Friday, 22 June 2007
Distance 35 km
Duration 7 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 330 m, descent 304 m
Map 66 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
With the clockwork precision that has become habitual, we left at 6:50 am. No matter when we wake up, we always seem to take our first step at this hour.
Not much else was happening in the camping ground as we strode off, completing the crossing of the Rhône by another bridge and picking up the marks of the GR42 on the left bank. Through quiet riverside streets we came to the village of les Angles and skirted it on the Sentier des Plantes, where signs informed us of the names of the different species on the hillside.
Les Angles is now almost swallowed by the expansion of Avignon, but looking back from the west it is still picturesque. Indeed, many painters have thought so – there was a board with reproductions of several of their efforts.
Having crossed under the N580, then the TGV line, we found ourselves doubling back and about to return under the TGV line. We stared at the map for a while and worked out that the GR had changed its track and we were following old signs in the wrong direction.
Soon we were heading west again, at the back of a row of new houses with farmland falling away to our right.
The GR42 diverged to the south but we kept going on the GR63, and after a while we came to a small road that led up steeply to the village of Rochefort-du-Gard, that we had seen crouching on its dark mound ever since leaving the built-up area of Avignon.
It was a charming but confusing place, with lanes at odd angles and gradients around the hilltop church.
To our weary eyes there was a depressing lack of anything resembling a bar, but an old man walking past assured us that there was one, out on the highway.
We hurried down there and had a delightful coffee break with croissants, much appreciated after three hours of hard walking. Going back to the village to rejoin the GR, we discovered there was another bar up there, two bakers and various other shops. We had just gone the wrong way earlier.
With a baguette sticking out of Keith’s pack, we left the village by a little street that joined the highway (the D976), and after a short distance we met the GR as it crossed over, thus saving ourselves a tiresome descent and re-ascent.
From there the track made easy progress through scrub until we got close to the autoroute, where the GR marks vanished and we found ourselves in a maze of wheel tracks among the stunted trees.
When we came to a farmhouse (Mas de Panissière) the farmer beamingly confirmed that we were lost. He was probably pleased to see another human face.
We had to trudge back and guess our way through the wheel tracks in a westerly direction. To our astonishment, we got it right and reconnected with the GR signs just as we reached the passageway under the A9.
Once free of the autoroute, we followed a rising path under some hissing, crackling high-tension power lines, then descended on a gravel road.
We came to an intersection where we should have turned off to the right, but there was no GR sign and we overshot by half a kilometre before realising that we were heading back towards the autoroute.
By this time we were getting indignant about the state of the signs, but that was the last of our navigational troubles for the day. We crossed the causse and dropped down through vineyards into the village of Saint-Hilaire-d’Ozilhan, a stony little place slumbering in the midday sun.
We ate our lunch in a bus shelter and then discovered a small café in the side street, where we had coffee under a tree. The toilets, compulsory in every French bar, were reached through a yard piled high with rubbish, quite an expedition.
Instead of continuing on the GR, we turned left towards Remoulins, where there was said to be a camping ground. A straight little road between open fields took us there in about an hour. Siesta time was in full swing here also.
Although there was a wide main street lined with shops, the only thing open was the Office of Tourism, which fortunately was the only thing we needed.
We found out that the two camping grounds were at Remoulins in name only, being two or three kilometres away, much closer to the Pont du Gard. Had we known, we could have taken the GR after all.
We crossed the Gard (or Gardon), for the first of many times, and soon reached the camping ground, after going past a Logis de France hotel with a promising menu, and several signs warning motorists that they were approaching the end of the road and a pay-parking area.
The grounds at the entrance to la Souza would have made a duke proud – a curving drive flanked by lawns, elaborate flower beds and graceful arrangements of trees. The campsites were grassy and well-shaded. At the reception we found other delights – a bar/restaurant and a pool. It was surprisingly cheap (€11.80) for such a lavish place, because of the special walkers’ price.
With our tent sitting up bravely among motorised behemoths, we retired to the bar for a glass of rosé and ended up having dinner there too, out of laziness. Most of our fellow diners were German.
The meal was simple, just salad, bread, steak and chips, with a jug of red, but we ate it with gratitude and enjoyment after a long day on the hoof.