Livinhac-le-Haut - Montredon - Bord - Figeac - La Cassagnole
Today was a delightful walk in mostly rural countryside, with few villages, along dirt roads and narrow tree-lined paths. For the first hour a heavy mist meant I couldn't see far ahead but it soon lifted to reveal blue skies - again! Although we had some light rain in the first few days out of Le Puy, the weather has been much dryer and warmer than I had any right to expect. I'm not sure of the temperatures but I think most mornings have been around 6 or 7 degrees when I am setting off, climbing to high teens or low 20s by early afternoon. A little cloud cover would be good to soften the afternoon sun but the lack of rain makes for an easier time especially on the dirt paths, so I'm not complaining.
In fact I was thinking just that this morning as I successfully navigated a few narrow muddy sections, thankful that there hadn't been heavy rain or snow for some time or things could get very messy. Not 10 minutes later, I was in just such a mess. The mud path extended about 30 metres in front of me. With a steep fenced embankment on both sides, there was no escape. The only thing to do was to step through as lightly and quickly as possible. Yuk! I've included a photo of my post mud dash shoes.
By this time it was about 11 and I was feeling hungry and a little sorry for myself that there'd be no second coffee this morning. There are just a few hamlets between Livenhac and Figeac and no opportunity to buy a coffee or snack. And in any case most shops and cafes are closed on Sunday (often Monday too for that matter). So I wandered along looking for the right spot to have a snack from the food in my pack, and to try to get some of the thick mud off my shoes.
I came across a modern house with a stone fence that provided some shade over the soft grass between the fence and the road. I was about to sit down and lean my pack and myself against the fence when I saw a lady in the garden, and a handsome golden Labrador. I said Bonjour and asked the lady 'in my best French' if she minded me sitting against her fence to take a rest. With that she asked if I had enough water - I did - and then whether she could make me a coffee! I had to say yes and she, Christianne, seemed happy that I did. A few minutes later Christianne and Wolfie were back with a delicious strong caffe au lait for me and, between her little English and my little French, we had a lovely chat. Such an unexpected kindness - it really made my day.
And I managed to get at least some of the mud off my shoes. Note to self and to future pilgrims: Throwing a few chux wipes into my pack at the last minute was a great idea. They were just the thing.
I arrived at my intended stop for tonight, Figeac, just after 3 today. It's quite a big town and, while it looked interesting, something was telling me to keep going. A gite in a small village a further 5 to 6 kms on sounded nice by which I mean I liked the sound of its name - Le Relais de Saint Jacques.
As the gite is not large, I called ahead and managed quite well with my limited French, introducing myself, saying I was in Figeac, what time I expected to arrive, and confirming dinner and a gite bed for the night plus breakfast to tomorrow. I'm glad I followed my intuition - it's a delightful gite set in lovely gardens and run by Jesus and Marie. Ou est Joseph? I hear you ask. They have heard that one many times!
While I was sitting by the river in Figeac consulting one of my guide books for the telephone number of th gite, I noticed two other pelerins beside me doing much the same. We struck up a conversation and that's how I came to walk from Figeac to La Cassagnole with Marc and Fabian from Normandy. They are on The Way for just one week. Last year they walked from Le Puy to Conques. And this year from Conques to Moissac. Fabian spoke a little English but they seemed happy for me to 'practise' my French. It must have been excruciating for them but they were gracious enought not to let on. When we arrived at my gite, I thanked them and wishes them au revoir and Bon Chemin.
PS. I shouldn't have been so proud of my French. There were 12 around the dinner table tonight - 11 French speakers, and me. Just as well I'm a good listener.
Now that I'm 10 days in, a word about guidebooks and distances. Unlike the Camino Frances in Spain where almost everyone uses John Brierley's excellent book, on the Camino Le Puy at any one time pelerins will be consulting two or three guide books because no single one does the job well. And the distances quoted are rarely consistent! Having arrived at La Cassagnole today, the two books I have say that I have walked between 255 and 275 kms in these 10 days. So who knows - but I'll settle on 260 and be happy with that. I think that means I am more than a third of the way to St Jean Pied de Port.
Last but never least - great to hear from you Helen (Mum), Marian, Martin, Audrey and Jan C. It's a thrill to receive messages from home. By the way, Jan C., you may recall that at Michelle and Sam's wedding we were comparing my pilgrim tan - the very attractive (not) above the sock to above the knee tan lines - with your golfer's tan. You only just nudged me out to win the title. Well, after the weather of the past few 'pants off' days, I think you may lose the crown by the time I get back. After three Caminos, and miscellaneous other walks, I fear I may be stuck with these tan lines forever. It's not a great look. C'est dommage!
A bientot mes amis.