Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella
Vezelay to Gargilesse :
8 April to 18 April 2008
Tues 8 April 2008
Our Eurostar arrived in Paris 20 minutes late but we still had plenty of time to get across to the Gare Du Lyon and catch our TGV train to Burgundy. At Laroche Migennes, we changed to a much smaller train and, about 3.30 pm, reached Semizelles which was the nearest station to Vezelay. We were on the lookout for other passengers who looked like pilgrims. There were two on the train : Phil (French) and Albert (German). We walked the 10 Km to Vezelay in hazy sunshine and passed through an ancient city gate.
We had our pilgrim passports stamped, for the very first time, in a very cold Basilica at the top of the hill and attended vespers with white cowled priests presiding. I took a photo but it came out strangely ghost-like with a hazy aurora around each figure on the altar. We left the basilica and descended the narrow main street between closed shops and dimly lit restaurants to reach our accommodation at Hotel De La Poste.
Wed 9 April 2008
Vezelay to Cunzy Les Varzy (29km) From the window of our hotel we saw grey skies and rain bouncing off the pavements in a steady downpour : the worst possible beginning to our long walk, Resignedly, we donned our wet gear, stepped out into the rain and turned right downhill at the hotel gates. After a bit of road walking a Compostella sign directed us into extensive woodland. The tracks were full of potholes and these were full of water. We squelched along trying to avoid the deepest by deviating into the trees. Gilly had a pink cycling cape over everything but it was letting in water and making her wetter than ever. So, around 12 noon at our first village, La Maison Dieu, she abandoned it in the indoor school play area to which we had been given access by a kind local man. Henceforth she depended on her new Rohan jacket. Unfortunately her boots were also letting in the water.
We sat and ate our food as the rain continued. We continued, now on roads, and crossed the River Yonne at a place called Aslon which would have been very pretty without the bad weather. We started to see an orange blob in the distance. This turned out to be Albert with his umbrella. We caught up with him at a small bus shelter at Saligny where we all huddled together out of the elements. (As we walked through France bus shelters became friends in times of bad weather) We moved off first. Finally the rain eased off and after another couple of hours we arrived at our destination – the village of Cunzy Les Varzy where there was a private pilgrim refuge.
Although the lady owner was quite sweet and gave us a drink, the refuge itself was dreadful. An old building with lots of cheap furniture and a cold bedroom for us. Just one bathroom to share. Only the kitchen was warm with a wood burning stove near to which we spread out our wet gear. Albert arrived and then five other French men. Gillian cooked one of our rice dinners and we were in our uncomfortable double bed by 9 p.m. To keep warm, I slept in most of my clothes. It was a restless night for both of us. This awful introduction to pilgrim accommodation put us off hostels for the rest of the pilgrimage and henceforth we tried to find small hotels or bed & breakfasts.
Thursday 10 April 2008
Gillian ill : Day Off in Clamecy Gillian woke up feeling really poorly. So bad in fact that she said she “wanted to go home”. I made her a hot drink and we stayed in our room until the others had gone. We left about 9.30 am with the aim of walking only as far as Varzy where there was a hotel. It was grey and overcast but not raining. Our progress towards Varzy was painfully slow. Gillian kept being sick and I was really worried about her. Finally as she was almost on her knees at the roadside being ill again, I waved to a small blue car that came whizzing round the corner. The driver, immediately stopped and, seeing her distress, kindly offered us a lift to Clamecy about 12 km away. As soon as she sat in the warm car, Gillian revived a bit and was able to talk in French to the driver whom she asked to drop us in the centre of town. Via the tourist information office (with a rogue automatic door) , we found an hotel (La Poste again) and within about 45 minutes of arriving in Clamecy Gillian was tucked up in a warm bed. I went out to see the town and had a coffee and cognac. i also got a train timetable from the railway station.
After a few hours in bed, Gillian felt a bit better and, by the time the town was waking up for the evening, we were able to go for a walk. But the weather was wet and miserable again and we talked about aborting the pilgrimage and even going to a resort on the coast near Boulogne for a few days. We had a cup of tea at a local patisserie which Gillian declared to be the best she had ever had in France. However, at dinner in the hotel she still didn`t feel well enough to eat very much and they had no soup! We took the Logis De France hotel directory up to our room to find a hotel by the seaside. It was nice to have a comfortable bed after the refuge and I drifted off to sleep thinking we would be getting the 10.20 am. train to Paris.
Friday 11 April 2008
Gillian better – back on course – Varzy to Raveau (39km) We woke up at 7.15 and everything had changed. It was another grey day, but Gillian felt better and declared that we were going to get the 8.06 am bus to Varzy to resume our walk. We rushed around getting dressed and packing our sacks and were out of the hotel in good time. We had a cup of coffee in a bar in Varzy (where we chatted a local man called Alphonse who loved his cats) and bought a few things for picnic before setting out over the damp countryside. About thirty minutes out, at a muddy gate, we stopped to take off our raincoats and trousers as we were both too warm. We continued along many straight forest tracks and some equally straight roads and, as the day wore on, the weather got steadily brighter. Unfortunately at a short rest stop the zip broke on my black rain jacket which meant I had to survive for the rest of the holiday without doing it up properly. Also, around lunchtime Gillian lost the blue mouthpiece from the end of her platypus hydration pack. We had a damp lunch perched on the rim of a well in a deserted orchard. About 2 p.m. the sun came out. By about 3.30 pm we reached Arbourse where there was a pilgrim refuge. This was 23Km and probably far enough but Gillian had already spotted some Chambre D’hotes at a place called Raveau and had suggested we go on for “another 12 Km”. It was a pleasant afternoon so we rang up and got a booking and ploughed on along the route. The scenery was very pretty for a while. We walked through some vineyards and then another wood and we even found a very posh auberge at a place called Murlim where we each had a coca cola. Then we got into woods again and passed a lake.
Suddenly Gillian went ouch! She had a painful blister which needed to be dressed. This involved finding somewhere dry to sit. Not easy in the very damp woodlands. After this, we soon found our forest road which would lead us to our lodging. This went as straight as a die to a multiple crossroads in the middle of the forest with a proliferation of way signs. We located our road, but by now I was getting very tired. The last few Km were a matter of pounding away and counting numbers in my head. I even hallucinated that an approaching car contained our hosts out looking for us because we were late. Finally we arrived at Forge La Vache. I limped over the doorway and took off my boots very gingerly. We had done 39Km (almost 25miles!!!.) in 8.5 hours of actual walking. The accommodation was extremely nice and we had a bath which we shared. Gillian still didn't feel well enough to eat but I had a lovely dinner and we each had a glass or two of wine before bed. I found sleep difficult because of painful muscles in my legs and feet but Gillian had the painkillers
Saturday12 April 2008
Raveau to Sevry(25km) We left Forge La Vache at about 9 a.m. At least the weather was dry and bright if not actually sunny. We soon reached the village of Raveau and then walked on along paths and roads to the town of La Charite Sur Loire. There was a market taking place and I had a coffee while Gillian did some exploring. We visited the church before leaving the town across the long bridge which crossed the very wide River Loire. In doing so we were leaving the province of Nievre (Burgundy) and entering the province of Cher. This was an area of flat landscape, large fields and wide horizons very unlike the rolling woodlands we had just left. At first we were obliged to do some road walking along a busy highway. Half way along we sat down and made some phone calls to obtain accommodation but no luck. Later we went on back roads between large fields of rape and other crops and finally reached Sancergues. Sitting on a bench we made more phone calls.
Finally Gillian located a lady who took in pilgrims who was full up but had found someone locally to take us in. Fortified by knowing that we would have somewhere to sleep we set out in windy sunshine across more large fields and reached the village of Charentonnay. From there we took the D72 road for 3Km and reached Madame ……….. where we were surprised to find the five French men we had last seen at Cunzy Les Varzy. There were cheerful greetings all round. After about 20 minutes the local mayor, Messieur Dousset, our host, turned up to drive us to his home. This was a beautiful converted farmhouse. It the first time he and his wife had invited pilgrims to spend the night and they looked after us really well, They didn’t speak English but they were very friendly. Messieur Dousset had to go out on business but we had a lovely dinner with Madame Doussett (Soup, rabbit & rice, cheese and then crumble.)
Sunday 13 April 2008
Sevry to St Germaine Du Puy (Wet Walk) (35km) We heard rain during the night and the morning dawned wet and showery. Our hosts declined to take any payment. After breakfast Messieur Doussett put us on the right road and we started a long day of road walking. As we got near the small town of Baugy the rain started in earnest and we were pretty much wet from then onwards. In Baugy we sheltered under an arch and Gillian made some calls to find accommodation. Surprisingly for a Sunday morning, there were several shops open. We got a cake each and then we went into the florists to order some flowers for M&M Dousset. Starting off again we endured some very unpleasant walking in driving rain. These were roads that went on forever. Even in the murky conditions you could see for two or three kilometres in a straight line. Any oncoming car appeared as an ant in the far distance and crawled towards us throwing up a curtain of spray until it finally reached us and zoomed past with a swish of tyres and passengers looking at us incredulously from the warm interior. The rain dripped off the peak of my cap and my waterproof trousers started to adhere coldly to my legs. The rain came in waves from the left and slightly in front so that we were always wet. As we approached the village of Villabon we were lucky enough to find a small bar where we could get a hot drink.
Coming out of Villabon there was an even longer stretch of road straight for about 4Km. We plodded endlessly along it. Cars whizzed by in both directions. Walking was strictly mechanical. No thought required. Ignore any pains. After about 2.5km we took a right turn and entered the village of Brecy. Incredibly there was a lot of life in Brecy. The car parks were in overspill mode and the village hall was full of locals attending a party. There was a restaurant which was very busy but not too busy to make a bowl of excellent soup for us. We sat in the warm and drank our fill. As we left the waitress ran after us waving our map which we had left behind. Then, off on another long road but at least the rain had eased up for the moment. In the next village, Saint Solange we rested our feet in the bus shelter (the only place in any town where there was a seat out of the rain) and were surprised by the sound of singing coming towards us. It was a church procession. Boys with umbrellas, men with pushchairs, women in hats, priests in cassocks. We watched them until they disappeared into the church. From Solange on our last stretch of road, it really began to rain consistently. We trudged on as cars raced by. This was probably the most unpleasant stretch of the whole holiday. We were very wet but we simply put our heads down and persisted until the houses of St Germaine Du Puy hove into sight. Even after we reached the edge of town it was a couple of kilometres to our lodging but when we reached it, it was very nice. We had our own lounge and kitchen. After 34.4km I was very tired again. I was thinking I didn`t want to be a pilgrim any more. I begged a bottle of wine from the owners and Gillian and we had an improvised supper of ham and bread.
Monday 14 April 2008
St Germaine Du Puy to Issoudun It was overcast in the morning. We left our gite and walked into Bourges via suburban back roads. (which gave many French dogs an opportunity to bark at us.) This walk included the very attractive Marais region of the city. This consisted of rivers, canals and dykes dividing the landscape up into many islands used as allotments which were impeccably well kept. Men were using punts to get around and some of the islands had resident cats. Bourges cathedral was extremely impressive in its size and while we were there, there was an impromptu music recital from a party of visitors. We started to walk out of town along the Compostella route. At a crossroads we stopped at a café and had lunch. I had a very large hot dog. We started making phone calls but everything at La Charoste, or Villeneuve was full or not answering. We hung around not sure what to do. We had done 10k already and did not fancy another 25Km during the afternoon. Was there a bus ? Finally we decided to go back into Bourges to the railway station where we checked timetables and finally decided on tickets for a bus to Issoudun at 16.50. This meant foregoing part of the walk but we were both pretty tired from the day before and felt it was justified. We spent the afternoon seeing much more of the attractions of Bourges including a fine riverside park, the shopping streets, the cathedral again and finally a Museum of the Resistance which was very interesting. The bus took about an hour to Issoudun and we then had some difficulty finding a hotel. Two were closed and a posh one said it was full when we suspected it was not. So we were obliged to use the Station Hotel where the rooms were a bit grotty. We went out looking for a meal but being Monday everything was closed. I became quite resentful about the habit of Sunday/Monday closures in little French towns. We ended up back at the restaurant of the Station Hotel and, as a pleasant surprise, had an excellent meal including a bottle of red Madiron wine from the Pyrenees.
Tuesday 15 April 2008
Issoudun to Deols (35km) In the morning we had coffee at a nearby bar and bought food from a bread shop. We were on our way by 8.30. The morning was sunny and it was really nice striding along the quiet D Road and then a field path. We had a break at the village of Thizay and another outside the church of Saint Fauste. We went on across some fields and down a track to a main road and a rest at a picnic table where a couple of old ladies engaged Gillian in a conversation about “pilgrims they had met”. After the village of Fourches we walked along a track through some yellow rape fields but all the time we could hear the drone of traffic and presently we found ourselves walking for 3Km along the verge of an very busy main road which continued through the army camp of the “517 Regiment Du Train”. This was a long day's walking and at the end of the camp Gillian was very tired and proposed a more direct route into Deols. I didn`t like the spot she selected for a rest (near the whizzing traffic) and, being tired as well, disputed her suggestion. Not my best moment.
We took the new route and negotiated a gipsy camp and a busy motorway junction before entering Deols. It was another kilometre to the centre. We located the tourist information office and got a key to the pilgrim refuge where we found a Dutch couple, Jan & Anja, already arrived. This refuge was almost as bad as Cuncy. It was cold and uncomfortable with old furniture and very few blankets. We went out to a supermarket and then had a few beers in a local bar, before cooking an evening meal of omelette and salad at the refuge. I didn`t sleep well. and used a “piss pot” to avoid going to the toilet through the Dutch sleeping quarters.
Wednesday 16th April 2008
Deols to Moulin Du Four (28Km) We walked into the large town of Chateauroux in pleasant sunshine. All of our accommodation enquiries had so far proved fruitless but, sitting outside the bus station, Gillian finally located aChambre D’Hote a bit further away than we had hoped (in fact only 11 Km from Argenton). To cut down the distance we took a local bus for 3Km to the outskirts of Chateauroux and then started to walk. The sunshine persisted and we found ourselves passing through woods which were suddenly sprouting green leaves. We had walked from winter into Spring. We were now in the Province of Indres and the large horizons of Cher had been replaced by rolling countryside and a patchwork of smaller fields many occupied mostly by peaceful white Charolais cattle. During our next woodland stretch we met Nick an English pilgrim fully dressed in red rain jacket despite the warmth of the day and carrying an 18kilo rucksack. We chatted and walked with him for a while and Gillian told him what accommodation was not available available en route and suggested he try the same place as us. He stopped for a break while we continued by following a Compostella sign down, as it transpired, the wrong forest road. When we discover our mistake we worked out that by continuing we could meet the route again. So rather than retrace our steps we carried on through the village of Arthon and down a long country track . By mid afternoon we were back on route.
For the first time it was warm enough to have a couple of breaks simply sitting on the roadside grass. We arrived at our chambre d’hote at about 6.00 p.m. to find that the Dutch couple from Deols (Jan and Anja) were already there. It was an interesting house set right on the river bank and we had a nice bedroom and kitchen on the top floor. The lady said that another Englishman was expected and Nick finally turned up at about 8.30 pm as we were having dinner. He had started to follow us in the forest, turned back and then got thoroughly lost by taking another wrong track. He told us that two days before, he had fallen over photographing a swallow, broken his camera and damaged a finger. He was a GP from Newbury. Dinner was a jolly affair with much humour by the Dutch occasioned by Nick`s getting lost. The food was good and we consumed 3 bottles of red Madiron wine between us.
Thursday 17 April 2008
To Argenton-sur-Creuse Dry but overcast. The Dutch couple left early and we said goodbye to Phil who was taking his time to write up his diary. We had an easy stroll of 12Km into Argenton, during which we encountered a sweet little puppy. He insisted on following us. So we had to turn back and return him to the house from which he seemed to have come. We had lunch in a café in the town square and suddenly, looking out the window we saw that it had begun to rain quite hard. As we sat there we saw Phil come past in his rain gear. We got a room in the Manoir de Boisvillers an 18thC house near the river and relaxed with a bath. Later we went out for a look around the shops and had dinner at what appeared to be the best restaurant in town called La Source. Argenton was an attractive town with a lot of houses built close to the fast flowing River Creuse.
Friday 18 April 2008
To Gargilesse We did a 13 Km walk along the valley of the River Creuse to the pretty village of Gargilesse, our end point for 2008 and our starting point for next year. We had lunch and caught a taxi back to Argenton. From the taxi we saw Albert for the last time plodding his way towards Santiago. In the afternoon we went to see the Shirt Museum which celebrated Argenton`s history as the centre of the European shirt-making industry. Whoever thought shirts could be so interesting. Then we bought an English newspaper and sat in a warm town centre café drinking and reading. Later we simply moved to another table and had dinner. Very French, I thought. We were due to return home the next day to London by TGV and Eurostar.