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Learning to Walk, Days 21-23, September 17-19, Cabrerets to Pasturat, Pasturat to Cahors, and Cahors to Lascabanes

Yesterday’s walk from Pasturat to Cahors did me in. I think it was about 20km. While there was a good climb at the beginning of the day, the afternoon was along the Lot River and pretty much flat. Which, in theory, was very welcome, but I found it a challenge. I think I was simply exhausted and badly needed a rest day, which I am taking today. More on that later. Let’s go back to the day before yesterday. Pech Merle. Oh my. Pech Merle is a series of caves/caverns with at least 30,000 year old drawings. I mentioned it earlier. However, the person I heard say that it was the only cave with drawings open to the public was wrong—or I misheard them. I don’t remember the exact figures, but I think our guide said there are 18 caves with drawings you can still visit, and maybe 180 you can’t. I don’t think that figure is correct, but I hope it is in the right ballpark! Seeing these drawings is one of those lifetime highlight events—like going to the top of Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc) was three years ago, or our hike in the Dolomites several years before that.

Here’s some of what I learned from the guide. The drawings were made with ochre and something that begins with “m” (the black color) that I can’t remember. It is not possible to date either of these substances. However, there is one part of the painting, a horse’s mane, that was done in charcoal, which can be dated, and that part is 30,000 years old. So they think the dates of all the paintings are a few thousand years either side of that. The frieze done in black, which is of several animals, they believe was done in one sitting by the same artist. They call him (her?) “The black frieze artist” and have recognized their work in other parts of the cave. There are mammoths, bison, horses, one head of a bear, some female figures and a couple drawings they call “the wounded man”. Oh—before I go further, you need to google “Pech Merle” so you can see the paintings, because I have no photos to show you. Photography is strictly forbidden in the caves, to protect the paintings from light. The fine for taking even one photo is 15,000 Euros, and the guide was VERY strict. She insisted people put their phones away because she had had a lot of trouble with a group earlier in the week. You would think people would comply with this, but she had to keep telling one woman repeatedly, “please, I do not want to even see your phone.”

Back to the caves: the drawings were done during an ice age by Cromagnon people, who looked just like us except they were considerably taller than most humans today. I did not know that. They had dark skin and light eyes. I don’t know how they know that, but I trust the scientists have a way to figure that out. And, contrary to our popular myths, they were not “cavemen/women.” They may have sheltered in shallow recessions in the cliffs, and they also probably built shelters, but they did not live deep in the caves where the paintings are. That would have been far too dangerous, and they would not have survived trying to live there. Since it was an ice age, the caves would have been far too cold, and they could not light a fire without asphyxiating themselves. Plus, animals like bears lived in the caves. The guide said it was very dangerous for them even to enter the caves. They would have only had handheld animal fat lamps, in stones they had carved a hollow in to, with a bit of plant matter for a wick. It was so risky for them to go so far into the caves that the historians think the only reason they would take the risk to go in and paint is for spiritual reasons.

The paintings have been there 30,000 years and were only discovered about a century ago by three teens—a sixteen year old boy, his 13 year old sister and another boy, who wasn’t really keen to go, but went along with them. The ringleader had learned about the caves from the priest, who was a spelunker and a pre-historian. He had shown the boy the caves they knew about, closer to the surface, and when he realized how fascinated the teen was with them, the priest strictly forbade him from going into them any further. The teen was convinced there was far more to discover and that something significant was there. So he and the other two stole candles from the church, told no one but their grandmother where they were going, found a hole down into the larger cave network and discovered the paintings. They were gone for ten hours. They forgot to mark their way and realized that in their exploring and excitement over what they had found they had no idea how to get out. But then they realized they could follow the wax drippings from the candles. When they finally resurfaced, it was midnight. The grandmother was there on the mountainside praying, and they got into a heap of trouble.

The paintings are amazing. And it is just mind-blowing to look at them and realize human beings were there, painting them more than 30,000 years ago. I loved the spotted horses, and the head of the bear, and the hands. They are “negative” hands, one in ochre, and the others in the black pigment. They are done by a very precise “spitting” method of spray painting. They placed their hand on the rock, put the mixture of paint in their mouths, and spit the paint around their hand. The guide said it is not an easy technique to master. There are also footprints—not painted ones, real ones. They don’t know just how old they are, but they can tell from the layer of calcite over them that they are at least 12,000 years old, and are probably those of a 10-12-year-old. The cave entrance the painters would have used was blocked by a landslide,—that’s why they went undiscovered until the teens found another way in, so they know the footprints predate the landslide. Some of the places where the paintings are would only have been accessible by crawling through a tunnel on your stomach. Of course, we did not have to do that! They have excavated the tunnel so you can walk through, but you can see the level of the original tunnel because the rock from the excavation is piled on top of what would have been the original height. I could NEVER have done that with my claustrophobia.

After I left Pech Merle I had 19-20 km to walk. I’m sure that’s part of why I was so exhausted yesterday. I had to move quickly to walk that far after the tour in the morning. But since there were only three guests at the gite where I stayed in Pasturat that night, one other couple and me, I had a room to myself again!

Learning to Walk, Days 18-20, continued

Since this is part 2 of Days 18-20, if you haven’t seen that post I did a little while ago, you might want to go back one. I have a little over an hour and relatively good wifi so am going to try and catch up.

First some more photos from Saint Cirq Lapopie:

Quick aside. Or maybe not so quick since I tend to be verbose. I am sitting outside on a large deck of this cafe, with my afternoon beer, and there is the most delightful breeze blowing. It finally feels like fall may be in the air here. Oh, please, let it be so. I am so looking forward to walking in cooler weather. More on appreciating the small things later. Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

More photos from St. Cirq Lapopie, taken this morning before the village really woke up.

Okay. Now to back up a couple of days. I don’t think I have had time to write about or share pictures from Marcilhac-sur-Cele or the incredible walk there. If I ever forget where I am and tell you something I’ve already shared, just skip over it! It’s a hassle to go back and forth between posts and figure out just what I have and haven’t talked about.

I remember writing about arriving in Espagnac, and getting a quick peek in the church. Here are a few photos from the next morning, September 14:

Another aside. The wind is so chilly I am actually wearing my fleece! Come on, fall!!

In Marcilhac there are the ruins of a Romanesque church that was part of the Abbey adjacent to the still intact and active Gothic church. It was very cool.

Okay. I’m done. I think I’m as caught up as I’m going to be, and it is almost dinner time. One more photo from this afternoon’s walk, back on the theme of appreciating the little things. I walked by this gorgeous bush. No idea what it is. I’ve really started to notice the colors changing in the last couple of days. Thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far! See you next time I have wifi.

Learning to Walk, Days 18-20, September 14-16, Espagnac St. Eulalie to Marcilhac sur Cele, to St. Cirq Lapopie, to Cabrerets

It’s been three days since I had wifi. I don’t imagine I will really be able to catch up but I’ll do my best. I should probably start with today and work back. So it’s September 16, and I’m pretty sure it’s Friday. It is very hard to keep track of days at this point.

Last night I stayed in St. Cirq Lapopie which has the official (by some government office or another) designation of “most beautiful village in France.” As such it is chock full of tourists. It is indeed beautiful. I said either in an earlier post or on Facebook that so many of these villages I have walked through make me think of Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast—well, this one probably takes the cake in that regard. It was nice to get up this morning and walk around before the village wakes up and have the streets virtually to myself—apart from the street cleaner and delivery folks and other workers getting ready for the day.

Back to yesterday for a moment—I had a very hard time planning my route on this Cele Valley variant—even looking at a guide book I could not really figure it out. So I have ended up backtracking and doing things out of order. Two nights ago I stayed in Marcilhac-sur-Cele, and realized before I got there that I had planned a 30 km day between Marcilhac and St. Cirq Lapopie, with lots of ups and downs, and there was no way I could do that. So I called La Malle Postal, which is a godsend, and they said they could pick me up when they got the luggage for the day at 8 am, and drop me off in Cabrerets (where I am staying tonight), and then I could walk the remaining 10-11 km to St. Cirq. Unfortunately, in the van I realized I had left my hiking poles behind. The driver told me she would pick them up later that afternoon and drop them off at the gite where I am staying this evening. It doesn’t open for another hour, and I really hope they are there! (Note—she just dropped my bag off, and waved my poles at me!!) I made it okay the last two days without them, but I will be glad to have them back to help with balance on all those rocky descents.

Yesterday started with the usual steep, rocky climb up to Pech Merle. Pech Merle is one of the cave sites where Neolithic drawings were found. I booked a tour in English months ago, which is tomorrow morning, which is the reason I am back in Cabrerets for the night instead of moving on. I am very excited about seeing the caves and drawings. I heard someone say they are the only cave drawings in France the public can still visit, but I don’t know if that’s true. I’m not going to take time to look that up now!

After passing Pech Merle it was primarily a lovely walk along a dirt road and paths, sometimes in the open, and sometimes through lovely woods. There was another long descent, but it was not as steep a grade as usual. The really tough part was the section before you get to the village of Bouzies where you have to walk along the road. Honestly, that was the scariest, most dangerous part of this walk so far. There are vehicles of all sizes speeding by, even though the sign says “watch out for walkers!!” And no shoulder to walk on. Sometimes there is a tiny bit of space between you and traffic, but most of the time there is a cliff on one side and a low wall between you and the drop into the river on the other. I hugged the cliff for much of the time. Finally you get to turn off the road, cross the river (on a one-lane bridge!), and then stumble into the church just past the river to give thanks that you survived the road-walking.

There is an alternative, which is not part of the official route. And should be. It is also a short cut. It involves scrambling up a steep embankment and crossing the river on a retired Eiffel railroad bridge, then scrambling down the steep embankment on the other side. Even without poles, those scrambles were not nearly as risky as walking on that road was. The guide book I’m depending on said that because of the scrambling up and down this short cut might not be for everyone, so I took that to mean me. But everyone I talked to at dinner last night, and on the FB group for this route said, “take the bridge!! You can absolutely do it. It is a fun experience and so much safer.” So that’s what I did this morning since I had to backtrack to Cabrerets. (Today I did yesterday’s walk in reverse.) And even with my fear of heights, it was a cool experience. Here are a couple of photos:

A highlight of yesterday and today, apart from St. Cirq Lapopie, was walking along the Chemin de halage, a tow path along the river (the Lot), carved out of the cliff. Ever since I first saw the photos of this I have been looking forward to this portion of the walk. Here are photos from yesterday and today:

And here are more photos from yesterday’s walk.

So much more to add, but it’s time to check in to the gite. I’ll hope for the chance to get on wifi again this evening and finish this, or add a part two.

Learning to Walk—I have no idea what day it is, but the date is September 15

Just a note so friends, family, and church folk don’t worry. I’m fine. I’ve had two spectacular days, and no wifi. I hope to catch you up soon! For tonight I am in St Cirq Lapopie. Designated “the most beautiful village in France.” Will not try to upload photos now. It’s too late to try and do that with no wifi!

Learning to Walk, Days 16-17, September 12-13, Figeac to somewhere outside Beduer, then to Espagnac.

Wifi is getting harder and harder to come by. There is free, unsecure wifi where I am today, but I don’t know if it will be enough to post anything.

Yesterday was hard. Super hot. According to my phone it got up to 96 and felt like 110. I was done walking by a little past one, and was able to sit under a tree with two other women staying at the same gite until they opened at 3. Even under a tree it was hot, hot, hot. But when you stay in a room that is on the ground level of a 17th or 18th century home with 2-3 foot thick stone walls, it’s like being in a cool cave. After showering and laundry (which dried in about an hour in that heat!), I spent the rest of the afternoon in that wonderfully cool cave.

Yesterday’s walk was through pleasant countryside but largely on pavement which is not my favorite, as I’ve said before. That made the hot day more difficult. Frankly, if relief from this heat was not in sight over the next few days, I would abandon ship and go find somewhere by the ocean to stay for while. But the temps are gradually going down over the next few days. There were supposed to be thunderstorms starting about now, but the sun is out. The rain that is forecasted almost never materializes, and this part of France is so, so dry. You will hear people refer to it as “exceptional” and “unprecedented”, but then they express the fear that this may be the new normal with the climate crisis.

Today started with several kilometers on a dirt road with corn fields on either side. Corn is a huge crop in this area—one of the villages I walked through today is even named “Corn”. I don’t know if the corn grown here is for human consumption or livestock. We certainly are not served corn. But then, the corn is completely dried and withered and brown, so we couldn’t be served corn anyway. I wonder if the cows can eat dry corn? It is so sad to be walking past this useless looking crop. The only green corn I’ve seen is the rare field that has giant sprinklers running. But there are not many of those, and they probably can’t afford to use water that way in this drought.

What the corn fields look like.

Another thing that made yesterday challenging was that I didn’t have anything in my bag for lunch except an apple. The guide book I am using said there were a couple of cafes along the way, but nothing was open. One of the lovely French women I met under the tree at the gite, and shared a room with, gave me one of her boiled eggs, and that was it until dinner. The hosts were running behind schedule and dinner was not ready until after 8. I was starving! It was, as usual, delicious. Starting with cantaloupe and whatever the equivalent of prosciutto is here, homemade liquors—I chose the red one—either cherry or raspberry—that they mixed with white wine. Very sweet! Then they served us roast turkey for dinner. No wonder it was late. They were waiting for the turkey to cook. And yummy veggies—though they threw cucumber slices in with the roasted potatoes, eggplant and zucchini, and I can’t say I’m a fan of roasted cucumber. Then of course, local cheeses, and the most delicious fresh fruit salad—mostly from their garden and fruit trees—for dessert. They were concerned about me eating the cheese because it is not pasteurized here the way it is in the U.S. I assured them I had been eating local French cheeses for more than two weeks with no problem!

Back to today. This is my first day on the Cele Valley variant. One of several variants you can take on this path—Rocamadour is another, but I knew I wouldn’t have time to walk both, so chose the bus to Rocamadour. The Cele Valley is a stunningly beautiful place with cliffs you walk on top of or beside for much of this variant. If you happen to be looking at a map of the Via Podiensis/Chemin Le Puy, I have been following the GR65 route, and for this variant I am following the GR651. The gite where I am staying is a priory that originally dates back to the early 12th century. It was destroyed by the English later that century, rebuilt as a convent this time, survived until the revolution, and now is run as a gite. I love staying in these ancient places. Especially when they have those wonderful thick stone walls that keep the room cool!

I can’t tell just how old the church is. If I read correctly, part of it dates back to the 13th cent. It was largely destroyed during one war or another, then rebuilt in the 15th century. It looked like we weren’t going to be able to get in, but a man showed up with the key and let us take a quick look around. Bishop Aymeric from the 13th century is buried there. Here he is:

I am sitting in the cafe area of the priory, now gite, enjoying my afternoon beer, after first enjoying local limonade and their own sorbet. I tried lemon and dark chocolate. They were both delicious, but the chocolate was heavenly.

I’ll see how many photos I can show you from the last two days. They are uploading very slowly, so I’m afraid there may not be many.

This morning. Plowed under corn fields.
It was nice to get to some green.
The church in Boussac. Not that remarkable until you get to this chapel in the crossing:
Just tucked in among the extra chairs stored in the crossing.
And all of a sudden you find yourself at the foot of the Cele Valley cliffs.
Crossing over the Cele River. Cliffs on both sides.
And then you come around the corner and this looms above you.
Moss covering every branch on this section. Kind of creepy!

Below is the first climb of the day tomorrow—thankfully I do not have to scale the cliff. It will be a challenging day—only 15 km, but three significant ascents and descents.

Learning to Walk, Days 14-15, September 10- 11, bus from Figeac to Rocamadour, and back again.

Oh my, oh my. Rocamadour. Who thinks, “hey, there’s mighty tall cliff, perfect place for a church, shrine, and one-street medieval village?” Rocamadour is built into one side of a gorge. It is not only a major pilgrimage site, it is a major tourist destination. I am so glad I followed the advice of some guide book I read that said try to stay overnight in Rocamadour (pronounce, Rock-uh-muh-DOOR (rhymes with “sure”). From about 10 or 11 until 5 it is very crowded with people who come for the day. But when the tour busses leave, it is wonderfully peaceful and quiet and you almost have the place to yourself.

On the walk down the winding path after arriving yesterday (busses park at the top), I ran into someone who I’d been seeing most nights. Would often end up at the same gite. He was also staying in Rocamadour for his last night before going home, but was all alone and wishing for pilgrim company. We met for dinner and it was nice to have a meal with someone whose English is far better than my French!

Rocamadour is built on three levels, with a winding switch-back path, stairs, and lifts in between. You have to pay for the lift, but when I was carrying my big pack, it was worth it! There is a castle at the top, which I believe is the most recent addition (just a few centuries old), that was built for protection of the holy site below it and the village. The middle level is the basilica and other chapels, and the lowest level is the medieval village—just one street, which is all there is room for—full of shops, restaurants and some hotels. My gite was on the middle level, down the street from the churches. It was a convent that has a few sisters in residence, but mostly runs a guest house, as so many convents and abbeys do now. I had a teeny, tiny little room with a sink to myself.

The winding path from the top down to the churches, or rather starting from the church level to the top has the stations of the cross at each turning point, so that in itself is a kind of pilgrimage. Rocamadour is most famous for its Vierge Noir, Black Virgin (with Jesus perched on her knee). She has inspired many artists, writers and Poulenc (thanks, Andrew H., for that information). The whole place is awe-inspiring, frankly.

This morning I set out at 8 to explore before catching an 11:30 bus, and before it got crowded. I was fascinated by the birds above me, swooping and calling. I kept hearing this “whoosh” noise and kind of recognizing it, but wondering what it was. I was so focused on the birds, that it wasn’t until it was quite close that I realized the “whooshing” noise was a hot air balloon! It was flying over the gorge, then rose up over the cliff, looking from my perspective like it wasn’t going to clear it. Of course, it did. Just one more breathtaking experience!

After watching the balloon go up and over the cliff and out of sight I continued on toward the churches and heard chanting. I walked into the Chapel of the Vierge Noir to find that the service of Lauds had just started. I think I was the only visitor there. There was a priest reading the service, a brother, a sister and two or three younger people who are clearly interns or something similar. They were helping to lead the service and afterwards were doing things like getting candles out and readying the chapel for the tourists to descend. The brother helped me out, handing me his book and showing me where we were when I lost my place. I was able to read the French and join in the responses, which were all sung. I didn’t understand all of it, but because it’s liturgy and Psalms and other scripture, I was familiar enough with it to get the basic meaning. I felt like I had gone to church on a Sunday anyway, and thought of the folks back home at MAPC, who, I hope were still sound asleep but would be worshipping, too, in several hours.

I took the bus back from Figeac just before noon. It’s just over an hour’s ride. I was the only passenger. And it only costs 2 E each way. How can they afford to do this? It is clearly heavily subsidized. When I took the bus yesterday from Figeac to Rocamadour, there were only four of us going to Roc and one women who got off at an earlier stop. I’m grateful for the bus—the train station at Roc is 4 k away. And while that is not a long distance, I had my pack with me, and I am not doing well with carrying that, so was very glad to get the bus and not have to walk 4k.

For lunch today I ate at a restaurant that was clearly full of locals—most people seemed to know the host (owner?). He recommended the plate of local specialties, and I took him up on it. Duck, foie gras and a yummy, runny cheese, and salad and the best fried potatoes I’ve ever had—I don’t want to call them French fries—they were so much more than what we think of as fries! I have always stayed away from foie gras since I am not usually a fan of organ meats. But this was good. I don’t know if it would be my first choice in ordering, but it surprised me, pleasantly.

The winding path down to the sanctuary level. You can see one of the stations of the cross in the lower right.

Learning to Walk, Day 13, Friday, Sept 9?

Can’t write much. No wifi and the lights are already out and roommates asleep. But I’m in Figeac. 24 km through nice countryside and farms. Not the same “wow” factor, but a pleasant walk. More tomorrow. Good night!

Learning to Walk, Day 12 cont.

Dinner tonight was worth writing about. Not just the food but the company and experience. I am at the Gite La Vita et Bella. I booked here because I had read about the wonderful dinner experience. The host is originally from Italy and has been doing this for ten years. He cooked an amazing pasta dish and we all ate outside under his grapevine. The sense of community that has grown is everything you read about on the Camino. Strangers who see each other day after day and become friends. Sometimes you don’t see each other for a few days, then you meet up again. Many nights I have been the only non French speaker, but tonight there were people from Austria, Germany, France and the US, and the common language was English for most of us. So there was some French, some German, and English. And when the conversation around me was in German, I was sitting next to the other American and we could talk. The Germans sang a few songs—one of which I knew and could sing along with, and after dinner our host brought out his accordion and played for us. It was a lovely evening. Except for the mosquitos. I may be scratching in my sleep. They even bit me through my clothes.

Just a snippet. I don’t think I’ll get the longer video to load. But this gives you a taste of the evening.

Learning to Walk, Day 12, September 8, Conques to Livinhac-le-haut (by shuttle)

My plan had been to take the transport service to Decazeville and walk the last 5 km to Livinhac. But as I got up from lunch I said, “nope, I’m going to see if they can take me all the way to Livinhac. I can’t even manage 5 km today.” It was no problem. That was where they were taking everyone else. It was a beautiful drive, and I’m sure it would have been a wonderful walk, but would have involved a lot of intense climbing up and down, my Australian friends said even the last 5 km from Decazeville involved an intense climb and descent, which I just wasn’t up to today. I think I am probably going to need to do this once every 7 – 10 days, and I probably should have done it sooner—like that one day that was just hot and a lot of pavement—but I didn’t know that then!

Livinhac. What can I say about Livinhac-le-haut? Anything would suffer by comparison the day after Conques, but Livinhac strikes me as a town that is struggling. The gite is very nice, with a bohemian feel, run by a man from Italy, and dinner promises to be a wonderful Italian meal, but there is not really anything else here. There was a place in the center to get a drink before the gite opened, and a few of my favorite people I’ve met so far are staying here, so it will be a lovely evening.

Here are few more photos from my morning in Conques. I took some more photos of the tympanum in daylight.

Learning to Walk, Day 11, cont.

Wifi! Sitting outside a cafe with a cafe au lait and they have wifi!! So let’s see if I can adequately write up yesterday. Actually, there probably aren’t words to adequately describe Conques—I wish you could experience it for yourselves. As I think I said earlier, this is the second most significant location on the Chemin Le Puy, and many people end their pilgrimage here. The church, which feels like it should be a cathedral is breathtaking. Austere and simple. It’s Romanesque in style from the 11th century. Thank God they didn’t “Baroque it up” as has happened to so many of the earlier churches on the inside. It just soars. The height inside is nearly 30 meters, nearly 100 feet. It just takes your breath away. More about Conques in a minute, first I need to tell you about a great experience earlier in the day.

I finally had a shorter day, 12 km according to the guide, 15 according to my Apple Watch. I still don’t understand why my watch adds kms to the distance, but I just start out the day knowing I have to add a few to what I expect. I stopped to see the church in the village of Senergues. I try to go in all the churches that are open—and most of them are. This is the Church of St. Martin (one of many), originally founded by Louis, Charlemagne’s son, and the current building is 16th cent, windows are 20th cent. As I was in the church I heard a lot of noise coming from the tower—thumps and voices and I wondered, “can you go up?” I went around to the side, looking for an entrance, and just then a man came out the door, with a pail of rubble to dump in the back of a truck that was parked there. He said, “you can come up if you like.” In French, but I could understand that. I took him up on the offer, and climbed the slightly scary stairs (who am I kidding, very scary, but I was determined), and there were several men working on restoring the tower. He had warned me it would be dusty, and it was. One of them gave me a hand up and I made it into the tower on the same level as four big bells. One of them tried to explain the history of the bells, and wrote the dates of each on a beam with his finger. Two of them are historical, maybe 16th century—from the time the church was built. The other two are slightly more recent. It was very cool to be up there. I don’t know if pilgrims normally have access or not. They had built new wooden stairs to get up to the bell level. I don’t know if this is just for the safety of those who need to go up, or if it is for visitors. Anyway, there were no other walkers going up—just me and the restoration crew—so I felt like I had had a special tour.

Now for Conques. Oh my. Descending into it is quite a feat. It is built on the side of the hill, so there are many levels to the town, full of steep, winding streets/lanes—most of them too narrow for a vehicle—and staircases. As I pass through these medieval villages I keep thinking, “this is where Beauty and the Beast is set.” Disney must have visited this part of France. So many of his animated films could have been set in this area. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. I guess there are probably medieval villages all over Europe that would look the same.

The Church of St. Foy is the centerpiece, and the place of pilgrimage for centuries. Sometimes this was the destination, sometimes it was a significant stop on the way to St. Jacques/Santiago. Pilgrims came here to venerate St. Foy (Saint Faith). She was a young girl, maybe 12, who was martyred in the 3rd or 4th century, perhaps under Diocletian. She was from Agen, but Conques needed some relics so it could become a pilgrimage destination. The story I have read is that a monk or priest from Conques went to Agen, lived and served among them for a decade earning their trust, then made off with St. Foy’s relics and brought them to Conques. So they were stolen by a priest to put Conques on the map. I may not have that exactly right, but I think it’s close to the story. Anyway they built a church any 12 year old martyr would be proud of.

I stayed at the Abbey, which like many such ancient abbeys and convents now serves pilgrims. I had my own little room on the top level, and I think I counted more than 60 stairs, up a central, stone, spiral staircase. At least it was a wide spiral so did not bother my spiral staircase fear too much—only when I met someone coming down and I had step on to the slightly narrower part of the stairs. It was wonderful to have my own room again. When you are in Conques bedtime is much later than the normal pilgrim bedtime. They have a service of pilgrim blessing at 8:30, followed by one of the brothers giving a half-hour talk explaining the tympanum outside, followed by a 45 minute organ concert (again, one of the brothers), followed by a light show of the tympanum at 10:15. Of course, I could understand virtually nothing, and I really wish I understood French last night. The brother who gave the talk of the tympanum was clearly an engaging speaker and evoked many laughs.

The organ concert was wonderful. During the concert, you can pay 6 Euros to go walk around the upper level of the cathedral. I gave it my best shot. I made it up the narrow, steep stone stairs to the organ loft, paid my 6 E, started up the very narrow, steep enclosed stairs to the upper level, then when you had to go out on a narrow balcony with low railing high above the nave, I just couldn’t do it. Sheer panic set in. I turned around, let the couple behind me squeeze past and went back down to the organ level, told the woman taking money that I just couldn’t do it and made my way back down to the safety of ground level. She offered to refund my 6 E, but I said no. It can be my contribution to the organ fund which they made a plea for. I watched people walking around the upper level, one woman almost as scared as I had been. Her friend helped her past the scariest parts. Maybe if I’d had such a friend with me who had no fear of heights I could have done it. Here are photos of the cathedral, the tympanum and the light show.

And that is Conques. There may be a few more photos from this morning. Time to leave this cafe with wifi and walk around a bit. I am really enjoying my morning off from walking. It’s so nice to sit, enjoying cafe au lait, or two, write and just relax. I take the transport service to Decazeville early this afternoon, hope to find a sporting goods store to upgrade my day pack, then will have what should not be too taxing a walk, 5 km to Livinhac-le-haut, tonight’s destination.