Day 34 Mouthier to Pontarlier

The better part of valour is discretion;
in the which better part
I have saved my life. (Shakespeare: Henry IV Part 1)

[Yet again let me clarify that I am publishing the days of my walk with the dates that I walked, but I am actually writing this in September. ]

Thursday 3rd May

Distance 30.4km Total Distance from Canterbury 814km

The image at the top is of Falstaff by Eduard  Grützner (1846–1925), a German artist who specialised in two things, paintings of Falstaff and paintings of monks, as you can see here

I dined last night with my new-found French friends and then returned to my quaint gîte where I slept very well. It rained quite a lot during the night and was quite misty and certainly cool when I awoke. Somehow I missed the French group in the morning, although in fact our arrangement to meet had been rather loose. But I knew I would meet them again in Pontarlier where we were all going. Pontarlier will possibly be my last stop in France, (although always the route is ‘subject to modification’!)

I probably don’t read my guidebook as much as I should, but I did check out today’s route and what the advice was. And it was this:

After this, as far as Pontarlier, the route is problematic. Because of the hilly nature of the terrain, with gorges with overhanging cliffs and rivers, there are few minor roads, and the N57, that you will get to later, is extremely dangerous to walk on. You have two options – the GR route via the Source de la Loue (Option A), which is shorter, going direct to Ouhans, and a longer route on minor roads (Option B).

More information is then given about Option B.

This is a spectacular route (and well waymarked) in dry, sunny weather (you don’t need to have a good head for heights, but you do need to be fairly agile, especially as you will probably be carrying a reasonably heavy rucksack), but it is definitely not recommended either in wet weather or if you are alone, as if you slipped and fell nobody would find you very quickly.

I don’t let things like this put me off usually, but it was really misty and wet, and my French comrades I guessed were ahead of me, so I decided, as once did Shakespeare’s Falstaff, that the better part of valour is discretion. (Henry IV Part One). I took the option B road in the first quote above. You maybe think I should have chosen Route A. Well the book is the cause of confusion here because the labelling of the routes is wrong. I took the longer route on minor roads but this was option A in fact. And it did not take me to the source of the Loue. It did still provide very fine scenery, combined with good solid tarmac under foot. 

A waterfall
Firewood – it must be very cool in winter here. Note that ‘JF’ has laid a claim
Mist in the valley on a moist day
I always find these touching, and there is always a story which I will never know. This is for Jérémy 1984-2002

Passing a village called St-Gorgon-Main I saw this chapel in the distance, which was a little bit too far to visit, without being sure it would be open. So I will never know….

The Sanctuaire de Notre-Dame des Anges (Our Lady of the Angels). Note, as ever, the cows coming to meet me.

I continued to the little village of Ouhans and visited the rather beautiful church there, dating from 1720.

This church is dedicated to St Maurice a Roman martyr, and I am really coming into his home territory now. He was an army officer and is usually to be seen in military garb. It was time for a break and I spent some time exploring the church, which is always rewarding.

Here is a very small and inconspicuous stained glass panel:

The parish procession

Annual parish processions were, and in some places still are, a great focus of simple popular piety. You maybe can just make out in the picture that halfway down the line a statue of Baby Jesus is being carried in the arms of one of the girls in grey. (I presume it is a statue!)  A note in the church explains it is the procession of the First Sunday of January when the Confraternity of the Holy Name of Jesus carries the statue to the home of a family who will have care of the statue for a year.

The whole church was well maintained and the large number of notices at the back showed that there was a vibrant community. There were pictures of nine laypeople who were the parish catechists.

The view from the choir loft

Here is the door of the tabernacle. (The tabernacle is a sort of a locked cupboard – you can see the keyhole – in which the Blessed Sacrament is kept in a Catholic church.) It shows the scene I mentioned yesterday, with Christ and the two disciples whom he met on the road to Emmaus. He is seated at the table, breaking the bread, which caused them to recognise him.

The breaking of bread

I found my visit to the church a very restorative pause along the way. And I was very struck by the words of this prayer which I saw had been left in the church by an earlier pilgrim from England (from the parish of St Anselm in Tooting) quoting yet an earlier pilgrim.

A pilgrim prayer poem

So, when I return to the security of my home, 
I will remember when the days were long, |
Church doors were closed,
And conversation hard to come by.
Then I may appreciate more deeply those who are my life’s foundations
And pause to greet the strangers passing through our settled lives. 

There is something very encouraging of knowing we walk in the footsteps of others who have gone before us. And we will never meet them, but somehow we are linked.

There was an ancient and battered typescript notice at the back of the church, which you will not be able to make out.

…happy discoveries..

I really appreciated the last sentence: The Christian community which gather in this church wishes you a safe journey and yet more happy discoveries. There is a definite sense of welcome about some churches and this was one of them.

From Ournans I set off for a little town called Vuillecin. I was having a bit of trouble with directions at this point and really needed to use my phone for a bit of GPS navigation but I had almost no charge left. I arrived in Vuillecin which seemed completely deserted but amazingly in the wall of the Mairie in the town square I saw a covered waterproof electric socket and plugged in my phone to charge and sat down to eat a sandwich. Half a dozen ‘mature ladies’ on a country walk came by and chatted with me. And then another man came and asked me why I didn’t go upstairs – it was actually quite chilly. I went up the stairs and found a sort of senior citizens club in full swing, in a nice room with powerful central heating. They made me very welcome, but were not over-effusive as they were all playing either cards or Scrabble, and were not to be diverted from the job at hand. But they did give me coffee.

Senior Citizens gaming afternoon in Vuillecin

People are really very welcoming. And I left my bag, and my phone charging, in the village square without the least, not the tiniest, anxiety that anything would happen to them.

From there to Pontarlier was not far. It remained a rather grey and misty day. And I had another uplifting experience, though of a much less spiritual kind.

If you are on the main Camino Frances to Santiago there is a place where you first glimpse the Cathedral spires. It’s called Monte do Gozo, the ‘mountain of joy’. It can bring tears to the stoutest heart. As Pontarlier, the home of absinthe, reared out of the mist today this sight came into view. It had the same effect.

Decathlon is a large chain store for sporting and outdoor goods. They are large warehouse-type stores, outside of towns usually. Well known in France and worldwide, perhaps not quite so much in UK, though there are now almost 50 stores there, including one in Belfast, though nothing in the Republic of Ireland. They sell everything, including irresistible things which you didn’t know you needed until you saw them! And they are cheap. In I went to replace the T-shirt I had lost a couple of weeks ago. €9, a bargain.

And so to the Youth Hostel  or Auberge de Jeunesse in Pontarlier, a very pretty and bustling town, and one of the authentic stops of Archbishop Sigeric along his orignal Via Francigena. In the Youth Hostel, which was very well-appointed, I actually had a room mate, something which is almost universal along the Camino de Santiago (where indeed you might on occasion have forty or fifty room mates) but has been almost unknown along my way so far. He was a tall gangly young Swiss man, called Micah, from a German-speaking part of the country. He had left Switzerland ‘to find an ocean’. He was studying philosophy, though he seemed a little unsure if this was really what he wanted to do. He had spent a little time helping his grandparents on their farm and now had wanderlust. He had an enormous rucksack which was very heavy – I tried it. He had camping and cooking equipment as well as clothing. And he also had half a dozen books. I asked him if he couldn’t use a Kindle. Oh yes, he said he had a Kindle, but he needed real books as well. I looked at them. Very sombre looking German works of philosophy – no pictures. He seemed immensely happy, and I hope by now he has found his ocean.

Note another familiar brand on the left – mountains, trees and rivers are all very well, but sometimes you just need a bit of modern civilisation!

So a day of very simple rewards. I am still thinking of Robert Frost and his chosen path which ‘made all the difference’. And I am inclined to think that it doesn’t really matter which way you go. A ‘happy discovery’ will nearly always turn up.

I had yet to catch up with my French companions, but I knew where they were staying and planned to see them after supper.