The route out of Besançon, up behind and above the Citadel (in the centre of the photograph) involves a sudden, heart-pumping climb. My Lightfoot Guides describe the route in three volumes and ninety-eight stages (or days walking). The first volume ends with Besançon, after forty of the stages, and 910 kms. The final stage, from Vercelli to Rome, is 848 kms and 38 stages. But this section, though only 435 kms and twenty stages, is the mountain section, the section that I have been dreading and anticipating in equal measures. First, the Jura, then the Alps. (The Apeninnes come in the final section.)
Thus it is, that almost every photograph I take detects the mountains moving towards me, ominous and relentless. I am beside myself with excitement. This photo is probably the first – I shall spare you the majority pictures describing the subtly changing degrees of proximity!
This is precisely the view I had when, lying on my back, propped up on the rucksack, I encountered the fabulous woman of the previous post. How often did these moments seem a luxury, in the still oppressive heat, greater than anything money might buy.
The route to Ornans teased me with its continuous shifts in gradient, as if to say, just wait till this gets serious. And, the Jura also surprised me by going down and not up. I spent the next three days in stunning ravines.
The first and greatest (in terms of scale) was the Ravin du Puits Noir. This translates as something like ‘the Ravine of the Black Wells’ and the place was much loved by Gustave Courbet for these qualities. The walk ran along a disused rail track, four fifths of the way up the side of the gorge. Benign for much of the way, there were, for me, heart stopping moments of narrow ledges and precipitous drops.
My thoughts ran something along the lines: ‘Oh, great, the first day, in the smallest of ranges, and you’re already bricking it – what the hell lies ahead?!’
Two later discoveries brought me some solace. A few days on, I realised I had long since worn the tread completely off my shoes, and consequently had no confidence in my foothold, which slithered and skidded alarmingly on any slope.
And, a few weeks later, I read an Association of the VF document where they announced they were looking for an alternative to this part of the route as it was far too dangerous.
As it turned out, I later experienced something remotely like this anxiety on only a couple of occasions and then very briefly – once an emergency route around a rockfall that was never intended as part of the path. Given my head for heights, the route over mountains, this journey is remarkably accommodating.
Ornans itself must be the ‘longest’ town of its size in the country. As a consequence of this and, to be honest, of finding two restaurants en route, and thus enjoying two lunches, I was late at the campsite. A busy site, there was no one to check in with. So I just plonked my tent down in the middle of the field. Unfortunately, because I could put no strain on the broken pole, things were a little damp in the morning.
In the morning, I was to head up the valley to take me the following day into the famous Gorge de Nouailles and the source of La Loue river at the end.
In terms of energy, I had my worst day, probably in consequence of nothing to eat the previous evening, morning and little with me for lunch. On the admittedly steep slopes up to Mouthier-Haute-Pierre, I was stopping every thirty metres. By the time I had reached my accommodation, I had lost all confidence. Because they organised transport of luggage for guests, I took advantage and walked the next day without the pack, thus regaining faith in my abilities.
At the hotel, I also encountered Henk. Of course, I misheard this as Hank and desperately wished it was possible that The Hardy Boys had been Hank and Dick. Naturally, they hadn’t been, and Hank was really Henk, a perfectly respectable Belgium name and not a ridiculous synonym for sex and idiocy, as mine is.
You meet so many people and it’s surprising how often you can strike up an immediate rapport after an exchange of only a matter of minutes. I have stayed in touch with Henk, because we got on but also because he’s going all the way to Rome (from Reims). Although he gobbles up the miles with his energy, he does stop for short holidays with friends and family. We hope to meet up before the end.
Suddenly, we reached the source of the river and climbed out of the gorge onto the plain into Pontarlier, the last major town before the French border.