14 June, 2012
The bliss of solitude
Not a soul on the path today. Only the bleating of the lambs and the lowing of the cows and the song of the birds in the woods.
At last the weather was fine -- cool but sunny. I ambled along, falling into the rhythm of the road and enjoying the pleasure of the moment. I felt no pressure to arrive somewhere to avoid being caught in a shower of rain. What a difference the weather makes!
Again, the gite where I stayed last night was run by a couple of Brits. They offer a demi-pension, tarrif pelerin, but I hadn't given her enough warning for a meal. It's a nice place with a lovely garden with a view of the abbey church. (See picture below.)
He was a civil engineer, and he had plenty of work in the area helping ex-pats overcome their misfortunes arising from foolish or hasty house-buying. He mentioned some clients who had forgotten to drain all the water out of their pipes when they went back to their principal residence in England, and who came back to France in February to find that all their toilets had exploded. Australians were prone to folly as well, he said, buying houses on the Internet at fantastic prices, sight unseen, and arriving to find they were next to the sewage lagoon.
He was from the north country, and had a disconcerting habit of beginning his speech quite loudly and then fading away to nothing. Pardon, I would say, and he would begin again, but soon fade to a whisper, looking at me intensely, his lips moving but saying nothing. Dickens could have made much of him.
The gite itself was an annex which he had refurbished a couple of years ago. Previously, he said, it had been a small leather factory, and there had been places for ten workers. It had been one of the many little industries which supported the town. And, he said, there had once been 60 children living on the street. Now there were none. Sad!
After a short walk through the woods, I arrived at the village of Marsac, and sitting in the sun I drank my morning coffee.
Later, I sat on a bench outside the church in the hamlet of Arrenes. There was no one there, but on the monument aux morts of the Great War were nineteen names, including three sets of brothers, with three lost from one family. The village must have lost almost half its young men in that war. And there were more names on that memorial than inhabitants today.
After a long and vigorous climb up a stony path in the woods, I ate lunch beside another war memorial in front of the squat church of Saint-Goussaud. This was literally the high point of the day. From there it was downhill to Chatelus-le-Marcheix.
Half-way down, at a place where three roads met, a bird shat on me. Just a tiny speck of orange. I took it as a sign to go straight ahead. An aeroplane was flying overhead as well, so I hoped they weren't emptying out the slops.
I had been contemplating bypassing this evening's recommended stop, and taking a short cut along the road to get a start on tomorrow's walk, but now I decided I would join the Hollanders at the gite at Chatelus-le-Marcheix and consume the can of emergency food I had been carrying around for about a week.
I walked down through the woods into Chatelus, only to find that the bottom bunks at the gite were all taken.
Now when I was young and nimble, I found it fun to sleep in the upper bunk, but now that I'm older I try to avoid it. Getting up in the night for a pee, I run the risk of falling off or stepping on a tender part of the person below.
I decided to walk on another ten kilometres to Les Bilanges. And I'm glad I did.
I'm staying in a very comfortable gite in a converted barn at La Besse Haut about a kilometre off the track, just short of Les Bilanges. La proprietaire est gentille, the food is very good, and the pilgrim's rate for demi-pension is 29 euros.