Monday, 3 June 2013

Day 3: Arudy - Oloron Ste Marie

The good news is that a) the rain has eased to merely heavy drizzle, and b) the nappy rash cream seems to be performing miracles. Today's walking wasn't too bad, as Father Pierre had given me instructions not to follow the marked route as it'd be incredibly muddy. He gave me a sheet with directions that followed farm tracks and back roads, which seemed to do the trick as I enjoyed relatively dry feet for the whole day. 

Fr. Pierre
After leaving Father Pierre's house I stopped off at the boucherie, who had some rather tasty looking quiches that I planned on having for lunch - well one of them, at least. François the butcher clearly knew my family's predilection for traditional French saucisson as he offered me a slice - it was divine, and I reasoned that I'd packed my Swiss Army knife specifically for dealing with saucisson as and when it appears, so bought one without hesitation. He then dived into his back room and emerged with a scallop shell and some wire, insisting that as a pilgrim walking to Santiago I had to look the part - the shell is now tied to the back of my pack and I will try and remember to take a picture of it tomorrow. He also let me hijack his wifi - getting online in these parts has been rather a challenge as my mobile signal doesn't have a data connection. Again, thank you to everyone who has donated to the charities I'm raising funds for - here's the link if you feel like giving something

Once on the road proper the route to Oloron took me past a boulangerie in Buzy that had excellent pain au raisins, and Buziet, where there was a small memorial to Spanish nationalists murdered by the Germans in 1944. I also tried to persuade an old man to join me on my walk to Santiago, but my failure to do so was probably for the best as he was walking rather slowly and I'm not entirely sure he was entirely of sound mind. His walking stick would have been useful in dealing with the loose dogs roaming the entrances to the farms that I passed, however...

Three days in and I feel like I'm getting to grips with how to do the whole walking day after day thing efficiently. I've learnt not to wash my merino wool tops as they take days to dry in the rainy weather I'm passing through at the moment. Instead I wear the lightweight Rohan travel shirts underneath. I bought them because I felt that one should really wear a collared shirt when walking a pilgrimage route, but they've been brilliant as they dry very quickly. As soon as I arrive at the place where I'm staying I wash my shirt, underpants and socks, and so I have a clean shirt for the following evening. I've also managed to shower twice a day, and bar my tired feet I actually feel 'more human than human' - particularly so tonight as I've just removed three days of stubble. I don't feel like I'm carrying anything superfluous (aside from as bloody big scallop shell) nor do I feel like I'm missing anything. I did have a look at some of the online discussion fora about what to take before I left, and it seems that people enjoy whipping themselves into fervid excitement over the whole business! My bag weighs about 10kg, and my Leica isn't exactly a light camera. I didn't take trousers (just a pair of shorts - and no, I'm NOT walking along in my underwear, as plausible as that is for me!). I have a full sized microfibre towel that dries quickly, and I'm happy wandering around the hostel with that on if my shorts are drying. Whether the other pilgrims are happy with this remains to be seen, and I might hunt out some trousers once I reach St. Jean Pied-de-Port. My walking shoes are great - no blisters. Everything is good. Happy days. 

Oloron is a surprisingly busy pilgrimage stop as it is the intersection of two routes from France - the minor feeder route that i'm following across the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, and the major Voie d'Arles that anyone walking from Southern Europe would take - this heads directly south for the Col du Somport that has been closed with snow in recent days. Anyway, the upshot is that there is a modern, clean pilgrims' hostel, and while it lacks the charm of Bétharram Sanctuary or Fr. Pierre's house, it is nice to have a change and experience something different. As I entered an elderly Austrian man started talking to me, and my 'C' grade German GCSE just wasn't up to the job. He continued speaking a bit more slowly - just how the English do exactly the same maddening thing (as do other people, I suspect). Bloody annoying really, but it did remind me of how much I adore France - I actually speak the wretched language and can have conversations with the people I encounter, which makes a huge difference when you're walking alone. I had a long talk with a cow herdsman who I bumped into in the middle of nowhere, and took his portrait on my film camera - hence it isn't posted here, sorry. I don't speak a drop of Spanish, aside from 'can I have the bill, please' - hardly the greatest ice-breaker!

Tomorrow I walk to Hôpital St-Blaise - 22km, so another relatively short day.