Day 53 – Pontarlier – Mouthier Haute Pierre
It was another day of ‘up’ and climbing, but the forest paths we took were absolutely wonderful. We walked through the small village of Ouhans and then began the day’s uphill progress. On a hill not far away, we spotted a beautiful little chapel, La Chapelle Notre Dame des Anges, all by itself, sitting peacefully in simple splendor. This path was conducive to that feeling of peace and solitude and appreciation for what was around us. Wildflowers bloomed in a profusion of color; butterflies flitted. Deer and fox were sighted momentarily. Mares with young foals and cows with their calves dotted the fields.
Unfortunately, once across the river, it was a steep climb up to Haute Pierre (Haute=High). We hadn’t found accommodation for the night, but were assured by our VF guides that the Maire (town hall) had an accommodation list to share with us. The Maire was, however, closed … for the week. Inquiry at a local cafe led us to La Cascade, a lovely hotel that was not listed on Booking.com for some reason and hidden from view when we initially trudged up the hill from the river. Not only was the hotel lovely, but it was reasonably priced and offered fresh trout on the menu for dinner. Grilled trout along with a crisp, chilled Chardonnay made a lovely ending to the day.
Day 53 – Pontarlier – Mouthier Haute Pierre –Met 2 French pilgrims today, heading to Canterbury
16.13 miles walked / 37,515 steps
Leg distance: 14.8 miles / 540 miles to Canterbury
Day 54 – Mouthier Haute Pierre - Ornans
We left Mouthier Haute Pierre midst sprinkles and mist and once again, began to climb until the village was far below us. We entered the village of Lods, our shoes wet with drizzle and morning dew, and began our descent to the River Loue once again.
Lods was small, but quite a picturesque village and very still so early on a weekend day. Only our footfalls on the pavement disturbed the morning quiet. The river provided several scenic viewpoints and lots of activities for early morning campers, anglers and kayakers.
We followed paths just above the river now with views of yet another riverside village, Vuillafans. Each village had its own unique beauty and allure.
Ornans proved to be a lovely little town and we looked forward to staying there. Once again, we had no accommodation reserved for the night. We’d searched and searched for a hotel and found nothing available in Ornans. The Loue Valley is a popular destination for summer weekend getaways in France, we were told, with some hotels booked full up to a year in advance. Tourist information provided a pilgrim hostel … three miles back from whence we’d just come, but no other hotels in town.
Why, you ask, don’t we make reservations in advance? Well, mostly because we’re never quite sure exactly how far we can walk in a day… my (Marcie) left foot is still an issue though it seems to be doing okay most days. Also, reserved rooms cannot be canceled here without forfeiting a night’s payment. Stiff price to pay for changing our minds. So… we caught a bus to Besançon, the nearest big city, found a great hotel (Hotel du Nord) and reverted to Plan B the next day, leaving our packs in Besançon the next morning, taking the bus back to Ornans and walking the leg to Besançon. See … everything always works out. No worries.
Day 54 – Mouthier Haute Pierre - Ornans
10.49 miles walked / 24,400 steps
Leg distance: 9.5 miles / 531 miles to Canterbury
Day 55 – Ornans – Besançon
There were only two buses per day from Besançon to Ornans and rather than try to meet an end-of-day schedule, we took the morning bus back to Ornans to begin our walk. We left our hotel early, figuring we’d have time to get coffee along the way. Nothing, absolutely nothing, was open at 8AM on a Sunday morning. We waited patiently (not!) for the bus, endured a 30 minute, circuitous bus ride, then immediately headed to a cafe in Ornans as soon as we alighted from the bus.
‘Two coffees and two croissants, please.’ Coffee… no problem. Croissants … not available on Sundays. Huh? We saw a woman with a baguette under her arm across the street and followed her until we caught up and asked where she bought the baguettes. It seemed that only one boulangerie was open in town and it was across the river. We found it, bought two baguettes for munching en route and finally headed onto the path.
The day was hot, sunny and humid. We passed through several little villages, but none had a cafe or bar. We were glad to have our baguettes and water to see us through. We stopped frequently to hydrate and have a nosh.
At one point, the trail led us along an old railroad bed which passed through a very long tunnel. We’d noticed solar panels a ways before the entrance, wondering what they were for. Our question was answered quickly as we passed into the darkness of the cool tunnel, dimly illuminated by solar-powered lamps.
The path led us along several gradual ups and downs. We met a goatherder on the way down the hill who had stopped traffic with his goats. They fanned out on the narrow road and were not to be hurried along, stopping here and there for a munch of grass to the exasperation of the motorists waiting for the road to clear. They finally exited onto a small path and traffic resumed as usual.
The steepest, meanest, biggest hill of the day was saved till the very end. We trudged up that damned hill (some of us complaining all the way) and then descended just as steeply down a switch-backed road first above, then under and finally below the city’s famed fortification, the Citadel.
It was good to be back in the city. We were hot and sweaty and in dire need of a cold beer and a shower, in that order. We enjoyed Besançon so much, we spent another day to relax, recuperate and to claim a package containing our new shoes. Hallelujah!
Day 55 – Ornans – Besançon
18.8 miles walked/ 43,694 steps
Leg distance: 15 miles / 516 miles to Canterbury
R&R in Besançon
Besançon (pronounced Beh-sahn-SOHN) is quite the city. The River Doubs snakes through the town in a lazy way and there are boats that offer tours and cruises on the Rhône-Rhine Canal. Mostly we relaxed, slept in, napped, read, wrote and reveled in our new shoes. I suppose we could have walked more, but that would have been a ‘busman’s holiday’. Instead, we stayed in the old city and wandered around at our leisure more than walked to any specific destination.
According to Wiki, the city dates back to the Gallo-Roman era and its geography and specific history turned it into a military stronghold, a garrison city, a political center, and a religious capital. I originally had a long list of things to see and do which we pared down drastically as our energy waned and the temperature soared.
We settled on checking out a couple of the important churches, meandering through medieval neighborhoods and seeing what we could see along the way. Just at the entrance to Eglise St. Pierre (St. Peter’s), there was a very colorful, vintage carousel, Bailley-Coche built in 1900, on display.
Église St. Pierre takes up the better part of a city block, but compared to the Italian churches we’ve seen, it’s quite spare and spartan. There are no pews inside, only rush-seat chairs. It was cool and dark within the church, a respite from the temperatures outside.
We came across the Roman ruins quite unexpectedly in a small park on our way to St. John’s Cathedral. Mention of the city dates back to 58AD in Roman chronicles and remnants of the Roman occupation still exist.
Besançon is also the birthplace of famous French author, Victor Hugo … The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Miserables are the novels that come to mind.
We passed through the Port Noire, the Roman triumphal arch, on our climb up the hill to Cathédrale St. Jean (St. John’s Cathedral). There were several highlights to the cathedral that we found interesting. First, was the Ferry Carondolet’s grave, a fine sculptured tomb c. 1543
But, without a doubt, the Horloge Astronomique (astronomical clock) was the most interesting. Created between 1857-1860 by clockmaker Lucien Vérité, the clock has 30,000 mechanical parts and controls four faces of the cathedral’s tower as well as the clock within the tower. And, it still runs! Besançon, by the way, is the historical capital of watchmaking in France and there were watchmakers and purveyors of timepieces on most every corner. Bronze markers were embedded in the sidewalks reminding pedestrians of the city’s watchmaking fame.
We had views of The Citadel when we walked to the city and from below. We could have climbed the hill to visit or even taken a bus, but we just didn’t have it in us. ‘The fortifications represent the finest examples of the work of Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban a military engineer of King Louis XIV.’ Vauban’s works were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
And in a flash, our ‘vacation from our vacation’ was over. It was time to don our new shoes and start walking. Join us next time for more walking in France on the Via Francigena. Canterbury is getting closer all the time .