Wednesday, 19 June 2002
Distance 17 km
Map 58 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (Ref 651) Sentier de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle Le Puy/Aubrac/Conques/Figeac
By morning Keith was having a relapse after his great efforts yesterday, so we did not get going till 8:30. As we passed through the village we got a fresh baguette.
The first part of the way was a steep climb, hot and airless, until we reached the bare uplands of the Aubrac, where a bracing wind gave us relief.
In winter this region is snow-covered and was formerly full of wolves and brigands, but the only danger that we faced on this fine summer morning was when we got between a calf and its over-protective mother.
The twelfth-century monastic settlement of Aubrac was established by a well-to-do Flemish pilgrim, who had personally experienced the terrors of the winter crossing.
With its hostel (for the healthy), its infirmary (for the sick) and its graveyard (for the dead), it catered for pilgrims in all states of health. It also provided a rescue service – lost travellers were summoned by an evening bell and horsemen scoured the surrounding district at dusk to escort wanderers to safety.
Some of the monastic buildings have disappeared but the place still has its traditional atmosphere of welcome and sanctuary.
At the hotel we ordered coffee and a slice of tart, which the plump, aproned waitress brought out to us on the terrace.
It dangled over both sides of the plate and was smothered with red fruits and custard, an unexpected treat. The tart itself was the size of a cartwheel.
From Aubrac there was a sudden comprehensive change as the path plunged from treeless plains into a tunnel of greenery towards the valley of the Lot far below.
We stopped halfway down for lunch at a stream, then emerged into the steep, stony village of Saint-Chely-d’Aubrac.
This time we were lucky with the position of the camping ground – just at the entrance to the town – although it was totally empty and we never even saw anyone to pay. The showers were hot and the grass was soft, so we enjoyed an afternoon nap as our clothes dried on the bushes.
Later we ventured into the streets and had a drink at a bar opposite the war memorial. The long list of names under Nos Enfants Morts pour la France, many with the same surname, is enough to break your heart. We found out from a couple near us at the bar that there is also a circular GRP walk, the Tour d’Aubrac, that goes through this town (they were doing it).
For dinner we chose a place that offered aligot, the local delicacy. We ate indoors for the third night in a row, odd in such heat, but it hints at what the weather is like most of the year.
In the faded elegance of the dining room we were served aligot in a silver bowl.
It was a pale, shiny ball, made of mashed potato, butter, cream and the local Cantal cheese. The only accompaniment was a small glass dish of raw garlic.
Raising a forkful to our lips proved almost impossible, as the whole rubbery mass came up and stuck to anything it touched, but we persevered and found it delicious. It is a notoriously filling dish but we ate the lot.
Back at the camping ground we found that a dog had made off with our bread and cheese while we were at dinner. At least it was evidence that there had been another living being in the place.