From Saint-Chély-d'Aubrac to Cajarc
282.5km done! St-Chély-d'Aubrac - Espalion (22km) - Golinhac (27km) - Conques (21km) - Livinhac le-Haut (23.5km) - Figeac (25km) - Cajarc (30.5km)
This last week does feel like it's been a very long one, with the best and the worst days so far! After walking with my three new friends for a day and a bit, I realised that I am enjoying walking by myself at the moment. This came as a bit of a surprise to me, given how much I enjoyed the company of those three wonderful people I walked with for the whole 800km last summer! Having established this, I then had to part ways with them without hurting their feelings, which I managed to do by taking a very long and relaxed lunch break in the utterly charming Saint-Côme d'Olt.
This past week has also brought with it some fairly drastic terrain. Countless times, I have had to manoeuvre myself up paths so steep I felt like I needed a harness, and on just as many occasions I've found myself edging tentatively down equally rocky and treacherous paths. Thankfully, these paths are synonymous with spectacular, breathtaking, awe-inspiring (getting the picture?) views that are just so incredible they make you forget that blister on your baby toe that was, just moments before, so painful you were debating lopping it off.
My absolute favourite of these views came on day eight of walking. That morning, as I started walking out of the busy medieval town of Espalion, I found myself giving my poor blistered and tired feet a little pep talk. I knew I had a long day ahead of me - 27km - though I was clueless as to what the terrain would be like. At lunchtime I reached the unbelievably beautiful town of Estaing and, as things were going smoothly, I stopped there for an extended lunch break. I explored a bit, took time to befriend a lovely English couple called Basil and Frances, and ate my lunch in the shadow of the chateau. This particular section of the route is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thus the towns and hamlets along the way are impeccably well preserved. After such a relaxing hour, it was definitely a bit of a shock to discover that my next few hours would be spent climbing continuously uphill, until I reached the top of the highest hill (read 'mountain'). As I'm sure you can imagine, the views were out of this world. Incidentally, I was also rewarded with a swimming pool at the gîte I stayed at that night. As if the day hadn't already been good enough...
The days following that weren't quite so successful: my feet took out their anger at being made to carry me up a mountain without a break, blister carnage ensued; I twisted my ankle looking at a donkey (he was so cute though, it was almost worth it); I then managed to hurt my knee by walking funny as a way of dealing with the ankle pain; I got a lovely little collection of what we've now established were spider bites, which I reacted particularly badly to. But nothing that painkillers, compeed, an ankle support, a knee support, antihistamines and a day off couldn't fix! After proving to myself that I had 'grit' by pushing through it all for 25+km, I decided a rest day was probably a sensible thing to do, so spent a day doing precisely that in Figeac!
Through all the pain and misery of those few rough days (they probably weren't actually as bad as I'm making out), there have been some absolute rays of light that have made each day wonderful. For example, the Italian couple Jani and Andrea who invited me to join their dinner when they saw me eating alone (and subsequently cooked me a plate of insanely good pasta when they saw how pathetic my own food was); the farmer who patiently conversed with me in French and rewarded my efforts with chocolate; and attending a concert of Fauré's Requiem, performed in Conques cathedral.
All in all, it's been a truly unforgettable week!