Sunday, 17 July 2016

The Le Puy Route - Part 3

A Lot of What You Fancy - Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac to Conques

Day 7 – Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac to Espalion

25.18km / Ascent = 848m / Descent = 1314m

Overcast but humid conditions greeted us this morning, and the climb out of Saint-Chely proved to be a bit hot and sticky as we rapidly gained height out of the valley.

We'd enjoyed a plentiful breakfast of fruit salad, yoghurt, juice, coffee and croissants before setting off – just the job to fuel us for the full day we had ahead of us.

Crossing the Pont des Pelerins

Our guidebook split the day into 4 sections, but to be honest the divisions were moot and more because the first 16 kilometres of the day needed to be split somehow, rather than given as one long description.

Looking back over Saint-Chely d'Aubrac

Saint-Chely lies at about 800m above sea level, and by the time we had reached the fourth hamlet of the day – L’Estrade – after some 6 kilometres of walking through woods and along a ridge with fine views to all sides, we must have been back around the 1000m mark.

From L’Estrade, we began a stretch of over 10km to Saint-Come d’Olt – almost all downhill as we descended some 600m over the distance, mainly on clear tracks through woods and pasture. Once again, we played “Spot the Bull” – like a cross between “Spot the Ball” and “nearest the bull” – as nearly every group of cows has one, it was useful to know where the bull was when entering a field in case one got a bit feisty and we needed to make a hasty departure (the other alternative would be “nearest the ball”, which on Monday night had, of course, been Iceland).

Having a break

View from our picnic spot

Anyway, after a stop part way down for a piece of cake and a drink, we eventually arrived at the road. A short uphill section followed (we didn't even consider the “just walk along the road” option) followed by a dip and rise to a farm in the hamlet of Grezes where we stopped for real lemonade, cool, sharp and refreshing.

Nearing the end of the descent, Saint-Come ahead

A further 3k of descending paths brought us to Saint-Come d’Olt (Olt being the Occitan name for the Lot, the river on which the town sits). Reaching the Lot valley had brought us to the third distinct landscape the route would take us through, and after the highlands of the Margeride and the Aubrac plateau, this lowland river scenery was a big change.

At around 385m in altitude, Saint-Come d’Olt is around 900m lower than the Aubrac. There were some notable changes – as well as the fact that the walking now switched to riverside paths and wooded valley slopes, it was noticeably warmer without the mitigating breeze of higher levels.   

Church with crooked spire, Saint-Come d'Olt

We took another break, this time in a small park beside the main church with its twisted spire (like Chesterfield or Cleobury Mortimer) and ate our lunch of pizzas and nectarines. We popped into the church for a quick look, glad of a few moments of cool against the rising heat of the day.

Saint-Come and the Lot river

By now, it was about 2.00pm. We crossed the River Lot by the main bridge, and followed a narrow road beside the river. Again, two options were available – stay by the river or climb the valley side for broad views and a chance to see the Vierge Notre Dame de Vermus.

Looking back to Saint-Come

No contest, really – despite the muggy heat and sweaty climb involved, the high route it was. A steep mud path, still wet even after all the dry days we'd had, led zigzagging up through woods (now deciduous) to finally reach a high level track near an unnamed hamlet where we picked and ate wild strawberries.

Espalion from the Vierge Notre Dame de Vermus

Next, a mix of sandy tracks and footpaths led us out along a rocky promontory where the statue of Vierge de Vermus stood high above the valley, with Espalion laid out below and the Chateau clearly visible on the dome-shaped summit behind. This section offered different walking – perhaps the most dramatic of the trip so far – on narrow, rocky paths more mountainous in character than anything we walked at higher altitudes.

River front and bridges, Espalion

After a steep descent to the edge of town, we followed a path through the local park, once more beside the river. The two bridges – one old, one new – came into view, along with the old riverside houses, quite a dramatic approach to this historic town.

Thin houses and still waters, Espalion

Our hotel was on the main street. We checked in, and had a wash a brush up before dinner – an unexpectedly high level of cuisine given the general air of the place was more “business visitor” than “gastro-tourist”. We both had a generous and varied charcuterie plate to start with, whilst I had duck and Missy G had steak for main course, accompanied by a glass of rose wine. Pudding was a yummy strawberry sundae, and we rounded the whole lot off with coffee afterwards.

Later, we went for a quick stroll round town by way of a digestif.

Pilgrim bridge, Espalion

Tomorrow, we had a lengthier day in prospect. In fact, the combined stats for distance, ascent and descent for today and tomorrow are quite revealing – the walking is not difficult because it sticks mainly to good paths, tracks and lanes, but is rather tougher than might first appear the case, with a total of about 33 miles walked and a cumulative height difference topping 2000m for both ascent and descent over the two days.

Day 8 – Espalion to Golinhac

28.12km / Ascent = 1154m / Descent = 750m

A long and quite tough day began with breakfast and a walk round the Friday market for things for lunch – cheese, bread and fruit. It was fun wandering the stalls, almost like the natives do, eyeing-up the produce, mulling over the choices and picking our preferences from so many options.

Then we set out on trail. It was a bright morning and warming, the early mist having burned off pretty quickly. It was about 9.00am as we walked the first stretch beside the river and worked our way through the suburbs to reach the main D556 road that we followed towards the Eglise de Saint-Pierre-de-Bessuejouls – one of the oldest churches on the route, according to our notes.

Eglise de Saint-Pierre-de-Bessuejouls

After a relatively flat first hour, we then made the steep climb up and out of the valley to reach the high ground above. After a short stop for food and water, we first followed the road through the hamlet of Griffoul, then took a stone track which led into an earth path descending into the valley again near Tredou.

Church, Tredou

More roads and stone tracks followed, as we headed for the village of Verrieres where we stopped for first lunch – bread, cheese, fruit and half a pain au raisin.

Lunch, French style

Although the description so far has been quite short, time-wise it was already late morning. So, as we passed the “beaux village” of Estaing, we decided to pause only for photos, as exploring the town would have added time to what was already looking like a long-ish day.

Estaing #1

Estaing #2

Beyond Estaing, we took a quiet lane beside the river Lot. It was getting quite hot, and felt like one of those lazy days where most things are just too much effort. Even the river could only just be bothered to flow: the section here is wide and slow, artificially broadened by the Golinhac barrage, and I am strongly reminded of Rupert Brooke’s poem, Heaven:

Fish (fly-replete, in depth of June,
Dawdling away their wat’ry noon)
Ponder deep wisdom, dark or clear,
Each secret fishy hope or fear.
Fish say, they have their Stream and Pond;
But is there anything Beyond?
This life cannot be All, they swear,
For how unpleasant, if it were!
One may not doubt that, somehow, Good
Shall come of Water and of Mud;
And, sure, the reverent eye must see
A Purpose in Liquidity.
We darkly know, by Faith we cry,
The future is not Wholly Dry.
Mud unto mud! — Death eddies near —
Not here the appointed End, not here!
But somewhere, beyond Space and Time.
Is wetter water, slimier slime!
And there (they trust) there swimmeth One
Who swam ere rivers were begun,
Immense, of fishy form and mind,
Squamous, omnipotent, and kind;
And under that Almighty Fin,
The littlest fish may enter in.
Oh! never fly conceals a hook,
Fish say, in the Eternal Brook,
But more than mundane weeds are there,
And mud, celestially fair;
Fat caterpillars drift around,
And Paradisal grubs are found;
Unfading moths, immortal flies,
And the worm that never dies.
And in that Heaven of all their wish,
There shall be no more land, say fish.

Climbing up to Montegut

As the route began to turn away from the river, we took another stop by a low bridge for second lunch. Then began the second main climb of the day – out of the valley on to the top again, rising steeply through woods to emerge at Montegut.

We hadn't packed much water when we set off (my fault) and were slightly worried about running short on this hot afternoon. However, we came across a wayside “water and wee” stop, provided for walkers by the trail patrons, which came in useful on both counts.

Wayside scene between Montegut and Golinhac

Quite a long afternoon ensued. After another long stretch of road walking, we cut up through woods again on an undulating footpath. Missy G had a good view of a deer (I just saw it disappearing into the undergrowth) - we reckoned these quiet, beautiful woods would be a haven for wildlife, so it was nice to see some!

Between Montegut and Golinhac was reckoned to be about 11k, but it was difficult to assess exactly where we were as the little hamlets we passed through were often not signposted, and the lanes and paths lacking in landmarks. But in a way, this is what we came for – peace and quiet and a chance to experience real, rural France.

Roadside memorial to Pepe, who used to sit here
every day, wishing pilgrims well as they passed

Eventually, though, after more road and woodland path walking, we came to the hamlet of Massip on into the edge of Golinhac. Our digs were on the far side of the village, so we followed the route past the church and up a narrow, walled lane to a road on the ridge where we made for the last house in the village – La Landette.

We got a nice welcome from the hostess, who showed us to a small apartment – quite simple, but very nice – where we installed ourselves for the night.

After a wash and brush up we went for dinner, served by the host. He spoke good English, so we discussed everything from Brexit to schooling to how busy (or not) the Chemin is at the moment (they are doing OK, but cheaper camping options are slow).

Interestingly, although we set of slightly later than usual in the morning – by half an hour or so – we didn't see a single other pilgrim all day (over 17 miles and 8 hours of walking) which must be something of a record!

We were also able to talk about the food we were having – homemade vegetable soup, local charcuterie, braised beef (that took two days to prepare), garden potatoes, local cheeses (including the blue ewe’s milk cheese Roquefort – quite well-known to English cheese lovers, and made in the Aveyron) and a homemade fruit flan. All delicious, and with hardly any food miles at all either! Oh, and we had a bottle of good local Marcillac plonk to go with it!

We felt very full as we trundled along the road for a five-minute stroll before retiring, but we'd had one of the best evenings of the trip – good food and interesting chat – so we went to sleep tired but happy.

Day 9 – Golinhac to Conques


And so to our last morning, which was dry but rather overcast. In contrast to our pilgrim-free yesterday, walkers were already passing even as we went for breakfast – a feast of bread, jam, ham and cheese, coffee and juice. Just like dinner, simple but nice.

Nearing Espeyrac on a cloudy morning

Strrets of Espeyrac #1

Streets of Espeyrac #2

We were away in reasonable time, heading first on paths and lanes high on the valley-side, before dropping down to cross the river at Espeyrac. The walking was similar to the last couple of days, a mix of tarmac lanes, stony tracks and woodland paths. We fell in with a Frenchman, Laurent – originally from Paris but now living in Toulouse – who we would walk with off and on through the day.

The café was shut when we arrived in Espayrac, so we carried on, climbing out of the valley, through Celis, and on to the next village, Senergues, where we stopped for coffee and ice cream, and got lucky finding batteries for the GPS (which had run out earlier, hence the lack of ascent/descent figures for today).

Just at that moment, there were pelerins everywhere, and the little village was suddenly inundated with walkers looking for food and drink. In that sense, it was probably the most similar lunch stop to those on the Spanish section of the Camino – briefly buzzing as another pod of pilgrims passes through before moving on.

"Wee and water" stop, Senergues

After a short break, we continued to gain height before levelling out again for more high-level walking, mostly on roads, through more hamlets. A gentle drizzle fell.

Roadside shrine on the way out of Senergues

Cornflowers in the hedgerow

A little beyond Saint Marcel (where we popped into the church) we left the road for a gravel track, stopping for lunch before a steep descent that ran on into a woodland path that brought us to another road on the outskirts of Conques.

Entering Conques - sign both in French and Occitan

Conques is a beautiful, olde-worlde town, justly famous for its architecture and history. We arrived to find some odd things – tourists! And a wedding!

Abbey Saint-Foy

We wandered briefly through the streets, and found our hotel quite quickly. We had a beer and a cool down before checking in, then – after a wash and brush up – we went out to explore a little, and get something to eat and drink. 

Narrow streets

Conques is another of the "beaux villages". The medieval streets are very narrow, so the centre is more-or-less pedestrianised. The Abbey of St Foy (Santa Fe in Spanish) is a large structure for such a steep valley-side, and contains the remains of St Foy, a martyred woman from the 4th Century, that has drawn pilgrims to Conques for centuries.

Abbey frontage, with sculptured tympanum
above the doorway

The current building dates from the C11th, but it’s origins are from the C8th. Think about that: that’s 1300 years ago!

Abbey view #1

Abbey view #2

Abbey view #3

To me the Abbey, with its high ceiling, ornate Romanesque sculptures, galleries and large dimensions, demonstrates just how important a site it was considered, as it would have taken a tremendous effort to build something so big on such a steep slope.

Close up of tympanum above Abbey doorway

There is no doubt the town is beautiful, deserves its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site and warrants a good look round. But despite a slightly shorter day’s walking today, we were still ready for a good sleep, so returned to the hotel to get a few things ready for tomorrow's departure. We would have time for another look round in the morning, and all being well we will be back sometime in the near future to continue the Route St Jacques.

Room with a view

Conques had proved to be a great place to break our journey, and before leaving for the airport we had time for a lazy amble around the cobbled streets, catching up with Laurent and a bunch of other pilgrims who were in the enviable position of being able to continue.

We’d thoroughly enjoyed our 9-days on the trail, but it is quite a different experience to the Camino de Santiago through Spain. Several things had struck us about the differences, not least the fact that the path was far less busy than in Spain (although busier than we expected) and the route connects hamlets, villages and small towns, not large cities (after leaving Le Puy, the largest town we passed through had a population of just 4000, and many other towns and villages had far fewer inhabitants than that).

Inside the Abbey, with reliquary containing Saint
Foy's remains strung high out of reach

The route is also much less direct, with a lot more in the way of height gain and loss on a day-to-day basis. And, by and large, the walkers were mostly just that: walkers, and not pilgrims, just out for a few days’ walking rather than aiming to reach Santiago. Also, those walkers were nearly all French, whereas on the Camino there was a much more international roll-call.

Another difference was the food – obviously different between France and Spain, but whereas in Spain meals were often cheap, plentiful and repetitive (fuel, in other words) the food we had enjoyed over the last few days had been a showcase for the produce of the area – locally sourced, proudly typical of the region and treated with love and respect. 

View of Conques

For those that have done the Camino, it is a worthy precursor to that trek, But it is different, and it would depend on what elements of the Camino each individual felt they gained from as to how much enjoyment they would glean from this route. For example, the walking, scenery and food are great, the camaraderie just as fulsome but much less frequent than on the Camino, simply because there are fewer pilgrims en route.

We loved it, though, and plan to be back next year.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

The Le Puy Route - Part 2

Across the Aubrac - Les Faux to Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac

Day 4 – Les Faux to Aumont Aubrac

23.65km / Ascent = 619m / Descent = 680m

We had a slightly shorter day in prospect today after yesterday’s lengthy stint, and we woke to find the weather looking promising for the day ahead. With only around 23k to walk we could afford to take our breakfast at a leisurely pace, and so it was around 8.45am by the time we eventually set off.

Looking out across Le Rouget

It was bright but still cool as we made our way back to the main GR65 and dropped down through the hamlet of Le Rouget. On the way, we chatted briefly to a Canadian father/son pairing who were through-hiking from Le Puy to Santiago over a two-month stretch. Almost 9 continuous weeks of walking, discovery and enjoying the Camino experience – now that's what I call a trip!

Go West! Pelerins en route

The route into Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole was slightly circuitous. From reaching the edge of the town, we were taken right round the top side on a ridge with good views, then directed into the centre past the hospital complex (in this instance a real, modern hospital, not the old use of the word as a hostel, with each ward named after a famous artist).

Hospital with wards named after artists

It's a nice little town when you get there – a mix of new and old architecture that actually works quite well together. We bought savoury tarts for lunch, and stopped at a small bar for coffee and to read the papers – France beating Ireland to make the next round of Euro 2016 had temporarily replaced Brexit as front page news. Mind you, that was only in the sports section.

Looking back to Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole

We left Saint Alban along the side of a busy road, then cut to our right along a track that climbed to a low ridge with views back to the town. From then on, we experienced some of the best walking of the trip so far – the climb up to Chabannes (where we took our first lunch) along a sun-dappled, rocky path through woods reminiscent of those in Corsica being perhaps the highlight.

A metier a ferre les boeufs - a stall for containing
oxen while they are being shod

Les boeufs

The great scenery continued all the way to Les Estrets, a pretty, quiet little village at the foot of a steep descent where we took a break at the gite for drinks.

Sleepy Les Estrets

River Truyere

Moving on, we crossed the River Truyere – a slow, lazy river, rather like the Lathkill – and climbed out of the valley. Following another delightful track as we rose to the head of a shallow side valley, we walked in sight of other pilgrims for the first time since Saint-Alban.

Heading towards the D7 road

After a short break, we eventually reached the D7 road, crossed it, and followed a cinder track to meet the road again a while later before the final descent downhill into Aumont Aubrac, a small town most notable for its association with the “Beast of Gevaudan”.

Image result for beast of gevaudan
The Beast of Gevaudan

Legend has it that in the latter half of the C18th, a fearsome man-eating wolf-like creature with “formidable teeth and an immense tail” terrorised the local population, reputedly resulting in the death of over 100 people. There are various theories as to what the Beast actually was – hyena, lynx or pack of wolves seeming the most likely.

But whatever the actuality, the C21st pilgrim has little to fear in Aumont Aubrac – at least from legendary Beasts.

Narrow building, Aumont Aubrac - its not often you can
see the front and back of a building at the same time

We are staying in a gite tonight, quite a simple room but with a TV so we can watch the England v Iceland game! We dined at the hotel, getting in early while the locals cheered on Italy's 2-0 win over Spain.

We had steak with aligot, a highly elastic sort of cheesy, garlicky mashed potato very specific to this area and traditionally served to pilgrims on their way to Santiago. Aligot is taken very seriously in these parts – there are aligot festivals, with prizes for the best examples – think of the passions stirred by the correct recipe for Cornish Pasty (no carrots involved) and you’ll get the basic idea!  

Image result for aligot
Aligot, served here with Toulouse sausage

It had been a lovely day – great scenery, charming villages, interesting towns and quiet countryside, with only occasional other walkers met on the trail and decent weather too. It feels like we have seen a glimpse of local life as well today, not just the tourist side of a major walking route, and we seem to have relaxed nicely into our trail routine.

Tomorrow looks set to be a longer day, and the forecast suggests temperatures into the 30s in the afternoon, so we will need to be prepared for that.

Day 5 – Aumont Aubrac to Montgros

24.62km / Ascent = 625m / Descent = 441m

We awoke this morning to the depressing news that for the second time in five days we have exited Europe – this time a dismal 2-1 defeat at the hands of Iceland in Euro 2016.

Nonetheless, we got cracking and were breakfasted and on the trail by 8.15am, taking advantage of the early cool.

Leaving town, there were a few early walkers setting off – as many as we had seen altogether at one time anywhere on the trail – but as we passed first under the railway line, then the motorway, the cluster thinned as everyone hit their own pace.

Regardless of numbers, it was a nice bright morning, and we were walking mostly on dirt tracks through woods before joining the road into the village of La Chaze-du-Payre – the sort of place where even in the relative cool of the morning, nothing much was happening and what was happening was happening slowly.

Chapelle de Bastide, Lasbros

We left the village on a narrow lane signed for Lasbros, gently rising until we met the D987 (the Voie d’Agrippa, the former Roman road from Lyon to Toulouse) where the small Chapelle de Bastide stood by itself at the junction of several roads. We popped inside for a quick look.

Carrying on through Lasbros, we left the main road and headed off on a track through woods towards the next objective – a junction of roads and paths known locally as Les Quatre Chemins sitting at over 1150m in altitude.

It had been the kind of slow, lazy morning where our main companions en route had been skylarks over the meadows and cuckoos in the woods. But nearing Les Quatre Chemins, we did see a Stoat on the trail to add to other recent wildlife sightings – Red Squirel, Jay, Song Thrush, rabbits, a hare, more Red Kites and a number of other large, unidentified raptors.

Notice, Chez Regine, Les Quatre Chemins
"WC: crosswords and suodku prohibited during peak hours"

At Les Quatre Chemins, we had a break for coffee at Chez Regine. Regine, if it was indeed her who served us, was a hunched-over, stick-thin woman about 5-foot-tall, probably in her 70s and looking like she weighed about 5 stone wringing wet. It was like being served by an anorexic Mrs Overall, and the faded, out-of-date décor did nothing to abuse us of the notion we had somehow walked back to the 1950s. 

Oh, and a sign informed us we were not allowed to do crosswords or sudoku when using the toilet at busy times - whenever they might be.

Gateway with cledo - a flexible gate of wire and palings

Moving on, we headed out on to the Aubrac plateau proper, an undulating upland of meadow pasture and rock-strewn hillsides at around 1200m. Criss-crossed with walled tracks and trails, punctuated at intervals by cledos (wire and paling “gates” across the track) and with little shade, you are very much open to the elements (in today's case, hot sun).

Typical path on the Aubrac plateau

By the time we had reached Ferme des Gentianes, we were ready for lunch and a longer break, so we indulged ourselves with salad, sandwiches and beers in the shade of the gite awning. Like most things hereabouts, it was not a hasty experience. But we had plenty of time to while away, and a leisurely French lunch was as good a way as any to do so.

The 10 Commandments of the path, Fineyrols

After a brief climb through the hamlet of Fineyrols, where we were informed about the 10 Commandments of the path, we headed out once more on to the Aubrac plateau to face the heat. Our guidebook describes this area as “deserted” which I suppose it is to an extent, but all round are signs of agriculture and work is evident, so someone must be farming it. “Who milks all the cows?” as Missy G put it.

Beyond Fineyrols, with the path ahead

We topped up with water from the fountain in Rieutort d’Aubrac, then followed the road in increasing heat for a couple of kilometres (saw a weasel) before reaching the bridge over the River Bes. 

Approaching Montgros

Cutting over a low hillside, we climbed gently to reach the village of Montgros and our digs for the night, the lovely Maison de Rosalie.

La Maison de Rosalie, Montgros

We had a bit of a relax, then went down for an aperitif before dinner – with WiFi available, a chance to contact family and friends and check work was behaving while I was away.

Dinner at La Maison de Rosalie

Dinner was really nice: a set menu of peasant ham, melon and coleslaw to start with, pork chop and aligot (the elastic potato and cheese mash that is a speciality of this very small region) for main, cheese and a fruit salad for afters. Really lovely, simple food, and just the job after a full day walking.

Day 6 – Montgros to Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac

20.00km / Ascent = 485m / Descent = 888m

After a breakfast involving homemade bread and jam, croissants and coffee, we were out on the trail at a leisurely 8.45am – allowable given we only had about 20km to cover today.

Looking down to Nasbinals

The first section took us through farmland, and from the ridge overlooking the descent into Nasbinals you could easily be forgiven for thinking you were arriving into Hartington or Kettlewell, such was the similarity to those places. In fact, the track we were walking was so similar to the walled lanes between Hartington and Biggin as to be uncanny, and we might just as likely have been greeted by a cheery “Ey up, mi duck!” as a respectful “bonjour madame, monsieur!”.

Church, Nasbinal

But once in the village the differences were apparent, the buildings being more typical of the local stone and vernacular architecture. We popped into the Romanesque church and enjoyed a brief reunion with three of the people we ate dinner with at Mme Martins in Saugues.

Statue of St Jacques (St James)

Plaque outside Nasbinals church

Moving on, we climbed back on to the plateau. As a reminder of just how high we were, we passed a sign for a ski station – evidence that in the winter months these slopes are properly snow-covered.

Back on the plateau

Our path continued to climb gently and gradually rose, bringing us out onto high pasture. 

Near the high-point of the walk at 1300m

The stretch between Nasbinals and Aubrac offers almost 10km of walking without hamlet or farm, topping out at over 1300m altitude (not far off the height of Ben Nevis) but basically traverses farm pasture where small groups of cattle reside – pods of 30 or 40 beasts, mainly cows and calves, but with each herd presided over by a patriarchal bull looking out for his harem.

Modern sculpture on the way into Aubrac village

Approaching the village

Cow sculpture, Aubrac

Aubrac village was undergoing renovations on a large scale. To be honest, it was rather needed as it was looking a bit sorry for itself. We stopped for a drink, but soon carried on, and we ate our lunch a little later by the side of the trail.

On the descent from Aubrac

If the morning was characterised by the high, open plateau of the Aubrac, the afternoon was all about the descent off the plateau towards the Lot valley. We descended around 500m over the course of two hours walking – mainly through woodlands on rocky sunken paths and tracks – first to the hamlet of Belvezet, then on to Saint-Chely.

Saint-Chely is a nice, quiet village, but geared up for pelerins of the GR65. Our hotel is lovely, too – small and quite chic. We checked in, had a wash and brush up, did a bit of shopping then relaxed with a local Aubrac beer, watching the world go by.

Our hotel, Saint-Chely-d'Aubrac

Dinner was another nice set menu. We had beef terrine and salad for starter, a super beef dish called paleron (chuck steak cooked with onion, wine, herbs and carrots, rather like boeuf bourguignon) cheese, and a caramelised apple tart. Lovely!

To settle the meal, we had a stroll to the end of the village and back before turning in.

A right pair of pilgrims

We had really enjoyed the last 3 days crossing the Aubrac plateau. The weather had been good, and so had the views, and we were constantly presented with glorious scenery that wouldn’t have been out of place in the White Peak or Yorkshire Dales. It was almost as if a second Norman Conquest had established French as the native tongue of the North of England limestone country.

If the scenery had a familiarity about it, we had really enjoyed the feeling of being in authentic rural France – a tranquil, sedate countryside of food-loving locals, traditional recipes, strong on local ingredients and the quality of their provenance. Like the aliogt, time was elastic and stretched to suit: nothing was hurried, and there was a lazily relaxed attitude to life that matched beautifully to the pace of a walking trip.

Tomorrow, we would be leaving these high pastures and descending into the Lot valley. The Aubrac had treated us well, but we were now heading for a different flavoured corner of this part of France.