A day of crossing Bordeaux

Day 48 of Walking Out of the World

(Previous post: Across the Gironde to the Médoc.)

The walk from the pilgrim refuge in Le Bouscat to the centre of Bordeaux was an easy few kilometres of ambling along increasingly busy suburban streets, stopping for coffee and croissants, and taking in the stimulating sights and sounds of a French city I had not visited before.

It felt like a great achievement to walk into Bordeaux after the journey on foot from Worcester during six weeks of mostly wet weather. Even as I stood in front of the cathedral of Saint André, I could see the storm clouds gathering for more rain as I continued walking out to the south of the city. There was just enough space on the sixth page of my pilgrim credencial to fit the Bordeaux cathedral stamp and I went into the sacristy to ask for the tampon. There was a lady preparing a vase of flowers who told me the sacristan was in one of the side chapels and I should go and ask him.

I walked around the great building which is built in the Angevin Gothic style and I found the sacristan in a side chapel preparing altar linen for the next Mass. He said he would come with me to the sacristy to put the cathedral stamp in my pilgrim record, as he was just returning there. I started to follow and then stopped abruptly. There was an old style wooden confessional in the side chapel and the confessor’s curtain was drawn, so the person could not be seen. What caught my attention was the bourdon leaning against the wall next to the confessional. It was the same one I had seen on the top bunk in that pilgrim refuge in Saintes.

“Come on!” said the sacristan, “I only have a minute and then I have another job to do.”

I followed him quickly. As soon as I had the stamp in my credencial I hurried back through the cathedral to the confessional. The curtain was pulled back and it was empty. The bourdon had disappeared from the place I had seen it leaning against the wall panneling. I looked around the cathedral but could see nobody carrying a mediaeval bourdon. I quickly ran outside into the square and looked around the cafés opposite.

I went back into the cathedral and stood in front of the confessional again. What clues could I find there? Then I remembered a scene in the film Amelie where she finds a man crouched in front of a photo booth. She had become obsessed with a ‘mystery man’ who took photographs of himself in the Paris metro, then tore up the pieces and scattered them on the floor. Had I become similarly obsessed with the identity of this pilgrim ahead of me on the road? Was it the ghost of the Worcester pilgrim or would there be a perfectly natural explanation?

The rest of the day was spent in the suburbs of Bordeaux, walking through endless avenues of car showrooms, hypermarkets and industrial estates, until finally I reached a pilgrim refuge I had been told about at Gradignan: the last stop before the flat Landes. The refuge was empty but the local association made me very welcome and there was a very fine Saint James pilgrim statue outside.

Leaving Bordeaux, I now felt that the Pyrenees and Spain were within reach. There was still a long way to go but Bordeaux seemed like a symbolic stage: the gateway to the last remaining kilometres of France on the Way of Saint James. I had never for a moment thought of giving up – not seriously, although there had been times of doubt in the bad weather – but now I knew that I could make it. I would get to Compostela on foot from Worcester. It was achievable.