Wednesday, 30 June 2004
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 91 m, descent 203 m
Map 63 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
The last day of walking for this year was, like the preceding few days, ridiculously short. We were in great spirits as we set off at 7:30 to do a contrary version of last year’s thankless trudge.
As soon as we crossed the road at the top of Morlaàs, we started going down, a long way down, on a stony wheeltrack beside a wood. I had forgotten the steepness but remembered the feeling of exhaustion.
Then we were on flat land again and strode along easily until we got to the D222, where we did a sharp left turn and parted company with the GR653 for ever.
Once over the autoroute, we entered the suburbs of Pau and kept going straight as an arrow into the centre. It was familiar to us from last year and we spent a few leisurely days there, staying at the camping ground at Gélos, across the river, which was still run by the same ageing hippy.
He advised us to camp in the far corner of the place, because there was going to be a percussion festival on Friday night.
We spent the days enjoying the pleasures of city life, wandering about the old streets, having icecreams in Queen Marguerite’s square and drinks at Clemenceau and the Château quarter. Everywhere there were people shaking hands and kissing each other in greeting – Pau looks like a mini-Paris but it is really just a country town.
Our best meal was at the Hotel du Commerce, in a long courtyard lined with flower tubs. We had an Andalusian tomato salad (with anchovies) as an entrée, lamb steaks in garlic cream with sautéed potatoes for mains, and ended with a cherry tart.
The waiter was fascinated at how hungry we were – two baskets of bread gone, plates polished – so I explained that we had been walking for five weeks. “What, you haven’t eaten for five weeks?”, he exclaimed in horror. Did we look that thin?
The percussion festival was a gloriously noisy finale to our time in Pau, dominated by North Africans with their complicated rhythms and stately dancing, with contributions from many lesser talents. The last drum beats died away at 4:30 am.
The next morning, in a pervading deep silence, we tiptoed away to take the train back to Paris and face the long flight home.
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.