Rest day: Le Puy-en-Velay

Monday, 18 July 2016

Walking in France: Ultreia!

With a sense of mission accomplished, we reclined on our mats watching several heavily laden walkers and a few cyclists leaving. There were not many, probably because most pilgrims do not like to camp, and also because the serious ones leave earlier in the year, to reach Compostela by the 25th of July, the feast day of the relevant saint (St Jacques).

A woman emerged from a tent near us, followed by a massive white dog, or possibly wolf. She also was rather massive and we wondered how they had both fitted into the tiny space overnight.

She proceeded to wrestle the tent into its flat circular case, not without difficulty as it seemed to be spring-loaded. Then she piled her luggage onto a two-wheeled cart with long shafts and we thought she was going to saddle up the dog to pull it, but instead she attached it to herself.

I went over to wish her “bon courage” and was amazed to learn that the odd squarish pack on her back contained her cat.

With the dog’s lead in one hand, her walking poles in the other, the cat on her back and various bags dangling from her arms, she strode off gallantly in the direction of Compostela, 1400 kilometres away. It was a strange and admirable sight.

Walking in France: Place du Plot
La Place du Plot

In due course we set off in our sandals to find breakfast in the town. We went up the steep way via the Montée Gouteyron to the back of the cathedral, and then down to the Rue Pannesac. At one time this was the main road, but it has been superseded by the N102 and is now a quiet, picturesque lane.

We found a boulangerie and carried our bag of good things to a fashionable bar in the Place du Plot for coffee. It was the only one open at that hour, and because of the unseasonable cold, we had to sit in the sun and keep our jackets on.

There were six French walkers at the next table, setting off for a week on the pilgrimage, and hoping to get to Espalion at least.

Walking in France: Lunch at the Place du Plot, le Puy
Lunch at the Place du Plot

As usual, there was an inverse relationship between the elegance (and expense) of the bar and the quality of the coffee.

So after a while we moved down to a big bustling bar on the Rue Vibert, from which we had started our walk on the Régordane in 2013, and had another round, cheaper and better.

This bar was full of people with huge packs and walking poles, which we thought rather odd since it was almost midday by then.

Walking in France: Lunch

For lunch we went back to the Place du Plot, in which a mass of restaurants had blossomed since we were there earlier, and had omelettes with salad and a glass of wine under a canopy of white market umbrellas. For us it was a perfect expression of the joys of a rest day.

On our way back to our tent along the little river Borne, we noticed a disused mediaeval stone bridge with a bend in the middle, known as le Pont Tordu (the twisted bridge).

Walking in France: Le Pont Tordu, le Puy
Le Pont Tordu

Apparently it had originally been straight, but had been partly washed away on several occasions by floods, and the river had also changed course slightly, so the rebuilt part had been angled to face squarely onto the new direction of the current.

The rest of the afternoon we spent flat on our backs in the camping ground.

Most of our neighbours were Dutch cyclists, one pair going on the train to Labaside Puylaurent tomorrow, to avoid the uphill section of the Régordane, another young fellow having ridden all the way from Rotterdam.

Walking in France: Back to the  Place du Plot for dinner
Back to the Place du Plot for dinner

In the evening the air was warm for the first time in a week, and we dined at a different restaurant in the Place du Plot, crammed in under an awning.

As we had already eaten handsomely at midday, we only had one dish each – vegetarain lasagne for me and saucisses-lentilles, the local delicacy, for Keith – with the obligatory half-litre of red.

Walking in France: Another saucisses-lentilles bites the dust
Another saucisses-lentilles bites the dust

We still had two free days before returning to Paris to catch the plane, so we decided to do a little excursion to the north tomorrow, and stay at St-Paulien overnight.

Previous day: St-Julien-Chapteuil to le Puy-en-Velay

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