Wednesday, 8 May 2002

GPS 44° 59.372'N 3° 40.738'E +892m to Sauges

Miserable breakfast - bread, jam, watery juice, at least coffee was self serve. Got free drinks without needing to ask as I'd had "une surprise".

On the road soon after eight, and met the overburdened woman from yesterday, who'd managed to lighten her load. Introductions, her name is Marie-Claude, most of the blokes in the ad hoc party that has assembled seem to be called Michel. Easy ascent to start, just have to keep an eye out for the often distant or tiny red and white waymarks. Having a team helps, so if I'm looking at the cherry blossom, others can spot a turning, or if one of the leaders misses a mark, I can yell. M-C keeps telling us to go on ahead at our own pace, but she is cracking along faster than I or the oldest Michel with the "ski-sticks" who I was pacing much of yesterday afternoon (until he'd fallen behind while I'd speeded up to tell about the dog's paw).

At Rochegude, we cross from Velay to Gévaudan - avec sa Bête - and have to make a long descent on an eroded path, with exposed rock, all sizes of loose, and tree roots. Michel with the ski sticks has an advantage with his "freins permanentes", but by the bottom we are all giggling with relief. Now in town of Montirol to cross the Allier, and nearly go astray by crossing nice new modern bridge. More descent to an old footbridge, and now a ninety minute ascent, zig-zagging back and forth sometimes with log steps or hand rail.

The slowest members of the group - those behind me - detach to take the main road while the rest struggle on to summit. Lunch as yesterday. Others have been snacking at every pause, but as usual, being in motion - and hot - kills my appetite. I am bombarded with - and have to decline - offers of bread and cheese and ham - despite water in handy carry pack to drink while walking (Platypus brand), my mouth too dry for such foods. I joke with them that I'm supposed to be losing weight, and pat my tummy. "Pas aujourdhui," quips M-C.

From now most of the way is gently rolling, so making a steady pace difficult, changing gears every couple of minutes as the gradient alters. Meet one chap going the other way to retrieve his car, then to collect his wife whose knees have given out. At one place the Belle France instructions talk of the track becoming a footpath - actually it narrows between barbed wire fences and becomes a stream with occasional ponds. Unlike the earlier wadis.

Finally long descent to Saugues. I stop to take a picture of town, with its tower fortified against the Angevins (the Tour des Anglais), and some abstract sculpture on the hillside. The lost Michels arrive on the main road as the main body of the group approach it, and they all head off down into town. Meanwhile I've spotted somethnng, and detour to a viewpoint just up the road where I take a photo of a sculpture carved in red wood of La Bête

(as made famous in the recent film Brotherhood of the Wolf (Pacte des Loups)), then, as it is still only just 2pm, I find a convenient bench to read a "Cat who..." until a sensible time to make the rest of the descent.

No screw-ups this time - the room is spartan, but modern, though it seems that pilgrims eschew the TV, so no weather forecast again. But there was a much needed hot bath. Today was mainly overcast, with a light breeze, and the early morning and noon showing some hazy sunshine, some sullen heat in arvo. Public holiday, so town dead. Hope there's some life tomorrow a.m. for restocking! It starts raining in the early evening, which stops later, but heavy low cloud.

Salmon tartlet w/melted cheese, chicken breast and fancy mash, cheese (St Nectaire and chevre), fruit pie. 1/2 bt Côtes du Rhone red.

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