For some reason, I thought we were going to have a short and easy day. I think it’s because one of the owners of La Mouline de Belin told us we’d save three kilometers by walking west out of town instead of going south and around, and I subtracted those 3 kilometers from what I was expecting to walk. However, when we reached the western edge of town we saw a sign on the trail that said Condom was 33 kilometers away. I think now I was miscalculating the distance the whole time because La Mouline de Belin is on the northeastern outskirts of Lectoure, and then we spent more time than usual dithering around town because it was market day, and the day became long.
Nine kilometers after Lectoure, we passed through Marsolan. We rested there a little bit in a shady spot near the church. That was where another pilgrim asked us if we knew the route out-of-town. The trail wasn’t well-marked there and she had shed her backpack to try to figure it out without going up and down the steep hill Marsolan is on with all her gear. I showed her the map in my book, The Way of Saint James-France, Le Puy to the Pyrenees, by Alison Raju. It wasn’t the biggest help, but at least I was able to point out that the trail crossed over Route D166, so if she either saw a road marker or could see which road it was on her phone, she’d know she was close to finding the trail again. She went off down the hill with her backpack, and when we saw she didn’t come back, we figured that was the right way, and it was.
We had trouble with trail markings more than once between Lectoure and Condom. We never got off track, but we definitley were blindly going forward a couple of times. Also, The Way of Sait James, Le Puy to the Pyrenees says that Chapelle d’Abrin is 5 kilometers past Marsolan and is the site of a former commandery of the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. We never spotted it. The book does say it’s a private house now, but we basically just eyeballed a few houses and tried to guess whether one of them looked like an old chapel. Apprently it’s the old meeting place of two routes, the other one coming from Rocomadour and Moissac through Agen.
Between Marsolan and La Romieu we walked through woods for a while. Right before the woods we spotted what appeared to be eviscerated craw fish on the path. It wasn’t the little white crawfish we see in Michigan, either, but big and colorful. It was puzzling and kind of gross, but I have read since that Louisiana crawfish are an invasive species in France now, so maybe that’s exactly what it was. A little further in the woods I saw the tallest, most rickety deer blind I have ever seen. I think it had about five levels and it was a total death trap. There is no way any kid could ever resist climbing up it, either, even though some of the ladders were rotting away.
The approach to La Romieu is pretty, with orchards on one side and a large and beautiful commercial garden on the other. The church in La Romieu, like the one in Lectoure, is huge. It looks like you’re about to walk into a biggish town, but it’s actually quite small. Raju’s book says the disproportionately big churches are remnants of a time when the towns were a bigger deal. La Romieu is apparently named after a synononym for pilgrims, romieux. Later that day we found out that a lot of pilgrims stop in La Romieu, and take two short days to get from Lectoure to Condom instead of one long day. We saw some pilgrims we recognized checking into a hotel there. The innkeepers in Condom seemed surprised we had walked all the way from Lectoure. Romieu looks like a pretty place to stay, and we spotted day trippers there having lunch. The Condom innkeepers said it’s common to visit Condom, La Romieu and Lectoure by car in one day.
Ice cream was a bust in La Romieu. When we ordered ice cream to go with our beer, the lady told us they were all out, even though we could see a freezer full of ice cream by the bar. Maybe she was hoping we’d order lunch?
After La Romieu, about 5 km on, we stopped for a little rest in Castelnau-sur-l’Auvignon. It’s an interesting little town. A historical marker describes how it was a maquis during WWII. I don’t remember the details but I think the mayor and many residents were involved. Wikipedia says the maquisards there were French, Spanish and even a New Zealander.
Shortly after Castelnau we visited the Chapelle Sainte-Germaine de Soldanum, from the 12-13th century, all that remains of a monestary, according to The Way of Saint James Le Puy to the Pyrenees. Sainte Germaine is, according to Wikipedia, the patron saint of: abandoned people; abuse victims; against poverty, disabled people, girls from rural areas, illness, impoverishment, loss of parents, shepherdesses, sick people, unattractive people, and physical therapists. There was a man tending to the grounds of the cementery and he was kind enough to unattach the hose and let us fill our water bottles at the tap.
On the last road that approaches Condom I had my first and so far only run-in with a dog. A couple of men were operating a combine and their dog ran toward us barking. I tried all of the tricks for dealing with street dogs that I learned by living in Ecuador: I yelled, clapped at it, threw a little stone in its direction and walked forward a few steps and spun around really quick to startle it. Nothing. She was really close to me, too (she ignored Molly). Finally one of the men called her off and we went on our way. We spotted a little marble marker with an inscription saying that Condom welcomes pilgrims. When we finally arrived at the town, we saw that it is of a decent size, and there were a lot of hotels and gites advertised everywhere that we never saw when we were seeking reservations during the planning phase. Unfortunately, our phones told us that the hotel we had reservations at was 5 kilometers out of town, and we decided to rest at the bus station.
Beatrice had asked around for us and found out the bus schedule from Condom to Agen. We decided to go inside and confirm with the lady at the ticket counter, and she called our hotel for us to get directions. The innkeeper told her he’d come and pick us up, and so we waited outside until he came and climbed into his car, a little embarassed to be getting in after a whole day of hiking and dirt. Turns out he’s from Quebec! He and his wife have worked in/run restaurants all over the US and have restored an old house and made it into a boutique hotel and restaurant.
Our reservations had been for one regular room and one suite, just because of availability, but we both ended up having suites. The suites are in the towers on either side of the building, so Molly and I were on opposite sides. We had dinner outside with our hosts, and talked about the trail, and travels, and food. They said that their son’s class had hiked a day on the trail for a field trip.
Breakfast was in the dining room. When we learned that there was an rail to trails path back to town, we decided to forego the ride back and walk instead.
We left beautiful Auvillar with its nuclear tower vistas and began our hike, Beatrice-less, to Lectoure.
The first town we went through was St.Antoine. On the walk up we found a plum-tree right by the road that seemed alright to pick a few plums from, and we passed a house that seemed to be named L’ Albatros. It seems like an honest, yet sort of grim name for a vacation house. You buy it and then you spend all your money and every vacation there. Molly and I agreed it’s much better to have parents with a vacation house instead of owning one yourself.
In St. Antoine we stopped at a little bar/restaurant and had some hot chocolate and candy. Not long after we left, we happened upon two women hikers eating much healthier than we, snacking on fruit. They asked us to take a picture of them together and we obliged. That was right around when we noticed a father and son hiking. The father was probably in his forties and the son looked about 12. All day long, we would pass each other. I’m not sure who got to Lectoure first, but I felt like we were sort of friends with them by then. In fact, we chatted with them in Lectoure, once we were all cleaned up and having beer at a weird little bar there. They have been walking the trail year to year too, so the son was even younger when they started.
After St. Antoine came Flamerens. Flamerans is a little town with a huge old ruin of a château. It dates back to the 13th century and is presently being restored. There was a man there selling cookies and coffee in a booth. He stamped my passport and I bought lemon cookies from him. They were good but they didn’t taste very lemony. I like my lemon cookies with lots of lemon peel and as tart as can be.
I haven’t really described the sunflowers. This whole section was all about the sunflowers. They were in full bloom and they were EVERYWHERE. Pilgrims were snapping pictures of them constantly, but it’s like taking a picture of a sunset: you just can’t capture what it really is like and it just looks cheesy in a photo. All day long we would look at them, and think about them, and we wondered together how they were harvested, and noticed that they didn’t always seem to facing the sun, and we laughed at how stray sunflowers were standing up in wheat fields, like a corny poster about being yourself. At the end of the long walk to Lectoure, I even said I was a little sick of sunflowers. There were a lot of fields all around when we finally saw Lectoure’s church tower in the distance, and I kept misremembering the poppies in the Wizard of Oz as they approach the Emerald City as sunflowers, and I started to sing “you’re out of the woods, you’re out the dark , you’re out of the night, step into the sun step into the light” before remembering, oh yeah, those were poppies. This happened more than once, in my tired-outedness. I just now googled the name of that song and it’s called “Optimistic Voices”. Oh my God.
The next two we came upon was Castet-Arrouy.
There appeared to be a restaurant, but it wasn’t open. It was irritatingly unclear, as a matter of fact. I think someone was revving up for the grand opening of a pizzeria, and I see on Google that there is a little pizzeria now in Castet-Arrouy now. There was a watering can by the water point spigot to catch the extra water, which I approve of, as a hater of waste. A hiker was massaging her bare feet and that prompted a discussion with Molly about how if I took off my shoes when my feet were tired, it seems like I wouldn’t be able to get them back on, like they would swell up, and how there are different resting philosophies on the trail. We just don’t rest as hard as other people do. We sit, we snack, we get going. Other people take off shoes, take naps, have picnics. I honestly don’t know which way is better, but I can say that neither way seems faster. We pass the well rested people while they are lying around under trees, and later they pass us as we can barely move our feet, and we end up getting to the resting towns around the same time. In Castet -Arrouy, We sat at a table by the Mairie under a shady tree. When we left there we spotted a lady walking alone in a floppy brimmed hat. She was the only one going slower than us by the end of the day and she was really into harvesting the feral plums.
Lectoure took forever to approach. We could see it in the distance for a long time before we got there, with its cathedral that has an outsized tower with a cylindrical section attached to it that looks like a chimney. When we finally were beginning the final climb into town, we realized out hotel was right there on the trail at the foot of Lectoure.
La Mouline de Belin is what you are dreaming of when you are fantasizing about a unique little hotel somewhere in France. It’s a remodeled, medieval old mill run by a couple who make food from their garden for guests. The rooms have these modern showers straight from what I imagine showers look like in architectural digest, if they feature showers in that magazine.
For some reason, that was the day we had the most to drink (on this section). First, dinner was at 8, so we went up to town, where I got cash from ATM to pay for the hotel and Molly replaced the sunglasses she lost outside of Moissac. I bought chocolates for my daughter and we went first to one bar and then to another and had a beer in each one. One of them had a very young bartender and we stood next to an older lady with a bichon frisee drinking wine by herself. We liked her because she saw we wanted to take some cookies from a little dish of them on the bar and she heartily encouraged us. Plus, you have to like an elderly lady drinking by herself with her bichon frisee at a bar. The other bar was on a terrace and had strange eighties European discoteque decor. That is where we met up with the father / son team, and discussed the trail. After killing a little more time we went back down to the Mouline de Belin, where we had duck confit, wine and fortfied wine for dinner. So four drinks total, but I guess these days that’s a lot for me. I remember laughing really hard about something, but I can’t think of what it was right now. It’s making me cringe a little to remember it, though, because we were the only two people there and the owners were hovering nearby, serving us dinner and making convo, and there I was obviously on a hard buzz. I kept running up to the bathroom in my room and Molly complemented my good kidney function. The Mouline was very elegant. Maybe the most elegant place we have stayed at in France. It has a pool, and it was the reason we were lugging bathing suits in our backpacks all over France, thinking it would be 90 degrees every day like last year, and not drizzly and cold like it was this year. I still find myself looking forward to cooling off in their pool, even though it’s long past and we never got a chance to.
After breakfast the next morning, we were given a map and some advice about how to take a shortcut out of town and miss some pointless walking around a warehousey area south of Lectoure. We climbed up and visited the Fontaine de Diane, and then took our time walking down main street because it was market day. I bought some sausage for my husband, which he ended up not appreciating as much as I expected. We may have messed up the shortcut somehow, but eventually we found the trail again and headed toward Condom. “It has a very special name for you, No?” Aline Salanie, propietor of La Mouline De belin, told us. Yes, it does.