Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella

Thiviers to Mont Du Marsan

26 May to 6 June 2010


Wednesday 26 May 2010
After two wet years walking in April we put our 2010 section of the pilgrimage back to the end of May. As a result we got better weather.  We flew to Limoges and got a taxi to the railway station  The line to Perigeux was out of action due to engineering works. So,we got tickets for the 16.50 replacement coach to Thiviers. The journey took about 90 minutes.  Our France & Russia hotel was open but deserted. So Gillian went off and bought  a recharging unit for her iPod.  In the evening we had a meal at the only place which was open, a cafe opposite the station. No choice,  but good basic food. The proprietor was friendly and his wife fed her baby and watched TV while we were eating.


Thursday 27 May 2010
Thiviers to Sorges(17km)  A dry day but mostly overcast. An uneventful walk of 17Km through nice countryside.  We were now in the Dordogne area of France and our destination village was an important centre for truffle growing. We got to our hotel Auberge De La Truffe at 13.30. Our room was ready and was very nice with a separate sitting area but it faced the busy road and we heard plenty of heavy lorries pounding past during the night. To pass the time we visited the local truffle museum and played table tennis beside the hotel swimming pool. In the evening I had a special truffle meal in the hotel. Six courses, each one including truffles.



Friday 28 May 2010
Sorges to Perigeux (24Km)  A nice walk through lots of woods. The weather had resolved itself into being cloudy with a few spots of rain around lunchtime and this was destined to continue for 2 or 3 days. However, good walking conditions. We had our elevenses at a club-hut site in the woods and our lunch at a clearing in the woods just off the path. Back mostly on roads, we entered Perigeux which had a very nice old town centre with a large cathedral.  We booked in at the modern Etap Hotel.  Gilly wanted to do a walking tour of the town but I was tired and my stomach was grumbling.  So I had a nap in the sunshine by the river, while she explored.  Later we had a meal in a sunny square. I had a pizza and Gilly had a large salad with lots of pieces of duck.  As we sat there a guy on crutches came by.  He looked a bit down and out and had an injured foot.   Having some difficulty with his mobility he dropped a carrier bag. There was a tinkle of broken glass and red wine went everywhere. Gilly went over and helped him. She cleared away the broken glass and checked he was OK.  We finished our meal and had a  stroll by the River Isle as the sun set in a clearing sky.


Saturday 29 May 2010
Perigeux to Les Astiers (26km) We had breakfast at the Etap before walking out of Perigeux past the railway station.  The weather seemed a bit brighter.  There were lots of ups and downs as we made our way out of the suburbs which extended deep into the surrounding woods. Lunch was at an off-route chapel, much recommended in our guide,  but firmly closed.  However, it gave us a viewpoint for our break.  Going on through the woods we finally popped out at a village where there was a bar. We were able to relax and have a coffee.  The bar owner, a young man, came out and spoke to us in good English.  He had gone to college in Brighton. I got him to take a photo of us together – the only one of the holiday. Next we had a stretch a river and canal walking which was very attractive.    At the end, we had 4Km of main road walking to reach Les Astiers.  Coming into the town there were some very strange military bunkers built into a sheer limestone cliff.  As we arrived there were a few spots of rain. Our accommodation was a nice Chambre D’Hote right beside the river. We tried unsuccessfully to photograph a local heron who was parading up and down the top of the weir. Despite some rain, we went out to look around the town. Not much to see,  as in many small French towns. Gilly popped in to a church service, while I sat in a bar and did a sudoku.  Later we had dinner in a cosy family restaurant. 

Sunday 30 May 2010
Les Astiers to Mussidan (24km) We woke to grey skies and a fine drizzle. Despite this,  we were still given breakfast on a covered terrace right by the river which would have been delightful on a nicer day.  This was our wedding anniversary and we both managed to have cards concealed in our rucksacks.  As we started to walk, it became one of those occasions when we didn`t know whether to wear our rain gear or not. It was wet but it was very warm. If we put on our coats we tended to sweat. On, off : very annoying.  About  11 a.m. it rained more heavily and we trudged along with all of our waterproofing firmly in pace.  Having lunch is always difficult on a wet day. So on a stretch of main road we were pleased to find a wooden bus shelter. A hour or so later in a village flooded with cyclists, we found a bar where we could have a coffee. It was doing a good trade in “Mother`s Day” lunches. As I sat there I realised my feet were wet but I wasn`t going to investigate any further. We walked on over a high wooded plateau. On the path ahead we saw two deer.  Descending, we crossed  a railway line and came to an impressive Abbey where there was an exhibition of patchwork and sewing. Gillian said it was very good and purchased a scissor holder (I was my usual doubting self but it is still in use in our kitchen today).  We were within 4Km of Mussidan but the weather had not quite finished with us. We got thoroughly wet again as we walked along a quiet back road towards the town.  When we reached Mussidan, it was a sad place full of dog mess.  Being Sunday,  it was also thoroughly closed up.  There was one hotel (which might be open at 5.30) but our only thought was to get out of Mussidan.  When we got to the railway station Gilly suggested we get a train back to Perigeux - 23 minutes away (we had spent 2 days walking the same distance !)  So that is what we did. We booked in at the Comfort hotel opposite Perigeux station and had a meal (and a glass of Champagne) at the Cafe De La Place. My feet were still wet but changing into dry socks solved the problem.

Monday 31 May 2010

Mussidan to St Foy La Grande (34k) In the morning we had a quick breakfast in the bar at the railway station and caught the 7.34 train back to Mussidan. This was going to be one of longest walking days , more than 20 miles.  So we got on the road early.  It had rained overnight and we expected it to rain again. So we set out in our wet gear but although it started grey and damp, the day got gradually brighter and by the end it was quite warm. After a few Km of main road walking, we were on back on side roads passing through lots of woods and fields.  We had lunch perched on an old tree trunk in a field in pleasant sunshine. We passed through a few villages, one of which was protesting about “no gunpowder in our town.  Then we came to an attractive piece of country with vine fields and a large steep  hill  (really a ridge) which we were obliged to climb. From the top there were lovely views to the north back over the countryside through which we had walked. We had a break on top, then walked on across pleasant fields until we started to descend towards the River Dordogne and St Foy La Grande. I had a coca cola at the first bar.  Crossing a bridge, we passed from Dordogne into a new Department of Gironde. St Foy was an interesting town with lots of old buildings  laid out on a medieval grid pattern.  Our guide book spoke of three or four hostelries but, in the end, we got a room at the single remaining hotel, a rather run-down Logis De France.  During our  walk through France, it seemed that many of the places along our route were losing their accommodation and restaurants  Looking around the town we finally found a bar where Gillian could get a “biere blonde” and directly opposite there was a Vietnamese cafe where we had our evening meal.

Tuesday 1 June 2010
St Foy La Grande to St Ferme  (30km) Walking out of St Foy along the main road, we had a brief shower of rain but, thereafter, the weather was OK. But we discovered that In the Gironde the Compostella signs were much less reliable than in other departments.  Leaving the road we climbed past some vineyards and took off our raincoats.   At one point we thought we had missed a turning and backtracked.  We met an old couple outside their house and were surprised when the lady said they had done the pilgrimage twice.  She invited us to “sign her book”, stamped our pilgrim passports, and gave us instructions for the route.  A short time later we passed through a village with a baker`s and stopped on a bench near the church for elevenses. Some more road walking followed but then we

were on gentle back roads through more vine fields.  We had our lunch in sunshine at the edge of a field but my snooze was disturbed by some tractors cleaning out ditches. We walked on to the village of Pellegrue where there was a bar.  Sitting outside the only  bar were some unpleasant “gipsy” type people (mostly women) making an awful amount of noise.  We had a coffee and moved on quickly to buy some supplies at a large supermarket on the edge of town. We were going to stay in a pilgrim refuge and that meant carrying food for dinner and breakfast.   Our supplies included a half bottle of red wine. We left Pellegrue in warm sunshine and the path was almost straight until we got to a junction where the  signs said turn right.  We were really unsure,  but turn right we did and in due course we came to the village of St Ferme. We found the refuge which was very clean and modern.  It was staffed and as it turned out we could have bought an evening meal there.  We met George another pilgrim who we had first glimpsed on Day 1 at Sorges.  Gilly made a good meal with some dried pasta she had brought from home.  After popping out to see the large Abbey (from outside)we got to bed early in the bunk beds and slept reasonably well.

Wednesday 2 June 2019
St Ferme to La Réole. (20Km) Gillian`s birthday.  I had brought a card and a present but she said she would open them later.  This was a short day`s walking.  So we felt fairly relaxed as we set off in warm sunshine. The scenery was rolling and beautiful. Many vineyards as in previous days but also some livestock farms.  We had lunch in the shade of a large garden wall by the roadside. We walked into La Réole at about 2 pm and it seemed at last that we had reached the south of France. The town, on the banks of the Garonne, with its red roofs and large church somehow seemed to belong to a different world.  Nevertheless it still had very few facilities.  We had seen George once en route and now we saw him again in a local cafe.  After visiting the church and the Tourist Information Office, we got accommodation at a Chambre D`Hote which turned out to be wonderful. We had a lovely room and a huge terrace to ourselves. In the late afternoon we toured the town which had several interesting buildings and was busy with an Italian exchange visit.

We discussed whether to go out to the lone pizza restaurant but instead we stayed on the terrace  drank bubbly wine and ate crisps and a cake bought in the local baker`s. Gilly opened her present (a silver necklace) and we played cards.

Thursday 3 June 2010
La Réole to Bazas  (26km) The next day was really hot and it was due to stay that way for the next 3 days with temperatures soaring to 33 degrees.  Breakfast at The Chambre D`Hote was a little disappointing.  Everything else about it was so nice that we expected a table groaning under yoghurt and fruit.  But not a bit.  Just the usual coffee, bread and jam.  There were some other Italian guests and two resident dogs and a cat.  We started off our day’s walking by crossing the River Garonne, our third big river crossing this trip.  Then there was some flat walking along poplar lined roads. We had a break beside a church  at a small village where we were able to purchase cold drinks. As we sat eating our bread and cheese the church bell above our heads started tolling 12 times very loudly. After that we did a lot of road walking along the D12.  There was another village en route but everything was closed.  We had our lunch break in a grove of poplar trees just off the main road.  It was nice dozing in the dappled shade.  We reached Bazas at about 3.30 pm and found it to be a really nice place with several bars, a lovely town square and an imposing cathedral. (not run-down like many of other French towns we had visited.)  After a drink and an ice cream we visited the Tourist Information Office and got accommodation at Chateau De Vincent which was rather more imposing outside than in. But fine for our needs.  We had dinner that night at Cafe Indigo, sitting at an outside table in warm sunshine.  We each had steak and frittes plus a litre carafe of white Sauvignon Bergerac. Afterwards we rolled contentedly home to our Chateau.

Friday 4 June 2010
Bazas to La Billion  (27km) A beautiful bright sunny morning with the promise of another hot day to come. After a breakfast, which we shared with our hosts and three men who were cycling pilgrims from Germany, we went to see Bazas cathedral which was extremely beautiful inside.  I was quite taken by it and felt a bit emotional.  Setting off on our walk we soon found ourselves entering a green shady tunnel of trees which was a disused railway line.  Luckily this railway line was going to comprise about 80% of our route for the next  two days. I say lucky, because the trees which had grown up along its course provided us with cover from the blazing sun overhead.  During the morning we found ourselves crossing and re-crossing a main road (the N524).  We met a Dutch pilgrim who, because of an injury, was unable to carry a backpack.  He had rigged himself up a trolley which he pulled behind him. The rough surface of the disused railway was not good for this and he was about to go back on to the main road.  We walked on and for the first time crossed a new motorway, or rather the shell of a motorway. It was finished except for the road surface and completely deserted. No workers and no machinery, as if it had been abandoned.

The snake. Shortly after the motorway we had our picnic lunch perched on a viaduct above a river.  It was a very pleasant resting in the sunshine with our backs against the railings. As we started to pack up, I walked a few paces to look down at the water and must have disturbed a snake which had been asleep in some scrubby undergrowth on the bridge.  I really only glimpsed it out of the corner of my eye but Gilly saw it launch itself from its cover and shoot across the bridge straight towards her. It was green with dark markings and about three feet long. Gillian had no time to move.  It passed within six inches of her at high speed and threw itself straight through the railings to fall into the branches of the trees below.   It all happened so fast. We peered after it but saw nothing. When we got back to London we got out our book of "Animals of the World" and it seems to have been a form of viper. Not surprisingly, Gilly was a bit upset by the experience. The snake was probably pretty scared as well.

We walked on and, at some stage passed into the department of Les Landes. For the last time,  we met George, the pilgrim who we had met at St Ferme, at a road crossing the track.  Leaving the railway line at mid afternoon, we reached the village of Captieux (a town on the main road, full of heavy traffic).  This could have been our finishing point but to reduce the next day we had decide to walk on to a Gite which was at a place called Le Billion.  Gilly had made contact by phone and booked our accommodation.  So, we purchased enough food for our evening meal and next day`s lunch (including a bottle of red wine) and rejoined the disused railway line.   By now it was extremely hot and there was less shade.  The next 8 kilometres seemed very tough indeed.  Finally, turning left off the railway, we approached “La Billion” by crossing, again, the deserted, partly constructed, motorway, this time walking across the carriageway itself.  It was a small farm and we were accommodated not in the Gite but in an upstairs room which was a bit basic to say the least.  The old lady who was our host told us that the motorway would completely cut off her direct track to the road and, we thought, all access by pilgrims. We had our dinner of chicken, crisps and salad in the conservat-ory and watched the farm cats as they hunted in the grass outside. We explored the farm and adjoining forest briefly before retiring to bed.

Saturday 5 June 2010
La Billion to Roquefort  (27km) The day dawned grey and mist hung in the trees which surrounded the farm.  We had breakfast at 7 a.m. and  said goodbye to Madame Tesseres,  We were on the path by 7.45. It was pleasantly fresh walking through the forest.  After 20 minutes we crossed the bed of the motorway again, eerily deserted in the half light.  We rejoined our disused railway line and passed an old  deserted station of Le Poteau.  Yet again, we crossed the motorway.  There was no bridge and we wondered how future pilgrims would make progress once the motorway, probably a new section of the A63 Bordeaux to Spain, was fully operational. Exiting the railway we entered  a flat countryside of huge fields with large metal moveable watering machines. Fortunately the sun had still not appeared because there was absolutely no shade from trees.  At one point we passed a watering machine which was spraying over the road and we had to run between pulses to avoid getting wet. A bit later we came to a village with a  bar where we had a drink but no bakery. The sun came out and it began to get hot.  After a bit of progress across heathland we rejoined our disused railway and regained the deep shade of the forest.   After a few kilometres, the track passed over a river and we noticed a picnic area below us in the trees. We descended and found  tables, seats and a access to the river.  We stayed there for a couple of hours eating and sleeping in the warmth of the midday.  I even went paddling. Finally at

about 2pm we felt we should continue. Now it was really hot. Probably 33 to 35 degrees.  As we went on,  the trees  ran out and, because of the still present motorway, we found our path deviating more and more.  We had to stop twice under some lightweight shade,  to cool down. In the heat, the path seemed endless.  Just as we were thinking we were completely lost, we came upon some men stacking canoes by a river and they told us we were not far from Roquefort.  Soon, we popped out on the edge of the town and ten minutes later we were enjoying a cold beer in a bar.  We found our hotel  and spent some time exploring the town. We ended up back at the same bar for another beer. Then we listened to the town band practising before returning to our hotel for a meal on the terrace.  It was still really hot at 8pm.  Gilly got the forecast for the next day and said the weather was due to break.  Sure enough as we lay in bed, there was a rumble of thunder and a patter of rain on our window.


Sunday 6 June 2010

Roquefort to Mont De Marsan  (27km)  Our last day of walking started grey but dry.  We made our way out of Roquefort and after a couple of kilometers on the D392, we branched off through forests and back roads. About 10.30 there was a rumble of thunder off to our right.  Then some more and a large raindrop plopped on to my head.  “Quick, get into our rain-gear”, I said.  We did, as quickly as possible.  Within two minutes we were in the middle of a hailstorm which then became heavy rain.  We sheltered momentarily under some fir trees and then a church doorway but, in the end,  simply walked on as the storm diminished.  The rain stopped and, at the village of Guillever, we camped out in the large portico of the church and had our elevenses.  There was a cosy looking bar opposite and we were tempted to have a coffee but we decided to walk on  because we wanted to get a train from Mont de Marsan to Bordeaux at 16.14.  A little while later we rejoined the D392  just as the heavens opened again and there was another heavy thunderstorm.  This was the worst kind of road walking. We pressed on up the left hand side of the highway as batches of cars came thundering towards. Sometimes they made sure they passed us by a wide margin. Other times, they swept by with inches to spare spraying us  with surface water. It was thoroughly miserable but we kept on for a good 8 kilometres to the outskirts of Mont De Marsan where the weather cleared and we were able to take off our raincoats. It was still 4Km to the centre of town but with plenty of time to spare, Gillian suggested, a detour through the suburbs. I agreed reluctantly.  There is nothing more depressing that the suburbs of a French town on a Sunday just after some bad weather. It was like a ghost town. Nobody in sight. No sign of activity and almost no traffic.  We could have walked down the centre of the roads.  Finally we reached the town centre where we had a coffee in a brightly decorated “cocktail bar” which was warm and cosy.  Outside there was what appeared to be a festival of African music in the square but this was looking rather damp and sad due to the weather.  

With nothing to detain us, we made our way to the station where I finished my picnic food  before we boarded the 16.14 to Bordeaux. On the train we changed out of some of our wet things and watched the flat countryside of Les Landes, whizzing by. In Bordeaux our Etap hotel was right opposite the station. It was nice to have a good shower  and to know that our walking was finished for this year.  We went out to look around the town.  At our first Church, St Croix, there was a Sunday service taking place which we joined in.  In the Place St Michel we found a open air rock recital going on. We had dinner at Restaurant Fernand on the esplanade near the banks of the Garonne.  The weather had recovered and we were able to sit outside. Bordeaux was a beautiful city. Our TGV to Paris was booked for 14.00, the next day.