It is a fact, but one that it took us some years to appreciate, that France is covered in a web of abandoned railway lines, which have been pressed into service in various ways. The rails and sleepers having been taken up, the surface is covered with gravel, dirt or tar, depending on whether it is to be a cycle path, a walking track or a road.
Sometimes there are information boards at road crossings, but quite often we only discover that the track we are on is an old railway line when we notice a cutting, a metal bridge, a tunnel or a station building (transformed into a house), and realise that the gradient has been unnaturally even.
Like canal walking, railway walking has much to recommend it – flatness, directness, pleasant scenery – but it can get rather dull after a day or so, lacking the kinds of challenges that keep the walker interested. For that reason, the railway walks that follow are all short, the longest being only three days.
Just as the railways put paid to the canals as a commercial proposition, so the roads took over from the railways, leaving both these older networks to sink into obscurity. It is only the influx of tourists and travellers that has given them a second life.
The individual maps of these walks show accommodation icons for each night. By zooming in on a particular icon you can see the precise location of the establishment where we stayed.
The railway walks selected so far are:
Albi to Castres (in Midi-Pyrénnées)
Cluny to Buxy (in Burgundy)
Olargues to Mazamet (in Languedoc)
Apart from the walks listed above, we have also had brief encounters with the following disused railway lines:
Cassagnas to Florac on the RL Stevenson Track in the Cévennes (2007),
Broquiès to Trébas beside the Tarn river (2007),
Cancon towards Saint-Pastour in 2010,
A viaduct near Sancerre (2010)
A viaduct near Cluis (2010)
Near L’Hospitalet-du-Larzac on the Causse-du-Larzac (2012),
Near Millac to Lussac-les-Châteaux beside the Vienne river (2014),
Near Chalon-sur-Saône to Gergy beside the Saône river (2017),
Near Ydes to Vendes in the Cantal (2019).