Okay, I take back what I said. After a lovely English breakfast at Edna’s gîte, we opened the door to leave. Immediately we were taken aback by how warm it was compared to the last several days since Toulouse and how foggy it was, signifying a change in the weather. Today, the change meant blazing sun and hot air. Boy, do I miss those cold mornings! At 6:30pm, it was 25 degrees Celsius in the shade and still at least 5 degrees more in the sun. I hung our laundry out to dry in the sun and by the time I finished hanging eight items, I swear that the first one was already dry. That sun is HOT!
Setting off from L’Ilse de Noé, Edna watched us leave all the way over the Telephone Bridge at the edge of town. The bridge is so named, not because it looks like a telephone but because everyone in the village has to walk to the right hand side of the far end of the bridge to get mobile reception. The mayor said that in August he was going to organize a signal booster so that everyone in the village could use their mobile phones in their homes. The problem was that he didn’t say which August. He announced this in May, 2014 and the bridge is still the village phone booth.
^ St. James the Apostle, a.k.a. Santiago and Saint Jacques
We had a good little climb out of the village and then we were soon on trails. We were worried that the mud was still going to be an impediment but it didn’t look so at first. On second look though…. actually, the early part of the trail, the ground was soft but not bad at all. As we got more into the forest though, we ran into more and more quagmires. It really started to slow us down because we had to carefully choose where to put each step. For those first 8km to Montesquieu, I would say that only 5-10% of the trail was muddy but those sections slowed us down to average about 3km per hour. That’s too slow and hard work. Just a little more that 1km before Montesquieu, there was a road that we crossed. We decided to bypass the rest of that trail and walk an extra 400m by taking the road through the hamlet of Barres. That may have been a mistake though as a gentleman farmer saw us walking through Barres and walked up to us in his Gucci Wellington boots and tweed jacket. He informed us that we needed to turn around and go back to the proper trail. I told him that we were taking a break from the mud by going on the road. He said it was better to go by the proper trail because it is beautiful. I explained that all we could look at is where to step so as to avoid the mud. He tut-tutted us with a “suit yourselves” and let us proceed. I wonder if he has ever walked it himself.
In Montesquieu, we found a small bar with a helpful bartender. He told us that much of the next 7km, L-shaped section to Pouylebon was also muddy. He suggested that we follow the trail only to Moulin de Lasalle, cutting over to the D34 (small back road), go south about 500m then take the D216 on an angle straight to Pouylebon. It saves almost 2km but, more importantly, there is no mud and it’s a beautiful way on its own. It is bordered by a couple of houses, some farms and a lot of forest. Additionally, it is such a small quiet road that in about 3km, we didn’t see any cars and there was only one cyclist.
The last 9km was almost exclusively on trails in the forest or in fields except for a short bit of road near the church of St. Christopher. The trails really are fantastic but the recent rains meant more slow going in some places. It is obvious that a lot of damage to the trail is done by mountain bikers and, possibly, illegal dirt bikers. The fresh ruts made from bikes are deep and store lots of water to keep those parts of the trails muddy. Nothing was impassible and only 5-10% of these trails were messy but it just slowed us down a lot on those sections.
Anyone following us, note that the GR blazes might not have been enough today to follow without GPS or at least a good map. A few occasions, it seemed as signs where missing. For example, once when our trail dead-ended at a T-junction, there was no sign to turn left or right. We checked on maps.me GPS and knew to turn right but the first blaze was about 200m down that road. On another occasion in the forest about 1km after Pouylebon, there was a clear blaze to turn right off the obvious track. We saw no place to turn right and no further blazes in the forest to the right. The GPS said to continue to go straight on the main track so we did. There wasn’t another blaze though for about 400m. Without GPS, I am not sure we would have handled that so well.
We are now resting after dinner at the lovely old farmhouse, Chez Nicole & Michel. Nicole was born here in her mother’s house and I believe it was owned by the family for generations. The children have moved out so she rents out five of the bedrooms. The bathroom we are using is bigger than our guest room in Singapore and has just taken over the award for the best shower in all of France. It is a double-sized, fully enclosed cubicle with computer operated controls. I’m not kidding. In addition to the normal shower head, there is a rain-shower head from above and 12 jet shower heads to blast you from the sides. The remote control also plays music or the radio. Better still, when you set the temperature of the water that you want, it stays at the same temperature unless you decide to change it. I like this place.
By the way, Melanie is doing much better. She’s still not 100% but the sore throat and wheezing is gone. Her coughs are much less frequent. Her nose is still running but she almost caught up to it today. I predict one more good sleep will fix her.