For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Friday, 18 January 2008

Saint-Jean

I had now walked 750 km from Le Puy and was in urgent need of another rest day to take stock before attempting the crossing of the Pyrenees. And what finer place to spend it in than Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (Donibarne Garazi in Basque) which means "Saint John-at-the-Foot-of-the-Pass". It's a border town with a population of 1400 on the river Nive. You enter via the famous Porte Saint-Jacques (see photo) at the top of the steep, cobbled Rue de la Citadelle. The ramparts of the old citadel or fortress loom above. It's a pretty little town, full of many examples of traditional Basque-style houses with their balconies and overhanging roofs.

From here there's a choice of 2 routes to Roncesvalles. In very bad weather I suppose it's safest to follow the road route along the valley of the river Valcarlos. But for the true pilgrim there really is no choice. It has to be the route Napoleon, a high route up to the Col de Bentarte used by shepherds and pilgrims since time immemorial. So at 9 am on 16 November I set off, rested and eager, through the Porte d'Espagne, and left Saint-Jean behind me. It was a bright, cold, sunny morning, with just a hint of mist...

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