Saturday 8 July 2017

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. 

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