Day 17: Noailhac to Montredon

Monday, 24 June 2002
Distance 26 km.
Map 57 and 58 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topo-Guide (Ref 651) Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Le Puy/Aubrac/Conques/Figeac

Walking in France: Beautiful walking towards Decazeville

Beautiful walking towards Decazeville

We hit the track in thick mist about 8 am, carrying the underpants of one of our fellow walkers who had left without them at an early hour.

At the chapel of Saint-Roche we were charmed by the statue of the saint, who carries a pilgrim staff and holds his robe up coyly to reveal the plague sore on his leg. The dog who brought him sustenance in the desert stands beside him with a loaf of bread in its mouth.

A bit further on we crossed the Green Meridian for the first time. This is a millennium project on the part of the government, commemorating one of the last acts of Louis XVI before the revolution. In the midst of preparations for his escape, he gave royal blessing to the survey of the meridian of the Paris Observatory, from Dunkirk to Barcelona. This would fix the circumference of the earth and lead to the new immutable unit of length, the metre. It took seven years and the geometers were set upon repeatedly by hostile peasants speaking unrecognisable languages. The new project aims to plant a continuous band of greenery along this line.

Walking in France: Chapel of Guirande

Chapel of Guirande

The descending path through lush grass was a delight, although we were still in mist, which gradually began to fall as fine rain as we came into the streets of Decazeville. This was a sprawling modern coal-mining town, situated on one of the marvels of eighteenth-century France, the Burning Mountain of Fontaygnes, where a coal seam had been smouldering continuously for decades.

A coffee stop at a warm indoor bar allowed us to steam off slightly. We bought some food and a bottle of wine, which we decanted into a water bottle for the evening, as we would be camping at a farm, and left town in the direction of the river.

The rain had stopped but our boots and socks were sodden. Across the bridge we came to Livinhac-le-Haut, where we had lunch beside the fountain in the square. Fresh bread with a slab of cheese is a truly delicious combination.

Walking in France: Dinner at the farm

Dinner at the farm

After that my performance deteriorated. Wet socks had aggravated my blisters to such a degree that I could hardly walk. The mild, undulating, agreeable country path was a form of torture to me. I put my last pair of socks on top of the one thick and two thin pairs I was already wearing, but it was no better. Just past the chapel of Guirande, we arrived at the farm, and the farmer courteously shook our hands and showed us where to camp. After he left, I took off my hated boots and threw them into the bushes.

We discovered that the owner of the underpants had arrived here, slept briefly, then hurried away. The only other visitor was a Swiss pilgrim who had started from Geneva. As his wife was a non-walker (like so many wives), he had brought the dog, but the dog was no longer happy with this arrangement, so he was about to give up. He showed us his créanciale – a sort of religious passport that you can have stamped each night to prove you have walked all the way.

We chatted about blister treatments, a favourite topic amongst walkers. He had the latest plastic bubble dressing; I did not have even a normal bandaid for tomorrow. I had to save today’s ones. Nevertheless we had a convivial evening, with the farmer joining the conversation in his thick southern accent.