Thursday, 26 June 2014
Distance 13 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 228 m, descent 278 m
Map 154 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Yesterday we had declined the offer of breakfast at the hotel, telling the manageress that we would be leaving before seven o’clock in the morning, but in the luxury of the hotel bed, we slept in until 8:30. She raised her eyebrows when we hurried down just before nine, but I said that we had slept too well in her wonderful room and we all laughed.
Across the square the Café de l’Union was doing brisk trade with the stallholders of the weekly market who had set up their tables in the carpark. We bought a pain aux raisins and a croissant along the lane, and with big cups of café crème they made a fine breakfast. We were back in the land of lovely flaky, buttery pastries, far removed from the leaden lumps of Rodez.
Leaving Gramat, we walked through the shopping lanes above the church and then down a street of modest houses to rejoin the GR6 near the river. There were notices warning us that the route of the GR had changed slightly, a fact that was not likely to bother us, because the signage was so diligent.
We passed under the railway line and never saw it again, as it immediately crossed the river onto the north bank. Our track followed the river at a height, at first as a smooth wheel track and later as a traditional way with lichen-covered stone walls and the vestiges of cobbling.
At a large information sign the GR suddenly swerved downwards into much denser forest. The track was steep, stony and often heavily eroded.
Here we passed the two walkers with whom we had dined last night, and several day walkers.
At the foot of the descent the river, no more than a glassy trickle, was flanked by a formidable cliff.
We crossed on a stone bridge and continued downstream for a while until we came to a surprising sight – a group of abandoned water-mills, with grindstones, races and substantial stone dwellings.
There was a break in the cliffs at this point, and a side track going up, no doubt the way that the grain was brought down from the farms.
Pressing on along the gravelly path, sometimes wide and sometimes half-smothered in greenery, we crossed and re-crossed the stream and eventually emerged from the forest as the valley widened. There were fields beside us and the guard rail of a highway far above on the skyline.
Out in the open we realised for the first time how hot a day it was. The midday sun grilled us like kippers as we toiled along the white road.
At last we reached a green pasture with a parking area full of cars. Across the field the chapels and towers of Rocamadour clung to the cliff as if carved from it.
Luckily for us, we noticed a pathway going up abruptly to the Porte du Figuier (named after a long-dead fig tree), half way up the Voie Sainte. This saved us a long pull on the road.
Another few hundred metres of uphill trudging in the sun got us through the fortified archway and into the familiar streets of l’Hospitalet, where we had camped twice before. Gift shops, hotels, cafés, cars and tourists were everywhere.
The camping ground was just behind the shops and we went straight there, selecting a relatively flat piece of grass on the lower side, between two shady trees.
The showers were shiny and modern but tepid, which did not bother us on such a hot day, and when we and our clothes were clean, we lay down and slept.
Several of the monstrous vans that were parked near us belonged to English people and we had pleasant converations with some of them. As usual they were horrified by our lack of equipment and even more by our lack of a vehicle.
Later we went to the office to pay, and the woman told us that we could not camp where we were, because we would be flooded if it rained. We promised to move but in the end we didn’t bother. Instead we retired to a bar just outside the camping ground for afternoon coffee. Sitting in the leafy shade of the terrace with our drinks, we felt very pampered having all the comforts within a few steps of our tent.
None did, and by 6:20 we came to the conclusion that none would. We imagined that our friend had probably been called away by some family emergency and had not even got our phone message.
After a gentle stroll through the ruins of the pilgrim’s refuge which gave l’Hospitalet its name, we wandered around looking at menus, and decided to eat at the Bellevue, near the viewing platform from which the classic photograph of Rocamadour is taken.
But before that we returned to the bar of our afternoon coffee for apéritifs – pastis and rosé, as is our habit. The waitress asked whether we were going to eat there but we said no.
At the Bellevue, we were shown to a table next to the window with a fine view. The menus arrived and we started to choose, until Keith noticed that a half-litre of house wine was €18. Normally we pay about €5, and a very expensive carafe would be €8. This was too much to bear so we scuttled out while the waitress was occupied at another table, hoping we were not breaking some rule of etiquette.
Back for the third time at the tree-shaded bar, we asked the waitress to bring the dinner menu and we all laughed. She was pleased that we had repented of our error.
We had a simple but delightful meal, starting with a shared salad. It was supposed to be just a green salad, but she arranged to have various nice garnishes added to it.
Then we both had steak – mine a bavette and Keith’s an entrecôte. I made my usual request for something other than chips and got a splendid array of vegetables.
Because we seldom have lunch, we eat a lot of bread with dinner, normally two baskets full, and one of the endearing things about French restaurants is that they fill up the bread basket without a word, whenever they see it empty.
The people at the adjoining table were from Biarritz but had just come back from Canada. Their abiding impression was of the huge size of the meals, which was a surprise – it was a comment normally reserved for the United States.