Day 20, Dourgne-Revel-Les Casses, Friday 11 October. A bus ride and walk along La Rigole 29,817 steps, 17 km

Abbaye d’ en Calcat

We stood in the chill beautiful morning yesterday at the bus stop on the highway at the entrance to En-Calcat Abbey in Dourgne. Five-minutes after the appointed time, we were relieved to see the big beautiful bus round the bend and pull up beside us. We settled back into plush seats, our packs beside us, and gazed out the window as beautiful hills, fields and charming villages flashed by. Time had speeded up. Twenty minutes later we were again on our feet in Revel, trying to figure out where we were.

We purchased a sandwich and two chocolate croissants at one shop, then picked up the red and white marks, heading to the path along La Rigole, a curvy small canal built to feed water into the Canal du Midi.

A young student helped us find the right direction to the town center, where we delighted in the old covered market, and were overwhelmed by finding a boulangerie, café or shop at every turn, all open!

covered market, Revel

We followed the Rigole all day, until we turned off to Les Casses, where for over a km we climbed upward on a country road to reach our night’s destination Isabelle Bosc’s La Passeur-Elle.

The ruins of a Cathar Fort loomed above one side of the road.

The walk along the Rigole was pleasant and uneventful. It was difficult to get photos with the stark contrast between sunlight, shadow, and reflecting light on water.

La Rigole

At one point the canal bordered a field divided by a double row of plane trees. As we sat on adjoining rocks for a break, a beautiful fox ran across the row of trees. The first we’d seen—probably the first in the wild I’d ever seen.

Plane tree avenue where we saw the fox

We stopped briefly at a restaurant just before a small lake, where we were in time to get salad and a beer before

Closing, and were informed it was just three km to Isabelle’s place.

Isabelle was warm and welcoming. A pilgrim herself, she knew just what pilgrims needed. There was a sort of « mud room » downstairs, with benches, where we left our packs. There was an adjacent toilet and shower, and next door an « atelier » or workshop, with a small kitchen, a fridge with some beer and other drinks, and a comfy couch.

Upstairs in an airy room were 4 single beds with bright yellow sheets. There was a toilet with small sink down the hall, and a little room with a chair, desk, and Compostelle posters and information, along with the « Livre d’Or » or guest book. We had dinner that night with Isabelle and her mother-in-law « Bonne Mama » and Bonne Mama’s husband. Two German sisters,very young, shared our room, but cooked separately in the kitchen.

We were able to wash a few clothes, which dried quickly in fierce wind and sun.

We had intermittent strong gusts of wind that came from the southeast as we walked, sometimes almost blowing us over.

All and all it was a pleasant day in which everything went as planned, with no unhappy surprises. We are definitely out of the mountains now, in farming country, but the little villages nevertheless lack shops of any kind.

Entrance to the gite

Days 18 and 19, Wednesday, October 9, 2019, Boissezon to Castres: A Day of Surprises. 8.8 iPhone miles, some without packs. And Thursday, October 10, Castres to En Calcat Abbey, Dourgne. 15.8 iPhone miles.

First, we woke from a comfy sleep in our big bed to find rain pouring down on the glass roof over the stairway. So, we took our time getting ready and tidying up the gite.

The rain had let up by the time we headed out the door about 8:45. I decided we should take the road to Noailhac, mostly to avoid what looked unnecessary hills, but also to save time and avoid wet, muddy trails.

We tried out the coin-operated bread dispensing machine along our route through Noailhac, putting in 1 Euro and receiving in exchange a perfectly fine pain au chocolate, which we stuck under Kent’s pack cover to share later.

Kent at the bread dispenser in Noaihilac

Before we exited Noailhac, the rain returned in full force. We decided to take another road shortcut.

We passed an amazing chateau, and then as we neared its second gate I spied an enormous spread of lavender and white flowers covering the grass within the gates. I thought at first they were crocuses, but they are not. Does anyone know what they are?

chateau
Flowers covering the ground . Cyclamen many of you answered!

Does anyone know what these are?

A while later, as we sat on a stone bench beside the road to eat our croissant, a man wearing nice leather hiking boots ambled by, and spoke to us in English.

We asked about the possibility of catching a bus from a nearby town. He wasn’t sure of bus schedules, but pointed out another road on our map that would get us to Castres without highway walking.

We debated briefly. The sky seemed lighter, so we took the suggested road, which had a few significant climbs. Perhaps an hour had passed, and the gentleman appeared in his car. Would we like a lift to Castres? Yes, please!

In perhaps 15 minutes, we were speeding along a major highway lined with big box stores, the likes of which we hadn’t seen on the entire trip.

Alain, it turned his name was, drove us into the town center to the tourist office, which for some « special reason » was closed for the day. « We are sure you’ll understand, » or something to that effect, it said in French. Sure! I told Alain he was a Camino angel,and that we would find our way from there. We had him call Madeleine, with whom we thought we had beds reserved, and again got no answer.

Castres reflections

We thanked him, and headed into the Eglise to consider our options. Lunch at a nice restaurant, since the Goya Museum and most businesses were closed for lunch. O Victoria was right around the corner. We feasted on an appetizer of canard in pastry, a main entry of poulet with a broccoli sauce, and a dessert of pear tarte, finished off with small coffees.

Lunch at O Victoria

With the help of Google maps, we made our way to Madeleine’s address, and anxiously waited for an answer to the doorbell, which was long in coming. Ah! A noise within, and a beaming, small, white-haired woman welcomed us in.

Our accommodation was in a large attic divided into 2 or 3 sections, low-ceilinged, with cushioning on the beams between the sections to soften head-bumping.

Madeleine did not speak English, so I did my best with French, and with both of us using translation helps, we managed. It was very good for me—I later told her that if I stayed longer, I’d soon be much better at French.

We spent the next hour or more sitting at her kitchen table, lining up places to stay for the next nights—something I’d hoped the tourist office could do. It turned out my Friday booking was going to be too far for us to walk at well-over 30 km — not too far for some, but for us, yes.

So, instead of changing the reservation, she pulled out a bus schedule that will take us a bit over 15 km in 20 minutes, saving us about four hours of walking.

By the time we’d finished, we had only an hour before the Goya Museum closed. It was a 20 minute walk, so by the time we got there, we had only half an hour to spend, but we paid our entry fee and enjoyed the too short visit.

On the way back, we passed a flower shop. We were going to buy some fresh flowers, but the young woman in the shop was constructing a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers. I asked for another like it, which she made, wrapped in red paper and tied with a bow.

Madeleine was a pilgrim herself, and had walked from her home to Santiago in 2005—I suspect after the death of her Italian husband.

She had invited us to have dinner with her. She kept bringing out one dish after another, each of which we thought would be the main course. There was a casserole made with cabbage, potatoes and cheese, which would have been enough. She wasn’t sure we understood choux, but I remembered the song from a beginning French class, and soon we were both hilariously singing, “Savez vous planter Les choux?”

Linnea and Madeleine with her Apple tart

The bed in the attic room was a bit short for Kent and small for the 2 of us, but I slept OK after awhile. Kent not so well.

I was truly sorry to say good-bye to Madeleine, who wanted to send us off with even more food, after a breakfast with toast, butter, jam, and pain au chocolat—more than I could eat, so we went off with part of a croissant and pieces of pear tart, as we’ll as sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the day before.

She wanted 15 Euros each for bed and said dinner was “donativo”— we insisted she take 70, which she didn’t want to accept, but was only slightly more than we’d been paying for so much less.

There was lots of road-walking, some hills, and a few interesting small villages. We ate lunch in a bus shelter at an intersection of country roads.

More flowers

We were in farming country now. No longer in the mountain forests. We reached the peaceful Oasis of En Calcat via a couple of other nerve-wracking highways. We were warmly welcomed, and have spent a pleasant evening, enjoying our simple room with its own bath, a vespers service, and silent dinner with other guests.

Bridge on outskirts of Castres
Old barn
Via Tolosana sign

Walking on the outskirts of Castres had us going along the edges of some busy roads—not at all pleasant, although there were some lovely corners of quietness, including one with another house with yard full of those wonderful flowers. This time I got a closer look.

There were two other pilgrims, a couple from Vancouver, Canada, but we barely had time to talk with them.

I was also able to book our train tickets to Barcelona and one last hotel for the walk. We have yet to decide on our last two nights in Toulouse.

Four more days of walking, at least three of them mostly along canals—no more big hills!

En Calcat Abbey at twilight

Day17, Tuesday October 8. Anglès to Boissezon, 14.6 iPhone miles. A Quiet Day

Paul and Kent
Anglès in the morning

Anglès was good to us. We started the day with a lively discussion with Paul about the area, its history and changes. For the first morning in several days we started out in glorious sunshine. The green moss in the forests glowed.

We took a short cut on a forest road cutting a km or two from the walk. There were ups and downs, a few rough spots where the dirt tracks had eroded, but nothing too challenging, although the long descent into the ravine just before Boissezon shook my faith that we were on the right path. But, lo! The village , which was sizeable, did finally appear, both below and above us through the trees.

boissezon

Again, we had the gite, which was extensive, and even had a room with stuffed chairs and a sofa, entirely to ourselves. First time I’d sat in an easy chair or sofa since leaving my daughter’s home in San Francisco three weeks ago!

Who would climb that hill to get to church, I wondered? The back part of the building looked like a fortress. What a strange and beautiful town! The major street through seemed to be a truck thoroughfare, rather terrifying after days on quiet paths and roads. I would think that the traffic would have a negative impact on the village. No grocery, no cafe, but a gleaming butcher shop and a pharmacy with orthopedic supplies in the window were open. We found the closed Auberge Trois Mousquitaires where we would later pick up our plateaus of dinner.

We walked past the gite, with its purple shutters and Via Tolosana mosaic sign on the wall as we entered town, but headed to the Mairie to check in. Agnès met us back at the gite, stamped our credential and showed us around. They’d arranged a room with its own lavatory and shower, and a huge bed with fluffy white sheets and duvet for us. What a treat!

We had time to explore the town, walked past the open, but empty art galleries, up to the locked church. There was a number to call to visit the church posted in the gite, but we had not called.

Mosaic by Boissezon gite
Boissezon Gite

The dinners were almost more than we could eat, and came with wine— we’d brought my water bottle intending to ask if we could purchase a bit of wine, but it wasn’t necessary.

We were passed by just one pilgrim today, a Parisian who was walking all the way to Castres. The temperature did grow warm by afternoon, compared to yesterday when I walked all day in my fleece. There was no wind, and a pond was beautiful with reflections.

Pond with reflection

There were quite a few smooth dirt roads, easy enough to lend themselves to contemplation.

I stood on top of one hill, thinking, «Be still, and know that I am God, » and I felt great peace and a good kind of emptiness, no longing or desire, just being. It was everything, and it was enough. I was perfectly content.

I walked on, thinking of Franciscan Richard Rohr, wondering if oneness with God and loss of self is the goal of life. It was very much a Camino day.

Wide open spaces

Day 15. Murat-sur-Vebre to Salvetat sur Agout, Sunday, October 6. Camino Surprises. 20 km or 14.8 iPhone miles

Walking along the lake

I’ve lost a day somewhere, but it will show up eventually, unlike the calendar and map that disappeared somewhere between Arboras and Lodeve.

We walked out of Murat in gloom and cold, but the walking was good through many beautiful forests. We were carrying a bit more than usual, as we had been told nothing would be open in Salvetat, which turned out to be true.

We looked forward to a gentle walk along a lake, but were unpleasantly surprised by at least two, possibly 3 roller-coaster-sized hills before the trail did indeed level out.

Eglide de Notre Dame, Villelongue

We stopped for a picnic lunch of Roquefort cheese sandwiches at a picnic table in front of the church at Villelongue at the end of the lake. There was a water tap at the church and a sign that said “refuge.” It was only when we’d climbed above the church that I saw there was an open room with at least one chair inside — a good place to shelter from the elements.

At one point as the trail began to descend we mistakenly followed a rough logging road that vanished into a meadow. While we stood in the meadow trying to figure out if there was a short-cut back to the road, we suddenly saw a runner with a dog on the road. We had seen no one on the trail all day besides a couple of mushroom hunters (oh and a boar hunter dressed in orange who suddenly appeared behind me with two dogs as I stopped to take a picture of a stone wall).

The runner’s path showed us the trail, which we were then able to rejoin—a Camino Angel.

We walked into Salvetat about 3:15, just as the restaurant was closing, but yes, we could have beers outside.

We managed to figure out the lock on the tourist office post box and retrieve our key to the gite. As we were struggling to open the door, it was opened from inside—and we were welcomed by Jaime, a Spanish pilgrim walking from Lourdes to Rome.

We ended up sharing our supper with him. So there are 3 of us in this gite tonight,

Walking into Salvetat-sur -Agout

Shortest Day Ever, Day 13, Saturday, October 5, 2019, Ginestet to Murat sur Vebre, 8.5 miles, 9km plus running around town without our packs.

We each had an egg for Breakfast!

Fresh from the farm. Delicious! A steep climb again through dark, mossy forests, then a sudden open expanse of fields, and in the distance a rock pile marking the 1019-meter summit.

High point on hill behind me

I was thinking how long the way would have been, and how tired and unable to enjoy it all, had we made those extra miles last night.

Tourist office and a small grocery were open when we arrived in Murat- sur-Vebre before noon.

No one was at the Gite/Chambre d’Hote, but we let ourselves in an unlocked door. We called Emilie, who came while we were eating lunch of Roquefort cheese and bread from the grocery,

We studied our MiamMiam Dodo, trying to figure out the rest of the trip, but are a bit confused about the distances heading into Toulouse. We have walked so slowly, we are not going to have extra time to spend when we finish walking. We will be in Barcelona in 10 days to fly to San Francisco on the 17th.

We are alone in this gite, which quite a nice one, occupying two of seven beds. Emilie has reserved dinner for us in a hotel restaurant nearby. We ‘ll see how that goes.

Later: Dinner was fine. We were the only guests, although they told us there was one hotel guest coming later. Off in the morning to Salvetat -sur-Agout, our packs heavier with food for next two days.

More crazy donkeys this afternoon

Meandering Streams and Haunted Forests: Day 12, Friday, 4 October 2019. Saint Gervais-sur-Mare to Ginestet, 11.5 iPhone miles, 13 km. 1800 feet elevation gain.

Ferme Deves.

Here’s what I wrote to my kids tonight:

Chestnuts everywere
Old trees

Some hard walking here, but we are doing half the usual distances, which is still a lot for us. 10 miles rather than 20.

Cows: all eyes on me

Beautiful country. Cold and windy today with a bit of drizzle, clouds, but rain held off.

We are into another French weekend, when everything closes.

We had a nice meal tonight at this farm. Soup, salad, red wine, mashed potatoes, sausages, with cheese and an apple for dessert. We are in the middle of nowhere. When I woke up from my nap, a white horse was walking by the window. Not sure I’ve ever lain in bed and watched a horse walk by before.

I think about you a lot when walking. For some reason felt very sad today. Maybe the weather, the dark forests or time of year.

We see no one on the trails as everyone passes us at the beginning of the day if there is anyone staying where we are.

Artful woodpile in Castenet -Le-Haut

Very cold here, no heat in room, but we’ve turned on heater in bathroom to try to dry wet towels and clothes.

Many beautiful clear streams cascade into stone pools, perfect for bathing in warm weather, like the Gorges d’Heric where Ed and I stayed 20 years ago, not far from here.

Many mysterious forests with old stone walls in terraces running through them. Who lived here and why did they build these walls? When? The hills are so rugged. So many questions.

A happy moment near day’s end

Cold and Windy in Saint-Gervais-Sur-Mare, Thursday, 3 October 2019, Day 11, 10.5 miles, 12 km from Servies

Leaving Servies

It was a short day, but not without its challenges. We followed the road, for 5 km, seeing perhaps 3 cars in nearly 2 hours, as we walked through old forests, climbing out of tiny Servies to join the GR 563 and the Chemin at the Col de Layrac from which we could see a few small villages in the valleys below, and endless mountains.

Near Col de Layrac

We were grateful for the cool temperature, but the wind we’d experienced yesterday continued to buffet us. After awhile we left the road, and took a steep, rocky descent through forests, exiting gratefully at Mecles, where we sat in the sun at a small fountain with a St. Jacques plaque.

Mecles

Only three km from their to St. Gervais, pleasant until another painfully steep, rocky descent, then across a medieval bridge over the pretty Mare river, up into the mostly deserted long Main Street ofSt. Gervais.

Medieval Bridge, Syaint Gervais

The Mairie rose majestically above a pair of staircases behind imposing red bars and gates. The doors opened, and a lovely young woman welcomed us, gave us a map, and a key to the gite, and collected our money.

Mairie in Saint Getvais

The pizza place was closed, but we bought some cheese pastries at the bakery just before it closed, and celebrated with two beers outside a cafe, before heading back through town to a lovely, clean, modern gite with a nice kitchen and beautiful bathroom.

About 4 pm, we returned to the now open tourist office where a wonderfully kind and patient woman spent the better part of an hour lining up places for us over the coming weekend. Many places were either full or closed, so we greatly appreciated her help.

Main Street, Saint gervais

A bit of shopping at the small grocery, and back to the gite where we met our two companions for the night, a French man and Spanish woman.

Two businesses on the street seemed open all the time: a car repair business, unlikely in the old town center, and a funeral supply store, both for people heading elsewhere.

La Mare, Saint Gervais

Tomorrow, we climb to some of the highest peaks on this part of the route, but we’ve cut the 26 km day into two.

Lodeve to Joncels and Joncels to Servies,Testing Ourselves: Days 10 and 11, Tuesday and Wednesday, October 1-2, 2019,

gite d’Etape 3Km

I write tonight from my bunk in Servies, a tiny village at the bottom of a narrow canyon, to which we descended in a roaring wind that blew off Kent’s pack cover, caused havoc with my one remaining hearing aid, and at times threatened to topple us over as we held onto our hats. A worn wooden sign at the pass read “Gite d’Etape, 3 km” and we were relieved. But the steep descent on a rocky Jeep trail seemed much longer, although there were stretches of fairyland beauty through mature beech forests where the track was softened by layers of leaves. We saw no sign of the village until a house appeared below the trail on our left. We reached the far end of the village, still high above it, before we came to an intersection with a parking area and a road descending back through the village.

We wandered through the narrow street, past the church, past a door labeled “gite relais” and had not seen a soul, nearing the end of the village we heard voices, and walked back, spying an elderly woman on stairs above us, who pointed behind us to a friendly, energetic woman who was hurrying toward us. She pushed open the door to the gite, which I’d previously tried, but hadn’t pushed hard enough (it had no latch). We struggled up a few stairs into a large main room with a small kitchen and huge fireplace at one end, and seating for fifteen around a collection of tables in the center.

Gite Servies

She showed us the bedroom with two bunks, the bathroom, dinner in the “frigo,” and pain in a big brown sack on the table.

We paid her $66 Euros and some cents, she showed us the way out of town to rejoin the Chemin by another route, wished us well, and left our exhausted selves to our usual evening routine.

It had been just minutes after five as we walked into the village, and I think we were asleep by 8 pm We had left the gite in Joncels before 8, and must have been the last to go. For the entire day, we never saw another person, other than a few people in Lunas and some hunters in cars.

We lost the trail shortly out of Joncels, which we left in rain, and lost perhaps 20 minutes or more, walking uphill, of course, while the trail, markings hard to see in the rain, had veered off into the woods on the left. After seeing no markers for 15 minutes, I checked the IPhiGéNie map app, and saw where we had gone astray.

The walk to Lunas was along a narrow brushy path, with the usual rocky descent into town. I’d hoped we might find a few pilgrims at a cafe enjoying a second cup of coffee, but no— only a few men smoking. We bought a apple from a small epicerie, and made fast tracks along the highway to Bosquet sur Orb, through which we climbed steeply, no shops in sight. Then we climbed still more, past a welcome water spigot to a bench where we sat for a few minutes to catch our breath and enjoy the view. Some creative signs decorated with shells led steeply up the hillside between houses. For the next two hours we would clinb steeply up through sometimes brambly paths.

Bosquet sur Orb

We stopped for lunch on a rock outcropping, from which we could see part of the village and railroad tracks far bellow.

Lavender

After that the trail evened out a bit, and we had pleasant walking through the trees, with views now in a new direction. Eventually we arrived at Le Col du Pins” and an intersection with a forest road lined with heather. On this we descended, losing most of the height we struggled so hard to gain. The sun shone, and it was fairly smooth, fast walking. A kite soared overhead. We began to climb again and came to a series of picnic areas with tables. Then climbed more, all on dirt roads, until we had gained another 300-400 meters, and topped out at the windy junction where we took the fork to Servies. From that junction we could look far below, and see the road we’d eventually take. A couple of vehicles with hunters were parked at the pass.

It would be almost an hour before we reached Servies, steep downhill into buffeting chill wind all the way. We were grateful to have cooler weather at last.

Back now to Day 10. We paid our bill at Hotel de la Paix, a total of 314 Euros, 80 per night for room, and the rest for meals, including 8 Euros breakfasts, of which we didn’t eat much our second morning.

We waited for the audiologist office to open at nine. The woman on duty replaced the tube on the whistling aid in a few minutes, but, alas, it was no better, and she said there was nothing more she could do, so we headed out of town, at least an hour later than we would have liked. The first part of the walk climbed through pleasant forests, then eventually opened out onto dirt roads that climbed endlessly upward. Does the road go upward all the way? Apparently yes. I would see the road vanish at a curve ahead, hoping each time there would be a summit, but each time we rounded the corner only to find the hill continuing.

The sun was hot, we sweat buckets, worried about running out of water, and eventually arrived at a summit where a few tracks converged. Pilgrims heading to Lunas could here take a shortcut on the GR 7. We turned toward Joncels, and were happy to descend through some trees, where we took off our packs and paused briefly for lunch. The sandwich from the Carrefour Express was not wonderful, and I tossed part of my half into the bushes.

Endless road
View from La Forge window in Joncels

We descended to a highway, which we followed uphill toward windmills, then turned onto a smaller road that descended into a valley, then climbed again. The clouds turned to rain. We were off and on again with ponchos for the next few hours.

At one point we passed a farm, where I spied a spigot, but no water came out when I tried the tap. We descended into another valley, crossed some streams, then climbed up to little Joncels , which we could see on the hill above us. After a steep climb through forests in intermittent rain, we arrived in the village and found the gite, The Forge, where we were warmly welcomed by Veronique and her husband.

We had a room to ourselves with a sink. Toilet, shower, and kitchen down the stairs. As soon as we arrived a torrential rain broke loose, pounding on the skylights. We thought we were there alone, but met Daniel an Wotan, with whom we shared dinner the the Forge dining room.

I briefly met a Dutch woman, never seen again, and another woman, never spoken to.

I had hoped one might be going to Servies, too, but all must have been going all the way to St. Gervais-sur-Mare. which at 37 km with all those ups and downs, I know we could not have done. We will get there tomorrow, 17 km.

Meanwhile, we are enjoying the peace of Servies, thinking this Chemin is too hard on these old bodies, but maybe we can make it over the mountains yet remaining.

No WiFi here, and no cell service either, so I will send this when I can.

Back to sleep now for two more hours until dawn.

Ups and Downs. Days 7 and 8, St. Guilhem-Le Desert to Arboras, and St-Jean-de-la-Blaquiere to Lodeve. September 28-29-30

Distances walked: Saturday, September 28, 17 official km, and 11 iPhone Miles. Sunday, September 29, 14.1 iPhone miles

Rest Day in Lodeve, Monday September 30.

We have enjoyed a much-needed rest day in Lodeve. We arrived about 5 pm yesterday, hot and tired. No place to stay. Spied the Hotel de la Paix as we entered town, staggered into the lobby, and asked for a room. We’ve been treated like family here. Lovely room, great meals. We’ve washed clothes, gotten money, topped off my phone, visited the Tourist Office 4 times, run into the Canadian pilgrims as they arrived late this afternoon, and visited the gorgeous St. Fulcran Cathedral twice. We have worked out some details for the next week, and reserved some nights ahead.

St. Fulcran Cathedral, Lodeve

This evening our host with the large speckled dog shared his photo album of his trip to the US Southwest in 1995–Taos Pueblo, Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, Moab, then treated us to drinks.

One of my hearing aids is having problems, so I will try to get help at an audiology office in the morning, which will delay our start on a tough 22 km walk..

Days 7 and 8

We’ve had a wild up-and-down couple of days since we climbed up the cliff behind St, Guilhem at dawn on Saturday morning. Several pilgrims were just ahead of us, and one passed us, but by the time we had reached the top of the climb, all had disappeared from sight, and we have seen none of them since, although several should be here in Lodeve and leaving this morning.

We have decided to stay here a second night, giving ourselves a rest day and time to wash our clothes and figure out the rest of the trip. This town of perhaps 9,000 is the largest we will see for several days.

Back to the climb from St. Guilhem, where we had slept like four large sardines on the side-by-side mattresses that, except for a small passage from the door across the bottom ends, had entirely filled the room.

Cliffs above St.Guilhem at dawn

The climb was the first for this trip of over 1000-feet, and it was good to make in the cool of morning. The temperatures have been in the upper 70 Fahrenheit range, which has meant much hotter walking than we’d anticipated and than we would like.

The cool morning breezes helped refresh us as we climbed, and the views were spectacular. The walk though a forest at the very top was among the most pleasant anywhere. Then, we descended on less picturesque gravel roads. We looked out over a vast expanse of country, and saw the sun reflecting on the Mediterranean in the distance.

The official trail sometimes veered off the road onto scrubby brush trails, adding distance, but also variety. There were smaller climbs and then a very long descent, hard on knees and feet. Suddenly below us I saw the crenellated outline of a castle wall.

Views from summit
Castellas de Montpeyroux

We enjoyed some quiet moments without our packs, looking at the remains of the once-bustling Castellas de Montpeyroux.

https://www.escapadeslr.com/site-le-castellas-de-montpeyroux-montpeyroux-herault-100.html

Once down on the relative flat, it was an uneventful walk and then a bit of a climb to Arboras, where we found the cafe in the middle of town — the only business—serving delicious platters of salad with toast and chèvre.

Salad,toast,chèvre

This is where we had arranged to meet Emanuel, our friend and companion on our previous walk, who was driving from Grenoble. Meanwhile I thought I would call the number of the Arboras family that was to take us to our evening’s lodging.

It turned out that the number handwritten by the woman in the tourist office that I thought was an 8 was a 2, and I’d been calling the wrong number, leaving messages and annoying the folks who had no idea what I was talking about, nor did I understand their replies to me.

We waited more than two hours for Emmanuel to arrive, and it was great to see him looking just as we remembered him. By then the cafe had closed, and I turned my phone over to Emmanuel, who discovered my misreading of the number.

Kent and Emmanuel in Arboras

When he finally got the right number, we discovered that the people we’d been trying to reach lived just two doors from the cafe.

We ended up showering and having tea at their home, and then riding in Emmanuel’s car back to Montpeyroux and on to St. Jean Du Fos, where we’d accidentally detoured the day before, all this at a dizzying auto pace, past places where we’d recently trudged like snails.

Our night’s lodging was a picturesque stone building set in a vineyard, but it left quite a bit to be desired in terms of amenities and cleanliness. The toilet was an outhouse with a camouflage net for a door. The beds, with torn quilts, were up a ladder-like stair in a loft.

Breakfast at “the farm”

We had reserved dinner in the place in Montpeyroux at the Terrasse de Mimosa. It was a lovely dinner, although it grew cold as the evening deepened. It was 11 pm by the time we had retrieved our packs in Arboras, made several attempts to find our way back to the “farm,” and finally arranged ourselves in our beds for the night.

We had purchased some pastries and yogurt for morning (in Montpeyroux), found a kettle and some coffee, and then set out for St. Jean de la Blaquiere, deciding to skip the rough walk between there and Arboras, and realizing we were getting a late start.

We next wasted perhaps an hour seeking a shortcut that never materialized, then climbed through lovely forest paths to the tiny village of Uscias, where we rested briefly on benches in the shade, and looked at the medieval pilgrim grave markers in the cemetery.

There was a water spout, that we were assured probably had drinkable water although the sign said “non potable.”

Then came the long climb of the day, past some boar hunters, who said they’d shot a fox. We have almost no wildlife and few birds so far on this walk. Why would anyone want to shoot a fox high in the mountains?

Grave stones of medieval pilgrims

We encountered several times a large noisy group of hikers attended by a bus. Touristic pilgrims perhaps?

The turn-around point for Emmanuel and our good-bye took place following a tour of the Priory of St. Michel de Grandmont, the impressive remains of what had been extremely austère order. So austère that it ceased to attract members and after a long decline became defunct in 1604.

St.Michel de Grandmont Priory

The priory was also the site of several Neolithic dolmens and mysterious stones.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grandmontines

Emmanuel made it back to his car in less than half the time it had taken us to walk uphill, and arrived a good 2 hours before we would reach Lodeve with nowhere to stay. None of our phone messages, including those left by Emmanuel, had been answered. Booking.com showed just one hotel, with one room left, on the far side of town.

The long descent into Lodeve on a steep and rocky path, hot in the late afternoon sun was torturous. The first brew of the city presented a huge cemetery along a highway flanked by commercial buildings. I felt ready to catapult myself I to that cemetery for a permanent sleep.

We ate a true shared, cobbled together pilgrim lunch—an apple, potato chips, small sausages, cookies, soft drinks and almonds and a chocolate bar. Then it was time to say goodbye.

Beautiful view near Soumont on our way to Lodeve

My feet and knees ached, but finally the descent slowed and ended quite near the center of town.

Across a lovely river, with water splashing over a small dam, and ducks paddling, we spied the 3-star Hôtel de la Paix.

The door opened when we tried it, and a gentleman sitting with a large speckled dog at his feet asked if we would like a room, and motioned for us to sit. A young woman appeared, took one look at us, came back with a key and led us to an elevator and to our room! Ah heaven!

Shower, toilet, crisp sheets, towels, and a view of the river and the ducks.

Abraham and Isaac in St. Fulcran Cathedral

We received a shock when our ATM card was declined twice. I had time this evening to check our Capital One account and discovered our withdrawals were coming from our checking account rather than our savings account, and we were over $800 in the hole! Yikes! Fortunately,

I was able to instantly move funds between accounts, so we should now be OK.

The adventures continue and the Camino provides.

How our Shortest Day Became the Longest, Thursday September 26, Day 5, iPhone miles 17.8 miles, and Day 6, Friday, September 27, 8.4 km, 8.6 iPhone miles (definitely doesn’t add up, although we did take a wrong turn). Plus at Least Two Unwelcome Surprises

We have been whiling away a couple of pleasant hours under the famous large old sycamore tree surrounded by restaurants in front of the historic Abbey of St. Guilhem, a place I remember from 20 years ago.

La Place in St. Guilhem with 1855 plane tree

Yesterday i discovered that the place where I’d requested a reservation for that night in Montarnaud, claimed it had not heard back, and had given away our places. I had had no email response from them. But, with the help of Laurent, whom we encountered at a little patisserie in Montarnaud, we booked at Aniane, another 14 km away for the night.

After First High Climb

Immediately upon leaving Montarnaud we scrambled up a limestone escarpment of 1000 to 1200 feet. There was a lovely breeze at the top, which helped cool our sweat-drenched selves.

Then we descended, and after another hour or two came to the village of La Bossiere, where there were tables set out on wooden platforms along the street, evidently belonging to a bar of some kind operated by some young people sitting nearby who invited us to sit. I took off my boots, propped up my feet, and we enjoyed our ham and cheese sandwich we had carried from the patisserie.

Perfect lunch spot

Along came Laurent, and then one we labeled the “fast walker,” who chatted for a moment as we filled our water bottles at the nearby park, and then rapidly disappeared ahead of us. We next encountered a long detour along a very rocky trail with almost no shade. At last the trail branched off and the grande randonee, which we followed, headed steadily uphill. In the distance I could see the large rock we’d seen before Montpellier.

Kent waited for me at the top of the hill, then pointed below. There were Laurent and “fast walker,” who had taken the low road. We’d probably climbed unnecessarily, although the views were spectacular. The track descended, we came to a road, followed the red and white bars or GR 653, but eventually realized we had to be going the wrong way—there was no Aniane in sight, and no more markers. We consulted our book and online maps. We’d gone about a km downhill in the wrong direction. Back up hill, we we trudged another 10-20 minutes, and right near the top saw our mistake—a small track had veered off to the right. We were very tired and discouraged when we finally came to the Hostellerie de Saint Benoit, which was, of course, on the road exiting the town. Laurent, who had arrived only half an hour before us, had sent the hotel owner out to look for us. He had taken a wrong turn, also, on that low road.

Hilltop above Aniane

All turned out well, and we joined Laurent for dinner, one of the most beautifully prepared meals I’ve ever eaten. I didn’t take a photo, alas, of a swirl of melon, and a salad in a cabbage leaf, holding up a skewer of fried shrimp, with berries decorating the edges. This was followed by a tender confit of duck, and finally a chocolate and cream dessert. We slept well in our private room, but it was all too short.

In the morning we said good-bye again to Laurent over a very elaborate breakfast. We revisited the village, picked up some packages of dried soup, insurance for the days ahead, and headed off toward St. Guilhem. Another short day, but again we got turned around after a lovely, quiet time at the Devil’s Bridge, and ended up in St. Jean-de-Fos, which added another two km to our walk in the heat of the day.

Pont du Diable

Final mistake of the day. At four pm we headed to our gite, only to find they did not have our reservation.

As I wrote on Facebook, there was a little note at the bottom of the welcome letter that I failed to understand . A reply had been required, so although very disappointed, we were fortunate to find two beds in the Club Alpin Francois, where we are in a room with 4 mattresses together on a platform, no space in between. We will see how the night goes.

Sadly, I did not understand that the wording below meant I was to respond “oui” or some such. So when we arrived just now, they did not have us confirmed, and they had no room. I had made this reservation several days ago and was looking forward to a lovely gite with the Carmelite sisters, and a place to wash sweaty clothes. Fortunately we have another place. St Guilhem is crawling with pilgrims and tourists. We are lucky to have a bed at all.

“Dans l’attente de votre confirmation, recevez nos cordiales salutations fraternelles”

We look forward to new adventures tomorrow as we climb a mountain and have lodging in a family home—and plan to meet Emanuel, our young friend from our walk last year.