Sunday, 17 July 2005
Distance 28 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 379 m, descent 395 m
Map 57 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
It was foggy when we rose at 6:15. The manager was already at work, cleaning the shower block, and wished us ‘bon courage’ for the day’s walk. This always sounds slightly ominous.
We left before 7 o’clock, clambering over the back fence of the camping ground and setting off out of town on the way we had checked last night.
We found the track shown on the map, going directly to Promilhanes, but unfortunately it was part of a branching tangle of other tracks not shown on the map. It was a beautiful walk through open woodland, but inevitably we took a wrong fork somewhere and ended up back on the road.
With the aid of the map we made it to Promilhanes and out the other side to join the GR36 exactly where we expected to.
Just after that we made a short deviation to a dolmen, the biggest one we had ever seen. The two upright supports were still intact and the massive top stone had only lost one corner in 20,000 years.
How it ever got there is hard to imagine, as it must have weighed as much as a bus.
We soon arrived at Laramière and admired its graceful priory before looking around for a bar for our morning coffee.
The awful truth was that there were no shops of any sort in the village. An old, shambling fellow said there was a bakery at Savignac but he could not vouch for any other shops. The next stretch was long, hot and boring.
We passed two walkers going the other way, dragging a reluctant donkey. At least we only had ourselves to contend with.
By the time we got to Savignac we had begun to fade, and it proved even more desolate than Laramière, no more than a lonely church in a dip with a few houses straggling up on either side.
If the bakery existed we did not see it.
Shortly after that we sank onto a grassy bank beside the track. We had been walking for four hours without a break and were running out of energy. All we had about us was some sausage and cheese, so we ate that with a good draught of water.
A few minutes later were capable of going on, still on the GR, across the highway and along a gravel track which became a suburban street, dreary in all respects.
It was hot, uphill work until we reached the rise and descended quickly to the D47 for the last push into Villefrance-de-Rouergue.
No sooner had we started along it then we saw a sign,”Camping 100m”. It was not a mirage and we were soon installed under a tree, not far from the banks of the Aveyron, on a yielding patch of turf. We had showers and collapsed for two hours.
It was roasting hot and I had a headache, probably from lack of caffeine. Everyone was lolling about in deckchairs. Our neighbours had an electric fan playing ineffectually over their motionless bodies.
A multilingual Belgian man came up and remarked on our strange way of enjoying ourselves, walking in such heat. We said we had not enjoyed it, actually, we just got caught out.
At 5:30 it was still hot but we needed sustenance so, on the advice of the manager, we took a footpath along the riverbank to get to the centre of the town.
There was a familiar air of Sunday afternoon desolation about the place as we crossed the bridge, but under the canopy of trees was a large, lively bar, where we had magnificent coffees, the first of the day, and my headache began to recede.
The main bastide of Villefranche-de-Rouergue was back over the bridge, on a perilous slope.
The central square sloped like a washboard and the gigantic cathedral had cars running through its pillars like mice under an elephant’s toes.
Cobbled lanes radiated from this vast place and we eventually made our way back to the bar, which was also a brasserie.
There we ate splendidly for €9.50 each, including wine, starting with platters of crudities and charcuterie, which we shared, and moving on to lamb cutlets with potato gratin.
A stroll back along the riverbank completed a delightful evening.