Catherine is on the Camino. Follow her blog entries:
Day 1 Le Puy to Saint-Privat d Allier
Easy journey here. Air Transat is getting more and more mean. The meal was a wrap and they no longer provide a blanket but not to worry.The TGV to Lyon was direct from CDG and exactly on time in Lyon and Chris met me and we drove to Le Puy.
We had some time to visit the Cathedral, built on an ancient Celtic site of worship and then on the ruins of a Roman temple. The oldest cross nave is 11th century with the perfect Roman arches . Later a gothic bell tower was added. A great place to walk around, narrow streets and no traffic and attractive buildings at every turn.
We got started a bit late as I slept in. Bought bread and cheese and started out across the fields Once I got used to the signage it is very easy. The French use the red and white bars that one sees all over Europe. They are small but if one keeps a look out they are easily seen, a white right angle below means turn. At first I missed the ubiquitous yellow arrows that I got used to in Spain but not for very long.
We met an elderly Austrian walking across a wooden bicycle. Yes it was made of wood. He claimed it was a copy of one designed in 1779. It had steel rimmed wheels and he claimed it could be ridden downhill as it had brakes and had a top speed of -àkm/hour. I did not believe a word of it except he did manage to catch up at times and he claimed to have started on the Camino in Austria.
The countryside is beautiful, rolling hills, everything very green except the fields ripe barley and wheat and the dep blue of the ubiquitous corn flowers. We took an alternative route at the suggestion of a friend of Le Chemin that took us through Bains which had a beautiful public garden full of roses and lavender which prooved to be the perfect lunch stop It is very hot so I had to take many breaks and did not reach the gite in the pretty village of till – pm Apparently the number of pilgrims is down this summer and noone knows why. The whole village was dead by 8.30.
Day 2 Saint-Privat to Sauges
This was apparently the toughest day of the walk and with temperatures of 33° it was not easy. The route took us up and over one range of hills and own into a valley where I stopped for coffee. I walked all morning with a man from Switzerland. He was an excellent compnanion down the really steep and slippery kilometer to the coffee break Then it was across the river on a really pretty iron bridge designed by Eiffel and then ” hours of constant up, no let up. The map showed é public taps whuch were definitely life-savers provided by the Commune in tiny hamlets that consist of about 2 houses and a farm In the afternoon we came out onto a high ridge with great views on both sides and some shade. The last half hour was a steep downhill into Sauges. As I entered the town I saw a group of young people unsaddling their horses and putting them out in a paddock . Perhaps next time I will do the Camino on horseback. I am staying in a school that becomes a gite for pilgrims in the summer. It is super clean and comfortable. Just right after a long, tough day.
Day 3 Sauges to Les Sauvages
Another tough day but much easier than yesterday. The first cloud of the walk arrived in the sky at noon and by 2 it was quite overcast and much cooler. I am at a marvellous auberge at about 900m. There is absolutely nothing within miles except this converted barn system that can sleep 100 peole in dormatories and feed them too. It was done by a cooperative of 10 farmers who saw the oportunity to make jobs and bring money to the district. It is 20 km from Sauge which since most of the way was rolling hills is a good days walk . There is no gite close and the location is beautiful. We have met one Montrealer and 1 Swiss and one German, everyone else is French and the language of the Camino is French. I find this hard work at the end of a long day.
We are in the middle of haying. I think it is late because of the huge amount of rain France has had so with the current heat wave everyone is working flat out. Today was a day for dodging tractors loaded with huge, circular bales and waiting for cows who clearly have right-of-way over pilgrims. The smallest Pilgrim is a 2 kilo dog with a young girl who is camping. It reminded me of Bella. It is time for dinner now, so will continue tomorrow if I find a computer, it is too hard to blog on a cell phone. Bye from beautiful France.
Day 4 Les Sauvages to Aumont Aubrac
Wonderful day sunny but not quite so hot. Started at 7.15 in a thick mist. The countryside was beautiful and only one town annd 3 small villages all day. This is a sparcely populated part of France. Much of the day I was totally alone on the trail with no one to follow so I had to be careful not to miss a sign. The trails were easy on the feet, a fine white gravel, apart from in the villages/ The first coffee stop was in a 10-house village where you paid whatever and all the money was going to a local charity. There are still spring flowers on the trail , a sign that all the Massif is quite high, lots of foxgloves still blooming with bees climbing up inside to get the nectar. No run-ins with cows but lots in the fields, large and chestnut-coloured and very peaceful. No wonder the local cheese is so good . I walked 27 kms and got in at 3:30.
I am in the small town of Aumont Aubrac . The main square is dominated by Le Mairie with the tricoleur tied with a black ribbon in mourning for Nice. The fountain in front is topped by a statue of Gevaudon, a man-wolf creature which supposedly terrified the local region. He features in all the local history.
There is a family of Germans at the Gite, parents one boy and 3 girls all of whom speak perfect English. I have decided to be Canadian after Brexit which is such embaressment. Had dinner with a nice French family with 2 kids all walking about 20 km a day, the girl is only 10, and a keen gymnast. I am lucky to have found an Internet cafe open, Thursday night is entertainment night here so he is open late, however he is clearly anxious to leave . And so to bed.
Day 5 Nasbinal
I am writing this with a laptop in the Tourist office. This is a good service for people who do not travel with a laptop which would be far too heavy for the trail. The weather has broken and we were woken up in the night with thunder. It was raining when I left at 7:30 but it had stopped by 10:00. Thunder was rolling around but there was only sheet lightening. Nothing to worry about. Thick clouds were around all day but no more rain. It vas a perfect day for walking, despite being slightly longer than yesterday I was in an hour earlier because I was not forced to take frequent breaks. Most of the day was on open grass land not unlike the Pennines, stone walls and uneven trails. However we can tell we are in a more southerly clime, no sheep only dairy cows in the fields, It really is a pretty part of the world. I walk alone as I can keep my own pace but I am known among the pilgrims as the Canadian and surely behind my back as the old lady and marked by the knee brace and the Tilly hat. The effect of climate on garden flowers is surprising: the roses are well ahead of Montréal but one garden high up still had peonies in bloom.
I am off to have a pre-dinner drink with the family of 6 Germans, I think they hitch- hiked to their car, as the younger ones were not interested in walking in the rain. I hope tomorrow will be cool and dry, only 18 kms.
Day 6 Nasbinal to Saint-Chaly
The highlight of the day was the town of Aubrac exactly haf way along the route and an important stop-over for pilgrims. It was cold and windy when I arrived and my companion was carrying my jacket and he was way back on the trail. A French couple that we had eaten dinner with the previous night showed up in the square and loaned me a red coat which I returned at the end of the day. Somehow that exemplifies for me the spirit of Le Chemin. Once again it the the people one meets that really is the most important part of the Camino experience.
I walked from Aubrac to Saint Chely with an anesthesiologist originally from Haiti who went to the University of Bordeaux and now practices in Paris It was a very interesting talk about the attitude of the French to immigrants and a comparison with Montreal where his sister lives so he visits often Back to Aubrac.
There is a fortified monastery on the edge of town built to protect pilgrims from roving bands of brigands. Several towns have a tour des Anglais, we have heard several unlikely stories of the origin of this name but the one that is most credable is that during the hundred years war bands of English mercenaries were left behind or just went AWOL from the English army; probably they decided that they were better off in France where the weather is better, so they wandered South till they fetched up here and probably lived off thieving from the pilgrims. Why they would have built towers I have no idea.
Day 7 Saint Chaly to Saint Come
The best day so far. This really is a most beautiful part of the world. Tonight I am staying in a covent just outside of Saint Come. The nuns are really organized, the first place that we have been that accepts Master Card and a nice library with a working computer. Usually I use the Tourist Office.
I had dinner with a woman from Korea who is a bit lonely as she does not speak any French. She is on the trail because she likes long walks and that is not possible in Korea. She is an English teacher but this is her third visit to France. She was raised in Confusanism as most Koreans are but she is thinking of becoming a Catholic. She likes the idea of Christianity and the Protestant churches in Korea are too noisy! After supper we were talking in the courtyard and she said that if she goes to heaven it will be just like this place.
The village is really old, there are two Romanesqe churches – the larger has a twisted spire that was added in the 16 century to a 13 century church and the small chapel is 11th century. I assume the existence of the villages is based on the Camino.
Saint Como is really pretty, the nicest so far. Almost nothing out of place with narrow walking streets that twist and turn and every turn brings another interesting building.
I took lots of photos. Everywhere there are hydrangas in bloom, deep pinks and deep blues. just just sitting in the convent garden with the hills all around is a pleasure. Today was about 18 kms, up and down but not much that was steep The most memorable parts were walking through a chesnut forest with the trail carpeted with the dead pollinating flowers and tiny bright green spiky chesnuts on the branches like minature hedgehogs; there was also a few kms along a ridge with a 360° view that was spectacular. The river Lot, yes you can pronounce the T, drains the Massif on this side so as we came down the valley we crossed the river and its tributaries several times. Time for Compline outdoors so will log off.
Another 18 kms tomorrow.
Day 8 Saint Come to Estaing
Tonight I am in the family home of Valerie Giscard d Estaing.
I started off over the Pilgrims Bridge and later passed through the outskirts of Espalion.
I had an over-long description of a twelfth centuary church called the church of the Persian but there was no satisfactory explanation of the
name, then a beautiful several kilometers beside the River Lot that included a section of the old town overhanging the river, a Roman Bridge and an excellent coffee beside a petonque game. The walk from Espaillon was long and difficult. Estaing is a special tourist destination right on the shores of the Lot.
The huge chateau of the Estaing family completely dominates the town. Apparently the numerous family has turned it into societé that looks after the finances and assures that everyone gets a chance to use it. Despite the revolution, the French we met there were impressed with the family and seemed to have some sort of yearning for an aristocracy. I guess their current crop of politicians do not really impress anyone. They all expect a return of Sarkozy as being the only option to Le Pen. Had a beautiful dinner of trout and salad below the bridge. The obvious reason to be walking in France is the food.
Day 9 Estaing to Bessoles
We took the old trail out of Estaing on the GR 6 as it is shorter and supposedly easier. It was certainly an easy day through the fields ending up on a buffalo farm.
This was a really nice change. Firstly it was the first night with sheets and pillowcases rather than using our sleeping bags, secondly we learnt a bit about farming, mainly the hours of work and the impossibility of taking a vacation. We got to visit the buffalo herd which I was surprised to discover were Asian Water buffalo. For some reason I was expecting bison. They were extremely quiet and liked being stroked and petted; one of the children even climbed on the back of one that had decided to lie down. Perhaps their easy temperment comes from millenia of domestication. The third reason for enjoying the all-too-short stay was the excellent food – buffalo stew with vegetables from the garden followed by chocolate mousse with home-cured ham for breakfast.
Day 10 Bessoles to Conques
A short day through pretty countryside almost entirely down hill. I walked with an Australian woman for an hour after which she left me in the dust. She does mountain rescue outside of Sydney and helps the police navigate the bush. They seem to loose people several times a year who wander off the trails and whose body is never found- the vaste distances and the hostile conditions are reminiscent of Canada. I had lunch with the girl with the small dog, both are doing well and are heading for St Jean le port.
I am staying at the Abbey which has beds for about 100 people. It is interesting to watch how each gite tries to combat the problem of bedbugs – tonight we put the backpacks in plastic bags and then were allowed take them to our rooms, a couple of times we have not been allowed to take them out of the foyer. The stuff we needed had to be taken out and put in baskets, and in the convent we put the packs in plastic boxes. I have no idea if any of this works but I have not had a bite yet and I only have one night to go. This is a really old town, the origins of the Abbey are 11 th century and many of the buildings seem to be 16th, half-timbered as we called it in England, with upper floors hanging over the lower floors. This is the end of the trail and I am really sorry that it is over. It has been a great experience and my feet and legs have held up really well – no blisters and no leg or knee pain. I am already thinking about doing the next section another time.