‘Le Camp de Florence’ camp site was still damp when I awoke and I had to pack up a wet tarp and bivi bag. It was a great nights sleep even in the rainy conditions. Breakfast consisted of fresh Pain aux Raisins and coffee at the camp site bar and my spirits lifted.
I followed the Way for a bit then decided after a few kilometres to continue on the quiet country road instead of the marked path. It was 4 kilometres less and I was still feeling a little tired and lazy. Shortly I came across a British car that had stopped to chat to a local. As I approached they called out to me. The couple in the car, a Frenchman from Paris and his English girl friend were friendly and very interested in the Way of Saint James. Soon they started to offer me copies of the Watchtower Jehova Witness magazine and I declined. I had my own religion to follow and I was not exactly sure what that was but it had guided me safely so far in life.
At the top of the hill the small road joined the main road and then gently sloped down to Condom, one of the centres of the Armagnac industry. The road was busy. I had no choice but to follow it to the town as I had veered so far from the Way. It was a steady plod while being a bit hard on the feet. The sound of the traffic speeding past was annoying after so many days walking in quiet countryside. Eventually I reached Condom, a lovely former garrison town, bought some fruit and decided to stop on the other side of town for lunch.
Hearing my name called out I joined Hubert and Francoise at a cafe where they bought me a coffee. I had not seen them since Estaing many, many days ago. We opted to find a supermarket to buy some provisions for a real pique nique. There was a ‘Mutant’ supermarket where we stocked up on the bargain priced products. Pate, bread, cheese, olives and cold meats were bought. After a brief visit to the superb Cathedral of Saint Pierre, we sat by the river for lunch followed by some hot coffee from Hubert’s gas stove.
The Way continued gently upwards from the River Baïse giving great views back to Condom. Hubert, an Agricultural Nutritionist by profession, would often stop to explain some interesting facts about the crops, plants and trees that we passed. He would often reach up and pick handfuls of cherries from the trees lining the road. I need not have bought any fruit in Condom. We continued through some mosquito infested woodland before crossing the Pont d’Artigues, a five-arched Roman bridge.
Soon we came across the Eglise de Routges. This small church is one of the oldest in the area. Hubert and Francoise rested by the vines while I went to visit the church and get some water. They had walked this section of the Way before and had already visited the church. It was only 100m up a gentle hill to the church and the surrounding vines and countryside could not have been a better location for this ancient church. Inside it was fascinating with some great statues. There was a small door near the main entrance that used to be used by the Cagots, a local outcast population. They were believed to be unclean hence they were required to use a separate entrance. A very strong presence of something or someone existed in the church. I genuinely felt that there was someone else in the church. I often checked over my shoulder but I was invariably alone.
A short distance later we stopped at Lasserre de Haut, a small hamlet a couple of kilometres before Montréal du Gers. The Gite-chambre d’Hotes was fascinating and had a small dormitory for pilgrims. The old farmhouse had been beautifully restored and tastefully decorated. There were fascinating collections of glassware and ornaments. It was an intriguing mix of antique and 70’s decoration. The owner Joelle and her husband had bought it to be a family home away from their busy lives.
We settled in and carried out the usual routine of hand washing socks and clothes and hanging them out in the warm afternoon sun. Preparing the bed in the dormitory for the night was also a daily task before relaxation. A couple of beers chatting to the Joelle’s daughter followed.
After a detailed guided tour we were allowed to cook in the kitchen, and invited to join the other guests for dinner in the huge dining room. Francoise noted how calming and comfortable the place was. There was a group of telecom engineers staying and after dinner the armagnac started to flow. The hospitality was wonderful. We retired to the warm dormitory fully satisfied with the days walking.