Into Switzerland

The next day’s journey from Pontarlier to Jougne was rainy and another stage further into the Jura, climbing into the hills

Jura in Rain

and then walking along an abandoned railway,

Le Coni Fer

turned over to a seasonal tourist line, The Coni Fer.

Le Coni Fer Train

I crossed the Jura ski resort of Métabief before heading into the lesser known town of Jougne. After a night’s sleep, a descent into this valley and an extended farewell to the Jura mountains as I walked down through here and out onto the plain.

From Jougne

 

Jura valley, beyond Jougnes

I had spent the last six weeks updating my buddy, Mike, on what was going on in my life: ‘I am walking in France’ … ‘I am still walking in France’ … ‘I am bloody walking in bloody France, still’. Not far out of Jougne, therefore, I took great delight in phoning him: ‘I’m not walking in France anymore’! I managed to resist asking ‘where am I?’ then jumping backwards and forwards: ‘no, I’m not’ … ‘no, guess again’.

Crossing the French / Swiss border

The pleasure of reaching Switzerland was marked by a rare selfie in front of the old border stone on the path. Finally, I had walked a long way!

Wealthy Switzerland

In Switzerland, everything changed. Within yards, even the plastic which wrapped the hay was luxurious. I know I had perhaps walked through a corridor of rural depopulation (and what I had seen wasn’t ‘France’) but it had felt like endless dying villages and, yes, poverty. Here, all was business-like and prosperous.

Final Gorge beyond Jougnes

I had the pleasure of walking one final Jura gorge before heading out of the mountains into Orbe and then across the plain to Lac Leman (Lake Geneva) and Lausanne.

Heading into Orbe

It was around this time I received the following text:

Hello, I hope I am writing to the right person. My name is Fiona and I am wanting to contact the person who met my brother in law Dominique in France while walking to Rome. The person has asked for details of a solider, Francis Alexander Smith who died in the Somme in 1916. Could you confirm that it is you who requested this information and I will send you the details.

You may not recall that we met a marvellous character, Dominique, whilst in northern France. We told him about never having traced Angela’s grandfather and he offered to ask his sister in law, who worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commision, for help. Well, he and she had turned up trumps.

It turned out not to be the right man but it prompted Ange to search under Frank rather than Francis and there he was on the Glasgow Necropolis website. Born before the invention of the motor car, he had volunteered a month into the war but, perhaps in consequence of being in his mid thirties, an ex-diamond miner in South Africa, a hard drinker and a ‘character’, he didn’t have the most obviously glowing war record. He was punished on more than one occasion for drunkenness and/or absenteeism. On one such, he married Ange’s grandmother, Lily, in Hove.

When he reached front line in France, he was promoted to Lance Corporal. The record includes the following statement: it is a matter of some surprise that he managed to retain that rank until his death 7 months later. One can imagine, perhaps, that such a man, when it came to the front line, might make an excellent NCO. He certainly wasn’t absent on the 22 May 1917. As close as possible to that date next year, Ange will visit his grave, on his personal centenary, with her family, to pay overdue respect to her grandfather’s memory.

The Jura

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.)

Besançon from above the Citadel

Besançon from above the Citadel

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!

Besançon from above the Citadel

The view in the opposite direction, showing I’m headed for the Jura in the distance

Nogood Boyo

Nogood Boyo

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.

Up and Down Path

Up and Down Path

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.

Jura Gorge

Ravin du Puits Noir

Ravin du Puits Noir Rail Track

Ravin du Puits Noir Rail Track

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.

Up the La Loue valley

Up the valley of La Loue

La Loue

La Loue

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.

La Cascade Hotel, Mouthier-Haute-Pierre

La Cascade Hotel, Mouthier-Haute-Pierre

Tracking La Loue

Tracking La Loue

Gorge de Nouailles

Gorge de Nouailles

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.

The Hardy Boys, Gorge de Nouailles

The Hardy Boys, Gorge de Nouailles

Source of La Loue

Source of La Loue

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.

Up out of the gorges

Besançon

Besançon is the French capital of time so it was the right place for me to take some time and the right place to reflect on the time I was having.

I’m not doing any ‘sight-seeing’ as such. I’m just walking from one place to the next. However, I had a day in Besançon and I decided to visit the Time Museum.

Besançon Cathedral

Besançon Cathedral

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Dampierre to Besançon

The day began like any other. No, better than that. It began brimming with optimism and ended in despair.

Fortified with coffee, I walked out from the mirage hotel in Dampierre into the dark, readied with my red and white bicycle lamps to construct a wobbly-looking bike in the unlikely event of encountering traffic. Shortly thereafter, light returning, the miracle of dawn and the freshness of a new day.

image

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Torcenay to Dampierre

Getting up at five am was by now a necessity, to be underway before dawn and several hours into the journey before the sun gathered its full strength. The day before, Langres to Torcenay had been a walk out there and a return to Langres by train, once again the best solution to an absence of accommodation options.

The next day, a train at six back to Torcenay and a long walk into Champlitte made it a mid afternoon arrival. These days of walking in full sun, in the high thirties (at least), were manageable but made for certain kinds of desperation.

Heat

Heat

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Jessains to Clairvaux

Without undue ceremony, the mayor of Jessains opened the door of the changing room where we were to stay the night. It boasted a toilet and shower and, for €6.30, the tent could go anywhere except the pitch itself. Judging by the state of the pitch, it wouldn’t have been a comfortable night anyway!

We found one of our two tent poles broken. This we fixed, after a fashion, with two pairs of tweezers! As a mark of our blessed condition, a complete double rainbow stretched over us.

Raibow over a football changing room

Rainbow over a football changing room

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Reims to Brienne le Chateau

I want the data: how many people actually do this walk? I keep hearing there are a lot this year – this being for Catholics the Jubilee of Mercy, the 27th such holy year in church history, with an additional exhortation to embark on pilgrimage. But how many people is that?

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Trefcon to Reims

French villages appear on the horizon, fully advertised with church prominent and then the Mairie. Trefcon is different. Buried inside woodland, you wouldn’t even know it had a church. To add to its mystery, we are led inside its boundary by a horse and trap. Are we entering a time warp?

Entering Trefcon

Entering Trefcon

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Arras to Peronne

The next morning, on the outskirts of Arras, we came across our first fellow pilgrim. This part of the Via Francigena is hardly well travelled and possibly, choosing to camp, we were in a ‘tributary stream’ but it was something of a surprise it took two weeks before our first pilgrim encounter. Loic did not disappoint.

Ange and I were trying to absorb the impact of the Beaurain Road British War Cemetery, designed in its permanent state by Sir Edwin Lutyens; 23 of the burials were unidentified. A later similar gravestone carried the moving epitaph of words to the effect: ‘God knows who you are’. Though, of course, that sentiment can be understood in more than one way.

Beaurain Road Cemetery

Beaurain Road Cemetery

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