Four Brothers in The Ossau Valley, Day 7


‘We’ll take it handy tomorrow,’ they said. ‘Sure it’s our last day’.

‘We won’t kill ourselves tomorrow,’ they said.

‘We’ll do a local loop out of the house and finish early and relax in the afternoon,’ they said.

For me, today’s walk was the most difficult. I’m not sure why. Maybe because my expectations were of a stroll, which it wasn’t. Maybe it was the heat – it got up to 28oC and we were exposed to sunlight for most of the walk. Maybe I’m just tired now after six days of tramping around Pyrenean mountains.

Maybe I’m thinking of home, and my mental place isn’t here anymore but somewhere else – no, I don’t think it’s that.

And I haven’t put to one side the fact that I’ve done very little exercise over the past few weeks what with finishing my book and work, and then for six days in a row I walk 17 or 18km and climb over 1,000m every day. No wonder my legs are complaining. ‘Fuck me,’ I can hear them say, ‘we don’t mind a tough walk every now and again, but almost nothing for a month and then six days of this? Ah, now.’

Anyway it doesn’t matter. Another great day, another great walk. We got out, we went up, we came down, we came home safe, all four safe and sound.

Forest and plain, boulder, peak and valley. A treat. May I never take it for granted. Walking with my brothers.

And now my legs are empty but my heart and soul are full and present. My knees ache, but my eyes are soft and I’m easy in my own skin. My breathing is calm.

It’s late afternoon and John and Pad have gone to the supermarket for the last shop. Der has set the fire. I made tea and now I’m drawing my pen over paper, scratching words out of the air and putting them on the page. Leonard is singing about meeting a woman when he and she were ‘almost young’. The sun cuts a slant across the old wooden floor. I’ll pour the tea.

It’s evening and we’re sitting on the balcony, looking east, enjoying a beery aperitif. A green bird, larger than a blackbird flies into the middle of a tree in our eyeline and latches on to its spinal trunk up near the top. It disappears behind the trunk and we wonder if it’s gone, but no, Pad can just about make out the colour and his beak. John joins us and says it might be the Pic Vert that they get in Nantes. He’s right, it’s the green woodpecker (according to my browser Ecosia). The bird takes off, horizontally, at speed and leaves a great gout of white shit after him and gives a screech and we can see from its colouring and shape and flight that it is a woodpecker. And our wonder at the difference (la differénce) between where we are and where we’re from is confirmed again. As if we needed anymore confirmation than the shadows rising up the side of the mountains before us and the soft clang of bells from grazing animals’ necks wafting up from the valley below.

It’s night and we wander back out on to the balcony for the last time, to sit in the dark and commune with the night sky and the night sounds. The air is balmy, that southern feeling of warmth in the night and the sky is pricked bright with stars whose twinkling light above us is thousands of years old by the time it reaches us.

The walnut tree rustles with a gentle breeze, the odd nut dropping down through the foliage. A bat is doing turns, coming close to the balcony and wheeling away. Aeroplanes pass over to the east and the north, dozens of them, flashing specks, some low, some higher. People heading home.

John and Pad saw satellites earlier and heard owls off in the forest to the south – the one we’d tramped only a few days ago, immersed in its timeless beauty and grandeur. But now the owls have moved on or are hunting in silence. And we only see planes pass above. One star has risen from over the brow of the hill to our left and is inexorably climbing higher above it. The earth turns.

We sip our wine, not saying much, just taking in what nourishment we can at this moment. The wide dark sky; the quiet bruised occasionally by rustling or the hum of a car down in the valley; a scything beam of headlights turning on the hill; the stars, the faint moonlight on a cliff beyond; the balmy air, a faint scent of something still warm after sunlight; our weary legs, our content bellies, our sunned skin, the taste of wine; the soft reflections of our week settling slowly through us, like sediment to the bottom of a long deep glass of shining liquid. Settling down to rest.


Distance covered: 17km; Altitude gained: 1000m; Highest point: 1490m


Over the six days: Distance covered: 98km; Altitude gained: 6586m;

‘Well done, everyone, well done.’