The rich, harmonious stretch of country between the Tarn and the Lot rivers epitomises the sort of landscape which prompted an envious English writer to complain that the French did not deserve to live in France.
The countryside that we passed through was a series of graceful rounded hills clothed in crops, pastures and woods, and punctuated by villages which were at the same time immensely old and welcomingly modern.
The walking was never hard, but despite this we made heavy weather of it. One problem was that we had nowhere to eat on the first two nights and then a couple of days of upset stomachs, which meant that we only had one evening meal in five days of walking.
The other problem was that I found myself still suffering the debilitating after-effects of shingles, although I had thought I was fully recovered.
Halfway through we had a sudden change of plans, abandoning the idea of going down the Aveyron from Rodez, and instead cutting across the causse to Espalion, a much easier route.
Getting to Millau
Shivering in our summer clothes, we walked down and caught the local bus to town. We were wearing every garment in our possession, except for spare underpants and socks, but we were still so cold that we were tempted to put on our plastic rain capes, just to keep some body warmth contained.
Once on the bus to Sydney, however, we were pleasantly air-conditioned and got through the rest of the journey without trouble, spending the night with our hospitable relatives, where we had an excellent Thai meal at the restaurant nearby, the last Asian food to pass our lips for several weeks.
In the morning we froze again, waiting for the bus to take us to the airport, but on the other hand the trip was free, because the driver could not issue tickets and we had none. Before we got on the plane we had the pleasure of a visit from our friends Nick and Hanne, fellow walkers who live quite close to the airport.
The flight itself was unremarkable – the usual twenty-four hours of constriction and tedium, punctuated by surprisingly enjoyable meals. We passed directly over Donetsk and Kiev without a qualm.
When we arrived in Paris there was a train strike. The RER into the centre was functioning, but only every second or third train appeared. As it was 8 am and people were trying to get to work, the carriage quickly filled up and at every new station dozens more people forced their way on board.
We were soon locked in a suffocating embrace with total strangers and it was a relief when we got to the Gare du Nord, where we were all told to get out. The Métro appeared to be completely out of service, but by taking two other RER lines, we eventually made it to the Gare de Lyon.
We still had plenty of time and our tickets were pre-booked, so we stepped across the road and had the pleasure of a second breakfast of coffee and croissants.
Back in the station, we were once more plunged into the chaos of the strike. At the entrance to our platform an angry, vocal crowd was being held back by officials, who were only allowing people with tickets for this particular train to pass. Luckily that included us.
Just before the train left, all the people with tickets for cancelled trains were allowed to surge on board and away we went, with every corridor, staircase and luggage bay crammed with standing people and suitcases. Nevertheless there was an almost festive atmosphere of relief and camaraderie.
Three hours later we descended at Montpellier into the arms of our dear friend, another Jenny, who took us back to her house, where we had showers, a beautiful dinner, much conversation and a good night’s sleep.
After lingering over breakfast, we said goodbye and went back to the station to catch the SNCF bus to Millau, which we were relieved to see was not on strike.
We were also pleasantly surprised by the price – €16 each instead of the €22.50 quoted in the website. But even this cheap price could not compare with yesterday’s train tickets on the TGV from Paris to Montpellier – €25 each for a journey almost the length of France.
The railway station, where we were set down, was familiar from this previous trip. We could have gone by train all the way from Paris to Millau, but it would have been a slow, convoluted journey, and also we wanted to go via Montpellier.
Our route for this section
Day 1: Millau to Saint-Beauzély
Day 3: Canet-de-Salars to Rodez
Rest day: Rodez
Day 4: Rodez to Bozouls
Day 5: Bozouls to Espalion
Travel day: Espalion to Figeac