Having marked my 60th birthday year by walking the Milford Track on New Zealand's South Island, I thought it was appropriate to mark my 65th by tackling another decent walk. So I can report with satisfaction that I returned last night after completing on foot the final (almost) stage of the Voie du Puy
, one of the ancient routes through France which leads to Compostela. Starting at Manciet in the Gers on 22nd April, I arrived in St Jean-Pied-de-Port on Wednesday, a bit weary and wet, but very happy after eight days on the GR65.
Perhaps the tiredness was evident: carrying my rucksack and staff, I was offered a seat in the tube from St Pancras to Paddington yesterday evening by a woman to whom I would normally have offered mine. (I said I was fighting fit, having just returned from a 200km walk: she replied, "So I should think you could do with a sit down." Nevertheless as a matter of pride I declined her kind offer.)
MD65, GR65 and A65: during my walk, I trespassed for a couple of kms along the as yet unopened A65 South of Aire-sur-l'Adour, the construction of which has usurped pilgrims from their direct route: a long detour is now indicated, which I wanted to avoid. But my comuppance arrived with misdirections from a trio of the roadmakers on their return from lunch, towards a path ending in a tangle of fallen trees worthy of a scene from The Road
: the devastation caused by the February tempest in the French South-West was evident everywhere, though the GR65 was itself pretty clear of fallen timber - indeed the wayside is now furnished with plenty of wooden seating.
My French and German and a lot of smiling were just enough to get me by with the mainly French, but also German, Belgian, Dutch, Finnish, Italian etc. other wayfarers I came across: not until Wednesday afternoon did I hear a couple of others speaking English as I caught up with them on the final stretch - and they turned out to be Norwegian and Portuguese respectively.
In previous years, Caroline and I had walked stretches of this Chemin du Puy together. It is different altogether doing so on your own, however many others you come alongside. I am still trying to distill the experience, with the aid of the photographs I took and many good memories.
Whilst away, I read - and can recommend - Kevin A. Codd's To The Field of Stars: A Pilgrim's Journey to Santiago de Compostela
, published by Wm. B. Eerdmans last year.