Everyday for ten days the rhythm was much the same. Enjoyable and arduous in equal measure and without doubt cathartic after a nasty bout of covid in the confines of the West Country.
As I make my way from Le Puy en Velay in the Auvergne and at five-thirty in the morning the rousings of fellow walkers would start: so that by first light we could step into the freshness of the day well before the unforgiving sun took hold.
Breakfast maybe a scratchy apology for nourishment as we clambered to get out to take full advantage of the early part of the day. No minutes for eating when cool walking was on offer. Often however after say two hours of fast pace I would find an obliging sign offering cafe and much welcome things farinaceous more than often with home made jams made with fruit plucked from their locality. Honey and home curdled milks to make the most delicious junkets atop with a fallen peach. That was a useful thirty minute break to bolster the spirit before the next heating leg.
By noon when the French expect to each lunch the majority of the walking covered as it is from then on the day becomes hotter and hotter. The fair weather clouds evaporate to allow no umbrella of shade along the outstretching path ahead.
Trees where they line the route help to cool but in reality nothing assist the lumbering legs and the pulsating bloods from the shear atmospheric conditions that surround like the suffocating of hair dryers on the face. This 38 degrees of heat in the shade is discussed as a worry as water supplies are rationed and fires take hold on the pays rude.
So we seek shelter and paint a view of the Abbaye in which I will sleep the night along with ninety other Pelegrín’s. Yes that number in four dormitory rooms off a spiral stone staircase worn by centuries of feet climbing up the massive ecclesiastical building.
Yes we have to stop walking as the day is too hot.
I might snooze or draw. I might take lunch alone or at a ‘table communal ‘
I plan the next day. I might book the room for the next night. I might unreserve a booking that I will no longer make because it’s too near or too far. I was never bored as the luxury of covering up to 30 kilometres a day with an unpressed attitude was in itself time consuming and held a nice anticipation. The commune to which I was bound or the river to have a swim. The silence and the nature was palpable.
Such gites are a euphemism for communal living, sharing rooms, ablution rooms and eating altogether at a long table normally in the dark of a stone kitchen. Such existence brings chatter from all over the world, delivers everything from snoring to tripping over in the darkness on the way to the loo: but yes always a much rested body and soul after a good eight hours horizontal.
And onward through small towns and over vast expanses of the semi cultivated massive central de la France.
As a finale I ordered a canoe to complete the last 15km as the Cele valley is particularly wonderful and peaceful from the water. The overhang of trees and the ability to flop into the water meant the continuing high pressure weather was much alleviated and the final day to a hotel well known to me was magical.
Retrieving the canoe from the agreed bush at Marciac was amusing as I swapped walking kit for trunks and no foot ware. What a relief for those poor feet that had trumped over 250 kilometres in ten days. The compeed plasters soaked off and the toes visibly pleased to slop around in the bottom of the kayak.
My family love this two star hotel for its position above the water as the Cele slips past the terrace on which we munch a simple meal. And so here I formally ended the personal pilgrimage in Cabrerets a kilometre or two above the river Lot in the region from which it takes it name.
The rendezvous with the car arriving hot from England was immaculate thanks to what’s ap sharing location.
A trip of some forty sketches and a few writings made for a brilliant way to rid that covid feeling and I need to thank those back home for their support.