Camino 11 : Espalion

26th May 2010

The old pilgrim footbridge at Espalion with the modern roadbridge immediately behind it.

Went to bed at 8.00pm last night after a meal of pre-packed tabbouleh (vile) and crisps.  Food and drink for 24 hours cost 30€ at a local shop. Up at 6.30 and breakfasted on UHT milk and prune tart and set out at 8.15.  Stiff climb through lovely woods and then at the crest of the climb we came to a shed with a communal wood fired baker’s oven where a local farmer had put flasks of coffee and biscuits out with a 1€ honesty box.  Had 2 coffees and started to drop down the hill. Lunch and a snooze on a bench at St Come d’Olt (tin of tuna in tomato sauce) and then into different scenery along the River Lot.  First rain today.  Easy walk into Espalion + decent campsite and 2 ice cold colas when we got there.

Put tent up in rain but now it’s cleared up and we’re off in search of saucisson and aligôt at €6. 80.


As I write this we’re sheltering from left-over hurricane Lee in the campervan whilst waiting for Nigel to show up at the weekend. We’ve had to remove and store anything that could have been damaged by 80+Kph gusts so the interior of the van is a bit overcrowded with the kit that would normally be outside. There’s a bit of a last man standing feel about the campsite because of fifty or so vans at the weekend there are now just four; but we’re used to these storms by now and provided we remove or lash down any blow away bits like the WiFi aerial we know we’ve survived worse – including two totally wrecked tents! So here I am writing while Madame is drawing, all in companionable silence surrounded by a typically sodden Cornish landscape under a leaden sky.

I’m finding this whole exercise both fascinating and a bit daunting. Intellectually it’s like a jigsaw puzzle – maps, journal, exif data on photographs and memories all need to be fitted together for each section of the walk. The reward, however, is real because it seems to me that by writing this account of our Camino I’m understanding it for the first time as the fragmented pieces are brought together. I’m still waiting for the Damascus Road experience, but I’m old and experienced enough to know that those kinds of revelations usually end in tears – mostly other peoples! Why do we suffer the delusion that everything must be understood? Even from the inside, this account is still partial and riddled with contradictions and elisions – the stuff I didn’t, and still don’t want to write about.

This next part, though, I remember so well as a moment of joy.

27th May 2010

Had a lovely evening – found a restaurant run by an elderly couple.  She was bent over with arthritis and his hips were gone so he could only shuffle along, but they seemed to alternate between waiting and cooking. Potage du Jour was wonderful – plain big chunky vegetable soup but he put the tureen on the table [when he saw how hungry we were] and we scoffed three bowls each.   It was the best veg soup I’ve ever tasted.  Then we had the saucisson and aligôt.  


There was some kind of exposition (in the French sense) going on in the town – based on an eco/green theme, which was gathering quite a bit of attention. I’ll put some photographs below. I should also perhaps explain Aligot for anyone who might not have come across it. For a long distance walker (or a farm labourer) it’s the most perfect calorie rich food in the world. We’ve seen people queuing for 50 yards to get a paper plateful down in the South East of France. It’s basically mashed potato – and I don’t mean lumpy, I mean beaten into a smooth puree, with the addition of lots and lots of cheese and olive oil. The ultimate combination of carbs, protein and fat which also tastes wonderful – just don’t offer it to your teenage daughters! With the addition of a couple of those spindly but very meaty local sausages, we probably didn’t need to eat for a couple of days.

At this point, 100 miles in, we were almost exactly halfway to Cahors. Espalion is situated on the River Lot – and walking along rivers has one massive disadvantage. When you follow a main river you quickly discover that every tributary has gouged itself a valley – often in hilly country a steep sided valley. So while the unfolded map – minus contour lines – suggests a bosky ramble along the river bank, the reality is one stupendous climb after another – each followed by knee destroying descents. This is possibly my only useful advice on the conduct of the Camino.

Author: Dave Pole

I've spent my life doing a lot of things, all of them interesting and many of them great fun. When most people see my CV they probably think I'm making things up because it includes being a rather bad welder and engineering dogsbody, a potter, a groundsman and bus driver. I taught in a prison and in one of those ghastly old mental institutions as an art therapist and I spent ten years as a community artist. I was one of the founding members of Spike Island, which began life as Artspace Bristol. ! wrote a column for Bristol Evening Post (I got sacked three times, in which I take some pride) and I worked in local and network radio and then finally became an Anglican parish priest for 25 years, retiring at 68 when I realised that the institutional church and me were on different paths. What interests me? It would be easier to list what doesn't, but I love cooking and baking with our home grown ingredients. I'm fascinated by botany and wildlife in general, and botanical illustration. We have a camper van that takes us to the wild places, we love walking, especially in the hills, and we take too many photographs. But what really animates me is the question "what does it mean to be human?". I've spent my life exploring it in every possible way and the answer is ..... well, today it's sitting in the van in the rain and looking across Ramsey Sound towards Ramsey Island. But it might as easily be digging potatoes or making pickle, singing or finding an orchid or just sitting. But it sure as hell doesn't mean getting a promotion, beasting your co-workers or being obsequious to power, which ensured that my rise to greatness in the Church of England flatlined 30 years ago after about 2 days. But I'm still here and still searching for that elusive sweet spot, and I don't have to please anyone any more. Over the last 50 or so years we've had a succession of gardens, some more like wildernesses when we were both working full-time, but now we're back in the game with our two allotments in Bath.

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