To Montaner

by Administrator 17. July 2008 09:09
16.07.08 Wednesday.

Marciac to Montaner via Maubourguet.

After breakfast from Rob Robinson at the great little campsite run by him and his wife, and advice as to possible next stops, and being very aware of the distance to be covered in order to meet up with our friend Graham with George the dog on Friday evening, we set off for Maubourguet. The first few miles took us through the usual mix of woods and field and past the chap in the photo who we heard long before we saw, sadly he did not want a walk to Spain.
There followed a slightly tedious bit across the floor of the valley of the Ardour river - notable as the most easterly river off the Pyrenees that does not join the Garronne but flows to the sea at Bayonne. We reached Maubourguet at lunch time and were fortunate to find one of those places that do a standard Menu du Jour with wine for 12€ , we sat at 12 05 bread, water, wine and a tureen of potage (veg soup) arrived almost immediately. After 2 helpings of that we then got a choice bayonne ham or egg basquaise followed by a main course of duck, steak or lamb chop with frites, followed by cheese or dessert. It was not surprising the place was full of everyone from the plasterers next to us to the Electricity de France men we later saw removing a high voltage insulator from a pylon, very sensibly they were not touching the wine.
After a very pleasant 2 hours we went back to the tourist office that had just closed when we arrived and tried to find, with help of a pleasant girl there, a campsite slightly closer to Tarbes where we are due to meet Graham - there is one Rob, and we think the one you were trying to remember, it’s in Montaner a very small Municipal right in front of the Mairie and next to the bar restaurant. It took us till 19:00 to get there, a bit over 25 miles but with a very sensible 10-12 miles to do tomorrow.
We had just missed the festivities at Montaner, as the previous weekend there had been a medieval weekend. The village boasts a large field on a hill which from the amount of horse droppings must have been fairly covered in horses, and a moated castle at the top of the hill. There were also recreations of medieval buildings at various intervals up the hill. It looks like we missed by just 3 days an exciting weekend, but I suppose if we had been earlier then the campsite would have been full rather than empty as it is.
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To Marciac

by Administrator 16. July 2008 04:44
15.07.08 Tuesday.

Montesquiou to Marciac.

Another good day start after breakfast at the Chateau le Haget, then a great walk over field and forest to the little hamlet of St Christaud with its 11th century church - unfortunately closed but with a disused funeral carriage, under a lean-to shed. Just before this we were joined by the dog of the day (Buster3). This one was long haired and more friendly than the previous two, it rapidly became obvious that it knew exactly where we/it were going only leaving the way to take what eventually proved to be a short cut. We had started fantasising about where he had come from and had he been sent out from the campsite at Marciac to lead us in, or was he a manifestation of a previous pilgrim doomed forever to guide others to their destination. We had sat down about 11:30 not far short of Marciac when a deer broke cover and shot across the route about 10 feet from where we were sitting with our friend in hot pursuit. He disappeared for a while and we were chatted to by a couple of travellers on the way by horseback. When we reached the bottom of the hill he reappeared having been stirring up trouble with a couple of farm dogs, one of whom needed dissuading from attack with a walking pole.
We entered Marciac under the strict control of our guide who led us to the second bar we passed, where we sat for beer and lunch. The lady of the bar came out, gave him water and called him by what we think was his name and there he remained when we went on just out of town to the campsite. Was he on commission? We don’t know.
Marciac it appears is home to one of France's largest jazz festivals starting in August (unfortunately) it also has a bronze statue of Wynton Marsalis who performs there every summer.
We are staying at the Camping du Lac which is run by a delightful English couple who spent a ½ hour or so with us trying to work out where best we could stop tomorrow night. As Donald Rumsfeld said ‘there are known unknowns and there are unknown unknowns’ etc , and this is certainly true when trying to find out the existence of campsites or not. Tomorrow’s prospective campsite doesn’t exist. Probably. The philosophers had an easy job in comparison, I think.
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To Montesquiou

by Administrator 15. July 2008 05:25
14.07.08 Monday Bastille Day.

Auch to Montesquiou.

A grand day out Grommet. After a slightly noisy night in the campsite, some people celebrating Bastille day a bit early, we started with clear skies and a fresh cool morning. After getting out of Auch, we had breakfast in a lavoir. These are the refurbished public washing areas in most villages and towns, they are completely unused but many have been renovated and provide a pleasant place to sit, usually at the edge of a shallow pool about 10ft by 15ft. After about 3-4 miles consistently up hill on roads we came out of the communale forest of Auch and there over a wheat field we got our first sight of the Pyrenees with 14 hot air balloons in the distance. At last after all these weeks a real landmark in our progress.
Shortly after we were joined by a foxhound, who amiably followed us but at a short distance for about 10km to the village of Barran. This was a lovely little village with all facilities (closed of course as it was a public holiday) except for a bar/café to get a drink.
We reached our destination for the day (L’Isle de Noe) at 12:00hrs, and after a biere and our lunch had an hour's rest in the shade while the tents dried. The morning had passed quickly and relatively painlessly while we walked over some of the most pleasant countryside we have seen, perfect walking weather cool and bright with clouds gradually building up did help. We saw our foxhound friend chase a family of three deer but fail to catch one, and also a sighting of what may have been a Jersey Tiger, points for the first to find out what this is.
It was far too early to stop so we moved on to our next probable campsite, arriving in Montesquiou about 16:00 and a campsite in the grounds of an old chateau (Dutch owned again) with pilgrim reductions again. The Dutch seem to have taken to this part of France as the English have to Dordogne. We are also having a pilgrim dinner and breakfast, 48euros for camping, two evening meals and two breakfasts.
While coming through the village we came across their Bastille Day celebrations which seemed to consist of a communal meal on tables outdoors on the sports field. The celebrations were just about over but a lot of good natured noise and singing could be heard even from a distance. It looked like any good village bash that we would have at home.


To Auch

by Administrator 13. July 2008 17:28
13.07.08 Sunday.

Roquelaure to Auch (rhymes with gosh!)

A short day after yesterday's 22 miles, so we planned to stop early in Auch at the Municipal there and shop before 12, Tomorrow is Monday and Bastille day so no chance of shopping in Isle de Noe which is where we hope to be. During the nine miles before breakfast in Auch we pass a field of sunflowers that have labels - it seems the farmer is experimenting with different cultivars for best yield. This is a common crop in this area and is looking very well at present.
During our breakfast on the bank of the River Ger we were approached by a Frenchman walking his dog, asking if we were pilgrims, it appears that we have reached the Route De Arles which is the route we shall cross the Pyrenees on and the possibility of Pilgrim Hostels becomes a reality once we can find out where they are. He had completed the Camino twice, once from here and once from Le Puy en Velay. The route De Arles travels around the south coast of France to Arles on the Rhone delta and would be the route taken by pilgrims visiting Rome after Compostella, the one remaining pilgrimage would then be Jerusalem completing the Big Three medieval pilgrimage sites. We intend to follow it to Puenta del Reina near Pamplona where it joins the main Camino. By then we hope to have shed some of the excess baggage required for camping and lightened our packs considerably.
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To Roquelaure

by Administrator 12. July 2008 18:59
12.-07.08 Saturday.

Lectoure to Roquelaure via an assignation in Fleurance.

We rose early after a noisy night in the world's most expensive campsite, some of the local staff were up and playing with the machinery for mowing etc at 06:00, still we did not mind but would if we were staying. The whole place is a lager, a fortified Dutch town in a foreign land, and not what we call camping. We then walked 6 miles in to Fleurance to meet Tim’s daughter Rhona and her friends who had done very well in the Pre Tour de France, Col du Tourmalet stage. We had a bit of a wait but not bad considering the difficulty they had in hitting the moving target presented by the two of us. We all had lunch put together by Rhona, on the steps of the Mairie in the old centre covered market area of the town, score again for Bastide architecture. Tim got a new book from Rhona, thank you especially since you have not finished it. We then after farewells decided rather ambitiously but because the rain had stopped and it was still cool (you have to go with the weather and today has certainly been a matter of good timing), to do another 12 miles or so to a campsite we were 95% plus sure existed, we arrived after a lot of walking some on roads, some on a very good track, and once through another mosquito infested green lane, nothing like mosquitoes for getting tiring legs going faster.
While in Fleurance we visited the local Office De Tourisme where a very nice lady whose English was even worse than our French phoned to a campsite we are hoping to use in 2 days time, but due to the vagaries of finding campsite information we didn’t know if it still existed. The phone call confirmed that it did, so maybe we will have a bed in to 2 days time.
This is another Dutch run site but completely different and family run - we were welcomed, and offered a biere, and given a pilgrim discount and asked to the Karaoke in the bar in the evening. The son of the owners has done the Camino on mountain bike (only 11 days from here!) so can’t be far away now.
We have also had contact fro Graham (an old Easter holiday friend) who is currently staying with friends in Bergerac. We had hoped to meet him there but we rushed past a few weeks too early for him. The current plan is to meet him (and George his dog) near Tarbes next week if it can be so arranged.
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To Lectoure and then a bit.

by Administrator 11. July 2008 16:05

11.07.08  Friday

Set off this morning from La Romieu, up early but had failed to note time of opening of boulangerie, still making interesting noises and smells at 07:05 so went on our way without breakfast, chocolate bars essential after one and a half hours.  La Romieu has an old Abbey we could not go round, but tours are arranged and there is a local legend about a cat woman that we could not understand but several houses are decorated with stone cats.

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We are heading for Lectoure and then just south to a campsite called Three Valleys, this is a point from which we can reach Fleurance tomorrow morning to meet Rhona and her friends heading north after their visit to the Tour de France. The weather is thankfully cooler today and we make good progress into Lectoure by late morning where a market is in full swing. we got trout for later and then a meal in a cafe (breakfast and lunch).

We wandered into the old cathedral there - many church buildings around here date from 14th and 15th centuries and the establishment of the Bastide towns by the rival French and English royal houses.

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The reason you have more than one picture is that we are on the worlds most expensive campsite, it is charging about ten times that of our cheapest municipal, we would have walked on but were told the next site had closed down. However internet access is inclusive, so taking advantage of it. It does have everything one could possibly require but it's a bit like a campsite for people who don't really like camping.



by Administrator 11. July 2008 15:28

This is a post for those who have not experienced walking along the great range of French foot paths, in the hope that it may be useful to someone.

These waymarks are intended to guide a walker or mountain biker, VTT Velos Tous Terrain in French on a given route cross country. I will cover some of the mountain biking ones later. First the walking ones.

The waymarks for the GR network or Grande Randonnees (long distance footpaths across from one area to another) are red and white and the standard mark that says "yes, carry straight on" is a horizontal bar, or 2 in this case. These are usually painted on a tree, rock or post where ever handy BUT there may be nowhere handy for some distance.

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The next is a cross to say don’t go this way, often at a junction there will be one or more of these on some ways forward and only one with the horizontal bar.

This may be confusing if two GR paths diverge at a point and this may be seen, indicating that this is the way for one GR but not the GR48, usually there are other signs in these situations.

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Just before or at (or occasionally, and confusingly, just after) a turning a triple bar with a vertical stroke indicates turn left or right.

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Sometimes marks may have faded or be covered with foliage. This one has just undergone some public service clearance by us.

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The situation becomes more complicated when other paths become involved and since the GR may go round a village that has its own set of local footpaths in yellow, blue or any other colour one can see signs that are very complex and indicating various turns for different paths.

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Finally there is the prospect of signs almost vanishing from age and lack of maintenance.

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The sign for VTT is two round blobs and a triangle (a stylised cyclist) which can be tilted to indicate turns by the direction the triangle points.

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To La Romieu

by Administrator 10. July 2008 18:11
10.07.08 Thursday.

Aubiac to La Romieu.

A very good night's sleep in our little suite in the La Metairie du Chateau, and a chance to chat with M. Marraud in the morning. He is the facteur or manager for the chateau estate, his uncle and aunt still live in the chateau and a good part of the old chateau outbuildings are converted very well for functions, such as weddings and the computer seminar we gatecrashed accidentally yesterday. They had to go to Toulouse yesterday to deliver a school exchange student back to his flight home to Spain. Unfortunately Easy Jet cancelled it.
Geoff has sensibly decided to head slowly for home walking back to Agen today for a train to catch for his flight from Bordeaux on Saturday. We also said goodbye to a magnificent Mastif with arthritis who is old now at twelve and sleeps most of the time.
We set off about 07:45 and the day rapidly warmed up, we did some miles of mixed road and farm track until we rejoined the GR mid morning and followed it into a great little ghost village called Pouy Rochelaure, where in the shelter of some chestnut trees with a red squirrel in residence we had lunch and cooled from fiery to merely warm over an hour and a half. The tap at the back of the church was a great help.
We then flogged on for a total of 17 miles to the campsite at La Romieu (the final few miles being on a very easy gradient into the village across fields), which we entered by the back door as in the previous site owned by this big campsite company, that we used in the upper Dordongne. The site has everything including a pool which helped the cooling off and we then tried to get some information about the next few days campsites both from the campsite office and the tourist office in the village, both of whom were very helpful and with useful information, how accurate this is on the ground remains to be seen.
We are now still waiting at 18:30 for the day to cool down before cooking, apparently the forecast is for cooler weather soon, we do hope so.
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To Aubiac

by Administrator 9. July 2008 19:51
9.07.08 Wednesday.

A Field near Bernadette Farm to Chateau d’Aubiac via Agen.

We met the farmer later in the evening, before pitching tents, his thick country accent and our lack of French meant communication was minimal but we understood he wished to put the cows in the field the next day (a ploy I think to stop long term camping) but we were welcome to camp for the night. Next door were several fields of sunflowers and the picture is for Betsy who loves them.
Three smelly pilgrims started south early next morning and although the route into Agen was not too long it involved four 100m ascents and a final steep descent into the valley of the Garonne and a welcome coffee, orange juice and croissant at the Café de La Gare in Agen (simply the first we came to).
The tourist office were again very helpful, yes they were Tony! (He was incensed by the inability to communicate between offices - this meant that Villeneuve who had found the campsite for us were unaware it stopped being a conventional camping 8 years previously and was now a holiday village.) They sent an email to Villeneuve on his instruction!! We then had a dilemma as there are no campsites south of Agen in reasonable walking distance, we hope we have confirmed the one in Le Romieu where we should meet Rhona on Saturday, but it will include another wild camp to get there. Since Geoff has to return to Bordeaux for his flight on Saturday we shall say goodbye tomorrow and thanks for being a great associate pilgrim. The tourist office did come up trumps and found us a great B&B at reduced price for “randonneurs” (they have travelled part of the Camino) in a small village called Aubiac just south of Agen. It was about as far south and just off our GR route as we cared to go on the very hot afternoon that remained after shopping. M. et Mme Marraud of La Metairie du Chateau are great and their building was being used for a computer seminar when we walked in. Fabrice & Evelyne were a little nonplussed at these three smelly pilgrims with big packs but very soon overcame any misgivings and not only provided us with a room but also offered us the use of their garden and kitchen so as we could do some washing and cook our supper. (They did sell us some wine though!)
Link to where we are on Google Maps


To ???

by Administrator 9. July 2008 04:57
8.07.08 Tuesday.

Villeneuve to A Field just south of Bernadette..

A very good day for walking - not too hot, with cloud cover, our only problem we don’t know where we’re going to stay tonight. No campsites available to break the 25 or so miles between Villeneuve and Agen. Still we started out anyway with a possibility of a wild camp after about 15 miles. Up the hill out of the Lot Valley to a hill village called Pujols to get breakfast since we were on the outskirts of town and were sure there would be a boulangerie up there, arrived at about 07:45 in a little sleepy village with restaurants and an old church - the whole thing obviously a Bastide settlement - but nothing was open, the place dead to the tourist world until 09:00. Great views over the Lot valley back to Villeneuve.the whole place is a preserved village and basically now caters for the tourists, but only after 09:00! We waited listening to the “Today” programme as there was nowhere else for us to get bread for today and tomorrow morning. The man from the café opened early, we had our coffee and bought bread, and were off again.
The day has been up and down - not high valleys, but consistently up or down 100m. About 15:30 we reached the area where the tourist lady said we might find a friendly farmer. We have found a quiet field and wait to see if one turns up if not this will do for the night.
Only other point of note for the day was that Geoff’s sock made another break for freedom at lunch time. We had all taken boots and socks off to allow feet to recover and had just replaced boots when Geoff could only find 3 of the 4 socks he was wearing.
GF adds; we had been sitting on the concrete roof of a water control station, so it should not have gone far. Found it after a concerted search of boots, rucksack and field – down the back of my shirt! I had used the socks as a headrest for five minutes zzzs.
Postscript – the farmer has just turned up on his tractor to establish that we were not gypsies otherwise he was turning his cows out into this field. Having established our credentials as crazy English pilgrims, he then gave us permission to camp for the night.
Tim does occasionally talk about work still and I have brought him up-to-date with all the news (both good and bad, sadly). I am struggling to think it is a Tuesday and that I should be in theatre 2 and then day case tomorrow. Can’t seem to send any ordinary postcards from these fields, but love to you all, without forgetting recovery too!
Link to where we are on Google Maps