Thursday, 6 August 2009

The descent to Thann

Down and down

We survived the night and were pleasantly surprised by the quality of breakfast available; much more than the usual bread and jam. We made hay whilst we could. Outside the weather didn't look good. Visibility was nothing and it looked like a climb up to the actual summit of Grand Ballon would be a waste of time this morning.

Unfortunately the heating system had been so pathetic during the night that our boots were still damp from the night before. This was going to prove a sore point as we had a long day in front of us.

Our first job was to find the GR5 trail. This we failed to do for the first 40 minutes so we just followed the road down. Down was to be our operative word today as we would descend more than a 1000m to Thann. Eventually as we walked in the drizzle down the hairpin bends we stumbled across the GR5 trail. We saw one couple as we joined the trail here and we saw a small group of hikers a little bit further down and that turned out to be the only people we saw on the trail all day. They must all be fair-weather hikers around here!

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Our descent criss-crosssed the road a few times and went through a few woods before we broke out at a junction. It was here that we visited a small chapel to the fallen of the Great War. Still we descended, usually through woods, but with the occaisonal view across the valleys beyond. sometime we caught a glimpse of the Rhinelands in the distance. It was never quite clear ebough to catch sight of the distance Black Forest, never mind the Alps.

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We reached Hartmannswillerkopf which is a National Necropole dedicated to a battles in the Great War. It's museum was closed for lunch when we arrived so we walked around and then sat down in the sun for some bread and cheese and apple. The weather had improved a lot as we descended. We'd left the rain and mist behind and it was to get warmer and warmer has we got down further into the valleys.

As we sat here I texted around to find out what train times we had from Thann so that we could get back to Paris this evening. It seems we had a train just after 4pm so that would be our aim. Of course we didn't know how far Thann was or how long it would take ... but it seemed a reasonable objective.

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After lunch we left the Necropole and started on the lane going downhill. Unfortunately the GR soon left the road and started to make it;s way uphill! Surely some mistake. This would happen periodically during the afternoon as we would be faced with uphill sections at various points. At one place the trail took us by a ruined castle which we took a few moments to explore and at another the trail took us up over the top of a hill, with a Ferme-Auberge at the top, when it seemed it could just have easily have gone around.

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But generally the sensation was down. We kept a good pace going as we wanted to catch that train so it was heads down and quick march. As we came to the final stretch the trail remained level on a contour for several miles. The forest seemed endless and then suddenly a viewpoint appeared. We scrambled out onto the rocks. The valley still seemed a long way below.

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Eventually the trail started to descend steeply through the forest. My knees were weak and beginning to hurt. The trail was becoming confused as it crossed many other more local trails, until in fact we lost the GR5 altogether and took a smaller track which we thought was leading down into the valley. Then we lost this track too; I don't mean we were blithely walking through the woods; I mean there were so many trails that it became impossible to figure out which was which. We just kept going down until eventually we popped out of the woods onto what seemed an old railbed which had been paved into a cycle path. It was next to a stream and we turned keft to follow the stream and the old railway into the small town of Thann.

Unbelievably it was a few minutes before 4pm so we just had time to quickly haste through town to the railway station. The little sprinter train duly arrived on time and we enjoyed the half an hour trip to Mulhouse. By this time I was walking in my stockinged feet. They hurt!

In Mulhouse we were shocked to discover that it waas two hours until the next Paris train. Eeven worse was that this train was fully booked and that we'd have to get the one after. Even changing trains somewhere didn't help. The clerk at SNCF was very helpful as he tried to find a way for us to get to Paris; but we still had a long wait.

So first of all we found a bar in the town centre where we could have a couple of beers and watch the end of today's stage in the Tour. After that we found a restaurant overlooking the high street and had a simple steak frites. We only just made it back to the station in time where we jumped the train for the three trip back to Paris. I think we must have crashed out when we arrived back in Paris as I can't remember anything about it!