Granville to Genêts, Normandy coastal walk GR223. 7.5.17.
1.5 days walking. The longest walk at 9.5 hours and more climbing than any other étape (stage). 40kms
My last walk was in Spain at harvest. Now it is spring, and time for sowing.
I pass through the coastal edges of villages and along promenades, with a wide range of fresh-air art and information points. Of course I am not 19 years old as Laurie Lee was, but this part of ‘As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning’ resonates with me. I am lucky not to have back ache when I walk, only tired feet after a while: ‘The next day, getting back onto the London road, I forgot everything but the way ahead. I walked steadily, effortlessly, hour after hour in a kind of swinging, weightless realm. I was at that age which feels neither strain nor friction, when the body burns magic fuels, so that it seems to glide in warm air, about a foot off the ground, smoothly obeying its intuitions. Even exhaustion, when it came, had a voluptuous quality, and sleep was caressive and deep, like oil.’ Yes, that is exactly what sleep feels like at the end of that sort of a day.
A man in his pyjamas, dressing gown, and slippers assured me there was no bar/câfé in this village at 9.30am. I had no breakfast before I left which was an obstacle – silly -it was too early in the day to be hungry and thirsty.
There were more hills and valleys than any of the previous days, and my rucksack was feeling heavy, but I forget that in the lovely countryside. Narrow paths split the greenery, while tough grass and golden gorse wrap around the sharp-edged cliffs.
I briefly ask myself ‘Why come away from home to walk?’ and immediately the answer is clear: because it is so very beautiful and peaceful.
There is a man with two wives and a dozen children, or so I fancy. The kids scrape past me from behind on their bikes and give me a shock. No-one says hello. The bright green ferns with their heads curled over, stand up like meerkats.
￼Down a picturesque flight of steps I go, into an historic dell. Anyone who does what I do knows that after 4 hours of walking, going downstairs is hard work, especially when it is slippy from the previous day’s rain, so I take them gingerly like a toddler.
It was quite magical down in Painter’s Valley, once a haunt of famous artists. I imagine them with their easels and floppy hats, just glimpsing each other through the foliage, brandishing brushes.
OMG! then 200 steps up again, followed by a rest to breathe and pull my socks back up after they had slid into my shoes.
I take two minutes for a pee, drink of water, and view of Jullouville beach with its glorious view of huts and horses. A loud male voice interrupts my musings. Round the corner, it turns out to belong to someone trying to impress the girls.
I ate my banana, bread and chocolate for lunch on a bridge. All filling the air was birdsong. There was sun on my legs, and real contentment, despite the slightly slimy seat. For a minute I thought I might see Ratty and Mr Toad of Toad Hall.
At this stage I am further 3 hours from Genets and I am about level with Bouillon, where I was supposed to be 2 days ago. There are simple roads, simple hedgerows, and I take regular steps, my thoughts rich with the wild flowers.
It is utterly wonderful, my favourite sort of countryside.
Footsore, I remind myself to take it step by step, ‘poco à poco’ so I can manage the distance without injury.
Just above my head I spot someone coasting on the wind in a hang glider. I could not tell if it was a man or woman. I watched and watched as s/he hung there, coasting on currents at a gentle pace, and I imagined what that view must be like.
The sweetest smell of earth, grass and flowers; raggedy white campion and curled up ferns. Runners thanked me as I stood aside to let them pass and was rewarded with a backlash of heady body smell. The slow roller-coaster slalom rocks are ahead of me, the oaks alongside, and hot waves of birds in meadows are on my left.
I reached a high point with more abandoned stone remains and exchanged brief French with a father coming in the opposite direction, who asked, what is the lie of the land beyond? Turns out he had a ‘poussette’, a push chair, with a baby in it. As I walked on I wondered how they had managed that far with either no path at all, or huge rocks to clamber over.
I continued with a light heart. If you look carefully you will see how often nature intertwines plants of contrasting colours.
At 2.30 I started to think about a cup of tea again, and St Jean le Thomas was my reward.
Then at 4pm, oh, the first sighting of Mont Saint-Michel in the distance.
I began to ask ‘How far to Genets?’ which was a mistake. Either my walking pace was slow or they did not really know. It was just frustrating to think ‘just 20 minutes’, only to discover it was actually a full two hours later that I arrived at the Auberge de Jeunesse. I do so by the road from the beach at Bec d’Andaine, even though a kind beach-surfer type stops his car and kindly suggests I take the path. I think I was too tired to risk taking the wrong way. As Laurie Lee puts it, I was walking ‘in a mirage of solitary endurance’ by that time.
I shower, change, wash out my dirties, settle in to my ‘private’ room with wonderful crisply ironed white cotton sheets (as usual I am the only single woman, so I am again lucky with accommodation). And then I walked, well limped a little, into the immensely attractive village. There are streets of brown/grey-stone houses, all with climbers and gardens full of flowers. They have white-rimmed windows with lace curtains, and there are 3 restaurants which all fill up quickly.
The votes are starting to come in, and the man on my right is checking his phone every few minutes, arguing with his wife, and updating the rest of us round the restaurant. It is very tense with folk scared that Madame Le Pen will win, but as the evening goes on Macron seems to be the victor.
Food tastes so delicious after a walk! A very salty, ‘gallette’ (pancake) with chips, salad and cider is 15 euros. Almost all the bars and eateries I have been to have played songs in English. Is it for tourists? I am not sure but this evening I think I was the only non-French speaker.
When I get back I fall into conversation with the host. Inevitably Brexit (so embarrassing), and ‘Don’t you celebrate the end of the war on 8 May?’ I tell him that many of our school children (my daughter and nephew for example) come to Normandy to see the beaches and the mass graves and find it very moving.
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, by Laurie Lee.
Auberge de Jeuness (youth hostel) website: http://www.hifrance.org/auberge-de-jeunesse/genets–baie-mont-st-michel.html