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Not-quite-live from the Gebennensis

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Note: As the time-stamps below indicate, these messages are being posted about three weeks in arrears. But the entries were composed contemporaneously, and I haven't edited them. I'll add a new one each day, unless the management requests me to take them down.


Friday, October 9

When I lived just off Plainpalais in the nicest flat in Geneva I've ever had, the Via Gebennensis ran practically outside the foyer. Most spring and summer days as I headed off to work I was tormented by the sight of cheerful backpackers a few metres away, setting out on the trail. I dare say the great majority of them were departing on the GR 65 long-distance hiking route, which overlies the Gebennensis, rather than going on pilgrimage, but that thought provided little consolation as I began another stressful day in an airless office.

It's been more than a year since I was last engaged in any pilgrim activity, and for some considerable time I've been contemplating the possibility of a seriously long trip to SdC. The idea of literally following in the footsteps of our mediaeval forebears and undertaking a pilgrimage that starts at one's front door and continues to northwestern Spain is one that appeals strongly to me. Given the distance involved—as with every other route to SdC, no two sources agree on just how far that is, but 1,900 km or so seems to be about right—there's no possibility of doing it all in a single trip. What my American backpacking friends call "section-hiking," probably over a two-year period, is the only realistic method open to me. I do, however, have the possibility of taking up to twelve days off work, if I start after business on Friday and make full use of the weekend. That might, with a bit of luck, enable me to complete the first étape of 350 km or thereabouts to Le Puy-en-Velay, which seems a reasonable intermediate target.

Legally, nothing stands in the way. The Fédération Française de la Randonée Pédestre, the hikers' organisation in that country, has confirmed with the French government that hiking is permitted, so long as it's in a group of fewer than ten people. My own group coming in at nine below the threshold, there's no difficulty there. Likewise, people may freely cross the border from Switzerland to France, which is only about two hours' walk from my starting point, as long as they're symptom-free. To be on the safe side, I printed out and signed the charmingly named déclaration d'honneur found on the health ministry website, in which visitors to France are asked to attest that they are not suffering from fever, unusual coughs, or "non-habitual diarrhoea." All my diarrhoeas being eminently habitual, I added my signature with a clear conscience.

Some little difference exists in Geneva as to the authentic starting-point of the Gebennensis. The guidebooks assert that the Protestant cathedral of St Pierre in the old city has the prior claim, but the Catholic basilica of Notre-Dame opposite the railway station, my local church, also puts in a strong bid. Meanwhile the secular authorities confuse things still further by placing the very first blue-and-yellow coquille, or shell-marker, at the corner of the Rue des Alpes, where the former Holy Cow! burger joint—a victim, alas, of the pandemic—used to have its premises. In a spirit of ecumenism I resolved to visit both ecclesiastical establishments on the way out of town.

I was able to hear lunchtime Mass at Notre-Dame, where the kindly sacristan fixed me up with my first tampon. Pressure of business, however, meant that I couldn't actually set out on the road until around three in the afternoon. Sunset these days falling a little after 19:00, my first day was going to be a short one. But the weather was unusually warm and balmy for early October as I followed the marked path. I'm bound to say that in my view it's not an ideally-chosen one. It crosses the Rhône too far south to enable the pilgrim to get a good view of the jet d'eau on the way out (Geneva having exceedingly few noteworthy sights, it seems a pity to omit the handful it does possess) and drags him or her up the chilly and uninteresting Rue de la Cité, bypassing Place de Neuve and the Parc des Bastions, by far the most attractive walk in the entire town.

Nobody was to be seen at St Pierre, frustrating my intention to obtain a Reformed stamp to set alongside my Roman one. There was nothing for me to do, then, but to continue following the arrows, which soon brought me onto the streets along which I used to walk every evening on my way home from work. The way is splendidly marked along this entire stretch; until the French border it is impossible to put a foot wrong. But one can as easily steer out of town simply by following the tracks of the no. 12 tram through Carouge almost to its terminus. From there the trail strikes off uphill and to the left at the campus of the Collège de Pinchat, and wanders along the back lanes of the Geneva stockbroker belt, affording excellent views into the back gardens of the haute bourgeoisie.

My rambles around the city have never taken me quite this far out, so I was intrigued after passing beyond the outer suburbs to see that quite a bit of market gardening takes places in these parts, with tomatoes, lettuces and curly kale being grown under plastic poly-tunnels. Before long, though, I had left behind the urban-agricultural sector, and was arriving at the border a little past Bardonnex church. It's an unobtrusive crossing-place between two farmers' fields, marked only by a metal vehicle-barrier and a placard authorising those in possession of the correct documents to walk across. I didn't quite expect a brass band, but I'd imagined that there would be at least a letter-box or something of the kind in which to deposit my déclaration d'honneur. It appears that the Ministère de la Santé is in fact less interested in the minutiae of my bathroom habits than its website had led me to believe it to be.

On the far side, I was greeted by a reassuring sticker assuring me: Vous êtes sur un chemin vers Compostelle, and perhaps charitably refraining from indicating just how long I'd be doing it. The trail now led over a pedestrian bridge across the deafeningly busy A40 motorway, heading to Mâcon in one direction and Italy in the other, and then descended into the little dormitory town of Neydens. Here I was surprised to find the local campsite, the Domaine la Colombière, still open. I would have thought that a combination of the lateness of the season and the coronavirus would have caused the management to put up the shutters a long time ago. But not a bit of it. Although only a couple of pitches are occupied, apparently by Germans, the office was fully staffed. Still more encouragingly, a sign outside offered a bed for the night to those on the chemin de St Jacques at what, for these parts, is the bargain-basement price of EUR 15.

I hadn't planned on stopping so soon, a mere 12 km from my starting point. My intention had been to press on as far as Beaumont at least, another four or five kilometres down the road, and then start looking round for accommodation. But it was already 18:00, with not much more than an hour of daylight remaining. My intention was always to reach Seyssel by the end of the second day, which I can still do by putting in a long stage tomorrow. So I've decided to grasp the bird in the hand, and take advantage of my hosts' kind offer. Although the restaurant is closed and Neydens doesn't seem to have any convenient shops, I obtained enough road food at my local Migros before departure to keep me going until dinnertime tomorrow at least. With good internet bundled in the cost of my night's stay and a lightweight sleeping bag in my backpack, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to pass a very comfortable night here.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
CF- Finisterre-Muxia 03/17; Camino SK 10/17; Norte 03/18; Ingles 11/18; Augusta 03/19
Note: As the time-stamps below indicate, these messages are being posted about three weeks in arrears. But the entries were composed contemporaneously, and I haven't edited them. I'll add a new one each day, unless the management requests me to take them down.


Friday, October 9

When I lived just off Plainpalais in the nicest flat in Geneva I've ever had, the Via Gebennensis ran practically outside the foyer. Most spring and summer days as I headed off to work I was tormented by the sight of cheerful backpackers a few metres away, setting out on the trail. I dare say the great majority of them were departing on the GR 65 long-distance hiking route, which overlies the Gebennensis, rather than going on pilgrimage, but that thought provided little consolation as I began another stressful day in an airless office.

It's been more than a year since I was last engaged in any pilgrim activity, and for some considerable time I've been contemplating the possibility of a seriously long trip to SdC. The idea of literally following in the footsteps of our mediaeval forebears and undertaking a pilgrimage that starts at one's front door and continues to northwestern Spain is one that appeals strongly to me. Given the distance involved—as with every other route to SdC, no two sources agree on just how far that is, but 1,900 km or so seems to be about right—there's no possibility of doing it all in a single trip. What my American backpacking friends call "section-hiking," probably over a two-year period, is the only realistic method open to me. I do, however, have the possibility of taking up to twelve days off work, if I start after business on Friday and make full use of the weekend. That might, with a bit of luck, enable me to complete the first étape of 350 km or thereabouts to Le Puy-en-Velay, which seems a reasonable intermediate target.

Legally, nothing stands in the way. The Fédération Française de la Randonée Pédestre, the hikers' organisation in that country, has confirmed with the French government that hiking is permitted, so long as it's in a group of fewer than ten people. My own group coming in at nine below the threshold, there's no difficulty there. Likewise, people may freely cross the border from Switzerland to France, which is only about two hours' walk from my starting point, as long as they're symptom-free. To be on the safe side, I printed out and signed the charmingly named déclaration d'honneur found on the health ministry website, in which visitors to France are asked to attest that they are not suffering from fever, unusual coughs, or "non-habitual diarrhoea." All my diarrhoeas being eminently habitual, I added my signature with a clear conscience.

Some little difference exists in Geneva as to the authentic starting-point of the Gebennensis. The guidebooks assert that the Protestant cathedral of St Pierre in the old city has the prior claim, but the Catholic basilica of Notre-Dame opposite the railway station, my local church, also puts in a strong bid. Meanwhile the secular authorities confuse things still further by placing the very first blue-and-yellow coquille, or shell-marker, at the corner of the Rue des Alpes, where the former Holy Cow! burger joint—a victim, alas, of the pandemic—used to have its premises. In a spirit of ecumenism I resolved to visit both ecclesiastical establishments on the way out of town.

I was able to hear lunchtime Mass at Notre-Dame, where the kindly sacristan fixed me up with my first tampon. Pressure of business, however, meant that I couldn't actually set out on the road until around three in the afternoon. Sunset these days falling a little after 19:00, my first day was going to be a short one. But the weather was unusually warm and balmy for early October as I followed the marked path. I'm bound to say that in my view it's not an ideally-chosen one. It crosses the Rhône too far south to enable the pilgrim to get a good view of the jet d'eau on the way out (Geneva having exceedingly few noteworthy sights, it seems a pity to omit the handful it does possess) and drags him or her up the chilly and uninteresting Rue de la Cité, bypassing Place de Neuve and the Parc des Bastions, by far the most attractive walk in the entire town.

Nobody was to be seen at St Pierre, frustrating my intention to obtain a Reformed stamp to set alongside my Roman one. There was nothing for me to do, then, but to continue following the arrows, which soon brought me onto the streets along which I used to walk every evening on my way home from work. The way is splendidly marked along this entire stretch; until the French border it is impossible to put a foot wrong. But one can as easily steer out of town simply by following the tracks of the no. 12 tram through Carouge almost to its terminus. From there the trail strikes off uphill and to the left at the campus of the Collège de Pinchat, and wanders along the back lanes of the Geneva stockbroker belt, affording excellent views into the back gardens of the haute bourgeoisie.

My rambles around the city have never taken me quite this far out, so I was intrigued after passing beyond the outer suburbs to see that quite a bit of market gardening takes places in these parts, with tomatoes, lettuces and curly kale being grown under plastic poly-tunnels. Before long, though, I had left behind the urban-agricultural sector, and was arriving at the border a little past Bardonnex church. It's an unobtrusive crossing-place between two farmers' fields, marked only by a metal vehicle-barrier and a placard authorising those in possession of the correct documents to walk across. I didn't quite expect a brass band, but I'd imagined that there would be at least a letter-box or something of the kind in which to deposit my déclaration d'honneur. It appears that the Ministère de la Santé is in fact less interested in the minutiae of my bathroom habits than its website had led me to believe it to be.

On the far side, I was greeted by a reassuring sticker assuring me: Vous êtes sur un chemin vers Compostelle, and perhaps charitably refraining from indicating just how long I'd be doing it. The trail now led over a pedestrian bridge across the deafeningly busy A40 motorway, heading to Mâcon in one direction and Italy in the other, and then descended into the little dormitory town of Neydens. Here I was surprised to find the local campsite, the Domaine la Colombière, still open. I would have thought that a combination of the lateness of the season and the coronavirus would have caused the management to put up the shutters a long time ago. But not a bit of it. Although only a couple of pitches are occupied, apparently by Germans, the office was fully staffed. Still more encouragingly, a sign outside offered a bed for the night to those on the chemin de St Jacques at what, for these parts, is the bargain-basement price of EUR 15.

I hadn't planned on stopping so soon, a mere 12 km from my starting point. My intention had been to press on as far as Beaumont at least, another four or five kilometres down the road, and then start looking round for accommodation. But it was already 18:00, with not much more than an hour of daylight remaining. My intention was always to reach Seyssel by the end of the second day, which I can still do by putting in a long stage tomorrow. So I've decided to grasp the bird in the hand, and take advantage of my hosts' kind offer. Although the restaurant is closed and Neydens doesn't seem to have any convenient shops, I obtained enough road food at my local Migros before departure to keep me going until dinnertime tomorrow at least. With good internet bundled in the cost of my night's stay and a lightweight sleeping bag in my backpack, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to pass a very comfortable night here.
Thank you and congratulations for such an inspirational description.....I was speaking about this Camino only 2 days ago with an elderly pilgrim I met in 2017 on the CF and with whom I meet regularly for coffee and Camino chats. He wants to,walk this route. Please continue to post your walk. Stay safe and burn Camino.👣👣👣
 

lt56ny

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
CF(2012) Le Puy/CF (2015) Portugues (2017) Norte (2018) CF (2019) VDLP?
Thanks so much. I love reading about roads less traveled. I am doing the VDLP as soon as I can and look forward to doing even quieter caminos in the future. I think long caminos are the way to go if you can. I realize at this stage of your life you can't take 2+months to walk. I walked Le Puy-Santiago a few years ago. being retired helps haha. There is something powerful when you walk this distance. Something very different, at least for me, tends to take you and hold you. It is difficult to describe but it is special.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Saturday, October 10

One of the complicating factors about an autumn or winter pilgrimage is the amount of available daylight. At this time of year in eastern France, the sun doesn't rise until around 07:45, and is back down again a little more than eleven hours later. Each day that number shortens by three minutes. Normally, such a window should be quite long enough for a day on the trail. From Beaumont to Seyssel, however, is nearly 42 km by the specified route, and I was beginning at least 4 km short of Beaumont. Lastly, not wishing to have to rely once more on serendipity to have a place to stay, I made a booking last night at a chambre d'hôte that's a couple of kilometres north of Seyssel. All told, it looked as though I was in for an étape that was little less than 50 km, and though I've racked up a few of those in my time, it's a lot to get finished in an eleven-hour stretch.

When I arose this morning, then, I made a hasty breakfast of yesterday's road food—bread and cheese—supplemented by a cup of the campsite's vending-machine coffee (exactly what you'd expect, but no worse than what one is handed up at the typical French café) and set out on the route the moment it was light enough to see. It's far from easy to pick up the trail in Neydens, especially because they're digging up the road around the primary school next to the campsite and have fenced off that entire street, but by walking three sides of a square and squashing along a soggy lane behind a field that I'm not entirely sure I was supposed to cross, I was able to get myself back on track. (For future reference, one wants to head southeast out of town past the Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix.) I was able to pick up the markers again at the little village of Verrières, perhaps a kilometre and a half down the road, and then proceed along a country path, heading steadily but not disastrously uphill, into the attractive town of Beaumont.

This would indeed have been a pleasant location for a night-stop had I been able to find somewhere to stay last night. It looks like something out of the Bernese Oberland rather than the Haute-Savoie, but more importantly from the pilgrim's point of view offers a modest but adequate selection of the necessary amenities, including a small Casino supermarket. The way out of town follows the main road to the south, the D 17, before heading into the woods just east of Le Châble. Although I'd been warned to expect a route of constant climbs and descents, I found this morning's leg to be much easier than I imagined, with the general trend, if anything, gently downhill. I made good time, and although there are no kilometre-markers here as there are in Spain (the hiking placards indicate estimated time to the next destination, rather than distance), I was beginning to think optimistic thoughts about reaching Seyssel before the light went.

The only damper, in fact, was a literal one. Today dawned wet and a little chilly. I'd hoped not to have to scramble into my waterproofs quite so early in the trip, but the rain kept up steadily for most of the morning. That aside, I liked what I was seeing and smelling. The Haute-Savoie may well be my very favourite part of France, even though, like the Basque country, it isn't at all sure whether it wants to retain the connection with the people in the capital. (I passed many Savoie libre stickers along the way, attached to the backs of road signs, and plenty of graffiti expressing the same sentiment with more or fewer gradations of profanity.) This is delightful pre-Alpine farming land, the source of the first-rate Savoyard butter that is sold all over France. But it's even more remarkable, I think, for its pears. Never have I seen so many pear trees, heavily in fruit, to the point that in innumerable spots entire branches weighed down with their burden had broken off from the trunk and were lying on the ground. The very atmosphere was suffused with their scent. I don't know if Babycham is still in operation, but if it is and doesn't have a factory here, it's missing out on a good thing.

There's a stiff little climb into the village of Chaumont, which if anything is prettier, if much smaller, than its rhyming counterpart to the north-east, but I'd no time to stop. I still have the obligation of collecting my daily tampon, so I made haste to reach the neighbouring town of Frangy, about three kilometers further on, before its office de tourisme closed. In the process I had to give back all the elevation I'd sweatily gained before Chaumont, and probably more besides. At least it was no longer raining, and I was able to peel off my now-clammy raingear.

I made it in good time to obtain my stamp from the helpful staff-member working behind the desk. The tourism office at Frangy is quite well-stocked, and I saw a copy of the Guide jaune, the Brierley-equivalent for the Gebennensis, offered for sale. I briefly thought about buying it, but decided—I think correctly—that during this of all years, it's unlikely to be of much assistance to me. I've heard that most of the people who participate in the so-called accueil jacquaire, putting pilgrims up in their homes for a night, are for obvious reasons not doing so in 2020. Furthermore, the Guide jaune is not a lightweight publication, and my pack is already heavier than it's been since I was out on the CPI during the heatwave/wildfire season of 2017 and had to haul a couple of litres of water around as well as the next day's food. So I passed up on the opportunity, instead choosing to use the splendid and almost infinitely expandable large-scale maps available on the Jakobswege Europa web-site and rely on my wits for accommodation.

Frangy has an intriguing metallic pilgrim statue, one of those things in which rust is part of the artistic conception; two cafés on the main street (the second, Le commerce, is greatly to be preferred to the first, a smoky establishment that doubles as the town's PMU off-track betting shop); and a Super U supermarket at which I replenished my now much diminished stock of road food. My coffee, stamp and shopping excursion, though, cut into my remaining daylight hours, and it was already close to 16:00 when I set back out on the trail, with around 18 km separating me from my night-stop. Unfortunately, events now conspired to slow me down significantly. Almost as soon as one leaves Frangy, the terrain tilts sharply uphill, cutting my pace to probably little better than 3.5 km/h. Furthermore, I found that a selfish farmer had closed off the right-of-way through his property with electric fencing in an attempt to force pilgrims and hikers onto the paved road with its succession of time-consuming hairpin bends. Being of a bloody-minded disposition and, like the Blues Brothers, able to appeal to a higher power, I stubbornly wriggled my way under these, but that too cut into my pace. Lastly, as I emerged back on to the road just before Vannecy, it once again started to rain. I think the elevation had a good deal to do with that, as I was now up around the 600m (2,000') mark and flitting in and out of the bottom layer of the cloud-bank.

Just the same, this was as pleasant countryside as I've travelled for quite a while. Climbing through fields that are being prepared for a winter crop and looking back across the valley to the Juras away to the east, one obtains a view over a landscape in which humans and nature seem to have achieved a harmonious modus vivendi. I wished I'd had longer to enjoy the scene, but time was pressing. One thing, though, that does impress the passer-by who walks through the tiny Savoyard villages on this route is the scale of the devastation produced by the Great War. Every one of them, no matter how insignificant, has its own monument aux morts with a jaw-droppingly extensive list of local names. The one in the hamlet of Desingy, a place so small that it mightn't even feature on many good maps, requires three sides of a large obelisk, with two columns on each side, to pay tribute to the sons of the district who didn't survive the carnage of 1914-18.

Darkness finally set in somewhere between Moucherin and Curty. While I always travel with good illumination against such an eventuality, I now had to worry about reaching my destination before the people at the chambre d'hôte closed the shutters for the night. That caused me to make what in retrospect was an injudicious decision and leave the trail a kilometre further on, striking out due west to the micro-village of Vallod and seeking to cut the corner of the mountain, emerging back onto the D 17 a little north of Seyssel and that much closer to my bed. I was encouraged in this choice by coming across a group of young hill-runners—the last people I'd ever have imagined encountering this far away from anywhere in particular—who gave me directions as to where to find the route de Cologny, leading into Seyssel from the north. Unfortunately, conducting a Google Maps post-mortem, it seems that they sent me through Pologny to the south, with the result that I described very nearly a complete circle above Seyssel in the dark and probably added a little to my journey rather than shortening it. Had the night been clearer, I must have seen the Rhône from above and realised my mistake, but the rain and mist put paid to that.

At all events, I'm here now. My gracious hosts left the light on for me (I don't want to tell you just how overdue I was); filled me to the brim with hot tea and sympathy; and provided me with an abundance of fluffy towels with which to dry myself after a gloriously hot shower. I don't have many hours for sleeping before I'll have to do it all again, but on the whole, things could be a great deal worse.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Aragon/CF 08, Arles 10, Le Puy 12, Geneva 14, VdlP 15, Norte/Primitivo 15, VF 17, Levante 18, Moz 19
Thank you. Lovely descriptive writing and it brings back memories of my walk in late September 2014.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Sunday, October 11

I don't know what the accommodation situation is like on the Gebennensis in the ordinary course of events. A lot of the gîtes d'étape, the local equivalent of albergues, would of course be open, but no doubt they'd also get much more traffic in the form of the long-distance GR 65 hikers who at the moment are conspicuous by their absence. All I can say is that at present, the situation is somewhat difficult.

Towns of any size in this part of the world are few, which means that one has little chance of finding a hotel. There are quite a lot of private gîtes, but they tend either to be (i) complet; (ii) enormous places that accommodate a dozen wayfarers and have price tags to match; or (iii) closed for the season and/or the pandemic. The result was that after a lot of ringing around, the best I could manage was to snag a night on somebody's canapé-lit (pull-out sofa bed) a few kilometres due south of Yenne. The bad news is that that was about 44 km away, with the result that I'd have to put in two very long days back to back: close to 100 km in forty-eight hours. Moreover, all these little excursions are adding up. If one has to deviate just 3 km from the trail each day to find a place to sleep, over ten days that's 60 km added to one's journey, or the equivalent of two extra days' walking.

Other than dossing down in the woods, though, there seemed to be no alternative. At least, being Sunday, there was no point in rising at cock-crow, because I'd need to attend ten o'clock Mass in the town. So I descended into Seyssel at a civilised hour; had a magnificently unhealthy breakfast at the Bourgeois boulangerie-patisserie at the far end of the Pont de la Vierge noire; acquired a baguette to ward off hunger-pains on the journey; attended to my religious duties; and then set out on a trek that was certain to end long after dark.

I may have inadvertently made it a little longer yet. At some point on the way out of town I missed a turn, which I now believe must have been at or before the office de tourisme, and found myself walking along the shoulder of the surprisingly busy D 991 southward. After only a kilometre or so, though, the road coverged again with the marked trail, and I was back in business. Manfully ignoring a demoralising sign that indicated that SdC was more than 1,800 km from where I stood (the ones I've seen to this point have considerately withheld all distance-information, merely pointing out the direction), I passed through a well-manicured park before following the Rhône along its east bank for a few kilometres. After circumnavigating another construction zone, I was ejected into the longest and straightest path I've ever seen outside of Flanders, which terminated in a forest that, according to a convenient information board, is the largest concentration of poplar trees anywhere in Europe. Another sign gave me to understand that I was actually on a variante of the chemin de St Jacques, rather than the main thoroughfare. This was one of several I've seen thus far: so many, in fact, that it seems that half a dozen pilgrims could start in Geneva and remain out of sight of each other to this point.

Long-distance pilgrimages breed complications, and around now another one made its presence known. Last night, descending a rocky path covered with wet fallen leaves, I turned my left ankle. It didn't seem like much at the time, and I'd forgotten about it until starting out this morning, when I was aware of a tightness of the muscles in that area. I'd hoped that this would ease with exercise; instead, it was beginning to throb unpleasantly. While stopping at the side of the road abeam Culoz, where I used to change trains, to make and consume a lunchtime sandwich, I removed my sock and inspected the site. It was slightly swollen, warm to the touch, and featured what seemed to be a small reddish bruise around where the ankle meets my walking shoe. There wasn't anything I could do about it, but as the day wore on, it became an increasingly overt and unpleasant presence, causing me to shorten my stride appreciably.

I've encountered very few people on this trip thus far, but late in the afternoon I ran into plenty of Sunday walkers on the canalised section leading into the watersports hub of Chanaz. It's an agreeable location, albeit with more than a tinge of Ye Olde Frenche Village about it, and dominated by a remarkable early twentieth-century arched bridge that's much more decorative than functional. Had I been in less discomfort I'd have been more likely to be charmed by it, but my mood was dampened by a sign on the far side indicating that Yenne was 18.6 km, or 4 h 25 mins, from where I stood. I've learned to respect the accuracy of these estimates, and this one was right on the money. The fact that it was about a quarter to four in the afternoon when I came off the bridge made for an unpleasant mental calculation as to when I was likely to be seeing my bed tonight.

The first really steep climb of the Gebennensis is to be found on the ascent out of Yenne, though I discovered to my surprise that my ankle hurt much less going uphill than descending. Although the clouds that had hovered all day now started to break up, leading me to work up a solid lather in the late-afternoon sunshine, I welcomed the respite from pain as long as I had it. And I had pleasant countryside as a distraction. I expected to see, off to my left, more of the Lac de Bourget, the lake on which the gorgeous country town of Aix-les-Bains is situated, but a combination of trees and ridges obstructed the sight-lines. Still, I was happy enough with what I was encountering, especially the much more authentic village of Jongieux in the shadow of Mont Charvaz. If I hadn't been emitting small yelps on the way downhill, I'd no doubt have appreciated the view still more.

I did get a second respite on the climb to the separate village of Jongieux-le-Haut, where I found myself keeping pace with a young woman who was hill-running the hairpin bends on the road while I cut across them at ninety degrees on the path. Her blistering pace, and my anaemic one, somehow coincided such that we practically had to give way to each other on four separate occasions, something she found increasingly amusing. As for myself, I was just glad that my legs were still answering my commands.

The daylight ran out shortly after Jongieux, which caused me to get disastrously lost on the way to the Chapelle St.-Romain, the last major landmark before Yenne. This part of the trail passes through extensive vineyards, and in the darkness I either missed a waymarker or one was missing. The result was that I found myself floundering through a labyrinth of vines, becoming all the more frustrated because the streets of Yenne were lit up below me like a Christmas tree, just a couple of kilometres away, but none of the paths I followed enabled me to get any nearer to it. After the better part of an hour of this profitless exercise, I realised that there was no possibility of my finding the right trail. Turning back uphill, I managed to make my way back to the road above Billième and followed a steeply-descending side-street through Grand Langneux and Bas Somont into the town itself. Hobbling through as quickly as I could, I then had one more sharp climb for a couple of kilometres along a paved road before finally reaching the farmhouse that is my night stop.

We all know the formula for damaged ankles: rest, ice, compression and elevation. I can manage about nine hours of the first, third and fourth, but have no way of providing for the second beyond periodically dunking my foot in cold water. The only piece of good news is that although it hurts like blazes, even after taking the maximum allowable dose of Vitamin I, it didn't get much worse after Yenne. But this is something that could very easily bring my pilgrimage to a premature end, and I daresay I'll know by this time tomorrow—if not earlier—whether that's to be the outcome.
 
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NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
I look forward to learning if you chose to take a much shorter walk the next day or two.
 

Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
I recall a vineyard section with a quite irregular routing, which was difficult to follow even in broad daylight. In the dark you would not have stood a chance.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I dare say that if anybody had been in a position to see me from above, they'd have found it hard to restrain their giggles. I was flailing around in there like a none-too-bright laboratory rat in a maze. Every corner I turned, I was confronted by an impenetrable thicket of brambles, a water-filled ditch, or both.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Monday, October 12

Morning today broke earlier than I'd have liked. During all my previous trips to SdC—this one is the seventh—I've never taken a rest day. Sometimes this is because I was trying to complete a pilgrimage in the limited time available; more often it's because I try to listen to my body. It nearly always tells me that it's more likely to continue functioning if I keep it in motion for even a short distance of a dozen kilometres or so, whereas it may well seize up completely if I come to a sudden stop. That said, if I'd the option of staying where I was for a second night, I'd have taken it.

Just the same, and greatly to my surprise, I didn't feel nearly as bad this morning as I expected. I won't say I arrived here last night more or less crippled; if I'd absolutely had to do another ten kilometres, I'm sure I could have managed it, albeit slowly. But I was in as much discomfort as I've ever been on any of these trips, and I was expecting much of it still to be present today. In contrast, though, I arose feeling remarkably normal. Lots of the usual muscular aches and twinges one experiences after a long day's hiking, to be sure, but even my ankle seemed to be behaving itself, more or less. I don't have an explanation for this phenomenon; ibuprofen normally doesn't have such a magical effect upon me. But I was perfectly happy to accept it.

After a spartan breakfast of instant coffee and yesterday's bananas, I said goodbye to my host and set off to search for the trail. Rather than retrace my steps into Yenne, I decided to map-read my way across country due west, in the hope of being able to pick up the chemin somewhere past the Croix de Chevru. This worked out pretty well. It did involve an arduous climb of about 300m in less than three kilometres along an exceedingly wet, rocky and muddy track. For a human being this was difficult enough; I was taken aback from the clear tracks left in the mud to see that somebody had done this with a horse in the past twenty-four to forty-eight hours. How, or why, that was accomplished, I can't imagine. But within less than an hour I was back in shell-marker land, plodding slowly but steadily up the slopes of Mont Tournier, the highest point on today's étape.

A second intriguing element was in store for me in the form of the Grange des Farnets, or the ruins thereof, which I passed soon after regaining the trail. This whole area of the Haute-Savoie was maquis country during the Second World War, especially after the Vichy régime foolishly introduced a forced-labour stint in Germany, the STO, for all young Frenchmen in 1942. Rather than comply, thousands of evaders took to the mountains and fell in with the Resistance in preference to facing exile, and possible death from Allied aerial bombing, while working in German factories. The Grange was, as its name suggests, a mountaintop barn made of rough stone which fourteen Slovenians, who were first press-ganged into the German forces and then promptly deserted to join the maquis, made their base of operations. It was burned to the ground by the Wehrmacht in 1944 in the course of a punitive expedition (the Slovenians fortunately escaped), and has since been partially restored. Later in the day I was to come across several other memorials to local maquisard bands, whose memory is still kept very much alive in these parts.

A little past the summit of Mont Tournier I saw a sign inviting me to go and see the "Pierre de Vire," just 50m off the trail. Reasoning that I'd probably never be this way again, I accepted the suggestion, and found that it was a large lump of limestone sitting on the edge of a cliff. A park bench was placed beside it for the benefit of visitors, and I was very glad to make use of it. No sooner had I done so than a large group of secondary-school students, aged sixteen or seventeen, accompanied by two teachers, emerged from nowhere and began excitedly posing for selfies. They were as surprised to see me as I was them; however they got there, I'm certain, it wasn't on foot. But they were a courteous and considerate group, and I was glad to have the opportunity to exchange a few words with them. I gather that the attraction of this site, apart from the somewhat underwhelming rock, is the view it affords of the Rhône and the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, although the sun was out, a cloud-layer below us blotted out the scenery, so I couldn't tell you at what we were supposed to be looking.

I had nearly forgotten my ankle on the way up Tournier, giving me perhaps 12 km of relatively pain-free hiking. That situation turned around quite rapidly on the descent, and by the time I passed through St-Maurice-de-Rotherens it was as bad as ever. The only way I was able to continue at all was to shorten my stride, and reduce my speed, to almost nothing, presenting a spectacle at which a couple of men working in the fields regarded curiously. One was sufficiently concerned to approach me and inquire, "Ça va?" I assured him that all was well, and that due to a small contretemps a couple of days ago, it was necessary for me to take the downhill stretches slowly. He nodded, clearly unpersuaded: and truth to tell I wasn't entirely certain myself.

But good fortune was to come my way, just below the small village of Grésin (which, despite its diminutive size, features an impressive church, mairie and maternelle). Some generous soul has established in his roadside barn a pilgrim rest-stop which goes by the name of La petite halte de Jacques. Unfortunately I didn't get to meet Jacques or any of his family, but I'll remember them all in my prayers. His set-up includes a self-service tampon; an electric kettle with bottled water, mugs, freeze-dried coffee and milk powder all to hand; a table and chairs; and even a small 'fridge containing fizzy drinks and beer for those who required them. I brewed myself a steaming cupful; propped up my ankle; heaved a large handful of coins into Jacques' money-jar in gratitude for his thoughtfulness; and waited for the throbbing to subside. When I set out again half an hour later, if I wasn't quite feeling like a new man, I had definitely gained my second wind.

The fairly substantial town of Saint-Genix, on the river Guiers, was about six kilometres further on. Even though a good deal of daylight was left, I didn't see the need to extend my day beyond the 27 km or so I'd already walked. For the first time this trip, indeed, I had a choice of accommodation, and quickly made an arrangement for a chambre d'hôte on the northwest side of town. At the moment I'm enjoying something close to a menú peregrino, albeit with extra gristle, at the sports bar on the main thoroughfare. My ankle is now as bad as it was last night; I'm hoping that a longer rest will take the edge off. My intention earlier today was to reach Le Pin tomorrow, about 30 km from here. Unless things improve significantly, I don't see that happening. But I'll defer the final decision until the morning, and review the situation then.
 
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Bala

Veteran member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
I'm thoroughly enjoying your posts, and they are so well-written I feel like I'm following beside you. I certainly hope your ankle improves and the journey continues.
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances (2008) Le Puy to SJPP (2010) Camino Primitivo (2010)
VLP (2013) Norte (2016/17)
Note: As the time-stamps below indicate, these messages are being posted about three weeks in arrears. But the entries were composed contemporaneously, and I haven't edited them. I'll add a new one each day, unless the management requests me to take them down.


Friday, October 9

When I lived just off Plainpalais in the nicest flat in Geneva I've ever had, the Via Gebennensis ran practically outside the foyer. Most spring and summer days as I headed off to work I was tormented by the sight of cheerful backpackers a few metres away, setting out on the trail. I dare say the great majority of them were departing on the GR 65 long-distance hiking route, which overlies the Gebennensis, rather than going on pilgrimage, but that thought provided little consolation as I began another stressful day in an airless office.

It's been more than a year since I was last engaged in any pilgrim activity, and for some considerable time I've been contemplating the possibility of a seriously long trip to SdC. The idea of literally following in the footsteps of our mediaeval forebears and undertaking a pilgrimage that starts at one's front door and continues to northwestern Spain is one that appeals strongly to me. Given the distance involved—as with every other route to SdC, no two sources agree on just how far that is, but 1,900 km or so seems to be about right—there's no possibility of doing it all in a single trip. What my American backpacking friends call "section-hiking," probably over a two-year period, is the only realistic method open to me. I do, however, have the possibility of taking up to twelve days off work, if I start after business on Friday and make full use of the weekend. That might, with a bit of luck, enable me to complete the first étape of 350 km or thereabouts to Le Puy-en-Velay, which seems a reasonable intermediate target.

Legally, nothing stands in the way. The Fédération Française de la Randonée Pédestre, the hikers' organisation in that country, has confirmed with the French government that hiking is permitted, so long as it's in a group of fewer than ten people. My own group coming in at nine below the threshold, there's no difficulty there. Likewise, people may freely cross the border from Switzerland to France, which is only about two hours' walk from my starting point, as long as they're symptom-free. To be on the safe side, I printed out and signed the charmingly named déclaration d'honneur found on the health ministry website, in which visitors to France are asked to attest that they are not suffering from fever, unusual coughs, or "non-habitual diarrhoea." All my diarrhoeas being eminently habitual, I added my signature with a clear conscience.

Some little difference exists in Geneva as to the authentic starting-point of the Gebennensis. The guidebooks assert that the Protestant cathedral of St Pierre in the old city has the prior claim, but the Catholic basilica of Notre-Dame opposite the railway station, my local church, also puts in a strong bid. Meanwhile the secular authorities confuse things still further by placing the very first blue-and-yellow coquille, or shell-marker, at the corner of the Rue des Alpes, where the former Holy Cow! burger joint—a victim, alas, of the pandemic—used to have its premises. In a spirit of ecumenism I resolved to visit both ecclesiastical establishments on the way out of town.

I was able to hear lunchtime Mass at Notre-Dame, where the kindly sacristan fixed me up with my first tampon. Pressure of business, however, meant that I couldn't actually set out on the road until around three in the afternoon. Sunset these days falling a little after 19:00, my first day was going to be a short one. But the weather was unusually warm and balmy for early October as I followed the marked path. I'm bound to say that in my view it's not an ideally-chosen one. It crosses the Rhône too far south to enable the pilgrim to get a good view of the jet d'eau on the way out (Geneva having exceedingly few noteworthy sights, it seems a pity to omit the handful it does possess) and drags him or her up the chilly and uninteresting Rue de la Cité, bypassing Place de Neuve and the Parc des Bastions, by far the most attractive walk in the entire town.

Nobody was to be seen at St Pierre, frustrating my intention to obtain a Reformed stamp to set alongside my Roman one. There was nothing for me to do, then, but to continue following the arrows, which soon brought me onto the streets along which I used to walk every evening on my way home from work. The way is splendidly marked along this entire stretch; until the French border it is impossible to put a foot wrong. But one can as easily steer out of town simply by following the tracks of the no. 12 tram through Carouge almost to its terminus. From there the trail strikes off uphill and to the left at the campus of the Collège de Pinchat, and wanders along the back lanes of the Geneva stockbroker belt, affording excellent views into the back gardens of the haute bourgeoisie.

My rambles around the city have never taken me quite this far out, so I was intrigued after passing beyond the outer suburbs to see that quite a bit of market gardening takes places in these parts, with tomatoes, lettuces and curly kale being grown under plastic poly-tunnels. Before long, though, I had left behind the urban-agricultural sector, and was arriving at the border a little past Bardonnex church. It's an unobtrusive crossing-place between two farmers' fields, marked only by a metal vehicle-barrier and a placard authorising those in possession of the correct documents to walk across. I didn't quite expect a brass band, but I'd imagined that there would be at least a letter-box or something of the kind in which to deposit my déclaration d'honneur. It appears that the Ministère de la Santé is in fact less interested in the minutiae of my bathroom habits than its website had led me to believe it to be.

On the far side, I was greeted by a reassuring sticker assuring me: Vous êtes sur un chemin vers Compostelle, and perhaps charitably refraining from indicating just how long I'd be doing it. The trail now led over a pedestrian bridge across the deafeningly busy A40 motorway, heading to Mâcon in one direction and Italy in the other, and then descended into the little dormitory town of Neydens. Here I was surprised to find the local campsite, the Domaine la Colombière, still open. I would have thought that a combination of the lateness of the season and the coronavirus would have caused the management to put up the shutters a long time ago. But not a bit of it. Although only a couple of pitches are occupied, apparently by Germans, the office was fully staffed. Still more encouragingly, a sign outside offered a bed for the night to those on the chemin de St Jacques at what, for these parts, is the bargain-basement price of EUR 15.

I hadn't planned on stopping so soon, a mere 12 km from my starting point. My intention had been to press on as far as Beaumont at least, another four or five kilometres down the road, and then start looking round for accommodation. But it was already 18:00, with not much more than an hour of daylight remaining. My intention was always to reach Seyssel by the end of the second day, which I can still do by putting in a long stage tomorrow. So I've decided to grasp the bird in the hand, and take advantage of my hosts' kind offer. Although the restaurant is closed and Neydens doesn't seem to have any convenient shops, I obtained enough road food at my local Migros before departure to keep me going until dinnertime tomorrow at least. With good internet bundled in the cost of my night's stay and a lightweight sleeping bag in my backpack, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to pass a very comfortable night here.
Great piece of writing. I look forward to following your journey, Buen Camino!
 

NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
La petite halte de Jacques
One wonders that you didn’t decide to spend the night here. Food might have been an issue, and eating occasionally is necessary for healing, so all things considered... 😉
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I may well have missed a bet, NL. Nescafé and powdered milk are two of the four food groups, so I was already halfway there. Somehow one never thinks of these things in the moment...
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Tuesday, October 13

I rejoined the trail in Saint-Genix early on a chilly and somewhat gloomy morning, with rain that constantly threatened but never quite materialised. My spirits, though, were raised by the fact that upon rising my ankle was once again in fairly decent working order. The terrain being fairly level until a couple of kilometres past Les Abrets, and rising manageably thereafter, I allowed myself to contemplate the prospect that I might yet reach Le Pin before nightfall.

If that were to happen, though, making maximum use of the daylight hours was a necessity. Les Abrets, with a population of more than 3,500, is probably the largest town on this entire route. Although Google Maps indicates that it has a reasonable selection of restaurants and cafés and hence is likely to be able to provide me with my second cooked meal on this trip, I decided it was wiser to prepare myself for a non-stop étape. In consequence, I obtained the usual road food at the little Fagle supermarket across from the church and the Labully boulangerie just beside it. Having assembled some rough sandwiches from these ingredients at a roadside bench, I crossed the bridge across the Guiers and followed the river along its west bank to the south.

This is an easy, if not a particularly arresting, walk. The water of the Guiers is exceptionally clean and transparent. This being trout country, I was hoping to see a few fish. If there had been any, I undoubtedly would, but for some reason the two or three kilometres downstream wasn't disturbed by the flicker of a single fin. Perhaps there isn't anything for them to eat, vegetation—and hence insect life—being sparse along this stretch.

After passing the man-made Lac de Romagnieu the trail skirts the village of the same name; crosses the A 43 motorway; and threads its way through a succession of back-roads along farming country. I'm bound to say that I've been surprised by the amount of asphalt I've found myself traversing on the Gebennensis. My impression of the European grandes randonnées was of something like the U.S. Appalachian Trail, with the hardy hikers making their way through dense forests and across sparsely settled plains. Instead I've found it resembling a kind of endless Roncesvalles or O Cebreiro stage: energetic enough, undoubtedly, and with plenty of pretty vistas, but at least a third of it along paved roads and with signs of civilisation never very far away.

One of those signs is litter. Without question this is a much cleaner route than the Francés, and what rubbish is to be seen has clearly been deposited by locals rather than pilgrims or other visitors. It occurred to me, though, that a geographer or anthropologist could probably learn a great deal about Westerners' propensity to deface the landscape by tracking the number and distribution of discarded surgical masks to be observed along the side of the roads. None of these can have been tossed aside before last March, but there are a hell of a lot of them out there now. It seems that our ability to make a mess of our surroundings in a mere six months ought not to be underestimated.

This depressing thought was soon replaced by a more acute one. Between the road south of Romagnieu and the glorified crossroads of La Bruyère, my ankle started acting up again. Yesterday I'd covered ten or twelve kilometres before this happened; today it was doing so after half that distance. I quickly abandoned all thoughts of continuing to Le Pin, and decided that Les Abrets or its environs would be my night-stop. One of the advantages of an ultra-long pilgrimage is the knowledge that it doesn't really matter where one finishes a stage: well over a thousand kilometres awaits regardless. If I don't get much further than this, I won't be upset.

Hence I found myself, once I arrived in Les Abrets, with an unfamilar problem: arriving too early. It was only barely lunchtime, and making use of the slow but free wi-fi available to the public at the Post Office, I found that the earliest any of the available chambres d'hôte could accommodate me was at 17:00. Hence I've a bit of time to kill. Part of it was spent in seeking my daily tampon, which I'd hoped to obtain at the tourist office beside the mairie, only to find that it has been replaced by a twenty-four-hour touch-screen device. The people at the church, nonetheless, were able to fix me up, although I formed the impression that they weren't asked for this service very often. That accomplished, all I've been able to do since then is to swill coffee while waiting until it's time to toddle off to bed, a couple of kilometres south of here. At least I'm keeping off my feet, and if this will turn out to be a short stage—17 km at the very most—my lower limbs may be all the better for it.
 

NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
Did you fall and couldn’t get up, and are replicating this camino emergency in reporting time?

What’s happening?!!!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Dear NL,

No: like half the rest of the world, I suspect, I was distracted by what's happening in the United States, and neglected the forum. More below...


Wednesday, October 14

I'm at something of a loss to explain what's happening to my body on this trip. For the past few days, at the end of each evening I'm limping along like the slowest contestant in a three-legged race. And the following morning I'm more or less free of discomfort. It's as though my ankle has a reset button, something that is not at all typical of me when I get banged up. On the other hand, it probably isn't worth worrying about. A pilgrimage is a daily health referendum with only two choices: one is able to walk, or one isn't.

Today, by way of compensation for my last stage, was going to be a long one. The only bed for the night that I was able to find for this evening was an overpriced hotel room in La Côte-St-André, a hair under 40 km from here. I asked my hostess last night why I was having so much difficulty with this matter. She told me that the relatively few gîtes and chambres d'hôte that remain open are busier than ever at the weekends, as city-bound French people, going stir crazy in their urban prisons, snap up whatever is available in the countryside. (Amusingly, she says, they don't seem to do much when they get here except sit around the place and look at their portables.) By contrast, nobody is coming out from the urban areas in the weekdays, so many accommodation-providers don't even bother seeking Monday-to-Thursday bookings.

Of course, the entire picture could change dramatically overnight. I've been keeping an eye on the list of restricted areas in France, as a prudent pilgrim these days ought to do. When I started, nearly all the places under some kind of control were in Paris and the ÎdF, and the big cities of the southwest. But recently Grenoble, which is not so very far away from here, was added to the tally, and nationally the number of reported cases has been rising to a worrisome degree. Emmanuel Macron is reportedly going to make an address about the situation this evening, and it's by no means inconceivable that I may be hot-footing it for the border by this time tomorrow.

That too, though, is out of my control. Today's task was to get myself to St-André as expeditiously as possible. Happily, my night stop was for once just a couple of hundred metres from the trail, so re-establishing myself could hardly have been simpler. The morning walk was also enjoyable, if once again consisting largely of paved surfaces until the village of Valencogne. I don't believe that place has any commercial establishments, but it does feature a neat-as-a-pin country church, which was (i) open to worshippers [get it together, Iberia! it can be done]; and (ii) offering pre-stamped adhesive labels for pilgrims to stick in their credencial—an interesting wrinkle on the self-service tampon. Valencogne strikes me as a pilgrim-friendly place, with a nice picnic area just to the south, and would probably be a good choice for a night stop in more normal circumstances.

After a good deal more road work that involved walking three sides of a square, I found myself back on a rural footpath a little west of Veyssin. Soon thereafter a fork in the chemin, both legs of which led into different parts of the same forest, confronted me. A wooden post bearing hiking-trail markers was placed at the junction, but unfortunately provided no useful navigational assistance. If I might make a small digression on the waymarking of the Gebennensis to this point, I'd say that it was first-rate in Switzerland; very good, all things considered; in Savoy; but progressively getting worse now that I'm in the Dauphiné. Small coquille stickers can often be seen, but all too often they're positioned in such a way as to mark the existence of a turning-point rather than the direction of the turn. On long stretches they're not present at all, the local amis du chemin de St Jacques considering that if a marker for the GR 65 or the voie verte bicycle-path is present, that's good enough. The occasional coquille stickers placed here by the German Friends—the Jakobsweg people—are far superior, as they include an arrow as part of the design. The French seem to take the view that arrows are for wimps. It has not been uncommon for me to find a rectangular post on which overlapping trail-markers for different routes have been placed on three of the four sides—all of them, sometimes, attempting to send wayfarers in just one direction.

At any rate that was the problem I was facing now. My tie-breaker in such cases is to follow the route that's most closely oriented with that of the trail in general—in this part of the world, south-south-west. Accordingly, I chose the right-hand option. And indeed it continued on this basic orientation for quite a long way, crossing many other forest trails in the process. After that, though, it started to assume more of a southward heading, finally ending up a little south-south-east. That in itself isn't unusual. After Valencogne for a while I was heading due east while unquestionably being on the chemin. But I was getting a little concerned about the amount of time I was spending surrounded by trees.

Finally I emerged, and what had been a deepening suspicion was unpleasantly confirmed. Coming over the brow of a hill, I could clearly make out a town beneath me that had to be either Le Pin or Paladru, and given the size of the lake on which it was located I didn't see how it could be Le Pin. A sign a couple of hundred metres away telling me that I was at the Chapelle des Trois Croix told me everything I needed to know. I had in fact been following a path that wasn't depicted even on the large-scale Jakobsweg map, and was now the better part of 3 km east of track. Worse, I couldn't see any way of mending my course other than heading north to Benevet; west almost to Valencogne; and starting all over again.

I try not to swear while on consecrated ground. I therefore deferred vocalising my sentiments until I'd made my way to the picnic table below the chapel, following which I expressed my views of the situation both fully and frankly, as my British friends say. Unfortunately, only the cows in the vicinity were in a position to admire my eloquence which, drawing upon the blasphemous repertoire of several European languages, was, in my admittedly partial opinion, impressive. Of all the days when I didn't want to add superfluous kilometres to my trip, this one ranked highly. But I definitely wasn't going back to the fork below Valencogne to embark on what might well turn out to be yet another pointless frolic in the woods. Instead I descended into Paladru, where at least there was an open boulangerie whose pain au chocolat (excellent) and machine-brewed coffee (hideous, and cold into the bargain) enabled me to get over my sulk. With that inside me, I did the only navigationally rational thing: road-walked the D 50 the two-and-a-half kilometres or so along the western shore of the Lac de Paladru (picturesque enough, but too much oncoming traffic) and then struck right at the first possible turn to regain the trail at Chassigneux.

The second half of the day's journey, probably about 25 km in length, at least didn't involve any additional directional hiccups. It includes a reasonably brisk climb; a tunnel underneath the A 48 motorway between Burcin and Oyeu; and then more hill-walking along an afforested trail that incorporates several dog-legs but is well waymarked. At the very top one pops out of the trees at a spot that affords a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside and attracts a lot of sightseers, who drive up a narrow access road in their cars. I had a pleasant chat with some of them while I took a brief water-break at the summit. Quite a few had baskets, which they use to gather the edible chestnuts and wild mushrooms that are to be found in large quantities at this time of year.

The chemin doesn't proceed along the road up which these people had driven, but bears off downhill and to the right. A sign nailed to a tree at another fork told me that I had at this point two choices to reach the small town of Le Grand-Lemps immediately below: a less-precipitous one of 3 km to the left, and a steeper but more direct alternative some 2.2 km long to the right. On another day I might have chosen the former; today I was in no mood for still more distance to be added. After five hundred metres or so I was beginning to second-guess myself as to the wisdom of that decision, as the descent was quickly becoming something that would give a mountain-goat pause. I don't carry walking poles, but this is a stretch along which they're highly necessary. At this time of year, though, a French forest provides abundant raw materials for a makeshift substitute. After two minutes of casting about in the undergrowth, I was equipped with a pair of straight-ish and sturdy chunks of tree-branch that enabled me to complete the section gingerly, but in perfect safety. Without them, I fancy that the seat of my trousers would have given mute evidence of my progress by the time I reached the bottom.

Emerging at the foot of the hill, I passed a small woman with an enormous dog that most certainly weighed more than she did, just setting off on their evening walk. She stopped me and enquired anxiously whether I'd seen any chasseurs on the way. It wasn't an odd question. Both on this trip and on other ones, I've encountered quite a few hunters in the French countryside. This is a part of the world that doesn't contain a great deal of game, of the furred or feathered variety, and for that reason the mecs with shotguns tend to be all the more enthusiastic at letting fly in the direction of anything that moves, or appears to. It was entirely understandable to me that my interlocutor should have been concerned about the French Elmer Fudds that she might run across. I was able to reassure here that I'd seen nobody more dangerous than marron- and champignon-hunters in the past hour, which relieved her mind greatly.

The rest of the day's trip was easy, without much to attract attention either way. It parallels to the north the main east-west thoroughfare, the D 37, running along the back lanes of a succession of small towns—Bévenais, La Frette, St-Hilaire-de-la-Côte—without going into any of them. The only noteworthy thing I passed was a sign advising residents that the only known pair of nesting storks in the Dauphiné had made its home in St-Hilaire (from all I saw of that place, property prices are affordable indeed), and ought not to be disturbed.

The reception of the Logis hotel at St-André closes up at 21:00. I made the deadline well after dark, but with more than half an hour to spare, enabling me to obtain a take-away kebab at the Turkish establishment just across the road from the Poste. As for the ankle, it seems to have attained a kind of uncomfortable equilibrium. It's sufficiently painful that I'm not ever unconscious of it, but not so much so as to drive me off the trail. Nor does it appear to become very much more troublesome with distance. I hope it'll get better, but I can manage as long as it doesn't get worse.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
This is such an entertaining account, so thank you for your gift of expression. The reality includes the pain of the ankle, but you have put that in its place. I laughed a lot reading this section. Don’t focus on the stuff that might be on your far right... one morning it will have been resolved while the other half was asleep...
 

Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
I'm so sorry that your unplanned detours added much distance to an already too-long daily plan. As you progress further west towards the Rhone, the multiplicity-of-path problem only gets worse. Perhaps you could save yourself some effort by consulting one of the map-routes on your mobile. (Doing so made a huge difference for me.)
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Thursday, October 15

Given the choice, a daily stage somewhere in the low-to-mid-thirties in kilometres is ideal for me. Most days on the Gebennensis, I'm having to walk a bit further than that. Today was one of them, with the only available bed being a little to the north of Sonnay—once again just about at the 40 km mark from my starting-point. By way of compensation, I've made a second booking for tomorrow night at Chavanay, some 23 km further on. Between the two, then, I'll at least be averaging my comfortable daily range.

Upon departure I stopped in at the church in St-André which was, conveniently, practically across the street from my somewhat grim hotel, a time capsule of the early 1970s and with bathrooms that didn't appear to have been cleaned since then. Apart from the usual prayer and candle-lighting, I'd hoped to be able to snag my daily tampon here before leaving town. Unfortunately, nobody was around to assist, and the self-service facilities generously provided at Valencogne were conspicuous by their absence. I could, I suppose, have asked the hotel to oblige me in this respect, but decided instead to start walking and try my luck along the way.

St-André is best known for being the birthplace of the composer Hector Berlioz, and the visitor is not long permitted to forget it. There's a museum, an annual music festival, street-names, public buildings, and innumerable banners testifying to the place's association with its famous son. He, for his part, got the heck out of town as quickly as he possibly could, and I duly followed his example. It's not at all difficult to do so, the route being clearly waymarked along this stretch. Not wanting to have breakfast (an uneconomical EUR 7 for bread, jam and coffee) at the hotel, I waited until reaching the commerce-free, but agreeable, village of Ornacieux, about 4 km to the west, before tackling some of the road food I'd brought with me, supplemented with some of the wild blackberries and damsons that grow at this time of year in enormous quantities along virtually every lane and back-road. Ornacieux features as its main civic amenity a two-thirds-size football stadium, and as nobody appeared to be using it, I appropriated one of the spectators' benches and made myself as comfortable for my frugal meal as the chilly and cloudy weather conditions permitted.

I wasn't the only one to be shivering in the cold. Another 4 km or so further on, the trail skirts a fishing lake—or, in truth, a glorified pond—at the redundantly named Étang du Marais de Lancin. Although it's a weekday, a surprising number of anglers of both sexes were sitting on folding chairs while engaged in bank-fishing, sometimes using two or three rods. Carp, I was told, are the main quarry, and catch-and-release is the usual practice (though one is allowed to kill a single pike per day, this being regarded as a delicacy). Nobody seemed to be having much luck, but the elaborate picnic spreads that most of those present had brought with them, supplemented with numerous bottles of interesting liquids, were occupying more of their attention than anything happening on the water. It appeared to be a thoroughly convivial gathering-place, with the possibility of catching a fish seemingly more the pretext than the purpose.

After passing through managed woodland beyond the Étang, the trail heads uphill to the village of Pommier-de-Beaurepaire. The climb is probably the steepest of the entire Gebennensis to this point, though mercifully it doesn't last too long. There's not much in Pommier with the exception of another nice church, and a seating area outside the mairie and primary school. I took a rest there and wished I'd brought more water with me. Once reaching this point, though, one has broken the back of the day's journey. From here it's a long and gentle descent, albeit along hard and rocky paths which are a little difficult on the feet, to the curious little town of Revel-Tourdan. This place's origins go back to Roman times but it's now maintained in such a way as to preserve as much of its mediaeval character as possible, including leaving many of the streets unpaved. I imagine that this is something that will strongly appeal to some people, whereas others mightn't find it nearly so engrossing. As for myself, I must confess that the somewhat sanitised environment in which I found myself, evocative neither of past ages nor the present one, didn't engage me too deeply, despite the profusion of informative placards the municipal authorities have attached to nearly every building in the old town describing what previous inhabitants did there. I was pleased to discover that the local church does include a self-service rubber stamp for the benefit of pilgrims, and I gladly made use of it, but beyond that I didn't spend too much time in these parts.

The relatively easy terrain, following a long descent out of Revel, continues, once again mainly taking the wayfarer along paved roads. The trail runs beneath the very busy TGV railway line to Lyon, and passes through eye-pleasing but unspectacular agricultural land where farmers were busily preparing the fields for their winter crop. Here the route tends to shadow the D 37 road on the northern side, as it did for the final 20 km of yesterday's stage. As I came closer to Sonnay, by which time it was pitch dark, it was necessary for me to turn a couple of kilometres south off the chemin to reach my gîte for the night. The one at which I'm staying is almost an epitome of these establishments, consisting of a stone outbuilding attached to a farmhouse that has been converted into albergue-style accommodation for up to six people. I'm the only guest right now, and probably am paying little less, if at all, than I would do if I were in fact accompanied by five other people. That, though, is the way the cookie crumbles on the Gebennensis. It's not a cheap route, and the sooner the pilgrim accommodates him- or herself to that reality, the better for all concerned.
 
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Camino(s) past & future
Frances(2006) Portugues(2013)
San Salvador (2017) Ingles (2019)
Thursday, October 15

Given the choice, a daily stage somewhere in the low-to-mid thirties in kilometres is ideal for me. Most days on the Gebennensis, I'm having to walk a bit further than that. Today was one of them, with the only available bed being a little to the north of Sonnay—once again just about at the 40 km mark from my starting-point. By way of compensation, I've made a second booking for tomorrow night at Chavanay, some 23 km further on. Between the two, then, I'll at least be averaging my comfortable daily range.

Upon departure I stopped in at the church in St-André which was, conveniently, practically across the street from my somewhat grim hotel, a time capsule of the early 1970s and with bathrooms that didn't appear to have been cleaned since then. Apart from the usual prayer and candle-lighting, I'd hoped to be able to snag my daily tampon here before leaving town. Unfortunately, nobody was around to assist, and the self-service facilities generously provided at Valencogne were conspicuous by their absence. I could, I suppose, have asked the hotel to oblige me in this respect, but decided instead to start walking and try my luck along the way.

St-André is best known for being the birthplace of the composer Hector Berlioz, and the visitor is not long permitted to forget it. There's a museum, an annual music festival, street-names, public buildings, and innumerable banners testifying to the place's association with its famous son. He, for his part, got the heck out of town as quickly as he possibly could, and I followed his example. It's not at all difficult to do so, the route being clearly waymarked along this stretch. Not wanting to have breakfast (an uneconomical EUR 7 for bread, jam and coffee) at the hotel, I waited until reaching the commerce-free, but agreeable, village of Ornacieux, about 4 km to the west, before tackling some of the road food I'd brought with me, supplemented with some of the wild blackberries and damsons that grow at this time of year in enormous quantities along virtually every lane and back-road. Ornacieux features as its main civic amenity a two-thirds-size football stadium, and as nobody appeared to be using it, I appropriated one of the spectators' benches and made myself as comfortable for my frugal meal as the chilly and cloudy weather conditions permitted.

I wasn't the only one to be shivering in the cold. Another 4 km or so further on, the trail skirts a fishing lake—or, in truth, a glorified pond—at the redundantly named Étang du Marais de Lancin. Although it's a weekday, a surprising number of anglers of both sexes were engaged in bank-fishing, sometimes using two or three rods. Carp, I was told, are the main quarry, and catch-and-release is the usual practice (though one is allowed to kill a single pike per day, this being regarded as a delicacy). Nobody seemed to be having much luck, but the elaborate picnic spreads that most of those present had brought with them, supplemented with numerous bottles of interesting liquids, were occupying more of their attention than anything happening on the water. It appeared to be a thoroughly convivial gathering, with the possibility of catching a fish seemingly more the pretext than the purpose.

After passing through managed woodland beyond the Étang, the trail heads uphill to the village of Pommier-de-Beaurepaire. The climb is probably the steepest of the entire Gebennensis to this point, though mercifully it doesn't last too long. There's not much in Pommier beyond another nice church, and a seating area outside the mairie and primary school. I took a rest there and wished I'd brought more water with me. Once reaching this point, though, one has broken the back of the day's journey. From here it's a long and gentle descent, albeit along hard and rocky paths which are a little difficult on the feet, to the curious little town of Revel-Tourdan. This place's origins go back to Roman times but is now maintained in such a way as to preserve as much of its mediaeval character as possible, including leaving many of the streets unpaved. I imagine that this is something that will strongly appeal to some people, whereas others mightn't find it nearly so engaging. As for myaelf, I must confess that the somewhat sanitised environment in which I found myself didn't engage me too deeply, despite the profusion of informative placards the municipal authorities have attached to nearly every building in the old town. I was pleased to discover that the local church does include a self-service rubber stamp for the benefit of pilgrims, and I gladly made use of it, but beyond that I didn't spend too much time there.

The relatively easy terrain, following a long descent out of Revel, continues, once again mainly taking the wayfarer along paved roads. The trail runs beneath the very busy TGV railway line to Lyon, and passes through eye-pleasing but unspectacular agricultural land where farmers were busily preparing the fields for their winter crop. Once again, the route tends to shadow the D 37 road on the northern side, as it did for the final 20 km of yesterday's stage. As I came closer to Sonnay, by which time it was pitch dark, it was necessary for me to turn a couple of kilometres south off the chemin to reach my gîte for the night. The one at which I'm staying is almost an epitome of these establishments, consisting of a stone outbuilding attached to a farmhouse that has been converted into albergue-style accommodation for up to six people. I'm the only guest right now, and probably am paying little less, if at all, than I would do if I were in fact accompanied by five other people. That, though, is the way the cookie crumbles on the Gebennensis. It's not a cheap route, and the sooner the pilgrim accommodates him- or herself to that reality, the better for all concerned.
I was directed to your reports from the Invierno, which I had read, but with the innocence of age, had totally forgotten. I see the following entry: I heartily wished for something like the veils that Victorian widows in mourning wore, extending from the brim of their hats to their throats, and, however ludicrous such a thing may appear on me, it's likely that the next time I undertake a warm-weather pilgrimage something of the kind will be stowed in.
Do have a look at some of the sites for fighting midges in Scotland - there wyou will find the best inventions for the purpose you seek!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Friday, October 16

I may have had to take out a second mortgage to afford last night's accommodation, but my host and hostess certainly extended themselves with the breakfast they provided me this morning. Had I in fact been a party of six, it would have amply met our collective needs. For me alone, especially tending toward the physically svelte as I do, it was a truly ludicrous quantity of food. But I was grateful to them for the effort they took in setting such a spread before me, and for downing tools and keeping me company with pleasant conversation while I tried to do justice to it.

After bidding them and their retinue of affectionate pets goodbye, I headed northeast to regain the trail which, after a couple of uphill kilometres along back roads whose signs warned motorists of hens and chickens crossing the road (yes, I know, I thought of all the jokes too) I succeeded in doing close to the old telegraph station above Sonnay. This has been converted into a picnic area with running water and bathroom facilities, so I took the opportunity to top off my water-bottle before turning left into the woodlands surrounding the Source de St Lazare, a sacred site with which the body of Lazarus of Bethany, raised from the dead by Jesus (Jn 11:38-44), is supposedly associated. A voluntary group, the Amis de la Saint-Lazare, in the adjacant town of Saint-Romain de Surieu are in the process of planting an orchard of fruit trees in a field above the spring so that pilgrims travelling to SdC will be able to pluck an apple or pear to sustain them during their travels. It's a most considerate gesture on their part, and when the trees reach maturity in a few years' time will, I'm sure, be much appreciated. But I was still more moved to find, beside the shrine to the saint at the bottom of the path, a child's stuffed toy—a small rabbit in a polka-dot dress—tucked away in the left-hand corner. Apparently some little girl visiting the site thought that St Lazare might be lonely all by himself, and appreciate company.

Today's short stage descends through the woods to skirt the northern side of the town of Assieu. A group of workers were tearing up the ground in front of the mairie with pneumatic drills when I arrived—I've noticed that in France at any rate, coronavirus appears to have had no deleterious effect upon the construction industry—so I quickly passed by and had a cup of coffee at the town's only enterprise that was open for business, the Crap bar on the Rue St-Jacques de Compostelle (those who have patronised it will know why I describe it thus). From this point on, the étape continues entirely along the shoulder of asphalt roads that, despite their narrowness, carry a considerable volume of vehicular traffic. It crosses the A7 motorway by a narrow hump-backed bridge on which the pedestrian must exercise a good deal of caution; skirts the southern edge of the town of Auberives-sur-Varèze, into which I made a brief side-trip in search of road food only to find it virtually as dead as, if somewhat larger than, Assieu; and leads directly into the middle of Clonas, a bigger conurbation again but once more lacking in any open amenities other than the combination bar/tabac/presse on the main street. Man does not live by coffee alone, but inasmuch as little else seemed on offer, I replenished my blood-caffeine content to the maximum level authorised by law.

The six-kilometre approach from Clonas to the Rhône is reputedly the most dangerous along the entire Gebennensis. At least in daylight it didn't strike me as especially fearsome, provided that due care is taken. Undoubtedly the road in question, the D37B, gets busy during rush hour, but the shoulder is reasonably wide and as long as one walks facing the traffic no great danger need be apprehended. The marked route, which I duly followed, takes pilgrims along a couple of semi-circular loops down the road that used to lead to the since-demolished old bridge a little upstream so as to minimise the amount of time spent mixing it with motor vehicles. But as I say, the experienced road-walker who prefers to proceed directly can probably do so at no great hazard to life and limb. In the hours of darkness, however, that would be a different matter entirely.

Crossing the river, it's necessary to hold on to one's hat in the most literal of senses. Even on a relatively quiet day like today the wind howls up the Rhône from the south, and anything on which a tight grip is not maintained will next be retrievable from the pont d'Avignon, if it stays afloat that long. Reaching the west bank of the Rhône is a significant achievement for the Gebennensis pilgrim, and worthy of being immortalised by selfies. It's a pity that the view downstream is spoiled by the enormous Saint-Maurice-l'Exil nuclear power plant, but with careful positioning the photographer can obliterate this, or most of it, with his or her head.

Chavanay, my destination for the night, is one of the prettiest little places I've seen on this trip, more Italianate than French in appearance. These days, the only open restaurant in the evening-time is a pizza place that closes at eight o'clock. I ought to obtain something therefrom, but despite the fact that today was a short stage, sleep is more important right now. Anyway, that breakfast I had ought to be enough to keep a horse, never mind a human, adequately calorified for twenty-four hours. I'm sure I'll survive until tomorrow morning.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Saturday, October 17

I'm finally catching up with the evolving coronavirus requirements in these parts. The President didn't drop the big one on Wednesday night as some people feared he would do—another nationwide lockdown, accompanied by the closing of borders. Instead, the couvre-feu régime is being extended, with additional cities like Saint-Étienne (very close to here: the biggest French conurbation about which foreigners know nothing) as well as Grenoble and Lyon being required to put up the shutters at nine in the evening. From then until six the following morning, it will be illegal to be out of doors for any reason other than travelling to or from work; looking after a dependent relative; or walking a dog, cat, or ferret within a 1-km radius of one's home. Anyone so doing will have to carry a signed attestation indicating which of those three exemptions they're claiming, valid only for that single night.

It doesn't look as though pilgrims, or their secular equivalents, are yet affected. The government seems to be concentrating on the urban hot-spots, rather than the sparsely populated countryside. And indeed it doesn't get much more sparsely populated than where I am right now. This section of the chemin is theoretically in the Département de la Loire, that river's source being in the locality, but that's an estate-agent's classification. For all intents and purposes this is the Ardèche (and indeed was, legally as well as geographically, before 1790), the most heavily afforested part of metropolitan France and the one with the lowest population density.

That fact is not unrelated to the length of today's stage. On the positive side of the equation, it's about 33 km in total, right in the middle of my personal sweet spot. On the negative, six of those are getting me no nearer to my destination, being the length of the diversions to the north of Bourg-Argental that it's necessary for me to make for a night's lodging. Of course, those 6 km will have to be re-walked tomorrow morning before I even get to the starting-gate. According to the Jakobsweg people, it's 355 km from Geneva to Le Puy by the marked route. Between accommodation-related excursions and getting lost from time to time, my tally is going to be more like 400 km, or even a little more. Still, I'm not complaining. Lord alone knows how much pilgrims in the old days were obliged to add to their journeys by the need to dodge bandits, wolves, and snowed-up passes or flooded valleys—as well as never being sure, other than by celestial navigation, that they were heading in the right direction. A couple of additional Sunday's walks, in safety and relative comfort, doesn't bear mentioning by comparison.

The old-timers knew to make all necessary preparations before heading out on the trail, and I aimed to emulate them. The first order of business was to obtain the daily stamp, as there was unlikely to be anywhere else today where I could pick one up. The obvious place to begin looking was the church of Ste Agathe in the centre of town. Though open, it was deserted. A sign directed individuals in quest of services to apply to the parochial house at 25, Chemin des Vignes: by coincidence, a stone's throw from where I had spent the night. Nobody was home there either, so I fell back on one of the pilgrim's old reliables, the Poste in the main street. A cheerful young man, seemingly well accustomed to such requests, quickly and efficiently saw me right, and one of my logistical tasks for the day was completed.

The other was food. One's choice in Chavanay is limited to the Panier Sympa, a corner grocery that, happily, lives up to its name, even if the prices are sometimes eyebrow-raising. After picking up a loaf at the bakery a couple of doors away, it was time to be on my way. The route out of Chavanay begins steeply, and stays that way for much of the day. It follows the paved road up the ridge on the western side of town; takes a sharp left along a muddy little track to the Chapelle de Calvaire; and finally emerges at the small and windswept hamlet of La Ribaudy, which seems to consist in equal parts of farmers' cottages and artists' studios. The view from up here back over the Rhône, though, is terrific, and I made poor time as a result of turning around to admire the countyside I had just traversed. After a little upping-and-downing along gravelled paths, the trail then levels out and passes through cultivated land, including an interesting stretch featuring what I can only describe as Gala apples trained in such a way as to grow on vines, until reaching Bessey. There's an impressive church here, containing many SdC artifacts and pilgrim displays, but no tampon of any kind, a curious omission in light of how Compostelle-conscious they seem to be. As I passed through the village, I was in time to see a baguette vending-machine being loaded up, the first time I had encountered anything of the kind. The contents looked good, though, and the machine even accepts credit cards. Had I not already been adequately supplied in this respect, I'd have given it a whirl.

After Bassey one is back again on paved surfaces for the most part, passing a somewhat underwhelming country house miscalled the Château de Buisson and snaking between the towns of Véranne to the right and Maclas to the left. A short detour in either direction will lead to amenities, for those who need them. According to Google Maps, Maclas appears to have more of these, but as I was well stocked for the day, I maintained my course along a narrow country road through Mérigneux and back into the woods west of Saint-Appolinard. The long uphill stretch that began, with a couple of intermissions, at Chavanay finally tops out here, and one is rewarded by a gentle descent into Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette. To my surprise, this turned out to be a much more substantial settlement than I had expected, with a thousand or so inhabitants and quite a few tourist-oriented businesses, most of which, predictably, were closed.

The day wearing on a little, I didn't spend much time here, but pushed on south-westward toward Bourg-Argental. After passing abeam Les Baumes it was time to strike off in the direction of my night-stop. This proved more complicated than I had hoped. Effectively I needed to head due west, the difficulty being that every road and all but one of the forest trails in this part of the world runs north and south. I saw what I believed to be one end of that single east-west forest trail, but didn't dare take it because it was unmarked and, with only about an hour's daylight left, I would have been in dire straits if it turned out to be the wrong one. As it happened it wasn't, as I was able to confirm when, after walking north almost to Graix and then south-south-west again past La Villette, I was able to identify the other end. If I'd followed it, I'd have saved about 4 km on the day's journey. But I still think that not taking that gamble was the correct choice. One can't do much in unmarked dense forests after dark except wait until morning.

This is my ninth day on the trail, of a possible twelve (or, to be pedantic about it, eleven-and-a-half). If the Jakobsweg maps are correct, I've 91 trail-km, or 97 if one counts tomorrow's additional six, remaining between here and Le Puy. I'd more or less given up reaching that objective when my ankle (still much as it was: neither better nor worse) turned bad. But it's not a complete impossibility now. If I were able to crank out another couple of 40-km stages tomorrow and Monday, the original schedule might yet be achievable.
 

NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
Is there a reason why you are not getting your stamps at your nightly accommodations?
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
There is. With the exception of the campsite at Neydens, and the hotel at St.-André, none of them has one.
 

Bala

Veteran member
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances: SJPdP-Burgos, (2015); Burgos-Sarria (2018); Sarria-Santiago (2018).
Frances (2020)
Saturday, October 17

I'm finally catching up with the evolving coronavirus requirements in these parts. The President didn't drop the big one on Wednesday night as some people feared he would do—another nationwide lockdown, accompanied by the closing of borders. Instead, the couvre-feu régime is being extended, with additional cities like Saint-Étienne (very close to here: the biggest French conurbation about which foreigners know nothing) as well as Grenoble and Lyon being required to put up the shutters at nine in the evening. From then until six the following morning, it will be illegal to be out of doors for any reason other than travelling to or from work; looking after a dependent relative; or walking a dog, cat, or ferret within a 1-km radius of one's home. Anyone so doing will have to carry a signed attestation indicating which of those three exemptions they're claiming, valid only for that single night.

It doesn't look as though pilgrims, or their secular equivalents, are yet affected. The government seems to be concentrating on the urban hot-spots, rather than the sparsely populated countryside. And indeed it doesn't get much more sparsely populated than where I am right now. This section of the chemin is theoretically in the Département de la Loire, that river's source being in the locality, but that's an estate-agent's classification. For all intents and purposes this is the Ardèche (and indeed was, legally as well as geographically, before 1790), the most heavily afforested part of metropolitan France and the one with the lowest population density.

That fact is not unrelated to the length of today's stage. On the positive side of the equation, it's about 33 km in total, right in the middle of my personal sweet spot. On the negative, six of those are getting me no nearer to my destination, being the length of the diversions to the north of Bourg-Argental that it's necessary for me to make for a night's lodging. Of course, those 6 km will have to be re-walked tomorrow morning before I even get to the starting-gate. According to the Jakobsweg people, it's 355 km from Geneva to Le Puy by the marked route. Between accommodation-related excursions and getting lost from time to time, my tally is going to be more like 400 km, or even a little more. Still, I'm not complaining. Lord alone knows how much pilgrims in the old days were obliged to add to their journeys by the need to dodge bandits, wolves, and snowed-up passes or flooded valleys—as well as never being sure, other than by celestial navigation, that they were heading in the right direction. A couple of additional Sunday's walks, in safety and relative comfort, doesn't bear mentioning by comparison.

The old-timers knew to make all necessary preparations before heading out on the trail, and I aimed to emulate them. The first order of business was to obtain the daily stamp, as there was unlikely to be anywhere else today where I could pick one up. The obvious place to begin looking was the church of Ste Agathe in the centre of town. Though open, it was deserted. A sign directed individuals in quest of services to apply to the parochial house at 25, Chemin des Vignes: by coincidence, a stone's throw from where I had spent the night. Nobody was home there either, so I fell back on one of the pilgrim's old reliables, the Poste in the main street. A cheerful young man, seemingly well accustomed to such requests, quickly and efficiently saw me right, and one of my logistical tasks for the day was completed.

The other was food. One's choice in Chavanay is limited to the Panier Sympa, a corner grocery that, happily, lives up to its name, even if the prices are sometimes eyebrow-raising. After picking up a loaf at the bakery a couple of doors away, it was time to be on my way. The route out of Chavanay begins steeply, and stays that way for much of the day. It follows the paved road up the ridge on the western side of town; takes a sharp left along a muddy little track to the Chapelle de Calvaire; and finally emerges at the small and windswept hamlet of La Ribaudy, which seems to consist in equal parts of farmers' cottages and artists' studios. The view from up here back over the Rhône, though, is terrific, and I made poor time as a result of turning around to admire the countyside I had just traversed. After a little upping-and-downing along gravelled paths, the trail then levels out and passes through cultivated land, including an interesting stretch featuring what I can only describe as Gala apples trained in such a way as to grow on vines, until reaching Bessey. There's an impressive church here, containing many SdC artifacts and pilgrim displays, but no tampon of any kind, a curious omission in light of how Compostelle-conscious they seem to be. As I passed through the village, I was in time to see a baguette vending-machine being loaded up, the first time I had encountered anything of the kind. The contents looked good, though, and the machine even accepts credit cards. Had I not already been adequately supplied in this respect, I'd have given it a whirl.

After Bassey one is back again on paved surfaces for the most part, passing a somewhat underwhelming country house miscalled the Château de Buisson and snaking between the towns of Véranne to the right and Maclas to the left. A short detour in either direction will lead to amenities, for those who need them. According to Google Maps, Maclas appears to have more of these, but as I was well stocked for the day, I maintained my course along a narrow country road through Mérigneux and back into the woods west of Saint-Appolinard. The long uphill stretch that began, with a couple of intermissions, at Chavanay finally tops out here, and one is rewarded by a gentle descent into Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette. To my surprise, this turned out to be a much more substantial settlement than I had expected, with a thousand or so inhabitants and quite a few tourist-oriented businesses, most of which, predictably, were closed.

The day wearing on a little, I didn't spend much time here, but pushed on south-westward toward Bourg-Argental. After passing abeam Les Baumes it was time to strike off in the direction of my night-stop. This proved more complicated than I had hoped. Effectively I needed to head due west, the difficulty being that every road and all but one of the forest trails in this part of the world runs north and south. I saw what I believed to be one end of that single east-west forest trail, but didn't dare take it because it was unmarked and, with only about an hour's daylight left, I would have been in dire straits if it turned out to be the wrong one. As it happened it wasn't, as I was able to confirm when, after walking north almost to Graix and then south-south-west again past La Villette, I was able to identify the other end. If I'd followed it, I'd have saved about 4 km on the day's journey. But I still think that not taking that gamble was the correct choice. One can't do much in unmarked dense forests after dark except wait until morning.

This is my ninth day on the trail, of a possible twelve (or, to be pedantic about it, eleven-and-a-half). If the Jakobsweg maps are correct, I've 91 trail-km, or 97 if one counts tomorrow's additional six, remaining between here and Le Puy. I'd more or less given up reaching that objective when my ankle (still much as it was: neither better nor worse) turned bad. But it's not a complete impossibility now. If I were able to crank out another couple of 40-km stages tomorrow and Monday, the original schedule might yet be achievable.
Another beautifully-written, interesting post. I'm cheering you on that you get to LePuy. 👣👣
 

Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
There is. With the exception of the campsite at Neydens, and the hotel at St.-André, none of them has one.
I often found that places would have what I would call a return-address-stamp rather than a pilgrim-specific stamp. Not pretty, but it ticked the box.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Sunday, October 18

I've been lucky with the weather on this trip. The temperatures have been typical for the middle of October—close to freezing in the early mornings; around the low teens in centigrade or the mid-fifties in Fahrenheit by mid-afternoon if the sky is covered; warmer if it isn't. But it's been a good deal drier than I'd expect at this time of year. There have been only two days when I've had to break out the rain-gear, and both of those were manageable.

Today was one of the better days: comfortable but not overly hot; plenty of sunshine; not much wind. I didn't start too early, either, because Sunday Mass in Bourg-Argental isn't until 10:30, and there was no point in getting there much in advance of that, except to pick up road food for the day before the shops close. At least it was a fairly easy walk into town, my path being obstructed only by truly extraordinary amounts of horse chestnuts strewn in my way. Ten-year-old me would have had a field day.

Bourg, with nearly 3,000 people, is an impressively-sized town according to the standards of this route, though its only hotel is shuttered and has a "For Sale" sign on it. But there are three well-attended café-bars in the centre of town; a boulangerie that does a first-rate baguette traditionelle; and an imposing church whose façade, an information-board informed me, features a statue of St James wearing a coquille around his neck. Despite staring at it for five minutes, I couldn't identify the thing, so I had to take the board's word for it.

I'd hoped to buttonhole the curé after Mass to obtain the daily tampon. He departed the church before I could do so, but I was able to catch up to him at the parochial house just a few dozen metres up the same street (10, rue du docteur Moulin, for those who may require the same service). He's an interesting character. He told me that in the year 2000 he and a group of other clerics left that same parochial house; turned abruptly on their heel to the right; and kept on walking from there to SdC, plugging into the Francés once they reached the Pyrenees. It took them about two months and was, he said, the hardest thing he'd done in his life. Hardly any pilgrims this year have passed through Bourg, and he hasn't been asked for a stamp for several months. He expressed pleasure that I was keeping the pilgrim-flag flying. While I'm on that general theme, I should say that that's been the uniform reaction I've encountered throughout this trip. Not everybody knows a lot about the chemin de St Jacques, though they've all heard of it. A couple of the proprietors of the chambres d'hôte have told me that I'm the first pilgrim they've ever accommodated. But uniformly, the service-providers and the ordinary people I've met along the way have been welcoming and encouraging: stopping me for a chat; offering me handfuls of their freshly-gathered walnuts; asking if I'd like them to drive me to the next town; and wishing me bon chemin or bon courage. I don't know if that's because they're taking my presence as a sign of normality; an indication that the economy will one day pick back up; or something else entirely.

Passing out of Bourg, I could hear the typical weekend sounds of French children playing in their front gardens—"Arrête-toi. Arrête-toi! Arrête!"—which faded into the background as I headed out again into the countryside. A placard, decorated with a small school of happy cartoon fish doing their thing, assured me that the Argental river was en bon étât, something I was glad to see. Indeed, a lot of the rivers and streams in this region look like a paradise for brown trout, and would probably be most enjoyable to revisit with a fly-rod in late spring or early summer.

My destination for today was Montfaucon-en-Velay, around 41 km from my starting-point. Given my late start, it was a certainty that the last leg would have to be done in darkness. The first few kilometres out of Bourg parallel the old railway line and thus present few challenges to the wayfarer. Before long, though, it started heading uphill into the woods. What follows is a long, steady slog, with not a ton to see other than trees and occasional glimpses below of the village of Saint-Sauveur-en-Rue, to which the trail gets close without actually entering. This continues for about fifteen kilometres, topping out at what I believe to be the highest point of the Gebennensis, at 1,216m or just about 4,000.' One then starts a sharp descent through Les Sétoux (dead as a doornail, as one would imagine, on a Sunday afternoon), past the church which has a plaque to commemorate a U.S. Army Air Corps bomber crewman who apparently was killed near here in August 1944, and bottoming out at the road (D 18) that runs across the Claravine river. I was sorry to have to give back so much of my hard-won elevation, but in fact the going from this point onward isn't so bad. It constantly pops up on the paved surface for short periods; goes back onto footpaths to cut off some of the hairpin bends; and reappears on the asphalt again. The waymarking is fairly good, though nearly all of it consists of red-and-white GR 65 blazes rather than anything particular to the Gebennensis. One has, however, definitively said goodbye to the level bits. From the Claravine onwards it's constant climing and descending, although neither lasts for very long.

I was pushing hard to get as close to Montfaucon as possible before it became too dark to see, and didn't stop at all except to turn my baguette into a sandwich at Sétoux. Given the verticality of the terrain, I made pretty good time. But I was already relying on my torch when I hit the paved surface for what would be the last time about a kilometre southwest of Le Fouvet, or 5 km east of Montfaucon as the crow flies. Faithful to my rule never to be on a dubiously-marked forest path after nightfall if I can possibly avoid it, I abandoned the marked trail at this point and did a northwestern dog-leg up the D 235 until it reached the main St-Sauveur-to-Montfaucon road, the D 501. This lengthened my journey by a kilometre or two, but greatly enhanced my peace of mind. Had I stayed on the trail and not taken a wrong turn, I would have joined the D 501 anyway a little closer to town: but this way was idiot-proof.

It had the further advantage that it ran straight as an arrow to my hotel for the night, the Platanes. I wasn't quite sure how to get there, so I dropped in at the first open place I saw, the Hôtel l'Avenue, to ask for directions, only to be told by a concierge with a quizzical expression that the Platanes was literally next door. Indeed it was, and with a pink-and-blue neon sign outside that was probably visible from Bourg. But I was tired by now and more than a little muddy from the ankles down, so she may have been glad rather than otherwise that I was patronising a rival establishment.

The restaurant downstairs is more full than I would have thought, and nice aromas are wafting up to my room on the first floor. Once again, sleep is a higher priority for me. My prospects for Puy by Tuesday, though, are looking better and better.
 
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Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
It had the further advantage that it ran straight as an arrow to my hotel for the night, the Platanes....
The restaurant downstairs is more full than I would have thought, and nice aromas are wafting up to my room on the first floor. Once again, sleep is a higher priority for me.
I too stayed at Platanes -- a lovely establishment that has been in the same family for several generations. Stayed two nights, actually, because logistics. Madame was most friendly and accommodating, and I hope you had a chance to chat with her.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I'm afraid not, K. A gentleman in his fifties checked me in, very quickly indeed—he was also presiding over the front of house at the restaurant, and needed to be in two places at once—and told me just to drop the key off at the front desk as I was leaving the following morning, which I did. So I didn't really get a chance to speak to anyone there.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Monday, October 19

If I'm to get to Le Puy tomorrow—and I won't be particularly bothered if I don't—my window of opportunity is fairly narrow. Because of coronavirus the SNCF, the French railway company, has cut the number of services across the network back to virtual wartime levels. From nine in the morning, only four trains a day now connect Puy with St-Étienne, the closest place from which connections to the main-line routes can be made. The latest of these services at which I can aim is the 12:36, which I'd prefer to avoid as it will involve a very long time cooling my heels on the platforms of St-Étienne before getting a TGV onward from there. A much better option would be the 10:41, the principal disadvantage of which is the limited number of hours it affords tomorrow to finish the job.

One thing does work in my favour. The very last leg of the Gebennensis, an 18-km scamper from St.-Julien-Chapteuil to Puy, extends almost entirely along paved surfaces. There's very little chance of getting lost, and therefore no reason that the entire étape can't be done before sunrise. My plan this morning, then, was to put in one last longish stage today; get up at an ungodly hour tomorrow; and polish off the remaining chunk in the pre-dawn period, aiming to reach the city centre at 08:30 or thereabouts. That'll give me a chance to obtain my final tampon at the Cathedral; grab the quickest of breakfasts; and still be in good time to be speeding back to the bosom of my family before eleven.

The only complication, a familiar one for the Gebennensis at this time of year, is that from an accommodation point of view St-Julien is closed. The nearest I can get to it is a cheap-but-not-particularly-cheerful hotel about five kilometres to the north. So the modified plan now consists of following the trail to the hamlet of Queyrières, about 30 km from Montfaucon; breaking off to my night-stop due west of there; and then tomorrow morning taking the back roads southwards into St-Julien and picking things up again at that point. If Pythagoras is right, this will add about 7 km to the daily ration, but it's still below the 40-km threshold which for me separates "manageable" from "substantial."

The grey and chilly Chapelle Notre-Dame in Montfaucon is the home of a set of sixteenth-century Flemish paintings depicting Jesus' life, but no tampon. After appreciating the former and lighting a candle, I doubled back to the adjacent tourist office, whose generous staff not only stamped my credencial but presented me with a small nylon pilgrim's tote bag, for which I was exceedingly grateful. The same bureau also has a good internet connection for visitors, enabling me to download as many large-scale maps as I desired—something with which the Platanes' anaemic network last night was completely incapable of coping. After purchasing my daily nutritional requirements at the Petit Casino supermarket and converting them into portable form beneath the covered terrace of the appropriately named Rue des Pénitents across the road, I embarked on what I hoped would be the last full day of this trip.

Perhaps I'm getting a little spoiled, but in terms of scenery I'd say that the best of the Gebennensis is to be found on the east bank of the Rhône. The route out of Montfaucon follows the main road for a couple of kilometres, intersecting a first-rate bicycle path which I eyed with some envy, but then takes a sharp southward turn through a series of open fields and micro-villages, paralleling the Lignon river just a little to the west. The only variation of note consists of the substantial village of Tence, through which the chemin takes a somewhat unnecessary detour presumably for the purpose of exposing the passer-by to its numerous commercial attractions. After that, having crossed over to the west bank of the Lignon, it's very much the same as previously, this time heading more or less south-west, along a mixture of country roads and paths that lead uphill toward Saint-Jeures. The countryside does open up quite impressively along the higher elevations, giving one a good vista especially back to the east and, if it's a clear day—as it was today—enabling the pilgrim to appreciate just how much territory he or she has traversed. The main features to catch the eye along this stage are the small but steep hills that dot the landscape. These are, I understand, volcanic in origin—the word "Puy" itself is Old French for "volcanic hill"—but they look for all the world like tree-covered versions of the slag-heaps one sees in the mining districts of the Somme valley between Vimy and Péronne.

That's not to knock the landscape here. It's quite nice agricultural country, with lots of dry stone walls made of the granite from which the majority of the old buildings in both Tence and Saint-Jeures are constructed. The latter village is, for my money, the more picturesque of the two. and I would have been glad to have stopped for a cold drink if I'd been able to find anywhere to do so. Failing in that endeavour, and kicking myself for my foolishness in not having taken advantage of my opportunities in Tence, I continued my now slightly sweaty progress, the afternoon getting warm enough to make me glad I was still in possession of my sun-hat, toward Queyrières. The ascent was gradual but continuous. I learned that I was mistaken the other day in supposing that the highest point along the Gebennensis was west of St-Sauveur. In point of fact it's the ridge between Araules and Queyrières that claims that particular crown, by the not insubstantial margin of 50 metres or so, though the peaks on either side rise still higher.

There's a gradual and welcome descent into Queyrières, by far the most visually appealing of the villages along today's route. The light, though, was beginning to fail when I got there, and I had to put on something of a spurt to get to my night-stop via Le Fournial and Les Garnasses in the relatively brief period during which check-in at the hotel is possible. Encouragingly, my ankle held up quite well throughout these exertions: if it's not all the way back to its original condition, it does appear to be on the mend. I don't have many available hours of sleep left for this evening, but provided I can contrive not to get myself lost in the dark tomorrow, I'm positioned very nicely to polish this initial section of the chemin off.
 
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NorthernLight

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy to Santiago via the Frances 2012-2013. EPW2015
Aragonese & Frances 2016
Burgos to Muxia 2017
Always bittersweet to be reachIng a camino end-point.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Tuesday, October 20

A lot of French small towns and villages, following the passage of a new law last year, have begun extinguishing their street lights between the hours of 23:00 and 06:00 the following morning. It's basically a money-saving measure: for most municipalities the monthly electricity bill is their second-largest expense, after wages. Quite a few of the places through which I've passed on this trip have taken advantage of the new rules. I was hoping that those on this morning's stage wouldn't be among them, as I was finding the navigation quite difficult enough already.

It was mostly clear when I started at 04:15, but there'd been some overnight rain. The manager of the hotel at which I stayed warned me to take extreme care on the narrow spiral staircase I'd need to descend if I were leaving at that hour, and with the addition of an overlay of water I was very glad he did. Once safely on the road, it was a matter of finding the left-hand turn that would carry me down to the D 28 and thence southward into St-Julien-Chapteuil. This turned out to be easy enough. Similarly, getting on to the D 28 is more-or-less idiot-proof, being a T-junction at which it's only necessary to turn right. That said, the few kilometres into St-Julien are good to walk by this route in the wee small hours, and not, I fancy, at any other time. It's narrow; doesn't have a shoulder; and on several stretches has those low metal protective barriers on the bends that are excellent for squashing any hapless pedestrians that may be trying to make their way. Although there was little traffic at that hour of the morning, those cars that were on the road were taking the corners at Monza-like speeds. A couple of times I judged it prudent to wait before one of these bends; make sure that nobody was coming; and then sprint as rapidly as one can do while carrying a ten-kilogram backpack to a place of relative safety.

Fortunately this stretch didn't last too long. I was glad to begin the gentle descent into St-Julien and its well-maintained trottoirs, but not quite as overjoyed to find a sign telling me that the extinction d'éclairage public was indeed in effect here. Granted, the result wasn't a total wartime blackout. Private residences and commercial buildings still had their lights on, and some of the municipal illuminations around the hôtel de ville were operating as normal. Lastly, it's hard to miss one's way out of town along a road whose name is the Route du Puy-en-Velay. Mind you, if one should be in a place where there's nothing but an inconspicuous shell-marker or GR blaze to mark an important turning-point, this new dispensation could be a definite complicating factor.

That, though, is something to worry about next time. Today it was only necessary to head due west out of town, past the Esso station and what in the dark looked to me like a small cement factory, before peeling off along a little parallel trail to the right that I probably would have missed if I hadn't been looking out for it. If there's a waymarker there, it escaped my attention. This path leads straight into Eynac where one again picks up a paved road barely wide enough for a single Smart car—though knowing French farmers, they probably don't hesitate to bring combine harvesters down it. At least what followed was a tranquil if somewhat pungent journey, this being fertiliser-speading season, along a twisting downhill stretch that ended, past Tourecol, with the lights of Puy clearly visible ahead. At Marnhac, a couple of kilometres further on, the navigation could be a little tricky if one were to be misled into walking directly toward them, but there's a good signpost in the middle of town indicating the correct direction, a hairpin turn to the left. Once established on this road there it's a straight run until another excellent sign, preceded by a stone cross on the right, shows where the trail branches off cross-country to St-Germain-Laprade and thence, via a short stretch parallel to the exceptionally busy RN 88 road, across the Loire north of Brives-Charensac and into Le Puy.

The sky was just beginning to lighten behind me as I came within the city limits. I may have got off-track at this point, because I found myself crossing the route nationale again and surrounded by a chaos of honking cars and what seemed to be cycle trails, all heading downhill. In the end I simply followed the signs for the centre of town which took a loop around the hospital and eventually brought me down to the railway station. The enormous statue of the Madonna and Child, showing up against the skyline, provides a cardinal point and ensures that one can never get very far off track.

Le Puy opens early for business and, it seems, is proud of its pilgrim heritage. I passed several enormous murals on the side of apartment blocks devoted to that theme, including one that depicted people heading off to SdC in hot-air balloons—a wrinkle that I confess had not previously occurred to me. After stopping in at the station to obtain my ticket on the 10:41 to St-Étienne, I headed uphill to the old town to pay my respects at the Cathedral and, if possible, obtain my last stamp there. As befitted a route that is noted for its three-dimensionality, this involved a bit of uphill huffing and puffing, over slick cobblestones that, later on the descent, had me fearing for my safety more than anything else I had encountered on the Gebennensis.

A sign indicating that the desk that issues credentials and tampons would not be open until 11:00 put paid to my idea of bookending the pilgrimage with stamps from the cathedrals that mark its termini. But at least the Cathedral itself was receiving worshippers, even if I was the only one there at that hour apart from the cleaners. Thus I was able to give thanks; light candles for my family; and inspect a curious wooden statue of St James that appeared to be missing one arm. After picking my way downhill over the damp cobbles with extreme care, passing the McMansions of the rich and shameless during the reign of the Roi Soleil as I did so, I reached the office de tourisme in the Place du Clauzel at the bottom. The good people there quickly fixed me up with my final stamp, and I had enough time to swig down a pricey and socially distanced cappuccino—surprisingly good, for France—at the Majestic before scurrying back to the station for my train out of town.

It looks as though I've managed to squeeze in this pilgrimage at very nearly the last possible moment. Ireland and Wales announced total lockdowns yesterday, and the smart money is on Belgium doing so today or tomorrow. Everyone here to whom I've spoken about the subject believes that it's only a matter of time, and very little time at that, before this country follows suit. I'm glad to have had the opportunity, and that my lower limbs hung in long enough to enable me to take advantage of it. After I get home, and have an opportunity to decompress and reflect, I'll put down on paper my final thoughts about this trip.
 

lovingkindness

Veteran Member
Camino(s) past & future
.
Hello @Aurigny
What a pleasure it has been to read about your pilgrimage, to 'see' familiar territory through another pilgrims eyes. There are so many possibilities after Le Puy-en-Velay, I wonder which trail you will follow next....

Bon chemin
Lovingkindness
 
Camino(s) past & future
Camino Frances 2005,2008,2010,2015.camino Portuguese 2007 .primativo2012.camino Norte 2009.sjpdp to finisterre and muxia 2007. Le Puy to jpdp 2006. Via francigena vercelli to Lucca 2014. Lucca to Rome 2016.
Aurigny,
What a wonderful way with words you have
Such a joy to read your reports
Well done.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Camino(s) past & future
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Thank you, all, for your kind words and wishes, which are greatly appreciated. Herewith, as promised, some closing observations.

The first thing to say about the Gebennensis is that I like it, and would recommend it to anyone. Admittedly I have a special affection for it, beginning as it does in a city I've called home, but it does seem to have its own identity—laid-back and tranquil—something that I didn't always observe on some of the more popular routes, e.g. the Português da Costa.

Speaking of popularity, it is, of course, very much a minority interest at present. While I know that circumstances were exceptional this year, I didn't encounter a single other person—pilgrim or hiker—out on the trail between Geneva and Le Puy. The only people I saw the entire time who even came close to looking the part were a pair of individuals in Bourg-Argental wearing those tiny day-packs that can barely accommodate a packet of sandwiches and a half-litre of Coke. Whatever they were doing and wherever they were going, it definitely didn't involve any overnight stays.

Even in more normal times, though, I can't imagine that it gets a great deal of pilgrim traffic. The Oficina del peregrino in SdC doesn't seem to keep figures for the Gebennensis in particular, but in 2018 it recorded 217 compostelle-recipients who began somewhere in Switzerland. Some of those may have taken the northern variant that passes through Nantua, but I imagine that the majority will have travelled the path I followed. It's also likely that some pilgrims make Le Puy their final destination, and hence never come to the attention of anyone in Iberia. Still, I think it reasonable to conclude that in a typical year, the number of people self-consciously completing the Gebennensis, as opposed to covering the same ground while on the GR 65, falls within the three-figure range, and not very high three figures at that.

This impression is reinforced by my conversations with locals, especially accommodation-providers. Nearly everybody with whom I spoke about what I was doing knew about the chemin de St Jacques, but they were aware of it because they'd seen the directional signs in their respective localities. A few did appreciate that Le Puy was a component of it, but none had any conception of the Gebennensis as such, or had heard of Geneva being a definite starting-place. I heard only one spontaneous bon chemin along the entire route, from an elderly man in Clonas-sur-Varèze who told me he'd walked part of the trail in Spain himself in his younger days. And only a couple of the proprietors of the chambres d'hôte that put me up told me that they'd accommodated self-identified pilgrims in the past.

Yet a fair amount of investment has gone into this route: not just waymarking, but pilgrim monuments, both public and private; billboards featuring small-scale maps of the route as far as Le Puy; and displays and self-service stamping faciliites in churches. Individual benefactors like Jacques, the Grésin farmer, have set up little resting-places from time to time; sometimes benches are provided specifically for the use of pilgrims, and bear placards to that effect. A respectable number of people along the route, then, are committed to its success, and have exerted themselves in commendable ways so as to make life easier for us.

While on the subject of waymarking, I wouldn't go quite as far as does the Confraternity of St James in Britain when it describes the signage as "extremely thorough throughout." It begins very well indeed; goes through something of a slump in the middle sections; and starts to pick up again toward the end. A fair amount of work remains to be done, both in clearly identifying important turning points and in reducing ambiguous indications, before it can be said to have attained the standard of excellence that even less-travelled routes in Iberia like the Invierno have achieved.

On the other hand, my impression is that the CSJ's description of the terrain as "very strenuous...with constant climbs and descents" is a little overdrawn. I was somewhat intimidated by this at the outset, but found that the Gebennensis is not nearly as fearsome as it's depicted as being. Undoubtedly there are stretches that will raise anyone's heart-rate quite satisfactorily. But the steep parts do not continue for long, and the climbs that continue for a long time are not steep. During the first three days or so, the mountain ridges in one's path without doubt look impressively vertical. Nearly always, though, the trail snakes through a pass or other soft spot that enables the wayfarer to avoid having to ascend the highest peaks. And there's even a mini-meseta, extending from Saint-Genix to Revel-Tourdan or thereabouts, where the countryside is reasonably two-dimensional and provides a break from the more strenuous sections. It helps, unquestionably, to be tolerably fit. I don't believe, though, that a pilgrim who has handled, say, the Primitivo successfully need feel apprehensive in any way about the Gebennensis.

Of course, the length of one's daily étapes has a lot to do with the exertion that's required. Again it's hard to know how much to generalise from my own idiosyncratic experience in these extraordinary times, but for me the hardest aspect of the Gebennensis was not the landscape but the inflexibility introduced into the whole trip by the difficulty of obtaining accommodation. Having to put in two or three stages of 40-50 km in a row because the alternative was sleeping under the stars made the trip a good deal more physically demanding than it would normally be. To be comfortable, I'd say that the well-experienced and reasonably physically fit pilgrim should aim, if circumstances permit, at a day's journey no longer than 30 km—including any deviations from the trail that may be required to reach one's night-stop.

Those who pay more attention to regular mealtimes than I do are also likely to run into a few difficulties. I had only three hot meals during my eleven-and-a-bit days on the trail, one of those being a kebab at a Turkish takeaway. Otherwise I fed myself out of the groceries and mini-supermarkets I passed en route, something that I'm generally happy to do. Had I wished, I could have had a few more restaurant meals, but it would have been very difficult to reconcile the amount of time these take up with the length of some of the stages I found myself being constrained to do each day. A lot of the chambres d'hôte have extremely narrow windows during which it's possible to check in—the shortest such period I was given was a mere two hours—and trying to hit that target at the end of a long and arduous day meant that stopping for a leisurely meal simply wasn't an option, even if one had been available. Feeding myself as I walked gave me a bit more flexibility. When I arrived at a night stop, I was usually so tired that sleep was more important than dinner, which in French restaurants, and still more so in chambres d'hôte, has a way of dragging on for hours.

Visually and culturally, I don't know that this particular route is remarkable in any way. The towns are few and small, without much in the shape of amenities or sites of outstanding cultural or historical interest. Chavanay might be the best-looking of the lot, but I doubt that many people would go out of their way to see it if they weren't already there. In general I found the scenery becoming less noteworthy the further west I travelled. Plenty of forests, with old-growth oaks and chestnuts being supplanted the further one proceeds by the usual dreary conifer plantations that have spread like a blight over so much of western Europe. Otherwise it's agricultural country, starting out as pastures and orchards and eventually giving way to the conventional tillage crops. All of it is perfectly fine to walk through; little will stand out in the memory.

For me, though, this is merely the first stage of a two-thousand-kilometre-long pilgrimage. I may come to revisit some of these initial impressions in the light of additional experience. Given the circumstances, it's impossible to say when I'll be able to resume my journey south-westward, nor for how long. I doubt that I'll have enough time to polish off the rest of France in a single journey, so making Cahors or Moissac my next target might be a reasonable aspiration. If the vaccine turns out to be all it's cracked up to be, perhaps that could happen sometime next year. But the sensible man or woman will make no hard and fast plans at this point.
 
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Kitsambler

Jakobsweg Junkie
Camino(s) past & future
Le Puy 2010-11, Prague 2012, Nuremberg 2013, Einsiedeln 2015, Geneva 2017-19
The first thing to say about the Gebennensis is that I like it, and would recommend it to anyone.
Having walked the Gebennensis myself, I whole-heartedly agree.
Speaking of popularity, it is, of course, very much a minority interest at present. While I know that circumstances were exceptional this year, I didn't encounter a single other person....
I walked the Gebennensis in September of 2017, 2018, and 2019. The first two weeks of September were a heat wave with few walkers. Walking in late September in 2019, when all accommodations were open: many were full and it was difficult to find spots, especially over weekends.
... It's also likely that some pilgrims make Le Puy their final destination, and hence never come to the attention of anyone in Iberia.
My experience is that it was mostly Swiss, a few French, and a sprinkling of Germans, walking in stages. Walking in September, I didn't encounter anyone heading for SdC. But those I talked with had no interest in going further than SJPP anytime soon.
Still, I think it reasonable to conclude that in a typical year, the number of people self-consciously completing the Gebennensis, as opposed to covering the same ground while on the GR 65, falls within the three-figure range, and not very high three figures at that.
Probably quite true; even with heavier traffic in June and September, I don't see how the annual totals get much past 1,000.
And only a couple of the proprietors of the chambres d'hôte that put me up told me that they'd accommodated self-identified pilgrims in the past.
I think this is an artifact of your having walked during a pandemic, when the regular pilgrim accommodations were not open. My own experience is that every host know what I was doing.
Yet a fair amount of investment has gone into this route: not just waymarking, but pilgrim monuments, both public and private; billboards featuring small-scale maps of the route as far as Le Puy; and displays and self-service stamping faciliites in churches. Individual benefactors like Jacques, the Grésin farmer, have set up little resting-places from time to time; sometimes benches are provided specifically for the use of pilgrims, and bear placards to that effect. A respectable number of people along the route, then, are committed to its success, and have exerted themselves in commendable ways so as to make life easier for us.
Yes - the local Friends association has been working hard. Their accommodation listing, the Yellow Guide (only in French and German, an indication of their target audience, is well-maintained (updates on their website) and accurate.
While on the subject of waymarking, ... It begins very well indeed; goes through something of a slump in the middle sections; and starts to pick up again toward the end. A fair amount of work remains to be done, both in clearly identifying important turning points and in reducing ambiguous indications, ...
Agreed. The second year I took the Iphigenie route-map subscription, and was very glad to have it. Quite a few sections are confusingly, or at least absent-mindedly, waymarked. Not as occasional as the German practice, though.
On the other hand, my impression is that the CSJ's description of the terrain as "very strenuous...with constant climbs and descents" is a little overdrawn. I was somewhat intimidated by this at the outset, but found that the Gebennensis is not nearly as fearsome as it's depicted as being. Undoubtedly there are stretches that will raise anyone's heart-rate quite satisfactorily. But the steep parts do not continue for long, and the climbs that continue for a long time are not steep.
Not "mountain-steep"; however, quite a few downhill sections are surfaced in a river rock (smooth round stones rather the size and shape of avocados) that is slick as the dickens and quite treacherous. The biggest climb I feared, coming up the eastern side of the Massif after crossing the Rhone, actually was quite gentle since it exploited an old rail-bed.
Of course, the length of one's daily étapes has a lot to do with the exertion that's required. Again it's hard to know how much to generalise from my own idiosyncratic experience in these extraordinary times, but for me the hardest aspect of the Gebennensis was not the landscape but the inflexibility introduced into the whole trip by the difficulty of obtaining accommodation.
Again, this really is an artifact of walking during pandemic when probably 80% of accommodations are closed. I use daily stages of 15km, and there was always accommodation. Sometimes already booked full, but certainly there. Advance reservations recommended - pilgrims are competing with tourists.
Those who pay more attention to regular mealtimes than I do are also likely to run into a few difficulties.
When in France... expect mealtimes to be prioritized! Enjoy the food and the conversation - that's the whole purpose of living. This is a huge element of French culture.
Visually and culturally, I don't know that this particular route is remarkable in any way. The towns are few and small, without much in the shape of amenities or sites of outstanding cultural or historical interest.
Again, I think the paucity of supply was a pandemic artifact. Certainly the middle sections, in the Rhone valley, had sizeable towns with a very adequate number of bakeries, restaurants, and groceries.
 

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