Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Distance 32 km
Duration 6 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 361 m, descent 500 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (or Map 146 in the new lime-green series)
In the morning it was raining, as it had been all night. My first task was to glue my shoes together, an almost daily ritual, which I hoped would keep them functioning for the remaining two and a half weeks.
Breakfast was provided by our motherly hostess and it was an unusual luxury for us to have bowls of coffee, with tartine, jam and butter, before even taking a step. As we ate we continued our conversation from the evening before about our route for the day.
We had all changed our plans. Although Saint-Jean-de-Côle was a Plus Beau Village, we had decided that the detour to see it would cost us a day, one that could make the difference between getting to Condom and not getting there.
Meanwhile Peter and Kees, who had intended to go only as far as Thiviers today, felt restored enough to contemplate going on to Sorges, the same destination as us.
Once that was settled, Janine kindly made a phone call to the gîte at Sorges, to say that four pilgrims were on their way. It was run by two men (“très sympas” – very nice) and while she talked she became giggly and flirtatious.
Five minutes later they rang back to ask her what she had given us to eat last night, as they did not want to bore us by cooking the same thing.
So it was with a happy sense of security that we set off. Kees said that I looked like a sunflower in my yellow and white clothes, the only cheerful sight in the grey morning. We put on our all-enveloping plasic capes (referred to by our companions as our condoms) and strode away through the rainy village.
We were not strictly following the pilgrimage, as we had noticed a good little road, slightly to the east of the highway, that went to Thiviers with only a few kinks, and had the advantage of keeping us on the bitumen.
The mud and slush of the pilgrim track, combined with the state of my shoes, were not going to make for a pleasant outing.
For a while we walked with Kees at our normal speed, waiting periodically for Peter to catch up. Burdened by a leaden pack and bad blisters, Peter was having trouble, but Kees felt responsible for him, as he had for the past seven weeks, and eventually we went ahead, as we needed to get to Thiviers to buy lunch food before the shops closed.
We passed through undulating farmland of the deeply-dyed green that our eyes were now accustomed to, and the walking was full of bucolic interest – crops, sheep, odd farm buildings. In the low grey light it was possible to imagine how different it would look in winter, with everything bare and dead.
As we came towards Thiviers, our little road merged with the highway and we almost missed the town altogether. We had to get off the highway (which bypassed the centre) and climb up through the houses to the old main road, which continued steeply to the top of the rise.
On the way we came to a Champion supermarket and went in for cheese, bread, paté, a tomato and a small shallot (the last of these was the best 3 cents we ever spent).
On the crest was the church and the shopping centre. It was midday and time for lunch, but first we needed coffee. The terrace bar where we sat had its plastic storm curtains down, although it was not actually raining.
Revived by the coffee, we moved into the church square for a picnic on a bench. In front of us was the sober symmetry of the church facade, so satisfying to the eye. Closer by was an ornamental pool, recently built by the look of it, with a lovely bronze woman crouching to drink from her cupped hand.
It was a relief to see that modern additions could add to the beauty of the square, not detract from it. Our minds went back to the embarrassing new fountain at L’Isle-Jourdain, near Toulouse, whose grand opening we had reluctantly witnessed in 2004.
Inside the church, our eye was drawn by a small wall sculpture of Saint Roche, patron saint of pilgrims (and the plague), whose acquaintance we had made many times before. He was unmistakable with his tunic raised to show his plague sore and his faithful dog carrying the bread that sustained him in the desert.
We left the town in fine spirits, crossed the highway, and then almost made the mistake of following the pilgrim signs. These would have led us off on a rolling ramble through Eyzerac, whereas we had seen a much more business-like way via Labaurie.
Having stumbled back onto the right road, we were surprised to see our friend Peter putting his pack into a car. The car belonged to the two nice men from the gîte at Sorges, and Peter said that Kees had gone ahead, having got them past Thiviers.
They had not stopped for lunch at all. Peter looked ghastly and we surmised that Janine had telephoned Sorges to suggest that they send out a mercy mission.
We declined the offer to have our packs taken in the car also, and left Peter to lumber on at his own pace. It was a long step to Sorges, but direct and quiet.
There was also the pleasure of finding a tree full of ripe black cherries beside the way, the first of the season. We arrived just after 4 pm.
Kees had been there for half an hour already and there was another walker, a Frenchman called Marc, who was doing a ten-day section of the pilgrimage, from la Souterraine to Périgueux, as part of a larger plan.
Doing little sections like this is a luxury reserved for those who live nearby. In the manner of the pilgrimage, Kees had encountered him in previous gîtes, although we, who normally camped or stayed in hotels, had never seen him before.
Our two hosts, Jacques and Pierre, were very worried by our lack of a créanciale, and wondered how we had been allowed to stay in previous gîtes. The fact that Janine had not thrown us out reassured them, but they insisted that we buy one tomorrow, at the cathedral in Périgueux, which we mendacious;y promised to do.
The gîte was a pretty stone cottage on the church square, with a large living room below and a dormitory above. After showers and a rest, we emerged to look around the village.
The church was remarkable in having two naves and two western doors, in clashing styles, tacked together with blithe disregard for symmetry.
At the eastern end, instead of the usual stained-glass window, was a heavy defensive wall with a slit, put there for reasons now forgotten. Altogether it was comical and charming.
By the time we got back to the gîte, it was 6 pm and Peter had just arrived. He was lying on his bunk bed upstairs, sobbing quietly, utterly demoralised by pain and exhaustion.
I tried to comfort him by saying that he could go home to recover, and then resume his pilgrimage, but he refused to even think about it.
The guardians arranged for the local doctor to visit after dinner, and somehow he got down the stairs to join us at the table.
Despite this cloud, dinner was a merry meal. We began with soup and pressed on to sausages and mash, a culinary speciality of Pierre’s.
Sorges prides itself on being the truffle capital of Périgord, as Thiviers does for foie gras, so we wanted to know why we were not having these things for dinner. Jacques’ reply was that they had had their fill of them for lunch and wanted a change.
We drank rosé and finished the meal with salad and cheese. Our hosts asked us to guess why the guardians of the gîtes were either one woman or two men. I was the only woman in the room and had no trouble with the answer.
When the doctor came, Peter revealed his blister to our horrified gaze. He had covered it in the impervious coating called Second Skin and had left it covered for seven weeks, although Kees had pleaded with him to let it dry out in the air.
The doctor told Peter that the infection had almost reached the bone and that he needed to have it treated urgently at the hospital in Périgueux.
She said that he would probably be admitted and operated on, at which he burst into angry tears and stormed out the door, but soon came back.
While Jacques drove him and Kees into Périgueux, we stayed at the dinner table, chatting with Pierre. He had been a small child during the war, in the district of Saumur, where he and Jacques still lived. He remembered the bombing and having to go into caves in the cliffs. The smell of acetylene would always remind him of the lamps that they took into the caves.
We were asleep when the others came back. Peter had not been admitted, but had been forbidden to walk any more until the infection was completely gone, so he had decided to give up altogether. It was hard for him, because he was devoutly religious and had assumed that his faith would sustain him all the way to Compostela.