Posting 12: 19/06/2006, St Andre de Sanguis (1229 km's to go)
Yippee - I am now over halfway!
Message to the two Irish lads I met at Murat: Just in case you do get the opportunity to read this: you can always find a water tap in Cemeteries in France. Knowing this has bailed me out several times. Also very often you will find even in quite small towns, and usually near the Church a public loo which will have a water tap.
On with the story. I can't believe it has been so long since the last diary entry. Don't know where the time has gone. On the other hand the walking seems to have been dragging and I seem to have been on a treadmill, walking on and on but not actually getting anywhere. Of course I have been making progress - I can assure you I have not been going round in circles for the last two weeks!
Two days after Gimont I reached Leguevin. It was the day after Pentecost and everything was closed. Fortunately it had a Pilgrim Refugio run by the Amis de St Jacques. As usual, I followed the sign to the refugio but could not find it! I phoned and two of the volunteers came out to accompany me to the house. It had a very well equipped kitchen and a washing machine and better still, someone had thoughtfully provided washing powder. I was just about OK for food as I had a tin of salmon I'd bought a few days ago, and there was pasta left by previous pilgrims. The Amis left me to it and I promptly took the opportunity to do a major clothes wash. An hour or so later another hospitalier turned up. She was a pilgrim I had met back at Somport who had walked to Santiago and when I met her was walking back home to Legeuvin. Small world! She knew that everything was closed and said she was driving to a supermarket some way away that was open and very kindly offered to get me more food. I did need stuff for the following day so took her up on the offer. Consequently I ate better than I thought I would but it did make me value even more the refuges that are provided specifically for pilgrims. These often have food left by previous pilgrims. I decided from then on to try and leave something behind for others when possible.
The following day I arrived in Toulouse to stay with a pilgrim I had met on the Camino in Spain in April. She had very generously given me her contact details and invited me to stay. It was lovely to meet someone from the Camino again and we spent the afternoon visiting the Cathedral and beautiful Churches of the city. In addition, something I would not have seen had she not taken me was the inside of the Hotel de Ville with magnificent paintings and murals. It was like the inside of a Stately Home.
The following day I abandoned the Camino in favour of the much easier option of following the Canal du Midi. This took me to the same towns as the Camino, but was a shorter route, flat and lined with mature trees providing much welcome shade; and joy of joys it was just about impossible to get lost - even for me! This I followed for two days, after which I returned to the Camino which ran along an artificial waterway which supply's water for the Canal du Midi (both of which were constructed over 300 years ago). This took me as far as Revel a lovely town with a beautiful marketplace and a wonderful pilgrims' refuge, again run by the Amis. It was only just over 15 km's from my previous nights stop and I needed to arrive before midday so I could get to the Post Office. Unfortunately though the refuge did not open till 15:00. But the night before I had stayed with a couple who have opened their home to pilgrims, giving them a bed and if needed meals. The very kind 'Lady of the House' said they were going in to Revel that morning and would tell the Hospitalier that I would be arriving early and ask if it would be possible for me to at least leave my rucksack there so I did not have to be burdened with it until 3 o'clock. So I arrived in time for the Post Office and then made my way towards the refuge. As I was standing, getting my bearings, a lady came up and asked me if I was looking for the refuge. When I replied in the affirmative, she said they would be closed. I tried as best I could to explain there might be someone there, and even if there wasn’t it would be OK, I would just go and get something to eat. She said that if there was no-one there, that she lived nearby, and I could leave my rucksack at her house and eat with her family as well, I should just knock on her door. Such kindness from a total stranger!
I found the refugio and tried the door - it was open. I went in, calling out as I did so and a lady appeared with open arms. "We have been waiting for you" she said. Needless to say I was very grateful to be able to leave my rucksack but in fact they registered me as well so I could have a shower etc if I wanted. It is so very comforting to be met with kindness and understanding when you arrive somewhere hot and sweaty and tired. And on that subject I should also mention the place I stayed at Montferrand. This was a privately run Gite D'Etape (dormitory accommodation geared for walkers) not specifically for pilgrims but I had been very tired when I arrived and the sympathy of the welcome was again very comforting.
I had been walking since Lourdes (fourteen days) without a break so I decided to spend two nights at my next stop - the wonderful welcoming and peaceful Abbey of Calcat. This was a novel experience as usually I have a rest day in a large town or city. This time the only walking I did on my rest day was from my room to the Church. I didn't even explore the grounds!
By now I was beginning to feel I needed to make some headway so I started taking roads instead of the actual Camino. Also I found the flat surface was easier on my feet. This of course flies in the face of most other people's preference for not walking on tarmac. Anyway I congratulated myself on my choice when a couple of hours after leaving Salvetat-sur-Agout, I passed a sign that read 'Salvetat... 8 km's, Murat ...(my destination) 9 km's' According to the book, the Camino was 20 km's. 'This is great' I thought, 'Í'll be there in a little over two hours'. It was now only 8:30 so I would arrive in plenty of time to get the key for the pilgrim refuge from the Mayors office - they normally close at midday. On I trundled and 1.5 km's later I passed another sign. This one read 'Murat.. 11 km's'. 'Oh no' I thought 'I will never make it before 12 now.' and promptly regretted being so smug earlier! Anyway I carried on and the road was reasonably easy and I made it in time to get the key for the refuge. The other bonus was that later on two other pilgrims arrived and turned out to be Irish! I was absolutely delighted to meet them and they were great craic.
After that came a night with another pilgrim I had met in Spain and who had also invited me to stay. It turned out that she lived 45 km's (27 miles) away from the Camino but was still willing to pick me up and get me back to it. I had been thinking of leaving the Camino altogether and trying to find a more direct route to Montpellier and we looked at the map and worked out a route which would be more direct and meant I did not have to return to the Camino. I struggled with this for a while as I felt I should return to the Camino and then take the shortcut. But then I realised that this would make up for the day I lost when I couldn't find the right path from Somport en route to Lourdes so perhaps it was a gift I should accept. In the end I decided that I should walk from her house and I could not believe her kindness when she offered to ring a friend and arrange accommodation for me halfway between two large towns. So I ended up saving several days by this. Ironically I had the opportunity to rejoin the Camino at Lodeve when I butted in on the conversation of an English couple over lunch at Clermont. Fortunately they did not seem to mind my intrusion! The chap kept offering me a lift and they were staying in Lodeve which is where I would have been had I stayed on the Camino. I turned down his kind offer and continued on my way but very glad of the encounter, especially since he made a contribution to the Charities I am supporting by insisting on paying for my meal. So when I return I will divide the money between the 2 Charities. Funnily enough later that day after I had arrived at my destination and went to pay for a welcome cold beer, an American lady jumped up and insisted she take care of the bill. She had seen my shell and realised I was a pilgrim, even though I was not actually on the Camino. I was very touched. We spoke for a while and I said we had been destined to meet and she should do the Camino which she said she had been thinking about doing.
So that's it really. I have done a sort of Chess Knight's move - 2 squares forward and 1 diagonal and ended up saving a few days. Also I was supposed to have taken a rest day at Lunas (a day or so back) but don't feel the need so have caught up a few days. I'll soon be at Arles and then starting the next phase. I do hope I have not set myself lots of 30+ km's days like before!