Camino 18: Terminus


3rd June 2010

Another restless night on a football field with one ear cocked for gendarmerie/dogs/vandals.  Up early looking for somewhere to crap but could only find a place between a wall and an electricity substation so I decided to wait.  Breakfast back at Limogne – banana and 1 litre of milk from the shop ( now open) and coffee at the nice café – the lovely proprietor freshly perfumed and twice as aloof!  Alain and his wife were going to travel to Cahors with us.  He’s been wrapping his feet in cling film every night.   Bus took about an hour (6€ – which made me wonder if the campsite owner at Livinhac was taking the piss!)  Got dropped off at the SNCF station and found our way down to the river.  Campsite as always was about 3K away on the far side of the river outside town.  It was very hot (32°C)  and we walked the 3 sides of the town along the river bank and set up camp in a very good campsite.  Q What’s the difference between 2 star and 3 star campsites in France?  A toilet paper!  

Again spent ages looking at Miam Miam Dodo and the Cicerone Guide and came to the conclusion that the logistical difficulties of camping all the way were overwhelming.   Trying to find food and camping at 20-25K intervals is impossible.   Carrying food and extra water isn’t an option because of the weight. We can manage a lunchtime snack (cold) but we’ve sent back our cooking equipment so we’re completely dependent on finding food and water at regular intervals.   Although we can walk 35K it’s a horrendous strain – no fun at all. 

For the weight we’re carrying, a perfect day in hilly country would be 18-20K finishing up at a functioning campsite in a town or village where we can find food.  It’s that combination which has become increasingly difficult/impossible to find. We were, with Alain and his wife, the only people out of hundreds of pilgrims, who were trying to camp.  Many of the others were in organised parties carrying very small loads with all their heavy stuff being carried ahead by van.  These parties were swamping the gîtes so that solo pilgrims were finding it hard to book – some making many phone calls each day.  For me, the anxiety of never knowing where we were going to sleep + missing home and being constantly tired with painful feet became more of a burden than a joy.  I’m a hobbit.  Anyway we decided that Cahors – being a main line SNCF station was the best place to call a halt, having walked 350K.  So 3 days rest and home again feeling very sad and embarrassed about not completing the walk but knowing it was the only sensible decision short of sending back the tent and joining the hordes at 80-100€ each a day – far beyond our budget.  Camping never cost us more than 12€ for both of us per night and we had a few free nights squatting. Coffees and panachés cost us about 10€ and then food.  We had some nice and some awful meals but we got our (average) budget down to 30€ each a day.

7th June 2010

Walked on to Cahors railway station at 7.30 this morning just as they were playing “Losing my religion” on the tannoy.  Thanks.


Every adventure has to come to an end and this one did so more with a whimper than a bang, (please ignore the double entendre it was unintentional as far as my conscious mind is concerned). I think the photo that M took at the campsite in Cahors showed how much weight I’d lost on the walk. The decision to return home was largely mine – M would have carried on, or at least he’s always said so, and still wants to go back and complete it. Thirteen years on, with osteoarthritis in many of my joints, I don’t think there’s much hope for me, and Madame – who never understood why I was doing it anyway – would be implacably opposed. There were no visionary moments I’m sorry to say, and not many insights. I guess the biggest lesson was that pilgrimages – at least if you’re doing them the traditional way – make you very vulnerable ‘though not necessarily humble in the religious sense. You get obsessive about food and money and continually anxious about the next night’s sleep. In a moment of supreme irony, when we arrived at the campsite in Cahors we went into the shop and there was a display of precisely the gas canisters that we were told were unobtainable in France and which had led us to send all our cooking equipment home.

We spent three more days in the town, exploring and enjoying the abundance of fast food. We slept and sunbathed and drank chai tea in a tiny Indian cafe; bought ourselves some very French hats in a shop that offered a huge variety of mens’ caps which the fierce proprietress would only sell in the appropriate season. Heaven help you if you ask for a warm winter cap in June! – and at last we walked 3Km back to the railway station to catch the TGV back to Paris – an absurdly fast journey after walking slowly for so long.

After a long day we finally arrived back at Bristol Parkway and I’ve never in my life been so glad to arrive at that bleak railway station. There’s a postscript to all this, but I’ll leave this part of the story with a couple of intriguing photographs from Cahors. The car was just parked – a little out from the kerb – but alongside the passenger’s window was a truly enormous pile of walnut shells. How long would it take to eat so many walnuts? who was the passenger waiting for? But nearby was this spectacularly belipsticked dog-end. Did it belong to the passenger? and – if it did – what was the rest of her like? and what was she up to? Was it a flic stakeout? There’s a short story in it for sure.

Madame and I were pleased to be together again.


Two years later in July 2012 we packed the car, caught the ferry to Santander and then drove around Spain and France for three weeks – crossing the Pyrenees three times and visiting the GR65 wherever we could – Pamplona, St Jean Pied de Port, down to Collure and back across to Uzes; a culture vulture grand tour. I took Madame to several places we’d visited whilst walking the Camino, leaving out the grimmest details but including the seedy hotel in Monistrol d’Allier which was ….. still seedy. But one stop we made turned the ending of the walk from a depressing memory to a great event. We had a couple of days in Cahors, just across the road from the SNCF station in a Hotel which sounds a bit more glamorous spoken in French, but Station Hotel is what it really was, or still is. I’ve just Googled it, and it’s still there and possibly has the most beautiful Art Deco restaurant you’ll ever see. The rooms were higgledy piggledy and the lift was just about big enough for a suitcase; but we peeped around the restaurant door and booked dinner without taking a breath.

Can I mention the waiter who served us drinks on the patio? He was immaculately dressed in a waiter’s jacket but wearing jeans and trainers. I warmed to him instantly, and he to me. When I asked for a wine list he came back with a small volume – about 2″ thick. I couldn’t believe my eyes and asked if they really had all those wines and he laughed and invited me down to the cellar to see for myself. We ordered patė for starters and it was delivered to our table with a glass each of excellent Sauterne. I thought I’d better own up that I hadn’t ordered it and couldn’t afford it but he hushed me and urged me not to worry because it was unthinkable to have the one without the other. It never appeared on the bill. The meal, as it came along was never ostentatious but perfectly cooked and we handed over the choice of wine to the waiter who obviously understood our predicament and was determined to help us overcome it. A true romantic. Somewhere in the pile of receipts from the holiday is the one for that dinner; oddly bereft of several important details. The whole meal was served in the manner of the most traditional French restaurant you could possibly imagine. Each plate was approved and passed from waiter to waiter according to some mysterious hierarchy of responsibility. It was the best French lesson I ever had and I say a culinary prayer for that man every time I think of him.

And now we’ve had brexit and I’m heartbroken not to be considered truly European any more. Our EU passports have expired and we probably won’t renew them. What a complete crock of sh**! Here’s where the pilgrimage finished – the rest of the walk continues across the bridge and back up to the Causses – just 800 miles more.

The bridge at Cahors – temporary (?) end of the Camino for us.

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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