Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella
Gargilesse to Thiviers :
6 April to 17 April 2009
Monday 6 April 2009
Off to Limoges by Ryanair from Stansted. No public transport from the airport. So we had to take a taxi at a cost of 25 Euros. It was a lovely day at Limoges and we were so impressed with the railway station (Limoges Benedictins) that we took lots of photos of it. We walked through the centre of town and had a coffee and sandwich. Back at the railway station we took the 16.38 train to Argenton. where we had spent a couple of days in 2008. We bought some fruit for picnics and then got another taxi to last year's end-point of Gargilesse. (Another 25 Euros) It was the same taxi driver who had brought us back from Gargilesse to Argenton a year before but I don’t think he recognised us. We had time to look round Gargilesse in the evening sunshine. The Hotel Des Artistes turned out to be a little disappointing. Our room was very simple which was not a problem but for dinner, we had the 25 Euro menu which Gillian described the food as “school dinner standard” in particular “peas out of a tin” For wine we had a red Saumur Champigny.
Tuesday 7 April 2009
Gargilesse to Crozant (19Km) It was raining hard the next morning. So like 2008, we had to put on full wet gear before we started. However, this rain was not as heavy or persistent as the previous year and by lunchtime it had stopped.
We reached the village of Cuzion where we had a break and looked in the church. (Amazingly there was a bridge club in Cuzion) Later we descended a steep and difficult (but pretty) path back to the valley of the Creuse and walked along the river for a while, before some road walking to Erguzon. When we reached Crozant the “lake” turned out to be a 12K serpentine stretch of the River Creuse held back by a dam. We obtained a room for the night in the “Hotel Du Lac”. This was run by a
rather laid back young Dutchman who apologised that his restaurant was not open but assured us that we could get an evening meal in the town. There was a dramatic ruined castle on a promontory between the Creuse and its tributary the Sedelle and we visited this before looking for our dinner. I was quite taken by the rather smart herd of goats with
big horns who lived around the ruins but they avoided us. Sadly for us, in typically French style, all the Crozant restaurants were closed for holidays or rest days and we ended up buying a snack meal in a shop run by a delightful little old lady. In Crozant, from a distance, we saw two other pilgrims, an older couple with full packs, wooden staves and shells being shown to a refuge. But we never to saw them again. We took our food back to the empty hotel, the owner having gone out. From behind the bar, we borrowed some glasses for our beer and forks for our cakes and watched the sun go down over the hills while playing a game of twizzle in the bar. Our very own hotel for the night. I put on the TV in the hope of seeing some Champions League football. But at the last minute it turned out to be “pay per view”
Wednesday 8 April 2009
Crozant to La Souterraine (24.5Km) It was crisp and clear when we left Hotel Du Lac. We ignored a nearby GR sign which pointed up a difficult looking track. Instead we re-climbed the hill to the village and followed our yellow and blue Compostella markers down a path to the valley of the tumbling River Sedelle which provided very attractive company for the next couple of miles. After crossing a bridge we were back to road walking and we climbed out the river valley on to a high plateau of lush farmland. We had our “elevenses” at the village of La Chapelle Baloue where we borrowed a key to get access to the church. Later, descending towards the village of St Agnant De Versillat , we found a Compostella walkers’ book in a box attached to a tree. This recorded those who had passed and gave information about accommodation. We duly inscribed our names and the date. The village, when we reached it, was unremarkable except for a small art show and a cemetery containing many large greenhouse-like structures protecting the memorials. Leaving via a path beside the cemetery we were soon out among fields and small roads again. A few km further on, La Souterraine, was a town with all facilities. We got accommodation in a pillgrim`s B&B run by an English couple called Duncan & Lisa. We went to a café and killed time playing cards. I had a coffee and armagnac but only water with my evening meal. We ate in a restaurant in the upper square.
Thursday 9 April
La Souterraine to Bienvent L’Abbaye (21Km) This was the sunniest day of the whole holiday, which made for a very pleasant and relaxing walking with a couple of long breaks by the side of the track. After 6 Km there was a small village with a bar where we had a drink. We had lunch in a lovely spot near a fishing lake where we shared our snack with some very large and aggressive ants. Early in the afternoon we were crossing a river bridge when we saw an animal which looked like a beaver. It was sunning itself on a rock in the middle of the water and seemed totally unconcerned at our attention. We took several photos and later identified it (we think) as a Coypu. At the village of Chamborand we visited the church and then started on what seemed like a very long 3KM of road walking in the heat of the afternoon. (before turning off on a track) Reaching Bienvent L’Abbaye at about 4 pm we had a refreshing beer and then Gilly found accommodation in a gite managed by an English lady. We had the small house all to ourselves. In the evening we got some takeaway pizzas and then had another couple of beers in a bar run by an English lady called Shirley who gave us lots of information of the French and all their habits, and also how to run a micro brewery.
Friday 10 April 2009
Bienvent L’Abbaye to Les Billanges (29Km) We had discussed how far to walk on this the fourth day and decided to go almost 20 miles to Les Billanges provided we could get accommodation. This would give us a much shorter day on the Saturday. A phone call made by Gilian confirmed that accommodation was available. So off we set. The walk started through some nice countryside where we met a French lady who was “walking for her health” and was quite happy to give us every detail of her life. We then traversed a boring town with a railway station but at least it had a patisserie. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves climbing into the Mountains of D’Ambazac which were quite challenging being over 600 meters in height. We had a long uphill walk along a woody track and finally popped out on a road near the hamlet of St Gousaud where there was a bar run by English people. (By this time we wondering if we would ever encounter anything run by a French person. So far we had stayed in two hotels run by Dutch and two B&B/gite run by English) We had a pleasant descent from the mountains to the village of Chateleus Le Marcheix which had been our possible destination for the day. It was totally devoid of life but then, many of the towns and villages were equally empty. At that point (about 3.00 pm) we had 10 Km more to go. Gillian called ahead and gave an estimated arrival time. Half of the 10Km was road walking. So we got out our MP3 players; put ourselves into gear and simply started walking. We accomplished the 5km in just a few minutes over the hour which was pretty good. We had a short break and then followed some tracks which led down dale and uphill until finally the church spire of Les Billanges hove into view.
Arriving in the village at about 5.30pm, we followed signs to the accommodation and arrived at an old farmhouse where a sign on the gate advised us that “the dogs were cool”. Entering, we were indeed greeted by a very cool collie dog called Roxanne who wanted nothing more than to play with a stick. Looking in the window, Gilly thought the place looked a bit hippyish and offputting. I said that I didn`t want to walk any further. Initially there was no answer to the bell but then a man called Marcel appeared. Marcel was a little strange. In subsequent conversation, we discovered that the gite was owned by a lady called Frances who was away in Thailand for a month collecting the ashes of her 30 year old son who had died there. Marcel had been a homeless guy whom Frances had taken in and who helped her to run the business. He was very affable but a little weird. Gilly said she couldn’t understand half of the things he said. Unfortunately, because I had no French conversation, the whole burden of talking to Marcel fell on her. He invited us in and gave us a beer which was very welcome after 29Km. Later he showed us to a nearby gite which was OK apart from a very bad mattress. Gilly said she had a “bad feeling about the place”. In the field outside our bedroom widow was a large working horse named Princess who alsoappeared a photo on the wall of the farmhouse - working in the woods with Marcel. We came back to the farmhouse at 7.30 pm and, to his credit, Marcel gave us a really nice meal, the best we had had so far in France. There was a tomato and egg salad to start with, then pasta with meat, then cheese, and finally fruit salad. All with rose and then red wine. We also noticed that among the papers in the farmhouse there was the full set of walk directions for the Vezelay route St Jacques. This allowed Gilly to take a note of the directions for our final day to Thiviers which she had not brought from the UK. Again Marcel was full of conversation and bonhomie. We finally dragged ourselves away at about 10pm and made our way back to our gite by torchlight. We arranged to come back for breakfast at 7.30 a.m.
Saturday 11 April 2009
Less Billanges to St Leonard De Noblat (18Km) At 7.30 a.m. the farmhouse was dark and lifeless. Gillian said that she just wanted to leave some money and depart without breakfast. I agreed with some reluctance ( I hate walking on an empty tummy) but when we got our rucksacks from the house we found Marcel waiting for us outside and went back to the farmhouse for breakfast any way, which was OK. I got Gillian to take a photo of me with Marcel as we left. Overall, I could see he was a bit strange but I thought there was no harm in him. Subsequently Gillian forbade me to go on talking about Les Billanges because she found it too upsetting. Our fifth day of walking started off dry but dull. But the sky got gradually more leaden and finally it started to spit with rain. We put on our wet gear and soon it was raining consistently. With nowhere to stop for lunch we resorted to sitting in the dry area under some low fir trees against the wall of a property. It was like a little tent. Approaching the hilltop town of St Leonard to Noblat the rain got a harder and then eased again. We stopped to make ourselves look a bit more presentable before booking in at the fairly posh hotel that we had chosen in the light of our uncomfortable bed at Les Billanges. The Hostellerie De Grand St Leonards was indeed a very nice hotel and Room 11 turned out to be a mini-suite with a separate corridor and toilet and a wonderful bathroom with a bath !!. Yippee. Gillian took the first soak and then me. Pure pleasure.
Afterwards, we went out to see the town and buy some supplies for the next few days. It was still raining and we ended up in a “rugby” bar where we had a couple of beers and relaxed. The bar seemed popular with the locals and not only those who liked rugby. In the evening we had an excellent dinner at the hotel. I had a chicken salad starter and Gilly had seven oysters! Then we both had confit of duck. I had the cheese course served by “madam” who was training the young waitress in this, the most French of restaurant skills. We drank red wine.
Easter Sunday 2009
St Leonard De Noblat to the Eastern Suburbs of Limoges (19Km) It was still raining lightly in the morning and unfortunately this persisted for nearly the whole day. We had decided to attend the Easter service in the local church. So we had a relaxed breakfast in the hotel. We both enjoyed the church service very much. (less than 60 minutes including communion.) It was nice to celebrate Easter as part of our pilgrimage. Coming out, we left the crowd of locals who were socialising after the service and descended from the town to the river. From there, we started a long climb up on to the Plateau of Limousin populated by many cows . The scenery was beautiful even in our dampened situation and for a long time, looking back we could see St Leonard perched on its hill. But we had a dismal lunch trying to avoid the raindrops in a small copse of fir trees. Then we descended the other side of the plateau and crossed a main road before making our way into Feytiat on the eastern outskirts of Limoges. We decided to walk on a bit and deviate off route by 1Km to reach a Companile Inn. (We were familiar with this chain from previous trips to France) Good old Companile !! We had a nice room with a bath (for the second night running) and we made the most of a meal in the restaurant from the Hors D’Oevre buffet and the sweet buffet.
Easter Monday 2009
Through Limoge to Aixe Sur Vienne (18Km) It was dull and overcast for most of the day but at least it was dry. Our route consisted mostly of pavement walking as we traversed the city of Limoges. Being a bank holiday almost everything was closed and the roads were quiet. The first attractive sight was the River Vienne and we crossed it on an old bridge which bore a commemorative stone in honour of our pilgrimage. This read “Ici passait La Voie Limousine Des Pelerins De Saint Jacques De Compostelle” We lingered in the market square to have a coffee and then moved on into the western suburbs. Not very attractive walking. We had our lunch on a small oasis of green land near a traffic roundabout. Finally we were in the countryside but only for a few kilometres until we reached Aixe Sur Vienne. This was a dismal place without any hotel. But at least it had a train back to Limoges. We caught the 16.37 and half an our later we were booking into the Etap Hotel near the station. That evening we had a nice steak dinner at a “Grillade” (with a bottle of Muscadet wine) and then went to see a film ”Villa Amalia” with Elizabeth Huppert. It was very French about a stressed middle aged women getting a divorce and finding herself again on an Italian Island. I understood all that was necessary. I went back to the hotel in a very relaxed frame of mind and dreamed about the plot for my first novel.
Tuesday 14 April 2009
Aixe to Les Cars (19Km) With no trains or buses until 12.30 pm, the only practical way to continue our walk was to get a taxi back to Aixe Sur Vienne. This cost 23 Euros. As we left Aixe, the sun appeared and we had a delightful morning’s walk along the river Aixette past a whole series of water mills and other properties. The scenery continued to be beautiful unlike the previous day. Later we passed an impressive chateau where Gillian said she would love to live. We climbed a hill to the village of St Martin Le Vieux and had our lunch on the steps of the church. Later, we came to the village of Flavignac with “all services” and had a drink in a friendly bar. It was only 3Km to Les Cars and we lingered in a field beside a stream. I dipped my feet in the cold water and Gilly discovered some possibly rare flowers. At les Cars we had a very simple room (and a bad mattress) in The Relais Des Cars. With a toilet down the very end of the corridor. I expressed my intention of “peeing in the sink” during the night but I never did. We took a walk around the village and looked at the old tower. (Not much else to see.) As we sat on the terrace about 6.30 pm drinking a beer, lo and behold, some more pilgrims arrived. (The first we had seen on the road this year) They turned out to be a group of four young Germans (3 girls and 1 guy) from the Munster Area. Gillian helped to translate the French dinner menu which broke the ice. Dinner was simple but tasty including pate, schnitzel with spaghetti and cheese, plus ice cream for me
Friday 15 April 2009
Les Cars to La Coquille (28Km) We set off optimistically in bright sunshine and the kilometres just rolled by along with some beautiful scenery. We were both really in our stride. What a lovely day to be walking.! The air was invigorating. We reached the town of Chalus (with Richard the Lionheart connections) and met the four young Germans on the steps of the church. They went on with the walk while we had a drink outside a bar owned by an Englishman and then set out again. A kilometre outside the town we met two of the Germans walking back towards Chalus. She had left her camera on a seat somewhere and they were going back to look for it. We felt so sorry for them and as we went on we thought we would find the others waiting for them. But no. (Subsequently we discovered they had hidden their rucksacks and the others had continued on.) Twenty minutes later there were a few drops of rain. I put on my jacket but not my trousers. ( I thought it was going to stop.) (Gilly put on both). Then it really started to rain heavily and I rapidly (Gillian says very inefficiently) put on my wet trousers. It eased off as we made our way around a lake and down a difficult stony track. Then it really started to pour. We made our way up a hill and passed a farm. I looked back over my shoulder. There was a barn entrance. It was full of the smells of animals and hay but we stayed in the dry for about 45 minutes while the rain thudded down on the metal roof. A drainpipe noisily issued a substantial stream of water which steadily increased the size of the puddle at the entrance. We had our lunch sitting on some straw. No sign of it stopping. So, we dressed carefully and stepped out into the continuing downpour. With good rainwear we didn`t get too wet but it wasn`t pleasant. I remember a brown (wet) squirrel scampered across our path. 40 minutes later we reached a bar on the busy main N10 road and found the other two Germans. They were in touch with their friends who were about 1 hour behind. After a warm drink we followed the them away from the N10 along the Route St Jacques towards Coquille. This bit of the path had turned into a quagmire of muddy waterlogged furrows created by logging activity. For the first time, as I sloshed along, I was really happy that I was wearing my heavy Brasher boots. We got through the worst and then suddenly and thankfully the rain stopped. The track now contoured beside a railway track. The sun came out and we progressively took off our wet gear. By the time we reached the outskirts of La Coquille the weather was sunny again. We said goodbye to the two German girls at a convent where they were hoping to get beds for the night. Half an hour later we were in our Logis De France hotel where there was an over friendly Bernese Mountain Dog called Chanel. That evening we had a good meal with a bottle of muscadet. In the night it rained heavily again. Perhaps April was always wet in France.
Thursday 16 April 2009
La Coquille to Thiviers (19Km) Our last day of the pilgrimage for this year. We didn`t have the map for this section. Just a set of directions jotted down by Gilly at Les Billanges. But we had no problem. The yellow and blue Compostella signs appear faithfully at every junction and at some points in between. The walk started with misty woods after the overnight rain but the day soon warmed up and we had pleasant walking conditions, through as ever, lovely scenery. We were hoping to get the 14.50 train from Thiviers back to Lmoges, so we walked quite quickly along the road sections. At one point on a section known as the “Route Napoleon” we encountered the most dreadful mud. One false move and we would have sunk up to our knees. Later we had our lunch by the roadside and Gillian treated a blister on her left foot. Amazingly we arrived in Thiviers by 12.30 pm. and bought tickets for the 13.49 train. Walking up to the town center for a drink we found the four Germans having a hearty lunch in a café and we said farewell for the last time. We were soon back in Limoges and booked into the Etap hotel again. We visited the cathedral and went to the cinema again – this time to see a not very good Colin Firth film called A Summer In Italy. Afterwards we had a good meal in a restaurant near our hotel called the “Baleine Bleu”. Our flight home to London was booked for lunchtime the next day.