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.

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