Sunday, 15 November 2020

The Le Puy Route - Part 9

The Camino Experience in Miniature - Les Tournesols du Gers to Arzacq-Arraziguet


Day 7: Les Tournesol du Gers to Nogaro – 17.50 miles

Back to longer days again with a 17.5-mile section between Les Tournesols du Gers and Nogaro.

The early morning stroll along the old railway track was lovely. Quiet, beneath the shade of overhanging trees, we initially enjoyed pleasant temperatures too, but it was already hotting up by the time we reached Eauze. In the cool of the cathedral we made the acquaintance of two familiar pilgrims – St Roch, with his dog and injured leg, and St Jacques with his shell-covered robes – and enjoyed a few moments of meditative calm and welcome respite from the travails of the journey.

It might seem counter-intuitive to consider a journey on foot, a steady trundle at all of 3 miles per hour, as requiring time to relax, reflect and re-energise. But that is the case with a long-distance spiritual journey such as a Camino, when sometimes it is necessary to slip outside of the total immersion the experience entails. This is especially true of the longer days we are now enjoying, which sometimes require as much mental energy as physical.

Near the Ferme de Peyret we stopped at a donativo stall and met up with a Canadian couple we walked with on and off until Manciet. Here, we had our bread and cheese lunch then went to Chez Monique for drinks. Monique, if it were indeed she, seemed determinedly unhurried while dispensing drinks. Although a Camino asks us to slow down, relax and go with the flow, it can be all too easy to let the impatience of our hurried lives resurface. It just goes to show how important it is to embrace this different pace of life.  

Moving on, the route passed through typical vineyard countryside. Shortly before the Eglise-hopital Sainte-Christie, we were wished "bon chemin" by a swashbuckling gent on horseback – a latter-day Musketeer, perhaps?


Nogaro seemed to take its time arriving. I'm sure it must have been further than indicated – it certainly seemed that way. However, we finally got checked in with time for a shower before dinner - a nice meal that we finished off with an Armagnac.


Day 8: Nogaro to Aire-sur-L’Adour – 18.00 miles


We woke to rain. The lengthy stretch between Nogaro and Aire-sur-L'Adour began with a 3-hour deluge that meant we needed to pack everything in dry bags, batten down the hatches and don full waterproofs.

Although it’s a shame when that happens, it does put a different, more reflective perspective on the walk, and as there’s nothing that can be one about it, it’s best just to accept the situation and make the most of it.


Part way through the morning, we stopped for morning coffee at a donativo in a large barn which provided respite from the rain. A small group of soggy pilgrims coagulated in the shelter, all keen to press on after finishing their drinks but somehow reluctant to head back into the tempest. As I write this sometime later, heavy rain is pounding on the windows at home, and I’m reminded of the aversion we all have to getting wet through. Whether this is a primal instinct kicking in or a reflection of just how conditioned we have become to our warm, dry modern houses, I don’t know. But taking those first steps back out into the rain after the comfort of shelter takes more resolve than might be expected.


Thankfully, conditions improved as the morning wore on, and by the time we had reached Lapujolle things were definitely looking a bit brighter. Dripping water all over the floor, we hunkered down in a small local café where homemade cakes and artisan beers fortified us for the afternoon ahead and our clothing began the long process of drying out.


To be honest, I can’t remember much about the afternoon at all. My original post somehow failed, my notes proved insufficient, and my memory has clearly faded in the year since we walked the route. I do recall that the weather improved and that the sun even made an appearance, and I think it was along this section where we came across another couple who were slightly distressed at having found a rifle abandoned at the side of the path.


I also remember it was a long afternoon, and that we were quite tired by the time we arrived in Aire-sur-L’Adour. We ate delicious burgers in a little bistro by the bridge over the Adour, timing our arrival just before a large group piled in rather well.


Day 9: Aire-sur-L’Adour to Arzacq-Arraziguet – 22.00 miles


Today was a big day. In a way, the previous days had served as a warm-up for this one, a 22-mile section between Aire-sur-L'Adour and Arzacq-Arraziguet.


We set off in half light, crossing the bridge over the Adour and heading through town, glad not to be part of the Monday morning commute resolutely queuing in the opposite direction. After skirting a large reservoir, we climbed out of the valley on to higher ground and fairly soon got our first glimpse of the Pyrenees on the horizon. These mountains would draw ever-closer as we approached the end of our trek in St Jean Pied de Port.


Much of the morning was given over to navigating paths and lanes running through corn fields. At this time of year, the crop was so tall we could barely catch a glimpse of the outstanding views.


Eventually, we climbed a ridge and reached the village of Miramont Sensacq and took lunch in the grounds of the church, a picturesque spot with terrific views over our route ahead.


Once again, the afternoon saw us leave most walkers behind, with just a few hardy hikers still on the trail. Choosing longer days often did this – the route in these parts naturally lending itself to 10- or 20-mile sections.

 In the beautiful village of Pimbo, we broke for drinks and ice creams and a well-earned rest. The rollercoaster route the Camino follows across the grain of the land proved unexpectedly energy-sapping, and we needed to top up our reserves for the final push of the day.


Our destination for the evening was Arzacq-Arraziguet, a small market town with two squares strewn along another ridge. We received a warm welcome from the patron of the Maison d’Antan, and were billeted in a lovely en-suite room that was far too chic for a couple of smelly pilgrims. Later, we were served one of the best “pilgrim menu” dinners so far, including the most extensive cheeseboard we have ever seen.


All in all, we accepted the luxury as justified recompense for a very tiring day and would heartily recommend the Maison d’Antan if you wanted a more upmarket stop on your Camino.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

The Le Puy Route - Part 8

Time to Relax - Condom to Les Tournesols du Gers


Day 5 Condom to Montreal du Gers – 15.00 miles


For the first time this trip our daily distance was to be less than the day before. In fact, the next couple of days were a more modest in terms of distance, and while we like the challenge of longer days, we also appreciate the occasional freedom to explore more widely and enjoy a more leisurely pace.

We began what turned out to be a 15-mile day with a quick tour of Condom. Many of the towns we pass through are worthy of more in-depth investigation, but time doesn’t always permit anything greater than a cursory inspection. However, we needed a couple things – insect repellent to keep the little blighters at bay and a new belt to preserve my modesty – so toured the town centre while we waited for the shops to open. And where better than Condom to acquire preventative measures.


It turns out D’Artagnan was from these parts. Although best known for the heavily fictionalised adventures written by Alexandre Dumas, most famously with The Three Musketeers, D’Artagnan the character was based on a real 17th Century figure.


Another product of the region is Armagnac, the special variation on Cognac so beloved in these parts. Time allowed us to take a side trip to the very old walled village of Larressingle, where we treated ourselves to a leisurely lunch including ice cream drenched with a goodly slug of the aforementioned falling over water.

Wobbling slightly as we set off, we trundled down the hill to the Pont d’Artigue and made our way through quiet countryside towards Montreal du Gers. On the way, we passed a small chapel with a side door specifically for allowing in the “unclean”. We may have been a bit “unwashed” by that time of the afternoon, but we thought it best to enter via the front door to take advantage of the ensuing cool.


On arrival at Montreal du Gers, we skirted the town as our accommodation, a farm with B&B, was a short distance away. We were made to feel very welcome, and enjoyed a lovely evening of good food, company and conversation – the kind that these trips have a habit of delivering. The whole meal, including the wine, was made from their own produce, and we shared this with our host and a lovely French couple, enjoying a convivial evening we will long remember.


The French chap had written hundreds of Haikus and even had a book published, so to honour the occasion here is one of my own:


Camino meetings

So fleet, few words, brief friendships

Fond memories last


Day 6 – Montreal Du Gers to Les Tournesols du Gers 12.50 miles


For the second time in as many days we had a shorter section to traverse. After a lovely, relaxed breakfast, we said goodbye to our new-found friends and set off through the farm’s vineyards towards the 4th Century Galloroman villa at Seviac.


If you are even remotely interested in Roman history, this site is well worth a visit. The mosaics are amazing, with many in an excellent condition, and it is easy to while away an hour or two admiring the skill and artistry of the craftsmen.


From the villa, we headed back into Montreal du Gers for a proper look round. Having largely missed the town on arrival, we found a charming centre complete with local market. Needing no invitation, we stocked up on picnic food which we tucked into a few kilometres later beside a lake near the Chateau de Montaut.


The temperature flared considerably after lunch, as was the pattern of recent days. In Lamothe, we stopped for drinks at the Casa d’Elena. Whilst serving a number of customers simultaneously, I was sure I heard a not-very-French exclamation of “Right, beer” when it came to my order. Turns out the bar was run by an expat British couple, and we had a good chat about their new life in France whilst playing fetch with their seemingly tireless dog.


Our evening stop was a few kilometres further on at Les Tournesols du Gers. Use of the outdoor swimming pool required no second invitation, and after a refreshing dip we had a fun communal dinner with around a dozen other guests.

Tuesday, 4 August 2020

The Le Puy Route - Part 7

Fulfilling a Promise - L'Aube Nouvelle to Condom

Thanks to furlough, I have more time on my hands than usual. Now that I’ve tackled the essential chores, helped the neighbours, baked bread and zoomed myself into a stupor, finally there’s a chance to catch up on those outstanding trip reports.  

It seems strange writing these posts almost a whole year since the trip happened, and it’s been noticeably different compiling them from the photos and brief notes I took at the time plus a bunch of slightly faded memories, but then these are strange times.

Last time out, we’d ended our walk at L’Aube Nouvelle, filthy and soaked to the skin having slipped and slid our way through a deluge of near-biblical proportions. The proprietor kindly let us shelter from the rain, wring out our sodden clothes and recover some dignity, and all for the price of a café au lait each. We vowed there and then that we would come back and stay – a small gesture we could make to thank them for their previous generosity.


That was two years earlier. In September 2019 we were back, full of excitement, happy to see the sun shining and eager to start on the final fortnight of the Via Podiensis from here to St Jean Pied de Port in the foothills of the Pyrenees, the small town from where we’d started our Camino Frances way back in May 2013.


Day 1 Dufort Lacapelette to Moissac – 12.75 miles


I’ve mentioned before about how easy we’ve found it to slip into “trail mode” at the start of a new section, and this time was no different, picking up both physically and metaphorically from our last trip almost seamlessly.

For our first day back out on the route we planned nothing more adventurous than a short trundle, the 12-odd miles to Moissac. It was a fine, warm morning, and we walked most of the day in leisurely fashion with Mark from Oregon. It was his last day on the trail, which gave us plenty of opportunity to reminisce about the trail so far.

Towards the end of the walk we took a short variant the granted super views over Moissac and the surrounding area, and which delivered us right to the doors of the Abbey.


Day 2 Moissac to Bardigues – 17.75 miles


A bright morning greeted us for the 17.75-mile stretch between Moissac and Bardigues. Leaving town, we walked beside the canal for a while until the route split – the official route or continue beside the canal. Our guidebook rather dismissed the official route and recommended the canal-side path, but we’re glad we opted for the official route which took us into the hills on an undulating route through fields and woods via the quiet village of Boudou.


After lunch in Malause, a sleepy, non-descript town, we re-joined the canal then struck off across the flat valley bottom towards Auvillar. After taking advantage of a roadside drinks stop, we climbed to the town – one of the beautiful old “beaux villages” of the area.


Our overnight stop was a little further on near Bardigues – the beautiful Le Farat B&B. After settling in, we took a swim in the outdoor pool and felt very chic. Dinner was at Le Letit Palais back in Auvillar, the town beautifully lit at night.


Day 3 Bardigues to Lectoure – 19.50 miles


Day 3 was a lengthy stretch from Bardigues to Lectoure. With high temperatures of over 30C expected we aimed to set off early to make the most of the cool conditions, but inevitably on longer days it is difficult to avoid the full afternoon sun altogether.


Leaving Bardigues, there were quite a few pilgrims already on the trail. We have noticed that mornings are busier, confirmed by a group of Aussies we chatted with over soft drinks at Flamerens who were only going as far as Miradoux.


We only stopped briefly there, planning to have a longer stop at the next village. But the shop was closed, so we ate emergency rations and drank water.


Towards the end of the day, as Lectoure came into sight, we passed a roadside fruit stall and tucked into fresh peaches - just what we needed to fortify us for the final stretch. Lectoure is a lovely town. We had a brief look round and bought quiches for tea: sadly, not enough time for a proper exploration.


Day 4 Lectour to Condom 21.00 miles


Our fourth day en route was the longest so far, 21 miles from Lectoure to Condom. Setting out early, we bought lunch from the boulangerie then left Lectoure on a circuitous route through the town walls before heading out into the countryside.


Early morning knots of pilgrims gradually spread out throughout the day, and soon we were walking pretty much on our own. If that sounds a little anti-social, it isn't meant to - company, and the knowledge that other people are about is great, but solitude, or at least quiet, are key aspects of a pilgrimage too.


We stopped for water and a breather in Marsolan and pushed on to La Romieu. There is a shortcut that misses La Romieu and saves around 6k, but we wanted full value for our day. We had decided on a lunch stop in the old town, but on arriving at around 1.20pm we were told lunch was "complet". However, with a bit of negotiating we procured beers and coffees, which was actually all we wanted.


The afternoon was again hot, but we had plenty of water on board and topped up in Castelnau-sur-L'Auvignon. Also, like yesterday, the last 10k of the day skirted pretty much all the towns and villages, and we saw virtually no-one. However, we reached Condom without incident and checked into our digs. It was too late to explore the town, but there was enough time for a welcome shower and change of clothing before dinner.

Monday, 27 July 2020

Well, Hello Again

It’s been quite some time since my last post here. Contrary to popular belief, I haven't been subject to an alien abduction, rather a hefty work schedule and a couple of projects on the go have meant that my focus has been directed elsewhere. However, now that I find myself with a bit more time on my hands I plan to catch up on a few reports over the coming weeks.

I’m going to begin with the final set of posts about our Le Puy to St Jean Pied de Port trip, and then see what else springs to mind. Having written about all the other sections of the Camino Frances and the Via Podiensis it would be a shame not to conclude that chapter and have a full record for when I’m ready to reminisce.

In truth, I’ve missed blogging here, and also missed reading about others’ adventures too. So, it’s about time I put that right.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Trail Lynx - A New Era Begins

After several years of posting to Ambles & Rambles, during which time I’ve logged dozens of trips, hundreds of walks, a handful of gear reviews and a sprinkling of other walking-related issues, I’ve decided the time has come to make a few changes.

Hiking in Poland

To be honest, since the design and format has barely changed since I started the blog back in 2010, it’s probably time for a refresh, so I’m planning to give it a bit of a makeover when I get the time.

So, first of all I’d like to say a big “thank you” to everyone who has read, commented or otherwise contributed to the blog so far – although I do it primarily as a record for myself, it’s always nice to get comments, especially if in some small way the posts have been of help or encouragement to others.

Kom Vasojevicki, Montenegro

But the big news for me is the launch of Trail Lynx a new site aimed at promoting travel and hiking in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. From now on, all trip reports, travel tips and news items relating to the region will appear there, with the aim that it will information and inspiration and eventually build into a useful resource for those interested in exploring this wonderful part of the world. 

Southern Bucovina, Romania

To get the ball rolling, the report for our recent long weekend in Poland has been published there, and I hope that you’ll take the opportunity to visit the new site and maybe choose to follow it.

Any thoughts or feedback would be most welcome, and I look forward to meeting up with some of you over there.

In the meantime, Ambles & Rambles will continue to be the home for news and reports from the UK, other parts of Europe and elsewhere.

A Capital Idea – Part 4: Falconwood to Richmond

18.00 miles

And so to the final sections of the Capital Ring, the round-London walk we started back in the autumn of 2016. Initially, we’d intended this to be a winter project, but the loss of my father in the early part of this year meant these final few miles had been necessarily put on hold.   

However, the opportunity to complete the walk presented itself when we booked tickets to see Tears For Fears at the Royal Albert Hall and decided to book an extra night’s accommodation and “make a weekend” of it.

On King John's Walk

So, bright and early despite the late night the night before, we transferred out to Falconwood to pick up where we left off before, where our initial move was to tackle the loop through Shepherdleas Wood that we couldn’t complete last time due to rapidly-fading light.

Coffee break, with a distant view of
The Shard

That done, we picked up Section 2 of the Capital Ring, passing through Eltham Park and Avery Hill Park (where we were navigationally challenged for a few minutes) and beside Eltham College on the way towards Grove Park. It was good to be out and about again, and once again we seemed to have struck luck with the weather.

After the parkland and residential streets of Section 2, the next section followed a similar pattern of park areas connected by suburban streets. All of this area was new to us, and despite offering little in the way of challenge, the walking was pleasant enough.

Dinosaurs in Crystal Palace Park

We stopped for a quick lunch break at the café in Beckenham Place Park, then continued on through Penge to reach Crystal Palace Park. All I really know about Crystal Palace is that it used to be the location of the cast-iron-and-glass structure of the same name that was destroyed by fire in 1936, and is currently home to a bunch of large, lumbering creatures whose best years are well behind them. No, not the players of the under-performing football team of the same name, but dinosaurs!

Upper Norwood Recreation Ground

Originally, we’d only planned to walk as far as Norwood today, but with the weather good and time on our side we decided we could make a couple more miles so pushed on to Streatham. 

Norwood Grove

Crossing the Common, we eyed up the buses on the High Road. We had set our sights on eating in Brixton, which was just a few minutes away with transport. Well, you can’t come to one of the country’s premier international food centres and not give it a go, can you?

Fading light over Streatham

If you’re a bit of a foodie and you’ve never been to Brixton Village, I recommend you give it a try sometime. The Souk-like interior harbours all manner of curious foodstuffs and enticing ingredients, the narrow alleys reveal something of interest at every turn, and the exotic ambience definitely has a touch of “abroad” about it. We chose a selection of terrine and charcuterie from Corsica – delicious!  


Day 2: Streatham Common to Richmond Bridge

14.00 miles

Next day, we made our way back the Streatham on a cool but bright morning. The stage between Streatham and Wimbledon Park crosses Tooting Bec and Wandsworth Common, but is primarily walking on residential streets.

So, although the going is easy enough, there is perhaps a little less to enthuse the walker than on some other sections. Still, there were plenty of leaves to kick through on this autumn morning, which helped pass the time and eat up the miles.  

Wandsworth Common

Having passed HMP Brixton on the bus, it was now time to walk past Wandsworth Prison, situated incongruously between the green of the Common, the well-to-do houses and Wandsworth Cemetery.

We stopped for coffee in Wimbledon Park, in a café just down from the station. On the morning of the fall-out from Catalonia’s unilateral declaration of Independence from Spain, we found ourselves at a Spanish bar. The papers were full of the story: needless to say, politics was off the conversation agenda.

Wimbledon Park

The final section took us through Wimbledon Park, across Wimbledon Common and via Richmond Park to reach Richmond Bridge. We had covered some of this section before with our friends Celia and Nick, back when we were just scoping the route. The Common was much quieter than last time, when we got caught up with the Wimbledon Half Marathon.

Pen Ponds

Richmond Park was looking splendid in the afternoon sunshine. After taking a break on one of the park benches, we followed the route between Pen Ponds and on to Pemboke Lodge where we picked up a late lunch. It was busy, and although it was nice to retrace our steps from last year, see the protected view of St Paul’s Cathedral from Harry’s Mound and enjoy the wide view of Twickenham, Windsor Castle and the Thames as we descended towards Petersham Meadow, it was marred somewhat by dawdlers and path-hogs.

Heading for Pembroke Lodge

We had a final sit beside The Thames, reflecting on the weekend and the walk in full. And overall, we were very satisfied with both. The big advantage of a walk like the Capital Ring is that it is a good choice for the winter months, when the generally easy going and relatively mud-free walking really come into their own.

OK, so it had taken a bit longer than initially planned, but that couldn’t be helped. Having completed both, I think we are of the opinion that we’d tackle the Capital Ring and the London LOOP again sometime – perhaps even as soon as next winter.

Descending towards Petersham Meadows

Whatever the future brings, we are very glad to have completed these routes – routes that have had the ability to surprise us in many different ways. We’ve seen a lot more of London than we ever had before, grown to appreciate the history, geography, culture and diversity of our capital, and in the process got to know it’s character a whole lot better.

And do you know what? We’re all the better for it too.