Day 46: Dampierre sur Salon to Gy (40 km) We are Pilgrims on a Journey.

We Are Pilgrims On A Journey
We Are Brothers On The Road
We Are Here To Help Each Other
Walk The Mile And Bear The Load

Brother Let Me Be Your Servant – Hymn

Olivia sent me a lovely email on Sunday together with the words of a hymn (Brother Let Me Be Your Servant) that had been sung at the morning service at Berwick St James. It made me ponder about what has happened to those fellow pilgrims I have met on my walk during the last 7 weeks as well as appreciate all the encouragement and moral support that I have received from those that have been left at home.

Support crew back at base in Winterbourne Stoke

What became, I wonder, of Dean from Seattle? Did he reach Langres after I left him in Seraucourt-le-Grand? Did he get his phone to work eventually? Did he find what he was searching for on his pilgrimage?

Dean

What happened to Eva and Marine whom I met in the Abbey at Wisques? Did they reach the shrine of Saint Thérèse at Liseux?

Eva and Marine

What about Patrick, the English pilgrim I met at the Abbey of Saint Thierry? Did he reach Calais as planned?

Patrick and Marie-Louise

Where will Georges walk to next? Will our paths cross again on another GR somewhere?

Georges

What happened to Baptiste after he left Torcenay yesterday? Will he succeed in getting over the Great Saint Bernard Pass in snow shoes? Will I see him again during the next 2 weeks?

Baptiste

What about the American family from Boise, Idaho that I met at Reims? Will they make it to Aosta?

Molly and Ken with their daughter

And the mystery pilgrim with the huge backpack that I shared a room with in Dampierre-sur-Salon? Well her name is Arianna. She is an Italian nurse from Rome who currently lives and works in Hamburg. She is on a 2 month pilgrimage to Rome. She told me that she set off from Langres, her backpack weighs 18kg and her feet are in bad shape, so much so in fact that she is taking another rest day at the gite ‘Au Bon Vivant’ to help her feet recover. I probably won’t see her again but I hope her feet recover soon, that she makes it to Rome and maybe, just maybe, she decides to jettison some stuff from her rucksack to help speed her on her way!

Arianna ( without back pack!)

Christophe, who runs the gite ‘au Bon Vivant’, is a funny and charming guy. Besides hosting pilgrims, he runs a company importing items from Vietnam including tea and coffee. I tried a few cups of Vietnamese coffee after I arrived – it was pungent stuff!

Supper was a jolly affair. Three friends of Christophe’s from Tunisia ( Khaled, Samir and Aymen), cooked up a storm – a delicious meal of lamb and carrot couscous.

Over supper we chatted in French and Italian about all the pilgrims Christophe had hosted over the years. This included the fastest pilgrim (a Norwegian who had run from Reims to Rome in 11 days), the oldest (an 84 lady), the youngest (a 9 month old baby!) and the bravest (a pilgrim with a prosthetic leg).

Pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes it seems but there aren’t many British pilgrims doing the Via Francigena. Perhaps it has to do with language barriers. My French is by no means perfect, but I can thankfully hold my own in most conversations.

As we moved on from the couscous to a delicious dessert of apple tart which Christophe’s wife had prepared, conversation turned to the subject of my boots and whether both they and I would make it safely to the top of the Great San Bernard Pass. Christophe said the road up to the Pass was due to close in a few days time and I would be insane to try and hire a pair of snow shoes and make it up to the Abbey. It seemed like sensible advice worth heeding. A 10th century Archbishop of Canterbury called Aelfsige, perished in 959 AD while crossing the Alps enroute to collect his pallium from the Pope in Rome. I don’t particularly wish to follow in his footsteps!

Grand Saint Bernard Monastery in winter

Shortly after leaving Dampierre-sur-Salon the VF ran along the bank of the River Saone towards the town of Seveux. Christophe at the au Bon Vivant had suggested that I take the road to Bucey-lès-Guy and shave 11km from the day’s walk. But this would have meant avoiding walking along the Saone River, so I decided to reject his suggestion and instead stuck to the VF.

Shortly before reaching Seveux, the path deviated from the river onto the Savoyeux- Seveux canal and a 643m tunnel that was built in 1840 to enable boats to reach Seveux. It was a seriously impressive piece of engineering and I even managed to film a boat emerging from the tunnel! (see link below)

Boat emerging from the Savoyeux  tunnel

One of the main reasons for the canal’s construction was to transport timber. This area of Burgundy has long been one of the prime regions in France for growing oak used in house construction. It helps account for the region’s distinctive half timbered houses and some of it’s most iconic buildings including the 15th century hospital in Beaune which I visited with Claude on Saturday.

The region’s rich and humid soil makes it ideal for growing oak. Oak was a highly symbolic tree for the Druids. A piece of oak cut from the tree and kept as a talisman traditionally brought good luck and fertility throughout the year and hence the origin of the expression ‘Touch Wood’.

A lot of the day’s walk was on back roads which sporadically passed through small isolated hamlets. During the day I noticed an increasing amount of beef and dairy cattle grazing on pasture and a steady reduction in the number of fields growing maize and sunflower.

Heading towards Bucey-lès-Gy

Outside the small hamlet of Vantoux I spotted a couple of pilgrims. They were French pilgrims called Etienne and Brigitte and they were heading towards Bucey-lès-Gy for the night. I should have guessed that they had been passed by Baptiste the speed merchant the previous day! They reckoned he would be well on his way to Besançon by now.

All the pilgrim accommodation in Bucey-lès-Gy had been fully booked so I spent another hour walking a further 5km to the gite ‘La Charmotte’ owned and run by Claudine Thorelle. But the extra kilometres were well worth it as I will reveal in tomorrow’s blog! For now all I will divulge is 2 things – Claudine Thorelle speaks fluent English and her house has a bath in it. Needless to say, I am in 7th heaven!

One of the joys of going on pilgrimage, I thought to myself as I submerged myself in the hot bath before going down to supper with Claudine and her 95 year old mother, is the opportunity it gives you to share your journey with fellow pilgrims on the road. Swapping traveller’s  tales, cracking jokes with complete strangers is strangely uplifting experience. I’m not sure if I’ll ever see or hear from most of them again, but my life has been enriched by these chance encounters with complete strangers, that is for sure.

As the hymn Olivia sent me on Sunday puts it so well:

We Are Pilgrims On A Journey
We Are Brothers On The Road
We Are Here To Help Each Other
Walk The Mile And Bear The Load

1 thought on “Day 46: Dampierre sur Salon to Gy (40 km) We are Pilgrims on a Journey.

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