Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 452 m, descent 378 m
Map 63 of the
Topoguide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
We woke to the clanking of saucepan lids, then realised it was the bells in the church steeple. We were starting to form a theory, that the best little towns have the worst bells. It was a mild morning, as it had rained a little in the night, so we amused ourselves with coffee and croissants in the village before setting out.
The new fountain was playing merrily, the water soaring in an arc from a metal pipe which protruded out of a distressingly lumpy sandstone sculpture. It had not been improved by the lifting of the black plastic, but we had to admit that the two pools with their flat stone rims would be a great meeting place.
We left town through the back fence of the camping ground and crossed the stream on an ancient hump-backed bridge made of brick, its surface deeply scored by centuries of wheels.
The GR was a pleasant mixture of farm tracks and tiny roads, along the river, over the railway line, under the highway, up and down fields, through a wood (where there was a little traffic jam as we, some cyclists and a tractor all met at a crossroads).
We even met a pilgrim, grey and solitary, walking in the reverse direction, which is something that the modern pilgrim seldom does. The modern pilgrim gets a train or a plane to go home.
Soon we arrived in Montferran-Savès, which had a lovely church, a shop and a boulangerie, but no bar. We ate lunch on the church steps as a gaunt old man limped up to ring the midday bells, relatively melodious ones. The hound-faced walker we had seen yesterday was eating chocolate on the steps of the boulangerie. He was a Belgian musician called Armand, looking for solitude seemingly.
With our water bottles kindly filled by the baker, we set off towards Giscaro, but we were not paying attention to the GR signs. We missed a turn and found ourselves on the highway. It was our first navigational blunder of the trip and we made it worse by pressing on instead of going back to find the GR.
For the next seven kilometres to Gimont we were in fear of our lives, hemmed in between the guard rail and a line of heavy traffic, with no more than a few inches of clearance. When big trucks approached we stopped and looked into the whites of the drivers’ eyes, daring them to kill us.
After a lifetime of this, we suddenly descended into the town and our hopes rose. We were going to treat ourselves to a night in the hotel, as there was no camping at Gimont. Rooms were €45 and were probably beautiful, but we never saw them, as the place was booked out.
We later discovered that the higher-paid staff in the Toulouse aerospace industry occupy all the hotels within a 50 km radius.
Up in the main street, bypassed by the highway, the Office of Tourism gave us list of chambres d’hôte, all of which were 15 kms or more out of town. We were so thirsty by then that we went to a bar and had beer and a lot of water – most delicious.
Our Belgian friend staggered in to the square, as hot and dripping as we had been, and joined us. When he found out about the lack of accommodation he decided to catch the train to Auch and off he went.
We should have done the same but we had vowed to walk every step of the way, so there was no choice but to rough it again that night. Meanwhile we built up our strength with coffee under the market hall at the bottom of the street.
Gimont consists of a single street on a razor back, descending from a large square at the top to the halle at the bottom.
A man came up to us as we sipped our coffee, to ask us where we had come from and where we were going. There is a lot of interest in and sympathy for pilgrims; many people have done part of the trip themselves.
For dinner we chose a pizzeria in the square at the top, which had tables outside. Having fuelled ourselves up, we set off at 8:45 along the GR in the general direction of Auch, but after half an hour we started looking for a secluded nook for the tent.
We found one half-way down a steep farm track, where a hedgerow had been broken through to give access to the field. It was level but lumpy, with clods of hard clay, which we kicked a bit smoother with our boots, then put up the tent and tumbled in.
Camping “sauvage” in France is not like camping in the Australian bush. There, you are blissfully remote in some wilderness open to everybody. Here, you are trespassing on someone’s private land and in danger of being caught and possibly prosecuted. It makes for a poor night’s sleep.