Thursday, May 31, 2012

Pilgrim monument

Today I have climbed Alto del Perdon in the sunshine! Views glorious all day.

Pamploña -Uterga

Just had a ´short´ but glorious day to ease my way back in. (Robert, I feel under no pressure to go far or fast this time- your Dawdler record might be under threat!)

The temperature was only about 14C in Pamplona this morning but soon warmed up. I was looking forward to the climb to Alto del Perdon, as I knew I loved the climb and the views last time. And the views lived up to all my memories and more, as the sunshine made everything look extra beautiful.

I did have memories of climbing through mud in 2008- but everything was very dry on the trail today. Quite a few wheat crops have grown tall. The views across to the hills and over the fields of crops were to die for. I really think the views in this section of the Camino are under-rated.

Met lots of friendly people of many nationalities and ages. More from the USA than I have met before, so I wonder if the movie ´The Way´ has had an impact on numbers. Quite a few separate groups of Italians were on the trail today as well, and one threesome were singing behind me at one stage to help get themselves up the hill, and it sounded bellissimo.

Sat on the shady side of a monument at the top of Alto del Perdon to eat my lunch- thanks Aideen for the second picnic! Took quite a few photos of the pilgrim statues at the top- some with me in, so you might get to see one of those later.

I had thought I might walk to Obanos but in the heat decided to quit at Uterga. My foot is feeling good so am very pleased about that. Only one other person has arrived for the dorm here so har so might be a quietish night!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Journey to Pamplona

Journey to Pamplona

Some more goodbyes this morning- aargh- but maybe I can make it back to Moissac again before I go back to Paris...

It's a sunny day for the journey. First train was from Moissac to the bigger station of Agen, just a 30 minute journey. Passed a few pilgrims in the first few kilometres, who were walking along the canal. Then passed by the chimneys of the nuclear power station- surprisingly close by.

Had an hour wait in Agen. My French was somewhat Challenged by the system for the WC where you needed to find the jetons first. Took me so long I decided to wait until I was on the train. Then my phone started ringing in my bag- an unusual event- and it was Francis wishing me all the best for Espagne.

On the train to Bordeaux for an hour and a half, and it seemed like we were passing over river flood plains. It's all very flat, and there are many crops growing, as well as huge areas of vineyards. I remember walking over similar land in southern France in 2008: it made quite a change from the more difficult ups and downs in the first ten days out from Le Puy.

Back in the world of Big here in the station at Bordeaux. Haven't been anywhere like this for a while. A bit like finding your way around an airport.

Journey south of Bordeaux is on flat flat land, past lots of forest. TGV is so smooth it is hard to believe we are going so fast. Have passed Bayonne and saw some packs with scallop shells walk off the train- heading for SJPP I guess.... Passed Biarritz and wondered why I wasn't getting off the train to go and relax on a beach somewhere!

And suddenly I am in Spain, waiting on the platform for my last train of the day. And crazy as it seems when really I have only just crossed a bridge from Hendaye in France, everything seems different, the sights and the sounds. Even Orange, with its outrageously short expiry times on pre-pay, has sent me a text acknowledging I'm in Spain. There is a beautiful looking dome not far away, so different from French churches, but I don't have time to investigate. But there'll be time to soak in all the newness tomorrow.

Now this Spanish train is moving amongst more hilly land, and many of the rock cuttings are well tilted. This is the edge of mountainous land with many well-wooded hillsides and rocky rivers below. And tunnels, lots of tunnels. When I was a kid I loved tunnels, but now I hate how they hide the view!

I am in Spain, and the jpurney continues. The time has come to un-squeeze the bits of Spanish I know from the hidden recesses of my brain....

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Monday, May 28, 2012

Relaxing in Moissac

Beautiful afternoon here in Moissac, and very peaceful in the garden.... Rom has taken the young lad off to the fair, and Aideen and I are just relaxing in the shade, enjoying the warmth and quiet. The roses are all looking glorious after the dousing they had earlier in the week.

Have been making sure all my clothes are clean- just another day with a washing machine easily available before I take off for Pamplona on Tuesday and a return to the daily hand washing rituals of pilgrim-land!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Vespers in Moissac

Vespers in Moissac

One thing Rom and Aideen tell pilgrims every day is to try and get along to the Abbey at 6pm for Vespers if they can. It's sung by a small group of nuns, and in the acoustics of the Abbey I think they sound the way I imagine a celestial choir would.

When they all sing in unison, the sound is quite ethereal and beautiful. But I think my favourite moments are when they go into harmony. If you are a pilgrim in Moissac, even if your feet are sore and you are tired, try and get along there. From Ultreia gite it is only a five minute walk.....

And today there was another musical treat right here in the gite. Tonight there was a group of 12 Germans here, ready to begin in the morning on another section of their Chemin. They gathered at the outside tables after dinner and sang a few hymns together: their harmonies were beautiful too.

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Sunny in Moissac!

Tables all set outside for dinner. Warm day today!

For Michele

Bono posed just for you Michele!

Sunny in Moissac

Pilgrims are arriving in Moissac today with horror stories of how much mud they had to trudge through in recent days. But this morning I woke to an unfamiliar golden colour outside: sunshine! And these boots are made for walking!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Moissac Cloister

Today I re-visited the Cloister next to the Abbey here in Moissac- a remarkable remnant of the past that was nearly demolished to make way for a railway line at one stage. The columns alternate between single and double, and there are intricate carvings on the top of each one.

PS: If you are in Moissac, you have to go hear the nuns sing Vespers in the Abbey at 6pm. A taste of heaven.

St Martin

Martin is a family name on my paternal side, and I love finding images of St Martin. Here he is sharing his cloak, on top of a double column in the cloister at Moissac.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Getting lost and found in Moissac

It seemed like everything had run out at once- deodorant, soap, toothpaste.... so a walk to a nearby supermarket was needed. Aideen gave me a map and brief directions. Right left and I would be there.
After my first turn I saw a couple of bewildered looking men- obviously walking the Chemin, but looking lost. So I crossed the road to reassure them they were not far from the GR, and told them which way to turn. They were lost then found. Did my shopping and headed home. Arrrrgh a short walk but I was soon lost, and had to ask for directions. Rom can't believe I walked four weeks on the Chemin only to get lost on a short walk in Moissac.

A few Australians have arrived here tonight. Seems unbelieveable, but have had contact with one via the Santiago Forum. It's a small world!

Friday, May 18, 2012

In Moissac

In Moissac

I am resting up in Moissac with my friends Rom and Aideen in their gite Ultreia. Have helped hang out quite a few sheets and towels this morning!

In four weeks of walking, from Cluny to Conques, I haven't met a single other Kiwi. But who was the first person to walk in the door for tonight? A Kiwi- who even guessed I must be Kiwi Nomad!!

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Heading for Moissac 16 May

Heading for Moissac 16 May

The Chemin is like this little thread that weaves its way south-west across France, with people slipping in and out of it along the way. And this morning it was my turn to slip out of the stream for a while. I had a quick breakfast at the monastery, then went to the place for the bus to Rodez, which mainly carried college pupils. Not as raucous as you might imagine.

The bus trip was quite beautiful to start with, through the river gorge, and then past some pretty looking villages. It's easy to think you have a monopoly on beauty when you are walking through it every day, but the rest of the world has a share as well! Once we reached Rodez we had a drive up to the top of the hill then down again before reaching the station. So weird to be climbing with a motor instead of my feet.

And now I am on a bus for Montauban, then a train to Moissac. Later on today I will be back in the pilgrim stream in a different guise, seeing my friends Rom and Aideen in their gite as they welcome pilgrims each day...

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Conques 15 May

Conques 15 May

The contrasts with my last walk never cease to amaze me. Last time I made the descent into Conques in 30+ degrees heat and was a sweaty mess when I reached the gite. This time it has started to rain on my arrival, and all those "wintry" layers in my pack that have just been a weight on my back in the last five days of sunshine have suddenly been pressed into service!

Last time I arrived here the monastery was "complet"- full- and I stayed in the gite communale. But the shared meal etc here is supposed to be something very special so I am glad there is room for me today. I am sitting in the courtyard with a few others, sheltering from the rain, waiting for the welcome to start at 1400 hours. I have donned my jacket and polyprops over my shorts for now, so I am not really fit to be seen in tourist land outside this little enclave of pilgrims!

It was a good days walk. I started in Le Soulie, about 17km away, quite early, to help my chances of getting a bed here. It was just 2km downhill to the first village. The shop had opened by the time I reached the second village, and since it was a bit colder I bought some chocolate for the first time for five days. Chocolate always makes the march easier! Just as well, as there was a hefty climb out of Senergues. I remembered it instantly as soon as I saw it.

There was some beautiful countryside to see on the way here and now I am in the gem of a village that is Conques- one of France's very special treasures.

After donning some warmer clothes I visited the Tourist Office to get some info about whether I could get to Moissac from Conques in a day....I can...

Hospitaleros in the Monastery are just lovely. Quite a few people here that I have seen along the way, as well as many I haven't. Many limping a bit. One poor man in my dorm has realized he has been walking too far too fast and he plans to slow down. In Beth's famous words about the sevens..."it's a marathon, not a sprint."

Spent the afternoon wandering, looking at all the medieval buildings and marveling at the Abbey. Conques is one of the most magnificent places in France.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Nearly at Conques

Well, I am nearly in Conques- just 17km away! I hope I get a chance to stay in the monastery this time, but what will be will be...

The weather has been warm the last couple of days, but not too hot. When I crossed Aubrac the weather was just superb both days- views were just amazing. Quite hot though. I could hardly believe it after last time!

Have met lots of really nice people. Last night there were two Hungarian men who are living in Holland- and they have walked from Holland. They had some stories to tell and we laughed and laughed.

Catch you another time!


I have arrived in Conques.... and there is a bed for me in the monastery. Many people I have met walking are there too. I am looking forward to sharing a meal with them this evening.
Tomorrow I am taking the train to Moissac I think...

14 May

14 May

Today there was a choice of routes out of Estaing. The first along the GR65 that I took last time, started off flat but then climbed, and spent quite a bit of time on roads, but had such a superb view at Golinhac. The second, the GR6, started with a steep climb out of Estaing but promised more gentle slopes thereafter, and was 3km shorter, with a lot more time in forests.

I decided to try the GR6, and actually loved the morning climb. It gave a superb view back over Estaing and the River Lot. It passed through some beautiful countryside with superb views across valleys. I fell in love with the Aveyron region last time and am still deeply in love with it!

And Michele, I saw a field full of sheep and fairly young lambs. A lot later up here. But spring is in full flow here now, very green and even some harvesting going on.

Tomorrow I have 17km to reach Conques. I hope I get to stay in the monastery tomorrow night as it is apparently a very special experience. Last time it was 'full'. Time will tell.

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Estaing 13 May

Estaing 13 May

Took the 'flat' option along the road near the River Lot this morning. Nice and easy for a change!

Highlight of today was seeing the Romanesque church at Perse- such a little jewel, with harmony written in all it's arches.

Then at Bessuejouls I loved the 'upstairs' chapel all over again. I also bought a sandwich from the little bar here, made to order with what I wanted in it, and the woman wrapped it up for me to take with me. Such kind and gentle service.

The climb uphill was just as hard as I remembered - harder really as I thought the tough bit was quite short but it went on a bit! Once on top I managed to pay attention for the turn downhill that I missed last time. There are extra markings at that point now to make it more obvious, so I was probably not alone in missing that turn!

I managed to lose my hat- again-! probably at the point where I took a photo of my shoes in the mud. But again good fortune or St Jacques shone on me... and a German pilgrim brought it along with him- and I grabbed it from him delightedly in the middle of eating my delicious sandwich!

Having problems with my plantar fasciitis on my left foot- the heat seemed to do it in and it's hard to stretch enough to relieve it. But I am probably only going to walk another 4-5 days now anyhow before I head off on a train to see Rom and Aideen in Moissac. In two days time I will hopefully be in Conques... There are two Hungarian men here though who have walked through from Holland. One of them has the same thing but it isn't stopping him. He expects to reach Conques tomorrow and for them it marks the halfway point. I feel like a wimp!

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St Come d'Olt

St Come d'Olt

Another hot day! Pharmacy sign here says 29 degrees this afternoon, but I don't think it's quite so hot. It's the coolest of the past three days as it has clouded over. No sign of the storm yet though to cool it all down!

Aubrac was so magnificent for two days that you would think I would have to be disappointed today. But no, I think the Aveyron region I am in now is very pleasant and quite beautiful. Lower altitude so spring is more advanced. Very green and wildflowers everywhere. Lots of hill views, though I am pleased to say tomorrow should be the easiest day yet- some of it along the river Lot= flat!

It was on tomorrow's section of the track that I missed a sign last time while I was busy admiring the magnificence of the wildflowers. You can be sure I will not do that tomorrow!

Today was mostly about descent. Some of it was a bit tricky and stony, but some of it was along easy forest and farm paths, and the spring green on the leaves was just wonderful.

It's funny finding out how my memories of the Chemin compare with the reality. It was so cold and grey at the beginning last time that I seem to remember a lot about the weather and not so much about parts of the terrain. Today when I thought it was all mainly about descent, the Chemin threw in an unexpectedly tough ascent for a wee while, climbing up out of a river valley. But I gratefully arrived at a farmhouse at Grezes where I ate lunch ravenously. From there it was only 3km downhill to reach town and the gite.

I was feeling a trifle guilty only walking 16km when quite a few were walking the extra 6km to Espalion. But have since discovered lots of others have stopped here. And to be honest, in the heat my body was telling me to take it easy! The gite person was telling me it was 32/33 here yesterday, but it is supposed to drop to 22 tomorrow. Yeah!

St Come d'Olt is a beautiful looking town, and looks all the better in the sunshine. The gite is in one of the historic buildings. An interesting contrast really, sitting on my bed in such an old building, typing this up on an iPod. And then the clock chimes in the historic church with the crooked spire....

Ok time to head off for dinner. I am being seated with French walkers apparently since I can talk to them, (rather than with the German men downstairs who only speak German.) See you later!

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St Come d'Olt

This is the gite I am staying in tonight- upstairs in this historic building- overlooking the church with the (deliberately) crooked steeple.

Sign in town says it's 29 degrees. Third day walking in the heat though it didn't seem as hot today as the last two days. No wonder my body feels a little on the wilted side!


Last time I came to Aubrac there was heavy fog. Suddenly I saw these two "round" towers looming out of the mist. It was a very medieval moment. As you can see they are not round at all..,

Aubrac Day 2

Aubrac Day 2

Another hot day! Last time I walked Aubrac the weather was so bad that the gite owner suggested taking the road and avoiding the Chemin on the 2nd day. Then the fog closed in...

Today couldn't have been more different, and it's after 6pm and still very warm.

I had no idea what magnificent scenery I had missed last time. I had the first wee while this morning striding out by myself, feeling like I had the top of the world specially made just for me. Breathtaking. Oh what a beautiful morning!

Then I took a drinks break and the rest of the walking world arrived. It's been nice actually- people to chat with along the way, encouraging each other on in this unexpected heat.

I arrived at Aubrac way too early for a meal, but enjoyed their soup. I wouldn't have stayed so long chatting if I had known how hot the afternoon was going to be. I also didn't know how unshaded the whole first part of the descent would be as last time I was in thick fog until quite far down .

Last time I was already in Aubrac before I could see any of it, and had this very medieval moment as these two round towers seemed to loom out of the mist. Today I discovered that those towers were actually quite square, not round at all!

So, I have seen Aubrac properly now- in it's bad weather and in its superb weather.

Today at Aubrac I went to pay for my lemonade to find it had already been paid for. One of the women at the table then told me her son had spent 6 months backpacking in New Zealand, and had told her how kind everyone was to him.... So she was repaying that kindness a little by buying my drink.

Oh Aubrac- I feel so lucky now to have seen you in all your splendour. But I'd be quite happy to have the temperature dial turned down a little, so I don't have to start getting up too early!

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Aubrac day 2

It's hard to convey the happiness of walking on the Aubrac Plateau in good weather. The enormity of the landscape is just breathtaking.

Aubrac Plateau Day 1

Aubrac Plateau Day 1

Well, two days couldn't have been more like chalk and cheese.

Four years ago when I crossed the Aubrac Plateau I just walked 20km the first day, and arrived at my lodgings bitterly cold and wet. (It was about three weeks earlier in the season.)

But today I had to make sure I drank enough on what ended up being a very warm 26km day. It was simply amazing striding across the plateau, feeling like I was on the top of the world at times. Many of of the fields were full of wild daffodils and it was just such a special place to be.

At one of the highest points just after midday, I sat down on a rock and rang my Irish friends in Moissac to tell them I was high on Aubrac in a t-shirt. And that I had nearly run out of water. I knew they'd understand about the unlikelihood of that!

Fortunately there was a little cafe soon in view about 2km away downhill. And an even more unlikely thing happened: they had wifi there so I could send my backlog of iPod messages.

It was hard work in the heat for everyone, and people have been solicitous about each other's welfare this evening. A lovely French lady here in the Nasbinals gite has just offered to massage my feet- an offer I simply can't refuse!

PS I can confirm it was a superb foot massage, a wonderful treat for my feet that had to work so hard today.

PPS 2: Only sad thing today- had to ditch my chocolate which had melted in its wrapper, before it went all over everything in my pack!

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Thursday, May 10, 2012


I have arrived in Aumont-Aubrac today and will be crossing the first part of the Aubrac Plateau tomorrow. Last time the weather was awful! But it has been quite warm and sunny today so am hoping that continues for the next two days, so I can enjoy all the wildflowers.

Am enjoying being back on the Le Puy route and have met some really nice ladies along the way, two of whom are walking for a week, and who have much the same pace as me. This is the fourth night we have independently booked the same gite- which is kind of how the Lyne & Denis scenario went in 2008!

Have been lucky to have stayed in some lovely gites; tonight I am back in Ferme du Barry where he seems to have remembered me from last time! Either that, or he is being polite because he has heard the story of last night's laundry and how the farmer had to take the washing machine apart. But that's a story for another day when I am home and have more time on the internet!

Am pleased with how my walking pace is going... and life is much simpler here where well-placed gites seem to offer meals and snacks along the way. Be back when I can.....

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

La Clauze

La Clauze

Last time I walked I started out aiming for the bigger towns to stay in- but somewhere in Spain we discovered the delights of smaller places, away from the 'main' stopping places.

Tonight I am in just such a smaller place, in La Clauze. Its pretty much a farming village, but it's got two small gites in it and I'm in one of them- along with the two French women who made me laugh so much yesterday.

I remember passing through here on a day with much colder, grimmer weather, and the tower here looked so foreboding. But today it looks more 'friendly', standing to remind everyone of the past history of this place....

The smells of my Demi-pension dinner are making me so hungry. I am eating so very well here in France, but my clothes all tell the story of weight loss. It's hard to eat enough to keep up with energy expended!

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Pilgrim Hours

Pilgrim Hours

It has barely gone 9pm and I am falling asleep. And I just ate a big French dinner but I'll still sleep well. Ahhh pilgrim hours.

And the two Frenchwomen in the same bedroom as me are now giggling like schoolgirls in the dorm. Laughter on the Chemin has a special quality of its own...


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This is a lovely time to be walking. In the sunshine that we had today, the wildflowers were amazing....

Monday, May 07, 2012

Monistrol d'Allier

Monistrol d'Allier

It was interesting re-walking this route and finding out which bits I had strong memories of, and which bits had slipped my mind.

Last time I walked in snow up above Montbonnet and it didn't seem like much of a climb at all. But today I walked in quite a lot of mud and the climb was more obvious. The descent to St Privat was muddy and tricky both times.

Last time when I arrived in St Privat there was no sunshine and the chateau seemed to loom menacingly above the village. But today there was some sunshine and the whole village looked warmer and more inviting. I took my time poking around the church site with its hilltop views, Then I shopped for a few bits for lunch, and had a hot chocolate.

There was only about 7km left to walk on this short day and that seemed like a walk in the park. But the memory played tricks. I had forgotten how much climbing there was to Rochegude. The tiny chapel on top of rock there was just as atmospheric, with rock poking up through the floor.

I had also quite forgotten how hard the descent was from Rochegude- over rocks that were quite large for my short legs! And mountain bikers had been active there and it made the track downhill less certain. I was glad I didn't get lost and have to re- climb part of it.

Others here in the gite have spoken angrily about their encounters with bikers on the descent- going very quickly...

I remember arriving last time in Monistrol feeling exhausted. I was pleased not to be feeling too tired today. And the gite I am in is a pleasant smaller one with a good atmosphere, La Tsabone. The whole arrangement of sofas etc seems to hdlp woth conversation. Looking forward to dinner!

PS Dinner was fascinating with animated discussion as the results of the French presidential election were awaited. Everyone here is elated with the result....

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Sunday, May 06, 2012

La Grange Montbonnet

I am taking some shorter etapes after the exertions of the Cluny route, and tonight am in a new gite next to the bar in Montbonnet. Most people have done 24km to St Privat d'Allier, but they are missing a jewel. There is a huge lounge area, with big windows for the spectacular view. You get to look back over all these extinct volcanic cones and can see the sky that still looks dramatic after the thunderstorm lots of us were walking in earlier!

In Montbonnet

The first day of the Le Puy walk is behind me and what a day it turned out to be! Had to say goodbye to my French friends this morning which was a bit sad, then set out up the big hill out of Le Puy. I walked slowly, but made good time, as it was simple stuff really compared to some of the Cluny climbs!

The walk started in sunshine but changed around midday. I took some great photos of the atmospheric skies but soon the inevitable happened and I needed my raincoat. At this point I left my sunhat behind unknowingly. Then the thunder started, then lightning, then hail. And the hail got heavy and lasted for ages and hurt, and whalloped hard on the head. Luckily I had decided on a short stage and was booked into a gite attached to a bar in Montbonnet, and when I limped in looking like a drowned rat, I was soon taken across to my room. The gite is new, called Les Granges, and is just beautiful and spacious and I was soon all comfy again.

I returned to the bar for a hot chocolate and it was full of walkers escaping the rain. Everyone was laughing about the hail and how hard it was. I was really glad not to be walking on 8 more km to St Privat. I mentioned that I had lost my sunhat on the trail, and a Frenchman had retrieved it. And he had lost his sunglasses and someone had retrieved them and brought them to the bar as well!

So, you know where I am. I still have more posts from the Cluny walk and will send them when I find wifi. Things will be rather out of time order, but I guess if I can survive a hailstorm, you can cope with that!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Rest Day in Le Puy

Rest Day in Le Puy

What a difference a day makes! The warm welcome here by the Amis has been lovely- they really take a personal interest in each pilgrim who rolls in through the door.

And I kept meeting kind, helpful people all morning. There was the Tourist Office lady who made a booking for me when I couldn't understand an answerphone. There was the lady in the Post Office who helped me organize a parcel and some postcard stamps, and who offered me their credential stamp- a lovely one of Le Puy.

In the Cathedral I said prayers for some people. I went in there early, after the pilgrim blessing had finished, and it was lovely and quiet.

I climbed the Rocher of St Michel again. It seemed harder than last time! The sunshine today made it seem more beautiful and less foreboding than last time but it remains such an impressive chapel built on that pinnacle of volcanic rock.

I was a bit late for the French lunch time but passed the beautiful looking Hotel Dieu place, Usually I would assume a place like that was too expensive, but they had a menu for 14euro and the food was delicious.

Next I wandered down to a nearby square and found my friends had arrived, looking suitably exhausted. I didn't feel so bad about my state yesterday then! I joined them in a cafe, and as we headed up the hill to the Cathedral they made a very obvious group for all the tourists to gawp at. And I was the fraudulent one behind them with a daypack on!

So I am well rested and start my re-walk of part of the Le Puy route tomorrow. The wind is getting up so I wonder what that will bring, as Montbonnet lies at some 1300m. Last time I was there it snowed!

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Meltdown Day!

Meltdown Day!

Well, it had to happen- meltdown day! I think I needed to stay strong while I was on the Cluny route with so few others, but today I lost it.

I slept well but woke feeling homesick and wanted to go home now! It was fitting to my mood that the route out of St Paulien was dominated by a factory belching smoke! However it didn't take too long before I was out in the proper countryside and it was clearly going to be a lovely day. I found a good little roadside spot, ate well of my bread and sardines plus chocolate and nuts, then got going, feeling much more at peace with the world.

All went well for ages. Then the Cluny Chemin did another couple of its ABC bits- Another Bloody Climb- well two of them actually! There was a really steep climb up to Polignac with its incredible fortress on top. Then steeply down. Then a long climb up to the edge of Le Puy, then steeply down- I'm used to those but they left me feeling tired, then I lost the signs!!!

A little 12th century chapel was nearby and I went in there and just lost it. Just as well I had bought some new tissues yesterday. I'd nearly finished when a Frenchman came in, who spoke quite a bit of English. He was s pilgrim who was having a rest day in Le Puy, who had already been walking for several weeks. So he understood about pilgrim tears and loaned an understanding ear while I cried some more!

Ahhhhh but all Is better now. I'm in a gite run by the Amis of St Jacques, and a lady took me under her wing when she realized I was tired. She is even taking home my walking shorts etc to give them a washing machine wash!

And the good news is, tomorrow is another day, and I am having a rest day- and my French friends are arriving here after finishing their last third of the Cluny Chemin. Meltdown done and dusted.

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Some reflections at the end

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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Tuesday, May 01, 2012



Today I am nearly on top of Montarcher and am at over 1000m altitude. I'm having a rest day here after 12 days of walking, for the sake of my feet. I walked fine for 10 days, mostly on nice soft (sometimes muddy) forest or farm tracks. But two days of walking on hard roads have brought me to my knees!- or at least have my feet calling out for a day of mercy. So I am resting on my bed in a very cosy gite right near the mountaintop of Montarcher that is my last little climb tomorrow. Then it should just be three more days of walking before I reach Le Puy en Velay. And there is more downhill than uphill to come now!

Yesterday involved an 800m climb in altitude but compared to the climb on Day 3 which was a little less, this felt quite ok. My walking rhythm is going well now. Just this blister to recover from.

Yesterday involved climbing to a few villages and also through a few sections of forests. In the middle of nowhere I came across a group of five horsewomen who are staying in an adjoining part of the gite. Pelerins and horsewomen keep different hours it seems. We pelerins are the early to bed early to rise kind - though not too early when the days are chilly.

One of the hardest things on this Chemin- which is a lovely one, full of spectacular views, is that there are not many pilgrims. But last night there were three of us in the gite, Jacques who is walking from Lyon to Lourdes, and Nic from Belgium. And I used my earplugs for the first time!

My French friends began walking their last third of the Cluny-Le Puy Chemin yesterday, and they are just a day behind me. I am really looking forward to seeing them in Le Puy before I carry on walking.

I know you are only getting little snippets here. Full blog accounts when I get home. Promise.

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Bon Courage

Bon Courage

One of the things French people say most commonly to walkers in this area is "Bon courage!" I know that Bon Chemin will be quite common after Le Puy. But I quite like Bon courage- its like Kia Kaha in Maori- be strong, take heart. And quite often on this route where they don't see as many pelerins, I've been told I am courageous. And yes, there are times when I need to take my courage with two hands and get on with it!

Bon Courage. Kia Kaha. I don't think we really have something similar in English, which is s shame.

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This evening I am staying in an amazing old priory on a hilltop. The Amis of this beautiful old place have opened a gite in it to welcome pilgrims and others, and as I write this the bells of the old church have just tolled 9pm. I can look up at the huge old beams over my head. What a truly amazing place to sleep in: I might dream of cowled monks roaming around!

This is my tenth day of walking and I think I have four more nights before I arrive in Le Puy. Hardest bit has been the solitary nature of it all- am looking forward to seeing more pilgrims after Le Puy! Today was my first day with lots of road walking, and although it was only 20km, a distance my feet and body are now well used to, my feet were complaining about the hard roads by the end of the day.

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