Friday, 13 June 2003
Distance 31 km
Duration 6 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 563 m, descent 396 m
Maps 63 and 69 of the
Topo-guide (ref. 653) Sentier de Saint-Jacques de-Compostelle, Moissac/Condom/Roncevaux
La Météo was forecasting a hot day and we had a long way to go, so we got going at 6:30, climbing steeply through the quiet streets of Aire.
Beyond the houses, the path skirted a lake, as still as glass, and rose again to a featureless expanse of farmland, what is called a “zone remembrée”, made from the amalgamation of many small farms. There was no sign of houses, trees or hedges, just huge ugly watering machines like skeleton giants. It made us appreciate how lovely the usual French landscape is.
We progressed rapidly across this eyesore, on straight service roads, and eventually reached a forest path that descended to cross a stream. We were slowing down as we trudged up through normal pretty fields to the village of Miramont, on the edge of a deeply eroded valley.
The view of the Pyrénées was magnificent, but we paid it no attention until we had bought our bread and sat down outside the hotel for our second breakfast.
In the shade of a cheerful umbrella, with large mugs of coffee steaming in front of us and a bag of pastries torn open on the table, we were entirely content. Some of our Alsatian companions straggled in as we were leaving. They had recognised us on the track ahead by my yellow hat.
From Miramont a short-cut was called for, as the GR goes off for a ramble to the south. We took the descending westward road and reconnected with the GR after crossing the river. It was a severe pull up to Pimbo and we arrived in a lather of sweat.
Pimbo is a “street bastide”, not a square one, stretching along a high, narrow ridge. These days it is no more than a hamlet. Only one of its three churches is still standing, the rest having been destroyed by the Protestants in the Wars of Religion.
We ate lunch in the company of several other walkers who were prostrate on the grass nearby, attended by a good woman who bustled about giving us cool water and a history lesson.
When we showed interest, she led us into the church for another lesson, then out into the garden behind, where all sorts of flowers and medicinal herbs grew.
Leaving Pimbo, we immediately lost a great deal of height, only to have to make it up again at the other side of a wide stretch of farmland. The sun was like a blow-torch and we got to Arzac-Arraziguet even more drenched in sweat than at Pimbo.
The town is a picturesque bastide, originally English, with two arcaded squares side by side. We were mostly interested in a deeply shady bar, where we had a jug of iced water, then beer and white wine, with our shirts plastered to our bodies.
At the Office of Tourism the staff said there was no camping ground, but we showed them the contrary advice in the Topoguide, and also told them it was listed in “Miam-miam Dodo”, which is a guide to eating and accommodation along the pilgrimage (the name is French baby-talk for eating and sleeping). A quick phone call later, they told us to go back to the other square and ask at the gîte.
It turned out that the “camping” was on the little back lawn of the gîte, which someone was hastily mowing for our arrival. It was just right for our small tent and we were only charged €2.30 each. After showers, we slept under a young fruit tree until the sun began to sink.
Next door to the gîte was a fine old travellers’ inn, the la Vieille Aube. It was a delightfully warm evening to be dining outside, and I was in my smart new T-shirt.
After our aperitifs, the waitress proposed a menu of three courses with wine, for €9 each. The first course was a beautiful garbure, the rich soup of Gascony, finished with oil and parsley, then we had duck (difficult to avoid), followed by white cheese with strawberries and a fruit tart.
Back at the gîte, a pair of German cyclists had set up a tent near ours, no doubt profiting from our little shake-up of the Office of Tourism. The rumour going around amongst walkers was that tomorrow would be 37°C, even worse than today.