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LIVE from the Camino Live from the Podiensis

Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Last October I commenced my first really long route to SdC, starting more or less from outside the front door of the flat in Geneva from whose upstair windows I used wistfully to observe pilgrims commencing their journey. Given work constraints, this will have to be a multi-year project. I was able to complete the Gebennensis section (about which I wrote here), arriving in Le Puy just before Emmanuel Macron imposed the first nationwide curfew and shut the whole thing down. Now, fully vaccinated and with a modest amount of free time available, I'm picking up where I left off and starting out on the Podiensis.

I've no idea how far I'll get. There's not the slightest chance of doing the whole thing, or anything remotely resembling it, before I have to resume normal duties. If everything goes flawlessly, which it never does, Moissac would be a possibility; more realistically, I'd estimate at the moment that I'll run out of time midway between Conques and there. But of all the years, this is not the one to stress about such things. For all I know, the plug may be pulled on all of us before we get out of the starting gate. Indeed, a few people were speculating yesterday that the President might do just that. (In a televised address last night, he stopped short of that drastic step. Instead he announced that from August, those who can't document their immunity status will be denied access to shops and restaurants. The all too predictable consequence, for those of us who know and love France, was an immediate crash of the vaccination-booking website as thousands of viewers tried to log on all at once.)

My sojourn on the Gebennensis was enlivened, and physically lengthened, by the challenge of obtaining somewhere to stay each night. Early indications are that this task may be even more difficult on the Podiensis at present. Having been cooped up for so long, large numbers of randonneurs(-euses) have descended on the town, this being an important way-station on the GR 65 hiking that overlies the Chemin de Compostelle. As a fail-safe, I've brought a lightweight sleeping bag and an air mattress with me so that, should there be no room at the inn, I can doss down for a few hours in an unused bus shelter or the equivalent.

I've also thought it prudent to book ahead for the first few days. Last night, that meant the Gîte d'Etape des Capucins, from the kitchen of which this is being composed. From all appearances, the coronavirus is having very little impact on its operations. Each of its four dortoirs is as crowded with bunk beds as ever, and each bunk is currently occupied by a soundly—and, in most cases, resonantly—sleeping inhabitant. At EUR 22, petit déj not included, it's not a particularly cheap option, but French routes operate according to their own economic rules.

I'm going to try to snatch another couple of hours' sleep myself, if the snorers will permit, and then catch 07:00 Mass at the cathedral, no more than five minutes' walk away. After that, the open road beckons. It doesn't appear that I'm going to want for company along the way.
 
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mark connolly

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
sept 2016 CF
sept 2017 Lourdes to SJPDP via Piemonte
SJPDP to SDC via CF
2019 CF (God willing)
Thank you for the info/update. Planning to start the Le Puy route on September 3rd, so any info, no matter how trivial about your walk will be greatly appreciated.

Good luck.

Bon Chemin.

Mark
 

wisepilgrim

Guidebook Author
Year of past OR future Camino
Many
Aurigny et al.

I also had plans pre-quarentine of walking the Podiensis, but never made it that far, and I don't think I will get the chance for another year or so. But I did manage to scrape together a very basic app-guide for the route. It doesn't have the usual pretty pictures of places and descriptions, but it works well as a map (offline too) and has a pretty solid list of accommodations.

It is free, and part of the series of apps that are being supported with feedback from pilgrims on the forums. (see this link for more info about it).

So for anyone needing another tool for the way from Le Puy to SJPP, here you go:

iOS
Android

Cheers from Santiago!
 
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés : Sarria-Santiago (2013)
Via Podiensis : (2014-17)
Via Tolosana : Arles-Toulouse-(2018-19)
For those unaware of it, there is a great Facebook group for the Via Podiensis started several years ago by Robert Forrester. There are a number of people on the route right now and you can ask them questions about conditions, etc. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ViaPodiensis . Rob has also created a very handy list of pilgrim-friendly gîtes d'etape with contact information, prices, etc. in stage order, availability of ATMs, grocery stores, bakeries, pharmacies, veggie-friendly places, etc which can be found as the pinned post in the FB forum.
 
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TaijiPilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2011), Camino Frances (2015), Camino Ingles (2017), Camino Muxia (2017), LePuy(2019)
I woke up this morning to news that France will require a vacccination passport beginning in August. I am not sure what bureaucratic hoops this will require for US citizens like myself who are planning to resume the Via Podiensis in August. I hope that our CDC vaccination card will be enough! I am getting conflicting reports about the availability of beds this summer. Some imply, like the OP, that the gites are operating at normal pre-Covid capacity and others say there is a reduced capacity being enforced in France. Any clarity on this? Thanks.
 

ScottPilgrim

Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I think they will have to accept the CDC card because we cannot use the Eurozone electronic passport. Some states, like New York, have their on electronic passports that are verified via vaccination database. Not sure what the French will make of those but I guess if you can get one, you should.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Thus far this trip has furnished a number of surprises for me. The first is that so far as the French people in this part of the world are concerned, the coronavirus appears to be over. With the exception of some desultory mask-wearing on some people's parts, there were no special measures at the gîte. My small room last night had its full normal complement, and the usual chaos of backpacks and hiking poles littering the floor and underwear and socks dangling from the bedframes. With the windows tightly closed in that typical French manner against the dread possibility of any night air entering and poisoning us all, the atmosphere by morning-time could be cut with a knife. Granted everybody present except myself were young college-age girls and hence less likely to be at serious risk in any event, but it did strike me as noteworthy nonetheless.

A second remarkable feature was the number of people who showed up for Mass and benediction at the Cathedral. I'd expected to see perhaps half a dozen beyond myself. Instead there were more than a hundred of us: so many that the staff had quite a bit of difficulty finding places to stash our backpacks and keep the aisles clear. The young and articulate Dominican priest, who is, perhaps, a nightclub impresario manqué and has a line of patter to match, took a straw poll of those present. At least two-thirds were French—again, almost all young and female. There were respectably-sized contingents from Italy and the Netherlands; a few from India and, surprisingly, China. But what the French call the Anglo-Saxons were conspicuous by their absence: not a single representative of North America, Britain, or the Antiipodes.

The procedure at the benediction is that one receives a small memento—a pilgrim medal, a Psalter or something similar—to carry along. If one is willing and continuing all the way to SdC, one may also be assigned to carry a prayer request from those unable to travel. These are written by local residents or visitors to the Cathedral and deposited in a box at the foot of the statue of St James for distribution the following morning. The pilgrim to whom a request is entrusted is asked to pray for the author's stated intention at each stop of the way until reaching Santiago. It's a nice custom, and I've made myself the custodian of one of these. I'll try to do justice to the petitioner, though I don't think I'll be able to light my last candle for her (the handwriting reveals the sex of the writer) until the summer of 2023.

Afterwards a floor grid is opened, and the departing pilgrims are released down the impressive staircase thus revealed into the centre of Le Puy. With astonishing speed we all shot out of town. At least everybody but me did. There's a stiffish little uphill pull for a couple of kilometres as one departs, and I was following my usual energy-saving routine of dialling the pace right back until reaching the summit. By that point I was, I think, dead last of those who departed with me. But this is a game in which endurance matters more than pace. By the end of the day, nearly all of the people I recognised from the Cathedral were behind me once again.

The weather is more redolent of late autumn than what one would expect to find in a French high summer. Today was downright chilly—the highest temperature I saw recorded was 16C/61F, and that didn't last long—and with on-again, off-again rain that by early afternoon had settled into a determinedly on-again mode. Happily, for this first day, with my destination being Monistrol d'Allier, a smidge over 30 km away, suitable rest breaks present themselves at 8-km intervals. At the first, the village of St Cristophe-sur-Dolaizon, the Bar du Soleil is the only game in town. Its version of a café au lait is to brew a cup of espresso and set down a bottle of Casino demi-écremé beside it for the customer to do as he or she pleases, but it's an agreeable place nonetheless, which also doubles as the place where local residents come to pick up their daily loaf (in these small villages that aren't big enough to rate their own baker, or grocery, such arrangements are common). More catering options are available at Montbonnet, the next 8-km halte, and more yet at St Privat, three-quarters of the way along.

I chatted along the way with a retired Frenchwoman who walked the entire route in 2009 but is now spending just a couple of weeks with a friend of hers discovering the Chemin for the first time. (The poor friend, from all appearances, was making extremely heavy weather of it.) She told me that there was an immense amount of pent-up demand among citydwellers for places in the countryside. Many more people are taking their holidays in July rather than, as traditionally, in August out of fear that the lockdowns may return by then. If one hasn't booked ahead, one hasn't a hope. I've little doubt that she has the rights of it. I will, then, reserve where possible, and where not trust to Providence and to my sleeping bag.

Notwithstanding the number of pilgrims who began this morning, evidence suggests that this is the first big week of the year along the Podiensis. The degree of overgrowth along the narrow section about 3 km east of Montbonnet and, again, on the far side of St Privat, indicates that few people have been down the trail in the recent past.

Coming down it today was more of an adventure than I was expecting. Shortly before Montbonnet, a sign offered the alternative of a déviation en cas de pluies fortes. Where one is really needed, though, is on the St Privat-to-Monistrol leg. This started off as a mere morass, courtesy of all the recent rain, but quickly turned into one of the most treacherous stretches I've encountered on any of these trips. The trail would have been steep at the best of times; consisting at the moment of what looked like a sheet of liquid mud heading downhill at a forty-five-degree angle, it was almost impassable. Quite a few times I was going down backwards, facing the way I had come in the hope of finding a safe spot to put one foot; quite a few others, sixty seconds for a twenty-metre stretch represented an excellent rate of progress.

What was bound to happen finally did, about a kilometre and a half out of Monistrol. I stepped on a spot that had all the stability of a marble-floored room loosely packed with billiard balls; my heels flew over my head; and I came down heavily, sliding downhill for an impressive distance. The skin has been taken off a goodly chunk of my left hand and I'm not sure whether I've busted my little finger: it hurts like the dickens. However, I'm much too tired to bother about it now. By tomorrow morning it'll either be twice its current size, in which case I'll know I've snapped it, or it won't. Right now I'm off to bed; I'll worry about it, if necessary, then.

Regardless, I recommend anyone most earnestly to road-walk the St Privat-to-Monistrol section if there's been a lot of rain in the recent past. That one's a good-weather route only. If one has as many legs as an octupus, and more hiking poles than a hedgehog has spines, keeping one's feet is nonetheless impossible in the conditions that prevailed this evening. The road-walk is shorter (4.7 km as against seven) and a damn sight safer. Take it, and sort it out with St Jacques after arrival at SdC.
 

O Peracha

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Le Puy to Santiago (2014)
Annapurna Base, Nepal (2014)
GR 5 - Holland to Pompey, France (2015)
Lisbon to Finesterre (2016)
Afterwards a floor grid is opened, and the departing pilgrims are released down the impressive staircase thus revealed into the centre of Le Puy. With astonishing speed we all shot out of town. At least everybody but me did. There's a stiffish little uphill pull for a couple of kilometres as one departs, and I was following my usual energy-saving routine of dialling the pace right back until reaching the summit. By that point I was, I think, dead last of those who departed with me. But this is a game in which endurance matters more than pace. By the end of the day, nearly all of the people I recognised from the Cathedral were behind me once again.

This brought back memories. I had the same experience when I did the Le Puy route in 2014, my first long distance walk. Everybody shot out of the church like a starter gun had gone off. There was a feeling of franticness; we've got to get out of here before . . . I don't know what happened.

It started to get pretty warm and one of the two guys I was walking with suddenly and wordlessly jumped on a picnic table which was on the top of a hill with fantastic views. We stopped and he started peeling his clothes off. When he got down to his long johns, we decided to give him some privacy. Although, he was on top of a hilltop picnic table . . .

I looked back a couple of times and he was practically dancing on that table, trying to change clothes as fast as possible while keeping an eye on us as if we were going to escape. He barely got dressed, stuffed the clothes he had taken off wherever he could in his backpack and was practically running to catch up with us. He caught up with us then just kept going. It was quite comical. I later found out that he got hurt and had to drop out. The other guy finished in St Jean.

Anyway . . . thanks for the writeup. Had me down memory lane. I'm planning on going back in 2022 but this time starting in Geneva and look forward to reading more about you experience.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
With the windows tightly closed in that typical French manner against the dread possibility of any night air entering and poisoning us all,
Chuckling, because I encountered the same phenomenon towards the end of my Podiensis: a French woman sternly informing me she would NOT open the window, so deal with it. By 2am I was dying from the stale, stuffy air.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I arrived too late at my night-spot in Monistrol, Les Terrasses de l'Allier, to be able to put my name in for dinner, though I didn't have much of an appetite in any event. I will say that what I saw customers being served up, as I completed the register, looked good. But my main desire was for sleep. Contrary to what my temporary travel-companion had told me, there was quite a lot of space at the Terrasses. I was shown to a five-berth room (three individual beds, one bunk bed) and invited to take my pick with the exception of the one already occupied.

I didn't exchange too many words with my roommate, whose attention was entirely fixated upon his mobile telephone. But he may be a newcomer at this business. Shortly before six o'clock I was awoken by the spectacle of him making every albergue error in the canon: putting on the light; packing, unpacking, emptying, and refilling innumerable crinkly plastic bags; noisily zipping and unzipping the many compartments of his backpack; dropping on the floor various hard items like his mobile 'phone and an extraordinary tool he was carrying that resembled a cross between an ice pick and a rubber mallet, etc. I didn't particularly mind as I was planning to get up just a few minutes later anyway. But in a genuine albergue situation, his fellow sleepers might cheerfully have strangled him.

Wanting to obtain an early start and finding my damaged finger black-and-blue but seemingly not fractured, I didn't stick around for the petit déj, instead dropping in at the only establishment at Monistrol proper that was open at that hour of morning, Le Repos du Pélerin, for a quick coffee. I was as quickly driven out again. A certain amount of fly-life is inevitable in bars and restaurants in rural districts, though some places are more successful than others in keeping it under control. The Repos, by contrast, seemed to have extended an open invitation. I counted seventeen of the things swarming over a single table in the dining-room, and that wasn't even the quarter of it. Rapidly abandoning my half-swallowed coffee under the aerial onslaught, I decided to put a bit of distance between myself and that particular establishment, and defer any further refreshments until Saugues, 12 km further down the trail.

A distance like that usually takes me a little under two and a half hours. Today it was nearer four, and I'm not really sure why. A certain amount of climbing has to be done in the woods: above the Chapelle de la Madeleine the local authorities have considerately installed a rope-banister for the benefit of the decrepit, among whose numbers I definitely count myself. The terrain wasn't anything exceptional, though, for all that the weather was even worse than yesterday's. Until noon the rain was basically continuous, the temperature at those higher elevations not much above 10C/50F, with quite a sharp north-westerly wind blowing. Cool conditions, however, normally provide me with an incentive to walk faster and generate my own heat, so as I say it's unclear to me why it took so long for Saugues to appear.

I can definitely recommend it as a lunch-stop, though. In appearance it looks a great deal, as do so many of the little places in this part of France, like a typical Scottish border town: strong grey stone buildings constructed to cope with the rigours of an often-inclement climate. But with a population of 1,701, it's a major conurbation along this route. I was especially pleased to see a branch of the Caisse d'Epargne complete with distributeur de billets in the main square, which enabled me to top up my diminishing cash reserves. This being the quatorze juillet, the town also represented my best home of getting something to eat. There was, indeed, only a single restaurant open, the Petit Chez Soi on the main drag, but that turned out to be quite enough for my needs. It's a tiny family-run establishment that can seat fifteen people in total and the menu for the day consisted of one's choice of one of two items—knuckle of lamb or faux-filet—but I can offer either one my unsolicited testimonial. The price was moderate; the service welcoming; and in all respects the Chez Soi represents what a good, unpretentious country resto ought to be.

This is the first fête nationale I've experienced outside one or other of the major cities, so I was interested to see how Bastille Day is observed out here. The answer, in a word, is "not." Everywhere I went, the atmosphere was reminiscent of the dullest of French Sundays. Not a person to be seen on the streets, not a single tricolore or piece of bunting hanging from any of the windows; no feux d'artifice after dark, though the fact that the clouds were down on the deck would have rendered that an exercise in futility anyway. Perhaps everybody was inside watching the more spectacular Parisian celebrations on television. But if the Auvergne does patriotism, it does it in an exceedingly low-key fashion, a little surprising given the extent to which this part of the country was a stronghold of the Maquis during the Occupation.

The second half of the day's journey beyond Saugues was unexceptional, other than a couple of seriously waterlogged stretches (one being so wide and deep that there was no possible way through except by removing my footwear and wading—as it turned out, almost to my knees). The most noteworthy sights in these parts are the extraordinary profusion of stone and iron crosses, most of them erected in the mid-nineteenth century. I do not exaggerate when I say that they are as numerous as are mojónes on the Francés. Otherwise the local story that everybody around here wants to tell you is the tale of la bête, but that's a good one.

It transpires that in the year 1764, a creature of unparalleled size and ferocity began attacking people in the hill villages around here, most of them children or women. Nobody, then or now, seems very clear on whether it was an exceptionally large and vicious wild boar, some kind of mutant wolf, or something else entirely. At all events it terrorised the locality so effectively that at least one hamlet was completely abandoned so that the residents could withdraw to a safer location. The menace achieved such notoriety that King Louis XV, all the way in Versailles, not only heard about this animal's depredations, but sent his champion arquebusier down to the Gévaudan to take care of it, albeit without success. Eventually, three years later, a local man was able to find it in the course of a search and despatch it with a single shot, thereby earning regional immortality. Everywhere you go in this part of the world, visual representations of the Beast, many of them highly imaginative in their approach to anatomy, are to be seen, even to the extent of metallic sculptures in people's front gardens.

Tonight is being spent in Mme Richard's gîte in the micro-village of Chanaleilles, about a kilometre and a half off the main trail (everything closer is booked up). Here I was reunited with my roommate of last night, who is also putting up in the same establishment. We're not sharing a dormitory this time, though, so he can be somebody else's problem. I dare say he'll be educated in appropriate conduct quite quickly.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
Le Repos du Pélerin, for a quick coffee. I was as quickly driven out again. A certain amount of fly-life is inevitable in bars and restaurants in rural districts, though some places are more successful than others in keeping it under control. The Repos, by contrast, seemed to have extended an open invitation.
I stayed here and remember the flies well. Despite the fly situation, the dinner was delicious. Myself and another pilgrim questioned why they didn't cover the baked goods sitting in the doorway. Decent place to stay, though.

Stay safe...I hear heavy rains swept across south Germany, flooding many areas.
 

AJGuillaume

Pèlerin du monde
Year of past OR future Camino
Via Gebennensis (2018)
Via Podiensis (2018)
Voie Nive Bidassoa (2018)
Camino Del Norte (2018)
I stayed here and remember the flies well. Despite the fly situation, the dinner was delicious. Myself and another pilgrim questioned why they didn't cover the baked goods sitting in the doorway. Decent place to stay, though.

Stay safe...I hear heavy rains swept across south Germany, flooding many areas.
We stayed there in 2018, too, and the flies were everywhere. The issue is that just across the road there are rubbish containers, attracting them and providing a breeding ground.
Despite this, we also remember a delicious dinner with great company.
 
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truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
We stayed there in 2018, too, and the flies were everywhere. The issue is that just across the road there are rubbish containers, attracting them and providing a breeding ground.
Despite this, we also remember a delicious dinner with great company.
oh that's right! Forgot about those containers...
 

simeon

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
SJPDP LosArcos 09\14 Tricastella SDDC 0515 Porto SDDC 1015 LosArcos Burgos 1016 Burgos Leon 0917
I think I am about a day ahead of you. Your lucky that you can speak french. Met my first English speaking pilgrim this evening after 5 days of walking! Some have a few words here and there. I'm not complaining and I know I should have a bit more french myself just an observation. A friend with french from home is helping me with booking ahead now which is a fantastic help, as even the establishments that are marked on miem miem as English speaking rarely have enough to make a booking. The food is just sublime ! Looks like the weather is about to pick up as well. At least the rain has stopped!
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
We were an auspicious thirteen for dinner at Chanaleilles last night. (I'm not superstitious in the slightest: if there were anything in it, my life ought to have been filled with infinitely more catastrophes than it has been.) It was an interesting mélange: a couple of shaven-headed military guys, formerly of Saint-Cyr, who radiated physical fitness to an almost offensive degree; a middle-aged couple who had driven down from Roscoff, only to find the Breton weather pursuing them; a single mother spending quality time with her teenage son, who was trying hard, and nearly successfully, to conceal the fact that he would rather be almost anywhere else; a trio from the French equivalent of the girl-scouting movement; and a couple of others. Some were there for religious reasons, a greater number weren't. I was the only non-French citizen.

I was also the only lone traveller. In this country, doing a pilgrimage is a team event. Since we started three days ago, I've seen only one other unaccompanied person out on the trail: a nineteen-year-old college student, barely five feet tall, with a truly enormous backpack and who looked as though she was auditioning for the Cheryl Strayed rôle in the 2014 film Wild. She kept up gamely with the peloton as far as St-Christophe on the first day, but then faded to the rear and hasn't been seen since. If she's still out here, I'm certain that three-quarters of her baggage have either been shipped home or jettisoned in the nearest charity box.

Large groups, though, proceed at the pace of the slowest, and the unfortunate result is that I have lost contact with all of the people with whom I started at Le Puy bar the St-Cyriens and the gentleman with the rubber-hammer-cum-ice-pick. (I ought to mention that he is very courteous, but doesn't say much, so I still don't know what's the story with that item.) They walk much faster than I do; I walk for more hours; and we all seem to pitch up at the gîte at the same moment, they having fortified themselves with pre-dinner cocktails in the interim.

One of the ways I make the formula come out is by getting an earlier start than most people. I crept out of the gîte a little before 06:00 this morning. Having run out of road food and lacking any means of brewing coffee, I found myself dragging a little on the 6-km uphill stage to the Domaine du Sauvage, not by any means an arduous leg. Happily, I arrived just as they were opening the doors of their impressive restaurant. The Domaine looks like an excellent establishment—I'd tried to book a night's stay there, but they were complet—and a couple of cups of their first-brewed put a definite spring in my step.

The initial leg of today's étape, to the substantial town of St-Auban, should have been a fast run in any event. The trail is wide, mostly level, and well-maintained (even to the extent of a remarkable earthworm-powered toilet—no, I'm not kidding—outside the Chapel of St Roch). Without exerting myself unduly, I was able to arrive in time for elevenses. Other than its splendidly equipped rural hospital, St-Auban isn't greatly notable, beyond being the place where the poet Paul Éluard hung out during most of the Occupation. It does, though, have many options for lunch. I may have chosen the worst of them when I selected the Bar du Centre, opposite the church. My practice when visiting an unknown dining establishment is to choose the item on the menu that is hardest to screw up. A cheese omelette and salad regrettably turned out to be beyond the Centre's capabilities. The latter in particular, not having been washed with any care and containing a considerable quantity of earth and small stones, was entirely inedible, and hazardous to one's teeth to boot.

The best thing would have been to buy some road food at the Spar supermarket on the way out of town. Alas, like many other businesses in this area, it takes long lunch hours—1230 to 1500. However, something was salvaged from my visit to St-Auban by virtue of the fact that the Spar also featured an open-air self-service launderette (EUR 4 for an 8 kg load, including detergent and conditioner; coins only accepted; EUR 2 in addition for eighteen minutes in the tumble-dryer). This was the first time I'd seen such a thing, but I was happy to give it a whirl, so to speak, my stock of clean clothing having been virtually exhausted. It performed well.

The 15-km leg to Aumont-Aubrac is generally uphill, but not distressingly so. It appeared from what I saw on this stretch that Podiensis pilgrims are not always welcome. Bigose, the last point before Aumont greeted me with a sign announcing uncompromisingly, "Notre village n'est pas un WC public," and featured exceedingly graphic illustrations of the sort of thing to which they're opposed. I dare say that if a given locality features pilgrimage-oriented businesses, the traffic is welcome; if, like Bigose, they largely don't, we're regarded as more of a nuisance than anything else.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
Loving your updates, takes me right back...please keep them coming!

The Domaine looks like an excellent establishment—I'd tried to book a night's stay there, but they were complet—and a couple of cups of their first-brewed put a definite spring in my step.

I stopped there and enjoyed a nice coffee, baguette and a fantastic local goat cheese for my mid-morning break. I'd definitely consider staying the night next time. Gorgeous place...
 
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Year of past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2014)
Camino Via Podiensis (2018)
Love your detailed descriptions😊 I remember that steep downhill to Monistrol, it was bad enough in the dry! We stayed at Le Repos du Pelerin, don't remember a fly problem in May 2018 but the orange lentil soup turned my stomach and I couldn't finish the rest of the meal. Had a great stay at Domaine du Sauvage, excellent meal. Also stayed at Bigose - the pilgrim sleeping quarters were in the basement but quite modern. Strangely we were the only two there, they gave us our evening meal on a platter, showed us where the breakfast was, locked up and left telling us to pull the door closed after us when we left in the morning! Felt weird being there all alone but at least the wifi worked well😁
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
A French hypermarché is an impressive thing (for Americans, imagine a Wal-Mart if the stuff sold therein was actually nice), but it's undeniable that the existence of these outfits has had a most unfortunate effect upon the retail sector of the surrounding towns and villages. Aumont is a case in point, having a large Auchan just 3 km away on the side of the A 75 motorway but only a single, small, and expensive grocery within the town itself. If you want anything for the day's journey, though, this is the only place you'll get it.

I had a most enjoyable meal last night at the Linette restaurant, a little past the SNCF railway station, to which anyone will guide you. It's not the cheapest option in the world, but this is one place where you do get what you pay for. This morning my needs were more basic: some fresh bread (both of Aumont's bakeries are very good; locals say that the one opposite the War Memorial is a hair the better of the two); a lump of cheese on which to gnaw; and a couple of slices of cooked ham. I paid considerably more for these simple provisions than I would have liked, but as I say, it's either that or go without altogether.

My only other requirement was my daily tampon. The church has a sign inviting pilgrims to use their self-service stamp and pad; unfortunately, these were nowhere to be seen. I very much hope that some souvenir-hunter hasn't taken them home. The tourist office just round the corner, however, was happy to oblige. Thus equipped, I set off on what was going to be a fairly long étape of 41 km to St-Chély-d'Aubrac, the destination having been forced upon me to some degree by the non-availability of accommodation anywhere closer.

That problem is being exacerbated by the arrival of the weekend warriors. A large number of people had showed up in Aumont overnight, looking to get a couple of days' hiking in and considerably raising our average age. This is, of course, highly commendable, but it does leave the unfortunate pilgrim looking for the crumbs that fall from the rich man's table. Unlike Spanish albergues, the overwhelming majority of French gîtes d'étape offer no preference to those engaging in a pilgrimage; so far as they're concerned, it's first-come-first-served. Not, for the most part, having the luxury of being able to book ahead weeks or even months in advance, pilgrims are forced to rely on cancellations by citydwellers to meet their own needs.

In any case, the trail was inordinately crowded today. Fortunately, we were going through one of the sections that can best accommodate large numbers: the Aubrac Natural Park. It's an impressive piece of real estate, nearly the size of Luxembourg, and featuring extensive rocky uplands covered with a thin layer of grass. It greatly resembles Scottish moorlands—or, for that matter, the Hospitales route of the Primitivo, only on a much more massive scale. While some climbing over rocks is necessary, an asphalt-surfaced road runs through it, and this was what we all used to get from one side to the other. There was, in fact, a surprising amount of road-walking on today's étape until we reached the village of Montgros.

From there it's a rapid descent into the medium-sized village of Nasbinals. Almost all of its commercial activity seems to be dedicated to pilgrims and randonneurs. Many of the crowd dropped out of the column to overnight here. I stayed only long enough to have a coffee at the Hôtel de France. I had an additional 16 km to cover to my destination and it was already mid-afternoon.

It was as well that I didn't dawdle, because the going became much slower at that point. A couple of kilometres outside Nasbinals, the wayfarer is offered two choices: to take the main paved route over the Pic d'Aubrac pass, suitable especially for cyclists and drivers of off-road vehicles, or to turn right and hike across a succession of large pastures, taking advantage of the permission offered by the local farmers to those proceeding on foot exclusively on condition that they not distress or bother the livestock. The distance of each route is identical, so that wasn't a factor. I was slightly torn: I like mountain passes, and have traversed many of them on foot in the Swiss Alps. But I also like cows. In the end I headed to the right.

And indeed I'm glad I did. What followed was 6 km of climbing through enormous fields, watched interestedly by many Aubrac (or Laguiole) cattle, most of whom were heavily in calf, though a few had already given birth. Aubracs are among my very favourite breeds, being good-looking (a nice fluffy dun coat and a well-proportioned body), laid-back in temperament to an extraordinary degree, and well adapted to thriving on the rough grass that these upland pastures provide. I'm always happy to see them, and in their sedate way, they are at least untroubled at seeing me.

It's necessary to pass through many gates in the course of this peregrination, and of course it's equally necessary—indeed, vital—to ensure that they're properly closed and bolted again. Giving them a tug from the other side to verify that they're secure is a very good habit, and is the chief way to maintain our positive standing with the landowners. Another way was revealed to me at the second gate. The Fédération Français de la Randonnée Pédestre, the national organisation that lobbies for hikers, had set up a donation-box with a sign suggesting that we make a modest contribution to the farmers' income. The notion of a voluntary toll appeared sensible to me, so I kicked in a couple of Euro in recognition of the access provided. I've little doubt that the proprietors are not getting rich by this means, but no doubt the money collected will pay for a pretty good party at year's end.

The FFRP also assume responsibility for waymarking this stretch. I was disturbed to see that some of the helpful signs they had put up had been vandalised: in two cases, the large poles on which these were mounted had been ripped out of the ground. However, in reality the navigation couldn't be easier. At the left-hand side of these fields, a series of furrows that almost certainly started life as tractor-tyre divots, but have since been deepened by water coursing down them, show the way. As long as the passer-by sticks to these trails, he or she can't go wrong. (Provided, that is, that the wayfarer also keeps a respectful distances from any calves that may be around and thereby avoids alarming the mothers.) The countryside was now visibly more lush than earlier in the day. In fact, the whole scene reminded me powerfully of the Mourne Mountains stage of St Patrick's Way in Northern Ireland, with the significant difference that even with the vandalism being taken into account, this section was much better waymarked than the SPW.

Descending from the fields into the small and picturesque village of Aubrac, among whose notable features is a war-memorial statue of a Great War poilu resplendent in his bleu horizon uniform, the trail soon heads downhill again. The next seven or eight kilometres are tricky, scrambling over exposed and/or wet rocks that descend at an alarming angle. I warmly recommend pilgrims not to do as I did, that is, tackling this section after a long day and in failing light.

Once again I was too late for food upon arrival at St-Chély, just as the last glow of sunlight faded from the western sky. That didn't bother me in the least; I was far too tired to want to eat anyway. And with a shorter leg to Espalion to look forward to tomorrow, there's no reason why I shouldn't get a reasonably long night's sleep.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
I absolutely loved walking through the pastures after Nasbinals (which incidentally, has a great little boulangerie for morning bread and pastries). The cattle are unperturbed by pilgrims walking by, some even tolerating a scratch on the forehead.
 
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Hi Aurigny,

Thank you very much indeed for this thread. We are both really enjoying it. Pat and I have been planning to walk the Podiensis, in fact before COVID came along we had planned to walk it this year from Le Puy to Santiago. We are now hoping we will be able to do it next year, if we are allowed out of Australia! We are going over our spreadsheet which we made last year of this walk and your very informative thread is assisting us greatly. It's also bringing the Podiensis alive for us and making us long to do it.
Bon Chemin.
Anne & Pat
 
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Bringing back so many memories @Aurigny! When we passed thru Nasbinals the cows were gathered for the Transhumance with their elaborate floral head dresses and tractors decked out in flowers with farmers in black with red neckerchiefs. (Pic from my photo book) Unfortunately we couldn't hang around for the parade as we were also heading to St Chely - that last 6 or so km downhill on a rocky path resembling a stream in places was specially hard after a long day. Anne and Pat you will love it😊 Linda. 20210718_152422.jpg
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
St-Chély, a place made for picture postcards, serves as well as anywhere as the border between two geographical and climatic regions. Passing out of the more recently active volcanic areas of the Massif Central, one now descends about 600 metres (2,000') into the Lot valley. The difference is immediate. More non-pastoral agriculture; calmer and more temperate weather, influenced now by the Mediterranean which, as the crow flies, isn't so very far away; and also more tourists, virtually all of whom are French. For those who have endured what is in truth a pretty rigorous 150 km or so, this section of the trail offers the prospect of a somewhat more comfortable experience.

It's been interesting watching what was clearly, for many of our contingent, their first true experience of la France profonde. At the pilgrims' blessing in Le Puy, about two-thirds of the French cohort identified themselves coming from Paris. For several days afterwards, one encountered them stopping to photograph every cow they passed along the route, or, to a countrydweller, what would seem a very banal collection of roadside wildflowers. Now some of them are beginning to get their sea-legs under them, scampering up and down stiles (I found a quartet of them huddled, perpelexed, at the foot of one of them in the Aubrac natural park until they watched me and saw how it was done); sniffing appreciatively at manure-piles outside the granges; and looking somewhat disdainfully at the bevy of day-hikers approaching—invariably, it seems, from the opposite direction, that is, west to east—carrying only their sandwiches while fleets of white Renault vans transfer their luggage from place to place. It may be that, in spite of themselves, some of the Franciliens are getting the pilgrimage bug and will be back here in the future. I hope so, anyway.

My destination for today was Espalion, a relatively short trip. Attractive as St-Chély is, I wasn't as sorry as I might have been to leave it. The place is one of those rural towns that is sustained in being entirely by catering to the randonnée-and-pilgrim crowd. Some of the commercial people embrace this mission in the right spirit; others make it their business to Hoover as much cash from those passing through, as expeditiously as possible and for as little as possible in return. In my short time there, I encountered both. Preferring as I do to dwell on the positive, I encourage those coming behind me to patronise the Bar-Café de la Mairie. The staff there are so nice that I would recommend them even if their product were not good, which in point of fact it is.

Funnily enough, the three bars in town are also the establishments to which the local Catholic Church has outhoused the responsibility of distributing the parish's rubber stamps to those seeking them. After obtaining mine in that distinctly secular atmosphere, I started the climb up the southern slope above the town, from which vantage point a very good deparing photograph can be taken.

The countryside along today's route was exceedingly pleasing to the eye. From the summits of the ridges, visibility was unlimited: at least fifty miles in all directions. Otherwise the path proceeded along nicely shaded stretches, all the more welcome inasmuch as the sun was getting steadily hotter. Ascents and descents were more or less continuous, though not so steep as to cause any serious alarm with the exception of the one leading into Lestrade. That one definitely got my attention, and I was pleased to find a bench seat and, much more important, a source of eau potable waiting for me at the top.

I dropped in to a couple of cafés along the route, and was engaged in conversation by those present. There was only one topic: the French government's proposed anti-coronavirus measures. As is my practice in other people's countries, I refrained from offering opinions, and confined myself to asking theirs. If the unscientific sondage I conducted is any indication, the President is heading for trouble. Nobody had a good word to say about the proposed pass sanitaire, about which almost nothing is known except the penalties for infraction (EUR 45,000 maximum fine and/or six months' imprisonment). There's a strong belief that this ambiguity on the state's part is deliberate, and that the aim is to make life so impossible for those who don't have a pass that they will break down and get vaccinated. The recent re-imposition by the département of the Pyrenées Orientales of an outdoor-mask mandate, a measure that is conceded to have no public-health justification, is taken as evidence of this. Rightly or wrongly, quite a lot of people—even those who agree with vaccination—are getting their backs up over the principle involved. I expect this to feature in the newspapers with increasing frequency and volume in the weeks to come.

The main stop on today's étape, and the night halting-place for most, was the town of St-Côme. If there's one place along this route in which I would have liked to spend more time, St-Côme is definitely it. Unlike so many others among the small towns and villages in these parts, its economy is not dependent on the backpack crowd; instead, it's a destination for French citizens taking their summer holidays. Consequently, it has a high level of tourist infrastructure, and is attractively laid out in addition. If one were minded to put in a rest-day along the way, one could choose many worse places.

Unfortunately, the place at which I was staying in Espalion had a very narrow check-in window (18:00 to 20:00, after which, presumably, the shutters went up) so there was little time for me to see the sights. I headed out of town, following the banks of the Lot on my right for a couple of kilometres, and then was confronted with the last, but fairly formidable, climb of the day. My feelings can, however, be imagined when after reaching the town following a 7 km hike of some arduousness, it proved necessary for me to cross the river and travel a kilometre and a half back in the direction of St-Côme, which itself was no more than 2.5 km away by that same road. Ah well. Such is the pilgrim's life…
 
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truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
You are such a lovely writer and I'm thoroughly enjoying your daily missives. St-Côme was indeed a somewhat quiet and charming town. What I love about the camino is stopping a few times a day to patronize local cafes for coffee, le pastry and if I'm lucky, maybe a chat.

Until next time, Bon Chemin!
 

Aurigny

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Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I have never on any of these trips done what my American hiker friends call "taking a zero"—that is to say, spending a rest-day that gets one zero miles closer to one's destination. For the majority of people, these are sensible and even necessary recuperative opportunities. Knowing my own body as I do, though, I find that it works best when the machinery is at least kept ticking over, but that it's apt to seize up if taken out of commission altogether. Today being Sunday, and there being only one Mass in town at 10:30, there was no real possibility of my being able to make any serious kilometrage given the late start I would be obliged to make. Accordingly, I selected the gîte at the tiny hamlet of Fonteilles, about 8 km west of Estaing and a few hundred metres south of the trail, as my night-stop. At about 22 km from my starting-point, it seemed like a suitably unambitious destination for what was supposed to be a day of rest.

Well, as the late John Lennon supposedly said, life is what happens to you when you're making other plans. At first all seemed well. I heard Mass at the church, which featured a splendid organ and a talented organist, even if his idea of what constituted suitable liturgical music seemed a little idiosyncratic. (He played us out with Handel's Sarabande, which the Stanley Kubrick film Barry Lyndon has forever ruined for me.) Just down the street, a small Carrefour enabled me to obtain not only the road food I required, but some emergency rations for the following morning. I didn't know what might be available in Fonteilles, but given its diminutive size, I wasn't keen on taking the risk.

If one is bent on not torturing oneself, a French town at Sunday lunchtime is a good place to leave quickly: from every house and many gardens, one encounters the aromas of delicious meals to which one is not invited. Accordingly, I made haste to put myself a good distance downwind, following the Lot once again. Before long, though, this pleasantly two-dimensional means of navigation ran out, and it was necessary for me to start the first of a series of more-energetic-than-expected climbs and descents. I suppose that of themselves, none was exceptionally challenging: no more so, at any rate, than one would find on a typical day on the Primitivo. But the weather was now taking a hand, Having definitively broken with the rain and wind of the previous week, the sun now beat down relentlessly and the temperature soared into the low thirties. Worse, there wasn't a breath of wind, not even on the higher elevations.

I wasn't the only one to find the going difficult. At the top of one of the ridges, I found a sextet of young Belgian men, sprawled on the side of the trail with their shirts off and sweating like the cast of Cool Hand Luke. I was to pass them several times between there and Estaing: they'd sweep past me in a body, and then keel over a couple of kilometres down the road while I plodded along at my unimpressive but steady pace. We all arrived at Estaing about the same time, so I don't know that I'm recommending one method or the other.

Speaking of Estaing, it's another pretty little village in a part of the world that is as full of them as an egg is of meat. Supposedly it was the ancestral home of the late President Giscard, though I understand the genealogists have cast some doubt on that claim. My Belgian companions made a bee-line for the nearest bar and announced their intention of not budging from that spot until the following morning. As for myself, I had a minimum of ninety minutes' hard walking to perform and not very much more time than that in which to do it, so I stayed there no longer than it took to lower a cold San Pellegrino and replenish my water-bottle.

This last section, though, caught me out—as the British say, good and proper. It started out promisingly along a level and shady road. Then the road ran out, with a gravelled section indicative of work in progress taking its place. Very soon after that, a waymarker pointed me upward along a narrow stony trail. And there my troubles began.

I don't know how long or how high this ascent was; I'll have to check the contour maps. I know it can't have been any very impressive figure, because none of the peaks and ridges around here amount to all that much. Furthermore, I've got myself up above the five-figure mark any number of times in Switzerland, where the air thins out to a degree that filling one's lungs while walking on a level surface takes something of an effort. Objectively, then, there's no reason that this climb in particular should have been so difficult for me. Regardless, it was. The more I plodded along, the more it seemed as though some malignant giant was building another couple of hundred feet of mountain just as it seemed I was approaching the summit. After an hour of this, I'd given up all hope of reaching the Fonteilles gîte before the expiration of the time allowed for check-in. I was simply hoping to get to the top of this damned hill by that time. In the end, even this attenuated ambition wasn't achieved, by a margin of seven or eight minutes.

Regardless, the kindly folk at Fonteilles took in the wet dishrag that presented himself in the guise of a pilgrim, the late hour notwithstanding, and gave him a bed, into which, after a quick shower, he immediately collapsed. It all goes to show that out here, one can never predict what any route is going to be like until one has walked it.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
The night-stop at Fonteilles is a charmingly strange establishment. The accommodation is provided in a series of holiday cabins that to some extent reminded me of those shown in the opening scenes of the Jean-Hugues Anglade/Béatrice Dalle film 37.2˚ le Matin. They incorporate a common livingroom area, a bathroom, and three bedrooms each of which is just wide enough to allow two single beds if one twists to the side while threading between them. Only three guests, myself included, were staying in mine, though, so we each had a room to ourselves. Dinner, if desired, is served during the good weather at one of those long communal tables. On the hill behind the main house, a bar is plonked down, apparently as an afterthought. And at the back there's a camping area at which one may pitch one's tent or park one's camper-van. Half a dozen people had already done so when I arrived.

It all seemed an odd set-up to find in what is one of the more remote areas of the French interior. But I enjoyed my short stay there, and would commend it to others. As for my future plans, I hadn't intended to stay at Conques, the next major stop, and didn't believe, given the pressure on accommodation in that town, that the opportunity would be afforded me in any event. The proprietress of the gîte at Fonteilles persuaded me that the various nightly events, and the pilgrim benediction in particular, were not to be missed, and generously offered to telephone ahead to the Abbey to let them know that I would be arriving later today in quest either of a bed or a bit of space on the ground where I could overnight on my own mattress. They would certainly, she assured me, provide me with one or the other. So I joined the throng heading in that direction after all.

Getting to Conques from Fonteilles is a two-part operation. The first leg consists of a 15-km journey—mostly road-walking along narrow country byways, little-trafficked, though with some trail elements also—to Espeyrac, which is a night-stop in its own right for many people. A fair proportion of these run along the tops of ridges, and the views are once again spectacular. The harder part, though, comes on the relatively short 12-km leg beyond Espeyrac. A significant climb as far as Sénergues has to be tackled, and though there's some more road-walking to be done, the descent to Conques itself demands careful attention. The usual Podiensis trifecta: rocky, steep, and, notwithstanding the recent high temperatures, often dangerously slick and muddy.

The people at the Abbey, a Norbertine monastery, lay on quite an elaborate programme for those overnighting there. The Order prays the divine office, so those arriving in mid-afternoon are in good time to attend the relatively short Vespers service. Communal dinner follows at 19:00, and is much like what one receives at the ordinary gîte: salad, vegetable-rich main course, cheese plate, and dessert, with vin de pays from many-times-refilled bottles, bread, and water ad libitum. Once that's completed, it's back to the abbey church—from the inside, a kind of scaled-down version of Chartres cathedral, without the stained-glass windows—for Compline, the last service of the day, followed by a pilgrims' blessing. One of the older priests then explains in considerable detail the depiction of the Last Judgment carved over the main doors, for a large and appreciative audience (unfortunately, if one has attended the blessing ceremony, one will be last in line for a place at this event). And after all that, there's usually a son-et-lumière display. I enquired politely of the gentleman explaining this to me when it was expected that the leg-weary pilgrims would be getting some sleep, especially those who were planning to be back on the road at six the following morning. I got the Gallic version of "We'll sleep when we're dead" in response.

As for the accommodations, the Norbertines, for a Catholic order, take a surprisingly laid-back attitude to the logistics. Not only the dormitories but the bathrooms are unisex, though toilets and showers, mercifully, each have their own individual stalls and the hot water is plentiful. The only minor shortcoming is the number of beetles and woodlice that have, curiously, taken up residence in a building almost entirely made of stone. In fairness, there aren't more of these than I've encountered in many a gîte, and those bothered by them can do as I customarily do and select an upper bunk. They're adaptable little creatures, but no mountaineers.
 
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truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
Conques is an impressive town with a rather Disney-esque feeling to it. However, I thoroughly loved staying at the Abbey. They run a tight check-in operation to ensure no one tracks bed bugs into the sleeping areas (backpacks get wrapped up in huge plastic bags sprayed with insecticide).

I have a great memory of hanging my clothes out to dry in the warm afternoon sun out back, sitting in a chair underneath a leafy tree and journaling with a view of the valley while listening to the church bells.
 
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Camino Frances (2014)
Camino Via Podiensis (2018)
Love reading your beautifully composed updates as I pass a rainy day off from work (nurse) in lockdown here in Adelaide, Australia. Our day (may 2018) from Estaing to Senerques on the way down the hill to Espreyac we huddled by a stone wall with another couple of pilgrims as the heavens opened with lightning and thunder all around. In a brief lull Eileen and I hurried on only to get no more than 200metres or so when the next wave came. Across the road we saw an umbrella and picnic area set up for pilgrims. Dashing over we huddled under the shelter when the most almightly clap of thunder came directly overhead making us jump and scream! Running wildly down to the house a lovely gentleman came to great us - Michele from Gite Soulie - inviting us in dripping wet, giving out hot tea and biscuits. As the weather showed no signs of abating and now late afternoon with a booking already made in Senergues we asked if he would call a taxi (our first ride on a camino😣) None were available so he phoned his neighbour - two elderly ladies arrived and with hardly a word of common language between us they duly delivered us to our accommodation. So thankful for our camino angels for rescuing two drowned aussie rats from the storm. Needless to say we gave generous donations to these kind people. Linda
 

Aurigny

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Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Night-stops on pilgrim routes tend to involve either a lung-busting climb, to be followed by a perilous descent at the beginning of the following day, or the reverse. Conques features the second of these. The route out of town necessitated extreme care while picking one's way down the cobblestones of the rue de Charlemagne (this was difficult enough in dry conditions; I'm not sure it's actually possible when it's raining); and then a 400m climb through the forest on the other side of the ravine.

The good news is that this is by far the stiffest climb of the day. There is, though, a significant hazard for the unwary. At the summit of the ravine, a thoughtful commune has placed a dry toilet and a picnic bench for the convenience of departing pilgrims. I flopped down sweatily on this seat, only to discover later that it was literally teeming with ticks. I don't know whether they are the nasty, bitey, give-you-Lyme-disease variety, but I wasn't taking any chances. The next half-hour was spent removing dozens of these creatures from my property and person. A prayer card of St Fleuret that they gave me at church in Espalion turned out to be my most useful tool in this operation. Just the same, and notwithstanding the care I'd taken, I found it necessary to give four more of them the boot from my clothing in the following half-hour. I attached a bilingual placard to the bench warning those who were following me, but my recommendations to readers of this thread is not to stop until one is well established on the farmer's track beyond the rest area. That may lack shade, but it lacks the wildlife also.

Today's leg included lots of upland walking, which has its advantages and its shortcomings. On the positive side of the ledger, the views, once again, are terrific. When the temperatures are soaring into the low thirties (around 90F) as they were today, though, both pilgrims and animals suffer. The flies were out in force, and every cow I passed had its tail and ears in continuous motion. Lord knows we humans curse those pests enough, but we don't have to put up with a tenth of what the creatures in the field do.

There's an alternative route on today's leg to Livinhac-le-Haut, along the GR 6, that takes hikers via Preyssac instead of the main thoroughfare via Nouilhac. Supposedly it's a little shorter, but I couldn't be bothered looking for it. Instead I remained on the GR 65, only stopping at the private watering-hole for pilgrims established by a kindly gentleman in another tiny place called Fonteilles, until arriving at Decazeville at about the 20-km mark. This is quite a substantial town, but it's fallen on hard times. The main commercial street is sad indeed, consisting mainly of boarded-up shopfronts and À Vendre signs, with the few open businesses selling gimcrack rubbish and nicotine-vapour equipment. Still, I was compelled to hang around here longer than I'd intended. The heat had become so fierce that I didn't dare venture out again until the shadows had lengthened. In the Church of Notre-Dame, the locals these days organise a voluntary accueil pèlerin—you hang out with about half a dozen people, swilling Evian and telling stories that would be a lot taller if you were not aware of the Lord's interested presence, ready to trouble your conscience about the least embellishment. If one has even a little bit of French, I daresay that one can spend an enjoyable hour or two here. There's a donation-basket on the table, in which one can kick in a few Euro to help defray the project's modest expenses.

So draining was the heat that just two kilometres after leaving Decazeville, I was ready to stop at the little gîte at St-Roch afor a quick two-Euro coke and another chat with the amiable patronne. This mightn't have been a bad place to halt for the night. I was keen, though, on making it to Livinhac so as to reduce the following day's journey. Nothing had been available for booking, but after a very little time knocking on doors, I soon found a comfortable establishment to spend the night. In fact, this trip at least, that procedure has never failed to find me somewhere to rest my weary wings. I'm beginning to suspect that all that websites like Booking.com do is add to people's anxieties, and that the best plan at these night-stops is simply to show up. As the Emperor Napoleon had it, on s'engage et puis on voit.
 

Aurigny

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Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
This obviously applies to ticks too.

Oh, well said, ma'am. You couldn't be more right about that. And if I'd only thought of it, I coiuld have replied to them as did the Iron Duke at Waterloo, while I beat them off my clothing: "Hard pounding, gentlemen; let's see who will pound the longest."
 
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Aurigny

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Year of past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Livinhac-le-Haut is a nice little place, but apart from its extensive riverside campsite, not overburdened with commercial establishments. It's a lot better equipped in that respect than any of the hamlets on the next day's leg to Figeac, 24 km to the south-west. I therefore counsel anyone travelling between the two places to stock up in Livinhac (which, in effect, means its small grocery) the previous evening with whatever supplies they may require. Other than water, nothing is going to be available until the fleshpots of Figeac loom into view.

Today the heat was once again intense, and for the third day straight not a leaf was stirring. I haven't looked at the synoptic chart for the last week or so, but an enormous bubble of high pressure must be parked over precisely this area of south-central France. As always happens when a large air mass isn't going anywhere, the visibility is steadily decreasing as a result of various particulates being trapped in a relatively confined space rather than dispersing elsewhere. This is a pity, because the views across the countryside are one of the chief attractions of this part of the world. A nice cold front moving quickly through would do us all a world of good, in more than one respect.

The étape isn't particularly arduous. There's only one serious climb, a long but manageable pull for about 5 km into the village of Montredon. But there aren't a ton of distractions either. For the most part it's a pleasant, leafy district, with the trail proceeding mainly along well-shaded country roads along which the occasional tractor barrels along at a speed considerably in excess of its brakes' stopping ability. A couple of times I made a decorous leap toward the nearest hedge to avoid, if not being squashed, then at least being given a shave-and-a-haircut by one of these rural Alain Prosts. (The fact that they're often drawing trailers full of solid or liquid fertiliser behind them, the contents of which are decanted on the road after every bump, is yet another reason to give them the widest possible berth.) A fair number of the farms in this area are engaged in the increasingly lucrative bio trade. Generally this takes the form of cheese production—chèvre as a rule—which your nose will detect long before the production facility becomes visible. Cheesemaking on a large scale produces an especially pungent variety of effluents as by-products, with an aroma best described as a combination of pig-slurry and old socks.

Still, it's providing a living for a decent number of people. As is true of nearly all of rural France, the population density of the Lot valley went over a cliff as a result of the Great War, which had a murderous impact upon the peasantry in particular. (Farmers' sons were strong, generally well-fed, and accustomed to hard physical labour, all of which made them especially attractive to the armed services. Those who were rejected as unfit came disproportionately from the great cities.) For the rest of the twentieth century it continued steadily to fall, and it's only in the last fifteen years or so that some places around here have begun to record a modest level of growth. This is largely the result of in-migration, with urban professional telecommuters and back-to-nature types looking to take advantage of the pleasant climate and modest property prices of the region.

By an odd historical paradox, today's leg of the Podiensis parallels almost exactly the track taken in spring 1944 of one of Hitler's most notorious formations, the 2nd (Das Reich) regiment of the Waffen-SS. Memorials attesting to the devastation it wreaked are all over the place. Briefly, after waging a characteristically genocidal campaign in the USSR and Yugoslavia, Das Reich was sent west to be in a position to drive rapidly on whatever French beach the Allies decided to land when the long-anticipated Second Front was finally opened. This locality being a hotbed of Maquis activity, the regiment was kept busy by being assigned the task of counter-insurgency. It did so using the techniques that were commonplace for Hitler's troops in the Soviet Union: burning villages out of hand; hanging, shooting, and torturing random captives; and deporting hostages to camps in the East from which few returned. The main square in St-Félix bears testimony to this carnival of brutality, commemorating among other things Das Reich's killing of a local family, including two sons aged fourteen and thirteen and their eight-year-old sister. All this culminated in the dreadful massacre at Oradour-sur-Glane, northwest of here, in which 643 people--the entire population of the village, except those who happened to be away at the time--were wiped out, as was the town itself. What made it worse was that the majority of the regiment's personnel were themselves Frenchmen, conscripted by the Germans when they annexed Alsace and Lorraine in 1940, so that the engagements between the Nazi forces and the Maquis had many of the characteristics of a civil war.

These sombre reminders of a past that remains very much in contemporary consciousness began to fade away on the descent to Figeac. Probably best known for being the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion, the precocious genius who first cracked the code of Egyptian hieroglyphics, it's now a holiday town, with lots of amenities to match. As such, it seems like a good location for my once-per-trip splurge on a private room and a good cooked dinner. I'm putting up at Le Faubourg, a hotel conveniently located on the way in to town from the GR 65; my restaurant choice will be the subject of some agreeable cogitation later this evening.

I saw on the TV news that the Government is drawing its horns in a little in response to the furore occasioned by its pass sanitaire plans, which seem to have caught it by surprise. (The rhetoric is getting overheated on both sides: invocations of dictature and the étoile jaune on one side; denunciations of crétins and of dégénéré(e)s on the other.) It's just been announced that only commercial establishments of more than 20,000 square metres will be checking customers for their passes—in other words, the hypermarchés, mega-shopping-centres, and similar places. For the twelve-to-seventeen-year-olds, who haven't been eligible for vaccination to this point, the requirement won't kick in until September 30, so as not to ruin their summer. Otherwise, the rules seem more than a little arbitrary. The health pass will be necessary to board the TGVs, the fastest express trains, but if you want to chug your way along to your destination on the slower TERs, none will be demanded of you. And then there are unresolved demarcation questions: whether, for example, a kayaking school counts as a leisure operation (in which case, seemingly, it will be subject to the pass requirements) or an instructional facility (in which case it won't.) As yet, nobody has a clue how visitors to France are supposed to document their vaccination status, with the result that foreign bookings for August and beyond are being cancelled left and right.

Ah well. I've only two more nights to go before my time here runs out, so it's unlikely that I'll have to put the system to the test. No doubt it will work itself out. With the presidential election on the horizon, I imagine the government will not wish to see a repetition of gilets jaunes-style protests, so in classic French style it's likely that after everyone has engaged in the maximum possible hyperbole, there'll be a retreat from the most extreme positions in favour of something that all sides can more or less live with.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2021
As is true of nearly all of rural France, the population density of the Lot valley went over a cliff as a result of the Great War, which had a murderous impact upon the peasantry in particular.
Yes, I remember seeing a Great War monument dedicated to lost sons in most every town I walked through.
 

OTH86

Veteran Member
Year of past OR future Camino
2017
@Aurigny , Just a note to thank you for taking us along on this absolutely wonderful trek! Hopefully, you'll grace us with another section of the Podiensis (and your delightful writing) sometime soon! Happy trails!
 

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