Murat-sur-Vebre - La Salvetat-sur-Agout
7:30 start from Murat in the mist. It had rained during the night and the whole world was wet. Grass laden with dewdrops, newly unfolded ferns, moss-covered stone walls.
We missed a trail marker and went a short way up a dirt road before realising and turning back. Then, just before reaching Lac du Laouzas, we came across a fallen tree trunk over the path. Followed by a whole tree, complete with foliage. We scrambled through that, emerging on the other side wet and dirty, with a crack in the shell on my backpack and minus a pair of sunglasses (later retrieved), but when we saw yet another fallen tree ahead we decided to cut across a clearing that had been logged (hence the fallen trees) and down to the road. It turned out we had to stay on the road as far as the next village, Villelongue, because a notice at the trailhead advised us that the trail along the lakeside was closed due to high water.
After lunching at a roadside picnic spot we came to Villelongue and picked up the GR653 again, through woods and farmers' fields to Salvetat.
The helpful staff at the Office du Tourisme gave us the key to the municipal pilgrim hostel. For only ten euros we have a private room for three in the keep of the village castle, with a kitchen and bathroom shared among seven guests. Possibly the best gîte yet, and definitely the cheapest! Prices in France tend to be higher: we have paid up to €16 for a bunk in a crowded dormitory. And the price doubles if you order a meal, available in some of the gîtes, but only in the form of something pre-cooked and left in the fridge for you to heat up. We have been chosing to buy our own groceries and use the kitchen facilities, except in Servies, where we ordered dinner to save ourselves the trouble of carting groceries up the mountain. Here in Salvetat, we find a small supermarket and purchase some ready-made soup to heat up and the makings of a salad, as well as a pan brioche for our breakfast and cheese and fruit for the next day's lunch. The patisserie across the street provides an individual serving-sized quiche, something I don't eat at home but find very handy for picnics on the trail in France. We enjoy our dinner in the company of the other four guests at the hostel, all French, like practically all the pilgrims we have been meeting on the Via Tolosana.