We stood in the chill beautiful morning yesterday at the bus stop on the highway at the entrance to En-Calcat Abbey in Dourgne. Five-minutes after the appointed time, we were relieved to see the big beautiful bus round the bend and pull up beside us. We settled back into plush seats, our packs beside us, and gazed out the window as beautiful hills, fields and charming villages flashed by. Time had speeded up. Twenty minutes later we were again on our feet in Revel, trying to figure out where we were.
We purchased a sandwich and two chocolate croissants at one shop, then picked up the red and white marks, heading to the path along La Rigole, a curvy small canal built to feed water into the Canal du Midi.
A young student helped us find the right direction to the town center, where we delighted in the old covered market, and were overwhelmed by finding a boulangerie, café or shop at every turn, all open!
We followed the Rigole all day, until we turned off to Les Casses, where for over a km we climbed upward on a country road to reach our night’s destination Isabelle Bosc’s La Passeur-Elle.
The ruins of a Cathar Fort loomed above one side of the road.
The walk along the Rigole was pleasant and uneventful. It was difficult to get photos with the stark contrast between sunlight, shadow, and reflecting light on water.
At one point the canal bordered a field divided by a double row of plane trees. As we sat on adjoining rocks for a break, a beautiful fox ran across the row of trees. The first we’d seen—probably the first in the wild I’d ever seen.
We stopped briefly at a restaurant just before a small lake, where we were in time to get salad and a beer before
Closing, and were informed it was just three km to Isabelle’s place.
Isabelle was warm and welcoming. A pilgrim herself, she knew just what pilgrims needed. There was a sort of « mud room » downstairs, with benches, where we left our packs. There was an adjacent toilet and shower, and next door an « atelier » or workshop, with a small kitchen, a fridge with some beer and other drinks, and a comfy couch.
Upstairs in an airy room were 4 single beds with bright yellow sheets. There was a toilet with small sink down the hall, and a little room with a chair, desk, and Compostelle posters and information, along with the « Livre d’Or » or guest book. We had dinner that night with Isabelle and her mother-in-law « Bonne Mama » and Bonne Mama’s husband. Two German sisters,very young, shared our room, but cooked separately in the kitchen.
We were able to wash a few clothes, which dried quickly in fierce wind and sun.
We had intermittent strong gusts of wind that came from the southeast as we walked, sometimes almost blowing us over.
All and all it was a pleasant day in which everything went as planned, with no unhappy surprises. We are definitely out of the mountains now, in farming country, but the little villages nevertheless lack shops of any kind.
First, we woke from a comfy sleep in our big bed to find rain pouring down on the glass roof over the stairway. So, we took our time getting ready and tidying up the gite.
The rain had let up by the time we headed out the door about 8:45. I decided we should take the road to Noailhac, mostly to avoid what looked unnecessary hills, but also to save time and avoid wet, muddy trails.
We tried out the coin-operated bread dispensing machine along our route through Noailhac, putting in 1 Euro and receiving in exchange a perfectly fine pain au chocolate, which we stuck under Kent’s pack cover to share later.
Before we exited Noailhac, the rain returned in full force. We decided to take another road shortcut.
We passed an amazing chateau, and then as we neared its second gate I spied an enormous spread of lavender and white flowers covering the grass within the gates. I thought at first they were crocuses, but they are not. Does anyone know what they are?
A while later, as we sat on a stone bench beside the road to eat our croissant, a man wearing nice leather hiking boots ambled by, and spoke to us in English.
We asked about the possibility of catching a bus from a nearby town. He wasn’t sure of bus schedules, but pointed out another road on our map that would get us to Castres without highway walking.
We debated briefly. The sky seemed lighter, so we took the suggested road, which had a few significant climbs. Perhaps an hour had passed, and the gentleman appeared in his car. Would we like a lift to Castres? Yes, please!
In perhaps 15 minutes, we were speeding along a major highway lined with big box stores, the likes of which we hadn’t seen on the entire trip.
Alain, it turned his name was, drove us into the town center to the tourist office, which for some « special reason » was closed for the day. « We are sure you’ll understand, » or something to that effect, it said in French. Sure! I told Alain he was a Camino angel,and that we would find our way from there. We had him call Madeleine, with whom we thought we had beds reserved, and again got no answer.
We thanked him, and headed into the Eglise to consider our options. Lunch at a nice restaurant, since the Goya Museum and most businesses were closed for lunch. O Victoria was right around the corner. We feasted on an appetizer of canard in pastry, a main entry of poulet with a broccoli sauce, and a dessert of pear tarte, finished off with small coffees.
With the help of Google maps, we made our way to Madeleine’s address, and anxiously waited for an answer to the doorbell, which was long in coming. Ah! A noise within, and a beaming, small, white-haired woman welcomed us in.
Our accommodation was in a large attic divided into 2 or 3 sections, low-ceilinged, with cushioning on the beams between the sections to soften head-bumping.
Madeleine did not speak English, so I did my best with French, and with both of us using translation helps, we managed. It was very good for me—I later told her that if I stayed longer, I’d soon be much better at French.
We spent the next hour or more sitting at her kitchen table, lining up places to stay for the next nights—something I’d hoped the tourist office could do. It turned out my Friday booking was going to be too far for us to walk at well-over 30 km — not too far for some, but for us, yes.
So, instead of changing the reservation, she pulled out a bus schedule that will take us a bit over 15 km in 20 minutes, saving us about four hours of walking.
By the time we’d finished, we had only an hour before the Goya Museum closed. It was a 20 minute walk, so by the time we got there, we had only half an hour to spend, but we paid our entry fee and enjoyed the too short visit.
On the way back, we passed a flower shop. We were going to buy some fresh flowers, but the young woman in the shop was constructing a beautiful arrangement of dried flowers. I asked for another like it, which she made, wrapped in red paper and tied with a bow.
Madeleine was a pilgrim herself, and had walked from her home to Santiago in 2005—I suspect after the death of her Italian husband.
She had invited us to have dinner with her. She kept bringing out one dish after another, each of which we thought would be the main course. There was a casserole made with cabbage, potatoes and cheese, which would have been enough. She wasn’t sure we understood choux, but I remembered the song from a beginning French class, and soon we were both hilariously singing, “Savez vous planter Les choux?”
The bed in the attic room was a bit short for Kent and small for the 2 of us, but I slept OK after awhile. Kent not so well.
I was truly sorry to say good-bye to Madeleine, who wanted to send us off with even more food, after a breakfast with toast, butter, jam, and pain au chocolat—more than I could eat, so we went off with part of a croissant and pieces of pear tart, as we’ll as sandwiches we hadn’t eaten the day before.
She wanted 15 Euros each for bed and said dinner was “donativo”— we insisted she take 70, which she didn’t want to accept, but was only slightly more than we’d been paying for so much less.
There was lots of road-walking, some hills, and a few interesting small villages. We ate lunch in a bus shelter at an intersection of country roads.
We were in farming country now. No longer in the mountain forests. We reached the peaceful Oasis of En Calcat via a couple of other nerve-wracking highways. We were warmly welcomed, and have spent a pleasant evening, enjoying our simple room with its own bath, a vespers service, and silent dinner with other guests.
Walking on the outskirts of Castres had us going along the edges of some busy roads—not at all pleasant, although there were some lovely corners of quietness, including one with another house with yard full of those wonderful flowers. This time I got a closer look.
There were two other pilgrims, a couple from Vancouver, Canada, but we barely had time to talk with them.
I was also able to book our train tickets to Barcelona and one last hotel for the walk. We have yet to decide on our last two nights in Toulouse.
Four more days of walking, at least three of them mostly along canals—no more big hills!
Anglès was good to us. We started the day with a lively discussion with Paul about the area, its history and changes. For the first morning in several days we started out in glorious sunshine. The green moss in the forests glowed.
We took a short cut on a forest road cutting a km or two from the walk. There were ups and downs, a few rough spots where the dirt tracks had eroded, but nothing too challenging, although the long descent into the ravine just before Boissezon shook my faith that we were on the right path. But, lo! The village , which was sizeable, did finally appear, both below and above us through the trees.
Again, we had the gite, which was extensive, and even had a room with stuffed chairs and a sofa, entirely to ourselves. First time I’d sat in an easy chair or sofa since leaving my daughter’s home in San Francisco three weeks ago!
Who would climb that hill to get to church, I wondered? The back part of the building looked like a fortress. What a strange and beautiful town! The major street through seemed to be a truck thoroughfare, rather terrifying after days on quiet paths and roads. I would think that the traffic would have a negative impact on the village. No grocery, no cafe, but a gleaming butcher shop and a pharmacy with orthopedic supplies in the window were open. We found the closed Auberge Trois Mousquitaires where we would later pick up our plateaus of dinner.
We walked past the gite, with its purple shutters and Via Tolosana mosaic sign on the wall as we entered town, but headed to the Mairie to check in. Agnès met us back at the gite, stamped our credential and showed us around. They’d arranged a room with its own lavatory and shower, and a huge bed with fluffy white sheets and duvet for us. What a treat!
We had time to explore the town, walked past the open, but empty art galleries, up to the locked church. There was a number to call to visit the church posted in the gite, but we had not called.
The dinners were almost more than we could eat, and came with wine— we’d brought my water bottle intending to ask if we could purchase a bit of wine, but it wasn’t necessary.
We were passed by just one pilgrim today, a Parisian who was walking all the way to Castres. The temperature did grow warm by afternoon, compared to yesterday when I walked all day in my fleece. There was no wind, and a pond was beautiful with reflections.
There were quite a few smooth dirt roads, easy enough to lend themselves to contemplation.
I stood on top of one hill, thinking, «Be still, and know that I am God, » and I felt great peace and a good kind of emptiness, no longing or desire, just being. It was everything, and it was enough. I was perfectly content.
I walked on, thinking of Franciscan Richard Rohr, wondering if oneness with God and loss of self is the goal of life. It was very much a Camino day.
I’ve lost a day somewhere, but it will show up eventually, unlike the calendar and map that disappeared somewhere between Arboras and Lodeve.
We walked out of Murat in gloom and cold, but the walking was good through many beautiful forests. We were carrying a bit more than usual, as we had been told nothing would be open in Salvetat, which turned out to be true.
We looked forward to a gentle walk along a lake, but were unpleasantly surprised by at least two, possibly 3 roller-coaster-sized hills before the trail did indeed level out.
We stopped for a picnic lunch of Roquefort cheese sandwiches at a picnic table in front of the church at Villelongue at the end of the lake. There was a water tap at the church and a sign that said “refuge.” It was only when we’d climbed above the church that I saw there was an open room with at least one chair inside — a good place to shelter from the elements.
At one point as the trail began to descend we mistakenly followed a rough logging road that vanished into a meadow. While we stood in the meadow trying to figure out if there was a short-cut back to the road, we suddenly saw a runner with a dog on the road. We had seen no one on the trail all day besides a couple of mushroom hunters (oh and a boar hunter dressed in orange who suddenly appeared behind me with two dogs as I stopped to take a picture of a stone wall).
The runner’s path showed us the trail, which we were then able to rejoin—a Camino Angel.
We walked into Salvetat about 3:15, just as the restaurant was closing, but yes, we could have beers outside.
We managed to figure out the lock on the tourist office post box and retrieve our key to the gite. As we were struggling to open the door, it was opened from inside—and we were welcomed by Jaime, a Spanish pilgrim walking from Lourdes to Rome.
We ended up sharing our supper with him. So there are 3 of us in this gite tonight,
Fresh from the farm. Delicious! A steep climb again through dark, mossy forests, then a sudden open expanse of fields, and in the distance a rock pile marking the 1019-meter summit.
I was thinking how long the way would have been, and how tired and unable to enjoy it all, had we made those extra miles last night.
Tourist office and a small grocery were open when we arrived in Murat- sur-Vebre before noon.
No one was at the Gite/Chambre d’Hote, but we let ourselves in an unlocked door. We called Emilie, who came while we were eating lunch of Roquefort cheese and bread from the grocery,
We studied our MiamMiam Dodo, trying to figure out the rest of the trip, but are a bit confused about the distances heading into Toulouse. We have walked so slowly, we are not going to have extra time to spend when we finish walking. We will be in Barcelona in 10 days to fly to San Francisco on the 17th.
We are alone in this gite, which quite a nice one, occupying two of seven beds. Emilie has reserved dinner for us in a hotel restaurant nearby. We ‘ll see how that goes.
Later: Dinner was fine. We were the only guests, although they told us there was one hotel guest coming later. Off in the morning to Salvetat -sur-Agout, our packs heavier with food for next two days.
Some hard walking here, but we are doing half the usual distances, which is still a lot for us. 10 miles rather than 20.
Beautiful country. Cold and windy today with a bit of drizzle, clouds, but rain held off.
We are into another French weekend, when everything closes.
We had a nice meal tonight at this farm. Soup, salad, red wine, mashed potatoes, sausages, with cheese and an apple for dessert. We are in the middle of nowhere. When I woke up from my nap, a white horse was walking by the window. Not sure I’ve ever lain in bed and watched a horse walk by before.
I think about you a lot when walking. For some reason felt very sad today. Maybe the weather, the dark forests or time of year.
We see no one on the trails as everyone passes us at the beginning of the day if there is anyone staying where we are.
Very cold here, no heat in room, but we’ve turned on heater in bathroom to try to dry wet towels and clothes.
Many beautiful clear streams cascade into stone pools, perfect for bathing in warm weather, like the Gorges d’Heric where Ed and I stayed 20 years ago, not far from here.
Many mysterious forests with old stone walls in terraces running through them. Who lived here and why did they build these walls? When? The hills are so rugged. So many questions.
It was a short day, but not without its challenges. We followed the road, for 5 km, seeing perhaps 3 cars in nearly 2 hours, as we walked through old forests, climbing out of tiny Servies to join the GR 563 and the Chemin at the Col de Layrac from which we could see a few small villages in the valleys below, and endless mountains.
We were grateful for the cool temperature, but the wind we’d experienced yesterday continued to buffet us. After awhile we left the road, and took a steep, rocky descent through forests, exiting gratefully at Mecles, where we sat in the sun at a small fountain with a St. Jacques plaque.
Only three km from their to St. Gervais, pleasant until another painfully steep, rocky descent, then across a medieval bridge over the pretty Mare river, up into the mostly deserted long Main Street ofSt. Gervais.
The Mairie rose majestically above a pair of staircases behind imposing red bars and gates. The doors opened, and a lovely young woman welcomed us, gave us a map, and a key to the gite, and collected our money.
The pizza place was closed, but we bought some cheese pastries at the bakery just before it closed, and celebrated with two beers outside a cafe, before heading back through town to a lovely, clean, modern gite with a nice kitchen and beautiful bathroom.
About 4 pm, we returned to the now open tourist office where a wonderfully kind and patient woman spent the better part of an hour lining up places for us over the coming weekend. Many places were either full or closed, so we greatly appreciated her help.
A bit of shopping at the small grocery, and back to the gite where we met our two companions for the night, a French man and Spanish woman.
Two businesses on the street seemed open all the time: a car repair business, unlikely in the old town center, and a funeral supply store, both for people heading elsewhere.
Tomorrow, we climb to some of the highest peaks on this part of the route, but we’ve cut the 26 km day into two.