Three rest days: Saint-Céré

Walking in France: An impressive selection of hams
An impressive selection of hams

Sunday, 30 June 2019 to Tuesday, 2 July 2019

As the sun rose, the air was deliciously cool but we knew it would not last. Nevertheless we dawdled and arrived in town just before 9 am, to find that the weekly market had arrived and the square was full of umbrellas and stalls, and people.

The Brasserie des Voyageurs at the end of the square was just re-opening after a period of congé.

Before sitting down there, we visited the boulangerie around the corner, which was near a wonderful shop with great haunches of ham hanging in the window, so we stepped in and got a few slices of ham for lunch.

Walking in France: Coffee and pastries beside the weekly market
Coffee and pastries beside the weekly market

Armed with all this, we sat down to enjoy the bustling market nearby while absorbing a double dose of coffee and pastries.

Before the heat drove us back to the shady camping ground, we pottered around the lanes of St-Céré, which were full of surprises, including a beautiful spacious square hidden from the main street, full of trees, cafés, and fountains.

Walking in France: A beautiful, hidden  square
A beautiful hidden square

Behind the village was the green-cloaked hill, St-Laurent-les-Tours, with its ruined towers like fat square candles on the top. This was the hill whose shoulder we had not walked over when we arrived.

Back at our tent, we fell into conversation with a couple in a small caravan near us.

The man was working painstakingly with a chisel on a long piece of wood, which I thought was the body of a violin, but turned out to be a model sailing ship.

The sweet-faced woman asked whether we spoke English, and after that we gave up on French.

Walking in France: The delightful St-Céré camping ground with St-Laurent-les-Tours in the background
The delightful St-Céré camping ground with St-Laurent-les-Tours in the background

They were Swiss, from the German-speaking part, and had sold their house when they retired three years ago, as the cost of living was too high in Switzerland.

Since then they had been wandering around in their caravan, spending the winters on the Portuguese coast and the summers in France. It sounded frightful to me and I was pleased to hear that they were now trying to buy a house in France. Their names were Monica and Hans.

We were still in a quandary about how to proceed. Our original plan had been to head east from here, towards Aurillac, and then double back to Figeac.

We had emailed some walking friends in the hope that we could meet them in Aurillac for a meal, but they had replied that they had given up their walk at le Puy, overcome by the heat, and were on their way to Norway.

Walking in France: On the way to dinner
Searching for dinner

The ferocious weather looked likely to continue and we were in no state to continue the next morning. I still had a foot strain and Keith had a mysterious ache in his hip.

Apart from that we needed to ask the Office of Tourism what public transport was available, so we decided on a second rest day, an almost unheard-of thing for us.

For dinner that evening we went back to the place that had saved us when we first came staggering in from yesterday’s terrible walk – le Lot à la Bouche.

This time we sat on the terrace outside, as the air was slightly cooler by then, and indulged in substantial steaks with a creamy sauce, the inevitable chips, and salad. A single dish seems to be enough for us in these days of canicule.

Walking in France: Steaks with a creamy sauce at le Lot à la Bouche
Steaks with a creamy sauce at le Lot à la Bouche

The next day was Monday, and after a delightful start – coffee and pastries at the Brasserie des Voyageurs – we strolled over to the Office of Tourism on the other side of the square.

Walking in France: Little Venice
Little Venice

We asked the helpful woman about possible buses out of the village, and she replied that there was no public transport of any kind here, only a taxi.

She also gave us a map of the town and its environs. We had no idea at the time how useful that would prove to be.

With the map came some interesting snippets of history. We found out that the town was originally on top of the hill of St-Laurent (hence the towers), but later moved down to the banks of the many-stranded Bave.

Walking in France: Exploring the alleyways of St-Céré
Exploring the alleyways of St-Céré

However, because of the constant flooding of the river, in the seventeenth century a network of canals was dug all through the town, so that it was known as “Little Venice”. Unfortunately, nothing remains of these canals – they have all been filled in. However, the little river, with its many bridges, still has a Venetian air.

The home of the taxi was at the end of the main street and we rang the bell diligently but got no response. Several other attempts produced the same result. Our friendly Swiss neighbours offered to drive us to a railway station if we decided to call off our walk, but we still hoped to continue somehow or other.

In the evening we returned to the Grand Hotel and had drinks among the carefree crowd, in the company of some chatty Dutch fellow campers, and then had a casual meal at the pizzeria nearby.

One of the other diners there had a faded and tattered T-shirt, which Keith recognised as supporting St George, a Sydney rugby league team. We asked the wearer about it and he said that he had got it from his father, who had been a merchant sailor. He himself had never been to Australia.

Walking in France: Breakfast, and our very useful Office of Tourism map
Breakfast, and our very useful Office of Tourism map

The next morning dawned mercilessly and we found ourselves once again unable to face the thought of walking. In any case, we had not quite worked out what to do.

Over our usual breakfast at the Bar des Voyageurs, where the thin, silver-haired manageress now treated us as regulars, we consulted Google Maps on Keith’s iPod, hoping to see some way of escape that would not be a complete capitulation.

Our idea was to shorten the walk by not doing the long loop to the east on the way to Figeac. We could walk down the soul-destroying highway (the D940) straight to Figeac, or take one of several smaller roads. Either way it would take two days and, as we had no information about the villages en route, it would be a gamble.

Walking in France: Lunch near the camping ground's swimming pool
Lunch near the camping ground’s swimming pool

Then we noticed the town of Lacapelle-Marival on the map, beautifully positioned half-way to Figeac. We had been there before, on the Rocamadour variant of the pilgrimage, and knew that we could camp and dine there.

We also knew that there was a marked GR from there onwards to Figeac. This was the answer we had been searching for.

Remembering the little map that we had been given at the Office of Tourism, we discovered that it extended to Lacapelle-Marival, and indeed as far as Figeac, so we had at least some idea of where to walk.

Walking in France: Followed by airbed maintenance in the pool
Airbed maintenance in the pool

Greatly relieved, we turned our attention to a minor problem that had befallen Keith that morning – his airbed had sprung a leak and lowered him onto the ground during the night.

There was no obvious puncture, but luckily the camping ground had a pool, so we went for a dip and took the airbed with us.

Two tiny streams of bubbles appeared when we forced it under the water, and soon the leak was patched.

Walking in France: Le Puymule restaurant
Le Puymule restaurant

That evening, after the usual enjoyable ritual at the Grand Hotel, we roamed around the lanes and alleys and discovered a picturesque little restaurant, le Puymule, wedged between the church and a pepper-pot tower, with white market umbrellas providing shade.

Before we sat down we asked whether they served wine in pichets. “Bien sur”, replied the manager, pointing with a smile to the menu, “Faites attention, madame!”

There were plenty of other diners around us and we enjoyed the ambience as well as the food.

Walking in France: Le Puymule was a lovely place for our last dinner in St-Céré
A lovely place for our last dinner in St-Céré

Keith had his standard preference of entrecôte, chips and salad, and I had a large bowl of pasta primavera, to load up my system for the walk tomorrow.

Strolling back to the camping ground, we felt quite nostalgic that our long repose at St-Céré was coming to an end. We had become very fond of this little town.

Previous day: Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne to St-Céré

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