Tuesday, 29 June 2004
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 263 m, descent 234 m
Map 63 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
Rising from the mortuary slab that had been our bed, we soon had all sign of our little camp packed away.
To get into the gîte for breakfast required a long struggle with the lock, not that we really needed to get in, except to collect our yoghurt from the fridge. We had already cleaned and swept last night.
We dropped the keys into the letterbox of one of the women at 7:30. People were driving away in all directions.
There was a short climb to start with, then it was more or less flat farmland for the rest of the way.
When we got to Saint-Jammes, we took to the highway for the last stretch into Morlaàs, except for a clever little short-cut that only walkers could get through, where the road went round a big hairpin bend.
As we pulled into the town, the back streets were lined with small old cottages, attractively dilapidated. Soon we came to the corner where the sign points to the camping ground, and at that point we closed the loop of our last three years’ walking, all 1900 km of it. It was only half-past-ten in the morning.
Morlaàs on a Tuesday morning had an entirely different atmosphere from the deathly emptiness of Sunday afternoon that we had experienced last year.
Shops were open, people hurried to and fro, cars passed. At the Hotel de France, which fronts the church square but has no room for tables on the footpath, we went into the side courtyard, where a beautiful climbing rose clung to the wall opposite, and joyfully ordered our first coffees in over 24 hours. Keith dashed off and returned with two pains aux raisins and a baguette. We also found out that we could eat there in the evening – we have learned the hard way never to assume this.
Next we paid a visit to the Chat Botté, the takeaway pizza shop that had been the only bright spot of Morlaàs last year. We had sent the man a postcard of thanks afterwards. He was still there, preparing for his lunch-time customers.
Of course he did not recognise us, but when we reminded him, he triumphantly produced the postcard and shook our hands, saying that our visit was like a gift to him. He gave us each a free cold drink and we left, very pleased.
Just for interest we revisited the barren square near the bus-station where we had first arrived last year. It was still barren, but the bar and the hotel were functioning. We were still in our boots and carrying our packs. It was time to hit the camping ground.
The young chap on the desk took us round the back and showed us a dormitory, kitchen and shower block especially for pilgrims, and the whole thing was free.
We thanked him greatly but preferred to camp for free. The only gîtes that we can endure are the busy ones on the main pilgrimage, and even they are a last resort.
Ablutions, lunch and a sleep took up the first part of the afternoon and a long visit to the bar near the bus-station occupied the second.
It was remarkably pleasant drinking coffee under a cover of hacked plane trees, and watching the same ageing layabouts as last year playing boules in the dust.
In the evening we had apéritifs at the bar of the Hotel de France and, as the bells for eight o’clock rang from the wonderful patchwork church across the street, we went into the dining room, already quite crowded, and chose a nice table at the end of the room. The menu was €9.70.
The first course was a buffet of crudités, from which we heaped our plates with a mountain of delicious things – ham, rollmops, eggs, mushrooms, grated carrot, asparagus and other vegetables – to the degree that when the main course came, we could hardly eat it, although it was rabbit with mustard, a lovely dish. We did our best and I tucked the rest of it into my bag for lunch tomorrow.
To finish we had a dish of fromage blanc, garnished with berries. The room was pretty and full of happily chattering people, and the contrast with last night in Anoye was something to savour.