Footsteps ~ Short tales of the trail

Crossing paths, Paris-to-Paris

Part of making a round-trip is finding your way back to where you started.  Sometimes, along the way you may cross your own path…

The most northerly of the pilgrim paths in France bears the Latin name via Turonensis – the Tours route.  It begins beneath the “St. James Tower” (tour St-Jacques) in Paris and heads south to Orlèans, on the Loire River.  Here it follows the GR-3 long-distance trail, running along the river through its famous valley of vineyards, forests, and grand chateaux.  At Tours the route leaves the Loire and wanders south on the GR-655 through Poitiers and Bordeaux, and on to its terminus at Ostabat in the Basque country, where it merges with other footpaths heading toward Santiago de Compostela.

I walked the Paris to Bordeaux section in the autumn of 2007.  At the time, the tour St-Jacques was draped in construction cloth for restoration.  I set off on the last day of September at point zero in front of Notre Dame Cathedral.  There were a few dreary days walking free of suburban gravity, and a few more crossing miles of fogbound sugar beet country, before reaching France’s great untamed river.  There began a gentle weeklong ramble along the water’s edge, big days filled with quiet.

On the last afternoon of this riverside section, I was making my way along the north bank.  The trail runs under the viaduct of the high-speed train (the TGV, or tren de grande vitesse) that runs between Paris and Bordeaux.  I enjoy any encounter with these wonderful machines, so I slowed down, hoping to see one whoosh by.  Happily, I was rewarded within a few minutes, before moving on, soon arriving at a bridge for my final crossing of the Loire, into Tours.

A couple of cool, good-weather weeks later I reached Bordeaux.  I stayed for a few days and then booked a seat on the TGV for my return to Paris, and home.

Although high-speed train travel is near the opposite end of the transportation spectrum from simple pedestrianism, I do admit that it’s marvelous to sit in well-reclined comfort and watch the world whiz by.

On the way north, I caught a streaking glimpse of a small hotel next to the tracks where I had spent the night while making my southing.  I was threading myself in and out of the trail, retracing my steps of just a few days before.

The train makes a brief stop at Tours.  As we pulled away from the station and began to roll across the river, I looked out over the water to the approaching bank, hoping to see the footpath from the window, and my viewpoint of the viaduct from half a month ago.  I was able to catch a hurried photo from the perspective of the train, and wondered if anyone had noticed a lone walker looking back at them a few weeks before.  For me, these images close a little loop, a knot in the ribbon of memories of that walk.

From the Loire the train glides north across the Beauce, the great granary of France, and soon coasts into the Gare Montparnasse. It was a bright, blue-sky afternoon in which to watch the autumn world flash by.

My wife likes to remind me of this story.  It took me 33 days to walk from Paris to Bordeaux.  It took three hours for the TGV to whisk me back.  She seems to think there’s an important lesson in there and perhaps one day I’ll grasp it.  I suppose she’s right.  Walking is the only form of travel without blur…

Really... there's a village church in there.

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