Saturday, 22 June 2002
Distance 21 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Map 58 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)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
In the morning there was fog on the mountainside as we descended past various hamlets towards Espeyrac, but gradually the damp, woolly mass became a light veil and then the sun came out with a vengeance.
The town clung on to the slope above a deep valley and it was good to see a cafe as we trudged in. Chairs and tables were set out invitingly overlooking the view, together with a line of washing, so it took us some time sitting there to realise that the door to the cafe was actually locked.
Only after we had wandered off dispiritedly to look for a shop did we discover that there was another entrance to the cafe on the high side, showing every sign of life.
The coffee we enjoyed there, although lacking the view, was all the more delicious for being unexpected.
This refreshment set us up for the rest of the day’s walk. The way to Sénergues seemed easy, even though we missed one of the GR turning signs and had to be put right by an old man sitting on a bench. They are used to lost pilgrims in these parts.
Soon we emerged from the forest path into the upper streets of Sénergues, where another coffee was called for, and we stocked up with lunch food for the weekend.
Not far further on, in a pine wood beside the track, we sat down and ate our lunch, with an ethereal view of farmland and villages below us, like the backdrop of a Renaissance altarpiece.
We accomplished the rest of the journey to Conques in the company of an erudite Virginian, whose blisters had obliged him on two occasions to be transported with his bags between hotels in order to keep up with his bookings.
We meandered pleasantly along in the hot afternoon until suddenly the small road became a path and we dropped like stones into the bowl of Conques.
Even now the place has a closed, remote feel – it is still possible to imagine what it must have been like in the seventh century, when the first hermit monks settled there. Cars are not allowed in the old town, so it seems ancient, despite the crowds of tourists.
The village of Conques is dwarfed by its huge, three-steepled church, which was built to house the remains of the girl-saint Foy. She was killed for her faith at the age of twelve and her skull, originally at Agen, was stolen in the ninth century by an enterprising monk from Conques.
This seemingly unchristian act appeared to meet with divine approval, perhaps on the principle that the lord helps those who help themselves, and Conques went on to become a thriving pilgrim destination, while Agen languished.
The camping ground was down on the river, reached by the precipitous Rue Charlemagne (he had visited in the ninth century).
After the usual rituals of pitching the tent, washing and stretching out in the shade for a nap, we clambered back and ate our evening meal on a terrace close to the church, the stone walls and cobbled streets continuing to pump out heat long after the sun had gone down.