Day 33 – Les Miserables

Today’s plan was to rise at 5.30 and walk 39km to Chateauvillain. It failed but (spoiler alert) the day ended well. We set off at 6.10 and crossed town heading into the surrounding chalk hills. At the summit I realised my precious walking pole was still in the hotel so I had to nip back to collect it, adding 6.5km over steep gradients to the day’s walk. But actually it didn’t matter because the day’s plan had already unraveled. Neither of us was up for the 39km. We enjoyed the beautiful woodland walk and after 17km we descended into Clairvaux to book into a suitable hotel.

Clairvaux is more abbey than town. The abbey is so old it was home to St Bernard. It is a huge sprawling site and was a prosperous enterprise when the French Revolution struck. From then onwards it served as a prison. Today there is a high security prison in new buildings while the ancient abbey and prison buildings are accessible on a guided tour.

So we arrived in Clairvaux and fell into the bar. After some refreshments, Paul called the Abbey hotel but it was full. Next the B&B but that too was full. I pulled out my accommodation list and discovered the Fraternity of St Bernard, a group of sisters who run a house opposite the abbey to accommodate visitors to inmates. They will also accommodate and feed pilgrims, on a donation basis. We made the arrangements and fell gratefully onto our beds, exhausted.

In the afternoon we joined a guided tour of the abbey (but not the high security prison). It was fascinating to learn about the abbey and how it became a prison. The church was demolished and the stones used to build the three high walls. It was the inspiration behind Victor Hugo’s hit musical “Les Miserables”. Claude Gueux was jailed for a trivial misdemeanour amidst a life of poverty and then beheaded in 1831 for killing a warden who separated him from his cell mate. Claude Gueux became Jean Valjean and the rest is history. Millions have been spent restoring parts of the complex but the task is impossibly big and the Government has announced the closure of the prison in 2022. No one knows what will happen to this historic site after that. Perhaps a Les Mis theme park with nightly performances?

Amazingly two more pilgrims arrived here and we all ate together. One is Korean and left Canterbury on 16 June (10 days after us). The other is walking from his home in Poland to Compostela.

Our room has a great view over the complex. We can see the huge walls and watch towers and I expect them to switch on the floodlights after dark. It’s ultra secure but we’ll probably lock the windows tonight.

Tomorrow’s plan is the continuation of today’s plan.

Last night’s hotel in Bar Sur Aube, a bit smelly

Bar Sur Aube this morning

We found a hang glider parked in the woods. Then saw this launch pad

The prison exercise yard

The restored basement now used for 3 days every September for a concert

The benches around the exercise yard

Dinner this evening with the sisters

The high security prison

12 comments on “Day 33 – Les Miserables

  1. I’ll be very disappointed in you if you didn’t sing at least one verse from the show dad. Surely i’ve taught you something in the last 24 years!!!

    • I’ll leave that to you. If I’d started singing the wardens would have had to release all the prisoners for their own sanity

  2. Leaving your pole behind once is unfortunate, leaving it behind twice is…Alzheimer’s?

    • It’s quite easy at 6am but I’m now tying it to my pack so no more repeats. Unless I forget to tie it of course

  3. Roger Clarkson

    Audi are using the Steven Sondheim song “Send in the Clowns” in their latest adverts. Why? Is it a comment on Brexit? Have you come across anyone in France who is bothered by Brexit? I suppose once we leave there will be more American cars again. It’s something to think about as you stroll along 🙂

    • My French isn’t good enough to discuss Brexit. I’m happy enough to order a croissant!

  4. Just to let you know that I look forward to reading your blog every day as you are having a fabulous adventure and it is pure escapism for those of us still on the work treadmill😎👌👍

  5. Enjoyed the reference to and history of Les Mis today, Tim, as I just saw the show for the umpteenth time a couple weeks ago.Did you “hear the people sing, singing the songs of angry men”? 🙂 With the distances you’re walking, I can’t fathom how someone could have left Canterbury 10 days after you and be in the same place now. Is he flying part way?

    • Hi DJ it was a surprise to stumble on a piece of Les Miserables history and to see the wretched conditions that the prisoners had to endure. The Korean man is speeding. We walked down the coast to Wissant which cost us 2 days and we’ve taken 3 rest days. He is walking consistently further every day. We decided to walk to Mormant in 2 days but he was here yesterday, just one day. He has a flight home from Paris on 31 Aug. It’s a Korean thing. I saw a dehydrated Korean girl almost collapse into a bar near Tricastela doing similar distances. Parental pressure. Flight deadlines etc.

      • So sad to make such an amazing journey into merely a goal to achieve a destination. Oh well, to each pilgrim his own, right? We are so fortunately to have the time to truly enjoy the journey, and not just strive for the destination — although I know to say “enjoy” is stretching it a bit for you right now! Stay hydrated, avoid thunderstorms and looks for the joy and beauty, in spite of the heat and bad food!

      • Thanks DJ it always good when you remind me of why I’m here

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