Thursday, 18 May 2023
Distance 28 km
Duration 8 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 105 m, descent 210 m
We woke to the light patter of rain from the open window and by the time we packed up and left the hotel it was teeming. We sprinted across to the brasserie and waited under an awning until the place opened, which was not at 6 am as had been promised by the geriatric hotelier, but at 7. There were a few other people waiting with us, including a garrulous ex-military man from Sisteron, who insisted on telling us his views on the world, in particular his prediction that World War III would break out later this year. We did not really want to hear this so early in the morning, and we made sure we sat far away from him when the doors finally opened. He annoyed us further by coming over to our table and instructing us in French manners, pointing out that we had not said “s’il vous plait” when asked by the barman where we would like to sit.
Escaping from this sanctimonious pest, we set off in light drizzle and crossed the canal, then followed a path beside orchards and vines which led to the first houses of Malijai. It was a pleasant walk despite the rain, and we were delighted when we came to a boulangerie, which was also a bar. By the time we had, enjoyed another round of coffee and croissants, the rain had stopped. Things were looking up.
We remembered this village from an earlier walk, and admired once again the pink facade of the hotel (now the Mairie) in which Napoleon had spent the night on his way from exile on Elba to his hundred days of glory in Paris. Then we crossed the river and pursued a track beside the canal. When the canal disappeared into the hillside, we found ourselves under the looming spires of the Penitents, a line of enormously tall, unstable-looking columns composed of round pebbles, polished by millions of years under moving water of some sort. Walking under them was quite awe-inspiring, even intimidating. When we were most of the way along the track, Keith tripped and sprawled on the ground, hurting his ribs a bit, but by that time, fortunately, we were close to the village of Les Mees.
It was Ascension, a public holiday, and the sun had come out, bathing the tree-lined church square in strong greenish light. The good citizens of the village were out in force and we joined them. For the first time we felt the joy, familiar from past years, of relaxing with the locals in a sunlit square.
When we were leaving les Mees we saw the remains of one of the Penitents which had collapsed during a storm a few years before and demolished a house. We were amazed that all the other houses in this row seemed to be still occupied, presumably by people with nerves of steel.