For three days I was now in the GR 65, the most famous French pilgrimage trail from Le Puy to Santiago. And despite the late season there were plenty of pilgrims on the way - quite a bit of a culture shock for me. For weeks now I had not seen any other hikers and now all of a sudden five and more hikers per day. In summer this must be a very busy trail. There are several gites in every village and the advertising for trail services is almost as bad as in Spain. Ads for hostels, taxis and food are stuck on signposts and trees. The tourist information in Le Puy hands out a 16 page service guide for the GR 65 for free in several languages. Now in off season all these services were quite handy. The weather still wasn't too good and it was nice to know that there is a gite every 5 km or so - although I didn't use any and camped. And had plenty of adventures this way....
|Illuminated Romanesque church|
Next night I ran into a new and totally unexpected problem. The map showed plenty of forest so I had assumed that camping would be easy. But here in this area the forest was almost completely fenced in. This wouldn't be a problem: I could easily climb the fence. But behind some of the fences there was cattle grazing.... I was totally surprised as you don't see very much cattle grazing in forest. To make things worse these "forest" meadows were so big that I could not always tell whether there was actually cattle in it or whether it was safe to camp there. Even checking for cow paddies wasn't a sure indicator. Of course it started to rain and and getting dark then - and still no unfenced forest in sight. I was starting to get a bit nervous when I saw a pine plantation. Surely they would not let cattle graze there - despite the fence.
I turned off the road onto a dirt track leading to the pine plantation and saw in the last daylight that there even was a piece of unfenced forest next to it. Exhausted I set up my tent there and even hid myself a bit although I never expected any one to come up there. When I packed up next morning I was in for two surprises: I first wondered about the movement in the pine plantation - which turned out to be at least 20 cows. Thank God I had not climbed that fence and camped there. When I had packed up and was doing my "morning business" I heard an engine. And for sure, that early in the morning someone - probably a farmer - came driving up the track. I stayed were I was and did not move. I did not want to explain to the land owner what I was doing here at 8 in the morning.... Luckily the farmer stopped a little but further up the track and I could sneak away undetected.
After 3 days of mostly rain eventually the sun came back and I enjoyed two days of glorious sunshine. I had now turned off the GR 65 and was on a patched together route South through the Aubrac. The trail called Tour des Monts Aubrac was a nice surprise and brought me through a piece of France were time seemed to have stood still. Lots of tiny little villages or clutters of stone houses, cobbled alleys and dry stone walls. And of course plenty of fences with cows behind them. I still found a campsite in an unfenced piece of forest - only to be woken up before sunrise by an early hunter who parked his car only 100 m away from my campsite. Luckily he shot something almost straight away (luckily not me) and disappeared quickly before noticing me.
|Gorge du Tarn|
Last night though was my biggest camping adventure. As the weather was very nice and a full moon I decided to do my first serious night hiking in this trip. At 20.30 I had finally arrived at the patch of forest where I wanted to camp - but again, everything was fenced off. I was in sheep country now but still I didn't want to camp with live stock. I walked along the fence hoping it would end but instead of ending it was just put down in one place. Someone had taken out two stakes and the fence wire was held down by two rocks so that a car could drive over. With the fence being open there could not be any cattle in the forest and I decided to camp there. I had just taken out my tent when I heard a car come up the track. This could not be true! I had been road walking for an hour with no car at all and now in the middle of the night someone came up a god forsaken dirt track - and stopped right at the fence opening.
|Gorges du Tarn|
|Gorge du Tarn|
|Ruins in the gorge|