TRAVEL: BUSKING TO SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA
After months of solitary walking, our pilgrim meets a friend in the Haut Languedoc and rediscovers the joys of companionship
Sunday 12 September 1999
Northern Cevennes, land of high moors, immense bluffs, blooming heather - and colossal motorway embankments unmarked on maps. Discover this when my path ends in a precipice. Go back? Five-mile detour. Go down? Am I mad? Yes. Over the edge, on to the scree. Like skiing through shrapnel. Terror keeps me going. Reach the bottom with trembling knees, gaping boots, shredded trousers. Next time I detour.
Onwards over fabulous terrain. Northern slopes of Mont Aigoual: pines, green grass, heather, views eastwards clear to the Alps. Bone-dry southern slopes: holm-oak, brambles, views down to the sea. Mushrooms are everywhere. Fiercely protected by law, so mushroom-poaching is big business. Daring raiders in balaclavas and wicker baskets? It'd be worth seeing.
Hurrying on despite disintegrating boots. I've got an appointment. Cross the river Arre at le Vigan, climb into a different world - the limestone plateau of Upper Languedoc. Dry, stony, brown, bony, cut by immense river- gorges. Race against clock and calendar through tropical heat past town after town: Navacelles in the Vis gorge (beautiful location), Lodeve (beautiful Romanesque cathedral), La Tour-sur-Orb (not-so-beautiful supermarket, but great chocolate selection).
On target, on time! Lamalou-les-Bains and a beautiful girl, Emma - artist, teacher, adventurer, friend from home - bearing new boots. She's come out for a walking holiday. If only she knew... Climb out of Lamalou on the remains of the Roman road, into yet another landscape: Haut Languedoc National Park. Granite hills, mountain streams, hidden pools, chestnut trees, scent of thyme everywhere. Follow the road up hill and down dale, but mainly up. It's brutal. Emma's brilliant, she gets tired at the same time as I do, so we walk little, talk lots. Very civilised. Must have visitors more often.
Stop for lunch above a tiny hamlet, listening to country sounds: insects, sheep, Tchaikovsky's Serenade for Strings. Eh? This is Bardou, former peasant village, former ruin, restored by a German-American couple, now an artists' haven. Ancient stone houses with red-tiled roofs nestle between ruins. Peacocks strut, cats stalk, t'ai chi students stretch, musicians strum. We meet the owners, who moved here in the late Sixties. Electricity arrived in the early Nineties. They're masons, architects, shepherds, archaeologists, historians. Wish we could stay. For a month. But time draws on.
Time for Emma to return home. A sad moment. As the bus pulls away, I take stock of the week. We've climbed hills, forded streams, got sunburnt, gorged on plundered grapes, and met some real eccentrics. That's what I call a holiday.
For more information on the charity trombone walk, visit the
website at www.netplay cafe.co.uk/bonewalk.
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