Saturday, 7 June 2003
Distance 23 km
Duration 6 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 562 m, descent 438 m
Maps 56 and 63 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 653) Sentier de Saint-Jacques de-Compostelle, Moissac/Condom/Roncevaux
The crunching of boots on gravel told us that some of our companions were even earlier risers than us.
Nevertheless we were away by 7 and were able to supplement our meagre breakfast with cherries, first red, then black, and a few apricots warm from the tree.
Although it is the mildest of landscapes, we went up some surprisingly steep pulls.
The first took us to the hamlet of Flamarens, centred on its grand, half-restored sixteenth-century château, one of the first built for comfort and elegance, unlike the rough forts of earlier times.
Another couple of dips brought us to Miradoux. As we approached through a field of mown wheat, the sweat dripped off my nose in perfect time with my footsteps. Miradoux has a fortified church and picturesque houses.
Better still, it has a shop, a boulangerie and a bar, all of which we visited. The first coffee of the day made up for all the effort of getting there.
With no difficulty but plenty of sweat, we arrived at tiny Castet-Arrouy, built on the ruins of an ancient wooden fort, of which a Gallo-Roman well is the only remaining vestige.
Beyond that, passing through a dark wood on a track still slimy from recent rain, we came to an ideal lunch spot in a grassy avenue of poplars, with beehives at the end.
A laden cherry tree bent its branches to us to round off our meal. We eat a lot of fruit in France, considering that we never buy it.
We were in the heart of Gascony now, the rich rolling farmlands once controlled by the Basques and much fought over, as the many ruined fortresses attest.
Once we had crossed the N21, a dirt track led up to a point where we could see the truncated bell tower of Lectoure ahead. For the last stretch we forsook the GR and took the road, which was shorter and flatter, although hotter and uglier.
The town of Lectoure occupies a narrow spine of land high above the river flats of the Gers. Consequently the camping is far away, so we went to the Office of Tourism and they found us a chambre d’hôte in the main street.
The heavy old door opened into a garden, quiet and cool, from where steps led up to our apartment. The windows were tall and shuttered to keep out the heat. After showers, we collapsed into the first bed we had seen for two weeks.
Later we emerged and joined a group of our walking companions at a bar, then explored the town, which goes back to Roman times and is full of interesting remains, such as the ramparts and the natural spring dedicated to Diana.
The top of the cathedral tower, like many others in France, was knocked off in the Revolution (the other favourite form of revolutionary vandalism was knocking the heads off stone saints).
Getting dinner proved more difficult than we expected, given the abundance of cafes and restaurants in the street. The trouble was that most of them were closing their doors in order to watch the Rugby grand final between the local heroes, Toulouse, and Paris. Only the Bar des Sports stayed open and it was crammed with big neckless men drinking beer.
We persuaded the manageress to cook us a simple meal of salad, omelette, duck and chips and ate it on the pavement outside, with the setting sun pouring up the street.