Saturday, 1 June 2013

Day 2: Bétharram - Arudy

I woke up and surprise surprise it was still raining - indeed during my breakfast conversation with the elderly Dutch couple I found out that people have been unable to cross the pass over the Pyrenees on the day after St. Jean Pied-de-Port, and apparently there is a backlog of walkers / pilgrims stacking up in the town - which is still four days walking from Arundy, where I arrived tonight. 

To say it was raining for most of the day would be trying to put a good spin on some truly atrocious weather. It poured down for almost all of the day, relenting only when I had to walk up a footpath that had turned itself into a foot-deep stream.

At one point I had to ford a muddy torrent that turned out to be thigh deep - fortunately there was a stout branch that had fallen down in the last three weeks of deluge that helped me cross the strong current.

I walked most of the 27km with my jacket zipped up and the rain flicking off the hood visor as I caught up with the podcast backlog of Today in Parliament and File on Four - which was as depressing an experience as it sounds. The brief stretches of public road I had to walk along saw two white Renault vans aim for puddles right next to me, although the soaking I got wasn't too bad and merely proved that white vans bring out the worst in people on both sides of the Channel.  

I realise that this makes it sound like I'm going through some sort of hell. Quite the opposite! The countryside is beautiful, in a misty sort of way. The Voie de Piémont that I'm following from Lourdes to St. Jean Pied-de-Port is almost entirely on rough farm tracks and cross-country paths, and is well marked, to the extent that I haven't had to look at my map in anger yet. The route feeds into the main chemains to Santiago, and today I passed a sign that simply stated 'Compostella' - carved out of wood, and without the clamshell branding that the authorities have used elsewhere. It was probably made by a local farmer and pointed to a path that ran down the side of a field, but it did make me think 'jeepers I've got a long way to go'.

At the moment the slightly more pressing concerns are to do with continually being soaked during the day - the waist belt of my pack is digging into my skin, and my 100% cotton shorts aren't exactly great as they just need a sniff of rain to become completely sodden. I stopped off at the pharmacy in Asson and spoke to the pharmacist, who came back with a tube adorned with the smiling face of a baby - nappy rash cream! It seems to be doing the trick, but I think a pair of merino undershorts might help matters. Or some dry weather. 

Lunch in the church portico at Asson
Tonight I'm staying with Father Pierre at Saint-Michel d'Oissau in Arudy. I was looking for his house in the driving rain, when suddenly a voice called out from a window high up from the street. He'd been expecting me as Father Joseph had called from Bétharram this morning. Fr. Pierre's house has lots of hot water, comfortable rooms, and he cooked me the most delicious meal - what he says the Spanish call a 'plato combinado' - but basically meat, vegetables and salad, and with some local sheep's cheese that he apologised for being too young (although it still tasted rather good). Fr. Pierre was also very patient in dealing with my terrible French, but we found a common cause while doing the dishes as the French think the English are disgusting for not rinsing the suds off - one of my pet hates! He was expecting another pilgrim tonight, but apparently she has lost her will to do battle with the weather and took the train back to Bordeaux this afternoon. Fr. Pierre didn't seem that impressed with her tenacity deficit.

Tomorrow I head to Oloron Saint-Marie.