Via Francigena - Canterbury to Rome
Besancon to Lausanne
29 Juy 2019 to 4 August 2019
The walk from Besancon to Aosta was done between 29 July 2019 and XX August 2019. This is the first half.
Monday 29 July 2019
After a family visit to Bonn, we arrived by train via Frankfurt. We changed at Besançon TGV for the short shuttle into the city and met up with our German friends Marlen and Harold who were walking with us to Col du Grand St Bernard. We all had a meal sitting outside in the warmth of the evening in a leafy square. Besançon was in holiday mood with lots of visitors. I suddenly noticed the others all had walking boots; whereas I was sticking with my Merryl Moab trainers. Had I had underestimated crossing the Alps? As it turned out, I needen’t have worried. My shoes were fit for purpose throughout.
Tuesday 30 July 2019
Besançon to to Ornans (23km) We all met up at the railway station and caught a train (10 minutes) to the hamlet of Mamirolle. This cut out the first bit of mountain climbing out of Besançon After checking our orientation against the map, we started climbing through the woods following the GR145. This was a bit of a shock to the system. Gillian and I hadn’t done any serious hill climbing for ages. Certainly not on the previous sections of the VF. Just a few steady climbs on roads. The rough track through the woods climbed at about 30 degrees for a kilometer before levelling off. Marlen & Harold forged ahead but we all got together for a break at a viewpoint with lovely views back west. We walked on through the woods and then agreed to meet them further along at a point where we all descended a narrow path to a disused railway line which would lead us after 8 Km to our end point for the day. It had been converted to a cycle track and contoured along pleasantly including a stretch through a long tunnel. To our left the woods descended steeply into a deep valley. The entrance to Ornans meant walking along a busy main road for two kilometers through an unattractive industrial estate but the town centre was attractive enough. It was famous as the home of the painter Gustave Corbet. We had a drink at a riverside bar before checking into our hotel “Le Table de Gustave”
Wednesday 31 July 2019
Ornans to Mouthier-Haute-Pierre Quite a short walking day – only about 15km So we left at a leisurely 09.30 and took our time seeing the prettiest views of Ornans from the other bank of the River Lou. Then it was a mostly flat walk along the river valley which became narrower the further we progressed. Tomorrow it would become a steep gorge. At Vullafrans we had a coffee in a very gloomy bar attached to a pizzeria. Gillian sat outside because it was “too stuffy”. At the pretty village of Lods we debated the route for the final 2Km to our Hotel. We decided on a high route which started behind the church. We climbed up along an attractive green lane and then descended by a small road to Mouthier-Haute-Pierre. Our Hotel Cascade was built into a hillside with stunning views of the valley. The bedrooms were two floors below the reception area. Gillian got cold drinks from the bar and we relaxed on our balcony with a great view of the mountains all around us. That night we had the 33 Euro menu. Wonderful food just kept coming and we had a two bottles of wine between four. The restaurant was busy with locals as well as visitors. Around 21.00 two men appeared with heavy packs who had walked all the way from Besancon that day! They were cheerful Italian pilgrims and Gillian switched languages immediately to talk to them, We were going to see them twice more.
Thursday 1 August 2019
Mouthier-Haute-Pierre to Pontarlier (25km) We started off just before 09.00 and by 09.40 we were entering the much anticipated gorge of the River Loue. We knew that this would be a difficult stretch for two 70 year olds. Wooded cliffs rose on both sides and far below the river rushed along in a succession of rapids and waterfalls. The path rose in a series of obstacles with awkward tree roots, stone steps, metal walkways and some serious ups and downs. There were several sections with steep drops towards the river and stone steps running with water set into the cliffs. At the second set there were metal handrails and chains to help our progress and keep us safe. The way forward was always clearly marked but we took about 2 hours to complete the gorge instead of the 1 hour 20 mins predicted by the yellow signs. We needed a good break. So we sat and looked at the River Loue emerging from a cave in the rock face. It reminded me of Malham Cove in the Yorkshire Dales. It was a popular tourist spot with lots of people who had obviously come by car. A hundred meters up the exit track there was a café where we had some refreshments. Then we started towards Pontarlier. We were deep in the Jura Mountains and scenery was very beautiful but this meant some steep inclines. From the low point of the river, we spent the next two hours climbing in the heat following the “book” route to the top of a wooded ridge which rose above us. We were looking for an “overgrown grassy path” described by the book. This was not easy given the lack of landmarks on the mountain tracks. When we found what we thought might be it, it looked very underused and we were unsure that it was correct. But we could hear the sound of traffic above us and after a hundred meters we emerged at a lay-by described by the book on a route nationale which ran along near the summit of the ridge. Here, we departed from the book-route and continue via a hamlet called Bugny which we had identified as avoiding any main-road walking. Unfortunately this started with another 300m of ascent. At the summit we had a long break under the shade of some trees beside the road. Now, we expected the route to be mostly downhill. But it was very hot. We passed through a couple of sleepy villages and walked for four or five kms on quiet country
roads (and one much busier road). At about 16.45 Gillian, said that if we got to the town of Arçon by 17.30, there was a bus into Pontarlier. This put some energy back into my legs and we made it easily. The bus arrived as scheduled. We were in the city by 18.00 and soon booked into our hotel. We discovered that H&M has got totally lost and had been obliged to hitch-hike. We all met up and had dinner in a new-age cafe by the River Doubs. Gillian and Marlen went to a choir concert in a local church.
Friday 2 August 2019
Into Switzerland: Pontarlier to Sainte-Croix We caught a bus out of Pontarlier for about 2km, to avoid a nasty bit of main road walking. Soon we were climbing steeply up into the hills via forest paths and pieces of farmland which were starting to look very alpine. We met a man on a bicycle persuading a cow with a bell to return to its field. At a forest signpost Gillian and I met the Italian pilgrims again. (photo) When we reached the town of Les Fourgs, Marlen and Harold were waiting for us beside the church. I bought some cheese from a fromagerie and thenwe bought ice lollies as we walked out of town. Within 3km of Les Fourgs we reached the Swiss border and left France for the first time since we started out from Calais in July 2018. This felt like a significant measure of our progress. But our first experience of paths in Switzerland was not very encouraging. We turned left on a marked footpath to St Croix but it went into some rough undergrowth and I took a tumble. The path then petered out. So we returned to where we started and resolved to follow the road. In the first village of Auberson, we managed to get a cold Swiss cola at a holiday hostel. Then we left the road and walked over a wooded ridge. Now we could see St Croix laid out below us. We found our Hotel de France. Because of a painful right leg I had resolved to take it easy the next day and not do the 400m steep downhill section which was our final descent out of the Jura Mountains. So, with Gillian's help, I checked up on buses. We had dinner at the hotel with Marlen and Harold.
Saturday 3 August
Sainte-Croix to Orbe Another hot sunny day. We all walked down to the railway station and I got on the 08.36 rail replacement bus to take me down to plains below us. The others set off to walk. (Gillian's right knee was not 100% and I had tried to persuade her to join me) The bus delivered me to the lonely Vuiteboef station after seventeen minutes and I was soon walking alone through shady forests through the town of Baumes and then on to the village of Rances. It was quite an enjoyable feeling. As a free agent, I was able to opt for 4km of easy road walking rather than stick to Footpath 70 which was the Swiss equivalent of the GR 145. At a bar in Rances I bought a glass of cold orange juice and waited for Gillian who arrived full of indignation that I had not kept in touch sufficiently. We resolved our differences and walked on together through several Swiss vineyards and came across Marlen and Harold having a picnic in a
shady spot beside the vines. It was now very hot and, as we went on I became quite breathless, something I attributed to one of my heart medications. So we had a good break in the deep shadow of some trees near the site of some Roman antiquities before undertaking the final two hot kilometres into Orbe which was a small town with a picturesque centre. We found our hotel ( Au Chasseur) which had rooms above the bar. For our evening meal we had pizzas outside on the terrace in the warmth of the evening. Then a walk around the ramparts before going to bed.
Sunday 4 August
Orbe to Laussanne More hot sunny weather with cloudless skies. This was a day of misdirections. Gillian and I navigated out of Orbe through many vineyards. At a junction of tracks we turned right and sweated up a long hill. Gillian suddenly said "we've come the wrong way - we should have turned left". We looked at the map and being reluctant to lose all the height we had just gained, I suggested we carry on to the next main road and walk to the village of Amex which appeared to be in the right direction. But when we got there. We realised it wasn't part of Gillian’s planned route and she was a bit fed up that we couldn’t easily regain her path. We consulted Pocket Earth and decided to follow our new road. Finally we re-joined our intended route a few kilometers further on near the town of Sarraz. There, we made the mistake of following some signs for Swiss walking Path 70 and found ourselves back on a main road effectively in the middle of nowhere. The map showed us a couple of routes, neither very practical. So we road-walked uphill for a bit. Then cut off to the right on a parallel country track, which offered traffic free hiking but seemed to go on for ever under the hot sun. We took an extended break under some trees at the edge of a field. At the top of the next hill we got our first clear view of the Alps including the snows around Mt Blanc. Finally we reached the town of Conssanay and an unusual funicular railway took us down to the railway station where I was delighted to get a cup of coffee from a vending machine. On the train we got a text from Marlen and Harold who had boarded the same train at Sarraz. We met up at Lausanne HBF and had a long walk to our IBIS hotel. That evening, Gillian and I got thoroughly confused by the geography of the city and resorted to the Metro to get down to the lakeside at Ouchy where we checked out the departure point of our boat the next day. The lake front was full of people eating, drinking, skateboarding, promenading and generally enjoying themselves. Restaurants were outrageously expensive. So we bought some food from from a snack-bar. Back at the IBIS we consumed a bottle of white wine as a nightcap.