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Switzerland!

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Tuesday 7 June, Lausanne

A week ago I posted from Besançon where I spent my rest day renewing acquaintance with the Cathedral

The Roman gate, la Porte Noire, leading up to Besançon cathedral
The Roman gate, la Porte Noire, leading up to Besançon cathedral

and the Faculté des Lettresimage where I spent the summer of ’66. But days off are for practical concerns as well – a tram ride to Decathlon to get wax for my boots, so they might better withstand the deluges, and getting antihistamines and eye drops as – despite the wet – the hay fever season is upon me. The Besançon trams are marvellous, as is the whole smart, joined-up transport system.image

And then, and then, about the wettest day I have ever known as I climbed the steep kilometres out of Besançon.

Rain obscuring "wonderful view" over Besançon
Rain obscuring “wonderful view” over Besançon

Water cascaded down the hills, the paths were once more deep mud. I emerged from a wood to find no signs, no way of identifying where I was. The guardian angel appeared on cue – an old man barrowing a bale of hay across the road. Is this the right way to the next village? No, it’s in the opposite direction. He saw my face, and said immediately he was getting his car out to take me. And he took me a further ten km, to a direct road to Ornans, embraced me and wished me good luck.

Alas it was a busy road, with heavy trucks thundering past dousing me with sheets of water. But I made it to Ornans, where I visited the Gustave Courbet museum. I had a sharp intake of breath when I saw Courbet’s portrait of his maternal grandfather:

Courbet's portrait of his maternal grandfather
Courbet’s portrait of his maternal grandfather

add some whiter hair and some stubble and it could have been my angel of the morning.

I was picked up from Ornans by Francis Geere, famous in the world of the Via Francigena. Francis looks after the route between north of Besançon  and the Swiss border. He also accommodates pilgrims, picks them up from that day’s destination and drops them back the next morning. I stayed three nights with him, and thus could walk two days without carrying my heavy pack.

Even packless  I was unable to manage the tricky path up the Gorges de Nouailles where the river Loue springs from the rock and plunges down the narrow gorge. The constant rain (yes, it was still raining) turned the rocks into waterfalls so deep and powerful I knew my unreliable knee would not cope. One slip and…. one sees no one else on these paths. Prudence won (how unlike me), and I turned back. Next morning Francis showed me a path on the other side of the gorge which, although vertiginous (I didn’t look down) was less problematic.

Via Francigena royalty: Francis Geere and Pail Chinn
Via Francigena royalty: Francis Geere and Pail Chinn

That night at Francis’s I met more VF “royalty” – Paul and Babette Chinn, the creators of the four volumes of LightFoot guides covering the route from Canterbury to Rome. The couple took two horses and a dog along the entire VF ten years ago, and have retraced and revised the path constantly since.

So to Pontarlier (famous for the distilling of absinthe) and on towards the Swiss border. It was still raining. I plodded alongside a little tourist train track, feet bruised by stones. Along came a little steam train with two blue and gold-liveried restaurant coaches full of French at their Sunday lunchtime trough.image

I felt unkindly resentful as they cheerfully waved at the drenched and forlorn figure by the track. In order to find accommodation for that night I had been obliged to walk far further into Switzerland than I had wanted. Just before the border the rain became a diluvian torrent. Soaked to the skin I found the porch of a house with a chair in it, and there, dear reader, I sat down and wept for the second time on this pilgrimage. I wept from self-pity, from the dispiriting downpours, from the pain referred from my knee up my thigh into my haunch and back. I shouted at the rain, “I want a miracle!”.

There was no blinding flash of light, so I plodded on, crossing the border on a small path. Swiss rain is very much like French rain, and  but accompanied by the constant tintinnabulation of cowbells.

Swiss rain looks much like French rain
Swiss rain looks much like French rain

But I didn’t have to wait long: a host of angels came to my rescue. The family where I was to stay welcomed me with such warmth, with one if the best meals I’ve had in weeks, with a glorious hot shower, and (to my surprise) a jacuzzi. I slept well. As I had walked so far that day I had only 12 or so km the next day. Philippe, my host, had a day off and offered to take me to the nearby

The Cluniac abbey of Romainmôthier
The Cluniac abbey of Romainmôthier

Cluniac abbey of Romainmôthier.

That visit added to my sense of blessing, of benediction. As we arrived someone was playing an alphorn the other side of the valley. In the church I felt utter peace and restoration. After the church we drank tea in the prior’s house. There was more blessing and healing to come. Philippe said “I cannot let you go in pain like this”. For what I have not told you is that he is a chiropractor and masseur. He took me back home and worked with hot oil on my aches. “It will come back,” he said, “But it will get you a few days further “.

And life changed colour. On cue, the sun came out. With enormous gratitude in my heart I walked on southwards along another beautiful gorge, the path dappled by warm sunlight. Swiss paths are beautifully way marked.

And so on down to Lausanne, where I am now. The snowy Alps are visible across Lake Geneva (Léman), reminding me of the challenge to come over the next week. And there is cloud and the threat of thunderstorms for the next few days. Tomorrow I emulate Archbishop Sigeric and will take the boat to Villeneuve on the other side of the lake.

The Alps from north of Lausanne
The Alps from north of Lausanne

The way goes on, through grace and the kindness of many. Maybe the next post will be from Italy, DV.

At the source of the Alison. Still raining...
At the source of the Lison. Still raining…

8 thoughts on “Switzerland!

  1. Dear Mary what a fantastic effort for you, wonderful to read your description of the walk. We are particularly struck by how many lovely, helpful people you are meeting on you journey. You are almost in Italy where a very warm welcome awaits you to rest and recuperate after Rome. With love and best wishes from us both Kevin & Carol

  2. Fantastic that you are getting such great support! And more than a little providence. Olivia has beaten .me to the question:but surely you must be half way and the weather will warm up very soon!
    Every best wish and God Bless

  3. From a fellow pilgrim, I’m inspired and humbled afresh by your journey, with all its delights and difficulties. The moments where your guardian angels arrive to help you ring so true. I stayed with Paul and Babette in Arles in 2013! One day I’ll follow in their, and your, footsteps; for now I’m continuing on my journey to Santiago, year by year, crossing into Spain later this summer. In the meantime, keeping you in my prayers.
    Judith
    Diss

  4. You look positively jubilant – and so you should.

    I hope the ox carts continue to present themselves, that the knee keeps going and that the way continues to be full of the people you need, as and when you need them.

    It is, indeed, an extraordinary life.

  5. Your post is encouraging and motivating and ‘shocks’ me into the realisation that I will soon follow you out of Besancon (15th June). When I read your blog and see your photo of Paul Chinn, I start to feel a small part of the VF ‘family’ as I tidy up my final preparations before flying Brisbane to Paris. Have communicated with Paul C. over recent weeks. He has been very helpful with his advice. Hope that troublesome knee ‘comes good’ soon. Look forward to reading your future posts.

  6. Mary your’re amazing. I have enjoyed reading your post and am very pleased that you have found kind folk along your way. Take care. Xx

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