Wednesday, 11 June 2003
Distance 34 km
Duration 6 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 521 m, descent 508 m
Map 63 of the Top-100 series
Topoguide (ref. 653) Sentier de Saint-Jacques de-Compostelle, Moissac/Condom/Roncevaux
For the second day in a row, we were walking by 6:30. The first six kilometres were on the road, but we made short work of it and soon rejoined the GR.
The track here forms part of the Tenarèze, a famous and extremely ancient route that went from the Pyrénées to the Atlantic without ever crossing a valley, following the watershed between the Adour and the Garonne.
A short way further on we arrived at the fortress-hamlet of Lamothe. Somebody should tell them that the Hundred Years’ War is over – the only buildings of note here are a guard tower defending the frontier of the fiefdom of Armagnac, and a church.
There is one other feature, an old railway line, from which rails and sleepers have been removed.
This provided a delightfully flat tunnel of greenery for the remaining seven kilometres into Éauze. We had covered sixteen kilometres and it was only 9:30.
At the foot of the great mountain of masonry that is Éauze cathedral, we found a bar where we had delicious coffees and a bag of pâtisserie, with our bare feet enjoying their freedom.
Then we got some picnic supplies and set off again. The roadside cherries we ate on this leg were to be the last we ever had this year, although we did not know it then.
A lovely walk through corn and vines, across streams and round a fish-farm, took us to Manciet in time for lunch.
At the tiny bull-ring in Manciet they do something called la Course Landaise, a less repulsive form of bull-fighting in which the aim is to avoid a charging cow.
No blood is spilt, or at least none from the cow.
We had lunch on a park bench overlooking the rumbling canyon of the N124, then went to the bar for coffee, and there were the Alsacians that we had last seen at Moissac, together with the four French walkers we had met at Lectoure and la Romieu. So it was a sociable gathering.
By this time we were not feeling as fresh as before, so we took a short-cut on a narrow one-way road, then picked up the GR again for the last stage, through cornfields and woods, into Nogaro.
We went straight to the camping ground, which was near the gîte on the outskirts, only to find it unattended. This was becoming a habit.
At the time we did not know that the 15th of June is the normal opening date for most small camping grounds.
However, the grass was mown and, thanks to the charity of the person running the gîte, we had a good shower and washed our sweaty clothes. That meant that I had to swelter in my heavy long-sleeved shirt while my T-shirt was drying.
Revived by a sleep, we went to see the town, which was stretched along the highway, rather pinched and sorry-looking.
Only the church had an air of grandeur with its fine tympanum, its cool cavernous interior and the remains of cloisters, whose columns are now half-buried by the accumulations of centuries.
The search for dinner started off unpromisingly, but at last we came to a square with trees and tables outside a pleasant old hotel, the Le Commerce. Some pilgrims were already eating there.
We sat down, but after a while the sun sank below a band of cloud and started to roast us alive, even though it was 8:30 pm, so we moved, tablecloth and all, to a shadier place, and were then very happy. The meal was elaborate and delectable.
We began with apéritifs (a pastis and a rosé), which came with a plate of savouries, then moved on to soup, veal escalopes with braised endives and finally home-made coffee ice-cream.
It took us longer than usual to fall asleep, as it was so warm and airless in the tent.