Day 1 | Oloron Ste Marie to Escot
We were so organised this morning. We set the alarm for 7:00am. Our picnics were ready in the fridge. The tape for our toes was cut and ready to be used. We woke, had breakfast, taped our feet and packed our bags and we were in the car within the hour. Something tells me that this efficiency is unlikely to last!
We’re staying in a small gite between Oloron and Eysus and as we have limited time we decided to start our camino there. This isn’t the Aragones at all, but rather the end of the Arles route, however we opted to spend a few days on the French side of the mountains because I’d read this area was very pretty and it gives us a little taste of the Chemins in France.
We parked near the church and wandered off through the lanes out of town. Garden after garden today was sporting fabulous colour by way of Hydrangeas and Agapanthas; we were reminded of Brittany with the green green grass, the flowers and the grey slate roofs.
This is really the first proper walk we’ve had since the Lebaniego last year and we were relieved to be starting in the cool morning along a gentle path. It’s going to get much steeper in a few days time so today, we hoped, would be a good warm up! At first we wandered along the road, we caught glimpses of the river but although we walked beside it all day this would be one of the few times we would actually see it. We strolled through a village with a rather grand hotel, attached to thermal baths. It was clearly closed and we wondered if it was COVID or if simply it became unfashionable to take the waters these days? Onwards we walked and the sun was warming. We spotted a bus stop and Gerry decided it was time for a drink and a boots off.
We sat in our bus stop and he asked if I remembered his poem from last year… of course mon cher “be it cold or hot, you can’t go wrong, with a bus stop”. We laughed and I asked if he would be creating any more poetry on this camino; you’ll be disappointed (or pleased) to learn that he declined… he said it became too stressful 😀
Onwards we walked and hoped for a bar or a cafe. But… this is France and we figured that it would be unlikley. The trail took us off the road and along a country lane. Two dogs barked from behind a gate and two donkeys trotted to greet us, no doubt hoping for a tasty morsel… alas we had nothing for them. Onwards passing beautifully tended veg plots and a number of bee hives. It was a pretty walk through rolling countryside and it felt good to be walking again. However, the joy was short lived as the path changed to a steeper descent where the trail had been washed away and in it’s place lots and lots of rough, loose rocks and stones. We picked our way down but it was slow progress and by the time we popped out at the bottom the sun was high in the sky and we were hot!
Back on the road we meandered our way through a pretty village. It wasn’t small so again we hoped for a little bar and again our hopes were dashed. But the views were really glorious and we ambled along content with our water. The weather has been a little crazy this year in SW France and we’ve had a lot of rain. Today though it was hot sun and apart from us two pilgrims ambling along, the roads today were busy with tractors. In every direction we could see freshly cut hay and the air was rich with the sweet smell of cut grass. Above us huge buzzards circled, looking for a tasty morsel and all the while we wandered onwards.
The road turned to a track again and at first the ground was recently cut and easy to walk on but it soon became more and more overgrown and we found ourselves stepping through brambles and stinging nettles. Thankfully before too long we were dropped back on to the road; I’m not sure which is better? The rough trail or the tarmac?
We stopped in some shade and I kept saying I should grab my brolly… it was a choice of walking poles or umbrella. I waited too long and I’m paying for that tonight as my cheeks and neck had a bit too much sun! We paused in the shade for another drink trying to see the river we’d been following but it was always out of sight. A car came round the corner and I quickly crossed the road to the ‘safer’ side, leaving Gerry in his shade. He was none too impressed that I’d left him and wandered along singing “you abandoned me… love don’t live here anymore…” and so this became our song for the day… all about unrequited love and sorrow… which didn’t really match our jolly mood but once a song is in your head it stays there for a while!
Two dogs ran down their drive and barked furiously. I brought my walking poles with me today as I’d read about a lady who was attacked by a dog a few days ago walking here. I had my poles just in case. But as it happened they just barked and never left their side of the road. I’m nervous around dogs, especially working dogs. I’m nervous around cows too… thankfully today neither was a problem. (but hey this is just day 1)
Onwards along the road, both of us were feeling the heat and footsore from the road walking and very happy to arrive in Escot, which was to be our end point for the day. It seemed a busy little town and we hoped and hoped for a bar but nope… lots of cyclists and a public loo and a few picnic benches but no bar. The benches were in full sun so we walked around the village and the church looking for an alternative and decided that a low wall at the start of the village offered us the best chance of a shady lunch.
We parked ourselves on the wall and tucked into our picnic, and because we’re not carrying a full pack we treated ourselves to flasks of hot tea to wash it all down. The church bells struck midday as we were finishing and we knew it was going to be a hot hot walk back to the car! As we made ready to leave I noticed the road sign… Chemin Lartiguette. I said it out load and Gerry took great offence? What? Why? He thought I’d called him a Lardy Git? We’ve lived in France for 14 years and I thought my accent was better than that! So after soothing his hurt feelings we decided there was nothing for it than head back! I checked my fitbit and we’d already walked just shy of 11kms…and gosh it was hot!
I changed into my Tevas but that was to prove a big mistake. They’re new, as are my Altra Lone Peaks and neither of them were ready to a 20km walk. But onwards and onwards we walked retracing our steps. Leaving Escot we spotted some goats and we were reminded of an incident 20 years ago in Devon. Gerry and I shared an office in Escot House and I was working one weekend and Gerry came to collect with Matt in tow… Matt was perhaps 2 or 3 years old? Gerry had warned Matt that this was an office and he had to be well behaved… and then terrified the life out of the poor little chap by telling him that he needed to be careful as there were ghosts. The poor boy was just a toddler! Anyway… as we were driving away from Escot that day, in a field there were goats… and Gerry stopped and said “See Matt… I told you there were g(h)oa(s)ts!” And just writing this now I realise that it’s not at all funny but we laughed and laughed as we remembered this terrible terrible joke!
About halfway back to the car I knew I had to change my shoes again, the teva’s had rubbed my foot sore and I knew I had a blister. Darn it! I know better than this! We stopped on the steps of the village churched and instead of changing them I decided it would be ok to just tape my foot… stupid mistake but hey ho! Onwards we walked but a few kilometres along I knew I had to stop and change. There was no where to pause so we sat on the edge of the road and had a drink and I put my Altras back on. Gosh it was hot!
Finally, finally! Eysus church spire appeared on the horizon. Why does the last kilometre always seem to hard?! Oh the joy of reaching the car and turning on the aircon! We drove onwards to Sarrance and had a little wander around the village and the church before heading home. We’ve not walked over 20kms for a long time and we really felt it today with so much tarmac and the hot hot sun. In a few days it’s set to get even hotter so we’ll maybe review our stages but for now I was just happy to return to our gite and jump in the pool.
And chocolate? Well yesterday on our drive down we stopped at a garage and Gerry wanted chocolate. Not just any chocolate. He wanted nuts in it. What if they don’t have chocolate with nuts I asked… Don’t come back was his reply! Thankfully I found chocolate. It was going to be a treat for the half way point today… but actually the chocolate never left the garage car park and so today we had none! Instead we had these amazing views!
I hope your Sunday was a lovely as ours!