DAY 68 – MOUTHIER-HAUTE-PIERRE TO PONTARLIER

There was still no sign of anyone running the hotel this morning, and therefore no chance of getting breakfast, so we returned to the epicerie for coffee and croissants. Stuart then left us to walk up over the hill into the adjacent valley where the railway will take him to Dijon to pick up the TGV back to Paris and then Eurostar onwards to London. We were sad to see him go, but really pleased that he’d made such a big effort to join us and share our experiences.

Today we spent the morning climbing up along the sides of the Gorges de Noialles above Mouthier, walking in the shade of the trees, with a precipitous drop straight down to the tumbling river far below and an occasional glimpse of the limestone crags far above. It was spectacular!

At the top of the gorge there is a hydroelectric dam, and just above that the the main source of the river tumbles out of a cave in the rocks. All around, and on the way up, EDF has erected warning signs about the dangers of going into the water and being careful on the path. Despite all the warnings, we saw many more walkers today – probably more than on the whole walk so far – so this area is evidently heavily used for recreation. One of the walkers we met described it as the eighth wonder of the world, and we could understand why.

After a short stop for water and orange juice at the cafe near the dam we walked on to find somewhere we could sit to eat our filled rolls and oranges. We found a nice mossy bank under some trees with a view across the valley. The guidebook suggested we go up over a hill and back down, but we decided to stay on the road as we still had a long way to go. We later realised, looking back at the view, that by doing so we’d missed a chapel perched on top of the hill, but it was probably closed anyway!

Leaving behind the village of Ouhans, we then faced a fairly steep climb of 300 metres to traverse the ridge and reach a plateau beyond. Looking back we could see the limestone cliffs at the top of the gorge, and views down into other valleys.

On the way up we came upon a well hidden hunting cabin with a wonderful view. The veranda was stocked with comfortable chairs, so we took a rest, admired the view, and made sure to put the chairs back as we found them. We hope the owner didn’t mind our brief intrusion.

As we carried on upwards through the trees, all around us thunderstorms were gathering, and we could hear the rumble of thunder in the distance. Unfortunately one of the storms caught up with us part way through the area of forest around the top of the hillside. The rain bucketed down, with large hailstones, and the thunder crashed. We scrambled to get into waterproofs and decided to huddle under some of the smaller trees, reckoning that statistically it was more likely any lightening strikes would hit the bigger more prominent trees. We threw our metal walking poles on the ground away from us to feel a bit safer.

The greyness in the background is teeming rain!

Fortunately the storm only lasted about 20 minutes and the conifers provided pretty good shelter so we didn’t get soaked through. Of course the path was then very wet, running little rivers of water in places and slippery with mud, so we had to be careful as we pressed on up the hill and descended a short way through forest the other side.

Not long afterwards we were clear of forest and out onto a large rolling plateau – not a place to get caught out in a thunderstorm, so we’d been relatively lucky with our timing. There would have been nowhere to take shelter had we been quicker and out on the plateau when the storm hit.

As we crossed the plateau we could see thunderstorms gathering around us again, but fortunately they were blown away from us by the wind and we were able just to enjoy the dramatic skies. Eventually we descended into the Doubs valley in which Pontarlier, our day’s destination, is located. The Doubs is the same river as that at Besancon. The pastures of cattle continued right up to the edge of a large commercial zone spread across the valley in front of us.

As is often the way, we get a first glimpse of our destination and fool ourselves that we’re nearly there, when in fact we still have many kilometres to cover. Today was one of those. We first passed through the satellite village of Vuillecin, where the church was open but locked up against the likes of us going inside. Why bother?

Tom very irritated by the padlocked gates keeping us out!

We then had a long trudge along busy roads to get to Pontalier itself. Meanwhile, the storm clouds were gathering again, and this time we did get soaked as there was wind blowing the rain into our right shoulders. And rain trickling down our legs into our boots and seeping upwards into our shorts….not much fun, especially at this stage of the day.

The entrance gate to the centre of Pontarlier is quite impressive, even in the rain….and our accommodation at the youth hostel was just around the corner, so handy for going into the centre to find some supper once we’d showered and changed into clean dry clothes. We were relieved to be given a room on the back away from traffic noise and the rampaging children over-excited about being away from home!

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly walking up through the Gorges de Noialles, which was just wonderful. The most spectacular landscape we’ve experienced so far.

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