before heading over the mountain to Roncesvalles and Spain

070-33 Two Pilgrims coming in to the Pilgrim Refuge at Orisson in the Pyrenees.JPG
Two pilgrims heading into Refuge Orisson

070-35 Tsujimoto from Japan and a girl from Breton set off from Orisson to Roncesvalles.JPG
Tsujimoto from Japan and a pilgrim from Breton pass through Orisson on the way to Roncesvalles and Spain
 

nalod

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2011, Finnesterre 2011,Le Puy to SJPDP 2011& 2012,Via de la Plata,Sambrasa 2012, Mozarabe 2013, Portugees 2013.PartNorde 2011, VDPL 2014,St-Guilhem 2014.Espalion-Roncesvalles 2014.Levante2015
An overview of the whole journey....
Brilliant introduction.

‘Can someone tell me again why we are doing this?’


Walking through the Spanish city of Burgos a priest walked up and stopped me. “Son,” he said, “why do you walk?” Without even thinking I replied “I have no idea anymore”. He laughed and said “yes, you are truly on The Way”. I had given the correct answer.


I set off from Geneva, Switzerland on April 6th 2015. I was walking the ancient pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela, known in Spain as the Camino de Santiago. I was a pilgrim. I walked 3,153 kilometres or 1,959 miles to Santiago de Compostela and then on to the pagan ‘End of the World’ at Finisterre on the west coast of Spain. I walked for 173 days, or five and a half months. I carried 16 kilos (equal to 16 litres of water) in my rucksack the whole way. I walked every step and a lot of it more than once. I walked across the whole of France once and across Spain over two times. I walked to Santiago twice but somehow managed to walk into León three times. I even managed to walk into the Spanish town of Melide three times from three different directions. And I didn’t speak any French or Spanish at all.


In total I was attacked by seven dogs, nearly bitten by a horse, was bitten by a parrot, nearly run over by a pack of wild boar, and was run over by a cow. I was bitten by many horseflies and by countless mosquitoes. I swallowed three flies and accidently killed a baby bird (sorry). I had five live snake encounters, one bear encounter (it was dead though) and was stung by a wasp. I got lost many times, including once up a mountain. I got food or water poisoning three times and soiled myself twice. I got kidnapped by locals three times and they proceeded to get me drunk. I DJ’d in a bar once and fell asleep while walking three times. I lost over ten kilo’s in weight and one of my teeth fell out. I found an angel on a mountain, got drunk with gypsies and I popped many a strangers blisters. I got electrocuted by a vending machine and I got scrutinised by a shrink (but the verdict on that is still out).


We walked in temperatures of 40 degrees with no shade, and for days on end in storms, rain, mist and mud. We walked before dawn in the dark and freezing cold without having had breakfast or even a coffee. We walked when tired, hungry, hungover, ill, injured and in pain. We walked across mountains, valleys, moors and high sierras. We walked along tracks that stretched to infinity into the distance. Most days we did not know where we were going to sleep that night. Sometimes we got to a village worn out and starving to be told there were no beds available and so we had to just keep walking or sleep outside. We laughed and we cried. And most of us didn’t even know why we were doing this anymore. Oh, and we had a great time!


Feel free to ask questions about any of the strange incidents above for more clarification! What follows is Geneva to Le Puy, 350km on the Via Gebenesis, with a few pics.

Buen Camino

Davey
 

nalod

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Frances 2011, Finnesterre 2011,Le Puy to SJPDP 2011& 2012,Via de la Plata,Sambrasa 2012, Mozarabe 2013, Portugees 2013.PartNorde 2011, VDPL 2014,St-Guilhem 2014.Espalion-Roncesvalles 2014.Levante2015
Well, there you are, my tale of the via Gebennensis - The Geneva to Le Puy route.
I can carry on as above from Le Puy to St. Jean Pied de Port if anyone is interested.

Davey
Your story is excellent.
 

MikeOWave

New Member
Camino(s) past & future
(2015
I hope that you'll continue your story. I feel like you've really left me hanging here waiting for the end!
 

BlackRocker57

Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy route 2014; Le Puy route continuation 2016; Le Puy route 2017; Le Puy route May–July 2018
g’day Davey Boyd ... I have only just been introduced to your wonderful blog ... and loving it! Such beautiful, honest writing -- I have instantly connected with this ... and just want to stay at home all day and keep on reading ... but I have a «pilgrimage walking» class to teach this afternoon at my local U3A ... it’s all about the GR65/Via Podiensis ... your blog post on the section out of Estaing through to Golinhac and beyond has proved very useful ... it is one small section that I have not walked as we bypassed it in 2014 ... I hope that one day, all of us avid readers might be able to read your entire blog on a blogsite somewhere ... thanks so much for this ...

**
Day 34 – May 9th
Estaing to Golinhac
16 km

‘Another snake and a nasty French pilgrim’

I woke up late around 10am in my marquee in Estaing after a long drunken sleep. After packing away my gear I headed into town to Nick’s bar for coffee. Nick gave me a bright cheery welcome when I arrived and a great send-off when I left around midday.

Estaing – Montégut – Fonteilles

It was a good walking day with perfect weather; warm and sunny but with a bit of cloud cover. The first 4 km was a flat walk along the Pays d’Olt alongside the River Lot on a quiet country road snaking through forests until the road leaves the river and rises steeply to pass through the village of Montégut. From Montégut the road snakes and rises for a further 3 km where it passes the village of Fonteilles. From Montégut to Fonteilles the land rises from 320 metres to 650 metres in 4 km, some of it hard work, the type of uphill road that seems to steadily climb forever. As I climbed the view got more and more beautiful.

Near Fonteilles there was a picnic stop by the side of the road where I stopped for lunch. This picnic stop also had a proper toilet block that even had disabled access – luxury! While there I met two male Belgian pilgrims who were on their first day. They were walking to Santiago in etapes (stages) of two weeks a year, and this years etape started for them today in Estaing. They were in their early thirties, big, fit and strong, and were telling me how completely shattered they were by the climb and how they had been amazed at me when I had earlier overtaken them with my huge rucksack. They were stunned when I told them I was carrying 16 kilo’s (they were carrying 8 kilo’s each). I think this shows just how fit I was getting! We sat there for a while chatting, enjoying the sun and shared lunch.

While I was sat with the Belgian guys a group of French hikers passed and one stopped and asked if any of us has lost a guide book, and I noticed it was mine! I had dropped it on the road a few kilometres back. As I thanked him he said he had noticed by the notes I had written in it that this was my 34th day walking, “Is this true?” he asked. He was utterly taken aback when I told him that it was and that I had started in Switzerland!

Another snake encounter

From Fonteilles The Way passes through the small village of Massip before going on to the beautiful village of Golinhac, much of it on stunning forest tracks.

It was along this stretch that I had my third snake encounter. I was walking along a quiet country road when I saw something moving next to me. I looked down and a small snake was going as fast as it could alongside me, going in the same direction as me. It was the same breed that I had encountered outside of St. Chely d’Aubrac five days ago, a Western Whip snake, but this one was a baby (about half a metre long instead of two metres). I wasn’t scared this time, I thought it was cute, but then I hadn’t learnt yet that these snakes while not poisonous are aggressive and do bite! I never thought I would have a snake as a temporary walking companion! Unfortunately it shot off into the bushes before I could get my camera out.

Pépé Catusse

Near Massip I came across a beautiful memorial to a local man called Pépé Catusse, a true friend of The Way. The memorial reads:

“Friends, pilgrims, walkers, over these many years it has been my greatest pleasure to come here to this path and meet you, to say hello, encourage you, speak to you and share stories with you… I sit here often but since the 5th April 2008 I have joined the millions of stars which guide and accompany you on your journey.”

God bless you Pépé.

Golinhac

When I walked into Golinhac I was stunned by the beauty of the place. The views from the square across the surrounding valleys were truly magnificent. I had only walked 16 km today (one guide said 13, one 16 and one even 24 km, showing how unreliable the distances are in the guidebooks), and I was still feeling good, I could of easily walked a lot further, but Golinhac looked like a great place to stop and it had good facilities, so I booked into the campsite there.

A nasty pilgrim

After I had set up my tent and showered I went to the campsite bar for a beer. Nearby was a group of around eight French pilgrims drinking heavily and getting rowdy. One of them, a man, passed me and stopped to chat. He spoke to me in French of course and I replied (in French) that I was sorry but I do not speak French. In English he then asked me where I was from, and when I told him he said with a snarl “I refuse to speak English in France” and went off laughing. Soon all of them were looking at me and laughing too. When one came past again I asked in French if they spoke Spanish, when they said “Non” I said in English (which they all understood) “I wonder if the Spanish will ignore you in Spain then” That shut them up a bit, but I felt bad about the encounter. I know I don’t speak French, but I do try, and up to now all the French I have met have been wonderful.

A lovely evening

I decided to go into the village to the local bar/restaurant/gîte and get a decent meal. I ordered the pilgrim menu and it was a wonderful four courses including wine. I had vegetable soup. A bean dish with salad, then Aligot with a big piece of chicken followed by stewed fruit (what fruit I could not tell) and very nice it was too.

After the meal I sat outside on the terrace with my usual grande blonde beer chilling out in the evening sun taking in the breathtaking views. While there I got chatting to an older pilgrim from Luxembourg. While I had been away they had held the national elections back in the UK, and up to now I didn’t know who had won. That meant I had no idea who my government was, and I really didn’t care (as the saying goes; ‘the bastards always get in’). Anyway, the Luxembourg guy told me that David Cameron had won and he was really surprised that I really didn’t want to know that!

After a nice evening I headed back to the campsite and the bar for a final beer before bed. While there I met an English pilgrim, the first British person I had met so far. He was an elderly guy from Devon walking Le Puy to Santiago. He seemed to be having a good Way, he was walking with a group of vibrant younger Australian ladies and he was a very happy man! Though he seemed to be really posh he was a nice bloke. Unfortunately, such is The Way, I never saw him again.

View attachment 26179
Sadly leaving Estaing

View attachment 26180
Towards Fonteilles. The roads in this part of France have pilgrim lanes!

View attachment 26181
Looking back at the steep climb up to Fonteilles

View attachment 26182
The Way towards Golinhac

View attachment 26183
Arriving in Golinhac

View attachment 26184
A cross, St. Jacques and wonderful views in Golinhac

View attachment 26185
St. Jacques has turned into a Ninja turtle!
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
g’day Davey Boyd ... I have only just been introduced to your wonderful blog ... and loving it! Such beautiful, honest writing -- I have instantly connected with this ... and just want to stay at home all day and keep on reading ... but I have a «pilgrimage walking» class to teach this afternoon at my local U3A ... it’s all about the GR65/Via Podiensis ... your blog post on the section out of Estaing through to Golinhac and beyond has proved very useful ... it is one small section that I have not walked as we bypassed it in 2014 ... I hope that one day, all of us avid readers might be able to read your entire blog on a blogsite somewhere ... thanks so much for this ...

**
Thank you BlackRocker! I suppose I should get my ass into gear and finish it off then! Glad you are enjoying it, but when you teach your class do point out that unless you are insane like me there is no need to carry 16 kilo's!

Davey
 

Bala

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
Davey, I just spent the past several days reading your story and have enjoyed every bit of your refreshing, joyous telling of it. Totally engaging! Like others, I hope you will share the rest of your journey with us. When you do, I'm sure we'll all raise a beer in your honor. :) Cheers, and Buen Camino!
 

Chuck Cunningham

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Starting April, 15, 2017
Love this post. Tks for sharing!

It is the first time I'm walking and just the CP but I'm scared when thinking abt the end. It feels like walking is the only thing I did my whole life and will do for the rest of it. What an odd feeling this is!
I do not look around a lot I enjoy industrial areas same as the forest or the mud paths- do not care abt weather conditions- like torrential rain- but I love to watch my feet taking one step after another.
In my mind I have forgotten how to stop and to be honest I'm scared to hell to go back home.
Very profound and revealing. Thanks for sharing.
 

Chuck Cunningham

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Starting April, 15, 2017
Hi Lance,
So far I have written up to arriving in St. Jean (the first time ha!). Glad you like it.

Buen Camino
Davey
Davey,,
I would like to follow in your foot steps but am wondering because my visa is only good for 90 days. Any thoughts on dealing with this will be appreciated.. I love your story. BTW
Chuck
 

pilgrimglenn7

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
st james way and portugese
Day 48 – May 23rd
Trigodina to Montcuq
16.5 km

‘Walking to ‘My Ass’’

I woke up on a hilltop in a field 2 km after Trigodina late at 10am. I had slept well indeed. Luckily there was no dew so my tent was dry; there is nothing worse than packing away a wet tent and having to carry the extra weight. Again it was a good walking day, mostly on dusty chalk like tracks over open fields and moorland areas. The weather was perfect also; warm and sunny, not too hot and occasional cloud. And The Way was exceptionally pretty also. I felt blessed.

Not long after I had passed the pretty village of Lascobanes and the wonderfully sublime Chapelle St. Jean I saw ahead of me a group of pilgrims (a waddle of pilgrims? A limp of pilgrims?) who were standing chatting. They turned out to be My Germans and my gang of French friends. One of the French ladies joked that even though she always sees me sat down somewhere with a beer when they pass me, the next day I’m always ahead somehow and they pass me again. I explained that they always get to their accommodation by 2-3pm but I pass them as I walk into the evening. That and I always stop for a beer and possibly a kip under a bush or in a field so they catch me up the next day.

The virtues of beer

My beer drinking raised a few comments along The Way. Some pilgrims don’t drink alcohol until they have finished walking for the day. I drank beer all day, and I wasn’t the only one, many pilgrims swore by it. Even some of the hospitalero’s (volunteers in hostels who are usually pilgrims) talked about beer as being an important drink; apparently it contains minerals much needed for long distance walking. And no you don’t get drunk either; after say two large beers at lunch you would of walked any effects off within an hour. It was cool and refreshing, and believe it or not cheaper per volume than tea or coffee! I couldn’t have walked after drinking wine either, so beer it was. When one French lady commented on me drinking beer one day under the shade of a bush a passing German said “Well, he is English”. Another time I was sat at a pilgrim rest stop and one of the French stopped and asked “David, where is your beer?” To which I pulled two bottles out of my rucksack. They were more amazed that I actually carried the stuff, beer being quite heavy, than me actually always drinking it. I also explained that there is an historical precedence too. Back in medieval time’s in England drinking water was so bad that people, including children, drank only beer. I found out that this didn’t apply just in England either, both the French and Germans said it was the same there too in the past. Either way, though I drank beer at most of my rest stops during the day and in the evenings, I always carried and drank water while walking. On a cool day I drank about 1.5 litres of water, and double that or more under the Spanish sun.

Into Montcuq

From Chapelle St. Jean it was a beautiful 8 km along dusty white tracks to Montcuq. Montcuq is a running joke to the French, not the town, but the name. In French, Montcuq is pronounced the same as ‘mon cul’, meaning ‘my ass’. Hence you will hear French pilgrims state “Today we are walking to my ass”. The town itself is a pretty and vibrant market town and a tourist destination in its own right. I really liked Montcuq; I didn’t find it too touristy and could of easily of spent a rest day there. When I arrived around 5pm I could easily have walked much further, but liked the place so decided to check into the local campsite. The tourist information office was nearby so I popped in there to get directions to be told that the campsite was closed due to a local cycle race happening that night and it was fully booked up. In fact this was confirmed when I bumped into the campsite owner in a bar I was in. No problem, I would get a decent sit down meal, have a few beers and enjoy an evening chilling out then walk out of town and find a spot to freecamp.

The beautiful Kiwi family

I found a lovely café/restaurant with a terrace in the main square and ordered my meal (an excellent duck steak by the way). Minutes later a family of five turned up and asked if they could share my table. No problem at all, in fact I was very happy to meet them, they were wonderful. They were from New Zealand, a mum and dad with their two young daughters and young son. Their story was interesting. They had decided to travel around Europe for a year and had bought a caravan and a Range Rover in the UK. From there they took the ferry across to Spain and they had been travelling around Spain for a while. Their plan was to travel from there, across France and Germany before heading back to the UK.

They asked me if I was a pilgrim and I confirmed that I was, and that I had started out in Geneva. They told me that before they had left New Zealand they had never heard of the Camino, but had spotted these strange pilgrims plodding across Spain and was intrigued. Whilst in the Spanish city of Burgos they had met and talked to many pilgrims from all over the world. They had even met and befriended a young girl from New Zealand who was walking The Way. They told me they were not only impressed but were actually considering walking the Camino themselves. Weeks later they had arrived here in Montcuq and were astonished to find pilgrims here walking to Santiago, they had thought it was a Spanish thing. They had spotted the tell tale scallop shell on my pack marking me out as a Santiago bound pilgrim and had asked to join me at my table to find out more. They laughed when I told them that I would be passing through Burgos, probably in a couple of month’s time! We chatted about the Camino and I told them the history of the pilgrimage and of Finisterra, my destination. They were impressed even more when I showed them the ever growing collection of stamps in my credencial, even the stamp from here, Montcuq, which I had just got from the tourist information office. They said that their next holiday would definitely be walking the Camino; they were hooked!

They told me about their journey too, and for them travelling through France was causing some problems for them. You see, they explained, they had a twin axle caravan they were towing. That and the fact that the dad was not a white man but a Maori, dark skinned and hairy. They said that they had been refused entry to some campsites in France as they thought they were Gypsies!

When they departed I gave them a spare scallop shell I had found along The Way and told them to hang it off their pack when they walked to Santiago. They said until then they would hang it in their caravan to remember me. After they had left I found out they had paid my bill. I really wish I had got their contact details before they had gone.

Freecamping outside Montcuq

After a spot of food (and beer) shopping it was around 8pm when I finally left Montcuq to find somewhere to freecamp for the night. After a 2 km climb up a narrow woodland track I found an ideal place to camp. It was a field next to The Way; where I slept was separated from the path by a hedge. I had fully expected to be woken up early in the morning by passing pilgrims; no such luck. The cycle race that caused the campsite to be fully booked up turned out to be a night ride down the Camino! At first they scared the c**** out of me, they were all kids, howling and screaming in delight as they flew past me down the track into Montcuq. That and their lights kept me awake until they finally cleared off around 3am.

View attachment 26462
Pilgrims on The Way towards Lascobanes

View attachment 26463
A strange pilgrim sculpture in either Baffalie or Lascobanes

View attachment 26464
Looking back at Lascobanes

View attachment 26465
A beautiful cazelle after Lascobanes

View attachment 26466
Chapelle St. Jean 2 km after Lascobanes

View attachment 26467
The dusty road to Montcuq

View attachment 26468
'My Germans' on the way to Montcuq

View attachment 26469
The wonderful Kiwi family I met in Montcuq
i could put this on facebook to see if anyone knows them and to get their contact details and get you back in contact with them mate :)
 

pilgrimglenn7

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
st james way and portugese
that was WOW and WOW and Amazing mate :) what an absolute adventure every step of the way :) Thanks mate :)
 

Davey Boyd

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Seven Compostelas in Three years and counting......
i could put this on facebook to see if anyone knows them and to get their contact details and get you back in contact with them mate :)
Yes, maybe that is worth a shot. I really loved them, would be great to be in contact!

Cheers Glenn!
 

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