Sunday 5 October.
It was a day of ups and downs. From one of the best walks with have ever down, to getting lost and then caught in a thunder storm. When we started off at 7:30 am after a quick breakfast the weather was perfect, we didn't have the early mist of yesterday and it was milder. There were two options a minor road route in bad weather or the little shorter waymarked trail to the Source of the Loue through the gorge. With the weather being so good over the past week we obviously chose the off-road option. Cicerone wanted us to go along the D47 for 1.5 km to pick up the trail into he gorge but our landlady last bight told us to take the marked route that led to the river just at her house.
We followed her advise and the lane took us down to the lower part of Mouthier which straddled the river Loue. A tarred footpath then ran parallel with the river. The route was marked out for a race today, I wasn't sure if it was running or cycling. Yesterday we saw them setting up the start in Ornans. We hoped that if they were heading the same way as us that we would be clear before they arrived. I didn't fancy having to dodge out the way of a hundred runners or cyclists coming along the track. After a short distance our fears were relieved when we turned on to a narrow path while the race went straight.
After a quite long and steep climb we now started to drop in altitude into a gorge with steep rocky cliffs towering above us. This was the source of another river Le Pontot and this was where we joined the Cicerone track that had come down from the road. From that point we crossed a couple of footbridges and the track climbed up with the river Loue below to our left. There was a lot of climbing but also stretches where it levelled out allowing us to catch our breaths.
The water came over the rocks in three or four separate curtains, we encountered it when came round a bend and it took our breath away. The river was still quite wide and a lot of water was flowing down, I couldn't under stand so much water if we were approaching the source. The answer was at the top, the waters were dammed and a barrage was constructed to generate electricity. This was the big disappointment at the end, the generating into was a large monstrosity, a huge concrete block which spoilt the whole beauty of such a wondrous place. What was more annoying was the statement on one of the information panels:
"An exceptional Natural Heritage. The Source of the Loue and the Nouailles Gorges are part of a listed site that belongs to the Nature2000European network for the preservation of Europe's natural environment and its remarkable species."
They aren't achieving there goals if they allow such eyesores to be constructed.
Further up the track there was a carpark and a restaurant/ shop. It was a chalet type building and more in keeping with the surroundings. We had a break there for our cup,of coffee and biscuit. It had taken us just over 2 hours to reach the carpark and all along the route the direction boards told us how far to go in hours and minutes. From the start at Moutier it said 2 hours, so we weren't far out.
After leaving the carpark it was along a minor road to rejoin the other option from Mouthier. They routes met just outside the village of Ouhans, we could see the church tower in the centre of the village but behind us on top of a hill on the outskirts was a pretty chapel with pointed spires.
We crossed a main road and then turned on to a lane that climbed up and up from the road below. We were following VF waymarks and also trying to correlate these with the guide book's directions . We were quite successful until it said to take a grassy track to the right when the road bends left. The road did turn left and there was a grassy track, very overgrown, but the waymarks seemed to indicate to carry on straight along the road. We continued on the road looking for another left hand bend, I was sure we had gone wrong and would have to backtrack when we came to a T-junction. Looking lost was a young chap who was also doing the Via Francigena but from Rome to Canterbury. As we were going in opposite directions on the same route we were able to help,each other. He showed us the grassy track he had come down and there was a waymark while we directed him to the way we had just come. His name was Matteo Dallavalle, he is Italian and comes from Asola near Milan. He started at the same time as us but he is over halfway while we have still to get there.
We took the path he had come down and this led us to a lay-by on the very busy D57. It should have been plain sailing now with a straight path through woods and over fields for about another 5 km to Vuillecin where we planned to have lunch. We reached a minor road walked along it for a short distance and took a left turn. Here we had problems, there was immediately a fork and the book said go right whereas the VF arrows pointed left. We assumed that the fork referred to in the book was further on and went left. This took us through woods, over fields, up hill and down dale and the rain came on. We had put our rain jackets on earlier and the covers over our rucksacks when it started spitting but now there was thunder and lightning and lashing rain. There was no sign of the village Vuillecin or any other habitation. We came to a wooden chalet in near a minor road, it was all locked up but it had a covered veranda where we could shelter. At first it was just for a break from the rain but then decided to have lunch. The rain eased and the sky seemed to be clearing but then there was another flash of lightning, a clap of thunder and the rain came down in torrents.
After lunch, hard boiled eggs, goats cheese and bread, an apple and coffee, we felt refreshed and ready to continue. I had assumed and hoped that the VF trail by-passed Vuillecin and was going directly to Pontarlier. We headed up the minor road and a car came along K flagged him down and asked for the way to Pontarlier. He said straight on down the hill and turn left at the bottom, about 4 km. Very happy now we strode lid could see a big town in the distance but at the bottom of the hill the left turn went nowhere whereas going right was indicated by the VF arrow. We kept to the waymarks and in a short distance came to some houses, imagine our surprise and dismay when the entrance sign said 'Vuillecin' where we should have been about an hour previously.
Now we were on track and followed the Cicerone guide again. It was 5 km to Pontarlier which we could see clearly now. It was a slog, we were very tired and the rain was coming on again. We crossed the busy D57 that we had met at the lay-by hours ago and entered the outskirts of outskirts of Pontarlier. A short distance on a sign pointed to an industrial area and a Formula 1 Hotel. It was a bit naughty but we said 'to hell' with the expensive hotel was had booked let's go there. There was no problem getting a room and once in there off came our wet gear and it was straight to the shower. It felt wonderful and got the circulation going and the blood pumping.
The WiFi was first class again and I posted two day's blogs, downloaded two day's papers and Moira checked out hotels for tomorrow night. With being in an Industrial estate there wasn't a lot of choice for eating. We headed for the MacDonald's which was close by. There was a Chinese restaurant next to MacDonald's and we thought that would be better. We checked the menu and they wanted €17:70 each for the buffet. At that price and with drinks it would end up close to €50 and we would be gorging ourselves to get our money's worth. We settled on a Big Mac, fries and a cool drink. It was OK.
As we were heading back to the hotel it was still spotting a bit with rain but the sky was beginning to look clearer. When we got back Moira checked the forecast on the Internet and it says tomorrow will be fine and dry. In our room we lay back on the bed and caught up with a couple of day's news in the papers. I got this week's 'Now Show' on the catch-up radio then watched an old TV comedy on YouTube.
Tomorrow we reach Switzerland. We have been gaining height steadily over the last few days and are at 800m in altitude. Over the border we continue up and get to our first Swiss 'Munro' (a Scottish mountain over 3000ft or 900m), but when we get to the Great St. Bernard's Pass it is more than double that in height.