Sunday, 22 June 2014
Distance 14 km
Duration 3 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 97 m, descent 312 m
Map 162 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
When we woke up, the air was full of the same happy chatter as when we fell asleep. Some of the wedding guests were still cavorting in the courtyard and a few of them had jumped into the pool in their full party gear, to a chorus of joy from the rest. We sat on our balcony above, and ate some muesli, then the last of our lumpy dried peach-and-chocolate conglomerate.
We left at about 7 am, retracing our steps to the village itself in search of the D100, which, according to the map, went off to the right at the central roundabout.
There was indeed a road to the right and we took it, even though it was not labelled. We walked for several blocks between the houses until the road started to veer back towards the highway – not what it was supposed to do.
A man walking his dog stopped and told us that we were completely wrong and that we should go back to the roundabout, turn right and then take the second road to the right. He then disappeared through a laneway, but we met him again as he emerged further along and we all laughed. His instructions were good and we soon arrived at the Logis hotel, just before the D100 turnoff.
From the car park there was a grand view across the Trou, past the church and over to the bar where we had spent a happy few hours yesterday.
We noticed movement in the kitchen area at the back of the hotel so I went and asked about the possibility of coffee. The answer was a frosty “no”. Perhaps it was too early, or perhaps we looked like vagrants. It did not matter greatly because we only had a little way to go today.
The D100 was a fine little road that rose gradually between fields. We passed the turn-off to a winery and another one to a farm before crossing a wooded ridge and coming to what we hoped was the road to Espalion.
There were two side roads going off very close together and we made a guess that the first one was the right way. This turned out to be right.
It was downhill all the way from there and if we thought the first road was small, this one was minuscule.
We wondered how two cars could even pass, not that there were any. We had the pleasure of walking down the middle of the road all the way to the Lot.
At first the land sloped gradually, and we had a lovely view of the placid rolling farmland below us, but then the road dived into a series of drastic hairpin bends, past the village of la Fage, which looked entirely derelict but actually had one single house that was still inhabited – by the local farmer. We saw that the steep land above the village had been terraced for crops in former times.
Eventually, we reached the valley and followed it down at an easy angle beside a stream.
The land flattened out further and we passed a signpost to Bessuéjouls, then came to a few houses.
Suddenly found ourselves on the GR65, the most populous pilgrim route in the whole of France.
We recognised the bar (closed) of St-Pierre-de-Bessuéjouls, which had also been closed when we passed this way in 2002. There were signs everywhere – GR marks, warnings to motorists, advertisements for pilgrims’ accommodation – but no actual pilgrims.
Just behind the bar, the GR went down through the forecourt of the church and soon afterwards we came to another, smaller church beside the track.
A woman appeared and zealously shepherded us inside, describing the wonderful aerial chapel upstairs that we absolutely needed to visit.
We obediently did so and it was pleasant enough, but we were not so keen on the pile of torn, scribbled notes and cheap trinkets left by the devout.
Soon after that we joined a road, and as we went along it we started to meet pilgrims coming towards us.
The first group stopped us, worried that they were going the wrong way, which was understandable, as nobody walks in the contrary direction on pilgrim walks. Not these days, anyway.
Soon we were passing dozens of walkers with their packs and poles. It was about 10 am, rather late to be starting off, and we wondered how many had already set off – probably hundreds.
After a kilometre or so, the GR turned away from the road and down to a riverside path. Here we met again the female zealot who had accosted us earlier. Now she seemed to be escorting a pilgrim, presumably towards the chapel that we had been shepherded into.
Beyond the houses, on a high grassy knoll, was the impressive but ruined château of Calmont, whose despotic owners had ruled the area from the time of Charlemagne until the Revolution.
The tide of walkers had become a flood by the time we arrived at the bridge over the Lot and climbed into the streets of Espalion. Although we had been here before, it took us a moment to get our bearings and turn to the right (not straight ahead over the bridge), to the main square of the village.
We were delighted to see that this square was lined with bars. After collecting a croissant and a chausson aux pommes from the boulangerie around the corner, we settled down at an outdoor table and ordered coffee from an astonishingly fat waiter – the fattest Frenchman that we had ever seen. Once more the adage that French people don’t get fat was called into question.
There were still a few pilgrims building up their strength for the day’s walk, whereas our walk was finished. It was a good feeling and we stayed at the bar for a long time.
As the Office of Tourism was closed on Sundays, we asked the waiter how to find the Parking Bessières, from where the school bus left, and he waved vaguely over the bridge.
When we did leave the bar, we topped up our supplies at an épicerie (cheese, sausage, tomato, peaches and powdered milk), then descended to the river in search of the camping ground.
Just past the dusty ground where we had seen the game of Quilles à Huit being played in 2002, was the remembered camping ground.
Unfortunately we gad forgotten that the only entrance was on the side that the GR did not go past, so we followed the GR, and had to walk the length of the place and then most of the way back on the other side to get in.
In a charming grassy nook we set up our little abode, had showers, which were warm enough considering the heat of the day, and then the luxury of lunch.
The afternoon was spent sleeping and reading in the shade, while through the hedge we could see a constant stream of pilgrims trudging past.
Later we went back to the village to look for the Parking Bessières. The houses along the river stood in the water as if narcissistically admiring their own reflections.
We crossed over on the old stone bridge, which was built in the time of Saint Louis (thirteenth century) on the site of an earlier Roman one.
It was at a much lower level than the modern road bridge and we had some trouble at the other end scrambling up to the main road.
When we got there, we walked along without seeing anything resembling a parking area, and at a fork we turned left, finding ourselves doubling back to the main road near the river, exactly where we had started from twenty minutes before . In desperation we asked a waiting taxi driver and she said to go right at the fork, not left, and we would find it very soon – which we did.
Now that we knew where to come in the morning, we hurried back over the bridge to the church square for apéritifs. This was a long, relaxed affair.
As usual we enjoyed watching the other people in the café shaking hands, kissing each other, smoking, laughing and conversing.
It was not as easy as we expected to find a restaurant that we liked. There were several places open, but their menus were full of local thrills like tripe, andouillettes and strange fish, that we did not feel up to tackling.
In the end we found ourselves at the same Bistrot de la Tour that we had visited twelve years before, which was on the corner of the square.
There were plenty of people eating there, always a good sign, but no sign of other walkers, who were presumably eating humble fare in their gîtes.
We started our meal with a large green salad, then Keith had what he always liked best – steak – this time with chips. I had aligot, the rich, rubbery, cheesy potato mass so popular in these parts, enriched by a large sausage.
Half a litre of red wine and a pile of fresh bread accompanied this lovely little feast, which was only the second proper dinner that we had had in the six days since leaving Montpellier.