A search for Divine intervention
Sunday morning brought with it a watery windy sunshine. As I breakfasted on croissants and pain au choclats and tea, the doubts and reservations of last night began to gnaw at me anew. With my own convictions already unstable and wavering, the discouragement of last night has done little for my confidence. Indeed it has only served to increase my fears to a point of near panic again.
I was thinking of a song sung by both Nancy Griffith and Mary Black called Once in a Very Blue Moon and out of it I drafted a letter to a friend back in Killarney:
"Today is one of those not so very ‘blue moon’ days and writing is difficult by the loneliness I feel. The past two days have been filled with almost incessant rain, which, as I sit writing, has begun again. Everything, despite being packed in plastic bags, is either soaked or damp. The past week in general has been very difficult in many ways. Even before I left Ireland, while camped waiting for the ferry, I began to feel the loneliness. I guess that this wasn’t helped by going to visit the maritime museum in Cobh. It’s a great museum but it nearly had me in tears a couple of times. I arrived here in France early on Sunday morning. Sunday was a lovely day, if a bit windy. Since then, up to Friday, it’s been literally a case of intermittent wet and dry days, but since Friday it’s been raining. It’s very depressing and, combined with the wind it tears the heart out of one as well as leaving them thoroughly shagged out. However all of this has been relatively minor compared with the ‘ol mental state. I miss you, I miss Killarney, I miss my friends and the craic. I miss Ireland. I miss conversations and blathering, even about nothing at all. My conversations this week have been almost entirely single sentence ones or even sometimes only ‘Bon Jour’. You can probably imagine how different that is for a blather like me. Tuesday was the first day I seriously considered turning around and basically, every day since, the thought has crossed my mind at least once. Today it is very strong and I am looking at what options I have. Of course, on the other hand, there is the disappointment if I don’t succeed and the prospect of non-fulfilment of a dream. This is not counting all the people I have told about my plans and all the publicity, which I feel, would make me look a failure, if I don’t make it. If I turn back now I dunno what I would do anyway. I was hoping this trip would shed light on that and on the possibilities. Two weeks is insignificant in forming any opinions or ideas except, it would appear, negative ones. Also, there is a tendency, I think, when spirits are low or times are worst, to look at past good times with envy and regret…"
For two hours I pour over my guidebooks and maps to evaluate the permutations. For three or four days I have known that this time of decision was coming but all along I had thought, perhaps hoped, that the decision might make itself. Now I am confronted by a necessity to choose between the Santiago via Bayonne option or the Barcelona via Lourdes and the Pyrenees route. I read all the information I can find in my guidebooks about the South of France, Barcelona, Genoa and the Balearic Islands. My 1992 map shows a shipping route, possibly a ferry service between Barcelona and Genoa. However neither of my guidebooks makes any reference to it. The same maps also show a seemingly vast area of mountain passes and alpine wilderness to the south of Lourdes, with the mountains seeming to continue right on to Barcelona and the prospect of cycling this isn't altogether inviting. Indeed it strikes me that, regardless of which option I choose, Spain seems to be almost entirely composed of mountains.
The other possibility that invites serious consideration is the cop out option, now very real in my mind. In this context I can reassume my original route towards Galicia in North Western Spain and even continue on to Santiago de Compestela if I so desire. With this plan I have the option left open, for another two weeks or so, of taking a ferry from either Bilbao or Santander back to Portsmouth or Plymouth in England. A search for a sense of achievement coupled with a desire to reach the Mediterranean and hopefully some sense of temperate weather makes the Barcelona option seem very attractive. Balanced against that is the Atlantic route, considerably less mountainous but with it's prevailing storms, yet offering the significant cop out option. In my present mood the English bound ferry seems the most desirable of all attractions.
Without quite deciding, I vaguely settle on a compromise of Lourdes, where I hope some heavenly power will provide some inspiration, or the strength of faith needed to persevere.
Day 8: South from Bordeaux
Whilst it may be interesting from where one seeks inspiration, it is often even more interesting from where or whence it comes. Departing Bordeaux in an entirely unconvicted state of mind, my intention and destination was to make for Lourdes whereupon I hoped I might be visited by some sort of Road to Damascus enlightenment. With this in mind I set off on what I believed to be the Lourdes road going first to the town of Pau. Less than a mile into my journey however I am instilled by a gut feeling that I should opt for the destination that I encounter on the next major signpost I come to. About two miles later a signpost bearing the name Bayonne, instead of Lourdes, looms into view and thus is the decision made.
The landscape or nature of the countryside south of Bordeaux is characterised by vast coniferous forest plantation, which goes on for eighty miles or more. The majesty and scale of it all is somehow very humbling. Especially when, alongside the road at one point, I encounter a monument and plaque erected to the memory of sixty fire fighters, who died there fighting a forest fire in 1947.
This pleasant forest doesn't seem to instil the same sense of monotony or boredom as that experienced among the coastal pines, but rather I find it inspiring and driving me to further effort, aiding the bike traveller as it does in it's provision of very effective wind shelter. Even as darkness falls the forest continues and I opt to head off the main road along a second minor road through the forest, to a little town called Escourse on the map. It is well dark by the time I arrive and there is no apparent sign of any camping facilities, I consider backtracking to a grassy spot I noted by a stream about a mile back on the roadside. But I decide to look around to evaluate other possibilities first.
Across from the town’s major industry; a huge sawmill, is the town’s soccer pitch, including an impressive stand. At first I consider pitching my tent on the playing field itself and then I briefly consider sleeping high up at the back of the dry covered stand. But the door of the tuckshop is unlocked and an open fridge inside provides light, so this is where I choose to settle, especially since I can lock the door from the inside.
On the radio, the BBC are broadcasting the first of a series of Sunday evening world plays introduced by Anthony Mingella. For the next hour I am riveted by a highly entertaining and very funny play, about a very timid piano Teacher who ends up murdering the awful woman who comes to learn to play piano, despite her having had five or more teachers give up attempts to teach her in the past.
Afterwards I had planned to take myself up to the bar in the town for a beer, with the additional intention of phoning home. However, by the end of the play, I am quite comfortably settled and can't quite bring myself around to venturing out again.
Day 9: Escourse to Bayonne:
I arrive in Bayonne in the midst of yet another downpour and spend over an hour trying to seek out a campsite listed in my guidebook, but which seems non existent on all the towns maps. With an address of Rue L'Avation I figure it must be in the vicinity of the airport. So I climb multiple hills on the road going that way and finally locate the campsite on the far side of Biarritz airport runaway, about 4 miles proper from Bayonne.
It's a nice campsite, with a pool and a launderette and plenty of trees, undoubtedly intended for summer shade but equally doubly effectively to provide shelter from the rain for me. I phone home but there's no one there. So I head back to the tent to have dinner and drink the bottle of wine bought in the supermarket down the road. The campsite attendant was helpful enough to direct me to this nearby supermarket when I enquired about the opening times of the supermarkets in Bayonne.
Half an hour later, when I phone home again, I'm more upbeat, helped no doubt by the warming glow of half a bottle of wine, even though the rain is again lashing down outside the phone box. After the call I retreat to the relative comfort and warmth of the launderette, where I have decided to sit and write while my clothes dry. In the warmth I get increasingly weary and, at the end of the drying cycle, I just about manage to raise enough effort to get myself back to the tent.
This site is maintained and updated by Peter Jordan,
Last Updated 24th March 2001
© Peter Jordan, 2001