Monday, 30 June 2003
Distance 17 km
Duration 3 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 74 m, descent 175 m
Map 69 of the
Topo-guide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
The allure of the GR653 had well and truly died in the last few days, and the way ahead did not look promising, from the point of view of walkers who depended utterly on the comforts available en route.
The little settlements of Anoye and Momy looked as if they would not even run to a shop and the nearest substantial village, Maubourguet, was almost 40 kilometres away. It would be a hard day’s march with not a single coffee stop. We were already emaciated by five weeks of walking.
An altogether better idea had presented itself while we were at the pizza shop – to draw the whole expedition to a close, walk back to Pau and stay there in comfort for the few remaining days before our flight home.
We set off with alacrity at 7 o’clock. There was no need for such an early start, as it was only 14 km to Pau, but it was a habit. Instead of retracing our steps, we took the main road, the D943, which swooped down steeply at first, then levelled off.
It was crowded with commuter traffic pouring towards Pau, but there was a good cycle lane for us to walk in and after a couple of hours we reached the outskirts of the town. Shortly afterwards we came to a bar and stopped for our first coffee in two days.
It was indescribably delightful, not just the coffee, but the thought that all the pleasures of town life were now at our disposal – shops, human beings, cafés, leisure.
We sat outside on the footpath with people bustling past, newspapers being read, cars and buses passing. The contrast with the last few mornings could not have been more keenly felt.
In due course we walked the extra half-hour into the centre. It was a miniature Paris, with graceful boulevards in the style of Haussman (indeed a colleague of Haussman’s worked on some of the vistas).
On the way we had a nasty surprise when we looked at an information map and saw that the camping ground was 6 km from the centre, not far from the Hippodrome that we had passed yesterday.
This was not going to work – we would have to get a train to another town. We were greatly deflated but nevertheless called at the Office of Tourism, as experience has taught us to do.
At the mention of camping the man uttered the immortal words “il y en a deux” (“there are two of them”) and went on to show us the other one on the map, just over the river. Keith lunged across the counter and shook his hand passionately, to his amazement.
Loaded with brochures, we skipped off happily to celebrate with another round of coffee, this time with croissants. The streets near the château are all cobbled and given over to the pleasures of the table and the coffees were €4 each – Paris prices!.
We lingered there until the waiters started preparing for lunch, then shouldered our packs for the walk over the bridge and through some seedy streets to the camping ground. It was a half-hour walk and we did it many times in the next few days.
The camping ground was extremely pleasant. The showers resembled the sort of water cannon used by police to break up riots, except that the water was hot.
The grass was thick, our host an affable white-haired hippy. During the following days we got to know central Pau well, by wandering about the streets.
We visited the château, birthplace of the local hero Henry IV, and laughed at the contrast between his spindly legs and the shapely ones of his predecessor Gaston Febus. Neither set rivalled the mighty bronzed limbs of Keith after five weeks on the track.
We strolled along the Boulevard des Pyrénées, high above the river, from where on clear days the mountains can be seen, sent a final email, and whiled away many a happy hour in the cafés. It was a lovely way to end our adventure.
The railway station is at the foot of the town, reached by a funicular from the Boulevard des Pyrénées. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France. Pau also has an airport.