We are in Auch, in fact we got here yesterday, a day ahead of our most optimistic schedule. Today, after 27 days of rain either all day or part of the day, the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. We feel quite disoriented, as do all the French, no doubt. So instead of hurrying back to Paris today to get away from the rain, we are staying here for a day of repose. It is a lovely old town on a crag a great height above the river, with a grand staircase going up, enough to test even our legs.
We are in perfect health and our feet are beautiful – not a blister or a piece of plaster in sight. Last night we had a wonderful dinner to celebrate the end of the great adventure, with a bottle of Gascony wine instead of the usual pichet.
It is surprising how the worst of days in France turns out well in the end. Probably our very worst day was two days ago. It began to rain soon after we set off and continued all day. We marched along in our plastic ponchos (what one of our former walking companions called condoms) until one of Jenny’s sodden shoes completely disintegrated and she had to wear sandals for the rest of the day. We got to a large village, Valence, where we hoped for coffee, only to find that it was the day of their “summer festival”, poor sods, and the bar was closed, blocked by trestle tables under the arcades where beer was being served to bedraggled locals. We could not even sit down.
Off we trudged again for another 11 kms on the highway (the walking track was impassible because the notorious “gluant” soils of the Gers had turned to liquid in the rain), being sprayed by passing cars and in danger of our life. Somehow we lost our map as well. At last we arrived at the unpronounceable Castéra-Verduzan, where there was a camping ground and a hotel to choose from. Guess where we went?
The hotel owner had a son working in Thredbo (ski resort near Canberra) and took us to his heart. We had a luxurious, dry evening, with dinner in the elegant restaurant, and in the morning our host gave us free coffee and two little bottles of Armagnac.
We set off in fine spirits for our last day of walking and it was a perfect finale. The rain had stopped as we were sipping our free coffees and we even had periods of sun as we walked. Jenny’s legs made a final brief appearance although the air was still cold. Half-way along we came to the beautiful village of Lavardens with its massive chateau and yes, there was a little bar in a laneway and yes, she had croissants also, and yes, she gave us a little tourist map to guide us into Auch by the back way. Jenny’s shoe held together with the help of some more glue and a length of blue farmer’s string.
Another surprising thing is how often we come to a famous village (e.g. Montbazillac) and find it disappointing, whereas we come into other villages that we have never heard of (e.g. Vianne, Mézin) which are breathtakingly beautiful, and with everything a walker could want – in our case mostly a bar.
The World Cup is focussing the attention of the French nation at the moment, and causing much angst and soul-searching (“lamentable! pas d’ame!) and with Australia doing no better, we have transferred our alleigance to our Kiwi cousins.
And now a word from Dataman:
We walked 30 days (no rest days), for a total of 770 kms with our packs, plus 73 kms without packs. The distance without packs is much less than usual because we stayed so often in gîtes and hotels and did not have to walk miles in search of dinner. Our shortest day was 15 kms and our longest 39, with an average of almost 26 kms.
We climbed (and descended) 9700 metres, which was a lot given that we never went into the high country, just through the rolling hills of Berry, Perigord and Gascony.
We camped 14 times, stayed in hotels 9 times and gîtes 7 times.
Altogether it was a testing but glorious experience and we look back on it with great pleasure. In due course, when we have written up our adventures on the website, we will send out an email to let know.
With love from Keith and Jenny