“There are two other pilgrims, young. They speak English but no French. They are leaving soon. Maybe you will wait for them?” Says the volunteer running the Relais de Bastet in Oloron, where I’ve been staying. He’s a good guy, but Jesus Christ man talk slower! I get about a third of his content, but he’s an enthusiast so it’s more or less all I need. “No thanks, I want to be all alone.” I reply. And I shoulder my pack. The two elderly ladies clock me shouldering. They shoulder too. I say farewell to Marie – I’ll miss her – and leave with the dawn like a soldier going to war against blisters. They are hot on my heels.
I’m not in a hurry though. I’ve got my feet to think about. This is a marathon not a SCREW YOU WITH YOUR PLATITUDES. I stop for a coffee almost immediately and watch the ladies pass. Then I hit the road as the sun starts to warm the world up. And it’s a good day. The miles slough off. I took the insole out of one of my shoes. I only needed it for the right foot but foolishly thought it would be better in both. One foot is bigger than the other. Hence Nick the blister. I’ve called him Nick. Name of a little cut and name of the devil. He’s shrunk, Nick, but others are coming now. My babysoft “that fucker never worked a day in his life” feet? Say night night boys.
Ages ago I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to do this walk. She had done it. “Get a wooden cross necklace. People treat you better.” That was her advice. “All the rest of the stuff? Just pack well and It’ll look after itself.”
I packed well. I didn’t wear the cross. But I’ve noticed people looking questioningly at my amethyst. Perhaps it’s a bit too much of an in your face choice to wear it where there might be a cross. A lot of the cheap accommodation is entirely religiously motivated and given charitably, and even though I have a spiritual purpose in this pilgrimage, it’s my mum who is getting time off purgatory. Still, nobody has been weird about it. The Curé d’Arudy looked at me like I was a talking banana when I told him I was an actor but he didn’t seem to mind the stone. He’s a nice old stick despite the OCD.
Anyway I digress. I made good time. Got here at about half 3. The pilgrim routes can sometimes wind hugely over hill and down dale. On the way I met a cyclist coming the opposite direction. “You’re ok.” he says somewhat cryptically. “There are only two more. Just in front of you.” Arriving at L’Hôpital I discovered why people were in such a rush this morning and why the cyclist said what he said. There are only 8 beds here and nothing else for ages. I wouldn’t want to rock up here and find it full. It’s the off season and they’re all taken, and there’s literally nothing for miles.
And okay, maybe platitudes and bon mots aren’t all bad. People leave things by the path. I usually like them. There’s this:
“Don’t run away. Go back to yourself. Your truth lies in your heart.” (Yaddayadda not exact, patriarchy etc etc) But I spent a good part of today contemplating good old Augustine’s thought. Particularly when my hand reached for my phone.
I’ve ended up inevitably connecting with my fellow pilgrims here, because there are eight of us in a tiny room. I’m gonna try to slink off with the dawn again though as I’m not on fucking holiday. It’s a short day tomorrow. I might try to yomp further. Although this is Basque country now. Nice to take it slow and take it in.