Sunday, 13 June 2004
Distance 11 km
Duration 2 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 183 m, descent 105 m
Map 65 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
A deplorably tinny seven o’clock peal of church bells, like metal spoons being banged together, was not enough to dislodge us from our comfortable bed.
We rose much later, at eight, and prepared for the day with a bowl of muesli laden with cherries that we had picked yesterday along the way.
Then we stepped over to the church square and found a patch of morning sun in which to have coffee and pains aux raisins and a look at the local paper, the Midi Libre.
It was 10 o’clock before we left. The first section was a road-bash on a busy uphill road, but once over the rise we picked up the Piste Verte again and resumed our peaceful meandering. An hour passed and we came to the station of Corniou.
A gaunt old woman scuttled out of the bushes and grasped me by the arm, gabbling passionately in some unknown tongue. I asked her whether there was a bar in the village and she managed to convey a positive, then disappeared into the undergrowth, leaving us slightly bewildered.
Down in the village street, all we could see was a closed restaurant, but voices were coming from the curtained kitchen door, so I peered in and asked if they were open.
The smiling woman said no, but she would make an exception for us if our needs were simple. Two cups of coffee were no trouble to her and a great pleasure to us.
Further along the Piste Verte, we came to another tunnel, but unfortunately we had changed departments since yesterday (from Hérault to Tarn) and this one had no lights. Furthermore, it was much longer, and as we advanced into the gloom, we held hands like a couple of fearful trespassers in the underworld.
The bright arch behind us diminished to a point and still there was blackness ahead. Water dripped from the roof and we kept veering into the side walls, which were cold and slimy.
Our torch was deep in Keith’s pack, so we stumbled on until a faint grey shape resolved itself into an arch and we realised that we were nearly out. A bend in the tunnel had prevented direct light from entering.
Back in the world of the living, we skipped along with happy hearts until we came to the next station at Labastide-Rouairoux, which was right next to the village street. Here we sat on the churchyard wall to have lunch, then retired to a bar for the third coffee of the day. It had been a very easy morning’s walk, the sort of day that passes for a rest day in our minds.
The village street was endlessly entertaining. A man was washing his 1960 pink Cadillac coupé, then test-driving it; a woman hobbling on a crutch saw a friend and suddenly broke into a sprint, waving the crutch above her head.
It seems that even the locals find the name of their village too rich in vowels – it was referred to as Labastide-RX. The barman said there were chambres but no hotel in the town, and the camping was not open until the 15th of June (two days away).
The chambres were not to our liking so we went to look at the municipal camping ground, more than a kilometre out of town. When we got there, a car was parked at the barrier and a cleaning woman was at work.
We smiled and nodded at each other, but I did not ask, and she did not say, whether camping there before the opening date was permitted – it seemed best not to invite a direct refusal. Certainly her manner suggested that she had no objection, but we were not sure, so we kept discreetly out of sight behind a hedge until she finished and drove off.
Then we put up the tent and returned to town by way of little back streets lined with vegetable gardens. We had clean clothes on but were unwashed, as the newly cleaned shower block was locked.
After apéritifs at the bar, we moved to the only eatery in town, the Kaya Ibrahim Pizzeria in the small square. The wind was too chilly for outdoor eating, but inside we had a delightful meal, starting as usual with salad, and proceeding to an omelette with local mushrooms and a pizza.
We walked back in the last of the light and spent a semi-comfortable night on the ground.