Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Gerard Manley Hopkins – Spring and Fall
The Hotel F1 in Pontarlier, partially redeemed itself overnight. The place was clean, I enjoyed a good night’s rest and the buffet breakfast was more than ample for my needs!
With the benefit of hindsight, my goal of walking nearly 40km from Pontarlier to Orbe was a tad ambitious! On paper 40km looked perfectly achievable with an early start. In practice, however, by mid morning it had become apparent that the thought of reaching Orbe in a day was something of a pipe dream.
It was bitterly cold as I left Pontarlier in the early morning half light. Overnight there had been a sharp frost and leaves were falling from the trees as I made my way out of town towards La Cluse-et-Mijoux.
After an hour’s climb through thick woods, I emerged on the side of a valley overlooking the most magnificent fairy tale castle imaginable. Perched on top of a massive rocky outcrop, it looked utterly impregnable.
A couple of photographers in camouflage gear were busy photographing a chamois which was grazing in a clearing in the woods.
I’ve never seen a chamois in the flesh before so this (along with numerous red squirrel sightings) was a first for me. Of course seeing a chamois was a reminder that I was approaching the Pyrenees as the chamois native to this region as well as the mountains of south and central Europe, Turkey, and the Caucasus. Chamous live in precipitous, rugged, rocky terrain at elevations of up to 3,600 m (11,800 ft). In Europe, the chamois spends the summer months in alpine meadowland above the tree line, but move to elevations of around 800 m (2,600 ft) to spend the winter in pine forests.
During mid morning I got lost in thick woodland en route to Les Fourgs. Thankfully I was able to get a GPS bearing on my Via Francigena App and navigate my way for a couple of kilometres through thick undergrowth back onto the correct path. It was quite knackering and it must have cost me at least half an hour, time which I could ill afford if I was to reach Orbe by nightfall.
There has been a disappointing lack of food shops in many of the small villages I have passed through over the last 6 weeks. But Les Fourgs turned up trumps just when I needed it! Not only was there a small food store in the village, but the lady behind the counter also kindly stamped my pilgrim passport as I paid for my cold chicken breasts and apple.
For most of my walk along the Via Francigena, navigating the correct route hasn’t been a huge problem. The combination of guidebook, hard copy maps, GPS App and compass, has usually enabled me to find my way. After lunch, however, everything went pear shaped!
Following a sign marked Via Francigena to Les Hôpitaux-Neufs (10 km) I passed a chapel that had been erected by the villagers of Les Fourgs in thanks for not having been occupied by the Germans during the last war. A quick glance at my map and compass, suggested I was heading in the right (due south) direction.
I followed the way post sign up a well marked farm track but 15 minutes later the signs had petered out and the track was blocked with wire netting. When I checked my Via Francigena App, it indicated that I should have turned right in Les Fourgs and followed a tarmac road towards Jougne. Grinding my teeth in frustration I retraced my steps back to Les Fourgs, passing a number of Via Francigena signs as I did! I had gone around in a complete circle and wasted almost an hour.
It was palpably obvious by this point that I wasn’t going to reach Orbe by nightfall! But the sun was shining and, with the pressure off, I was able to relax and gently make my way to Jougne. I hadn’t actually booked any accommodation for the evening, but I was reasonably optimistic that something would turn up. And if it didn’t, well I could possibly sleep in the church in Jougne or, at a pinch, in my tent and one season sleeping bag!
When I reached Jougne it was still only 3.30pm. The Mayor’s Office was closed until 4pm and the Hotel Poste, which somebody had recommended, was closed until 5pm.
Jougne isn’t exactly blessed with a vast array of things to see and do! Apart from visiting the church, other options appeared limited to non existent. So enter the church I did and spent a pleasant hour there enjoying the serenity.
You probably haven’t heard of Elisabeth (and her husband Felix) Leseur. But walking through the streets if Jougne, you can’t but be aware of her presence and wonder who she was.
Born in Paris in 1866, Elisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) was a French mystic best known for her spiritual diary and the conversion of her husband, Félix Leseur (1861–1950), a medical doctor and well known leader of the French anti-clerical, atheistic movement. The movement to the beatify Élisabeth Leseur was started by her husband in 1934. Her current status in the process of beautification is a Servant of God. So what did Elisabeth do to warrant potential beautification and what is her connection to Jougne?
Married in Paris in 1889, Felix and Élisabeth Leseur were poster children of the Belle Époque. Felix, witty,urbane and fiercely intellectual,was a journalist who wrote for the anti-clerical ‘La République Française’ founded by Leon Gambetta. In contrast, Elisabeth was deeply spiritual, inspired by the life and works of Theresa of Avila. Despite their different approaches to spirituality, they were united in their love for each other and a shared love for music and travel.
Sadly Élisabeth’s life was dogged by I’ll health. Shortly after her marriage to Felix she was diagnosed with perotinitis, and although she recovered she was subsequently diagnosed with a litany of illnesses which culminated in breast cancer which left to her death in 1914 aged 48.
When she died, Felix discovered a secret spiritual diary she had written during their marriage which predicted her husband’s subsequent renunciation of atheism and conversion to Catholocism. In 1923, Felix took holy orders and became a Dominican monk, fiercely campaigning for recognition of his wife’s spirituality until the day he died in 1950.
And the connection with Jougne? Élisabeth and Felix regularly visited Jougne during their lives. They valued its serenity and fresh air and in 1902 they bought a house in the town. Although they both lived and died in Paris, in many ways Jougne was their spiritual home.
I am staying the night in Jougne with Mireille Godart at ‘Le Castelou’ gite D’Etape. With the entire downstairs apartment of her house at my disposal for the night, this marked a significant upgrade from the Hotel F1 in Pontarlier!
Mireille Godart has a heart of gold. After warmly welcoming me to her gite, she fussed around in my bedroom, ensuring that the sheep skin blankets on my bed were safely tucked in with ‘hospital corners’. She then announced that she was leaving me with a jar of her home made rhubarb jam for my breakfast, to ensure I wouldn’t starve to death during my 19km walk to Orbe tomorrow. The piece de resistance, however, was when she appeared before I had started eating my supper, with a bowl of delicious soup she had specially prepared for me!
It is constantly humbling to be welcomed into the houses of hosts who provide such a generous welcome to pilgrims such as myself. They epitomise the best of the human spirit and meeting them on the Via Francigena has been a hugely humbling and uplifting experience.
In some ways it had been a bit of a frustrating day, at times it felt as though I had been chasing my tail around in circles. But at the end of the day, I’d been grateful for the opportunity to take my foot off the gas and arrive in Jougne at a sensible time of day.
As for tomorrow, who knows what surprises lie in store for me. But one thing is for sure, I couldn’t have wished for better accommodation than chez Mme Godart in Jougne. ‘Every Cloud has a Silver Lining’ as the old saying goes!