Some reflections at the end
From Cluny to Le Puy en Velay it's 287km via the route marked with "coquilles". My friends told me it would be more difficult than what I'd experienced before on the Le Puy route south, and it was... But they also said it was a spectacular route and it was that as well. The thing I actually found most challenging was the much more solitary nature of it all: there are not many other pelerins on the route.
Physically it has been challenging but it has been good to see how much fitter I have become. There have been some big ascents and descents, but along with those have come the beautiful views.
It's been a very rural route, past many farmhouses and green fields, and also through a lot of forest paths some days. My biggest fear in fact was getting a bit lost in the forest somewhere- but fortunately I managed to see all the coquilles and find my way. (It must be harder on rainy days when you have your head down in your raincoat- but I have mostly only had short sprinklings of rain where I have been.)
There have also been some interesting small towns as my bed stops, with interesting medieval history. One favorite was St Jean St Maurice, right beside a big bend in the Loire. They have found evidence there of human habitation from some 60 000 years ago.
Another favorite stop was the tiny village of St Chapelle en Lafaye where I took a rest day for my feet a few days ago. It sat at over 1000m in altitude, and the gite was lovely with a bunk room and adjoining kitchen/dining room. I was able to relax, look at the view, and also notice the birds in the trees as I rested there.
The thing that stands out in my mind from this more solitary route is the importance of simple human kindness. I could make a very long list but here are just a few examples.... There was the smile and cheerful welcome from the lady who collected the money at the camping chalets in Azole. There was the hairdresser and her customer who went out of their way to get me sorted when I walked in looking like a drowned rat, confused about the instructions for finding my place to stay that night. There was the family that welcomed me for the night in Charlieu, where the man found a clever way to fix the walking pole I'd just managed to break. There was the friendly gite owner in St-Haon-le-Chatel who brought me food when she came as she realized I wouldn't have l known it was the village's 'closed' afternoon. There were the two local ladies in St George-Hte-Ville who chatted and brought me in some 'stuff' I could tend to my blister with.
Possibly the biggest impact for me has been the chance to meet my Camino friend Francis again, and to see him on his 'home turf', and to see the purpose, integrity, warmth and compassion he lives his life with. It was a very special thing to be able to share the first two days of walking with him.
And I guess the final word here has to go to my fellow pelerins along the way. We were few in number, but I remember each one. And I think because the route was more solitary and more physically challenging, pelerins seemed to have great respect for each other. We each knew how much effort we were all having to put in!
And so today I head off to Le-Puy-en-Velay. It will be a shock to leave the countryside behind and arrive in a bigger place. But I have been in Le Puy before and loved it. I am staying tonight at the Accueil Pelerin St Jacques where Francis assures me there is a warm welcome. And I am certainly looking forward to some more Pelerin company!
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