Monday, April 28, 2014

Days 24 and 25 - Arzacq-Arraziguet to Arthez-de-Bearn to Navarrenx (57.5 kms)

Day 24 - Arzacq-Arraziguet to Arthez-deBearn (28.5 kms)
Day 25 - Arthez-de-Bearn to Navarrenx (29 kms)

To start at the end, this afternoon after a tough day I arrived at the gite chez l'Alchimiste. What a peaceful and special place. I received the warmest of welcomes from Jean-Gitean (the alchemist!) and Emmanuelle, a volunteer. I feel lucky that, by chance, I am one of just 8 pilgrims who can be accommodated here. Most days I choose the gite based on the name and / or a recommendation. It was difficult to resist chez l'Alchimiste, just as it was to resist Gite Boulangerie the night before. Though they are entirely different, I'm very happy to have found my way to both. More on l'Alchimiste tomorrow as I'm getting ahead of myself. 

Apologies for not posting an update yesterday - the connection was weak at Gite Boulangerie and I wasn't able to upload the photos. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner there - with Dominque, Max, Sebastian and others (photos included in this post). Very welcome after another tough afternoon. Bertrand the gite owner also owns the local Boulangerie/Patisserie (which explains the name of the gite) so this morning, as instructed by him, we made our way to the village and sat in the kitchen at the back of his store eating the freshest and most delicious chocolate croissants!  But back to the walking.

The accepted wisdom on Chemin du Puy is that the first 10 days are the toughest and the path eases off after that. Overall I'd say that is the case but every day seems to have at least one or two real kickers, and that's not counting dealing with the mud. In the last two days, the afternoons have been particularly tough, with two or three gruelling ascents. Yesterday, in heavy rain and strong, cold wind. This afternoon, thankfully just a light drizzle. 

There seems to be a recurring theme on the Chemin du Puy which moves more or less in a south westerly direction - compared to Camino Frances which is almost a straight line running from east to west across Spain. So this afternoon on the Chemin was typical. After a steep climb, I was walking along the top of a ridge. I could see the path running straight ahead for about 100 metres.  To my left was another deep valley and, clearly visible on the other side, a narrow road running steeply up to yet another ridge. You look at the steep path and say to yourself surely that won't be The Way. But of course you know that it is. And with that, on the straight path which lay ahead a sign appears indicating that The Way requires a sharp turn to the left. And so begins a steep descent to the bottom of the valley, so that you can make your way up the other side. It happens without fail. There's a joke my French friends like to tell about the Chemin. 'If I am heading south, why am I always climbing?'.

The other recurring theme of this Camino is that the French appear to very partial to 'le shortcut'. This first came to my attention some weeks ago with the Frenchman Pierre-Michel. I would often pass him early in the day only to pass him again later on. One particular day, I came out of a forest to find him coming up the road to my right. I asked him if he had been lost. Not at all. He proudly showed me on the map that he had worked out a shortcut by taking the road instead of the forest. Initially I thought this was just a Pierre-Michel thing. Not so. 

Over the last three days, there have been two instances where my companions have excitedly announced that the gite owner or another local has told them how to make a shortcut. Today it was about 2 kms, on Saturday they say it was about 7. Word seems to spread like wildfire and the end result is that everyone from the gite bar me - and one other today - opts for the shortcut. That's how I managed to start Saturday with Dominique and Delphine and end up walking on my own from 11.30 on. And today, I walked with Dominique, and the German boys Max and Sebastian for about 15 minutes before they opted for the road to save two kilometres. Yesterday no shortcuts, so Dominque, Max, Sebastian and I walked together all day and it was most enjoyable. And, as a result, what was to have been French day, turned out to be English day. 

Back to the shortcuts. I just don't get it. I'd be the first to opt for a shorter distance if I were injured, not feeling well, running out of time, or the conditions made the path dangerous. But in the normal course of events, it seems odd to me that so many people opt to walk other than on The Way. Except for a couple of variants to avoid busy roads, I don't recall this phenomenon in Spain. But, on the other hand, mon amies are confounded that I don't go with them. All I can say to them is that the Camino has always been kind to me (even when I miss a turn and take the wrong path and have to backtrack as I did again today - uggghh!) and so I will stay on The Way. 

Before I sign off, big thank you for being in touch Helen (Mum), Audrey, Rosanne, Cathryn, Marian and Julie-Ann. Always lovely to hear from home. 

Not far to go now - about 60 kms to St Jean Pied de Port. I have no reason to hurry so I will walk the final distance over the next three days - sounds very relaxing!  

A bientot. 

J xx


  1. Hi Jen,
    Not far to go now (comparatively). Probably a bit of a mixed emotion - the satisfaction of completing the journey but then the end of an adventure.
    Soon your mind can start thinking about that business class seat just waiting for your tired body to occupy it.

    I had the 3 days off between Easter & ANZAC day which meant about a 10 day break overall. I didn't have anything planned but just enjoyed not being at work.
    I have been spending a few nights here & there back at Pring Street while the (younger) girls have been on holidays. Bev & I are interacting well and we spent Easter Sunday together. We are also all going out together for dinner tomorrow night for Bec's 18th, and then she is having a party at home on Saturday night.

    I decided to get into Breaking Bad during my time off. I remember you saying how much happened in the first episode. I just finished watching series 2 & am loving it.
    You simply can't believe how much trouble they get themselves into and where Walt's lies lead him. I got series 3 out yesterday and should knock it off by the weekend.

    Back at work now & have a pretty heavy load through to the end of June so I'd better apply myself and maybe schedule another few days off in July.

    Safe travels for the last bit. Before we know it you will be visiting us in June.
    Lots of love
    Mike x

  2. Great walking Jenny and I totally don't 'get' the short cut thing either. In particular, imagine if you missed any of those extraordinary meals I see in the current post. It does sound like you'll cruise into SJPP - I hope the weather and terrain is a little kinder than the last few days.

    All good here - kids back at school and bracing ourselves for a short but frantic term! Cx

  3. Hello Jenny,
    we arrived in Santiago without problems on the first of June and in kap finisterre on the 5th.
    Unfortunately my diary with all the adresses was stolen in Léon, so I'm very glad that I found your blog! Could write Dominik a email that we arrived? You could also send me a email to
    We haven't seen him on the way. We made it over the route Napoleon and thanks to you without any problems. Your advice to take the road helped us a lot!
    We carried the "Est-ce que c'est la pont?" through the hole camino and - I can tell you - we annoyed every other pilgrim with that. Still worth it :D
    Actually we found the bridge between Santiago and kap finisterre ;)
    I wish you all the best! I was such a pleasure to meet you!
    Max from Germany