Waked up at 6 am to find out that day breaks in only at 7 am at this longitude. So I waited a bit before hitting the road and in the meantime trying to upload the summary of the day to my blog with disappointing results. The bandwidth of the connection all of sudden dried up and the update could not get through for several attempts.
Never mind, I was eager to start the day’s walk anyway, and by 7:25 am I moved on in a brisk cool morning, skipping breakfast figuring to have some later on in a couple of hours’ time. The direction chosen the night before was on secondary paved road towards St. Vincent and Nay. The road almost immediately started to climb and the effort was rewarded by a magnificent panorama of the valley still covered by the morning mist.
At a junction near Nay a woman in a car asked me for directions, and made my day! I was surely a foreigner but I have to say I was also the only living being around. Because of my typical habit of memorizing the road map of the surroundings, I actually knew how to direct her correctly : the problem was still to make myself understood in my rusty French!
Nay is a beautiful town with a well landscaped riverside worth another visit some day. Across the river, a central promenade lined with cafes and bistrots, was too inviting to resist. I had a double espresso, in a corner table still very conscious about being a mature man with a huge backpack and dressed like a bum. Still I could not meet yet any other pilgrim on these roads, and the blending in with these nicely dressed people was not so easy. After a short while, I followed the road towards Arudy and the destination of the day near Sevignacq.
The road narrowed a bit and the indications suggested another 3 hours of solid walk, before reaching the planned overnight stay at the Hotel du Thermes au Secours. The road climbed furthermore and unrolled like a grey ribbon on the crest of a hilly range, dotted with rural mansions and farms.
The hotel was not located on the main road where I though it should have been, and I could not get directions over the phone for the lack of references that made sense to me. The hotelier, who later introduced himself as Jean-Pierre, as soon as he finally understood I was coming in on foot and was heading to Santiago, insisted to come and pick me up with his car. He also shared with me that he was a pilgrim once and did himself part of the Camino de la Plata from Seville to Salamanca, and was planning one day to continue to reach finally Santiago.
I was grateful of the courtesy since the road to the hotel was a diversion of more than 5 km from I was and the direction I wanted to go the following day. The diversion was well justified as soon we reached the place: a quintessence of French hospitality with all the must haves such as the flowers at the balcony, the ivy on the walls and an incredible peaceful landscaping. Not to mention a private bathroom with a bathtub! I slowly simmered in the hot water and fall asleep for some thirty minutes, with my heart pounding of joy for these simple gratifications.
While allowing myself with the pleasure of a cold French beer, I enjoyed also the company of a charming British couple, Jean and Alec Jessups, in a holiday trip to visit friends in France and Spain. We stayed in contact for some time during my trip as they wanted to get my news and whether I managed to reach Santiago in one piece. Since they live not far from Canterbury, I made also plans to visit them in the UK if and when I shall embark on the journey along the via Francigena, from Canterbury to Rome.
At dinner, Jean-Pierre authored an exquisite beef composition, which I devoured in very good spirit and with a glass of excellent Bourgogne. For my foodie friends, the dish was a combination of beef filet with mushrooms and a reduit of beef stewed in red wine sauce. Delicious.
Worth mentioning the first signs of the Santiago pilgrimage: the lid of the dustbin in the room has a motif inspired by the St. James shell.
All in all the stage was 28.6km long which I covered in 6:18 hours of walking and 2 hours of rest. First lesson learned during today’s stage: never underestimate the distance especially if you are taking side roads. What was supposed to be an easy stroll, turned out to be the longest distance so far. Google Maps indicated 23km but I ended up with about 30!