Travel day: Espalion to Figeac (by bus and train)

Walking in France: Preparing breakfast
Preparing breakfast

Monday, 23 June 2014
Distance 13 km
Duration 3 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 189 m, descent 212 m
Map 154 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

As far as we could tell, there had been only one other pair of walkers in the camping ground the night before, and they had looked terribly decrepit when they arrived.

This morning we saw them limping away while we were enjoying our muesli on a bench – it was almost a rest day for us.

In due course we wandered back to the bridge and were surprised to see our two fellow campers just setting off, having probably stopped for coffee somewhere in the village.

Walking in France: Crossing the Lot on the way to the Espace Bessières
Crossing the Lot on the way to the Espace Bessières

We crossed over to the Espace Bessières, which was a huge open area behind a row of buildings. At the entrance a skinny, punk-looking young fellow was lounging about, and I asked him whether he was waiting for the bus to Rodez – he said he was.

Luckily there was a small bar open next door, and we sat there drinking coffee until the bus came.

Walking in France: Coffee before our bus ride
Coffee before our bus ride

The fare was €3 for any distance, and the trip was full of interest for us, having just walked it, although we had been far from the highway for the most part. At Bozouls we swept past our hotel of happy memory, and at Lioujas we recalled our weary slog beside the road.

Arriving at the railway station of Rodez at about 8:30 am, we found that the earliest train to Figeac was at 10:22 am, so we decided to stroll back to the nearby level crossing, where we had seen a big bar and boulangerie in operation.

Before we could set off, a sudden storm whitened the air and sent us scurrying into the station bar, which became quite full of dripping customers like us. We stayed there for our second coffee, but this time we kept away from the stodgy Rodez croissants.

The train trip was smooth, punctual and scenic, as usual in France. We overheard a Swedish woman talking to her French friend about the Swedish rail system, which has been partially privatised amid great protests. She did not think that France was in danger of going the same way, because the SNCF was so strong. We hoped she was right.

Having got off the train at Figeac, we had one little thing to do before going to the camping ground. We wanted to fully connect tomorrow’s walk with our earlier one in 2002, when we had slightly bypassed Figeac.

To do this we needed to walk the short distance up to our former route on the ridge. We remembered having coffee at a large bar on the highway up there, so that was our destination.

It turned out more difficult than we expected. First of all, we tried to find the short cut up to the highway that we had seen on the internet, but all the streets that we tried came to a dead end. Even the local postman could not help us.

So we had to go downhill from the station, almost to river level, find the GR65 and follow it back up to the ridge. It was a steep, muddy, gravelly rain-scoured forest track that switched back and forth to get up the escarpment.

The forest was beautiful and so were the glimpses through the trees of the town below, but the way was longer and harder than we thought it would be.

Walking in France: On our strange mission in Figeac
On our strange mission in Figeac

At the top we emerged onto the highway and found that everything had changed. A new, bigger highway now cut through the old one and there were monstrous industrial buildings on all sides. We thrashed around looking for the bar, but it had completely disappeared.

Nothing was familiar, but after we tried various streets we found one which we felt sure was part of our previous route. That was all we wanted to do, so we pronounced the mission accomplished and set off downhill.

Instead of returning the way we had come, we decided to take the road and try to find a small, fast-descending side street to take us back to the station.

Walking in France: Mission accomplished - at ease beside the Célé
Mission accomplished – at ease beside the Célé

By now it was hot and we were fading from lack of refreshments. Somehow we missed the side street and had to trudge the whole way beside the main road, which described an enormous descending loop before coming to the station.

From there we hurried down to the town of Figeac itself. It was after 2 pm and we were feeling surprisingly tired. We had expected no more that a short stroll to a café and back, but it had been three hours of unrelieved hard slog.

Soon we came to a bar at a bridge, with a flowery terrace hanging over the river, and our cares vanished as we savoured the civilised delights of coffee.

We knew that the camping ground was a little way upstream from the town, so we continued ambling along comfortably, past another bridge and off on a small road beside the river.

Walking in France: The spacious Domaine Surgié
The spacious Domaine Surgié

We had a fond feeling for the Célé, remembering our walk down it on the GR651 in 2002. Past a mill and a canoe-hire place, we came to a magnificent modern edifice – Domaine Surgié – which seemed to be a restaurant among other things, but the camping ground was further on, beyond the swimming pool.

There was a barrier across the road which we ducked under, and as usual the office was closed, so we went down some steps and pitched our tent in a spacious, immaculately grassed, hedged allotment.

After showers and a sleep, we went back in our clean clothes and enquired at the restaurant – yes, we could eat there, but not before 8 pm.

Walking in France: Waiting for drinks
Waiting for drinks

There was a busload from Luxembourg that had to be fed first. This suited us very well. We sat in the shade with our drinks while the busload was summoned to their tables. Down near the water people were having picnics on the expansive lawns.

Unfortunately some of the tables set for the busload were in full sun at 7 o’clock and there were loud complaints. People started putting their red paper napkins on their heads.

Walking in France: Hot Luxembourgians
Hot Luxembourgians

The bus leader, who was not eating with his flock, but sitting near us, observed that they complained about the cold when it was 21 degrees, and complained about the heat when it was 22 degrees.

We were not very impressed with what they had to eat – soup, then a grey stew, then a square of something pink and wobbly – but we need not have worried. Our food was quite different, and proved to be one of the best meals of our whole walk.

Walking in France: Our delicious dinner
Our delicious dinner

We began with our customary shared salad, augmented with bread, plus wine from a bottle (house wine was not served in the evenings at this superior establishment).

Keith’s main course was a pavé de boeuf and mine was a veritable mountain of pork ribs. Both came with an artistic garnish of roasted peppers, salad and potato gratin, and we left nothing on our plates except the bones.

Back at the camping ground, we saw the parked Luxembourgian bus and deduced that its occupants were staying in the row of cabins behind the office, which was of course still unmanned.

Previous day: Bozouls to Espalion

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