is a voyage of discovery, of provision, of surprise and delight, and of grim persistence and perseverance. Such was the
, a 90 kms walk over 4 days. Having walked the
two years prior, I figured it was definitely achievable - and this time UTracks was transporting my bag from comfortable hotel to comfortable hotel, plus organising my accommodation and most of my meals.
My first surprise was the wonderful mediaeval town of Le Puy-en-Velay which I loved, the second was to discover that what I thought was going to be a straightforward walk was, in fact, a very hilly one. Oh dear! I definitely needed the delight of a simply delicious meal in the best French tradition that night, before I set off.
In fact, that first day climbing out of Le Puy and walking in the sunshine and cool air across the plateau was pure magic. The white dusty path wound its way beside fields of hay, golden in the sun, between ribbons of bright French wildflowers, all colours, the air filled with the clear sweet sound of birdsong, with a vast blue sky overhead. On top of the plateau, I was literally and figuratively on top of the world.
Marching strongly I decided not to call ahead to my accommodation but to keep walking…..until I looked over my shoulder and saw the road snaking down, down, down, steeply to the bottom of the world. Oh dear! But at that moment, the only car on the road stopped beside me and a voice asked if I was going their way - it was my accommodation host. What a provision!
The dinner in their farmhouse was everything you imagine a French farmhouse dinner would be - homemade pate and vast cheese plate, salad greens from their garden, with a slow cooked ragout, followed by home grown strawberries, thick cream, and washed down with French wine. Heaven!
I needed it as the next day was of the grim persistence and perseverance kind - probably the hardest physical thing I have ever done in my life apart from having my babies. It took 9 hours to walk 15 kms - very steeply up, very steeply down, down to the river at the bottom of the gorge, crossing over a bridge designed by Monsieur Eiffel, collapsing briefly for a cup of coffee and patisserie then very steeply up, up again. When I finally reached the hotel, I was done!
The next two days were a combination of the first two - glorious skies, birds, flowers, fields of hay, stands of forest, plus the need to keep going, one foot after the other in the hot sun. Once when I was feeling particularly depleted, a young German pilgrim jumped up from his resting place by the road, and joined me.
His English of course, was perfect (my German is non-existent, the French pilgrims’ English also non-existent) and his companionship fuelled my last hours of walking that day. Such a blessing! Another afternoon had me come upon an enterprising French girl who had set up a lemonade stand by the side of the dusty path, just perfect for parched pilgrims.
And so, I finally arrived at my destination, the tiny village of Aumont-Aubrac - triumphant, exhausted but full of joy. Another provision - the hotel had a washing machine and dryer, which every traveller knows is an answer to prayer! I was to leave by train the next morning to return to Lyon, to continue my travel in another part of France.
But my Camino, it seemed, was not yet over. Standing on the unmanned station platform was another pilgrim - I could see his luggage had the same bright yellow transportation tag my bag did - so I smiled and indicated I was a pilgrim too. The two of us waited - and waited - for the train to arrive...which it didn’t.
My new friend, Bertrand, with French as his native language, and a French phone, ascertained that there was a strike on this line (not everywhere it seemed), and so other arrangements had to be made. Back up in the village, the Tourist Information Centre had just closed for a two hour lunch break, the transportation luggage bus did not leave till too late, and the only hire car was already hired, and in Lyon.
I did not leave Bertrand’s side, let me tell you, as together in our broken English and French we tried to work out a plan to get to Lyon by the evening.
Right on 2pm we were waiting outside the Tourist Information Centr’s door, where he discovered there was one taxi in town - and amazingly it could come straight away, thank God, and take us back the winding route we had just walked, to Le Puy-en-Velay, an hour and a half away, in order to catch a train to Lyon, costing 150 euros. Could we share a taxi? Yes, indeed we could.
It was precious, in fact, to revisit those towns and villages and hamlets I had walked through and be reminded of those days of pilgrimage. We arrived just in time to catch the train - not on strike this one - to return to Lyon.
In my limited French, I thanked Bertrand for his kind assistance. When he shrugged it off, saying it was just what he did, he went on to explain that he was “a coach of the heart”. I don’t think there is an English equivalent for that profession, I just know that he was God’s provision for me and part of my Camino journey - a voyage of discovery, provision, delight and persistence. And one I will never forget.
Beautifully written by Jane Irwin.
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French Way of St James Camino Tours
> View Jane's trip, the Way of St James: Le Puy to Aumont, by clicking here
. It's a 5 day self guided pilgrimage that we grade as a moderate walk.
> View all of UTracks' Camino pilgrimages in France by clicking here
Has Jane inspired you to do the French Way of St James Camino? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.