Day 5 of the variant: Gourdon to Cazals

Sunday, 1 June 2003
Distance 23 km
Duration 4 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 466 m, descent 547 m
Map 57 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topo-Guide (Ref 652) Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Figeac/Cahors/Agen/Moissac

The Topoguide covering the second part of the Way of Saint-Jacques (from Figeac to Moissac) contains a description of the alternative pilgrims’ way via Rocamadour. It was common for pilgrims to deviate at Figeac to take in the holy relics of Rocamadour on their way to Compostela, rejoining the main route at la Romieu. However, the Topoguide only starts its description at Gourdon, which is how we came to be mapless and guideless yesterday.

Walking in France: First coffee of the day, Salviac

First coffee of the day, Salviac

We woke to a thick mist among the pines. As our resting place was on the south-east side of Gourdon, we were able to take a short-cut by road to join the GR at the hilltop village of Costeraste. There is a chapel, a château and even a cow-shoeing workshop flanking the square, but we hardly saw them because of the mist.

We groped our way behind the chapel to the steeply descending track, crossed the stream and continued through forest, past farms and beside a large quarry, to arrive in Salviac just as the sun broke through.

Here in the middle of the street, the grand church looms, like a rock in a river, with cars and people flowing around both sides. The bells were deafening but nobody seemed to be going to church. We occupied chairs outside the cafe for the first coffee of the day, hemmed in by sweet-smelling pot-plants.

Salviac was much invaded during the Hundred Years War, being on a strategic route, and during the Revolution suffered the usual indignity of having its towers amputated. Today only the pepper-pot towers of the château remain.

Walking in France: Fete des fleurs, Cazals

Fete des fleurs, Cazals

The short walk from here to Cazals took us up to the causse, wild and undulating, and down into the valley of the Masse. The square bastide plan of the village is still evident, with its wide central square, where the weekly market was just dispersing.

Only a couple of blocks further down, next to the plan d’eau (artificial lake for swimming and picnicking), was the camping ground. Here we found ourselves in the midst of the annual flower festival.

There were stalls selling seedlings, flowers, fruit, jams, garden gnomes, ride-on mowers, tools and every variety of food. There was a line of trestle tables where the citizens were tucking into the last of a communal feast, with a live band belting out popular songs.

Walking in France: Folk dancers at the flower festival in the camping ground, Cazals

Folk dancers at the flower festival in the camping ground, Cazals

A group of dancers, mostly elderly, pirouetted past, in long black dresses, aprons, petticoats, fingerless lace gloves, hats, waistcoats and cravats. Some were playing the sort of instruments that stone angels on church doorways normally play – hurdy-gurdies, squeeze-boxes and bagpipes.

We were desperate for a shower, but the office was locked and so were the showers. A fellow camper finally lent us her key and advised us not to bother paying, if we were only staying one night.

After a pleasant trip to the local bar for an afternoon coffee, we pitched our tent between a low-loader and a bonsai display and lay down for a sleep.

Walking in France: A back street of Cazals

A back street of Cazals

Through the hedge we could see kids hurling themselves into the pool, while young women on the grass sunned themselves topless, not specifically for Keith’s enjoyment.

As the heat of the day and the crowds dissipated, we went back to the square where we had seen a couple of busy restaurants when we arrived.

Then the awful truth struck us – it was Sunday night and nothing was open. This is always a danger in France. At the bar we ordered a jug of wine, drank it and retired for a dinnerless but restorative sleep.