Camino de Madrid

Camino de Madrid
Camino de Madrid

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Day 15. May 31, 2018. Les Setoux to Montfaucon-en-Velay. 17 kms.

...every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain

About six o’clock in the evening a little girl appeared at the gîte to tell me that her mother would be arriving to prepare supper. And a superb supper it was: charcuterie de la region, and then a mountain of beans with great slabs of beef from the hospitalier’s farm, and then cheese with a particularly nice blue, also from her farm, and then cherries for desert. At my request she turned on the heat, so I draped my washing over the radiators to dry.

During the afternoon, as I sat about in pensive mood, I was startled by a large crack, as if something had snapped or a coin had dropped on the floor, only much louder. A couple of hours later, it happened again, and I noticed on the far table a kind of radiator with two blue fluorescent bars: it was a fly zapper. Now the flies are bad here, as they are wherever there are cattle. In the gîte they were on the table and in my hair.  But here’s the point of my story. With a fly swat I could have killed a dozen in a few minutes whereas in the ten or so daylight hours I spent in the gîte there were only three zaps. So don’t waste your money on a fly zapper!

There was another odd noise as well, a low moaning which developed into a muffled roar like Balrog stirring in the bowels of the mountain. I put it down to the hot water tank or some other aspect of the plumbing.

Raindrops were splattering in the puddles as I ventured out of the gîte this morning, but despite the rain I was expecting an easy day. After all, my path stretched out across the plain into the distance and there weren’t any mountains ahead. However, on two occasions I could have come to serious grief.

After several easy kilometres along the road, it was a day of ups and downs, through the forest and up to a ridge and then down the valley on the other side. These were pine plantations again, with stripped trees stacked along the side of the road, and once I came upon a monster caterpillar tractor hauling logs and turning the road into a mud slide.

It was on one of the descents to the bottom of a valley that I encountered my first difficulty. I had arrived at a bridge crossing a stream when I found that the stepping stones across a little tributary were underwater and I couldn’t reach the bridge. A little upstream I managed to jump across the little feeder stream to reach the bridge, cross over, and continue on my way. Not so simple. The track doubled back to cross the stream once more, returning to the bank from which I started. But this time there was no bridge, but the most perilous crossing I have ever seen. No way would I risk crossing on those slippery concrete poles! One of them was flat, but the other at a treacherous angle.

Ah. I would retrace  my steps, cross the bridge, and continue on the other bank. But there was no path on the other side, just a vast expanse of stinging nettles. No way could I pass through there. I returned to the concrete crossing and considered my options. Take off my boots and wade across? No, too deep with slippery rocks. I needed a pole. I searched in the woods, found a long branch, dug it deep in the bed of the stream and took my first steps. When I reached the middle, I took one long step and leapt to the other side. Lucky! It could have been disastrous. I thought of Bluebottle, or was it Eccles, who would have said, “He’s fallen in the water.”

After that, it was up a steep rocky path Into to the forest again. As I’ve said many times, I could not have managed this walk without serious leather boots. So much of the path has been rocky, and I’ve been up to my ankles in water.

Eventually, I came out of the forest onto the fields where I could see Montfaucon in the distance. It was here that I had my second brush with danger. Along the lane ahead of me was a petrol can.

Looks innocent enough, doesn’t it? I occasionally see them by the road, left by a farmer after refuelling his machinery. Strange place to leave it though, in the middle of the lane. I was about to pass it, and then, just in time, I saw why it was there. A farmer had stretched his electric fence across the road, and left the can as a warning. No ribbons hanging on the wire. Not very effective. I almost got zapped.

I walked into Montfaucon and found a place at the municipal gîte. It is clean, warm and comfortable.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Day 14. May 30, 2018. Saint-Saveur-en-Rue to Les Setoux. 10 kms

Get thee up into the high mountain 

I enjoyed my time in my shack/chalet. I was cosy and comfortable. I felt a couple of creatures crawl over me in the night, but they may have been imaginary. The hut was one of several reserved for pilgrims, but I was alone.

The campsite was run by a pleasant couple, but there was a sadness about them. His friendliness seemed almost forced. She seemed rather worn down. When I asked why there was no paper in the toilets, she said that the people take them. 

“The pilgrims?” I asked, knowing that the wise pilgrim keeps an emergency roll in his back pocket. 

“No,” she said, “the campers.” 

It must be hard to make a living running a campsite. Lots of work keeping it in good shape and huge expenses keeping facilities and cabins heated. There couldn’t have been more than a dozen people staying last night to cover these expenses, let alone make a profit.

Leaving the campground in the morning under a sullen sky, I walked 600 metres up the road to pass under the old railway line. Unfortunately, the GR continued up the hill, while the line took an easy gradient to the right. I suspected that we would end up in the same place and that the GR was perversely taking me on a detour into high places.

The only sounds were the snarling of a chainsaw and the mournful howling of a dog in the distance. No birds sang. A wide rocky path led into the depths of a dark pine forest. 

I climbed in long zigzags up a forest track to a shelter and then around the contour of the valley.

It started to rain so I made preparations to don my poncho. This is a difficult business if you are by yourself. You have to orient it so that when it’s on you’re looking out of, and not into, the hood, and then you fling the whole thing up into the air and over your head, hoping that it comes down behind you with the back flap settling over your pack.This is an impossible process in the wind, but today it was calm, and I succeeded rather well.

I came upon a couple of friendly foresters who made a predictable comment:

Ce n’est pas le beau temps.

One of them offered me a chunk of the bread he was eating, but I declined. Kind of him though. I took off again up a rocky slope until the track levelled out around another contour. I arrived at a place where four roads met, and where two GRs crossed. A fellow emerged from the bushes with a big, brown paper bag. “Les cèpes,” he said. Wild mushrooms.

I continued up and up through dark, silent woods, no undergrowth, just a bed of dead pine needles on one side, and some younger trees pushing up among their elders on the other. Finally the path levelled out at 1280 metres, and I began to descend.

Emerging from the forest, I looked out on a vast plateau, a low range of hills in the distance. This was the beginning of the Massif Central. In the foreground was the hamlet of Les Setoux where I knew there was a gîte. It was open with a message on the door inviting walkers to come in and make themselves at home.

It was really too early to stop, for it was barely noon, but a couple of telephone calls revealed that there was no accommodation further on, so I have settled in at the gîte, done my washing although I can’t hang it outside to dry, buttered a few crusts of bread left over from someone’s breakfast, and I’m hoping that the hospitalier will arrive to cook me supper. Otherwise it will be stale bread for breakfast, dinner and tea.

The wind has been increasing all afternoon, making waves in the grass and tossing about the Queen Anne’s lace, or it is yarrow? The big trees shake about violently, the younger ones bend over. Mist rises from a valley over the ridge. A herd of cows huddle together for warmth, looking absolutely miserable. Only a few chooks scratch about in their yard; the rest have headed for shelter. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Day 13.May 29, 2018. Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette to Saint-Saveur-en-Rue. 16 kms

His yoke is easy and his burden is light

It was an easy day today, and my pack felt so light that I wondered what I had left behind. The town was more alive this morning and less depressing in the sunlight. To be fair, Monday was closing day, but I had expected that at least one bar would be open. 

Last night’s was a patrician family. The father was a law prof., the son about to become the same, the daughter in first year medicine, and an older daughter, who had passed through an École Supérieur, was studying in Boston.

At supper they asked me polite questions about Trudeau and what Canadians thought about Macron, but really their attention was elsewhere, busy with their own affairs. The meal was nothing special, but they served very a nice Shiraz, no plonk from the bowser for this family,  and when I arrived, the customary welcoming beer was a Leffe. But I don’t think they were really ready for guests and they took me in because I was somewhat stuck.

But I luxuriated in the large bedroom in this modern house.

And the bathroom? Well, it wasn’t a pokey little room with a one-handed shower in the bathtub and a loo under the staircase where to pee standing up you had to lean over backwards with your face against the underside of the stairs, this playing havoc with your aim, and toilet paper emerging from the bowels of a grotesque cartoon character whom I did not recognize. No, it was  a large en-suite bathroom just a few steps from my bed.

Leaving the town around 8:30, I walked up the side of the hill and over into the next valley where I had a coffee at Bourg-Argental. Then it was a gentle climb along the side of a hill and through a pass heading towards Les Setoux.

Eventually, I reached a discontinued railway line, always a happy encounter because the grade is easy. The path became a road, still following the old railway, but occasionally making a detour when the line went through a tunnel. I arrived at the old Gare Saint-Saveur-en-Rue and had to decide whether to continue another ten kilometres over the mountain to Les Setoux or to make for the village of Saint-Saveur. There were thunder clouds over the mountain so I headed for the village. 

I am staying in a chalet (aspen shack) at the local campgrounds. There are a few creepy crawlies about, but I will be on my guard. The rain did not come to pass, and my washing is drying nicely in the sun.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Day 12. May 28, 2018. Chavanay to Saint-Julien-Molin-Molette. 20.5 kms

I have fallen into good fortune

It was not a very happy evening Chez Ghislaine. The three-storey house was something of a menagerie. She had two cats of her own, and her daughter who was staying with her had brought along two dogs and several cats as well. During the afternoon I heard a tremendous commotion and much squealing. I thought that perhaps one of the dogs had gone for a cat, but no, one of the dogs, frightened by thunder, had attacked the other and bitten off part of its ear.

The aggressor had formerly been a fighting dog, before the daughter had rescued it, and in its panic, had reverted to what it had been trained to do. Surely it would have to be put down, but really, it is the men who train animals to fight, against their nature, who deserve that fate.

Ghislaine was understandably upset, and she couldn’t devote her full attention to the preparation of the meal, but did my washing, gave me a snack for the day, and was not at all expensive.

There are certain hazards on the Camino. You might fall in the water as you’re stepping from stone to stone as you cross a stream or you might take a tumble as you’re going down a stony path. But the exterior hazards are nothing compared to those in the old buildings we stay in. There is the circular staircase which descends around a central axis, with no width to the step on the inside. And there are unexpected rises or falls from one level to another as you move from room to room. In the night, if you’re not careful, you stub your toe or step out into space. At Ghislaine’s there was a treacherous staircase without a railing but a thick nautical rope instead.

I left the gîte, crossed the bridge, walked for a few yards along the road and then climbed up the rocky path to the 17th century chapel. Abandoned in 1892 and restored a century later, it is quite beautiful inside with simple drawings of pilgrims on the wall, nothing  excessive. 

Thinking about the Church and its excesses, I recalled that abortion will now be legal in Ireland. Personally, I agree with the Church that life begins at conception, but I think the decision whether or not to end it, is the woman’s. Anyway, I gather the result was decisive. The Irish may have been persuaded by a slogan carried by one of the advocates for abortion:

Keep your rosaries off our ovaries.

A brilliant slogan that, and I was challenged to think up similar ones for future protests against the Church’s excesses.

Keep your beeds away from our seeds

Self-expression, not intercession

Profligacy, not celibacy

To no avail. It kept me occupied for several kilometres, but I could not come near the brilliance of the Irish slogan.

By then I had walked into a new valley,  along streams, through cherry orchards and plum trees, past a farm with bleating goats, and through fields of grain sprinkled with poppies and corn flowers

When I first started walking in France almost fifteen years ago the grandes randonnées were marked by red and white horizontal stripes painted on poles or stones or walls or trees. Often these had faded over time, eroded by the sun and the wind and the rain, or  the trees had protested against this offence to their person and had simply grown through the paint. Sometimes as well there were red and yellow markings indicating not a grande but a petite randonnée, a local circuit. But that was all you would see.

Today some of these old markings remain but most have been replaced by plastic. And they have been joined by markers in different designs and colours for other local and regional walks, sometimes stretching for several feet up the pole. I suspect that it won’t be long before the guardians of these trails recognize that this use of plastic runs contrary to their environment principles.

Eventually, I left the valley and started to climb, up and up and through a pass into the next valley. I had gained 1600 feet since leaving Chavanay this morning. A few kilometres further on I reached Saint-Julien. I had booked a place at a gite, but found myself alone in a depressing building with no shops or restaurants open where I could eat or buy food, so I left and moved to a chambre d’hôtes Chez Frank Pennet. I was lucky. Just as I arrived, the rain which had been threatening all day set in for good.


Sunday, 27 May 2018

Day 11. May 27, 2018. Chapelle de Surieu to Chavanay. 18 kms

This parting was well made

Georges was an interesting character, ebullient, a little nervous perhaps, and anxious to please. He described himself as original. His was an organic establishment. We ate vegetables from his garden and eggs from his chooks. We drank wine from an organic winery.

After a few kilometres across the fields and through the woods, I emerged on the side of a hill and looked out over the valley  of the Rhone, beyond which were some serious mountains. I could see some large areas of water, possibly spillover from the river, and industrial buildings including a nuclear power station.

During the morning I passed a party of walkers. A randonnée reveals not only the fitness but also something of the personality of the individuals who make up the group. First there is the advance party clustered around their leader who is consulting his map and giving directions. The keenies. Then there is the main body of the party strung out in knots of twos and threes, enjoying their conversation but anxious not to fall too far behind. And then the laggards, strolling along, enjoying the walk and smelling the roses, as it were.

The latter bade me more than a polite bonjour. They stopped to chat. They wanted to know where I was from, where I had come from today, and where I was going.

They assured me more than once that I would find good wine at Chavanay. I reflected that in England they would have told me that they serve a good pint at the Ploughman’s Ear; in Australia, a nice cold one at the Dumbleyung Hotel; in Canada, a Fat Tug at the Penny Farthing.

You have to be careful when ordering a pint in Canada to make sure that you get the real thing (20 fluid ounces) and not an American pint (16). The Penny Farthing mentioned above is frequented by a number of Brits who insist on a real pint. I believe that the owner has told them he can guarantee them only 18 ounces, because he doesn’t want his servers to spill the beer. I say, why can’t he get bigger glasses with the level of the pint clearly marked on the side?

In Canada we have seen many social and cultural improvements over the years, making life more enjoyable for its citizens. But none compares to the advent of craft beer, with new flavours, exotic names and colourful labels. Interestingly, this is one industry where the big corporations have not put the small producers out of business.

Gone are the days of Molson Canadian and Labatt’s Blue, which, I remember, they would serve two glasses at a time to minimize the number of trips to the bar. Twenty-five cents each.

I walked on across the fields crossing railway lines, a motor way, and eventually the Rhone.

I am staying tonight at the Gîte Pelerins de Ghislaine Gaillard at Chavanay. I have been pushing myself along the flatter terrain to leave myself enough time for a leisurely crossing of the mountains, and today I decided to take it easy. I arrived around one o’clock, and have spent a relaxing afternoon on my own.

I bid farewell to Phillip and Heidi. We enjoyed one another’s company, I think. So far on this walk I have met eight people: one German Swiss, two Austrians, and five Germans.

Day 10. May 26, 2018. Faramans to Chapelle de Suvieu. 28 kms

I walked along a grassy lane, 

Redolent with the recent rain, 

And then a stony path ensued,

Uneven bed, the going rude,

Arriving a little the worse for wear

At Pommier de Beaurepaire.

We were rather concerned this morning at breakfast when we learned that all the accommodation along the way was booked for tonight. Our wonderful hostess took it upon herself to find a place for three. She busied herself for half an hour phoning around, telling us between every conversation that we should have booked the night before.

Indeed, her own establishment was pretty well full when we arrived but she made a quick calculation, bustled around and found a place for Heidi in the house, me on a sofa bed in a farm kitchen next to the garage, and Philip in the regular quarters for guests.

Just as we were leaving, she called us back and told us that she had a place for us Chez George on the Variante.

Last night’s meal was superb. We began with an aperitif accompanied by salad and little pieces of pork pie that could’ve come from Melton Mowbray. For the main course we had big slabs of pork and rice embedded with little chunks of sausage. And then the cheese. And then dessert. And finally a digestif. I shunned the whiskey and chose a kind of schnapps with a red hot punch. All in all, it was a meal to remember! 

Breakfast was also remarkable, for along with the traditional coffee and baguettes, we each had a googy egg.

On the easy walk across the fields towards Pommier de Beaurepair, I reflected on the generosity of this woman who had gone out of her way to help us. When I thanked for this she said, “C’est mon travail.”

I left the field and headed along a lane and up a steeper track to Pommier-de-Beaurepaire

Towns like this, and there are many all over France, enjoy a kind of half life. The church and the mairie and a few older buildings around a square form the core of the town, and around them are some more modern houses, but there is no longer any commerce. The mairie opens for a few hours each week and the bar when it feels like it. The residents, who probably commute to work elsewhere, pay their taxes and this keeps the town functioning, but that is all.

Some of the bigger towns have fared even worse, if they have not managed to reinvent themselves when the particular goods they once produced in small factories are no longer needed. I have walked into towns with disused factories with rusty machinery on the outskirts and boarded-up shops in the interior.

I walked on through a forest, passing piles of stacked wood and areas of wasteland where the wood had recently been cut. Then along the road to a bar at Revel-Tourdan where I had a bite to eat.

Down the highway and across into another sweeping valley, more refined somehow, with gentle ups and downs and smaller farms. Through some fields of wheat and barley and canola, and then up a hill and alongside the TGV tracks for a while before passing under the line, and along minor roads unti I reached a chateau d’eau where the the Variante d’Allemane left the GR. Close by was a pilgrims’ shelter. Four were already there in various states of exhaustion. I joined them, and stretched out for a brief repose, unaware that I was being photographed. Then I marched on in the heat and eventually reached the accommodation Chez Georges.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Day 9. May 25, 2018. Bevenais to Faramans. 21 kms.

Very spartan accommodation Chez Danielle. The meals were simple fare indeed. She was lactose intolerant and shunned animal products, so the entree was raw grated carrot, the main course, a vegetarian quiche, and the desert, a kind of apple jelly. For breakfast, there was no butter for the bread; in fact there was no bread at all, just nuts and rusks and those circular white rice things.But it was probably a healthier meal than the night before and vegans would have loved it. If you like simple fare, then I recommend Chez. She was a most genial hostess. And although Carnivorous Alain from the night before gave us her name, i can’t imagine that they socialized at all. Neither could eat at the other’s house.

I noticed in the livre d’or that Lorna from Victoria had stayed there.

Heidi asked me at dinner last night what Canadians thought of Trump. I said that 80% to 90% of Canadians would dump Trump. I hope I was right. From there, the conversation turned to the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe and its possible consequences, problems far from the idylls of the Camino.

After a second breakfast at the bar opposite the church down the road from Danielle’s, I rejoined the rural road running along the valley. Several kilometers later I passed a church, then a chateau, and followed a farm track running above and parallel to the road.

Myrtle, Ethel and Agatha gazed down on me as I walked past, wondering why I wasn’t up there with them enjoying the sweet grass. I wondered that too. I think we underestimate cows.

I passed a cemetery and noticed the huge tombstones towering above me. The quick and the dead. Around noon I came to the bustling little town of La-Cote-Saint-Andre. With its vieux quartier, this would have been a good town to visit, but it was too early to stop. 

I wasted half an hour seeking a little towel to replace the one I had left behind (another one). Someone sent me to the petit Casino but they didn’t have one. Just as well really, for it was quite a large little supermarket, if you know what I mean, full of shoppers, with only two check-outs open. The lines extended to the back of the store, and had I joined one, I would just be going through now. 

I walked on alternating between minor roads and rocky tracks leading from one to the other. I noticed a field of poppies, traditional red ones, but some yellow ones as well, rather like our Californian poppies.

Just before Faramans the trail passed into one of the most beautiful parks I have  ever seen I walked around a large lake where a couple were contemplating going for a dip. And on into the woods where streams ran hither and thither crisscrossed by little wooden bridges. People were picnicking in the open places, and people were playing tennis on the courts in the distance,

I left the park, walked into town, just as a bar was opening. I was intending to walk five kilometres further, but I was tired and the day was hot. Along with Philipp and Heidi, I am staying at the Gîte à la Ferme, just past the church. A wonderful place! More tomorrow.

Day 8. May 24, 2018. Les Abrets to Bevenais. 28 kms

What a difference a day makes!

A gentle breeze, birds singing, cows flopping their tails lazily is the sun. This was more like it.

I can recommend this place highly. We each had a room, the food was excellent, and all the proceeds go to a good cause. Alain and his wife Florentine, formerly from Madagascar, use our contributions as guests to buy school, medical supplies, etc., for the children in that country. They are extremely poor, he said. He told us about a little girl who would not accept a new school uniform as a gift. “Je ne peux pas l’avoir. Je suis trop pauvre,” she said. Florentine had to spend half an hour persuading her to accept it.

It was up and down all morning, gentle hills rolling away to the north. I was anxious to cover a fair distance, as ahead of me was a mountain that would dwarf the eighteen-hundred-foot climb of a couple of days ago. Along the way, I stopped for a few words with Cyril. He was very friendly, anxious to be patted, but I wondered about the strap around his jaws. Perhaps he was prone to take a friendly bite.

I passed through the village of Valencogne and on to Le Pin where I joined Heidi and Phillipp for a beer.

Usually I wait until the journey’s end, but I suspected this might be the last time I would see them.

Fortified by a large blonde, I floated my way out of town, my feet occasionally touching the ground, until I came down with a thud, when the GR perversely took off to the right up the hill. Instead, I continued down the dirt road until the GR descended from the hill.

Then across the fields, up a brutal hill, over into another broad valley with ominous mountain ranges and snowy caps ahead. Down a steep stony track and along the highway into Les Grands Lemps. A further few kilometres along the road brought me to Bevenais where I am staying at an Acceuil Jacquaire, Chez Danielle. About half an hour later Philipp and Heidi arrived as well.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Day 7. May 23, 2018. Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers. 17 kms

Good night, sweet Mince.

May bites of angels put thee to the test

I have finally bade farewell to my sausage from Lyon. I gave its remains a decent burial.

I am perhaps in the minority in preferring Lawrence Olivier‘s Hamlet  above all others. I can see him now, saying to Horatio, “Nay, let’s go together.” A good motto for the Camino.

This was an easy day, most welcome after the travails of yesterday.

I didn’t manage to leave town until 9:45. As I crossed the bridge, I noticed the water below, raging down a concrete slip, fed by yesterday’s storms. Buffeted by the current, a stranded log struggled to be free. I followed a minor road along the bank of the river for four or five kilometres. 

For those of you who are into apps, I had been using, which uses the phone’s GPS and not cellular data. But Philipp the Swiss put me on to Osmand maps which allows me to import a hiking trail. I open the app and see where I am, relative to the Via Gebennensis. So I will never be lost again. Marvellous! I know, some will say, learn to read the map and follow the signs.

Speaking of gadgets, and forgive the dangling gerund, my watch is full of glee as it congratulates me each morning for doubling or tripling my movement goal.

I left the river, crossed over a motorway, and walked up hill, bypassing the village of Romagnieu.  On through a cluster of houses, through the forest, along a minor road, past a few farms, and then down into a gentle valley through barley and hay fields.

I passed a l’avoir where the water was so muddy it would have turned all the clothes brown.

Mummy, why are my clothes so dirty? Because I washed them, darling.

Up a grassy track, through a couple of hamlets, and on to the town of Les Abrets, where we waited several hours, for our host wouldn’t be back at his gîte until five o’clock.

We are staying at a Chambre et Hôte Pèlerin - Le Juvenin (Alain et Flo Chevaux) recommended by my friend Richard. It was three kilometres after Les Abrets, and according to the description submitted to the guide, 300 metres off the Chemin, but the signpost said 500 metres, and my watch 620 metres. I was just confirming my belief that the French always underestimate the distances to their establishments, sometimes outrageously.

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Day 6. May 22, 2018. Yennes to Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers. 26 kms

Who would fardels bear

To grunt and sweat under a weary load...

What a day! Rain, hail, thunder, and an eighteen-hundred-foot climb, to boot.

The accommodation at the Centre d’Accueil was good value, if a little expensive at €46. The room could have been in a hotel, and the food was excellent. At breakfast this morning there was everything from muesli to baguettes.

I left the church at 8:45 and walked beside the Rhone for several kilometres. Then I began to climb, steep rocky ascents alternating with easier slopes, and from time to time the path would emerge from the woods to offer a view of the Rhone. 

The path became a forest track, easier going for a while, and passed a hunters’ refuge where I stopped for a snack. Then I started to climb again, up and up, until the trail levelled out at around 850 metres. A light rain followed by sunshine left the stacked logs steaming.

Just as I came down from the hills towards the village of Pigneux, it started to rain again. And it pelted down. I managed to find shelter at the village school, but not before I was drenched. 

Twenty minutes later, I was able to set out again on the last five kilometres to Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers. I was enjoying the easy walking on a level road, when suddenly the path took off to the left up a hill. I debated whether to continue on the road, but not knowing where it led, I played it safe and followed the track. I reached the top, crossed a field, and arrived at a road. Then it started to rain again, and the rain turned to hail. I saw a barn ahead, and dived inside. This time it was a serious storm with very short intervals between the lightning flashes and the thunder. I remembered that sound travelled at 1100 feet per second. Water poured in torrents over the gutters.

Thinking I would put the lost time to good use, I telephoned to find a place for the night. His response was deafened by the storm.

“I can’t hear you. I’m caught in a storm,” I said. “Oui or non?” “Non. Complet. Désolé.” I tried several places to no avail.

The rain eased off, so I continued down the road, suddenly shattered by the loudest thunderbolt of all, marking the end of the storm. I arrived in town, just after six, thinking to ask for help at the Office de Tourism. “What time does it close?” I asked someone. “Six,” she said.

A little worried by now, I ventured on, thinking that I might have to stay at a hotel if there was one. In the depths of the town I came upon a pompier about to go off on a call. He sent me to a bar, and said he would be back in an hour to find me a place. True to his word, he returned and found me a berth in a motor home at a nearby campsite.