BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

From Buddhists banging gongs to municipal bands ushering in Bastille Day - our busking pilgrim lets others call the tune for a change
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The Independent Travel
6 July

Leave Autun via yet more country lanes. I definitely need a change of scenery.

Wind southwards through wooded hills, green fields, and rain: this could almost be Wales. Look for somewhere dry to sleep.

Map shows a chateau behind a ridge. Look down from summit. Rub eyes. Is this a pagoda I see before me? Draw nearer. There's a sign: "Welcome to the Temple of a Thousand Buddhas". With a chateau in the backyard.

Welcomed by a Frenchman in saffron-and-mulberry robes and Number One haircut, who invites me to attend the 7pm service.

At 7.45pm we're still waiting. The elders are at an initiation. Then gongs bong, horns blow. Enter the elders, very fast. Chanting, beating of cymbals and drums, blowing of more horns, all at breakneck speed. Try hard to remain respectful, but it's like watching The Keystone Cops.

8.10pm: another gong. Teatime! Eat with a novice who explains the rush: "The cook kills us if we're late." He shows me around, introduces me to a monk, explains my mission. "You're mad! Come and have a drink."

Herbal tea? No, whisky. My illusions are crumbling.

7-13 July

Country-lane fever! Can't stand it any more, so I accelerate towards the Auvergne hill- country.

Seven days, 130 miles, two bruised heels, all worthwhile when I reach Chatelguyon at the foot of the mountains. Sweaty but triumphant, and in good time for a parade.

Bastille Day celebrations started the previous night. Firemen with Luke Skywalker helmets and flaming torches. Gendarmes without torches. Evidently not old enough. Marching band, clog dancers, drum ensemble, steel band complete with 15ft-high carnival figures. (One looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Is there a Star Wars theme here?)

The music is of a high standard, but do they all have to play at once?

14 July

Another parade. Municipal band again (same repertoire, different uniforms), police, firemen, assorted military types. Lay a wreath at the war memorial, then descend for the games: egg-catching, blindfold pram-race over obstacle course, pillow-fights, tug-of-war, and two dozen muscular youths stripped to the waist, arguing over Trivial Pursuit questions. Macho stuff.

The grand finale: a firework display. Unplanned entertainment when a rocket goes awry, lands on somebody's roof. Firemen have a great time drenching it, and everything else in sight.

Feel drained by the excitement. Decide to take a few days off. And then - it's mountain time!

For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the website at www.netplaycafe. co.uk/bonewalk

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