Thursday, 10 June 2004
Distance 35 km
Duration 7 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 641 m, descent 590 m
Map 65 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref 716) Traversée du Haut-Languedoc – GR7, GR71
Although we expected the day’s walk (to Dio) to be short, the heat of yesterday got us going early. As we paid the bill, I said how much we had enjoyed our stay, and the concrete face of the manageress cracked into a charming smile. The bells were ringing for 7 o’clock as we crossed the bridge in search of a boulangerie.
We could smell bread but nothing was open. Keith peered in at a window and saw shelves and shelves of fresh loaves, and a woman just about to unlock the door. We helped her drag her pot plant out to the footpath.
With the fragrant baguette sticking up from my pack, we set off and were immediately over a rise and out of sight of the town.
A sprawl of cheap apartments soon gave way to rising forest paths and finally to slopes of bracken.
After a couple of hours we reached a col, where the official GR653 (the Way of Arles) branched off.
We had been sharing it since Fozières and would do so again. Meanwhile we stayed with the GR7.
At a telecommunications tower high on the ridge, there was a workman’s van with the back door adorned with the sign “Non à la Guerre, non à la Bu$herie”. Proceeding along the ridge, we came to a decrepit chapel and stopped for refreshments of bread, cheese and water. There were cultivated fields spread out below us and we descended on a wheel-track, up which a four-wheel-drive was grinding.
When the driver heard that we were going to Dio, he was horrified and said we were completely on the wrong road. We would have to go back six or seven kilometres and take the road to the left. We thanked him, waited for him to disappear and continued on our way. He was evidently not much of a walker.
Soon after, we left the wheel track on a path of red dirt and passed through the medieval village of Valquières, then on towards Dio, which we could see a short distance away.
Unfortunately, there was a deep side valley between the two villages and we walked for ages, admittedly through beautifully tended crops, to get around it.
At Dio there was a large old château on a rise, a few houses and a gîte, all devoid of life. It was obvious that we would not enjoy a night here, so we fell back on plan B, to continue to la Tour-sur-Orb, a much larger looking town on the river.
The only thing we got from Dio, apart from a determination to never visit it again, was some water from a garden tap.
We were tired of chasing over hill and dale on the GR, so we cut the corner by taking the road, which had the virtue of taking us past some strange red-and-white striped geological formations.
We sweated buckets in the sun and were pleased when we got drenched by a big rotating crop sprayer as we passed a field of legumes.
Back on the GR, we reached the tiny village of Boubals, surrounded by gardens, and took a shady path beside the river Orb to cross the bridge into the town.
La Tour-sur-Orb was a canyon of grey houses on the highway and it had everything – a supermarket (closed), a bar (closed), a school (about to close), a handsome church (closed) and a camping ground (closed). We sat on a low wall and ate a doleful lunch.
A truck driver doing the same thing told us that there were bars 5 or 6 km away in either direction – not very helpful. The only place with signs of life was a Maison d’Hôte with a pretty garden hidden from the street.
We knocked at the door and it was answered by a portly little fellow in a sort of maternity smock, who turned out to be English. The rooms were elaborately decorated but expensive, and by this time we had taken a dislike to the whole moribund town. We sat on the bed in an agony of indecision, then remembered the words of the truck driver.
On the Topoguide we could see that going south to Bédarieux would allow us to reconnect with the GR again the following day.
This was plan C and as soon as we decided on it, a great weight lifted from our minds. It was at this moment that we realised we did not have to endure nights in sad little outposts, just because the GR went that way. We could make our own way. It was a great liberation.
With happy hearts and new vigour, we strode out of la Tour and covered the six km down the road with ease.
We called at the Office of Tourism for a handful of brochures and stopped at the first bar we came to. It was on a frantically busy corner but we revelled in the noise. I had coffee and Keith had a beer, which made him very sleepy.
We had found out that the nearby camping ground was closed, so I went off to look for a hotel, leaving Keith almost toppling into the gutter with fatigue. The nearest one was the Hotel Delta.
Two double-life-sized Egyptian gods guarded the entry, in front of a chocolate-box mural of a Swiss valley.
Upstairs, the reception desk was lost in a forest of carved red indians, pharoahs and animals, and surrounded by exuberant striped wallpaper thick with flower paintings, mosaics, oriental scrolls, photographs, brass gongs and bead curtains. I liked it.
At the desk, like a mouse in a treasure chest, sat a small, drab woman with a crutch. Presumably it was from her imagination that this extravaganza had come.
Keith and I went together across the river to the other hotel in the centre of the town, but it was defunct, according to a toothless crone on the balcony, so we returned to the Delta.
Our room was another wonderland, with ceiling and shower cubicle striped blue and orange, a hectic sunset scene of palm trees and ocean stretched across the head of the bed, and knick-knacks everywhere.
Through the window came the clamour of traffic, together with snatches of tinkling piano music from the dancing academy across the street. The shower was excellent, the bed very comfortable and we were extremely pleased with ourselves for having escaped from the graveyard of la Tour-sur-Orb.
Back over the bridge, we found a large square full of trees, where we had our apéritifs, then moved around the corner to the la Fariboulette pizzeria, which occupied a sort of stage jutting out into the street, with the open wood fire gleaming cheerfully further in.
We each had a big fresh salad, followed by glorious pizzas, and strolled back contentedly across the mighty Orb to our chamber of wonders.