Via Podiensis Day 31: Sauvelade to Aroue

I woke this morning with my leg feeling a world better. I set myself a more ambitious stage, not realising quite how long the walk would be. But while I hiked the entire day on my lonesome, plenty of incidents kept me entertained along the way…

Today’s Costs

€6.50 – groceries in Navarrenx
€1.00 – donativo offering at roadside stop
€10.00 – gite communal Aroue
€3.50 – groceries in Aroue

Practicalities

My night at Gite Nadette was tremendous. As mentioned yesterday – I’d not had the whole demi-pension experience for a while and was in need of some good hospitality after a trying few days. Nadette is a true character – loud, funny and a bit mad – but a wonderful cook and hostess. She reminds me a bit of Frida Kahlo, and her house is like being in a Salvador Dali painting.

Three lovely older French guys were staying at the same place. They all had one ear pierced and looked like they’d been quite roguish during their youth. They told me about the time many years back when they’d been hitchhiking through Scotland.

A demi-pension gite is a must-do, even if it’s only occasional. The evening dinner is always superb, at least 3-4 courses and plenty of wine. Plus in the morning you get a big breakfast to send you flying on your way. It makes a change from the usual tuna and pasta at the communal gite, I can tell you!

After a sincere goodbye to Nadette and my three French ‘uncles’ I set out slow. The great thing about an 07.30 start is the time it gives you – even on a slow pace like mine, you cover a lot of ground before it gets late in the day.

After an hour so of going up and down the little valleys around Sauvelade I heard louder-than-usual barking and spotted guys in high-visibility jackets. As I got closer I realised these men were armed with over-and-under shotguns and bugles – I’d run into a hunt! I saw no action, but all eyes seemed to be trained on a thicket. Doubtless the dogs were onto something this sunny Sunday morning.

After around 12 steady kilometres I reached Navarrenx, one of France’s “prettiest villages” according to its sign. It’s a cool little place, with battlements, interesting streets and an old bridge over the river. I knew I’d be heading into a smaller town – Aroue – later, so stocked up on food.

It took me a while to get used to, but from lunchtime Sunday and well into Monday, there’s often not much on offer in rural France. Sunday morning, if not Saturday evening, is the time to sort your supplies out for the end/start of the week.

Over the last few days, the red and white balises have been interspersed much more with blue and yellow shell symbols. For some reason, it seems they like to use both in this part of south-western France. Another, not entirely welcome addition to the trail, are the signposts with timings to the next towns or villages. Sadly, the timings are inaccurate and often seem to repeat or even contradict themselves a few kilometres up the road – I’m not a fan.

For fans of walking in the woods, the stretch from Navarrenx is a real treat. You spend as much as two hours wandering along forested paths, into little clearings and occasionally out into the fields. I spotted two treehouses way up in the trees with terrifyingly long ladders propped up against them. A collection of donkeys awaited my arrival in one of the little clearings.

Pilgrim’s Reflections

Today’s stage was great, but as I mentioned, turned out a lot longer than I’d anticipated. I was in total 8 hours on the road – my Moves app tells me I walked 21 miles, or 33km. I guess my leg is getting back into shape. Sadly though, with my new insoles came blisters – the first ones I’ve had since the beginning of my trek. My feet have been pricked with needles and treated with antibacterial cream, and are a bit sore as I write this.

Tomorrow’s stage is an easier affair. It’s only around 20km to Ostabat, the place where the separate pilgrim routes come together before the Pyrenees. I should be in St-Jean by Tuesday – hallelujah. As of right now I’m in the Basque country – I hear pelota being played opposite the communal gite. I’m very tired after a long day…

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