Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 181 m, descent 256 m
Map 154 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We rose at our usual hour of about 6:30 am and had breakfast at a concrete table near the shower block. Having peaches with our muesli made it a lot more agreeable than usual, and we promised ourselves not to forget to buy more.
As we went past the entrance, we saw that our fellow walkers had not stirred, probably quite wisely, but we have an unbreakable habit of starting early, a habit forged in the tremendous heat of our first few walks in France.
Instead of back-tracking into the town to pick up the GR, we took a short cut along the D940, then turned off on the D15 to Anglars.
It looked a prosperous little place, old but well-tended, and we passed through it without seeing a living soul.
Beyond that the road, fringed by trees, descended gently between fields until we took a tiny dog-legged turn and found ourselves back on the GR6.
No sooner had we done that than the GR left the road and became a pebbly wheel track which ran along past a line of cherry trees, above newly-mown fields sloping gracefully down, then up and over a fold of the land.
We gradually approached the road below us, and finally joined it, but soon diverged again and wandered through woodland until we came to a stream.
Having crossed it on a metal footbridge that looked as if it were left over from some military raid (except for the strange turnstile at one end), we climbed directly into the main street of Thémines, and we were very glad to be there, because we knew it had a bar.
It did indeed have a bar, but it had been closed for two years, according to the old fellow in the house opposite.
He added, with perhaps a touch of glee, that there was another bar out on the highway, but the barman was sick today, so it too was closed.
The only other shops in the place were a dead-looking butchery and a bakery which was closed for three days for family reasons.
Considerably disheartened, we plodded out of the village. The GR rose high and traversed some open ground with stunted trees here and there, then after half an hour it descended through orchards to the highway.
There was no actual village at this point but there was a camping ground and we saw the magic word “Snack” on the sign.
On investigating we found a proper bar, with tables set out under a leafy canopy, and a woman eager to provide refreshment.
She apologised for not having any croissants, but produced instead a basket of fresh bread with butter and jam.
She replenished both our coffee and our bread, evidently delighted to have such grateful customers. It was an unforgettable treat, all the more so for being a complete surprise.
Our view of the world was now rosy again and we had no difficulty with the remaining seven or eight kilometres to Gramat.
This part of the GR was a wide white track, flat and shady, that went parallel to the highway and may well have been the old main road. We emerged onto the bitumen at about noon.
The little town of Gramat stands on a rise above the river Alzou, and as we pulled up into the centre we were looking for two things – a hotel (as we knew there was no camping ground in Gramat) and a telephone box.
The first problem was easily solved with the help of the Office of Tourism, through the door of which we just managed to get a foot as it was closing at 12:30. The young man obligingly gave us a list of accommodation and some suggestions about which ones to avoid, before hurrying away for his lunch.
After looking at a few hotels and one sad-looking gîte, we chose the Hotel du Centre, which looked out onto the vast Place de la République, the main square of Gramat.
The second problem was also quickly solved when we noticed several public telephones outside the Office of Tourism. We needed to make contact with a woman who lived nearby, who had contacted us through our website and kindly invited us to dine with her the following night. The trouble was that we were a day ahead of our schedule now, after our change of plans at Rodez, and she would have to pick us up in Rocamadour, instead of in Gramat as arranged.
We rang her number but only got the answering service. This happened three times, and we felt sure that she had been called away by some family catastrophe, and was not in residence at all. However, we left a message saying that we would be waiting outside the Maison de Tourisme in Rocamadour at 6 pm the following day.
Our hotel was simple but pleasant. It was a Logis, but not as grand as the other one across the square.
When we were clean and rested, we went for a stroll through the streets, which were the usual picturesque maze, largely devoid of cars. There was a fine stone market halle near the church and various intriguing nooks and corners.
Later we wandered about looking at menus before sinking into chairs outside the Café de l’Union, which was across the square from our hotel. Creatures of habit that we are, we ordered pastis and a glass of rosé, and thought ourselves the luckiest people in the world to be sitting there.
For dinner we went to a restaurant, les Coeurs Gourmands, just around the corner, in an alley so narrow that its awning stretched right across to the opposite wall. It was warm enough, so we ate outside, on the roadway. We liked the sound of the €13.50 menu which was written on a blackboard over Keith’s head.
He started with avocat au thon, rather exotic for this country, whereas I stuck to my favourite, a plate of crudités. The bread basket emptied with alarming speed but was wordlessly refilled in the French manner.
My main course was confit de canard, that great staple of the south-west, and Keith had paupiette de veau with cream sauce, which looked rich and succulent. Both dishes came with a pile of golden sautéed potatoes and a small lidded tureen of vegetables.
The couple sitting next to us, just inside the door, were walkers too and were staying at the gîte that we had rejected earlier in the day. Either meals were not supplied there, or they had the good sense to eat out, we did not ask.
They said they had started from Conques and were going to Moissac by way of Rocamadour and Cahors, which sounded a very convoluted itinerary.
We sauntered the short distance back to the hotel with all the contentment that a good meal can bring, and the prospect of an interesting walk tomorrow.