Sunday, 30 June 2002
Distance 40 km
Map 57 of the
Topo-Guide (Ref 652) Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Figeac/Cahors/Agen/Moissac
We had a long way to go on this stage and it took us the best part of an hour to get back into Cahors, traverse the town and arrive at the second river crossing. Here the legendary fortified bridge of Valentré makes its way over the Lot.
The story goes that, during its construction in the fourteenth century, the mason fell behind schedule and had to strike a bargain with the devil, who would finish the job according to the mason’s orders in exchange for his soul. When the work was almost done, the mason ordered the devil to collect some water in a sieve, which the devil was unable to do, and so the deal was off. Contracts were vaguer in those days.
The worn and sunken stone surface of the bridge, polished by passing feet, delivered us to a bushy hillside, where a staircase mounted to a large cross. From there we admired our last view of Cahors, then descended to go under a highway and on over the rolling fields.
We passed various villages, chief among them Labastide-Marnhac, where we were intrigued to see for the first time a tall dead tree-trunk adorned with an heraldic shield and the message “honneur à nos élus”. The thought of so honouring our elected local representatives was foreign to our sceptical Australian minds.
The way continued along open uplands with occasional woods, past the “hospitalet” set up by a grateful noblewoman after escaping from being trapped in a mudslide. We had lunch in the churchyard at Lascabanes, a prosperous village without a single shop. We had been walking for six hours and had two more to go.
Onwards we went, following the Roman road with its thousands of years of travellers footsteps preceding us.
At the lonely forest chapel of Saint Jean with its Druid spring, we came across a line of trestle tables crowded with happy diners celebrating the saint’s day, in a cloud of smoke and completely blocking the road.
We edged past with smiles and apologies, but forgot to utter the obligatory “bon appétit!”.
Our feet and shoulders were aching as we trudged the last few kilometres into Montcuq, where our friends were expecting us.
We knew their house was near the church, so when we got to it, I approached a Frenchman in a striped shirt polishing his car, for directions. He turned and it was our friend Philip!
The house that they are part-owners of is on a corner opposite the church, presenting a grey façade. Inside it is simple and beautiful, with whitewashed walls, great worm-ridden ceiling beams, wooden floors, old furniture, and casement windows with shutters. There is a walled courtyard at the back, with table and chairs.
For dinner we ate a roasted chicken bought at the market (one of its legs had been gnawed by a dog, so it was an amputee), and then strolled about the streets.
Montcuq is a large, bustling village dominated by the ruins of a donjon (castle keep), with several cafes and all the amenities. We sat down for coffee and cognac before retiring to bed.