Saturday, 21 June 2014
Distance 24 km
Duration 5 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 302 m, descent 283 m
Map 162 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Keith declared himself better, so we packed up, ate the customary scrap of muesli and walked out of the camping ground at about 7 o’clock.
Since our fellow walker was still sleeping, we never managed to speak to him, which was a pity as he was only the second one that we had met this year.
We turned the other way at the gates of the camping and climbed up through the houses, then took a short staircase to the Avenue Durand de Gros, a wide curving street lined with shops, all closed.
We were now on a ridge, much lower than the main part of town and not far from the slim double towers of the church of Sacre Coeur.
This avenue swept down to the Rue de la Gare, which led to the station itself.
We guessed that the station bar would be open at this early hour, and so it was, and we went in for a round of coffee.
It was brought to us laboriously by an old woman with a terrible limp. We also got two croissants, thick and stodgy, a bit like the ones we had yesterday – perhaps that is how they like them in Rodez.
We lightened them with the last of the butter and jam from the plane. Despite their deficiencies they were a welcome preparation for the way ahead.
As we set off from the station, we were accosted by a man who asked us jokingly whether we were walking to Moscow, but seemed impressed enough when we said we were only going to Angers.
We had worked out, with the inadequate aid of our TOP 100 map, a way to avoid the highway (the D988), but the first part was on the adjoining footpath, through raw-looking concrete apartment blocks, huge shops and warehouses, interspersed with lovely old market gardens that had not yet been swallowed up.
Then as we approached the by-pass, we turned off on a little road that was immediately rural, and we saw that the frantic development along the D988 was only one building thick.
We strolled past fields and a pony club, towards the little church of St-Mayme, then took the bridge over the by-pass into the village of le Colombier, which was a spick and span little place with no signs of life.
Past the sports field, we turned uphill on the road to Ortholès, out of the trees and around a bare, scrubby knoll, until we came to a line of high-tension wires. This, according to the map, was the place to turn off the bitumen onto a wheel track.
We went along a little way and came to a sign saying the French equivalent of “private property, keep out”, which we ignored.
Not far past this, we were startled by a sudden almighty racket, made up of barks, yelps and roars from the throats of dozens of dogs who were flinging themselves against a fence beside the track.
Expecting at any moment to hear a sepulchral voice intoning the French equivalent of “Release the hounds!”, we scuttled onwards as fast as we could until the noise faded behind us.
The track that we were on opened out into a wide, well-mown swathe of grass that flowed like a green river through the trees.
After a while we came to a gate on our left, beyond which the grassy way continued.
If we had had a decent map, we would have ignored the gate and continued straight ahead on the rougher grass, arriving on the highway at Lioujas, which was what we were trying to do.
As it turned out, we came to a small road, where there were vegetable plots and parked cars, and ended up on the highway amongst the warehouses of Sébazac-Concourès.
This mistake meant that we had to walk about three kilometres on the road to get to Lioujas. By the time we got there we were ready for refreshments, and were pleased to see a bar, but for some reason it was closed on a Saturday morning. As so often before, we had to rise above our disappointment and trudge on.
The highway swung away uphill and at the top we turned off on the D581. We cut the corner on the broken-up remains of the old road, at end of which was a fence.
I was about to grasp the wire to climb over when Keith realised that it was electrified, so in the end we had to backtrack and go around it.
This side road was extremely quiet, but as straight, flat and featureless as could be imagined.
On either side stretched bare pastureland, and in the distance the blue line of the land beyond the Lot.
After a long time the country became less austere, with a few trees and gentle curves, and we arrived at the pretty village of Concourès, hoping for a bar, but there was nothing.
We sat down under a tree in the schoolyard and ate pieces of dried peach and chocolate which had melted together into a shapeless mass at some stage.
We had drunk the last of our water, so I went and asked a woman who was tending her garden nearby, and she refilled our bottle with great expressions of sympathy.
Pressing on, we crossed a wide flood plain and reached the first houses of Barriac before the D581 turned sharply to the right. We passed through patches of forest, which were welcome, as the day was getting hot.
After an hour’s march we flung ourselves down in the shade of a tree, feeling very undernourished and under-caffeinated.
For a walk that was supposed to be short and straightforward, it was turning into a bit of a marathon. Some cyclists glided past, causing me the usual mixture of envy and hatred. For some reason, car drivers do not affect me in the same way.
The little road curved down beside a scatter of farm houses, and we came to a fork, with “Bozouls – Château” to the left and “Bozouls – Centre” to the right.
As far as we could see from our hopeless map, the quick way to town was to the left, but we thought it best to believe the signs, which was lucky as it turned out.
The road went down ever steeper, winding its way through a line of solid stone houses with neat, pampered vegetable gardens, and we noticed high, russet-coloured cliffs to our right, as well as a row of buildings far above us on the left. We were in a deep gorge.
We crossed the stream and came to a circular tower, on the wall of which was a town map. This showed the way to the centre, so we left the D581 and struggled up a series of punishing ascents separated by hairpin bends. At the top, to our indescribable joy, was a bar/restaurant.
This place was perched on the lip of a frightful drop into the gorge that we had just climbed out of, which was known as the Trou de Bozouls and was quite a tourist attraction in the area.
On a promontory in the middle was an ancient church, which looked impossible to get to, but must have had a road to it.
People were lunching under an awning, out of the white glare of the midday sun, We sank down and ordered coffee with a jug of water, and I almost cried with exhaustion and relief.
I seemed to have much less stamina than in previous years, and it occurred to me that I was probably still suffering from the effects of the shingles that had confined me to bed from February to May.
From where we sat we could see one of the hotels clinging to the cliff top further around and we asked the waiter where the second one was – out on the highway about a kilometre away.
It was 2:30 by the time we left the bar. Climbing away from the Trou, we passed another bar and then came to the Office of Tourism, which was about to open for the afternoon. We needed to find out how to get from Espalion to Figeac tomorrow.
While we waited, we went to look at the Logis hotel (nothing under €70) and on the way we saw the “aire de camping-car”.
Unlike the one at Canet-de-Salars, this was a bald square of gravel with no shade and no amenities, so we were not tempted.
Back at the Office of Tourism, a lovely fresh-faced girl with tumbling ringlets looked up the various travel options on her computer. She found out that was no public transport at all from Espalion to Figeac, but there was a school bus to Rodez at 7:40 am on weekdays.
From Rodez we could get a train to Figeac with no trouble. This meant that we would have to stay at Espalion tomorrow night and catch the school bus on Monday.
The hotel on the highway (La Route d’Argent) was much cheaper than the Logis one on the edge of the Trou, so we went there, finding the walk quite easy after our long rest at the bar. It was not as cheap as we expected, because we had to take a superior room at €68 instead of a basic one at €54. The reason was that there was a wedding party staying here for the night.
Our room was indeed superior, with a private balcony, a sofa, a desk, a space-age bathroom and a separate toilet. Once we were clean and our washing was spread out over the balcony chairs, we slept the rest of the afternoon away blissfully.
As we had not eaten since the mouthful of muesli this morning, we set off back to the bar at about 6 pm. It was too early for dinner, but we had another round of coffee and started doing the crossword that we had brought with us.
It was delightful, as we had a table against the railing overlooking the mighty hole. Eventually other people began to arrive for dinner.
At that moment Keith announced that he was feeling sick again, and I realised that I did not feel very well either, so we hurried back to the hotel. This was the fourth time in the five days of our walk so far that we had not eaten a proper meal.
Nevertheless, we enjoyed our palatial surroundings and amused ourselves by watching, from a prone position, the Festival of Montpellier on the television.
Later we ate the cold remnants of last night’s lasagne that I had saved in a plastic container, which tasted surprisingly good.
Meanwhile the wedding celebrations were in full flight in the courtyard below us. They were loud and long, but nothing could keep us awake, even though we left the sliding doors open all night.