Friday, 20 June 2014
This was the day that we had been steeling ourselves for – the unrelieved 36-kilometre forced march through the Gorges of the Aveyron to Belcastel. It was always a mad idea, and we had been brought to our senses by yesterday’s little excursion along the Viaur, which had been arduous and slow. We now needed another way to continue our northward progress.
After a late and leisurely bowl of muesli, we climbed back up the terrible staircase and found the Office of Tourism, where we got a list of all the accommodation in the department.
Armed with this and a bag of croissants, we settled down in a bar, spread out the TOP 100 map and considered our choices. The croissants were dull and doughy but the coffee was good.
The best idea, given our aversion to loose ends, seemed to be to join up with the pilgrimage from le Puy (GR65), and the nearest place to do that was at Espalion. After that we would try to get public transport to Figeac, which was on our original itinerary, and continue as planned.
By road it was about 30 km to Espalion and our route would be more circuitous, so we decided to break the journey at Bozouls, where there were said to be two hotels and an “aire de camping-car”.
Having sorted out our plan for tomorrow, we sauntered about the town. It was easy to see what a wonderfully strategic piece of land it would have been in former times.
The earliest known occupation was a Celtish settlement from the fifth century BC, but it was subsequently taken over in turn by the Romans, the Visigoths, the Franks, the Arabs, the Dukes of Aquitaine, the Counts of Toulouse, and the English (in the Hundred Years’ War).
It was finally absorbed into the kingdom of France in the fifteenth century and the ornate present cathedral was built in the sixteenth. Its western end formed part of the town wall and was completely blank and doorless, an oddity that persists today.
We wandered around and found a small Italian restaurant in an alley that looked promising for this evening. Then, as we strolled down a lane in the shopping district, we were stopped by two policemen, who asked rather menacingly what we were doing. Perhaps we looked like vagrants. We replied that we were walking from Millau to Angers, at which point they became much friendlier, even congratulatory, and we parted with handshakes all round.
Another round of coffee in a bar near the cathedral gave us strength for the return to the camping ground. The stairs and ramp were starting to seem less daunting, especially in the downhill direction.
After excellent showers, we spent the afternoon lying about in our grassy plot, moving as the shade moved, sleeping and reading, but we found that we had no interest in lunch. For some reason we had not eaten lunch since we started the walk.
We set off at 7 pm for an evening in the town, starting with a good work-out on the staircase.
It was pleasant promenading through the cobbled byways in our relatively elegant non-walking clothes and we stopped for the usual apéritifs (pastis and rosé) on the way to our chosen eating place.
It was called the Pizzeria Romaine and although the air was slightly chilly, we sat outside.
We started with a green salad, which tasted good but clashed upsettingly with the lurid pink and blue tablecloth.
For mains we both ordered lasagne. No sooner had the dishes arrived than Keith announced that he could not eat – he felt suddenly nauseous, and retired to the toilet looking green.
When he got back he was no better, so I swallowed some of my dinner, together with a mouthful of the surprisingly bad wine, scooped his lasagne into the plastic container in my bag, and we left.
Back at the camping ground, we saw that another walker had arrived – at least we saw a walker’s tent with a pack outside. There was nobody about but we hoped to talk to the occupant in the morning.
Our repose was shattered periodically by screams of joy from nearby houses, as France won its match against Switzerland in the Football World Cup.