The Road goes ever on and on; Down from the door where it began;
Now far ahead the Road has gone; And I must follow, if I can;
Pursuing it with eager feet; Until it joins some larger way;
Where many paths and errands met; And whither then? I cannot say.

[JRR Tolkien, Lord of the Rings]

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Day 5 - St Jean Pied de Port to Col de Sourzay

St Jean is a lovely old walled town that deserves more time being spent in looking around than we gave it. Our higher priorities yesterday afternoon were resting in a cool room, and resupply. But if we should find ourselves passing by any time I'd happily go back for a better look.

After a night of sleep so sound that one of my phone batteries nearly didn't get charged (I needed to do a middle-of-the-night swap of which one was charging and only managed it because Mick woke me and reminded me), we stepped out into a sauna at 0730. It really was like we'd dragged a Stairmaster into the steam room at the gym and decided to exercise there.

Accordingly our first climb of the day was accompanied by me oft repeating "this is ridiculous weather in which to be doing this!". I can't say I enjoyed that climb, during which not a single breath of wind was felt.

The descent down the other side into Esterençuby was no better. We may no longer have been expending so much energy but it was even hotter by now and the sweat was still positively streaming off us.

I didn't relish the thought of the climb out of Esterençuby, so we put it off for a wee while by means of a refreshment break at the gite. Then it was up some more, but (to my relief) this one was not a brutal gradient. It was mainly also on tarmac, which has been a great feature of the last couple of days. I wouldn't mind quite so much (even with my well known aversion to tarmac) if the surface wasn't so hot. It doesn't take long to feel the heat coming through the shoes.

We had earmarked the next gite as our lunch stop, as recommended by one of our guidebooks. Perhaps it's a symptom of that book being 10 years old and out of print, but there was no-one around at the gite and no indication that food is served at lunchtime. We continued on, glad we at least had one lunch with us.

Another bit of up (we totalled about 1650m today) saw us onto a very nice meandering descent, where my thermometer hit 38 degrees. Declaring that to be too hot for the next ascent, which we could see climbing violently across the valley, an hour long pause was had on a pebbly beach by a stream, whose water was deliciously cold (I went and stood knee-deep a few times).

By the time we moved on, the cloud, which for hours had been approaching from the west, had reached us and the temperature had plummeted to just 29 degrees. It made that steep haul more bearable, although Luc (who we leapfrogged a few times today) was struggling as we passed him near the top.

Not knowing where we were going to end our day, we left the Col with 3.5 litres of water each, courtesy of a tap on a the side of a cottage ... which, of course guaranteed that where we ended up is next to running water!

Our heavy packs were then heaved up the final climb of the day (watching rain clouds bubble up as we went), which would have seen us all the way to 1450m except that we decided to temporarily abandon the GR10 at 1340m to drop off the side of the hill instead. Being gone 1730 it seemed the most expedient way to get ourselves to somewhere campable (a high camp being out of the question tonight due to the risk of thunder).

Without the small cairn marking its start point I'm not sure we would have located our not-waymarked path down the hill, and without continuing cairns through the forest we would likely have struggled to maintain its line. As it was it was all straightforward (except the 'plates of ball bearings' terrain) and we descended into the cloud and down to the road at the col (there had been a cloud inversion for a while - quite spectacular from up high - that cloud has cleared again now).

The spot where we are camped (about 5 yards from a babbling stream, having carried all that water) is not perfect but I shunned the better options for being too close to the road. Any thoughts of moving were obliterated when it started to rain as we pushed the last peg into the ground. It's only been a few spots so far, but I'm pretty sure that's thunder that I can now hear.

Tomorrow a mile walk down stream will see us back onto the GR10.

(Re: the photo of last night's sizeable meal - we cleared those plates and managed to follow them up with a sizeable pudding each too. Then we waddled back to our hotel.)


  1. Hot followed by thunder. Joy.

  2. I set off from St. Jean Pied de Port in rain, but then recorded improved weather and the first decent views of the trip so far. I got to Esterençuby by midday and pressed on to complete a nine hour day at Chalet Pedro at 6:30 where there was a restaurant and mini gite.

    After intense heat on the first couple of days it was not until I got closer to the Med that I experienced the sort of incapacitating stuff you describe. Water, water, water!

    1. I think this was the day when Mick drank 5 litres, plus his morning and evening cup of tea, plus a cup of coffee (or maybe just a thimbleful) in Esterençuby.

  3. There was quite heavy rain on the Tour De France. So you might be in for a ducking.

    1. As it turned out, we were ... but not for a few days yet.

  4. One thing I really struggle with is heat, am impressed by your perseverance.

    1. We reminded ourselves that we'd walked in temperatures in the low forties on the PCT, thus there was no reason we couldn't cope with mid- to high- thirties (a slightly flawed argument, as humid 35 degrees is much worse than a dry 42 degrees).

  5. Replies
    1. And you told us it would be cooler on the French side of the hills! (Okay, so after the first ten days it was, but I think we matched the Spanish temperatures that first week.)

    2. That weather started around 20 June and lasted over a month. On both sides of the border. Incredible! So I was wrong to tell you it would be cooler on the French side. My previous experiences counted for nothing...

  6. I am massively impressed!
    You have a cedilla key on your mobile!
    Good walking and blogging, too, by the way!

    1. Much easier to find the ç on the mobile than it is on the laptop!