Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Le Puy Route - Part 6

Long Days, Short Days & Rainy Days - Cahors to Moissac

Day 7: Cahors to La Clos de Gamel

30.00k (18.67 miles) / No Ascent or Descent stats

We were up and breakfasted quite early, first setting off back through town to pick up lunch stuff for the next couple of days. Having run low on picnic food, we took the opportunity to stock up.

Setting off

Returning to the Louis Philippe bridge, we made our way beside the loop of the river to the Pont Valente, an elaborate fortified bridge that has carried pilgrims out of Cahors for 700 years.

Pont Valente

Since reaching Cahors, there had been a noticeable change of atmosphere about the route, and one which would remain with us for the next few days. Up until now, that feeling of being “on Camino” wasn't necessarily always there, which may have been down to the relative dearth of villages and towns through which the route has passed. The GR65, whilst broadly following the pilgrimage route, was also designed to skirt more civilisation than the more direct Spanish route.

Crossing the bridge out of town

After crossing the bridge (and passing the Three French Ladies – TFL) we hit the steep climb up to the Croix de Magne on the ridge above town. The route then takes a lengthy detour to pass under the busy N20 motorway, before following quiet lanes and paths towards the hamlet of Les Mathiuex, where we stopped at the gite for cokes and a rest. The TFL were there too.

View from the Croix de Magne

We dropped down into the valley, heard planes race by low in the sky and climbed towards Labastide-Marnhac where we stopped for lunch at a handy picnic table. After the rain of the past couple of days, it was nice to have good weather again.

Lunch stop, Labastide-Marnhac

Exiting the village, we again passed TFL and began a lengthy stretch of some 12k towards Lascabanes. The walking here is through woods or open spaces and is much, I imagine, like the South Downs. One section, we were brought to a stop as a cuckoo broke from its normal two-note song to entertain with a rarely-heard three-note version.

Continuing with the woods / heathland mix of countryside, we kept high on the ridge for a while longer, before dropping into the valley towards Lascabanes.

On reaching the village, we began to look for our accommodation, only to find it was actually another 3.5k away. So, we trundled on, through more nice shady woods and along a level tarmacked lane, until we reached the Chapelle St-Jean-le-Froid, where we called in for some cool.

The last kilometre was off route. This place had better be worth it, we thought.

La Clos de Gamel

And it was. La Clos de Gamel is another farmstead, with the out-buildings turned into guest rooms, two swimming pools, and a great setting. We were made very welcome by Chantelle and David, offered complimentary cold drinks and use of the pool (taken – it was glorious on such a hot day) and allowed to settle at our own pace.

Our room

We had a swim, rest, and tidy up, then joined our hosts plus other guests, Patrice and Marie, and neighbours Rene and Anita (originally from Holland) for a lovely meal with wonderful relaxed company. We chatted in a mix of French and English, and all got on so well. It was a fun evening, not least because Rene came in a restored bright yellow Panhard car, which was a great talking point.

This 1952 Panhard has been lovingly restored


Such a beautiful car

It seemed a shame to call it a night, but more walking beckons for us and the others tomorrow, so with some reluctance we headed for bed.

Day 8: La Clos de Gamel to Lauzerte

22.25k (13.80 miles) / Ascent 520m / Descent 668m

After a lovely breakfast outside, with coffee, juice, bread, jam, and yoghurt, it was time to take our leave of La Clos de Gamel – a sad moment, as we had had such a lovely time.

It was already sunny and quite warm as we got underway, taking a slight detour back to the GR65. The walking was superb, some of the best of the week, chalk uplands with views far and wide.

On the way to Montcuq

Our first objective was Montcuq, a hilltop town some 8k away and apparently the half way point of the Route St Jacques. From now on, we would be closer to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port than Le Puy.

If you were thinking of a small town in France, where folks come from round about to do not much in a relaxed and unhurried manner, and where incomers would choose to sit in cafes to acquaint themselves with the locals, this would be the place.

Village centre, Montcuq

We had cold Cokes in a market square café, bought a sandwich for lunch, and whiled away a delightful half hour.

Path climbing out of Montcuq

Moving on, we covered about another 3.5k to the church at Rouillac, where we had a quick look inside, taking refuge from the heat of the day before joining the TFL at the picnic table for lunch.

The afternoon was shaping up to be quite hot, and as we continued we were glad of occasional shade to offset the heat, especially on a couple of the climbs. After the rise up to Montlauzan, we opted to miss the village and rested instead in the shade beneath a large tree.

Crossing the valley, we entered the département of Tarn et Garonne for the 7k stretch to Lauzerte. After an initial climb, the walking was level in the main, but the final descent into Lauzerte was very steep and slippery, and would have been treacherous in wet conditions.

Topping up at the spring

Arriving in Lauzerte, we stopped for an ice cream, then followed a busy and dangerous main road for half a mile to the hotel. And what a hotel. On the plus side, the host was nice and there was a swimming pool which we took advantage of. On the other hand, it was a bit run down and there were some odd characters hanging around. The meal was basic but fine, but it was obvious that it was living on faded glory and the whole place had seen better days.

Local football match

We went to watch some local football afterwards, and we were happy enough in the end – when you are tired, you can cope with anything as long as you get food, water and a bed.

Day 9: Lauzerte to the Auberge de L’Aube-Nouvelle

13.75k (8.50 miles) / No ascent or descent stats

Thunder during the night had given us a strong clue as to what to expect this morning – rain. Varying from steady to quite heavy, we set off for the climb up to Lauzerte, had a quick look round the little town, and bought cherries in the market.

Marketplace, Lauzerte

Already a bit behind the clock, we left the town and dropped into the valley. The way was pleasant but unremarkable, and after a sweaty climb the far side the rain had abated and we were able to shed hot waterproofs.

Colourful hedgerow

Eglise St-Sernin-du-Bosc

After a steep descent on a stony track, we reached the restored Eglise St-Sernin-du-Bosc, and popped in for a quick look round. Moving on, we followed a succession of muddy tracks, quiet lanes and busier roads.

Crops in the fields

We had descended into another valley just beyond Mirabel when the darkening skies finally released their contents. Only just in time, we donned waterproofs again. As the rain became heavier, the going became more difficult as already wet ground became awash with water.

As the intensity of the rain reached a crescendo and water ran freely down the hillsides, the tracks became increasingly muddy and slippery. I fell, and with one side covered in mud we splodged along for a bit until we reached the Auberge de L’Aube Nouvelle, which thankfully was open – but only just!

We were invited in and brought hot coffee, dripping water and mud all over the tiled floor as the deluge outside continued, thankful for their kind hospitality even though not properly open.

Another pilgrim was ensconced in the lobby, though he was stopping there for the night.  

Weighing up our options, we came to the unpalatable decision to end our walk there and then, and pick up again from this point next time. It was a bit defeatist, but anything other than walking the roads would have been impossible – or at least very slippery and muddy.

It was a shame, but on the plus side it did give us a bit more time to look round Moissac. We called a cab and were whisked into town in minutes, while the rain fell.

Streets of Moissac

Safely installed in our hotel, we rested up and dried out for a bit. By late afternoon, the rain had stopped, so we went for a look round Moissac and something to eat. As if to endorse our earlier decision, the heavens opened again as we had our meal, and as the water tumbled from the awnings all around, we were glad to have opted for a sheltered spot.

Sunday

With almost a full day at our disposal, we had chance for a good look round town. Heading for the market and delis to pick up food for lunch, we first walked along the side of the canal before climbing up to a viewpoint where we sat and read our books for a while. Pottering round some of the nearby lanes, we began plotting our next visit.

Walking by the canal

Looking over Moissac from the viewpoint

Back in town, we had final drinks and eats in the main square. A brass band started playing – hilariously, outside the Abbey and on the pilgrimage path of the Route St Jacques, they played a version of Highway to Hell. AC/DC never sounded quite this way before, nor quite as ironic!

Then back to hotel ready for pick up and home. We know we will most likely be back again, although we are not sure quite when as yet. This Camino business gets under your skin, and we have plans afoot to do some more. St Jean-Pied-de-Port awaits, then other routes across Europe - more than enough to keep us busy for the foreseeable future!

The Le Puy Route - Part 5

Foie Gras & Friendships Forged - Cajarc to Cahors

Day 4: Cajarc to Limogne-en-Quercy

21.12k (13.18 miles) / Ascent = 606m / Descent = 437m

We had a somewhat shorter day in store for today, but one which turned out to be very rural with almost no villages except for Gaillac encountered along the way.

Narrow streets of old town Cajarc

After the physical demands of the previous two days, we set off a bit later than normal at about 9.00am. As it's a bank holiday and a Monday, two reasons why shops in France don't open, we were wondering about getting lunch stuff – would there be anywhere in Cajarc to buy food?

Fortunately, we found a boulangerie that was open and bought ham and cheese baguettes and two quiches – enough lunch for two days with our exercise- and heat-suppressed appetites.

Looking back towards cajarc

It was very quiet out walking. We saw dolmen man (a chap we had first met at the dolmen yesterday) a couple of times early on, who sped ahead but twice went the wrong way and eventually disappeared altogether, but aside from there were few walkers about.

Nearing Gaillac

The next village, Gaillac, was equally quiet. We popped into the church which, besides being cool, held a statue of St Jean Gabriel with an unusual Chinese styling. It turns out he was a C19th French missionary who was brutally martyred in China for failing to renounce his faith, and canonised as recently as 1996.

Statue of St Jean Gabriel, Gaillac 

Beyond Gaillac, we followed a nice sun-dappled path rising through the trees. This landscape of tree-covered limestone plateaux cut into gorges by the major rivers is known as the Causses, and although we were grateful for the shade the dense woodland offered up reduced views.

After a lengthy spell of road walking, we picked up a path again and soon came upon an unusual sight. Surrounded by a confetti of colourful scallop shells, we found a sort of impromptu road-side café and stopped for drinks and a rest. There was no mention of this stop in our guidebook, nor any advertising en route – at least as far as we saw. But this unexpected stop was very welcome, especially given the lack of other food and drink stops.

Colourful drinks stop, near Mas del Pech

Moving on, we followed more stony tracks and walled lanes through a couple of tiny hamlets barely big enough to warrant a name, and with around 5k still to go we took a break for lunch.

Poppy field near Mas de Dalat

Somewhere near Mas de Dalat, we met Karen from the US via Paris, one of the first English-speaking walkers we had met. With a chance to do so, we talked a lot, all the way to Limogne-en-Quercy, and kept doing so over cold beers. It’s funny: we see hardly anyone all day, then, come late afternoon, walkers inexorably migrate towards a bar and a group coalesces. 

We found our rooms in a nice chambre d’hote nearby, and after a tidy-up pottered back round to the bar for dinner. Our starter was a tiny bowl of asparagus soup, followed by a large plate of salad, charcuterie, pate and the like, which was great. 

Then, expecting dessert, we were surprised to find an enormous plate of whole turkey leg in a chorizo sauce set in front of us. It was no good – we couldn’t eat it all! So, ready for lunch tomorrow, a whole turkey leg plus four slices of bread were carefully secreted away, to be smuggled out later after our ice cream desert.

Day 5: Limogne en Quercy to Mas de Ceres

21.00k (13.10 miles) / Ascent = 331m / Descent = 326m

Breakfast at the chambre d’hote was a communal affair, with us plus four other French walkers enjoying coffee, jam, bread and fruit, and Dolmen man outside preparing for the day ahead.

We set off about 8.20am. Skies were overcast for practically the first time all week, and we left town with the threat of rain in the air.

Walled track near Limogny-en-Quercy

We joined a wide walled track beneath trees, with a gentle descent that made for easy walking. After about 15 minutes, we took a short detour to see another dolmen – this one much smaller and more intimate than the previous one.

Small Dolmen

The going was straightforward and route finding simple, and we made good progress. The skies continued to darken, and thunder rumbled away somewhere to our right. Just before the rain hit we caught up with Karen, and walked for the next hour or so with her, the conversation a distraction from the increasingly heavy rain.

Signpost, Bach

We were reasonably soaked by the time we reached Bach, but the rain had stopped and we were beginning to dry off as we decided to stop for drinks. A rest was required: we had completed almost 12k this morning without a stop or any food, so we enjoyed the break.

Our next overnight stop was some way off route – around 4K or so, in fact – so shortly after Bach we bade farewell to Karen and struck off on our own. For the first time this week, we were following the orange blazes instead of the usual red-and-white-striped waymarkers. Passing through Veylats, we stopped for lunch at a handy picnic bench, the mainstay of which was turkey sandwiches purloined from dinner last night.

Mas de Ceres

From Veylats, it was a couple more kilometres to Mas de Ceres. It's a beautiful old farmstead, right in the middle of nowhere. We got a nice welcome, and were asked in for a cold drink and a brief chat, after which we popped to our room to rest and clean up.

Lentil and terrine starter - delicious!

Dinner featured a starter of lentils and a delicious terrine, with a vegetable and herb omelette for main course, bread and cheese and ice cream to follow and a cup of tea to finish. Last night’s meal was good but a bit too big – according to our host, that restaurant is renowned for its ample portions. This meal was simple, tasty and manageable – and for us that meant it was perfect!

Day 6: Mas de Ceres to Cahors

26.25k (16.25 miles) / Ascent = 537m / Descent = 624m

Breakfast was simple but delicious – homemade yoghurt, bread and jam, juice and coffee. These rural stops may be a bit off the beaten track, but have proved to be a highlight of the trip.

Leaving Mas de Ceres

As we set off, rain began again – steady at first, but increasing in persistence until it became quite heavy. Our first challenge was to find our way back to the GR65, which we did without too much trouble, and after about an hour we were passing through Mas de Ver – the first named place on this section of the route.

Once again, we are in sparsely populated countryside, with almost nowhere en route to buy food or drink all day. Because we were running slightly behind those who overnighted elsewhere, we saw no familiar faces all morning – in fact, we saw few people at all until Cahors.

A brief sunny spell

Rain meant we trundled on without a break, and it was close to midday, over three hours after setting off, that we stopped for just a few minutes for pizza and apricots, sitting beside a busy motorway junction.

Stony track on the way to La Quintade

Each time the rain abated, we thought we had seen the last of it. The sun would come out and the temperature rise, and we’d have good weather for a while. However, some time later we would catch another heavy shower that soaked us properly again.

Descent into Cahors, with rain sweeping in

As we headed into town, we crossed the Louis Philippe bridge over the Lot. At the end of the bridge, in the old toll-booth, the L’Octroi provide support to pilgrims. We were invited in for a cold drink and a passport stamp: chatting briefly, they enquired politely if we were Julian and Claire? It seems that Karen had called in earlier and asked them to look out for us – pilgrims looking out for one another.

While we were there, we met another pilgrim who had walked all the way from Geneva. As this is something we have a mind to do in due course, we quizzed him a little about his route. He said it was good, and confirmed that at least one proper route does exist, which is encouraging news for our future plans.

As we passed through town on the way to our hotel, the heavens opened. Amidst the heaviest rain of the day, we sploshed through the streets and arrived at our hotel bedraggled and dripping wet. It wasn't long before we were installed in our room, though, and set about drying ourselves and our wet things.

A relaxing drink at the end of the day

Having had just a 10-minute sit down during a 16-mile day, we were ready for a rest. Then we tidied ourselves up and went out for dinner, opting for a bar on the main square in case any pilgrims passed by. None did, but we had a nice meal (salads, ice cream / pannacotta, beers) and enjoyed the quite busy atmosphere. We even managed to successfully challenge the bill in French!

Unusual clock

To help dinner settle, we had a quick look round the old town before returning to the hotel. It looks quite interesting, and on another occasion we might have been tempted to explore further. 

The Le Puy Route - Part 4

Les Grangettes, Long Days & Life on the Road - Conques to Cajarc

Late May 2017 found us back on Camino again for the first time in about a year, amidst more upheaval back in the UK. Last time around, it was Brexit: this time, we arrived in the wake of the Manchester Arena bombing. We seem to be living through turbulent times, so the prospect of a few peaceful days strolling through the beautiful French countryside has much to recommend it.

With flights and transfers running to time, we arrived at our first digs near Conques, Les Grangettes, at around 1.30pm, only to find there was no one in! No matter, we waited on the veranda for a while, eventually ringing a mobile number gleaned after a complex telephone rigmarole, just as our hosts returned. We’d surprised them by arriving earlier than expected.

Les Grangettes

Les Grangettes is a lovely place, rural, rustic and seemingly rough at the edges, but with an underlying chic and two lovely owners. We were showed to our room – a small, two-floor accommodation – after which we walked the 5k into Conques for a warm-up before tomorrow’s exertions – warm being the operative word, as it's about 30 degrees in the shade.

Abbey Sainte-Foy

Later, we wandered up to the library for beer before aperitifs at 7.30pm and dinner at 8.00. It was a fantastic evening, and very sociable. We ate with our hosts and family (Sybille and Jean-Pierre, her sister Delphine and her son) and another family, and the conversation in French and English flowed all night. As a poor French speaker, I loved the way we were made to feel properly included.

We took aperitifs and canapes in the library, then had dinner in the main kitchen (pate and ham to start, braised venison, strawberry ice cream to finish) with wine and cheese – a very civilised couple of hours, and a million miles away from the usual rushed meal in front of the TV!

Day 1: Conques to Decazeville

19.75k (12.25 miles) / Ascent = 786m / Descent = 846m

We woke to a bright morning, and took breakfast in the communal kitchen – toast and jams, sheep’s yoghurt, coffee, bread, cold meats and cheeses. There was so much to choose from, we could only eat a little of what was on offer. Jean-Pierre wasn’t about, though: he was busy flying to work in his private plane!

Sybille gave us a lift into Conques, and we said our goodbyes. We had only spent a few hours together, but it had been so relaxing and enjoyable it felt like much longer, as if we had arrived as strangers and parted as friends.

Porte du Barry

Conques was busy. There was some sort of old car event going on, and the streets were full of cars and people. We bought quiches from the bakery, and set off downhill, excited to be on the Camino once more.

It's holiday time in France, with a clutch of Bank Holidays close together encouraging walkers out onto the GR network. Consequently, the path was the busiest we had seen it since starting out on the Le Puy route. Climbing past the Chapelle St Foy, a group of around 15 people coalesced, passing and repassing each other through the day.

Looking back to Conques from the Chapelle Sainte-Foy

It wasn't too bad, though – everyone found their own pace, as they do when long-distance walking, so the group stretched out and we had plenty of quiet, and for the most part walked alone.

Chapelle Saint-Roch

We stopped for drinks in Noailhac; stopped again for lunch at the Chapelle St Roch. Then began an 11k stretch where the route barely passed a house, let alone a village, as it wound its way through idyllic countryside. It was quiet, and quite lovely – and hot!

Typical signage - left turn ahead

Since the climb up past the Chapelle St Foy early in the morning, we had been on high ground for much of the day, the countryside perhaps resembling the uplands of the Cotswolds or the White Peak more than anything else, with a mix of quiet lanes, tracks and paths leading us on.

Walking beside the D606

After a brief stop to top up on food, sunscreen and hydration salts, we carried on. Keeping energy levels up and staying hydrated are important, especially when you are not yet acclimatised to hotter temperatures and the demands of walking for several hours each day.

At the start of the descent into Decazeville

The descent into Decazeville followed a narrow lane, and was quite steep in places. But we eventually reached the town, crossing road junctions and ducking under the bypass. Our hotel was easily found, but again it wasn't open, so again we had to ring them up and were given an access code with the promise that someone would be there “à bientôt”.

Once installed inside, we had a wash and brush up and a rest before dinner. Today’s walk was not that long, but it was quite hot. As we have two much longer days to come, time available to rest up and relax was gratefully accepted.

Central square, Decazeville

We walked out for a few minutes either side of dinner, checking out options for supplies for tomorrow. Dinner itself consisted of a ham and melon starter, steak and chips, tarte aux pommes and lots of water.

So, it was mission accomplished today – do the distance, without getting too tired, footsore, sunburnt or dehydrated, for tomorrow is a big day!

Day 2: Decazeville to Figeac

30.25k (18.75 miles) / Asecnt = 997m / Descent = 946m

We woke early and enjoyed a simple breakfast of coffee, orange juice, fruit and croissant. Quite a big day beckoned and we were eager to be underway, so by 8.30am we had checked out, got a stamp for our passports, bought lunch from the local patisserie and set off.

Crossing the Lot on the way into Livinac-le-Haut

The first objective was the climb out of Decazeville, rewarded by great views over the Lot valley as we reached the ridge and enjoyed a level stroll for a couple of kilometres. Dropping down into Livinhac-le-Haut, a little town that was almost asleep in the bosom of warm sunshine, we crossed the River Lot before a more gradual climb back out of the valley.

Sign in French and Occitan

Gaining height, we followed a series of lanes and tracks to reach the hilltop village of Montredon, where we stopped briefly for pear and apricots and a short rest by the church, watched over by an insouciant cat.

Viewpoint on the way into Montredon

Moving on, we followed lanes and tracks towards the Chapelle de Guirande, where we got another stamp to make up for missing yesterday! We took another short break, and topped up with water from the nearby fountain.

For the first few days walking in hot conditions, we drink quite a lot of water – maybe 3-4 litres or more each per day. I think many people, us included, spend much of their day-to-day lives a little on the dehydrated side, and that, alongside the significant loss of fluids (and salts) through perspiration, means it takes 2-3 days of frequent water stops before we are properly hydrated.

Interesting tiled roof

Our goal since spotting the sign near Livinhac was to reach a gîte in a tiny hamlet called Bord, somewhere that looked capable of selling food and drink. Options had been few and far between earlier in the day – even Livignac only had a grocer’s shop open.

We just about made it before tiredness and hunger set in, and it was well worth it. A shady stop with picnic tables, we bought cokes and ice creams and guzzled them down, and sat for half an hour just resting in the cool. We ate one of our quiches, too.

There were other walkers here as well – four or five groups, some of whom we would see over the next few days like the pair we dubbed the “Brazilian couple” – not that they were from Brazil, but she wore a bandana with “Brazil” on it.

As I paid, I struggled to make the lady understand we wanted to buy another coke. In the end, I paid our bill, held up a E2 coin and asked for a coke. Light dawned, and laughter too!

Shady path beyond Bord

Moving on, we skirted St Félix and soon came to the church of St Mirabel. We sat at a communal stop with drinking water and a large bicycle sculpture (commemorating some local Tour de France stage winner from 2004), eating fruit and drinking rehydration salts.

Bicycle sculpture with church of Saint-Jean Mirabel behind
  
Most of the final 6-7k were also nice, and a pleasant way of finishing a lengthy day. After a long stretch by the busy D2 road, the route threaded its way through countryside on tracks and quiet lanes, followed finally by a long descent into Figeac.

It seemed hotter lower down, the heat not mitigated by the cooling breeze of the tops, and the final trudge along a busy road that morphed into a town street of scruffy appearance wasn’t perhaps the most auspicious approach to a town.

However, this poor first impression gave way to a rather pleasant old town centre. Our hotel for the night is one Best Western chain, of quite a nice standard and with a smart room. 

Enjoying dinner beside the river

We had dinner on the terrace, sitting beside the River Célé, and I can't remember us ever having done that before. It was a nice meal, too – chicken salad to start with, salmon/duck for main course and crème brûlée/tarte au chocolat for dessert.

Our hotel on the river front

Afterwards, we took a quick stroll round the old town, checking out shops for restocking in the morning.

Day 3: Figeac to Cajarc

32.50k (20.25 miles) / Ascent & Descent not recorded

With another long day in prospect – longer than yesterday, in fact – a good early start was required. We breakfasted on the terrace overlooking the river, warm enough to eat out in just shorts and shirt even at 7.00am.

Early morning shadows

By 8.00am, we were on our way, heading out of town and starting our first steep climb of the day back up on to the plateau. The first few miles along the ridge were quiet and peaceful, with pilgrims only occasionally in sight before and behind.

Heading for the cafe in Feycelles

At Feycelles, a pretty village overlooking the Lot valley, we stopped for drinks and ice creams. We were served by Monsieur, polite and brisk, and two cokes were before us tout de suite. Madame, on the other hand, was a grumpy thing, whose demeanour erred a little too far towards surly to be charmingly quirky. She did manage a brief “Bonne journée” as we left, though.

Poppies in the hedgerow

A longish section followed – more lanes, tracks and paths, which were easy enough to follow except for the criss-crossing of a number of GR routes – we had to make sure we were following the right red and white blazes.

After another lengthy section, we stopped for a quick rest, snacks and a drink, then carried on to the village of Gréalou. Here, we took a longer rest on the green, topped up on sunscreen and potable water, and had a snooze prior to the final miles.

Taking a well-earned rest, Grealou

Those final miles were quite testing. Even though we passed a Neolithic dolmen to keep our interest up, we seemed to be walking for ages only to find we had barely knocked off another kilometre. It was like walking through treacle: would we ever reach Cajarc?

Neolithic Dolmen near Grealou

Eventually, we crested a hill and to our relief saw the town below, set in a loop of the River Lot in an amphitheatre of limestone cliffs. It still seemed some way away, but by following a cunning path below the cliffs we dropped suddenly to valley level and rolled into town unexpectedly quickly, with only our hotel to find. 

Path below the cliffs

We arrived at 6.30pm. The hotel is nice – modern and smart, suited rather more to business needs and family get-togethers than smelly pilgrims, but we enjoyed the facilities none the less. A brief tidy and we were ready for dinner – a lovely meal with a speciality salad starter, duck leg as the main course and a local pudding to finish, all washed down with large beers and a big bottle of fizzy water.

Relaxing before dinner after a long day

We have again drunk loads today – I reckon that from dawn to dusk I had about 5 litres yesterday, and it must be close to the same today. Keeping fit and healthy and avoiding dehydration is a must when days are long and the temperature is up in the 30s.

Sunscreen, too, is important. Walking in the heat of the afternoon, often out in the open in what must be in excess of 30°C in the shade, means taking precautions – besides plenty of fluids, a hat, covering up perhaps, and regular sunscreen applications are all recommended, especially as we have not been exposed to these kinds of temperatures when walking since this time last year.

Despite the heat, they have been good days, with an element of challenge too – something we like as part of our pilgrimage walking, especially when we have to get up and walk again the next day come what may.

Cajarc! A welcome sight at the end of a long day

Even though we may have done some preparatory hikes at home, the first two or three days of each trip always revolve around getting back into the fitness and routine required for multi-day long-distance walking. And, in a way, this is all part of the fun!

This time, we found slipping back into “trail readiness” quite easy – the baggage of our home lives easily surrendered, whilst our trekking baggage was properly organised from the outset.