Pau III – Ascension onwards

Thursday 25 May

Ascension Day is a public holiday in France, and the tradition here is to meet at the home of the Reader, John Errey, way out in the country, for Eucharist and a shared lunch in a big marquee in the garden.  A small gazebo was added to give a bit of shade around the altar, this being one of the hottest days.  I supplemented an old sermon with some thoughts on prayer, based on the Archbishops’ initiative “Thy kingdom come”.  Someone thanked me for my enthusiasm.  Lunch was a barbecue of sausages and burgers, including some pea burgers for the vegetarians,a variety of salads, and a wonderful selection of desserts, to which I had contributed a pummet of apricots.  There are no buses today so John Arthur had to drive into Pau to pick me up and drop me off.


John took me for a walk in the Pyrenees.  This time I was able to get a bus to his local station and a train back in the evening.  We drove up steep and winding roads to a car park near the Pic du Midi d’Ossau, and walked up the GR10 to two lakes, total ascent 438 m according to my step counter.  Because the train back was at 4:18, we did not have time to continue to the pass which is over 2000 m above sea level.  On the way back we stopped at a small Templar chapel from the 12th century and sang Laudate Omnes Gentes.  Stopped off for a quick snack at John’s where Hilary had made scones.


I had thought of walking the next bit of the Arles Camino, but was doubtful about trains back from Oloeon Ste Marie.  Instead, I retraced a previous walk as far as the footbridge near Laroin, following 7 girls on horseback and their leader on a bicycle for the last bit of the way.  Then crossed the river and walked round the Lacs de Laroin.  Lovely contrast between the noisy river and the peaceful lakes.  The area around the lakes is reserved for camping/fishing, with a separate entrance for each pitch – luxury.  There was no obvious alternative to going back the way I had come, making a third walk along this stretch.  Once again, when I reached St Jacques church, there was a very long queue for ice cream so I didn’t stop.


Peter Naylor preached what he thinks might be his last sermon. He told me he retired 20 years ago and is 86.  He had invited me to join some of his friends for lunch after the service, which was way out of my normal price range, a menu at 42 € and quite a lot of wine.  Slow service, good conversation.  Went for a walk round the forest afterwards thinking to get the shuttle bus back, but it had stopped running at 17:40.


Lunch with John and Hilary, then John drove me to the airport along a scenic route, crossing Chemin Henri IV. Met some people who had been at the Ascension Day service seeing off their friends.

I shall only have two full days at home before taking off for Heidelberg.

Pilgrims welcome in Arthez de Béarn

When I was in Luxembourg, I met Steve and Carol who have a house in Arthez, about 30 km from Pau, where they welcome pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela. Steve is there for a few days, and I went to visit him. Here are some photographs of the hut where pilgrims can brew up, rest their feet, and pray. When Steve and Carol are in Luxembourg, they try to arrange for volunteers to stay in their house and welcome pilgrims.

Pau II

Tuesday 16/5/2017

This was forecast as the hottest day, over 30°.  I spent the morning working on my sermon for Sunday. After lunch I walked in the castle park and explored the Hédas valley, which was blocked for building work. Back to St Jacques church, where I said evening prayer in the chapel. Went with John and Hilary to an ecumenical prayer group, meeting this month at a small and beautiful Orthodox Church in the car park of a block of flats.  I should have liked to have a better look at the ikons.  The chapel was crowded, with 30 people.  A mixture of Gregorian chant and Taizé, with silence and open prayer, followed by bring-and-share refreshments in the only slightly cooler car park.  People were friendly to this foreigner, more so than I would expect in England.


Skept with the window open, until woken by a child and a dog howling. It took a long time to get back to sleep. A lazy day, washing clothes and reading, until 3:30 when I decided it was time for a walk.  Much cooler than I expected. My map showed footpaths on the hills behind Jurançon, but I could not find the starting point.  It was either a blocked path on grass, or an unsigned and probably private gravel track. So this was a road walk.

Home at 7.  I decided not to go to choir practice, as they are rehearsing for Pentecost, the Sunday after I leave.  Thought I would improve my French by watching TV.  They speak so fast, I have difficulty in distinguishing the words let alone making sense of them.  But I suppose if I listen enough, I shall understand more.  This seems to be a film about a werewolf.


Just as the forecast said, it rained all day (though not very hard).  Found a copy of Karen Armstrong’s book A History of God and read a chapter about the early church.  The one I really need to read, in preparation for Trinity Sunday, is the next one.  Just after 4 I felt the need of a walk, rain or no rain, and I went north to the Forest of the Bastard, which is lovely – no traffic and enormous trees.  Once I got going, I really enjoyed tthe cool weather.


With a similar forecast, I decided to have a go at Chemin Henri IV, the path of Lourdes, but was thwarted by the Grand Prix closing off the Boulevard des Pyrénées and who knows what else.  Thought of taking a bus out of town, but when it got to 10:00 I decided Lourdes would have to wait for another day, or two.  Instead I took a bus towards the forest where I walked yesterday, and followed GR 653, the route from Arles to Santiago. The forest part was even better than I expected, as it used a small path as well as broad tracks.  A much-ridden and muddy path took me round the end of the racecourse, after which I expected roads most of the way.  Pleasantly surprised by good paths beside the roads, and some traffic-free lanes.  Reached Lescar about 12:30. After a brief visit to the cathedral, where I had been on Sunday, admiring the life size carved statue of St James, I decided against a sandwich at the snack bar and was delighted to discover a friendly restaurant just round the corner.  The buffet of starters was a feast in itself: sardines and a smaller fish (whitebait?) with mixed vegetables and cucumber, asparagus with egg and mayonnaise, a slice of melon with ham.  The main course was a pork stew with mushrooms and carrots, served with pasta, the little twisty sort, and washed down with water and a glass of wine.  The only disappointment was the lemon tart I had for dessert, which was heavy without being interesting. I should have chosen strawberries and cream.  All this for under 12 €, so I tipped generously.  The GR 653 continued westward until it met the river, having crossed which, I turned towards Pau, following a cycle track on the south bank before crossing over to the golf course and castle park.  Over 40 000 steps, though 7 000 were messing around town and walking from the bus stop to the forest.


Did the other accessible stretch of GR 653, taking the bus to Morlaas and walking from Ste Foy church to the forest where I joined the route yesterday. Lovely green tunnels, and farm tracks where it was quiet enough, and lonely enough, for singing.




Back at the flat, I read Karen Armstrong’s chapter about the Trinity, very interesting on the different emphases in Eastern and Western Christendom, and a good introduction to pseudo-Dionysius who, being sixth century, was too late to figure in my study of early church history.  The apophatic tradition is viewed as a way of encountering the unknown and unknowable God through contemplation.




Thought of going to watch the Grand Prix from Beaumont Park, until I discovered it cost €23 to get in. So I contented myself with a distant view and inescapable noise. Then I thought I’d walk round the outside of the cordoned off area and eat at the restaurant at Eaux-Vives water park, only to be told I was too late – at 2 pm. They were selling ice creams outside St Jacques but the queue was very long so I went home.


The best way to attempt the 40 km Chemin Henri IV, having identified a few drop-out points where I could get to a bus stop. I had read a guidebook, which overestimated the number of beautiful views of the Pyrenees (perhaps because he did it in February) and underestimated the quality of the Waymarking. The author regarded the route as starting a couple of km from Pau and finishing at the Lac de Lourdes, the final 3 km to the station being along a noisy road. On arrival at the Lac, I discovered a bus was leaving in 10 minutes. So the actual distance was 37 km, in 8 hours. I was aware that the main reason for doing the walk was to show that I could, and that on arrival in Lourdes I would be in no state for sightseeing. It reacquainted me with the patience to let the road take as long as it takes. It is mostly wide tracks, but the last stretch is a narrow footpath with a lot of steepish downhills. Quite a few walkers at the Pau end, some of them doing a circular walk along a short stretch of Henri IV. After that it was mainly cyclists. Good day out. Just missed the 1655 bus to Pau and had to wait for the 1855, rehydrating myself in a tea shop.


A home day, for washing and shopping. Tried out the Apple computer John leant me to see if I could print a sermon from a memory stick. Hardware problem: only one of the ports takes the USB printer cable and memory stick so I cannot use both at once. Operational problem: the printer is not installed, and needs the system administrator to install it.


Locum in the Pyrenees

Having failed to blog my first locum assignment in Luxembourg, I want to start on Pau.

Friday 12/5/2017

Flew in to Lourdes where I was met by churchwarden John Arthur and his wife Hilary.  After a snack in the flat and a visit to the church – unlike Luxembourg they are almost next door to each other, and fairly close to the Centre – we went to a garden party with drinks and “heavy hours d’oeuvres” at the home of an American family who had a horse farm there. After they left, most of the land was sole for building and the house divided into flats.  The new owners have bought up all the flats and are restoring the house to a splendid period piece and the garden is also impressive.


Shopped for food and explored, admiring the view from the Boulevard des Pyrénées, and continued a few km along the Chemin Henri IV, a footpath linking Pau and Lourdes.  The whole thing is 40 km.  Shall I walk it, and one day or two?  If the former, would arrive too late and tired to enjoy Lourdes.





Back in Pau, I came across the Fête de l’Europe, with stalls from various EU countries. This was the British contribution.


This is the second Sunday of the month, which means children will be in church. Ditched the sermon I had brought with me, and talked about getting lost – walking down to the children to tell them about how At the age of 6 I found myself locked out of school, before returning to address the adults. After the service, I changed into walking clothes and discovered a simple restaurant, mainly a crêperie, overlooking the castle where I enjoyed slices of duck with fried potatoes, piperade (tomatoes +) and mushrooms, washed down with half a liter of red wine. Next time I should go for a quarter liter. Then followed the river west, aiming for the medieval city of Lescar, and appropriately enough, getting a bit lost on the way.


Headed for a gym called “Keep Cool”, found on Google, to enquire if I could pay by the session. Yes, 10 euros a time. I did 2.5 km on the treadmill at 6.6 kohl, jogging 2 minutes and walking 1, as my next step towards eventually jogging 5 km. I wore my church shoes, but did not bring the thick socks so they were a bit loose. I bought some basic gym shoes for €4.99 at the big Leclerc hypermarket next door, as well as a range of exciting foods. Walked back a long way round, and after lunch had a siesta. It is very hot. Went out again at 4:30 to check out the station and the “museum of the giants” commemorating winners of the Tour de France. Roads around the station are a mess in preparation for the Grand Prix. In the cathedral, I met a hungry pilgrim and gave him my last banknote. Just enough left for an ice cream outside St James’s Church before heading home, via a cash point, for moussaka and grated carrot.