Wednesday, 11 July 2007
Distance with packs 25 km, time 5 hours
Ascent 430 m, descent 509 m
Map 57 of the
In the morning the ground was sodden but the rain had stopped. We ate our muesli at a table outside an empty cabin and once again took the dripping path down to the lake and up to the village.
The weekly market was starting, so the bar was open early and we went in for a dose of caffeine, although we had no room for croissants on top of the muesli. As we left the town we bought some pastries for later in the morning.
Among the market trucks was a little van with smoke pouring out of the roof and a wood fire glowing inside – a mobile pizza maker. How the French managed before pizza arrived is difficult to say.
At the church we took a road that we hoped would take us down to the big D927 which bypassed the village on the lower side, and it did, joining the highway at a roundabout. Thereafter we had no choice but to trudge along beside the busy traffic for three kilometres, but fortunately there was a wide tar shoulder to walk on. Several drivers tooted and waved encouragingly.
When we turned off onto the D2, the traffic died and the road became a rustic lane, which wended its way across a stream, over a rise, then along a richly fertile slope clad in orchards. The apricots were ripe, so we picked a few for tomorrow’s breakfast, and to nibble as we approached our second breakfast stop at Durfort.
We had walked through Durfort twice before and knew there was a bar there, so we looked forward confidently to coffee. What we had not taken into account was that Wednesday was closing day in this godless place (Durfort has no church of any kind).
However we were only momentarily discomfited, because we knew from previous visits that there was an alternative coffee stop at the Aube Nouvelle, an old hotel only a kilometre away on the GR65, which we had just rejoined.
Down through the vines we soon reached it and were shown into a sort of breakfast room, although there was a bar recently added on the side of the hotel, no doubt to cater for the troops of pilgrims coming past.
We brought out our pastries from Lafrançaise, a croissant and an indecently large pain aux raisins, to go with the coffee. It was delightful and we were amazed as usual that none of the pilgrims plodding past stopped for refreshments.
The descent amongst prune trees and vines was just as slimy as we remembered, and so was the walk beside the stream past the nut farm, and up to the road. We were on the pilgrimage, but going in the opposite direction, which felt positively heretical.
Nobody ever goes against the flow, away from Compostela, and we caused confusion whenever we met people. Some worried that they were going the wrong way, others wanted to know whether we had already been to Compostela and were walking back. We were astonished at the number of walkers that we passed.
We plunged down a farm path to the D57 and shortly afterwards decided to deviate from the GR, for the sake of variety, by taking a tiny side road (the D2) directly up to the ridge.
Half way along we had to get out the bag of tent poles to repel a couple of snapping dogs, which it did most effectively.
Slight rain had begun to fall, but not heavy enough to require the putting on of capes. Our little road took us to the crest, where we had a fine view of the hilltop village of Lauzerte on its spreading mound. With its massive fortifications and bastide layout, it was a classic Plus Beau Village, as we knew from previous excursions.
Then we descended to the ring road (the D953) and circled around to the camping ground, which was on the corner of the road to Montcuq. We had stayed at this place both times we had been in Lauzerte previously and it had been more decrepit the second time than the first. Now it was indescribably sad and broken down.
Caravans with loose panels and blackened roofs stood knee-high in the grass, which was strewn with rusty machinery and junk. The inflatable pool was sagging and half full of stagnant water. The reception shed looked as if it would topple over at any moment and there was no sign of occupation, notwithstanding some nicely mown emplacements.
An old fellow shuffled out to welcome us, but just then the light veil of rain turned heavier, so we agreed that we would put up our tent first, then come back to pay. He gave us the news that there was a new hotel-restaurant next door, and warned us that the showers were all cold, except for the one in the brick shed.
We hastily pitched the tent under a dense tree, so dense that for a while the rain did not penetrate and we ate half our lunch – the last of the luxuries from Albias – before having to retreat indoors. Later Keith tried to find the one hot shower and finally succeeded. It was in an unhygienic-looking concrete stall, but the water was hot and generous, and I followed his example.
When the rain eased we looked in vain for the old fellow, then went for a stroll to investigate the new establishment, Le Luzerta, which turned out to be at the other end of the aesthetic spectrum from the dreadful camping ground.
Five whitewashed red-roofed cottages stood in a neat garden, with a sparkling pool flanked by tables and chairs under an awning, and further back a glass-walled dining room and bar. Given the number of pilgrims coming through Lauzerte every day in the summer, and the paucity of eating places, we felt it could only succeed (we had been reduced to eating pizzas on our two earlier visits to Lauzerte). On the other hand, most pilgrims stay either in gîtes or in church refuges, and eat the boarding-house fare provided.
We were the only customers at the restaurant that night. It was a pleasure to be in such fresh, clean surroundings and we dined splendidly on steak and lamb respectively.
The bald, bespectacled owner chatted with us as we ate, and we found out that the owner of the camping ground (not the old fellow we had seen) was trying to sell it, and had a second business transporting the baggage of the pilgrims between towns.
He had a couple of drivers living in the wreckage of the camping ground, but it had been removed from the official lists, such as “Miam-miam-do-do” (pilgrim’s accommodation guide), in favour of our host’s establishment.
On our way back to the tent we searched again for the old man but never found him. We decided he was too ashamed of the place to take our money.