Next day I made my way past abandoned fruit farms and market gardens towards the Rhône Canal. The going was easy, but I found it exhausting in the heat. I was not yet trail-hardened. By the canal I noticed thousands of snails (I don't think these are the edible sort) clinging to the sturdier canal-side plants:
It was later explained to me that they were waiting for the rain (but I'm still not sure why they were waiting like this). I think they must have had a long wait... Further along the canal, I came across this useful signpost. Signposts like this were rare along the Way, so I looked at it for quite a long time, then took a photograph of it. You can see that the altitude at this point was only 18 m:
Further on still, I saw a solitary vine harvester at work in a vineyard which was at a lower elevation than the canal path. Then the path swung away from the canal through an area of gentle, low hills covered in orchards and vines. It was wholly delightful. I feasted on peaches and plums and fat, black grapes until my hands turned purple and sticky. Finally I rested for what must have been nearly an hour in an oak tree's shade at the corner of a wood.
It wasn't very far from here to Vauvert - which I reached down sunken, sandy lanes lined with umbrella and Scots pines and cypress trees. The 1st thing I did on arrival at Place Gambetta was drink a well-earned beer (I kept taking sips then scratching my ankles - there had been plenty of biting insects that afternoon too). Here's a photo of the pilgrim accommodation. It had once been a château and now was a school. Not bad, eh?
I spent a while chatting to the 2 old ladies on the wall until the end of the school day when the schoolchildren left and we were allowed in. 3 more pilgrims had turned up by then - Céline, a Canadian nurse; Henri, a French retiree, and his dog; and Reiner, the German, my pizza-sharing friend of the previous night.
We were greeted by Francis Sabatier, the hospitalier, who produced some camp beds which we set up at the back of the school hall. There was also a crude shower and a small kitchen back there. Francis had just explained that today was a special School Open Day, when the doors opened and the hall suddenly swarmed with schoolchildren again - plus their parents and teachers. Reiner, who had privately bagged the shower first, carried on undressing completely unfazed...
Later we took a trip to the supermarket and I made a roux sauce with butter, flour and milk, then added ham, cheese and garlic, and this we ate with pasta and a bottle of red wine. I must say it tasted absolutely delicious for we were all utterly ravenous. I took this photo of my 3 pilgrim friends at the end of the meal. Reiner is in the centre (fully clothed):