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Sunday, 24 July 2016

Saints and Cynics Day 4: St Palais to St Jean-Pied-de-Port

St Palais to St Jean Pied-de-Port 30km (111km cumulative)

A brutal heat had descended upon the Pays Basques and, on day four of Saints and Cynics, it showed no signs of letting up. Au contraire, as the much-anticipated crossing of the Pyrenees edged closer, kilometre by kilometre, so the thermometer crept up, centigrade by centrigrade. Those pilgrims who faced the daunting challenge of climbing the Col de Lepoeder to Roncevalles began to tread a little cautiously in our loosely-laced boots, calculating our start times and wondering whether we could walk in the before-dawn dark.

An early start but I was barely out of town before I'd already started chasing the shade. I'd left the Via Podiensis to take the detour to St Palais, I was now on the Via Lemovicencis which sets out from Vezelay but the distinction would soon be pedantic, both join the Via Turonensis from Tour just south of St Palais - two become one and lead up a short but steep hill. The sweat begins.

Chapel of Soyarza, at the top of the hill. Interesting offerings.

My poor left foot. Partly my own fault, new boots, not broken in (does one still have to 'break-in' new boots) but also a consequence of walking too far in the heat along asphalt surfaces. Prime conditions for blisters.

Ostabat. It felt, in a sense, like the heart of Europe - or at least, western Europe. The convergence of three of the four main routes across France which would have brought together pilgrims from across the continent.

Paths of the Day: In fact, just after Ostabat, the hike as a pleasant amble through rolling hills of pasture and maize came to an end and, given the heat, I elected to follow the main road and make a more direct beeline for St Jean; all my thoughts were on crossing the Pyrenees the following day and I was hearing predictions of the mercury hitting 40 degrees. It was not a choice I wanted to make and I almost paid for it; the road was hard and hot and I was running out of water. About 12km out of St Jean I returned to the Camino and at another refreshment stop found a hosepipe and enjoyed an impromptu cold shower. I managed to repeat this several times, even when I'd joined the main road, once 'showering' myself in a church cemetery, another time on a garage forecourt. The last ten kilometres was an absolute pain; to top it all, when I arrived in St Jean I discovered the accommodation I'd reserved was another 45 minutes out of time. I cut my losses, found a relatively cheap hotel in the centre of town where it took me a good half hour to fully cool and rehydrate myself.

Two of my fellow pilgrims had acquired their shells - I don't have one - and placed them among the candles before the Virgin Mary in a gesture which I found profoundly moving. I met them again the following day and spent many hours walking with them until they had to head for home in Logroño. This was also something I hadn't anticipated, I'd intended to spend the first few weeks of the Camino walking on my own.

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