Day 17: Flavignac to la Coquille

Monday, 7 June 2010
Distance 23 km
Duration 4 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 284 m, descent 283 m
Map 41 of the TOP 100 blue series
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (or Map 146 in the new lime-green series)

Walking in France: A hesitant departure from Flavignac
A hesitant departure from Flavignac

I felt that I could hardly walk a step after my terrible stomach pains during the night. Yesterday’s dinner had poisoned me.

Kees made coffee, but mine tasted so foul that I threw it away and we went round the corner to the bar, hoping that the pleasant surroundings would improve my internal well-being.

Keith hunted around the square and found bread and a pain aux raisins, but  I ate nothing and did not even enjoy the coffee. At least the weather looked a bit more stable today.

On the way back to the D20 we passed Kees and Peter. Peter was lumbering along under his huge pack, while Kees ambled beside him.

They had met in the cathedral in Reims seven weeks ago, and Kees, seeing how bewildered and inexperienced Peter was, had adopted him.

Walking in France: Lucky French sheep up to their armpits in grass
Lucky French sheep up to their armpits in grass

We went ahead along the road, to Les Cars with its ruined château, and continued, even when the pilgrim markers turned off towards Châlus. Our aim was to get to the gîte at la Coquille as quickly as possible.

The countryside was attractive, a mixture of woods and fields. After a long time we came to the village of Bussière-Galant, where there were signs pointing to a bar.

What we did not know was that the bar was not at Bussière-Galant-Village, but at Bussière-Galant-Gare, three kilometres further on, with a stiff rise at the last. However we made it eventually and found the bar beside the railway overbridge.

Walking in France: Leaving Bussière-Galant-Gare in the Limousin Region and entering the Dordogne in the Aquitaine Region
Leaving Bussière-Galant-Gare in the Limousin Region and entering the Dordogne in the Aquitaine Region

We went inside and ordered coffee. It was good to get the weight off our feet, but I had no appetite for the coffee, with my sick stomach.

We saw Kees and Peter tramping past as we were sitting there, but we passed them again as soon as we set off. They had stopped at the épicerie to buy cold drinks.

Immediately after the houses, our little road left the region of Limousin and entered Aquitaine. The Romans had named this area Aquitania, the land of water, and we felt that we had been exposed to more than enough water already this year, but as it happened, our entry into Aquitaine was to coincide with a period of sun and warmth.

The sky had cleared during the morning and I had to stop to zip off the lower legs of my trousers. We were now in the department of the Dordogne, scene of several previous walking adventures of happy memory, so we had the feeling of returning to familiar ground.

The rest of the way passed through peaceful farmland as before, and the only serious exertion was the last pull up a long rise to our destination. The village of la Coquille was spread out along a ridge, with the highway slicing it in two. Just before we reached the church we saw a gîte, but our first stop was at a bar in a leafy lower corner of the square.

Walking in France: Lunch beside the church in la Coquille
Lunch beside the church in la Coquille

Once again the coffee was tasteless to me, although I was happy to sit down and be finished with the day’s walk. The barwoman was English and she told us that the gîte near the church was a private one  run by Americans, whereas the communal gîte was around the corner in a side street.

We found the communal gîte without difficulty, a sort of shed tacked onto the back of a sports hall. It looked shabby but inside it was delightful, and a lot bigger than the one at Flavignac, with a separate dormitory room and a resident housekeeper called Janine. She was plump and chatty and did not look as though she walked a lot herself.

She would cook for us, which was just as well, as all the eateries in the village were closed on Mondays, but we could not move in until 4 pm.

We paid €20 each for dinner, bed and breakfast. Leaving our packs in the dormitory, and  taking only our lunch food, we went back to the church square, where we found a seat in the shade for our simple meal.

Walking in France: Peter doing his blog and Kees planning their route for tomorrow, outside the gite
Peter doing his blog and Kees planning their route for tomorrow, outside the gite

In my weakened state I was happy to languish there until four, but Keith roamed about the village, finding, among other things, a shop that sold maps. We needed the next one in the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded).

The difficulty was that the new edition did not match the old, either in extent or in numbering, so Keith had trouble explaining which one he wanted, with his limited French. In the end he pointed to the ground and said “Ici!”, which did the trick.

Our companions Kees and Peter had joined us in the church square and at four o’clock we all presented ourselves at the gîte. While Janine fussed about in the kitchen, we had glorious showers and lay down in our clean clothes for a nap.

When I woke the air was full of the summery fragrance of the salad vegetables that Janine was preparing for our dinner, and I could feel my health returning at last.

Before we ate, Janine asked Keith and me to go to the boulangerie for a couple of baguettes, and I was gratified to find that my legs were strong again.

Walking in France: A lovely gîte dinner with Peter, Kees and Janine
A lovely gîte dinner with Peter, Kees and Janine

We began the meal with crudités – shallots, cucumbers and tomatoes, the very smell of which had dispelled my sickness. The main course was pasta with bacon, also very good, and we finished with crème caramel.

The talk was lively, even though we had no single language in common. Janine spoke only French, Keith only English, Peter only Flemish,while Kees spoke Flemish and English and I spoke English and French.

Our hostess explained that she lived near Marmande on the Garonne, and she alternated a fortnight’s work here in the gîte with a fortnight at home, all through the walking season from April to September.

When it was time to stamp our créanciales, we peddled the usual line that such things did not exist in Australia, and she was slightly surprised, as an Australian woman pilgrim last year had had one. She was not bothered about it, however.

There was great discussion about our plans for tomorrow. The others wanted to keep going on the shortest possible route to Périgueux, which was along the pilgrimage, while we intended to veer off and meet the GR654 at Saint-Jean-de-Côle, passing on to Périgueux via Brantôme.

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