The weather forecast for today is partly cloudy in the morning, with thunderstorms with hail coming in the afternoon. So it looks as if getting out in good time might be important. In the event, I am out of this gite by 8:30 and, frankly, it is not one that I would recommend for its warm and welcoming spirit. At breakfast I discover that they have picnic lunches available for today. That is great because everything I have read about this next section says that there is not place to get food for over 20 kilometres. When I ask about buying the lunch I am told that, désolé, I have to have ordered it the evening before.
I do surreptitiously create a little picnic of my own with a chunk of bread and butter wrapped in a napkin and a couple of small hard pears. I say surreptitiously because the breakfast Nazi is standing there, checking that everyone has actually paid for breakfast. Another first in a gite. I smuggle it out of the breakfast area and I am out of here with the rain cover on my pack in case.
I walk through Cahors and across the huge 13th century bridge over the Lot River. I cannot at first see where the path goes and then I see, to my horror – why am I surprised? – that there are pilgrims practically overhead on the face of the cliff in front of me. I gird my loins, figuratively, and start up the climb. It is not as high as the one after Conques, but it is even steeper. In places the local authorities have installed steps which is a good idea. Except that the rise of each step is well over a foot.
In addition the path switches back and forth as it climbs, with only a narrow screen of brush to give the climber the illusion of safety. I am under no such illusion. If I were to trip off the edge here or slide on the wet rounded stones, the fall could easily be 50 or 100 feet on to a very hard surface. I am not afraid of heights but, as you may have gathered, this bit concerns me. This is the first place on the chemin where I use handholds to help me up the incline.
After the top, I leave the valley of the Lot and walk into an area of small farm holdings, lots of small woods and a path that is wide, well surfaced and often on small little-used country roads. The vistas here are short, not long, but the air is clean and smells of spring. So much rain has taken any pollution out of the air, if there was any here to begin with. I am still in a sparsely populated area and expect that that will continue.
Frans, the Dutch guy walking from his home, overtakes me, we talk for a couple of minutes, then off he goes on with his long legs and long stride. We are heading to the same town, so maybe we will meet later. Then Fanny, the young Swiss girl whom I last saw in Conques, catches up to me, followed by Johanna, another Swiss with whom I ate in Cassagnole. Everyone passes me, since I am bent on walking at my own pace. I am glad to be meeting people who recognise me. I start to get a feel for how powerful the need for connection is and why the threat of exile or shunning or, as the British so quaintly put it, sending some one to Coventry is. I did not like what was going on in my own mind last evening.
The weather is good until noon, when the promised thunderstorms start to appear on the horizon. Eventually it starts to rain and I arrive at the gite very wet but not thundered on.
And here are Jacques Parmentier, the guy from Vichy with whom I shared a bench in Livinhac le Haut a few days ago, along with a couple of guys with whom I have been sharing a gite for some of the past few days. When I first saw them, my gadar fired off and every time I see them, it continues to signal me. They are in the 50s – I am guessing – and are close all the time. I don’t mean cuddly close, no sign of that, but just a quiet attachment that looks like more than friendship, it looks like a long-term relationship. I could be entirely wrong and I don’t care what they do – or not – together, but it is interesting that the signals seem so clear to me. They seem like nice guys and we see each other more often on the chemin.
I have a bed in a room which I share with three others, one a quiet older guy who doesn’t participate much and a couple. Now here is a chemin love story. He is Henri-Pierre from Toulouse, 50-something, movie-star handsome with dense back curly hair, justing starting to grey at the temples. She is Brigitte from Holland, little, blond, attractive, also 50-something. I don’t know why he is on the chemin, but I have a pretty good idea about her. She is a psychiatric nurse and has been a volunteer at a hospice for years. Now she is considering changing her career path and becoming a palliative care nurse. I think making this career decision is why she’s here.
It starts back in Le Puy en Velay on 21 April, when they are both there and notice each other, although they do not speak. The next day, after they have both started, he passes her on a steep incline, making a comment about being careful here because it’s quite steep and you could fall, which he promptly does, right in front of her. He laughs as he explains that he fell for her – literally. Evidently they have been nearly inseparable since. He had to leave to go to Paris on business and did not intend to return, but he called her from there and told her that he needed to come back to her. She told him that she would be in or near Cahors. When he arrived back, he called her and told her that he was in Le Hospitalet, a tiny town near Cahors. So was she and they reunited. They have been together since.
Now they have another few days together on the chemin until he really does have to go back to work. Will it work? He is a computer consultant, speaks only French with tiny bits of English, she speaks Dutch, English, French and wants to work in palliative care. Holland and Toulouse are not that close together and where would they choose to live? I have no idea if I will ever learn what happens to them, although I would like to. She is a warm and sincere person. I am a little suspicious of his movie-star looks, but that is unfair. He seems to have really fallen for her as she clearly has for him. I really hope that it works for both of them. If I find out more, I will let you know.