Wandering on Le Chemin de Compostelle (2: Conques to St. Jean)

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This is the second of three blog posts about the Chemin de Compostelle in France from Le Puy-en-Veley to St. Jean Pied-de-Port. The route from Le Puy to St. Jean is one of the many “Camino de Santiago” routes across Europe that eventually converge upon the Pilgrim destination of Santiago de Compostela in the far northwest corner of Spain.

Map of several of the Camino routes. (Map courtesy of the Kosten Foundation and Flickr.)

The previous post covered the walk from Le Puy to Conques. This post will cover the walk from Conques to St. Jean. The next post will provide some comparisons between the walk in France and the walk in Spain and should be of help to someone considering a Camino walk.

As the first post showed, the setting for the walk from Le Puy to Conques is amazingly spectacular and should appeal to anyone considering a walking holiday. The walk from Conques to St. Jean also passes through beautiful countryside and has many wonderful things to see along the way. But because much of the walk from Conques to St. Jean is on paved roads going up and over hills through farmlands, its greatest appeal will be to those who are intent on doing a Camino.  With that being said, the walk from Conques to St. Jean is still a great adventure.

Here is some of what you can expect to see along the way:

There will plenty of churches and chapels along the way. This chapel to St. Roch near Noailhac has a statue of the saint dressed as a pilgrim.

You will continue go through fabulous countryside.

You will continue to see monuments to the fallen in the Great War which ended exactly 100 years ago in every town you walk through. This one is in Livinhac.

You’ll never be out of sight of cows. But as you work your to the south and west you’ll start seeing more sheep such as this flock grazing on acorns.

And as you get further south and west, you’ll start seeing plenty of ducks and see canard (duck) served on most restaurants menus.

When you leave Cahors, you’ll be walking over the Lot River on this bridge. You’ll find the walk on the other side of the bridge to be very very steep.

You’ll never run out of crosses along the way.

You’ll be able to walk this cloister in the Abbey at Moissac.

In many towns you’ll pass wonderful works of art such as this one in Auvillar.

Auvillar is one of the prettiest towns in France and has this circular grain market in the middle of the town plaza.

You’ll run into the Three Musketeers next to the cathedral in Condom.

One of the things that makes a Camino special are the people you meet along the way. Many will become friends for several days, others you may only meet once, and some you’ll just spot along the way.

One of the most interesting for me was running into a “plein air” artist from Canada, Sharon Bamber, outside of Decazeville painting a picture right on the Camino. It turns out that she is walking the Camino with her husband and a donkey to carry her art supplies. Their intention is to walk from Le Puy all the way to Santiago (for a distance of around 1000 miles) and to stop every five miles for her to paint a picture. She expects to have 200 paintings by the time she reaches Santiago and to publish a book of her Camino art when she gets home.

Here’s one of the 200 paintings that Sharon will be painting along “The Way.”

And here’s her donkey enjoying the time off.

Another person I met along the way was a man who was also walking with a donkey coming towards me. He had already walked to Santiago and was now walking back to his home in Poland. He started his journey earlier this year and expects to be done by the end of the year.

Heading home!

In addition to the people you meet, a long walk allows you to slow your inner rhythms so you can start to observe all that is around you. Doing this will encourage you to connect to the present. Your observations could be ones of the landscape or noticing the slugs and salamanders on the path, the nuts on the ground (acorns, walnuts, chestnuts, and more), or the crops in the fields. And whatever else comes your way.

You’ll see plenty of these guys on your walk – especially on a rainy day!

I personally found it interesting to notice how the buildings along the way changed as the underlying rocks transitioned from one form to another. Many of these buildings were built before  trucks or railroads could bring in materials from all corners of the world. Builders were limited to what was nearby and readily available.

In the volcanic landscape between Le Puy to Conques, most of the older buildings are built out of granite or schist. Soon after Conques, as soon as the route began to cross a limestone plateau the buildings also were made of limestone. It was if if someone flipped a switch.

Even the trail became limestone.

And there were even several megalithic dolmen on or near the trail in limestone country. These structures were built in early Neolithic and were probably used as tombs.

You won’t be able to count all of the limestone Caselles (huts) you’ll see in limestone country. If you look closely, you’ll see that roofs are made of stone!

In areas with good clay deposits, many of the building will be made of bricks.

These brick buildings are in Auvillar.

As the route progresses to the south and west and gets closer to the Pyrenees, many of the buildings will be made of cobblestone found in the alluvial out wash of the Pyrenees.

In addition to noticing the landscape and underlying materials, there is also plenty to notice of cultural origin. October happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month in France and the larger towns all celebrated the month by hanging Pink Umbrellas above the streets.

Umbrellas in Moissac.

Lectoure

And a variation of pink and white umbrellas in Condom.

In the Basque region near the Pyrenees, the town names and signs are represented in both the French and Basque languages.

You’ll also probably notice that the Basque villages will all have a similar architecture and a red and white color scheme.

Typical red and white buildings found in Basque country.

Another aspect of a long distance walk is sensing when the end point is getting close. And in the case of this walk, it was spotting the Pyrenees on the distant horizon and then watching them get a little bit larger every day as the route got closer to St. Jean.

The Pyrenees are in the far distance.

With the Pyrenees getting larger, it means we’re getting closer to St. Jean!

And finally, you’ll make it to St. Jean Pied-de-Port on the French side of the Pyrenees! St. Jean is the jump off point for many pilgrims intending to walk to Santiago de Compostela. You’ll have a chance to see many of the people you met on your walk and to meet new people just getting started. For me it was the end of my walk in France!

The French walk will take you right through this gate into St. Jean.

Once you pass through the gate, you’ll be in the fairy tale town of St. Jean.

And a walk along the Nive River will be a great way to end your adventure in France!

4 Comments

  1. Another great story and photographs!

  2. So fortunate to be able to see and read these!

  3. The photos are extraordinary – and your comments help define so well the varied landscapes covered on each separate “trek” of the Camino trails. Thanks for sharing your experiences with such vivid images and words to bring it all to life for us who cannot be right there in person with you!

  4. Hi David –

    Some really excellent photos here. Many of these places are jogging fond memories for me.

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