Wednesday, 23 June 2004
Distance 27 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 451 m, descent 545 m
Map 63 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded) Topoguide Le Chemin d’Arles (blue cover)
Just before dawn a there was a shattering roar as a heavy bomber flew over at the height of the treetops. It seemed a good moment to rise, in case it had woken the local farmer as well.
We had the tent packed away in a minute, and stood on the track to eat our muesli in the half-light. At 6:30 we were on our way, tired in body but relieved in mind.
The track was delightful and in an hour or so we came to the hamlet of l’Isle-Arné. The name de l’Isle is everywhere in these parts. As we came along a path behind some houses, we surprised a naked man yawning and stretching on his back doorstep.
This was the only entertainment that the place offered at that hour, but not much further on was Lussan, where we sat on the terrace of the closed restaurant and ate some of yesterday’s bread and cheese. As we set off again, I was feeling the effects of a sleepless night. I felt weak, dirty and cranky, and trudged along grimly in silence.
Near Roqueraillade, we decided to shorten our journey to Auch by leaving the GR and taking a small road directly to town. We were making good progress on the descent when we met a group of local women out for a morning walk.
Their leader, a short, brisk person, told us that we were lost and would need to go back. She detailed two of her flock to escort us, and so we turned round and went back up the hill with great reluctance.
Our two aimiable guides took us through the forest until we rejoined the GR near Montégut.
We thanked them profusely through gritted teeth as they left. They evidently thought we had lost our way from the GR.
As soon as they were out of sight we turned down steeply past the château of Montégut, losing all the height we had just unwillingly gained, and took other roads, ending with a busy main road, to get to Auch.
It was scruffy as we entered, but we loved it, the traffic, the people bustling, the shops. It was almost closing time but we managed to get a baguette and, coming to a big roundabout, we sank gratefully into chairs at a bar.
That first cup of coffee for the day was so delicious, all our tiredness fell from us. Our boots and grassy socks lay in a heap under the table and our labours were over for now.
There was a short walk to come, to the camping ground, which was on an island in the river Gers not far away. The river bank was lined with flower gardens and there was a gravel path. At the camping ground we had showers and lunch and then slept soundly in the shade of the hedge, making up for the night before.
In the late afternoon we walked very slowly back along the riverbank to the grand stairway and crept up it like invalids. The old town on its knoll is dominated by the cathedral, a gigantic fifteenth century edifice in the flamboyant style.
Auch is a very ancient place. It was the capital of old Gascony, taking over the distinction from Éauze in the fifth century when the Vandals destroyed that town. The original inhabitants were related to the Basques; in fact the name Auch has the same derivation as Euskadi, the Basques’ name for themselves.
Beyond the cathedral were crooked lanes radiating from a square, full of elegant shops and cafés. Cars were banned and the cobbled roadways were crowded with well-dressed people promenading.
We may not have been well-dressed (although we had done our best with our clean set of clothes), but we certainly enjoyed ourselves.
After looking around, we had another round of coffee, followed by glasses of rosé and then dinner at the la Bodega by lamplight in the street. We ordered “lomu”, which we though was fish, but it was some sort of meat when it came.
We never found out what creature it was from, but it was very good and the plates were piled with lovely vegetables as well. The day ended very pleasantly, a great deal better than yesterday.