Monday, 4 July 2005
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 96 m, descent 70 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Although I was tired I found I could not sleep. Whether it was the heat, the bumpy ground, the trucks rumbling past or the quarrelsome ducks I do not know, but probably the former, as towards dawn there was thunderstorm that cooled the air and I slept for a while.
When we got up it was still raining so we packed up quickly and hurried over the road to the shelter of the bar. Inside it was dim and cosy and we chatted with two English motorcyclists as we drank our morning coffee.
Presently the rain stopped and we crossed the bridge, past the huge municipal camping ground, to Saint-Julien-de-Lampon, much more of a proper village than Rouffillac, with a delightful little church, a row of shops on the square and several streets of houses. We met our portly waiter from last night, out walking his dog, and shook hands all round.
On the quiet road that wound its way beside the river we saw a deer and two furry ribbon-like animals, stoats or weasels, bounding across the way.
We passed two small villages and crossed the departmental boundary from Dordogne to Lot. The road climbed gradually around a bluff, then raced down towards the bridge. Here we met two suffering cyclists labouring up on their overloaded bikes. They sounded like New Zealanders but they had no breath for conversation.
Past a few horse paddocks, vegetable plots and sports fields (and the camping ground), we arrived in the centre of Souillac, where the truck-infested highway from Rouffillac joined the one between Brive and Gourdon.
The town was dominated by a grand, spreading abbey and further along there were the impressive ruins of another church, of which only the shell of the belfry was still standing. This jagged wreck hung over a square where we had our second coffee of the day.
At the camping ground, which had plenty of visitors but no staff, we pitched the tent and had our lunch with the especially nice bread we had got that morning at the camping ground at Rouffillac.
The sun went behind clouds and a sharp wind came up, so I decided to do without a shower, as my expensive, hi-tech traveller’s towel had about as much drying capacity as a plastic bag and anyway, we had hardly sweated on our walk.
To go back to town, Keith put on his warm long-sleeved shirt, but as soon as we had gone a few streets the sun came out, the wind dropped and he regretted it, as he had nothing underneath.
We poked around the medieval town and found ourselves at the abbey, which sits surrounded by its apses like a mother hen with chicks, on a wide expanse of paving.
The dome, as at Poitiers and Périgueux, recalls the time of the crusades, when this fashion arrived from the middle east and found great favour in the west and south-west of France. There were wonderfully expressive Romanesque carvings round the doorway and inside.
Whilst sipping rosé at a bar in the noisy main street, we had the idea of changing our route for tomorrow.
We had intended to cut across to Martel and repeat the loop we had done two years earlier – via Turenne, Collonges, Beaulieu and Bretenoux to Carennac – but now we thought we would follow the river up to Creysse, then to Carennac, and do the loop in the opposite direction.
A row of hotels gave us a lot of menus to look at and we chose a place with a deep dining room full of mirrors. The tables, many of which were already occupied, had thick white cloths, lamps and flowers.
The voluble mâitre d’hotel dashed from table to table making sure we were all happy.
He complimented me on my command of French, adding that it was so important for people to learn, as it would soon become the common language of Europe. In years to come only three languages would prevail – Chinese, English and French. We diplomatically concurred.
For our first course, Keith had foie gras and I had a salade quercynoise, which was a normal salade composée with paté, ham and toast perched on top. We had entered the pre-Napoleonic district of Quercy when we crossed the departmental boundary this morning. Quercy corresponds roughly to the department of Lot, while Périgord takes in modern Dordogne.
After these excellent starters, the main course was a lovely blanquette de veau accompanied by pilaf, and to finish we had crème caramel and coffee respectively.
On our way back to the camping ground we fell into conversation with some cyclists from Amsterdam who told us lots of interesting things about Europe, the most remarkable to our ears being the imminent problem of lack of water!