Tuesday, 3 July 2012
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 153 m, descent 152 m
Map 170 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We crawled out reluctantly into the pearly light of dawn. It was not even 6 o’clock and the only other conscious being was the woman cleaning the shower block.
As is our habit, we took possession of the table and chairs outside the closed reception office for breakfast. Our frugal muesli was enlivened by a couple of nectarines that I had seen hanging over the fence the night before.
At 6:30 we were on the road, taking a sharp left turn near the church and soon leaving the houses behind.
It was rather a main road (the N572) but as it was so early it was almost empty. So we decided to save a bit of distance by staying on it instead of diverting to the left with the GR.
This was a mistake, although not a bad one, because there was no verge at all, just a deep ditch on either side, and we were obliged to walk on the bitumen.
We passed orchards of apricots, nectarines and peaches being picked by Spanish seasonal workers. Apples and grapes were ripening.
After about three kilometres the GR returned to the road and crossed it. We followed it up a rutted farm road between vines, where work was already under way. Big lorries laden with fruit lumbered down as we walked up.
Then the road went over a canal, but we turned left and continued beside it along a stony track full of puddles. It was an irrigation canal, bringing water from the Rhône to this fertile but dry area.
After an hour or so the GR crossed the canal and turned away from it. Before following, we sat down in the shade of a bush for a drink.
We had only been going two hours but I felt tired already and it was getting very hot. Vauvert was another couple of hours away and after that we had twelve kilometres more on the GR to get to our destination, Gallargues-le-Montueux.
Off the canal the land was surprisingly hilly and we sweated as we trudged up and down.
Everywhere we looked was clothed in fruit trees. There was nobody in sight but at one stage we heard singing and laughter from the thick mass of foliage – Spanish fruit pickers.
When we emerged from the orchards we were on an open grassy rise, and due to a confusion of signs we missed the GR turn, but quickly worked out how to reconnect with it.
On the very top of the rise was a gigantic, offensively ugly rig, which we thought, for want of a better idea, might be a coal-seam gas project. Having rejoined the GR, we descended steeply, then climbed again.
It was hard work and the thought of the twelve kilometres to follow beyond Vauvert was demoralising. At last the town came into view below us and we entered the streets, still guided by the GR signs.
Before long we came to the church which looked onto a tree-shaded square, where people were sitting reading the paper over their coffee. We lost no time in joining them. Fortunately, the barman had croissants on the counter so we did not need to hunt around for a boulangerie.
It was only 10:30 am, but I already felt worse than I had the day before after we had walked 33 km in the same amount of heat. Today we had gone less then 20 kilometres but I was a wreck.
I cried a few private tears of exhaustion as we waited for our coffee to arrive. My broken-down state was not lost on Keith and he kindly suggested that we change our plans and try to stay at Vauvert for the night.
Having made this decision, we could relax and enjoy our refreshments in the beautiful shady square, with the little town going about its business around us.
We knew there was a camping ground about two kilometres further on, and if we could find out whether there was a restaurant attached, we could either eat there or buy supplies for a picnic.
After a while we continued our descent into the town proper and asked our way to the Office of Tourism, which was slightly removed. It was in a sweet little cottage on a corner of the highway coming from St-Gilles.
The woman rang up the camping ground and found out that it had a functioning restaurant, good news for us.
I asked her for a list of all the accommodation in the department, but she pointed out that we were only six kilometres from the border between Gard and Hérault, so it would be no use to us.
Back in the centre of town, we rejoined the GR, crossed the railway line and set off on a path across flat fields until we reached a road (D135). Here we abandoned the GR and turned left on the bitumen.
It was further than we expected but at length we arrived at the camping ground (Les Tourrades), which was large and rather grand, with a pool, a bar, a restaurant, a stage and various other amenities.
We were the first Australians who had ever stayed there, according to our host. He took us to a plot with both grass and shade, the two essential attributes.
First we had lunch, stretched out on our mats, then showers, washing and a sleep. Later we retired to the bar for coffee, and watched the Tour de France on TV.
I read the Topoguide description of the walk from Gallargues to Montpellier – 35 kilometres on a Roman road without a single village for refreshments. It sounded frightful, so we started staring at the map for another way.
The solution seemed to be to forget Gallargues entirely and to scamper down the highway early tomorrow morning to the village of Aimargues. From there we could take small back roads, hopping from village to village, and get to Montpellier in two days.
Well pleased with our new plan, we presented ourselves at the outdoor restaurant and had drinks on a sort of plastic lounge suite with a glass coffee table in the middle.
There were various people around, but a lot of them looked as if they were permanent residents rather than holiday makers. They all knew each other, and the staff.
Later we went over to the dining tables, which were under an awning of straw, for dinner. We had two courses for €15.
First we had two delicious salads, a tomato and mozzarella one and a classic chèvre chaud. The waiter came past after we had ordered and proudly showed us the lettuce and basil that he had just pulled from the ground for our plates.
The second course was steak with chips and mushrooms, plain but satisfying.
The barman turned on the loudspeakers attached to the stage and played stirring military music, which gave a brisk, cheerful atmosphere to the dining area.
Later, after we had left, he changed to American blues music, lovely to go to sleep to.