Friday, 14 June 2002
Distance 29 km
Map 50 of the
Topo-Guide (Ref 651) Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Le Puy/Aubrac/Conques/Figeac
It was very clear that we had indeed arrived at the right place to begin the pilgrimage. The town was full of great dormitory blocks run by religious orders, where aspiring pilgrims stay before setting off.
As we had never imagined that we would be doing this, we had no maps or guides, so we loitered enjoyably at a cafe until the Office of Tourism opened at 8:30, bought the Topo-guide and strode off on the GR65, the most populated walking track in France.
Beyond the houses the land rose steeply but we felt fresh. The first village, Saint-Christophe, was easily reached and we sat down at the bar for more coffee – we try not to leave any such establishments short of a customer.
We bought bread, cheese and sausage, then bounded off through an underpass into the open meadows, which were now scorching in the sun. The farm buildings here are of dark, liverish stone, a contrast with the white limestone of Provence.
Hot and thirsty, we arrived at Ramourouscle, a handsome stone village with a central fountain at which we drank our fill. Soon after we had lunch on a shady bank beside the track. Wine at lunch time had been a mistake in Provence and we never resumed the habit. In this hot weather, water was much more delicious.
Past the first of innumerable chapels to Saint-Roche (patron saint of pilgrims and plague victims) and just beyond Montbonnet, the GR65 crosses the GR40, and we would have wandered off had it not been for the kind intervention of a local, who turned us around and set us off on the right path.
The rising track went through fields of wheat and cornflowers, and into a wood where the Lake of the Egg was supposed to be, but we saw no lake.
The descent was rough but presently the village of Saint-Privat appeared, clinging to the side of a gorge. The fountain at the entrance to the town had a sign “eau non potable” which caused Keith to declaim “A pox on you, Saint-Private Parts!”
On the other hand they did very nice coffees in the square, with a jug of water to begin. Sitting there, we saw several fellow pilgrims staggering in, reduced to the state of cripples by the first day of the pilgrimage. No doubt their faith was being tested.
We on the other hand, strengthened by coffee, set off on the last leg, uphill to the crumbling fortress and chapel of Rochegude, then down a purgatorial rocky staircase to the depths of the gorge of the Allier and the very railway line that we had travelled on yesterday.
The village of Monistrol occupied this dark valley. The camping ground beside the river was the only piece of flat land in sight.
For dinner we went to a nearby pizzeria and found we could hardly get our legs to carry us up the front steps, so exhausted were we.