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LIVE from the Camino Live from the Podiensis

Aurigny

Active Member
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
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
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!
 
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
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
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
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
Past OR future Camino
1341
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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
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
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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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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
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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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Camino Frances (2014)
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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
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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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

Active Member
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

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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

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Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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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Past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2014)
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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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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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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
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
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.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Hôtel Le Faubourg receives mixed reviews, but on the whole I'm a fan. The location is convenient; check-in is easy (keys are left in the door; a code posted on the exterior provides access to the building); and the rooms are capacious by European standards. Granted, almost nothing in the place is newer than the 1970s, but for the weary pilgrim, style-points are low on the list of priorities. The management is also cheerful and with a nice sense of humour. Mind you, if I were getting paid EUR 66 a night for a single room in that place, breakfast not included, I'd be cheerful too.

Figeac is a good town for a resupply. Two moderately sized but well-stocked supermarkets, a Casino and a Leclerc, are within a hundred metres of each other, slap in the centre of town (the first has cold drinks, the second offers the better ready-made sandwiches). There's also a self-service launderette nearby: EUR 4.50 for 8 kg of clothing, lessive not included, and in this weather you shouldn't have to spend any money on the tumble-dryers. In contrast to the Faubourg, Mme la Patronne is a fusspot, constantly hovering and barking at the customers, but if you withdraw to the adjacent bar with its outdoor seating area, you can sip a two-Euro lemonade beyond earshot while still keeping your clothes within visual range.

After that, dinnertime may be looming. I give two emphatic thumbs up to the Terrasse restaurant on the Quai Bessières, literally at the northern end of the Pont de Gambetta. Excellent food, including the best Belgian-style frites I've eaten outside the Low Countries in quite some time; sensible prices; and more than ample portions. If you're going to have the profiteroles for dessert, invite two of your hungrier friends along to help you.

Having indulged in all these luxuries, it was hardly surprising that when I arose this morning for my last full day on the trail this summer, I was feeling like a fighting cock: the first day, in fact, when I haven't been dragging for the initial hour or so. Clean clothes, a tranquil and undisturbed night's sleep, and a full stomach to be sure had something to do with that, but my guess is that I'm finally getting my trail legs under me. As I've said previously, this is the curse of the week-to-ten-day pilgrim sojourn. You go through all the discomfort of reacquainting your body to hard physical labour, and just as it's beginning to adjust to that new reality, it's time to pull the plug on the entire endeavour and go home.

Before that could happen, though, there were 31 km to be covered to Cajarc. The route started out promisingly along the railway tracks, but soon peeled off for the standard early-morning climb along a rocky path. This is now the fifth day of extremely hot and windless weather (M. le météo said it would go up as high as 37C along parts of the trail) and I was carrying a lot more water than usual. I would need all of it. The first halting-place, Feycelles, is a modest distance from Figeac, about 8 km or so. It has a café, La Petite Pause, that takes full advantage of its monopoly position. But I saw nowhere else to replenish a water-bottle until Gréalou, another 13 km further on. In conditions like today's, trying to cover that span while in possession of little water or none at all might have serious health consequences.

Although there's a gîte at Gréalou, not much else is to be seen with the exception of a small grocery shop which is, mercifully, open all day except Thursdays. A tap, fifty metres or so away from the church, provides the eau potable of which pilgrims are advised to take full advantage. I carried away a litre and a half with me, and no more than a couple of swallows were left by the time I reached Cajarc, ten kilometres later.

In less challenging weather, this would be quite an easy leg. Most of it proceeds along little tracks just wide enough to accommodate a single person, though some of the familiar sanded farmers' paths are also in evidence. Unusually for this section of the Podiensis, it's relatively level once one has completed the first climb out of Cajarc. Approaching the destination, one is offered a choice of routes, signposted at 5.7 and 6.6 km respectively, but with nothing to differentiate them otherwise. I opted for the shorter of the two and found it unexceptional: the standard long-descent into the night-stop at the bottom of the valley. Perhaps the views are better on the longer one.

Cajarc was crowded when I arrived, there being a large African festival taking place in the middle of the town and down by the waterfront. The first couple of gîte-owners shook their heads gravely when I asked about a bed, and I was beginning to resign myself to the prospect of finding a dry and level piece of forest floor covered with pine-needles for my final night on trail. Had I had to do so, it would have been very little hardship given the weather. But the proprietress of La Peyrade, a hotel-gîte complex just on the outskirts of town, had a single bed available at EUR 22 complete with a small fan that at least moved the air around while providing a reassuring and soporific hum, and I was glad to take her up on it.

So, after ten days, ends my current section of the Podiensis. I'd hoped to get a little further, mainly to facilitate returning to resume my progress whenever a bit of free time next comes my way, but that's not of vital importance. From all I hear, the section I've just covered between Le Puy and hereabouts is the most physically demanding, and I can expect to make better time when I'm back here again.

As always, I'll have a wrap-up in a day or two, indicating what I've learned about this étape and what, with the benefit of hindsight, I'd do differently next time.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
Although there's a gîte at Gréalou, not much else is to be seen with the exception of a small grocery shop which is, mercifully, open all day except Thursdays. A tap, fifty metres or so away from the church, provides the eau potable of which pilgrims are advised to take full advantage.
The gîte in Grealou (L'Atelier des Volets Bleaus) was one of my favorite places; adorable and cozy with the most charming kitchen and the best bed I found on the Podiensis.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Many thanks for the kind comments, all. Herewith a wrap-up of this initial stage of the Podiensis.

* The first thing to mention about this route is that to an even greater degree than its predecessor, the Gebennensis, it comes in just two flavours: up and down. Other than the occasional stretch of a couple of kilometres along the top of a ridge or the bottom of a valley, there wasn't a moment when I wasn't either climbing or descending. The elevations aren't, to be sure, immense. The highest point along this stretch, I believe, was 1,370m (4,500'), just past the Domaine du Sauvage; the lowest at Cajarc, a mere 140m above sea-level. But those for whom constant ascents are purgatorial experiences may wish to reconsider their choice of this route.

* The other side of that particular coin is that the scenery is never less than attractive, and sometimes spectacular. As a general rule, plains and other expanses of land where it's easy to walk are rarely pleasing to the eye, whereas landscapes incorporating lots of elevation-changes are much more likely to provide dramatic and visually arresting scenes. Many of the villages and towns along the way, moreover, are of picture-postcard quality, with St.-Chély-d'Aubrac and Estaing being particular standouts. And four and a half thousand feet is quite high enough to obtain marvellous views of an enormous expanse of surrounding countryside, provided the weather co-operates.

* It's also a remarkably varied landscape for such a relatively short distance. Geologically recent volcanic fields give way to expanses of moorland, which in turn are followed by what look like the foothills of the Alps; bocage country similar to what one sees in Normandy; verdant river valleys; and finally endless rolling wooded hills. Likewise, the climate changes with remarkable abruptness from the eternal clouds and rain of the Massif Central to the warmth of the Mediterranean, complete with flora, fauna and aromas to match. You get a lot of visual bang for your buck for a journey not quite three hundred kilometres in length.

* Logistically, it's highly developed. While those splendid yellow-and-black finger-posts peter out after Chazeaux on the third day, the waymarking along the entire length is everything for which one could reasonably ask. The white-and-red horizontal bars of the GR 65 are everywhere. I carried no map, and never felt the need of one. Writing down the names of the villages through which I was to pass on my day's journey was all the navigational knowledge I required. I wandered off track only twice, for very brief periods. Both times were the result of my own wool-gathering and inattention (as I was able to confirm with fellow pilgrims at the night-stops), rather than any deficiency or ambiguity in the indications provided. Very occasionally, it was necessary to infer one's course by noting that all the possible alternatives had been marked with red-and-white X slashes, indicating that these were not the correct routes. The comprehensiveness of the job done by the FFRP, the French hikers' organisation, however, is so commendable that if one doesn't come across a white-and-red blaze after travelling, say, 400m, it's almost a certainty that one is heading in the wrong direction. (Yellow blazes, on the other hand, often co-located with the GR 65 markings, should be completely ignored.)

* Similarly, even in this exceptional summer when it seemed that all of urban France had descended en masse upon the countryside, accommodation turned out not to be the insuperable obstacle that everyone told me it was certain to be. The advice I was given at the outset to book ahead for the entire trip or risk being stranded on a park bench was not quite correct. It's undoubtedly true that all those places that could be reserved online were quickly snapped up, for days or weeks into the future. But that's only a very small proportion of the total accommodation available. Indeed, I'm not sure that there's much point in even e-mailing the others in advance. Both on this trip and on previous ones, I've found that French gîte, auberge and chambre d'hôte owners are pretty uniformly terrible at answering e-mail. Only two such inquiries that I sent yielded a positive result, and one of those was received too late to do me any good. I found that by far my most effective tactic was simply to arrive at my night-stop (provided that it was at a decent hour, i.e., ideally before 19:00) and begin knocking on the doors of the accommodation-providers whose premises I passed along the way. This never failed to produce a bed in short order. In fact, with the single exception of the Peyrade at Cajarc, my very last stop, everywhere I stayed had quite a few unoccupied berths left when we weary pilgrims at last blew out the candles and composed ourselves for sleep.

* Prices were fairly high, as is typical of French hiking trails even in a normal year, but manageable nonetheless. The least I paid for a bunk, breakfast not included, was EUR 12 at the Abbey in Conques; the most EUR 22 in the towns at either end -- Le Puy and Cajarc -- with EUR 16-18 being typical en route. It seems, though, that gîte-owners nowadays make their money less by providing sleeping accommodation than by selling the group dinner that usually goes along with it. At EUR 20 or thereabouts for soup, lettuce, a little bit of protein, plenty of vegetables, and rough red wine, this represents poor value by French gastronomic standards. But such is the microscopic size of many night-stop villages along the Podiensis that one's choice is to pay for it or to do without food at all until the following morning. Groceries and supermarkets are astonishingly few along this trail, and often closed. The Mediterranean lunch-hour (12:00 to 15:00 or 12:30 to 15:30) is much in evidence on the Podiensis.

* This is one of those chemins where it really helps to be able to speak French. I don't know what it's like in a typical year, but on this occasion, with very rare exceptions, all those I met were Francophone monoglots. People are friendly, and I believe that at the night-stops they'd make a real effort to include in the conversation even those who can't speak the language. This is not, though, a part of the world where the locals will quickly default to English if somebody is having difficulty making him- or herself understood. In fact, given the strength of the regional accent (it sounds vaguely Québecois at times) and the inclusion of quite a few dialect-words derived from Occitan, even Franciliens will find themselves saying Comment? more often than usual.

* The character of one's companions changes drastically after Conques. A great many of the pèlerins and randonneurs one will meet to that point are first-timers, for whom this is, in effect, an adventure holiday with little spiritual significance. Many of them, indeed, will drop out even before then. But without exception, those still out on the trail afterwards are hard-core hiker-pilgrims, possessing lots of previous experience and marked by much seriousness of purpose. They set a blazing pace, and I don't recommend trying to keep up with them. You can catch up at the night-stops, as you trail in an hour or two later in their wake.

As was the case with the Gebennensis, I'm an enthusiast of the Podiensis. The time of year at which I walked is very nearly the worst imaginable: early September would be best, when the temperatures are moderate but before the autumn rains—which will make some of the descents not just difficult but dangerous—arrive in earnest. Similarly, a ten-day outing involves the maximum amount of profitless suffering: it takes that long for one's body to start adjusting to the rigours of the trail, and just at the moment when one can begin to take advantage of that enhanced level of fitness, it all stops. Given the strenuousness of this particular route, the Podiensis mightn't be ideal as a first Camino. For the seasoned traveller who is willing to take the rough with the smooth, though, it is full of charm and offers all the variety for which anyone could wish.
 
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shefollowsshells

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Several alone and with children
Aurigny, Your writing style, your words, your ability to capture your surroundings are second to none! I've spent the last hour hidden in my bedroom reading your updates. We leave Friday, well actually Saturday for Paris then on to Le Puy en Velay. Friday we head North to DC for our flights. I'll be blogging (it's my only social media), and fear after reading your beautiful details anything I share will bore any reader. Job well done! Thank you for taking us along for the ride!!!!
Neve
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
This is one of those chemins where it really helps to be able to speak French. I don't know what it's like in a typical year, but on this occasion, with very rare exceptions, all those I met were Francophone monoglots. People are friendly, and I believe that at the night-stops they'd make a real effort to include in the conversation even those who can't speak the language.
Absolutely. I got a crash course in French on this Camino. I quickly realized I needed to be comfortable being the quiet listener at the dinner table while everyone else chattered in French.

Thank you so much for your updates. Your clear, poetic writing and way with words took me right back to the trail.

Until next time...
 
Last edited:

shefollowsshells

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Several alone and with children
Absolutely. I got a crash course in French on this Camino. I quickly realized I needed to be comfortable being the quiet listener at the dinner table while everyone else chattered in French.

Thank you so much for your updates. Your clear and poetic writing and way with words took me right back to the trail.

Until next time...
I took French in high school, however, it is very poor, so poor that when I am in France and attempt it French speakers will actually ask me to speak English-lol...but I do try!!!
I did the Le puy -Santiago (Finisterre and Muxia) five years ago but we camped out almost the whole way on the French side. This year with just my daughter and I going (vs five of my kids) we are getting to splurge more. I do worry that the accommodations of vacationers vs pilgrims, and my poor French might make me wish we were camping vs splurging in gites.
 
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LTfit

Veteran Member
Many thanks for the kind comments, all. Herewith a wrap-up of this initial stage of the Podiensis.

* The first thing to mention about this route is that to an even greater degree than its predecessor, the Gebennensis, it comes in just two flavours: up and down. Other than the occasional stretch of a couple of kilometres along the top of a ridge or the bottom of a valley, there wasn't a moment when I wasn't either climbing or descending. The elevations aren't, to be sure, immense. The highest point along this stretch, I believe, was 1,370m (4,500'), just past the Domaine du Sauvage; the lowest at Cajarc, a mere 140m above sea-level. But those for whom constant ascents are purgatorial experiences may wish to reconsider their choice of this route.

* The other side of that particular coin is that the scenery is never less than attractive, and sometimes spectacular. As a general rule, plains and other expanses of land where it's easy to walk are rarely pleasing to the eye, whereas landscapes incorporating lots of elevation-changes are much more likely to provide dramatic and visually arresting scenes. Many of the villages and towns along the way, moreover, are of picture-postcard quality, with St.-Chély-d'Aubrac and Estaing being particular standouts. And four and a half thousand feet is quite high enough to obtain marvellous views of an enormous expanse of surrounding countryside, provided the weather co-operates.

* It's also a remarkably varied landscape for such a relatively short distance. Geologically recent volcanic fields give way to expanses of moorland, which in turn are followed by what look like the foothills of the Alps; bocage country similar to what one sees in Normandy; verdant river valleys; and finally endless rolling wooded hills. Likewise, the climate changes with remarkable abruptness from the eternal clouds and rain of the Massif Central to the warmth of the Mediterranean, complete with flora, fauna and aromas to match. You get a lot of visual bang for your buck for a journey not quite three hundred kilometres in length.

* Logistically, it's highly developed. While those splendid yellow-and-black finger-posts peter out after Chazeaux on the third day, the waymarking along the entire length is everything for which one could reasonably ask. The white-and-red horizontal bars of the GR 65 are everywhere. I carried no map, and never felt the need of one. Writing down the names of the villages through which I was to pass on my day's journey was all the navigational knowledge I required. I wandered off track only twice, for very brief periods. Both times were the result of my own wool-gathering and inattention (as I was able to confirm with fellow pilgrims at the night-stops), rather than any deficiency or ambiguity in the indications provided. Very occasionally, it was necessary to infer one's course by noting that all the possible alternatives had been marked with red-and-white X slashes, indicating that these were not the correct routes. The comprehensiveness of the job done by the FFRP, the French hikers' organisation, however, is so commendable that if one doesn't come across a white-and-red blaze after travelling, say, 400m, it's almost a certainty that one is heading in the wrong direction. (Yellow blazes, on the other hand, often co-located with the GR 65 markings, should be completely ignored.)

* Similarly, even in this exceptional summer when it seemed that all of urban France had descended en masse upon the countryside, accommodation turned out not to be the insuperable obstacle that everyone told me it was certain to be. The advice I was given at the outset to book ahead for the entire trip or risk being stranded on a park bench was not quite correct. It's undoubtedly true that all those places that could be reserved online were quickly snapped up, for days or weeks into the future. But that's only a very small proportion of the total accommodation available. Indeed, I'm not sure that there's much point in even e-mailing the others in advance. Both on this trip and on previous ones, I've found that French gîte, auberge and chambre d'hôte owners are pretty uniformly terrible at answering e-mail. Only two such inquiries that I sent yielded a positive result, and one of those was received too late to do me any good. I found that by far my most effective tactic was simply to arrive at my night-stop (provided that it was at a decent hour, i.e., ideally before 19:00) and begin knocking on the doors of the accommodation-providers whose premises I passed along the way. This never failed to produce a bed in short order. In fact, with the single exception of the Peyrade at Cajarc, my very last stop, everywhere I stayed had quite a few unoccupied berths left when we weary pilgrims at last blew out the candles and composed ourselves for sleep.

* Prices were fairly high, as is typical of French hiking trails even in a normal year, but manageable nonetheless. The least I paid for a bunk, breakfast not included, was EUR 12 at the Abbey in Conques; the most EUR 22 in the towns at either end -- Le Puy and Cajarc -- with EUR 16-18 being typical en route. It seems, though, that gîte-owners nowadays make their money less by providing sleeping accommodation than by selling the group dinner that usually goes along with it. At EUR 20 or thereabouts for soup, lettuce, a little bit of protein, plenty of vegetables, and rough red wine, this represents poor value by French gastronomic standards. But such is the microscopic size of many night-stop villages along the Podiensis that one's choice is to pay for it or to do without food at all until the following morning. Groceries and supermarkets are astonishingly few along this trail, and often closed. The Mediterranean lunch-hour (12:00 to 15:00 or 12:30 to 15:30) is much in evidence on the Podiensis.

* This is one of those chemins where it really helps to be able to speak French. I don't know what it's like in a typical year, but on this occasion, with very rare exceptions, all those I met were Francophone monoglots. People are friendly, and I believe that at the night-stops they'd make a real effort to include in the conversation even those who can't speak the language. This is not, though, a part of the world where the locals will quickly default to English if somebody is having difficulty making him- or herself understood. In fact, given the strength of the regional accent (it sounds vaguely Québecois at times) and the inclusion of quite a few dialect-words derived from Occitan, even Franciliens will find themselves saying Comment? more often than usual.

* The character of one's companions changes drastically after Conques. A great many of the pèlerins and randonneurs one will meet to that point are first-timers, for whom this is, in effect, an adventure holiday with little spiritual significance. Many of them, indeed, will drop out even before then. But without exception, those still out on the trail afterwards are hard-core hiker-pilgrims, possessing lots of previous experience and marked by much seriousness of purpose. They set a blazing pace, and I don't recommend trying to keep up with them. You can catch up at the night-stops, as you trail in an hour or two later in their wake.

As was the case with the Gebennensis, I'm an enthusiast of the Podiensis. The time of year at which I walked is very nearly the worst imaginable: early September would be best, when the temperatures are moderate but before the autumn rains—which will make some of the descents not just difficult but dangerous—arrive in earnest. Similarly, a ten-day outing involves the maximum amount of profitless suffering: it takes that long for one's body to start adjusting to the rigours of the trail, and just at the moment when one can begin to take advantage of that enhanced level of fitness, it all stops. Given the strenuousness of this particular route, the Podiensis mightn't be ideal as a first Camino. For the seasoned traveller who is willing to take the rough with the smooth, though, it is full of charm and offers all the variety for which anyone could wish.
I must chim in to also complement you on your writing @Aurigny ! This is the first time that I'm perusing the Le Puy Forum and it looks like I hit the jackpot! After 11 years walking Spanish Caminos (my last in June on the Salvador and Primitivo) I'm thinking about walking a couple of weeks from Le Puy. From your account, it looks like I'll be roughly walking the same stages as day 10 also gets me to Cajarc.

I've got a specific question which I hope you can answer. I'm vegan, don't eat breakfast and am not a big eater so I don't plan on going the demi-pension route. In your experience, will gîte owners prefer not to take reservations for pilgrims that only want a bed? Although I normally don't reserve, I am thinking about doing so as I hope to start mid September which may be quite busy. I was planning on sending emails but after your comment I'll probably call in advance (I speak French).

This summer has been unusually cool in many part of Europe, of course who knows what September will bring but were blankets available in the gîtes you stayed in?

Many thanks again for your detailed account!

Ultreia.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
I don't think that'll be any kind of problem, LT. They're likely to suggest a demi-pension arrangement, even to the extent of taking it for granted ("you'll be wanting dinner, of course"), but if you say that you're just looking for a bed—as I did on several occasions—I'm pretty sure that they'll accept it with a good grace.

At one of the places at which I stayed, a fellow pèlerine opted out of breakfast for the same reason as you: she'd brought her own vegan supplies. No objection was raised.

Blankets were available in about half the establishments, most of them looking as though they hadn't been washed since the days when Clemenceau was editing L'Aurore. Personally, I wouldn't take the risk of travelling in September without some kind of bed-covering of my own. I travel with an Aegismax Ultralight goosedown sleeping bag, which weighs 528g and can be compressed to the volume of a couple of soft-drink cans. It keeps me comfortable down to about 15C/59F, and if you're sleeping indoors, it's unlikely ever to be colder than that.
 

shefollowsshells

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
Several alone and with children
I thought I would add what I am experiencing with booking places. I leave Saturday for Le Puy. I have booked all but about six nights' stay and that is because I did not hear back from the location or due to the trip I did five years ago I had a great place to a camp known to me.
Most places or at least several have asked me to bring a sheet. I didn't keep track of which ones since I am bringing a sheet anyway, but my daughter and I will taking a fitted sheet, sleeping back, and pillow with us. While we own a super light tent we used in the Pyrenees for me and my two daughters we are for this trip only taking our hammocks. I just bought a sleeping pad by Klymit that is made especially for hammocks (with wings), it's not the smallest thing, nor the lightest but I do struggle in my hammock with pads.

Almost all of my places asked if I wanted dinner and breakfast I did not get the impression, even once that they were deciding if they could house me due to that question. With that said I could see why they would, but have not experienced that.

I hope to have more to share starting next week. I think we will start to hike Tuesday and I plan to share anything that I can to help others.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Through a complicated set of circumstances that are too involved to go into detail about here, I find myself back out on the trail once again. The condensed version is that another block of about ten days' free time that I never expected to have fell into my lap at short notice. There's plenty of professional work I could, and perhaps should, be doing, but my wife argued strongly that the work, like the poor, will always be with us, whereas opportunities of this kind are all too rare. She reminded me that from the end of this month I'm unlikely to have a single day off until Christmas, and that given the uncertainty of the moment through which we're currently living, there's no guarantee that any of us will be allowed to walk on a Camino route next summer. The last point weighed heavily with me, and after sleeping on it, I doubled back to a Podiensis that I wasn't expecting to see again until 2022.

I'm returning to a situation very much in flux. Two days ago, the Constitutional Court in Paris issued a ruling upholding the introduction of the pass sanitaire, though it drew a line at permitting the government to make vaccinations mandatory, as some politicians and commentators have been demanding. But it's still unclear how this is going to work in practice in many cases. Those French citizens willing to obtain the pass have several routes to do so, the local pharmacy being the option chosen by most. For foreigners it's all a great deal more complicated. EU residents can in many cases obtain a European Union Digital Covid Certificate in the countries where they live, though some are being hamstrung by the failure of their own governments to put a workable interface in place. The real difficulty, however, will come with people like Americans, who have only a paper card (in English) to brandish at the authorities, who may or may not accept or understand it. There's some talk of creating a means by which these people too may be able to have their details inputted into the French system and obtain the precious QR code, but no details have yet emerged on how, or when, that will happen. Meanwhile the unreconciled minority of French citizens continue to protest volubly, often physically, and occasionally violently against the entire concept. It's a good old-fashioned mess, and I will be most interested to be on the ground to see how it all turns out.

I will say that the Macron government finally seem to have taken on board the reality that the vaccine-reluctant or -indifferent are only likely to participate if the process is made a great deal easier for them than it has been to this point. Yesterday afternoon I passed an enormous tent set up in front of the Hôtel de Ville in Paris, where people can obtain their vaccinations on a walk-up basis: the requirement of a prior appointment is no longer insisted upon. A smaller-scale version of the same thing was on offer at a booth outside the Gare d'Austerlitz. Regrettably, both were doing very little business. If I'd wanted to patronise either, I'd have been first in line on each occasion.

I'm fully vaccinated, though, and I didn't have much time to hang around the centre of Paris in any event. Last night I travelled down to the southwest, and this morning hopped the bus to take me back to where I'd left off a fortnight ago. As on my first outing on the Podiensis just before Bastille Day, the weather decided to be unco-operative. It was raining very heavily indeed, and continued to do so until mid-morning, the temperature being no higher than the low teens. Today being Saturday, moreover, I was forced to get a late start, bus services in rural districts on weekends being even more irregular and infrequent than on working days.

Fortunately, despite the inclement conditions, I had an easy reintroduction to the Podiensis. Today's leg was neither excessively long (around 28 km) nor particularly arduous. The only climb of the day, a mere couple of hundred metres, comes just after Cajarc. After that, it's the nearest thing to billiard-table levelness that one ever sees on this particular route. It consists in large measure of nice, wide farm track, interspersed with short stretches along tertiary roads down which practically no traffic comes.

What it is short of is amenities. For the nearly fifteen kilometres between Gaillac and Limogne-e- Quercy, nothing is to be obtained, though the half-starved pilgrim does have the option of peeling off the trail and heading into Saint-Jean-de-Laur, which it skirts to the north, at the ten-kilometre mark. Making a good breakfast and stocking up at the small but very adequate Casino in the centre of Cajarc is a sensible precaution. Otherwise, it'll be a matter of taking in one's belt until one reaches Limogne-en-Quercy.

It was a lonely journey for me today, the result, no doubt of my not beginning until nearly eleven o'clock. In contrast to my last outing on the Podiensis, I didn't see a single other person out there, dog-walkers and truffle-hunters aside, until Limogne. As towns go around here, this is quite a substantial metropolis. Its church bears a sign announcing that the clergy will be glad to stamp credentials at the presbytery. They must have got tired of people banging on their door, because a self-service tampon—the first I've seen in any place of worship on this trip—is to be found on a small table beside the pews, firmly chained up to prevent its sharing the fate of its counterpart at Aumont-Aubrac. I made appropriate use of it, and paid for the service both temporally and spiritually with candles and prayers.

Otherwise Limogne is notable for its U supermarket on the way out of town, and the fact that the car park of the same establishment has another of those twenty-four-hour self-service launderettes I encountered at St-Auban (EUR 4 for the wash, two more for the drying). It's too early in the trip for me to require such a thing, but these are splendid innovations, and I hope to see them catch on everywhere.

I'm staying tonight at the Gîte du Clos des Escoutilles just on the outskirts of Varaire, which village I haven't actually seen yet. At EUR 19 a night it's not the cheapest, but it offers a lot to the traveller, starting with the helpful and agreeable young couple who run it. They are, apparently, practitioners of réflexologie—I haven't a notion of what that is, I'm afraid—and will do whatever that involves to whichever of your extremities is giving you trouble for a small additional charge. The traditional pilgrim requirements are not, however, neglected. There's a lavishly equipped kitchen for patrons' use; a washing machine (supplementary fee, I believe); handwashing facilities (included in the price); a clothesline; and even outdoor hammocks in the back garden. Drinks may be obtained from the 'fridge, and an unusually comprehensive selection of freeze-dried or canned food items from the upstairs dining room, at modest cost. Each room sleeps just four persons. Other than the fact that the wi-fi connection is anaemic even by French standards, it's hard to think of too many desiderata that the astute and attentive proprietors of this place have missed.
 

norelle

Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Frances (2011 April, 2014 March) San Salvador, Primitivo, Finisterre, Muxia (June 2015) Del Norte (Sept/Oct 2016)
Aurigny,
I was so pleased to see that you’ve continued on your way! Your posts are a highlight of my day in Australia where we are locked in with very little hope of walking towards Santiago any time soon.
Thank you for sharing!
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
In the ordinary course of events, I'm not one of those people who spring from their beds to greet the rosy-fingered dawn with a series of push-ups and a snatch or two of one of the more stirring arias from Verdi's Nabucco. But I've been in this game long enough to know that in high summer, that extra hour's rest in the albergue or its equivalent will be dearly paid for later in the day. The time between first light and mid-morning is when the easy kilometres are. If, on a 30+ km day, you've set yourself up in such a way that by noon you're counting down in single figures, you've arranged matters very well indeed.

In the hope of being counted among that prudent company, I
was first on the road this morning from the Escoutilles, glad as I would have been to hang around for breakfast. Expecting to have to fend for myself on a Sunday, I had taken care at the supermarket in Limogne last night to make myself independent so far as road food was concerned. And it's as well that I did. If the pickings were slim yesterday en route, today they were literally nonexistent. Even sources of water were conspicuous by their absence until I had completed more than half of the day's journey.

I remain today as ignorant of Varaire as I was yesterday. As it turns out, the trail doesn't actually pass through the village itself, and I didn't see any need to sightsee at six in the morning. Instead I pointed myself in the direction of the only habitation large enough to merit a placard and a speed-limit sign along the entire route, a place called Bach (pronounced "Bash," rather than in the German style), nearly six kilometres down the road. I found that there's another nice-looking gîte there, La Grange Saint-Jacques, and that one might be worth trying if there's no room at the Escoutilles.

But that gîte, and a couple of smaller ones in the locality, seemed to represent the sum total of Bach's commercial sector. As it happens, if I'd been willing to hang around until this evening, I could have gorged myself. Today and tomorrow have been reserved for Bach's annual fête votive, with a pageant of bands, a service at the church, and a banquet with melon and ham, escalope of veal with truffles, and tarte aux fruits available to all attendees at the bargain price of EUR 17. Had I the time, I'd have enthusiastically participated in all three, but duty, and the trail, were calling.

Speaking of the chemin, the going today was easy and pleasant, but not offering much in the way of scenery. This is the land of the dry stone wall (which, it must be said, makes a most comfortable seat when deeply covered with moss, as it nearly always is here). Not much agriculture seems to be going on in the small fields immediately behind, which for the most part have been left to sprout a mixture of tall grasses and invasive weeds. Beyond that is forest: beeches and old-growth birches, a welcome change from the conifer infestation to be seen further east. The result, though, is that one's field of vision is confined to a range of about fifty metres, and sometimes a great deal less than that. I've heard the Appalachian Trail in the U.S. described by people who've walked it as a two-thousand-mile-long green tunnel, and today's étape on the Podiensis also conformed pretty closely to that description.

The quality of the going and the continued excellence of the waymarking does make for rapid progress. There are no climbs to speak of (although the steep descent into Cahors, along a paved road, does need to be taken at a deliberate pace), and while the recent rain has made a few sections a little soggy, these are relatively easily negotiated. The only matter to which the pilgrim has to pay attention is, as I say, the question of supplies. A newly constructed toilet and concrete shelter (costing, I learn, EUR 77,000, of which the EU kicked in about a fifth) to be found south of Laburgade, at the half-way point or perhaps just a little beyond, was the only water-source I was to encounter today. One could be badly caught out if one were to depart without adequate supplies on a hot day like this one transpired to be.

It was very early afternoon when I descended into Cahors. Granted, that unwonted rate of progress had a lot to do with the fact that I encountered no pleasant but time-consuming caffeinated distractions en route. This is both an attractive and a substantial town: I never realised, until I was looking down on it from the slopes of the Mont de St Cyr, just how much of it there was. It's had a chequered history. The Saracens, the Vikings, the Hungarians, the English and, finally, during the Wars of Religion, the French all wrecked it at one time or another—trashing Cahors seems to have been how Europeans kept themselves amused until football was invented. It's also the birthplace of Pope John XXII, not one of the Church's most distinguished pontiffs, and of Léon Gambetta, of whom an unflattering, and hence probably accurate, larger-than-life statue stands in the main square. Gambetta is chiefly remembered for having proclaimed the Third Republic in 1870, and for being the principal figure to rally French resistance after the disastrous Battle of Sedan at the outset of the Franco-Prussian War. In so doing he unnecessarily prolonged a hopeless conflict, and inadvertently cost his country tens of thousands of additional lives to no discernible purpose. To paraphrase Maurice Thorez, "Il faut savoir terminer une guerre," and Gambetta didn't.

What makes Cahors especially notable today is its gastronomic excellence—I lost count of the number of Guide Michelin-listed restaurants it contains—its narrow but well-lit streets, a rarity for France; and its impressive Cathedral of Saint Étienne. This is well worth a visit, even if you're not Catholic or religious, for the frescoes and the original stained glass. Some modernist additions in the same vein have recently been installed in the nave. There are two opinions about how harmoniously these fit in with their surroundings, and no doubt you can guess which one I hold. But if you're planning on attending Mass there, as I did this evening, it's possible to sit in the choir if the congregation is small enough. Apart from the intimacy of the experience, the elaborate wooden pews there make it easy to stash backpacks out of sight. Commendably, a brief benediction for pilgrims is offered at the end of the evening service. Something of the kind has taken place at every Mass I've attended on the Podiensis thus far. It makes one wonder how the Church in Spain can by contrast take such an attitude of indifference to the even more important spiritual activity going on in its midst.

I have neither the time, the budget, nor above all the attire to attend an upmarket restaurant, so dinner this evening was at an unpretentious establishment called Le Break, a homemade burger place at the very top of the Boul. Gambetta. For a ridiculously cheap price of EUR 10—as much as one would be charged for a Happy Meal at McDo—one gets a well-presented and substantial gourmet burger of one's choice, a drink, and a serving of the house's frites. These are reputed to be the best in Cahors, and I can't imagine how anyone could quibble with that assessment. It's a good thing I don't live here, because if I did, it would be difficult for me to resist the temptation to have them every day, to the immense detriment of both my waistline and my coronary arteries.
 
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truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
I enjoyed Cahors, thought it a lively town. I'm even more interested in returning for le burger at Le Break. There's also an excellent Kebab shop the main road which served as a nice respite from heavy pilgrim food (ate there twice and didn't regret it).

Editing to add: I happened to arrive on a Saturday when the weekly market was in full swing. It was absolute heaven....
 
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Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
Instead I pointed myself in the direction of the only habitation large enough to merit a placard and a speed-limit sign along the entire route, a place called Bach (pronounced "Bash," rather than in the German style), nearly six kilometres down the road. I found that there's another nice-looking gîte there, La Grange Saint-Jacques, and that one might be worth trying if there's no room at the Escoutilles.

But that gîte, and a couple of smaller ones in the locality, seemed to represent the sum total of Bach's commercial sector. As it happens, if I'd been willing to hang around until this evening, I could have gorged myself. Today and tomorrow have been reserved for Bach's annual fête votive, with a pageant of bands, a service at the church, and a banquet with melon and ham, escalope of veal with truffles, and tarte aux fruits available to all attendees at the bargain price of EUR 17. Had I the time, I'd have enthusiastically participated in all three, but duty, and the trail, were calling.
Bach has one of the best restaurants in the region - Auberge Lou Bourdie. It appears in one of Jamie Oliver's books, as Monique, the original owner, taught him to make several deserts. We stumbled on the place by chance when on the Podiensis. We were in need of a mid-morning coffee, and saw the restaurant sign. It looked closed, but Monique let us in, she was starting the lunch preparation. With the coffee she gave us a few small things to try, they were so delicious we stayed for lunch. It was unbelievably good. We finished up lingering the whole afternoon, abandoned walking for the day, and found accommodation nearby (all arranged by Monique). I believe the restaurant is now run by Monique's niece, Julie, and is still excellent.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
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Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Looked at on a map, there doesn't appear to be a tremendous amount of point in diverting pilgrims heading in a general south-westerly direction and bringing them to Cahors. It involves a substantial deviation to the north-west, and then another southwards, effectively making wayfarers walk two sides of an approximately equilateral triangle. There is in fact a variant of the Grandes Randonnées that cuts out Cahors altogether, though that one incorporates a couple of serpentine coils of its own that probably doesn't make for much of a saving in distance. No doubt, however, in mediaeval times Cahors was so important as an ecclesiastical and educational centre that bypassing it seemed as ridiculous a proposition as going to the Cotentin peninsula and not dropping in at Mont-Saint-Michel.

There is one important point to be noted about leaving the city, though. This is accomplished by crossing the Pont Valentré, which spans the Lot to the west. It's a striking fourteenth-century construction: indeed, almost too striking—and suspiciously well-preserved. I have to wonder whether it resembles the subject of the American story in which the man said: "I still have my grandfather's axe. My father replaced the head, and I put on a new haft."

Once one is on the other side, it's necessary to commence the first climb of the day. I took this task too lightly and, if I had to do it over again, would proceed a damn sight more cautiously. One has to climb a cliff-face into which a large number of steps have been either set or carved. These, though, are neither level, smooth, nor wide, and on the non-cliff side it's an unimpeded sheer drop to the road below. Especially if somebody is descending, or if the steps are wet or slippery, this is a disastrous accident waiting to happen, particularly to those laden with heavy backpacks that can easily cause the carriers to overbalance should they momentarily lose their footing. Such a fall, in my judgment, could not possibly fail to have lethal consequences. It's quite the most dangerous thing I've encountered on any of these Santiago trips, and I hope it won't take the completely unnecessary death of some hiker to prod the authorities into action. Knowing what I know now, I think I'd skip the steps altogether and take the road that winds uphill instead. One joins that same thoroughfare 850 metres later in any event for quite a long spell of road-walking, so I don't believe that one is running any additional risks by doing so.

Safely away from the precipice, it was time to buckle down to a fairly long étape of around 33 km—estimates, including those provided by the wooden distance-posts, differ, but it's definitely not shorter than that—to Montcuq. As was the case yesterday, this transpired to be one of the less visually impressive stages of the Podiensis. The countryside did open up a bit, especially in the last couple of hours, but what was revealed were largely fields of sunflowers or maize, and even bigger ones left completely fallow. I can only assume that farming isn't too profitable in this area, because one could graze a hundred or more head of cattle in some of the meadows I passed that had nonetheless been allowed to revert to a state of nature.

At a couple of points, the normally impeccable waymarking along this route abruptly disappeared, the largest gap being at La Rosière, a commerce-free village about six kilometres outside Cahors. At the crossroads just past the church, no indication of any kind was provided about where to go next. Two of the four possible options could be excluded a priori, the one up which I had just come and the road to the right, which bore signposts pointing back to Cahors. After proceeding a few hundred metres along the street straight ahead and quizzing a local out walking his dog, I was able to verify that the correct direction is in fact the left-hand turn, passing the graveyard and continuing downhill through the heart of the village. But it wasn't until a kilometre later that the white-and-red blazes suddenly showed up once again, as inexplicably as when they initially withdrew from the scene.

Only one catering option was open en route today, the combination bar-and-grocery at Labastide-Marnhac, about 11 km into the journey. It's not the best value for money—I asked for a Coke, was given the fizz-free dregs of a two-litre bottle poured into a glass, and was charged EUR 2.50 for the privilege—but you may not see anything else before Montcuq. A variety of tempting placards posted along the route told me of the monts et merveilles to be had at a hostelry called La Petite Pause in Lascabanes. But when I got there, it was tightly closed and even the fifteen minutes of free wi-fi offered by a solicitous Lot regional government turned out not to be accessible. So I kept plodding on until reaching Montcuq, a charming little town of about 1,200 inhabitants. It includes some very appealing-looking restaurants as well as a pizzeria, all of which had a large number of appreciative patrons sitting outside. On another day I might have joined them, but I was too exhausted and my appetite had done its usual hot-weather-and-exertion vanishing trick anyway. So it was straight off to gîte-land and bed for me.

This was the first day—or, as the Dépêche du Midi charmingly put it, J-Jour, of the nationwide pass sanitaire mandate. On the basis of sixteen hours' experience, it seems that regardless of what is happening in the Île-de-France, this is making no impact down in the sticks. Every business has a prominent sign saying that health passes are now mandatory; nobody looks to be enforcing it. At Cahors I dropped into one of the largest bar-brasseries on the Boul. Gambetta for a morning café au lait, and deliberately refrained from volunteering my pass out of curiosity to see what would happen. Nothing did. In the Casino supermarket where I obtained a bottle of fresh-squeezed orange juice? Same result. Likewise the bar in Labastide; the Montcuq pizzeria where I bought a can of Orangina as I passed; and the gîte where I'm staying now. "Don’t ask, don't tell" is apparently the watchword, and doubtless will continue to be unless some serious enforcement action begins to be applied.
 
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Past OR future Camino
2014, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19
Various routes...
Through a complicated set of circumstances that are too involved to go into detail about here, I find myself back out on the trail once again. The condensed version is that another block of about ten days' free time that I never expected to have fell into my lap at short notice.
Wonderful, to stumble across this unexpected news of your recommencement!

trashing Cahors seems to have been how Europeans kept themselves amused until football was invented.
🤣

Bon chemin, @Aurigny, and thank you for your beautifully written daily summaries.
 

LTfit

Veteran Member
I don't think that'll be any kind of problem, LT. They're likely to suggest a demi-pension arrangement, even to the extent of taking it for granted ("you'll be wanting dinner, of course"), but if you say that you're just looking for a bed—as I did on several occasions—I'm pretty sure that they'll accept it with a good grace.

At one of the places at which I stayed, a fellow pèlerine opted out of breakfast for the same reason as you: she'd brought her own vegan supplies. No objection was raised.

Blankets were available in about half the establishments, most of them looking as though they hadn't been washed since the days when Clemenceau was editing L'Aurore. Personally, I wouldn't take the risk of travelling in September without some kind of bed-covering of my own. I travel with an Aegismax Ultralight goosedown sleeping bag, which weighs 528g and can be compressed to the volume of a couple of soft-drink cans. It keeps me comfortable down to about 15C/59F, and if you're sleeping indoors, it's unlikely ever to be colder than that.
A bit late @Aurigny but many thanks for your response, also that of @shefollowsshells . I forgot to "watch" the thread so only read your responses today.

Great to see that you're back out 'en route'. I've in the meantime called the gîtes on my list (by chance also the one you stopped at in Variare - we seem to like to walk the same distances) and September was no problem at this point although almost everyone commented that August is crazy.

So it appears that I'll be following in your steps mid September.

Bon Chemin! Looking forward to your updates.

Ultreia!

p. s. your wife sounds like a wise woman
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
My run of health-pass luck expired this morning. Even though a recent poll found that 40% of French restaurateurs had no intention of operating the scheme and that some had signed a petition pledging to go to prison rather than co-operate with it in any way, it seems that some, at least, are taking it seriously. On arrival at one of Montcuq's main-street bars, I asked for a coffee and was met in return with a diplomatic but uncompromising request for my pass sanitaire. After the café au lait arrived I had a conversation with Madame and asked her whether foreigners whose home-issued passes lacked scannable codes would encounter any difficulties. She replied, reassuringly, that she'd already seen one carte américaine and that so far as she was concerned, any official document containing the three essential elements required by the French government—the name of the holder, the type of vaccine administered, and the dates this had occurred—was fully acceptable and in conformity with the law as she understood it. She was perfectly sure that all of her colleagues in the trade would see things the same way.

Having thanked her for that encouraging information, I set out on today's long (c. 42 km) leg to Moissac. If one is coming from the centre of town, Montcuq makes it a little harder to re-establish oneself on the chemin than it ought to be. The trick is to head, paradoxically, east—the direction from which one has just come the previous night—and establish oneself at the very steps of the Église de St-Privat, the smaller and less conspicuous of the town's two churches (not Saint-Hilaire, whose octagonal tower dominates the skyline). From that point the waymarkers resume, taking the pilgrim due south along the D 28 road, and the navigation becomes uncomplicated thereafter. At the moment there is a short trail-closure a couple of kilometres out of town—a typically French panneau meticulously explains all the laws you'll be violating by failing to comply with it, but not the reason why it exists. Still, the déviation is well-marked with blue arrows, and shouldn't cause any difficulty.

Yesterday's Dépêche said that normal summer weather would soon be returning to south-central France, and it wasn't wrong about that. The forecast highs in these parts today were 34C/93F, and my guess is that this was an underestimate. The sun was already splitting the rocks when I made a brief water-stop at the church of Rouillac. Two pèlerines were already there, making the best use of the limited shade it provided at that hour. They were, they told me, a Frenchwoman and a German who had decided to walk together for the day; as is frequent in continental Europe, they were communicating in their only common language, English. Otherwise the halt was notable for the presence of one of the most vivacious kittens I have ever come across. He was visibly torn between his desire to approach me for petting and being told how wonderful he was, and trying to see how much of his body he could insert into a discarded sandwich-bag (spoiler alert: all of it with the exception of his tail, the existence of which in the excitement of the moment he'd forgotten). So far as I was concerned, that encounter alone would have been worth the price of admission.

I don't believe that today's section of trail is exceptionally challenging, but the heat was making it seem that way. The normal pattern of the Podiensis before Cahors—constant climbs and descents, none of them so very difficult but with no real breaks before the next one started—had re-established itself, and in contrast to the last two days, there was very little shade or cover. All of us, and there were quite a respectable number out there, had started to wilt a little, and our impromptu stops for water and for mopping our streaming brows became more and more frequent. The average pace also began to decline, so that it was a bit after midday before the leaders of the peloton, among whom I was surprised and slightly alarmed to find myself, arrived at Lauzerte, the first significant destination on the étape.

The German Jakobsweg people, whose work I have praised here in the past, make this intimidatingly elevated mediaeval town a night-stop in itself, though it's barely 15 km away from Montcuq. If I'd had any sense, I'd have reflected more than I did on why they made that choice. It's definitely amenity-rich, among its most valuable assets in that respect being one of those Laverie Révolution car-park launderettes of which I've become such a fan, at the Intermarché supermarket on the outskirts of town. It was the work of a moment to empty the contents of my backpack into it and set it going, to the evident chagrin of the next member of the peloton, a French gentleman who missed by fifty metres the opportunity to be first in line.

The bad news about Lauzerte is that it's necessary to climb to the top of the high hill on which it's perched, only to give back all that elevation on the way out of town and then immediately to start on the even higher ridge opposite. In the hope that things would cool off a little, I opted for a leisurely lunch, a protein-rich salad that, although pricey, amply supplied all my calorific needs for the day. When I headed out again, though, the climate was no more favourable: possibly even less so. Even on the upper elevations not a leaf stirred, and the rate at which fluids were cascading out of every pore of everyone I met gave evidence of the humidity-reading. Had I been sensible, I'd have called it a day; headed back to Lauzerte; and looked for somewhere to hole up until the morning. Never being renowned for that particular quality, I pressed on, as did a large number of my fellow lunatics. But with the late-afternoon sun now sinking westward and blasting us full in the face, and with the trail proceeding along the edge of fields of maize and pastureland—hence unshaded—we were being made to pay the price of our folly.

The result was that our average speed diminished to derisory levels. Once again I found myself in the vanguard upon arriving at Durfort-Lacapelette, and it had taken me the better part of four hours to cover that twelve-kilometre distance. And there I found I had painted myself into a corner. There are a couple of gîtes in the village, but they were complet and nothing else—neither the Relais St Jacques bar nor the tiny Vival grocery—was open. Worse, even if I pressed on to Moissac, 15 km further down the trail, it would be far too late by the time I arrived to begin knocking on doors. In short, I had painted myself into a corner, and there seemed nothing for it but to fill up my water-bottle at the tap beside the Mairie and make use of the emergency sleep kit I carry in the bottom of my backpack.

I was not the only one to have that ingenious idea. About a kilometre below Durfort, a couple in a small white tent had set up their pitch beside a pond evidently used for watering farm animals. From my point of view they could hardly have chosen a worse spot: mosquitoes breed in standing water and the air was thick with the creatures as I shot past as rapidly as I possibly could. I was looking for something different—a place off the trail as high on a ridge as possible, to take advantage of whatever breezes might be available; preferably away from trees, where stinging and biting creatures congregate; and even more preferably a stretch covered with gravel or small pebbles, across which insects don't like to crawl.

It took me longer than I had hoped to find a spot that met most of these specifications (the trees wound up being closer than I'd like, but you can't have everything). The search was rendered more difficult by the fact that the daylight was now gone and I was, in effect if not in intention, night-hiking. This slows one's rate of progress right down, as it's necessary to scan each tree individually with one's torch to look for white-and-red blazes that, especially if they're weathered, may not be all that visible even in broad daylight. So it all took a long time. I was in fact closer to Moissac than to Durfort when, after following the chemin in and out of forests and orchards and startling several drowsing cattle, I finally, at around a quarter to eleven, came across a place that looked like a respectable night-stop. Ten minutes later, with my air mattress inflated, my sleeping bag spread across it, and the sky above me illuminated either by shooting stars or, more probably and prosaically, orbiting space junk burning up in the atmosphere, I was ready for sleep at the end of an exceptionally tiring day.
 
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Past OR future Camino
Frances 2015, 2018, 2022
It's long past time for me to join the chorus of those stating how much we enjoy your wonderful descriptions and following your journey. It's often difficult to follow a thread on a trail I haven't walked, but in your case I feel I'm right there with you, fleeing mosquitos fast as I can (they love me...), hoping the shooting stars are just that and nothing more. Rest well, and may tomorrow night find you in a comfy bed wherever your day may take you.
 

Kathar1na

Member
Past OR future Camino
To Santiago and back (roads & paths; Tours; Francés; sea; roads & paths)
the sky above me illuminated either by shooting stars or, more probably and prosaically, orbiting space junk burning up in the atmosphere
Shooting stars. The peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower is approaching, either tonight (Wednesday to Thursday) or tomorrow night. There's presumably not much light pollution where you are and this year is a good year for observation because the moonlight is absent. I wish I were there ...
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Normally just before bedtime, J: in fact, putting the finishing touches to today's instalment as we speak (it's nearly 22:00 here). But I sometimes compose them in my head as I walk along the trail, having lots of free time on hand. It helps me remember the things about these experiences that I'm anxious not to forget. My first pilgrimage venture, the Francés, was a blur of which I now struggle to recall anything in detail. I didn't want that to happen with later ones.
 
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jsalt

Jill
Past OR future Camino
Portugués, Francés, LePuy, Rota Vicentina, Norte, Madrid, C2C, Salvador, Primitivo, Aragonés, Inglés
Only one catering option was open en route today, the combination bar-and-grocery at Labastide-Marnhac
Three of us spent the night on their verandah as everywhere was full. We’d stopped for lunch and kind of got settled in for the day, as one sometimes does if not in any hurry . . . . We bought bottles of wine and take-away pizzas from them before they locked up for the night. They left the outside toilet unlocked, and later that evening a local resident came over with hot tea and coffee . . .
 

donalomahony

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
"Camino from 2013 to 2019" paused for now...
It's long past time for me to join the chorus of those stating how much we enjoy your wonderful descriptions and following your journey. It's often difficult to follow a thread on a trail I haven't walked, but in your case I feel I'm right there with you, fleeing mosquitos fast as I can (they love me...), hoping the shooting stars are just that and nothing more. Rest well, and may tomorrow night find you in a comfy bed wherever your day may take you.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
For those compelled by unforeseen circumstances occasionally to sleep outdoors, certain rules are applicable, three of which are paramount. The first is that the itinerant should not make no visible sleeping arrangements until the settled community have retired to their own residences. The second is that no trace should be left of his or her presence, unless it should be possible to leave the location tidier and cleaner than when it was initially occupied. And the third is that the sleeper should be up and gone before anyone knows he or she was ever there.

In the location I had selected, I didn't have to worry about the first. The second wouldn't be a factor, either, apart from the ghostly outline of my mattress in the dust. But I was mindful of the third, especially bearing in mind that the GR 65 is a two-way trail and that the crack-of-dawn types might be leaving Moissac and quite literally stumbling over me very soon afterwards. The day breaks around here at about six a.m., so I set my alarm for five to be on the safe side and to provide adequate time for such morning ablutions as can be accomplished out of a water-bottle and the complex task of squeezing both the mattress and sleeping bag back into the comically small satchels in which they came.

It's necessary to be realistic when using these things. Nobody is going to be as comfortable on a two-inch-deep blow-up mattress, laid over rough terrain, as in their own bed. But it beats staggering around a darkened hillside in a state of advanced exhaustion, tripping over loose stones, exposed tree roots, and one's own feet. In the event I slept better than I'd expected, being awoken only once, shortly before three, by a snail which, finding me in his path, spurned the idea of circumnavigating the obstacle (admittedly a major expedition, if one's a snail) and instead started up one side of my face, no doubt planning, if successful, to continue down the other one. I couldn't hold it against him: he, after all, had been there first. But for the record—not that it's an experience too many people are likely to have—the cold and clammy sensation of a snail on one's skin is just about exactly what one would expect.

That minor contretemps aside, I felt surprisingly human when awoken by the alarm this morning. If anything, my sleeping bag had kept me too warm: I doubt the overnight temperature ever fell below 24C/75F. Packing up was accomplished quite straightforwardly, and by half-past-five I'd resumed my westbound journey, bouncing my way downhill over the 5 km or so left over from yesterday's stretch.

Moissac, a large and apparently prosperous town, didn't see much of me, nor I of it. Finding an open bakery, I obtained bread, pain au chocolat, and the standard vending-machine "coffee" for which one is nonetheless compelled to pay twice what the same drink costs in a railway-station waiting room. I wasn't planning to hang around, though. After last night's débâcle, I was determined not to risk a repetition, all the more so given that the forecast temperature for today was 36C/97F. Instead I selected a more realistic target, the village of Auviller some 22 km to the southwest, and aimed to be off the trail by midday, or as close to that benchmark as possible. I realise, however, that I'm not in a position to do Moissac justice. And, indeed, a place that boasts street-names like "Rue de l'Indondation de 1930" has to have a lot going for it.

The wayfarer is offered two versions today of the GR 65, each equally authentic. One, the more travelled, takes a track a little to the north, passing through the village of Boulou. The other is simply the tow-path, now paved over, of the Canal des Deux Mers which runs parallel to, and a couple of hundred metres north of, the Garonne river. It's possible to switch from one to the other near the village of Malause, some 12 km into the journey. Eventually the two merge just outside Pommevic, around the 16 km mark.

I didn't have to think twice about which one I would follow. After two extremely strenuous days back to back, sixteen kilometres of billiard-table flatness was exactly what the doctor ordered. Still better, almost all of it was in complete shade. Whoever laid out this canal did good work, well over a hundred years ago, in planting plane trees all along its banks on both sides. Their canopies are so dense that even with the sun directly overhead, not much light gets through, while years of extensive pruning means that no low branches need be ducked or circumnavigated. For me it was blissful, and I luxuriated in the unexpectedly temperate microclimate and the little cooling zephyrs that from time to time rose off the Garonne and blew in my face.

I also found it a surprisingly picturesque scene, which Monet could have painted and, in his day, often did. To be sure, the canal water is a somewhat lurid shade of green, and so full of particulates that seeing six inches into its depths is an impossibility. It surprised me to observe people from Moissac fishing that water so intensively; personally, I wouldn't have thought that anything could live in that soup. But indeed they can, as I was able to verify with my own eyes when I saw a decent-sized bream sculling along just beneath the surface. According to the information-placards placed there by the local angling club, rudd, pike, and the delightfully named poisson-chat are also to be found in considerable numbers. Just the same, if anything comes out of there, I'm not at all keen about the prospect of eating it.

The only caveat for those opting for the canal variant is that no facilities of any kind, including drinking water or toilets, are available before reaching Malause. (There one will find a tap, a grocery, a bar-pizzeria, and an ATM.) It's also a heavily trafficked route. There are lots of actual pilgrims, not just randonneurs, who carry the coquille to prove it. But an even greater number of bicigrinos and two-wheeled day-trippers whiz along in both directions at terrifying speed, making few concessions to the pedestrians they encounter. Those who stick rigidly to the left-hand side of the footpath and take the occasional glance over their right shoulder should be OK.

I was sorry to be kicked off the tow-path at Pommevic, nearly six kilometres before Auviller. What follows from then on is reminiscent of the later stages of yesterday's leg: walking along enormous fields of maize, either on the road or just beside it, and with no cover whatever from the sun. This doesn't last long enough, though, to cause any serious discomfort. For those who may be running short of water, there's another fountain just outside the church in Espalais (regrettably, the church itself is locked up, and a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger sign outside makes clear that bad behaviour by hikers and/or pilgrims is what made this necessary). Finally, a steep but short climb quickly brings Auviller into view.

This is yet another of those places in the official "most beautiful villages in France" listing, nearly all of which seem to be on or near the Podiensis. A great many holidaymakers are here, and I started repenting my decision to make it a night-stop, thinking that I would soon be dossing down in the woods for the second day in a row. But in fact all was well. The local gîte communal, as centrally located as one could wish, still had a couple of spaces, and was happy to let me have one of them. A short pilgrim's Mass is held in the church each evening at 18:00, with blessing of the travellers afterwards. And while the dining options are not over-extensive in relation to the demand, a pizza restaurant which has just three non-pizza options on the menu—all of them burgers—provided me with an appetising dinner at what, for here, was a competitive price.

One thing is abundantly clear. In the current meteorological conditions, scheduling a 42-km leg, as I did for Moissac, is foolishly ambitious. Neither the distance nor the terrain is the real problem. The unrelenting heat is. Impatient though I am by temperament, reducing the daily stages to manageable proportions until such time as the weather breaks is not an option. It's a positive necessity.
 
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LTfit

Veteran Member
Had I been sensible, I'd have called it a day; headed back to Lauzerte; and looked for somewhere to hole up until the morning. Never being renowned for that particular quality, I pressed on, as did a large number of my fellow lunatics.
Oh my, that sounds like me! I was particularly interested in reading today's account as I am planning to walk the same stage to Moissac. I guess I'll hear about the final km later today. Hope you got a good night's sleep.
Ultreia!
 

Kanga

Moderator
Staff member
Past OR future Camino
Francés x 5, Le Puy x 2, Arles, Tours, Norte, Madrid, Via de la Plata, Portuguese, Primitivo
@Aurigny I am loving your account and it is hooking directly into my memory. Wonderful. I thought Lauzerte was such a pretty village, so was seduced into staying there. My choice of lodging was a mistake as it proved to be my first serious encounter with bedbugs (not a gite, I hasten to add).
 
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Past OR future Camino
2019
@Aurigny ...there's so much intel here, I'll be playing a lot of catch-up to get up to date. As all have said before, thanks for your time writing the, as we say, "boots-on-the-ground" commentary. My friends and I are starting Sept 1st out of Le Puy with mapped out stages getting us into SJPP by Oct. 8th. We're still crossing fingers as we had this all planned out for May in 2020 and had everything cancelled on us last minute by airlines, governments and common sense. We've spent a lot of time re-booking beds, towels, washer/dryer, dinner, breakfast and picnic for the 5 of us again this year. I'm hoping our boots will be following yours in a couple of weeks. Cheers, Bill
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
It's amazing what a good thunderstorm can do to restore one's morale.

As others on this forum have mentioned, the Mediterranean region is currently in the midst of its deepest heatwave of the year. It caught me out during my long étape to Moissac a couple of days ago and, not being keen to repeat the experience, I got up exceedingly early today to try to minimise my exposure to the worst of it. The meterological people were forecasting highs of 38C/99F along my route, and based on experience, I'd be inclined to say that this was in no respect an overestimate. An additional torment is that when it becomes really hot in this part of the world, there's never a breath of wind—and this is capable of going on for days. Before departing, then, I adopted the practice known to American long-distance hikers as "cameling"—drinking as much water before embarking as one's stomach can tolerate—and carrying as much more as I could physically lift off the ground.

All of that was enough, but only just. Over the years I've spent a good deal of time in a lot of hot places, doing fairly strenuous things—west Africa on a bicycle comes to mind. But I don't think there's been any day in my life before today when the water I poured in at one end of my body poured out again as quickly. There were times when I was reminded of one of those Warner Brothers cartoons, in which Daffy Duck gets shot by Elmer Fudd several times with no apparent ill effect; drinks a glass of water, and to his consternation finds himself resembling an old-fashioned watering-can.

So it was, not just with me, but with everybody else I encountered. The curious thing is that this isn't a particularly arduous stage, though a little longer than I'd have preferred in this weather. Just about everybody who left Auviller today was heading, perforce, to Lectoure, about 32 km away, there being no viable options for stopping before then. Elevation-changes are modest. Some of the journey consists of road-walking, but as seems to have become the pattern over the last couple of days, one mainly spends one's time walking along the edge of fields of crops: either sunflowers or potatoes, the latter of which seem to be in extraordinarily good health. If the tuber is in as flourishing a shape as the plant above the soil, France is in for a bumper crop of new potatoes this autumn.

As can be inferred from these agricultural details, there's nothing very attention-grabbing about the scenery along this stretch. If you happen to like sunflowers, though, this is the place to come and see them. There are oceans of the things, extending all the way to the horizon—and when you've crossed it, oceans more on the other side. For some reason, vandalising them by plucking out seeds to create smiley faces and similar designs is irrestistible to French hikers. I must have seen hundreds damaged in such a way—occasionally, nearly every individual plant in the row adjacent to the trail. I kept thinking that the people responsible would eventually get bored and leave them alone, but not a bit of it. Probably it doesn't cause the farmers much material loss, given that there must be tens of thousands of the things in a single field, but it's a sad display nonetheless of contempt for other people's property.

In the normal course of events, a summer's-day hike can be divided into three blocks: 0700 to 1000, when it’s balmy and comfortable; 1000 to 1300, when it's hot but still manageable; and 1300 to 1800, when it's simply miserable. Although a large contingent, myself included, left Auvillers at first light today, a bit after 0600, it seemed as though we were skipping the "balmy" stage and going straight to "manageable but with difficulty." By about 1000, we were past even that, and breathing heavily on the level stretches no less than the elevated ones. On the steepest climb of the day, the approach to the ruined church of Flamarens, we looked like competitors in a race in which the prize went to whoever finished last.

You can, then. imagine with what enthusiasm on leaving the village we saw towering cumulonimbus clouds beginning to build up in the west and north, and heard the first rumbles of thunder. Although the worst—or best—of the storms were to our right, we all stopped almost simultaneously to clamber into our raingear, chattering excitedly like children at the beach and speculating over which of the downpours we could see from our elevated position might hit us first. When the skies finally opened, a ragged cheer went up and the peloton began gambolling downhill through the deluge. Almost immediately the temperature fell by seven or eight degrees; a strong and welcome wind began to blow; and what had been an exhausting physical effort suddenly became easy. In the next forty-five minutes, we covered nearly as much ground as we had done in the previous hour and a half.

All too soon it came to an end. Reaching Miradoux, 4 km later, the thunderclouds had already shot their bolt and the sun was rapidly mopping up all the rest of the clouds. Once again the temperature soared, and this time we had the miseries of humidity to contend with. To their credit, everyone kept plugging away, but even the hardiest among us had to find a tree from time to time to collapse under its shade and make the contents of another litre bottle of water disappear.

The character of the peloton these days is quite different from what it had been before Conques, or even Cahors: much more diverse. Today a Frenchwoman walked part of the way with me. She and her husband had been planning for years to go from their home to SdC by bike. He became ill and died; now she's walking there alone. Later I was passed by an ebullient party of college students who knew nothing of the chemin or the GR 65: they were just putting in a few days' hiking together between Moissac and Condom before classes re-started. And then a Swiss man asked to join me for a while. He left Lausanne three months ago; did a lot of hiking in the Alps; and ultimately decided to see what France looked like. He'd been living out of a tent since then, and had no idea how much longer he was going to be out here.

The entire peloton assembled on the grass in front of the church at Castet-Arrouy in mid-afternoon, in preparation for the final assault on Lectoure. (This is, by the way, a delightful sixteenth-century building, and well worth a look inside. It also includes a rare self-service tampon, kept outside on a chain. Unfortunately its ink pad is almost completely dry, so it can only produce a ghostly outline, though still a legible one. These days, the well-prepared pilgrim probably has to carry a small bottle of black ink in his or her backpack.) This is the last source of eau potable before Lectoure itself, 11 km away, so filling up is all the more important. With only a single exception, though—a young woman from Gravelines, on the north coast, who polished off the entire distance in a single gulp—all of us had to make at least one more stop to catch our breath. Evidently they breed tough people in Gravelines.

Getting food at Lectoure on arrival was more of a challenge than I expected. According to local wisdom, the best rapport qualité-prix is to be found at the Barbot on the Rue Nationale, the main drag. It, unfortunately, was full. So too was Cigale & Fournil just across the road, the second option. The pizzeria next door had a large sign scrawled across its blackboard in enormous block capitals: "Pass Sanitaire Exigé!" Deciding that they'd probably be as aggressive in person as they were already being in chalk, I gave them a miss. The Hôtel de Bastard (yes, really) wanted EUR 38 for its prix-fixe menu. That left only the Bastions restaurant, whose outdoor terrace gives on to a magnificent view. I was told that it was the kind of place that charges for the surroundings rather than the food. But all I can say is that if theirs is the worst that Lectoure has to offer, it's a very fortunate little town indeed. The food they gave me was on a par with some of the nicer meals I've had in this country, at a sensible price. And so to bed, with an even hotter day forecast for tomorrow when I get to do it all over again.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
No matter how small the town, finding one's way out again is always the leading navigational challenge of the day. My own theory about this is that waymarking often being done, and maintained, by local volunteers, they're sometimes apt to forget that a route that seems obvious to them may appear very puzzling indeed to strangers. At all events, waymarkers are apt to disappear in the centre of towns, exactly where they're most needed.

The simplest and most straightforward way out of Lectoure, I found, was the one shown on the Jakobsweg site but not actually marked on the ground. This was to make one's way to the Fontaine de Diane, a landmark known to all, and from there to follow the Chemin Claude Ydron downhill to the bottom. This puts the outbound traveller on the D7, the main road to Condom. That was my destination for the day.

On account of a local closure of the GR 65, a kindly Lectourien(ne) had put up a hand-written sign counselling pilgrims to follow the D7 for 700 metres in the direction of Condom, and pick up the trail after crossing the bridge over the Gers river. That seemed like good advice, with the additional benefit that if one misses the turn-off, one is heading in the right direction for Condom anyway and should be able to mend the error later on. In fact it was all very easy. I do recommend approaching the corner across which the defunct Auch-to-Agen railway line runs by walking on the wrong (that is, the right-hand) side, otherwise it's impossible to see oncoming traffic until it's too late. But once past that tricky little spot, the resumption of the trail is well signposted.

It's a striking indication of how lost a pilgrim can become in his or her own little world that I was startled by a load roar sounding like a TGV train whizzing by on my left. Turning my head, I saw that it was in fact an enormous hot-air balloon, the size of four houses, that I had somehow completely missed although it was less than half the length of a football field away. I'd never been that close to one in the flesh, as it were, so I hung around to watch the take-off procedure. The roaring noise comes from the propane burner that provides the heat and makes the devil's own racket. It takes quite a lot of blasting to inflate the device, so ear-covers are advisable. But after that, it drifted off like a thistledown. Bearing in mind that the Montgolfier brothers pioneered this technology, it was appropriate that I should have seen it in its environment. However, despite the fact that Léon Gambetta, of this locale, used one to escape from besieged Paris in 1870, it definitely has its limitations as a mode of transportationr. For the following hour, I was able to match its rate of progress by the 5 km/h I was making over the ground.

To try to beat the heat, I was out so early that I was probably the first pilgrim to leave Lectoure this morning, the better part of an hour before daybreak. It made walking much easier, but meant that I would have to forego breakfast, and would have to rectify the deficiency later on. The first village en route, Marsolan, had a café-bar, the Chemin de Table, that looked good from outside, but was predictably and not unreasonably closed. There were far more possibilities in La Romieu, ten kilometres further on. Unwisely, I let them go. In the first place, I wanted to make maximum use of the precious morning hours. In the second, La Romieu draws large numbers of tourists to see its remarkable mediaeval church, the Collégiale St. Pierre, and I hoped to beat the crowds by turning breakfast into elevenses at Castelnau-sur-l'Auvignon. The joke was on me when that village's only café-bar also had the shutters up, although it was close to mid-day. The net result was that my only form of resupply for the entire 33 km of the étape consisted of cold water, although that, fortunately, was always available at regular intervals.

While La Romieu is visually spectacular, I confess that Castelnau interested me more. It acquired quite a degree of fame outside France as well as inside for being the scene of one of the major engagements between the Resistance and the Germans during the Occupation. This was quite an international affair. At the end of 1942, the British smuggled in a colonel of the Special Operations Executive, the agency charged with organising guerrilla actions against the Germans, to take charge of the local maquis, which included not just French resisters but a band of émigrés who had been on the losing side in the Spanish Civil War and hot-footed it across the border before Franco could shoot them all or imprison them in Miranda del Ebro concentration camp. After receiving a ton of weapons air-dropped by the Royal Air Force, this group was intended to be deployed in the weeks after D-Day to hold up German reinforcements heading toward Normandy. To make a long story short, their only engagement against the Wehrmacht was an utter débâcle; the British colonel's sole contribution of any note was to shoot one of his own French subordinates for disobeying his orders; and the only people to put up any kind of resistance were the Spanish who, not coincidentally, were also the only ones to have heard a gun go off before June 1944. The Germans responded in characteristic style by flattening the village, which is now a picturesque combination of ruins, memorial placards, and restored houses occupied by a couple of dozen permanent residents.

Highlights like this aside, visually the trail today was much like yesterday's. The part of the GR 65 between Lectoure and Condom is known as the Chemin d'Artagnan, both the real-life character and his fictionalised Dumas version having come from this region of Gascony. The Tournesol Trail might be an even more apt name, because the biblical quantities of sunflowers continues. It was only this morning that it occurred to me that a sunflower-field is, by definition, a vast open-air bird feeder. If the number of plants was beyond counting, the number of sparrows filling their bellies as I passed can't have been far behind.

Condom itself is another of the small-but-crowded holiday destinations in the Occitanie. For all that I read of French restaurateurs and hotel-owners complaining that government restrictions are ruining their trade, it seems to me that if things were as bad as they say, it would be a great deal easier for me to find either a place to stay or a restaurant meal in the evenings. So far as the latter is concerned, everybody in Condom turned me away except for a bar-brasserie that I very quickly wished had followed suit. Though on this forum I much prefer to commend rather than caution, I would counsel future visitors to give restaurants other than La Padoue, on the main street (Rue Gambetta), a try. The quality of their food was matched by the courtesy of their service, and I don't know that more needs to be said than that.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Surprisingly for a small town with a sleepy appearance, the residents of Condom like to party hard. I found this out at 02:00 this morning, when we were all woken up by ear-piercing shrieks underneath our window. Some women returning from the bars, having evidently looked upon the wine when it was red, were engaging in what British diplomats euphemistically used to call "a full and frank exchange of views." The volume was so elevated, as was the pitch, that it was impossible to make out a single word or what the dispute was about. As it continued, we hoped that somebody would call the police on them, but no such luck. It went on for about ten minutes straight, by which time our sleep was shot. Having my alarm set for just three-and-a-half hours later, I was less than enthused by this interruption. Eventually we managed to drift off again, but I still felt like a punch-drunk fighter when the alarm finally went.

Condom is one of these towns that alternate brass Camino-markers set into the road surface at periodical intervals, as in Pamplona, with the usual white-and-red blazes on lamp-posts and other such surfaces. It worked all right to guide us out of town, though having to oscillate between looking down and looking up again seemed to me to be an unnecessary complication. In essence, one walks down to the river Gèle; turns right upon reaching it; and follows the north bank outbound. One has a choice between a riverside path, or the official one—a gravelled and waymarked track above it. On account of the profusion of dew, and not wanting to get my feet unnecessarily wet, I chose the latter.

Today's journey to the town of Éauze, either 33 or 35 km away depending on which source you believe, comes in two halves. The first, and in practical terms the only, stop on the way is Montréal-sur-Gers at just about the mid-point, 16 km from Condom. The good news is that the terrain is so flat, relatively speaking, that this can be done very quickly indeed: it took me three and a half hours without killing myself. The slightly less good news is that nothing is to be obtained until reaching Montréal, not even water. On a normal temperate day, that's not a problem. Today, with the sun beating down relentlessly by mid-morning, it called for a little more planning.

The landscape is slightly more varied. It passes through wine country, a welcome alternative to three days of eternal sunflowers, and is also much more shaded than what has been seen on the last three stages. The hamlets through which it passes are minuscule: half a dozen houses at best. Some of the place-names are somewhat exotic. First came a very little place called L'Inquiétude, which worried me, and then, a few kilometers later, an even smaller one named Lasserre d'Amour, of which it can be said, with justice, that Lasserre d'Amour ne dure qu'un instant. In general, though, this was rolling hill-country, with nothing to distinguish it until reaching Montréal itself.

That one is a charming town, of which there was slightly more than I was expecting. It contains a few gîtes, and for those who don't require excitement would make a very viable night-stop if the long haul to Éauze seems excessive for a single trip. It doesn't look to have more than one of most things—a petrol station, a bar, a little supermarket, etc.—but those look adequate to most people's needs. The built environment is also appealing to the eye, as befits another of those "most beautiful towns in France" honorees. All in all, it looks like a most pleasant spot in which to put up one's feet for twenty-four hours.

After a quick coffee, though, I pressed on, as I was hoping to reach the destination before the heat of the day really asserted itself. Regrettably, I managed to sabotage myself in that objective by getting off track just past the Château Montaut, about four and a half kilometres past Montréal. Looking at the large-scale map afterwards, I was supposed to spend only a short time on the narrow and virtually untrafficked D 230 road before making a sharp right-hand turn into the woods north of Bidalère. Somehow I missed that one, and continued along the road until it had carried me much too far south. All I can say in my defence is that I wasn't the only one to make that mistake. As I was using my map and compass to sort out what had gone wrong, a pèlerine came up behind me and asked if she was on the right path.

Of course we weren't, but after a little cogitation, it was easy enough to figure out how to set things to rights. Mending our course from where we were was no longer a journey than retracing our steps, so we turned right onto the D 254 and headed westbound up to the main road between Le Poteau and Monplaisir. From there it took no more than three minutes to regain the trail—providentially at Lamothe, which consists of a church, five or so houses, but most gratifyingly of all a very nice bar-café at which cold Orangina was readily to be had. The only fly in the ointment was a road-sign reminding us that we had taken nearly three hours to cover seven road-kilometres from Montréal.

All told, the excursion had tacked an additional 5 km on to what was already a long étape. If there was a day for that to happen, though, today was it. This stage was the Podiensis' equivalent of the meseta, although with much more shade. The second half especially was marvellously level, as it ought to be inasmuch as it is, in effect, the rail-bed of the former railway line linking Bretagne d'Armagnac with Éauze. Although I'd sworn off any more 40-km days, today's version left me feeling, the heat notwithstanding, not significantly less fresh upon pulling into Éauzethan when I started.
 

AJGuillaume

Pèlerin du monde
Past OR future Camino
Via Gebennensis (2018)
Via Podiensis (2018)
Voie Nive Bidassoa (2018)
Camino Del Norte (2018)
Three years ago, to the day, we were walking through the area you're going through, @Aurigny , on our 133 day, 2178 km pilgrimage from Switzerland, where my wife was born, to SdC.

It took us three days to walk the distance you walked today, as we're slow walkers, and my wife was recovering from cancer.

We stopped just south of Montréal-du-Gers, at a place called Le Couloumé. The reason was that we went to see the Gallo-roman villa in Séviac, with its magnificent and well preserved mosaics.
20200417_093959-COLLAGE.jpg
In Eauze, apart from the Elisa museum, we enjoyed the street art.
20200417_102454-COLLAGE.jpg
I am enjoying your daily description, thank you!
Bon chemin, bonne route !
 
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Past OR future Camino
06,CF;13,CP;17,SSal;19,Ingles
Probably it doesn't cause the farmers much material loss, given that there must be tens of thousands of the things in a single field, but it's a sad display nonetheless of contempt for other people's property.

Though on this forum I much prefer to commend rather than caution, I would counsel future visitors to give restaurants other than La Padoue, on the main street (Rue Gambetta), a try. The quality of their food was matched by the courtesy of their service, and I don't know that more needs to be said than that.

Thank you for your posts. I look forward to each one, and when you finish I will be bereft... your art with the metaphorical quill is well honed. I copied two sections above to illustrate your skill in a generosity of approach to what you see and then say, that is less than the best of human behaviours.
 
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Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
In contrast to Condom, where almost everybody with the exception of the relaxed and cheerful gîte-manager seemed on edge, and where the health-pass requirement was giving rise to visible tensions among the locals, Éauze is a much more low-pressure town. When I arrived last night, I was greeted by a large black-and-white cat who rubbed himself against the back of my legs while purring louder than a Renault Mégane, and that was to be the template of my time there. People are chatty, good-natured, curious, and seemingly completely indifferent to the passage of time. In short, just what one would expect of a country town. I liked it a lot.

After checking in to my chambre d'hôte (lovely couple, but a place that was overrun with flies, which bothered me all night), I went off to the Entr'Acte, beside the cinema, for a meal. The food wasn't the greatest, but the people were charming, so I enjoyed myself regardless. Nor was I in any hurry to start today. It's the Feast of the Assumption, which in the ordinary course of events is a major public holiday—a curious artefact in what is now basically a post-Christian country. Unfortunately for the French, it fell on a Sunday this year, so they don't get the day off work they ordinarily would.

Even so, if there's one day of the year, in my experience, when French people who are at best occasional participants at Mass will put on their best clothes and go to church en famille, it's today—more than Easter, more even than Christmas. Perhaps the fact that August 15 used to be this country's National Day until July 14 supplanted it has something to do with that, though I'm not sure that too many French people are aware of the fact. At all events, the church this morning at Éauze, which is not at all a small one, was crowded, and the pilgrim population had little to do with that. I'd say around 400 people were present, any number of them being small children: there were more members of the congregation under the age of seven than over the age of seventy, which is a rarity these days.

Afterwards, people milled around in the square outside, in which a farmers' market had been set up. In keeping with the fact that it was a holiday, I made Nogaro, a bare 21 km away, my chosen night-stop—a literal as well as metaphorical Sunday's walk. In fact, of all the days when it would have been easy to rack up big kilometrage for little effort, today was it. Breaking with the pattern of blazing heat that has dominated the weather-map for the past week, lots of lovely grey clouds hovered overhead the entire route, even generating a little late-afternoon rain. It was still warm enough, despite the clouds, to work up a sweat, but nothing that would cause any serious debility.

Today's étape, like yesterday's, falls naturally into two parts. It's bisected by the village of Manciet, the only built-up area between departure and destination. Almost all the journey consists of walking alongside, or through, vineyards producing grapes for the economical but much-drunk white Vin de Pays that comes from this part of France—and, of course, Armagnac, which probably makes a still greater contribution to the local economy. Assumption Day or no, the farmers were out in force, tending to their crops. In fact, I saw many more of them than I did of fellow pilgrims, who may, sensibly, have decided that this would make a good rest-day. Other than that, the only really notable place I passed along the route was the fish-farm at the Étang du Pouy, which appears to be operating on a very large and productive scale.

Manciet doesn't look as though it has much going on at the best of times. In mid-afternoon on Assumption Day, it was completely deserted, its few commerces firmly locked up behind steel curtains. When I arrived, I found a group of disconsolate-looking pilgrims milling around outside the church. Clearly they'd been hoping for something more than eau potable, and found it a little hard to believe that nothing else was forthcoming. After topping up my water-bottle, I continued on my way, thinking that they'd soon follow me. I'm not sure whether they did: nobody passed me until I arrived in Nogaro two hours later.

In contrast to Manciet, quite a lot has been happening here today. A noisy motorcycle race, which I was able to hear from miles away, was going on at the circuit on the northwest side of town. But the really big draw was the course landaise which was drawing almost the entire population of Nogaro in the opposite direction to the one in which I was heading as I arrived in town. Sometimes described as "Gascon bullfighting," this sport is somewhat inaccurately characterised as such, inasmuch as it involves no fighting, and no bulls. Professional cows, so to speak—they are bred and trained for these events as much as any racehorse—are given the opportunity to charge the "bullfighters," who score points with the crowd for artistically dodging them and physically leaping over them, performing backflips and other attention-grabbing manoeuvres while doing so. It can be thought of as a combination of U.S.-style rodeo and Olympic gymnastics. Although I'd arrived just in time for the event, I wasn't interested in attending. It's something of an acquired taste, and besides I was hoping that with everybody attending the course, I might stand a chance of getting a table for dinner at one of the few restaurants that wasn't closed for the holiday.

And indeed I did. The Café des Commerces, no directions to which are necessary because all of Nogaro's restaurants are on the same street, did me proud: well-prepared food; delightful people. And it was served quickly enough that I was able to head back to bed at a reasonable hour. Tomorrow is my tenth and last day on the Podiensis for this year, and I want to be fresh and well-rested for it.
 
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Past OR future Camino
2019
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.
Finally catching up with your earlier posts. This is also where we've booked 2 nights to de-compress from flights and start our travels 0n 9/3. Seems convenient being right on the GR65, and only 5 minutes to the cathedral. I read one review that commented on train traffic noise from the bridge right next to the hotel, but you seemed more with snoring so I guess not to much an issue. Really enjoying your current writing too as you've passed through Condom.
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Up well before dawn for this final day on the trail, I looked skywards and, by the dim illumination of the street-lights, was well-satisfied with what I saw. Low scudding clouds, light drizzle, ragged wisps of mist to the north-west. Excellent.

Nogaro is in fact quite a well-stocked little place. On the side-road that leads to the car-racing track and the municipal airport, there's both a sizeable Carrefour supermarket and an Aldi just beside it. A well-provisioned Spar is to be found on the main street, rue Nationale. None of them, unfortunately, was any good to me, having been closed for the Assumption yesterday and not opening until well after my departure today. I was, however, fortunate to find that even at 0630, not one but two tabacs (not sure how they both stay in business; they're less than a hundred metres apart) and the bakery were all open for custom. An Orangina for the road, a baguette traditionelle, and a full bottle of water would ensure that I would not go short of the necessities of life, whatever else I might encounter.

Nogaro likes to keep its pilgrims' minds as well as their bodies active. On the descent to town last night I passed an open-air exhibition, posted alongside the trail, of thirty black-and-white photographs taken by a local artist of the faces of people passing through this part of the chemin. (My takeaway, from examining these, is that as a group we seem to have pretty rough complexions.) Now, on the way out, a set of placards offered month-by-month instructions on how to cultivate and care for vines. If the information it provided is to be believed, this won't be a distinguished year for Gascon wines. The grapes, even on south-facing slopes, are uniformly small and sour-looking; quite a large proportion, in fact, are withered and have clearly stopped growing. This was not at all what the placard for August gave me to understand ought to be the case. My guess, then, is that the vendange this year is likely to be postponed to the last possible moment the cultivators believe they can get away with.

Soon afterwards the trail curled around into the woods, where, despite the still-early hour, people from the Office National des Fôrets were hard at work. As a result, I'm able to provide a partial answer to the philosophical conundrum posed by Americans: if a tree falls in the forest and somebody is there to hear it, it does indeed make a sound—in fact, a hell of a racket, sounding like a combination of a pistol-shot and a small earthquake. Some distance further on, I found the trail completely blocked by an eighteen-wheel lorry onto whose trailer the driver was loading enormous logs—the trunks of the recently felled trees—using one of those hydraulic mechanical grabbing tools. It was a fascinating process, and given that there was no possibility of making my way past until all the logs had been picked up, I got to see all of it.

Today's 27-km stage to Aire-sur-l'Adour is slightly better provided for than many of the étapes of recent days. Just outside the village of Lanne-Soubiran, which is more a cartographer's concept than an actual habitation, the people who run the recently opened gîte, which now bears the punning name of "L'Âne Soubiran," have most commendably turned one of their barns into a donativo pilgrim halting-site. People can obtain a cold drink from the 'fridge and pay whatever they consider appropriate. I quickly disposed of one of their cans of fizz and put in the box what I'd have paid if I'd been at a bar. Had I known how pleasant this place was, I would undoubtedly have made it my night-stop last night instead of Nogaro.

After Lanne, the route becomes a combination of road-walking, vine-walking, and forest. This part of France also seems to be a military training area for the Armée de l'air. As I walked, the sound of a couple of fast jets echoed from one hillside to another for nearly an hour. I couldn't see them for a long time, but later in the morning the sun started to tear large breaks in the cloud-cover, and a couple of miles to the northwest I was able to catch a glimpse of a pair of what looked like Rafales playing tag at about 5,000 feet. They seemed to be having a great deal of fun, twisting and dodging like minnows in a stream, the only disadvantage being that at ground level they were making a noise like the Second Coming. But fighter aircraft don't come with silencers, and in fairness, there weren't many people, or even farm animals, in this part of the world to be bothered by them.

My chief difficulty, in fact, was another kind of hazard coming from the air. A lot of the farmers out here use those irrigation-gun devices that blast water across a considerable distance, while an oscillating mechanism causes them swivel from side to side. In essence, they're an industrial-sized version of the familiar lawn-sprinkler. No fewer than five of these along the route today had been set up in such a way that they were including the trail in their designer deluge. Some swivelled more slowly than others; either way, the only expedient was to wait for the decisive moment and then take to one's heels to try to make it to safety before the thing reversed course.

The approach to Lelin-Lapujolle, a slightly more substantial village than its predecessor, was enlivened by what sounded like the howling of coyotes. As I came closer, it became possible to recognise the sound as the yelping and barking of at least a dozen dogs. I wondered whether somebody had established a dog-kennel service in this unlikely spot, but it was simply the case that at a particular farm, they had more dogs than they knew what to do with. Four or five of them came out to bark at me, but they were small and one could tell that their hearts weren't really in it. (Lelin, in fact, has a bit of a livestock problem. A note on the door of the church asks you to be careful to keep the door closed at all times, as swallows are in the habit of flying inside and conducting themselves irreverently while there.)

Otherwise, this is a good place for a mid-morning break. Outside the little mairie, a comfortable and shaded picnic area has been set up (don't mistake the solitary bench in the car park at the entrance to the village for this), with toilets and eau potable close by. At the bottom of the hill on the way out, there's also a snack-bar occupying the premises of the former primary school. The patronne is a quirky sort and the coffee is execrable (café au lait once again means supermarket-brand instant, to which a homeopathic dose of fat-free milk has been added, served in a paper cup). But beer, soft drinks, and sandwiches can also be had; the bar includes a tampon, a relative rarity on the Podiensis; and most important of all, it exists. As they say in France, les touristes exigent; les pèlerins rendent grâce.

After Lelin, there isn't a great deal that's noteworthy. From this point on the trail runs beside a disused railway line, almost certainly the same one that leads into Éauze, with the busy D 931 road parallel to the right. I was intrigued to see, in a small wood whose local supporters became justifiably frustrated with the volume of white Kleenex deposited among the trees by hikers and pilgrims, that a toilette sèche had been constructed to try to get to grips with the problem. Unlike the high-tech devices being installed closer to Le Puy, this one was nothing more nor less than an old-fashioned earth privy, familiar to many of our grandparents. A wooden hut contains a horizontal bench wherein a hole has been cut. One makes use of the facility in the normal way, then grabs the large soup ladle resting in a bucket of dry earth and sends a couple of ladlefuls down the orifice to control odours and leave it ready for the next user. As low-tech as can be imagined, but remarkably effective all the same. From time to time the accumulated deposits are collected and, in the past, were used as agricultural fertiliser. If you've ever read Dickens or the works of Victorian social investigators and seen references to "nightsoil men," this is what that means. In any event, the facility appears to be fully effective in eliminating the nuisance it was meant to address, and is an object-lesson in seeking workable solutions rather than just complaining about a problem, however much at fault those causing it may be.

Aire-sur-l'Adour is an important local hub. Almost every business, it seems, also has a punning name, "L'Aire du Temps"; "L'Aire d'Italie," etc. But it's nicely laid out, and has an picturesque waterfront. At the entrance to the town I was able to stop at the Carrefour and use its car-park launderette for the last time. In fact, I managed to combine laundry with lunch. This particular supermarket has a fine hot-food section, and while my shirts and underwear were chasing each other around the drum, I was enjoying substantial portions of potato wedges, breaded chicken breast, a fizzy drink, and a bottle of chilled spring water (all right, Cristaline, but regardless…), for all of which I received change from a five-euro note. When a French supermarket is on its game, as this one is, it can be hard to beat.

My last stop was at the cathedral, to light my final candles and to give thanks to the Almighty. From the outside the building doesn't seem too impressive, but the original wood-panelled interior rewards scrutiny. There's also an accueil pèlerin at the side that, among other things, stamps credentials between 1600 and 1800, and a daily pilgrim mass at the latter hour. Here's another praiseworthy example of the French entering fully into the spirit of this exercise in a way that is almost completely absent in Iberia.

The conclusion of every pilgrimage is an anti-climax, and the more so when one ends at an arbitrary point rather than in SdC. (On the other hand, Aire is right on the border between the Occitanie and the Haute-Aquitaine, so it might be considered less arbitrary than most.) But I cannot feel anything other than profound gratitude for this one. I never expected to be doing it, and can only commend the good sense of my wife in putting a burr under my saddle, without which I would never have considered returning to France. Granted that my professional work has been piling up to an impressive degree at home, it can and will be done. God alone knows, however, when or whether I'll have the chance to do more of this: the last ten days may have to tide me over for a long time. But if I should indeed get an opportunity to resume my journey in the normal course of events, i.e. this time next year, having just 150 km of the Podiensis to complete will set me up for that most admirably.

The customary
résumé of lessons learned on this second section will follow in a couple of days.
 
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Past OR future Camino
2019
Simply brilliant @Aurigny, I enjoyed every word of your adventure. I've shared with my fellow travelers as we prepare to leave for Paris and then on to Le Puy at the end of the month. Your updates on the Sanitary Pass have prompted us to research and find here in North Carolina we can obtain a state certificate that has the state's watermark and QR code on it linking to our national database. At the least it should aid us significantly in obtaining the the French version if not wholly acceptable on its own merit. I will make special notes on our MMD guidebooks of the savvy trail directions you've shared. We will be taking the Cele Valley variant as well as a day in Rocamadour, would loved to have heard your impressions on those. Cheers and best wishes on your future travels. If here in our neck of the woods, we'll be happy to trek with you through the green tunnels and high ridges of the AT in North Carolina!
 

donalomahony

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
"Camino from 2013 to 2019" paused for now...
Up well before dawn for this final day on the trail, I looked skywards and, by the dim illumination of the street-lights, was well-satisfied with what I saw. Low scudding clouds, light drizzle, ragged wisps of mist to the north-west. Excellent.

Nogaro is in fact quite a well-stocked little place. On the side-road that leads to the car-racing track and the municipal airport, there's both a sizeable Carrefour supermarket and an Aldi just beside it. A well-provisioned Spar is to be found on the main street, rue Nationale. None of them, unfortunately, was any good to me, having been closed for the Assumption yesterday and not opening until well after my departure today. I was, however, fortunate to find that even at 0630, not one but two tabacs (not sure how they both stay in business; they're less than a hundred metres apart) and the bakery were all open for custom. An Orangina for the road, a baguette traditionelle, and a full bottle of water would ensure that I would not go short of the necessities of life, whatever else I might encounter.

Nogaro likes to keep its pilgrims' minds as well as their bodies active. On the descent to town last night I passed an open-air exhibition, posted alongside the trail, of thirty black-and-white photographs taken by a local artist of the faces of people passing through this part of the chemin. (My takeaway, from examining these, is that as a group we seem to have pretty rough complexions.) Now, on the way out, a set of placards offered month-by-month instructions on how to cultivate and care for vines. If the information it provided is to be believed, this won't be a distinguished year for Gascon wines. The grapes, even on south-facing slopes, are uniformly small and sour-looking; quite a large proportion, in fact, are withered and have clearly stopped growing. This was not at all what the placard for August gave me to understand ought to be the case. My guess, then, is that the vendange this year is likely to be postponed to the last possible moment the cultivators believe they can get away with.

Soon afterwards the trail curled around into the woods, where, despite the still-early hour, people from the Office National des Fôrets were hard at work. As a result, I'm able to provide a partial answer to the philosophical conundrum posed by Americans: if a tree falls in the forest and somebody is there to hear it, it does indeed make a sound—in fact, a hell of a racket, sounding like a combination of a pistol-shot and a small earthquake. Some distance further on, I found the trail completely blocked by an eighteen-wheel lorry onto whose trailer the driver was loading enormous logs—the trunks of the recently felled trees—using one of those hydraulic mechanical grabbing tools. It was a fascinating process, and given that there was no possibility of making my way past until all the logs had been picked up, I got to see all of it.

Today's 27-km stage to Aire-sur-l'Adour is slightly better provided for than many of the étapes of recent days. Just outside the village of Lanne-Soubiran, which is more a cartographer's concept than an actual habitation, the people who run the recently opened gîte, which now bears the punning name of "L'Âne Soubiran," have most commendably turned one of their barns into a donativo pilgrim halting-site. People can obtain a cold drink from the 'fridge and pay whatever they consider appropriate. I quickly disposed of one of their cans of fizz and put in the box what I'd have paid if I'd been at a bar. Had I known how pleasant this place was, I would undoubtedly have made it my night-stop last night instead of Nogaro.

After Lanne, the route becomes a combination of road-walking, vine-walking, and forest. This part of France also seems to be a military training area for the Armée de l'air. As I walked, the sound of a couple of fast jets echoed from one hillside to another for nearly an hour. I couldn't see them for a long time, but later in the morning the sun started to tear large breaks in the cloud-cover, and a couple of miles to the northwest I was able to catch a glimpse of a pair of what looked like Rafales playing tag at about 5,000 feet. They seemed to be having a great deal of fun, twisting and dodging like minnows in a stream, the only disadvantage being that at ground level they were making a noise like the Second Coming. But fighter aircraft don't come with silencers, and in fairness, there weren't many people, or even farm animals, in this part of the world to be bothered by them.

My chief difficulty, in fact, was another kind of hazard coming from the air. A lot of the farmers out here use those irrigation-gun devices that blast water across a considerable distance, while an oscillating mechanism causes them swivel from side to side. In essence, they're an industrial-sized version of the familiar lawn-sprinkler. No fewer than five of these along the route today had been set up in such a way that they were including the trail in their designer deluge. Some swivelled more slowly than others; either way, the only expedient was to wait for the decisive moment and then take to one's heels to try to make it to safety before the thing reversed course.

The approach to Lelin-Lapujolle, a slightly more substantial village than its predecessor, was enlivened by what sounded like the howling of coyotes. As I came closer, it became possible to recognise the sound as the yelping and barking of at least a dozen dogs. I wondered whether somebody had established a dog-kennel service in this unlikely spot, but it was simply the case that at a particular farm, they had more dogs than they knew what to do with. Four or five of them came out to bark at me, but they were small and one could tell that their hearts weren't really in it. (Lelin, in fact, has a bit of a livestock problem. A note on the door of the church asks you to be careful to keep the door closed at all times, as swallows are in the habit of flying inside and conducting themselves irreverently while there.)

Otherwise, this is a good place for a mid-morning break. Outside the little mairie, a comfortable and shaded picnic area has been set up (don't mistake the solitary bench in the car park at the entrance to the village for this), with toilets and eau potable close by. At the bottom of the hill on the way out, there's also a snack-bar occupying the premises of the former primary school. The patronne is a quirky sort and the coffee is execrable (café au lait once again means supermarket-brand instant, to which a homeopathic dose of fat-free milk has been added, served in a paper cup). But beer, soft drinks, and sandwiches can also be had; the bar includes a tampon, a relative rarity on the Podiensis; and most important of all, it exists. As they say in France, les touristes exigent; les pèlerins rendent grâce.

After Lelin, there isn't a great deal that's noteworthy. From this point on the trail runs beside a disused railway line, almost certainly the same one that leads into Éauze, with the busy D 931 road parallel to the right. I was intrigued to see, in a small wood whose local supporters became justifiably frustrated with the volume of white Kleenex deposited among the trees by hikers and pilgrims, that a toilette sèche had been constructed to try to get to grips with the problem. Unlike the high-tech devices being installed closer to Le Puy, this one was nothing more nor less than an old-fashioned earth privy, familiar to many of our grandparents. A wooden hut contains a horizontal bench wherein a hole has been cut. One makes use of the facility in the normal way, then grabs the large soup ladle resting in a bucket of dry earth and sends a couple of ladlefuls down the orifice to control odours and leave it ready for the next user. As low-tech as can be imagined, but remarkably effective all the same. From time to time the accumulated deposits are collected and, in the past, were used as agricultural fertiliser. If you've ever read Dickens or the works of Victorian social investigators and seen references to "nightsoil men," this is what that means. In any event, the facility appears to be fully effective in eliminating the nuisance it was meant to address, and is an object-lesson in seeking workable solutions rather than just complaining about a problem, however much at fault those causing it may be.

Aire-sur-l'Adour is an important local hub. Almost every business, it seems, also has a punning name, "L'Aire du Temps"; "L'Aire d'Italie," etc. But it's nicely laid out, and has an picturesque waterfront. At the entrance to the town I was able to stop at the Carrefour and use its car-park launderette for the last time. In fact, I managed to combine laundry with lunch. This particular supermarket has a fine hot-food section, and while my shirts and underwear were chasing each other around the drum, I was enjoying substantial portions of potato wedges, breaded chicken breast, a fizzy drink, and a bottle of chilled spring water (all right, Cristaline, but regardless…), for all of which I received change from a five-euro note. When a French supermarket is on its game, as this one is, it can be hard to beat.

My last stop was at the cathedral, to light my final candles and to give thanks to the Almighty. From the outside the building doesn't seem too impressive, but the original wood-panelled interior rewards scrutiny. There's also an accueil pèlerin at the side that, among other things, stamps credentials between 1600 and 1800, and a daily pilgrim mass at the latter hour. Here's another praiseworthy example of the French entering fully into the spirit of this exercise in a way that is almost completely absent in Iberia.

The conclusion of every pilgrimage is an anti-climax, and the more so when one ends at an arbitrary point rather than in SdC. (On the other hand, Aire is right on the border between the Occitanie and the Haute-Aquitaine, so it might be considered less arbitrary than most.) But I cannot feel anything other than profound gratitude for this one. I never expected to be doing it, and can only commend the good sense of my wife in putting a burr under my saddle, without which I would never have considered returning to France. Granted that my professional work has been piling up to an impressive degree at home, it can and will be done. God alone knows, however, when or whether I'll have the chance to do more of this: the last ten days may have to tide me over for a long time. But if I should indeed get an opportunity to resume my journey in the normal course of events, i.e. this time next year, having just 150 km of the Podiensis to complete will set me up for that most admirably.

The customary
résumé of lessons learned on this second section will follow in a couple of days.
Thank you for your updates.

Donal
 

Aurigny

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Francés; Português Central; Português Interior; Primitivo; Português da Costa; Invierno; Gebennensis
Some thoughts about the second stage of the Podiensis, with particular reference to the era of coronavirus:-

* Geographically, its character changes quite significantly after Conques, or at any rate after Cahors at the latest. The spectacular views disappear—but so do the really arduous climbs and descents. From Cahors onward, with the rarest of exceptions, I thought of what I was doing more in terms of rambling across fairly gentle hills and dales, rather than going up and down mountain ridges. If the heat hadn't been such a factor, 40-km daily stages would not have been any kind of problem for the reasonably fit pilgrim.

* In terms of accommodation, one is competing these days much more with holidaymakers than with fellow pilgrims or hikers. A couple of sections of the trail after Nogaro revealed that not too many feet had been over it this year—or, in all likelihood, any year. Anybody that far along the Podiensis is committed to going to SJPP at the very least, and there aren't too many people who began at Le Puy who have both the determination and the time to do that. Again, though, the persistent knocker-on-doors at gîtes and chambres d'hôte is unlikely to be left stranded. I made a mess of my Moissac stage, which accounted for my being still up on a hillside as night fell. If I'd planned for a shorter leg, that wouldn't have happened. Every other night, I had little difficulty in finding somewhere that could take me.

* Demi-pension arrangements are still to be had, but they're less common than before Conques. I imagine that that's a function of the numbers remaining on the GR 65 at this point. If one is cooking for 15-20 people each night at EUR 20 a head, that's a gross income of EUR 300-400 for preparing a single meal, on which substantial economies of scale can be made. When the gross revenue is EUR 60-80 a night from three or four diners, it may no longer be worth the effort.

* Fortunately, however, the night-stop towns, if more sparsely distributed, are in general larger, making the obtaining either of restaurant meals or of ingredients for self-catering a more practical proposition. On the whole, I ate better on this second stage than on the first, and paid no more for it.

* Breakfast can nonetheless be a problem. Most gîtes offer it on a self-service basis; it's usually overpriced; and the timing can cause difficulties for those who need to leave very early to beat the heat. If you do miss it, you could be walking a long distance—15 km at least, sometimes twice that—before you'll have an opportunity to supply the deficiency. My habit is to drop into a grocery shop the previous evening and acquire a couple of bananes d'urgence to carry with me the next day. If breakfast is indeed forthcoming, these can make a mid-morning snack. If not, they'll provide sufficient calorific reinforcement to spare me the necessity of having to do a 30+ km stage on cold water alone.

* Timing of the entire pilgrimage is a consideration. If I had nobody to please but myself, I'd leave Le Puy on September 1 or, if that date wasn't possible for some reason, May 1. High summer would be among my least favourite proposed times, given the amount of climbing and descending that's required. This would, however, be a very difficult route to tackle in winter. Most of the gîtes close at the end of October, anyway.

* What one is trying to do is to strike a balance between the volume of surface rainwater on the trail, which makes parts of it uncomfortable or even, occasionally, dangerous, and the possibility of being hammered by the sun on the exposed slopes during the dry season. I don't think there's any perfect time that completely avoids both hazards, but very early autumn might be the best compromise solution. Given how muddy certain sections were even during a hot summer, those who favour light hiking boots might have the advantage over trail-runner wearers. I'm a member of the latter contingent, but no matter how slowly and deliberately I went, I found it impossible to avoid occasionally getting covered up to the ankles in slop. Cleaning up afterwards wasn't the easiest job, and usually meant going to the nearest water-source, filling up my bottle, and pouring it repeatedly over the mess in some spot where that operation wouldn't cause inconvenience to the neighbours.

* Acquiring daily stamps: French churches are in general hopeless. Tourist offices often have very pretty ones. Bars are hit-and-miss; gîtes likewise. If all else fails, your best option, funnily enough, is the local pharmacie. I've never come across one that didn't have a tampon—they need it to frank prescriptions, Covid test results, etc.—and they stay open later than most businesses. If your French is good enough (and it doesn't have to be that good) to explain what you want it for, you'll not be turned away. It'll never be an aesthetic adornment to your credencial: typically it'll just give the name, address, and telephone number of the establishment. But that's all you'll need to satisfy the Pilgrim Office's requirement.

* From the spiritual and religious perspective, if I were to advise somebody in search of a route on which these elements were emphasised, I would recommend the Podiensis over the Francés or any other Iberian camino—a dozen times over, in fact. The difference is as profound as that between chalk and cheese. Since starting in Le Puy—indeed, since starting in Geneva—I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of village churches I passed that weren't open for prayer between the hours of 0800 and 1900 or thereabouts. Those that were not had a good reason for it: maintenance work, generally. From Le Puy onwards, evening Masses are frequent, sometimes daily, as are benedictions for pilgrims at those same Masses. The majority of churches contain some reminder of or reference to the chemin, at the very least a visitors' book in which prayers or petitions can be written. In short, the Catholicity of what is, and began as, a Catholic pilgrimage route is very much kept alive. I daresay that even the non-religious are glad of that, and those of us who are out on the trail for conventionally spiritual reasons, especially so. In this respect the Podiensis is exemplary.

* The pass sanitaire. I carried the paper version of mine, considering as I do that mobile telephones are inventions of the Devil. French scanners couldn't cope with its QR code, but that wasn't a problem. I was invariably waved through. After a slow start, cafés and restaurants asked to see it on about a fifty-fifty basis. No gîte, supermarket, or the airport hotel at which I stayed in Toulouse the night before my flight home ever did.

* Speaking of airports, at check-in I observed an American woman at TLS being turned away by Air France staff when she presented her CDC card. Fortunately there was a travel clinic in the arrivals area which was able to do a quick antigenic test for her, and she was back again, negative result in hand, before I'd received my own boarding pass. I had a chat with her in the departure lounge afterwards. She said that in a couple of weeks travelling around France, this was the first time such a thing had happened to her. Nobody to whom she'd shown the card, which doesn't bear a photograph, had ever even asked to see a picture ID or to check that the name on the card matched her identification. As soon as their eyes lit upon the magic word "Pfizer," she said, that was all they needed to know.

* In conclusion: For those just wanting to do two or three hundred kilometres, my recommendation would still be to begin at Le Puy and finish at Conques, Cajarc, or Cahors, the degree of physical exertion notwithstanding. I liked this second stretch, but part of that was the opportunity it provided to catch my breath after the previous section. I think it might be considered a bit flavourless if it were to be selected as a stand-alone chemin. But it fits in very nicely as a change of pace. And a day or two's additional journey from where I left off at Aire-sur-l'Adour will bring us to the foothills of the Pyrenees, where normal (vertical) service will be restored.
 

truenorthpilgrim

Active Member
Past OR future Camino
Camino Norte post-pandemic
Some thoughts about the second stage of the Podiensis, with particular reference to the era of coronavirus:-

* Geographically, its character changes quite significantly after Conques, or at any rate after Cahors at the latest. The spectacular views disappear—but so do the really arduous climbs and descents. From Cahors onward, with the rarest of exceptions, I thought of what I was doing more in terms of rambling across fairly gentle hills and dales, rather than going up and down mountain ridges. If the heat hadn't been such a factor, 40-km daily stages would not have been any kind of problem for the reasonably fit pilgrim.

* In terms of accommodation, one is competing these days much more with holidaymakers than with fellow pilgrims or hikers. A couple of sections of the trail after Nogaro revealed that not too many feet had been over it this year—or, in all likelihood, any year. Anybody that far along the Podiensis is committed to going to SJPP at the very least, and there aren't too many people who began at Le Puy who have both the determination and the time to do that. Again, though, the persistent knocker-on-doors at gîtes and chambres d'hôte is unlikely to be left stranded. I made a mess of my Moissac stage, which accounted for my being still up on a hillside as night fell. If I'd planned for a shorter leg, that wouldn't have happened. Every other night, I had little difficulty in finding somewhere that could take me.

* Demi-pension arrangements are still to be had, but they're less common than before Conques. I imagine that that's a function of the numbers remaining on the GR 65 at this point. If one is cooking for 15-20 people each night at EUR 20 a head, that's a gross income of EUR 300-400 for preparing a single meal, on which substantial economies of scale can be made. When the gross revenue is EUR 60-80 a night from three or four diners, it may no longer be worth the effort.

* Fortunately, however, the night-stop towns, if more sparsely distributed, are in general larger, making the obtaining either of restaurant meals or of ingredients for self-catering a more practical proposition. On the whole, I ate better on this second stage than on the first, and paid no more for it.

* Breakfast can nonetheless be a problem. Most gîtes offer it on a self-service basis; it's usually overpriced; and the timing can cause difficulties for those who need to leave very early to beat the heat. If you do miss it, you could be walking a long distance—15 km at least, sometimes twice that—before you'll have an opportunity to supply the deficiency. My habit is to drop into a grocery shop the previous evening and acquire a couple of bananes d'urgence to carry with me the next day. If breakfast is indeed forthcoming, these can make a mid-morning snack. If not, they'll provide sufficient calorific reinforcement to spare me the necessity of having to do a 30+ km stage on cold water alone.

* Timing of the entire pilgrimage is a consideration. If I had nobody to please but myself, I'd leave Le Puy on September 1 or, if that date wasn't possible for some reason, May 1. High summer would be among my least favourite proposed times, given the amount of climbing and descending that's required. This would, however, be a very difficult route to tackle in winter. Most of the gîtes close at the end of October, anyway.

* What one is trying to do is to strike a balance between the volume of surface rainwater on the trail, which makes parts of it uncomfortable or even, occasionally, dangerous, and the possibility of being hammered by the sun on the exposed slopes during the dry season. I don't think there's any perfect time that completely avoids both hazards, but very early autumn might be the best compromise solution. Given how muddy certain sections were even during a hot summer, those who favour light hiking boots might have the advantage over trail-runner wearers. I'm a member of the latter contingent, but no matter how slowly and deliberately I went, I found it impossible to avoid occasionally getting covered up to the ankles in slop. Cleaning up afterwards wasn't the easiest job, and usually meant going to the nearest water-source, filling up my bottle, and pouring it repeatedly over the mess in some spot where that operation wouldn't cause inconvenience to the neighbours.

* Acquiring daily stamps: French churches are in general hopeless. Tourist offices often have very pretty ones. Bars are hit-and-miss; gîtes likewise. If all else fails, your best option, funnily enough, is the local pharmacie. I've never come across one that didn't have a tampon—they need it to frank prescriptions, Covid test results, etc.—and they stay open later than most businesses. If your French is good enough (and it doesn't have to be that good) to explain what you want it for, you'll not be turned away. It'll never be an aesthetic adornment to your credencial: typically it'll just give the name, address, and telephone number of the establishment. But that's all you'll need to satisfy the Pilgrim Office's requirement.

* From the spiritual and religious perspective, if I were to advise somebody in search of a route on which these elements were emphasised, I would recommend the Podiensis over the Francés or any other Iberian camino—a dozen times over, in fact. The difference is as profound as that between chalk and cheese. Since starting in Le Puy—indeed, since starting in Geneva—I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of village churches I passed that weren't open for prayer between the hours of 0800 and 1900 or thereabouts. Those that were not had a good reason for it: maintenance work, generally. From Le Puy onwards, evening Masses are frequent, sometimes daily, as are benedictions for pilgrims at those same Masses. The majority of churches contain some reminder of or reference to the chemin, at the very least a visitors' book in which prayers or petitions can be written. In short, the Catholicity of what is, and began as, a Catholic pilgrimage route is very much kept alive. I daresay that even the non-religious are glad of that, and those of us who are out on the trail for conventionally spiritual reasons, especially so. In this respect the Podiensis is exemplary.

* The pass sanitaire. I carried the paper version of mine, considering as I do that mobile telephones are inventions of the Devil. French scanners couldn't cope with its QR code, but that wasn't a problem. I was invariably waved through. After a slow start, cafés and restaurants asked to see it on about a fifty-fifty basis. No gîte, supermarket, or the airport hotel at which I stayed in Toulouse the night before my flight home ever did.

* Speaking of airports, at check-in I observed an American woman at TLS being turned away by Air France staff when she presented her CDC card. Fortunately there was a travel clinic in the arrivals area which was able to do a quick antigenic test for her, and she was back again, negative result in hand, before I'd received my own boarding pass. I had a chat with her in the departure lounge afterwards. She said that in a couple of weeks travelling around France, this was the first time such a thing had happened to her. Nobody to whom she'd shown the card, which doesn't bear a photograph, had ever even asked to see a picture ID or to check that the name on the card matched her identification. As soon as their eyes lit upon the magic word "Pfizer," she said, that was all they needed to know.

* In conclusion: For those just wanting to do two or three hundred kilometres, my recommendation would still be to begin at Le Puy and finish at Conques, Cajarc, or Cahors, the degree of physical exertion notwithstanding. I liked this second stretch, but part of that was the opportunity it provided to catch my breath after the previous section. I think it might be considered a bit flavourless if it were to be selected as a stand-alone chemin. But it fits in very nicely as a change of pace. And a day or two's additional journey from where I left off at Aire-sur-l'Adour will bring us to the foothills of the Pyrenees, where normal (vertical) service will be restored.
Well said all around. After walking the CF, the Podiensis is now my favorite walk. Churches always open (I'm not religious but I love a good old church to rest my body and fill up my water bottle), excellent dinners at gîtes (some of the best food I've had) and gorgeous countryside. The Podiensis is really quite different than the CF. It took me about a week or two to acclimate, but once I reached SJPdP and started my second CF, I found that the Le Puy got under my skin more than I thought.
 

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