Friday, 15 July 2005
Distance 19 km
Duration 3 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 178 m, descent 157 m
Map 57 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
This morning we set off early again, mostly to beat the expected heat of the day. Without having breakfasted we left at 6:40, along the towpath to the east, which skirted a large pond and merged into a track that doubled back under the railway line and joined the main road almost in the village again.
A Rottweiler and a German shepherd went into a frenzy as we approached, but they were behind a high fence so their bad manners did not require the wielding of the trusty fencepost from Autoire, which we were still carrying.
Traffic was almost non-existent on the riverside road, and the air was fresh so we strode along happily. There was no GR on this side of the water and the road went round a long-nosed bend of the river, while the railway line cut straight through it in a tunnel.
We flirted briefly with the idea of illegally walking through the tunnel, but sanity prevailed.
At 7:30 we arrived at Saint-Géry and were delighted to find a bar and a boulangerie side by side, already doing business, so we had breakfast after all, and a delicious one.
As we sat on the terrace with our pastries and our big coffees, two women came out of the bar with shorts, boots and packs, gave each other a high five and marched off down the road towards Vers.
They were the first walkers we had seen since the two old fellows at Périgueux, almost a month ago, and they were gone before we recovered from our astonishment.
Across the cultivated meadows and the river, we could see the pretty village of Pasturat, through which we had walked in 2002. We knew that it was virtually extinct except for a gîte (it is on the pilgrimage walk) and congratulated ourselves that we were on the side of the water with bars and boulangeries.
We set off again and the road got a bit busier as the tourists woke up, but it was never troublesome to walk on. A couple of times we went through short tunnels in the cliffs, but on the whole the road meandered serenely beside the river.
I had the childish satisfaction of finding a euro coin, a map of the region and a little mirror beside the road as we swung along.
At Bouziès we came at last to a bridge, where there was a sunlit scene of boats tied up at the jetty and people waiting to embark. Beyond that was the snack bar that had been so depressingly closed on our previous visit, and still seemed to be, but this time we showed more initiative and went up to the village itself.
Here we found the front door of the hotel wide open and guests having breakfast on an elevated terrace at the back, looking over the river and the cliffs.
It was 9:30 so we felt that another round of coffee would do us no harm, especially as we had very little more distance to go. The manager was vastly impressed that we had arrived from Vers so early.
When we finally left this pleasant spot, we were back on the GR and soon found ourselves at the Chemin de Halage, the towpath beside the Lot that was dug out of the cliff by hand in the nineteenth century for the thriving river transport trade.
Barges floated cargo such as wood, wheat, cheese and wine down to Bordeaux, the barges then being hauled back upstream by pack animals, or even by teams of men. At this point of the river, the cliffs fell straight into the water and the result was this remarkable corridor.
It was a pity that the railway arrived soon afterwards and killed the river trade.
The subsequent walk through the fields exposed us to the sun and we were sweating freely by the time we made it to the next bridge, where the camping ground was, with its big restaurant and bar on the road.
Since we were here three years earlier, the office had become much more bureaucratic.
The women there had an elaborate computer system and no idea how to use it, but by the displeased looks on their faces, we felt we were disturbing their precious arrangements by asking to stay there.
Eventually we were granted entry, for an exorbitant sum (€17), and found our allocated place, which was a patch of dusty dead grass underlaid by stone. It was no worse than the neighbouring plots but we had become used to soft lawns to camp on.
No amount of digging or watering could get the tent pegs into the ground, so we were reduced to scavenging about for boulders, pieces of concrete and blocks of wood to hold the corners down.
We went down to the riverbank, where campers were lying about on the grass or disporting themselves in the water.
The beach was composed of tennis-ball sized stones, but once we had hobbled over them we could stand in the current and absorb the clean coldness of the river. We had no swimmers and no other dry clothes.
It did have shade, however, and we lay gasping there after lunch, waiting for the heat to ease. It was still 37 degrees at 5 pm.
An evening breeze was getting up as we went back to the bar for a glass of cool rosé. This was supposed to give us the strength to make the long climb up the road to the village, but it had the opposite effect. Our legs turned to mush.
Nobody driving up the road later would have imagined that the slow couple making their way laboriously along had just walked a thousand kilometres from Blois.
Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is a Plus Beau Village of a great worth, teetering on a crag over the river, full of charming lanes and correspondingly full of tourists.
We had looked around comprehensively on our previous visit, so we made without delay for the eateries.
The one we chose had a wide, vine-covered terrace and a crowd of diners already there.
We took the €15 menu, which was rich in local flavours. The first course was a salad with Roquefort cheese and walnuts, dressed in nut oil.
Then we had steak with Roquefort sauce and side vegetables of spinach and ratatouille. To finish we had pears in red wine and pear icecream.
Going down the hill to our tent was just enough to settle this lovely meal before we sank into oblivion.