Parlez-vous franglais?

Posted on: 11 Sep 2021

Er, yes, rather a lot of it on a (no longer very) recent visit to Jura. Despite having done French A-level, and actually having lived in France for some 18 months, my French is lamentable now. But we got by, with a mixture of English, French, and German. (The odd word of Italian may have crept in too.)

It felt like time for another short escape, so we headed west. Not as far as France, but Jura, the most recent Kanton to have joined Switzerland, still feels like another country: different language, different landscape, different architecture, an indefinable 'otherness'. When I chose our destination (courtesy of airbnb), I let myself be seduced by the photographs and the description, somewhat overlooking the complication of actually getting there. It was quite an odyssey! - 3 trains and a bus. But eventually, there we were, disembarking in Saulcy, a peaceful Jurassic village  (no, no dinosaurs) in the middle of nowhere. The bus stop was under the eaves of a house with rows of house martin nests. As we stood watching them flying in and out, and hungry nestlings peering hopefully out, the house owner emerged and gently warned us not to stand there. Spotting the piles of guano on the ground underneath, we understood why. It was too early to check in yet, so we went to the local restaurant for a late lunch. They just had what they had, namely cold roast beef with dip and rucola and a little basket of chips, but it was excellent. Then off to find our accommodation, chez Raphael. A long white farmhouse, with hens scratching about outside. No doorbell. In fact, no door. Just a curtain over the doorway. (There was actually a door behind it, it turned out.) 'Hello.....?' I called out. No reply. I peered round the edge of the curtain. No-one to be seen. A bit nonplussed, we walked up and down the road a bit, then sat on a wall opposite. Eventually Raphael appeared, apologising for keeping us waiting. He said he was a bit behind with getting the room ready after working an unexpectedly long night shift at a hospital. (This in addition to his day job as a farmer and his airbnb sideline - a busy man.) He led us through his kitchen and up creaking wooden stairs to the attic. A cosy room, and a characterful old house - just the sort of place I love. A quick tour of the kitchen facilities, a bit of rucksack repacking, and we set off on our first exploration.

Day one: 'Not all angels have wings'.

By now it was late afternoon, and we should probably have been a bit less ambitious - especially as we immediately took the wrong track, ended up in a field with no way out, and wasted some time backtracking. But it was a lovely sunny day, we had a plan, and there seemed no reason not to keep to it. We saved some time by taking the road (a very quiet one) rather than the path to Bollement, where we turned  off onto another long-distance trail, no. 31, the 'Chemin du Jura.' This section of it followed the river at the bottom of the valley, through woodland, past a lake, the 'Étang de Bollement' and the remnants of a former industrial past, a sawmill and a huge, rusting iron wheel. It was a bit boggy in places after recent rain, but the sun filtered pleasantly down through the trees, and I was enjoying it. We planned to walk as far as Combe Tabeillon, then take a steep path up the wooded hillside back to Saulcy. Then out of nowhere, it clouded over, the sunshine was gone, and the first ominous rumbles of thunder growled in the distance. I hoped it would hold off until we got back...... but no, the rumbles were getting louder, and the first spots of rain began to fall. On went the jackets. Heavier and heavier came the rain, nearer and nearer the thunder, now with flashes of lightning too. Though it felt 'relatively' safe down here, with no single large trees to attract a strike, I was nervous. We briefly took shelter under a dense overhang of foliage, but it seemed pointless, it was clear we were going to get wet, so we speed-walked on, looking for a signpost to our path back. It came eventually, but so did the deluge. One of the other signposts indicated there was a hut 2 minutes away in the opposite direction, so we made a run for it. The hut, a simple wooden shed open on one side, was occupied by a group of people having a party, the smoking remains of their abandoned barbecue outside. We piled in, and retreated to a back corner, watching the dense curtain of rain outside. The party sat round the  table, playing cards, and eventually seemed to have adopted us as part of the group, offering us a beer and commiserations on our bad luck with the weather. Finally, after about an hour, we decided to chance it, and with jovial good wishes from our rescuers, we set out into the still-falling rain, paddling our way back to the signposts, and the path to Saulcy. Ominously, It looked more like a river than a path, and soon proved totally impassable.

 Nothing for it, we retreated back down, and considered what to do now. With no other path up, it seemed the only choice was to walk all the way to Glovelier, where we had got off the train a few hours earlier, and hope there was still a bus to get us back to Saulcy. It was a good clear track, the rain had temporarily stopped, and we walked fast, the gentle stream that had accompnied us before now a churning torrent the colour of hot chocolate. Arriving in Glovelier at last, we checked the timetable at a bus stop, and our fears were confirmed: the last bus had already gone. My heart sank at the prospect of a long trudge up a pavement-less road, competing with speeding traffic, but once again, a kind stranger came to our rescue. Glovelier didn't seem like a big enough place to have a taxi firm, but Josef knocked at random on the door of a garage to ask. I didn't think anyone would be there, but a man appeared, and after a brief conversation in a garbled mix of languages, he offered to drive us to Saulcy himself. We were doubly grateful for the lift as the rain came lashing down again. He turned out to know our host, who was one of his clients, and drove us unerringly to the door. He didn't even want any payment for his impromptu taxi service, but we insisted. As I said to Josef, not all angels have wings: some of them come in the improbable guise of balding middle-aged men in black tee shirts.

Day 2: Cows, snails, and leeches. And flies.

After a stormy night, the sun was back, and more of the 'Chemin du Jura' was on the plan. Fortified by the generous breakfast Raphael had left for us, we set off again for Bollement, and found our way to the sleepy little station there, catching the train to Glovelier this time - one of those intriguingly convoluted lines the Swiss are so good at. A steep uphill hike out of Glovelier brought us out on a road, and then the next section of our trail, at first along a ridge with a mildly disquieting steep drop along one side, then threading its way (sometimes not as clearly-defined as I had expected) through fields and woods. And where there were fields, there were cows. I'm not unduly scared of cows, they are something of a fact of life in Switzerland, but I was reminded of a discussion I'd read recently on the Spine Race site, on how best to deal with them. One person, a farmer, had summed it up very succinctly: 'Just be as boring as possible.' So on encountering bovine company, I walked along quasi-ignoring them and  intoning in a flat monotone "Hello cows,  I'm very very boring, not interesting at all......." It seemed to work, they barely gave me a glance! From Sceut, the way was much easier, and took us along clear tracks to St Brais, with its two wind turbines crowning the hillside above the village.