Friday, 21 June 2002
Distance 27 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Map 58 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)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
Another early start allowed us to buy our bread from a street vendor in the village, where the weekly market was just setting up.
Without crossing the pilgrim’s footbridge, we continued beside the river, with the morning mist rising, then took a small road up to the restored hamlet of Besséjouls.
Beyond this we had to scramble up a loose, rough path to the plateau and Keith realised he was not yet over his cold – we had to sit down and rest halfway.
Once at the top our strength returned, but we had not gone far when a man came out of his milking shed and barred our way, kindly pointing out that we had missed the turn. It was not far back and then began a long zigzag descent through forest to rejoin the river flats.
The remains of the chateau of Beauregard and the church of Trédou with its graveyard lent poignancy to the rustic scene.
Farm tracks led to the river at Verrières and here we decided to forgo the pleasure of the GR (over a monstrous hill) in favour of the quiet road beside the river. So we arrived at Estaing.
Seen from across the pilgrim bridge, Estaing is impossibly beautiful, with its turretted castle reflected in the water. We crossed over with alacrity, more interested in coffee than in admiring the view.
Whilst we drank our coffee and ate a pear tart, entertainment was provided in the spectacle of a huge reticulated lorry trying to get round the corner of the village street.
A queue of cars formed behind it and when the lorry started backing, the driver in the car behind, unable to move, shrieked and honked hysterically. Fortunately, it all ended well, and we enjoyed the slapstick.
We put on our boots and set off again, along a pleasant river road initially, then over a side stream and up a stiff pull through the forest, sweating and straining, to join the road at Montegut Haut. Here we stopped for lunch and drank nearly all our water.
Fortunately there was a potable water hydrant, operated by a crank handle, further up the road, as the heat by then was intense.
We fell into step with a group of schoolchildren from Chartres, with their teacher, doing a three-day practical history lesson, and they enjoyed practicing their English on us.
The tiny village of Golinhac is on a promontory high above the river, which explained all the climbing we had been subjected to. The church, too big for its village, as are many on the pilgrimage route, surveys a fine wide sweep of the valley.
There was no camping, but we were invited to pitch our tent outside the gîte and eat with the guests, as there was nowhere else.
We were the only non-French diners at the table and none of them had ever visited Australia. They laughed when I said that my consort, who could not speak the language, imagined that French people spent all their time discussing existentialism.