Wednesday, 4 June 2003
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 413 m, descent 482 m
Map 57 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We were leaving the GR652 here, in order to cross over to the main pilgrimage, the GR65, which we wanted to continue with, having stopped at Moissac last year.
The Topoguide was no further use to us, and, because we did not have a map (somehow it did not occur to us to buy one), it was unknown territory.
All we knew was that there was a place called Montaigu-de-Quercy on the way, but how far away it was and whether it was big or small, we had no idea.
Rising at 6, we were on our way by 6:40. We felt slightly shifty about not having paid, but there was still nobody in sight and we had not cost them anything, not even the price of a shower.
We set off across the landscape we had seen spread out like a map yesterday, taking a thread of a road with a steady uphill gradient.
Before long we came to an Arbre de Refus, one of 115 “trees of refusal” planted across south Quercy along the route of the proposed high-tension powerline. Hand-painted signs everywhere proclaimed “Non à THT”. It is an endearing habit of the French to set up these symbolic lines of trees.
A bit further on, a hilltop was being disputed by a statue of Christ in benediction and a mobile phone tower.
Our legs were strong and we soon arrived at Montaigu-de-Quercy, which turned out to be a large regional centre, with eleven churches and everything else to match.
This was a great relief to us, as our caffeine levels were dangerously low. In the canyon of the main street we sat down at a cafe table squeezed between the wall and the gutter.
A woman came over and offerred to take our photo. She was Welsh and said that the area was crawling with foreigners, a revelation that we did not like, but we would do the same if we were British.
Getting from there to Lauzerte was largely guesswork, but it worked beautifully. Starting on the D2 (massive trucks, streams of cars), we turned onto the D41 (postal vans and local cars) and then the D73 (a couple of tractors).
A final climb in a chestnut wood revealed the pale, many-towered silhouette of Lauzerte on its steep mount, and from there we descended to the foot of the town, helping ourselves to a handful of shiny black cherries from an overhanging tree to keep us going.
We knew where the camping ground was, having stayed there last year. Glorious showers removed two days worth of grime, then we lunched, put up the tent under a young tree and stretched out for a sleep.
To our surprise, another pair of walkers arrived, the first we had seen this year. We were definitely back on the GR65.
Later we scrambled up to the main square, which was full of pilgrims, for an aperitif. Lauzerte is a fortified bastide town with fine arcades, well deserving of its Plus Beau Village status.
Sipping our glasses of cold wine, we exchanged greetings with a party of three women from Luxembourg who said they were also walking the pilgrimage, although they looked too well-groomed for it. They were staying in the hotel on the square and having their luggage carried by taxi.
Before dinner we revisited the pilgrim garden behind the ramparts, where enigmatic display boards, full of poetry and pictures, recall the time of the great pilgrimages. Most of the writing is in old French and there are riddles and guessing games, all very intriguing.
We ate at the same pizzeria as last year – apart from the posh hotel there is nowhere else in Lauzerte. We had a forestière and a sicilienne, both absolutely delicious. Luckily we got back down to our tent just before a violent wind blew up, followed by torrents of rain.
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