Wednesday, 26 June 2002
Distance 28 kms.
Map 57 of the
Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Figeac/Cahors/Agen/Moissac Topo-Guide (Ref 652)
The more we walked on the pilgrimage, the more we were inclined to deviate from it. Last night we had impulsively decided to take the GR651, the variant down the valley of the Célé, and we were well on our way by the time the bells of the church began their frenzied morning pealing at 7 o’clock. Down a plunging lane, we got to the river flats where crops of all sorts flourished in the rich red soil.
At Corn we recrossed the water and entered a tunnel of foliage that led to a long, slow-descending path beside the river to Espagnac. A two-storey wooden carving of a pilgrim at the entrance to this charming village proclaimed its enthusiasm to welcome us; on the other hand the café, set up in a cloister under the old priory, was closed.
This was frustrating and we did not like the look of the next section of GR, which rose high above the river. We reasoned that any twelfth-century pilgrim with half a brain would have stuck to the river, so that is what we did, taking the small road on the right bank all the way to Brengues.
The hotel at Brengues made up handsomely for the deficiencies of Espagnac and after a restful coffee break on the terrace we felt able to rejoin the GR.
To do this we had to climb up a steep field of wheat and over a stone wall. From here on the walk was beautiful, well-graded and in green shade.
When we reached the causse we stopped for lunch, then descended to Saint-Sulpice through a line of cliffs, where we saw for the first time the troglodyte houses that are so common along these rivers. With their neat facades welded to the rockface, they provided snug, secure homes for centuries of valley-dwellers.
Once we got to river level at Saint-Sulpice the afternoon was as hot as an oven and we had no wish to continue on the GR, which was twice as long and many times as steep as the road. Traffic was light as we tiredly swung along and before we expected it, we had arrived at the camping ground of Marcilhac-sur-Célé.
We set up our tent on a lawn beside the brimming river and enjoyed hot showers and a shady siesta.
Later we strolled in to look at the village, whose chief attribute was a great ruined abbey, fortified on the river side, which was established by Benedictines from Cahors in the ninth century. The roof had collapsed but the walls still carried the remnants of lively carvings.
The matter of dinner presented a problem when we saw the sign “complet” outside the only restaurant, but the old woman in charge, after looking into her supplies, agreed to let us have a single course, lamb cutlets.
We all ate on a vine-covered terrace in the warm evening. When we had despatched the lamb, as well as two baskets of bread, our hostess found out we were walkers and began to feel sorry for us.
She presented us with two slices of tart and then, clearing away the cheese platter from another table, she laid it on ours with a smile, to the amusement of all.