Via Gebennensis

Via Gebennensis
Via Gebennensis

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Day 18. June 3, 2018. Saint-Julien-Chapteuil to Le Puy-en-Velay. 18 kms

Two lengths of concrete stretched across the stream

To form a kind of bridge. Electric poles they were

That served to light the way for humble folk

In times gone by. But now, cast out, had found

Another use: To bear the randonneur 

Across the stream. But who would chance his life

Upon this bridge? One pole was firm and flat,

The other, all askew; and like as not,

If once upon its slippery slope I stepped,

Tumble would I into the rushing brook,

Weighed down with heavy pack and leather boots,

Like Clementine to drown, or Hamlet’s lass,

Alas, my garments heavy with their drink,

My iPhone looking up with sightless eye

Its texts unsent, its messages unread,

Its emails all unopened, for I’d be dead.


‘Twas quite enough to make a mortal quake.

I paused at length. Was it to end like this

In shame, in ignominious retreat?

No, my goodness, no. Cry ultreia!

Ambition should be made of sterner stuff. 

And so into the woods I went to find

A stick, a branch, to brace myself against

A fall into the muddy brook. At last

A sturdy staff retrieved, return did I

To where I’d face my fortune, by and by.


I paused, and took a breath, and then at last

I screwed my courage to the sticking place,

And took a step, one foot upon the pole,

The other still upon the terra firm.

But now I had to chance the pole which angled 

Down to bottomless perdit-ion.

I paused, I stepped, I almost slipped, and then,

My staff embedded in the stream below

Another step I took and reached the Rubicon.

A moment’s pause, a sudden fear, a start,

And then, all caution to the wind, I leapt

And landed firm upon the other side.

My venture won, my trusty staff I threw

With careless arm into the air. It flew

And splashed into the stream, its duty done.

And then, all cock a hoop, I hurried on.





I set out early this morning, 7:45, in fact, after a couple of croissants from the bakery and a coffee at the bar next door. Along the highway and off on a dirt road, down the valley towards a stream. And there I crossed another bridge made of discarded electric light poles, this time, four in number and firmly embedded in concrete at either end. This was how it should be done. I revisited my earlier crossing, and this occupied me for most of the morning.





I climbed steadily along the side of the valley which eventually opened out into a large plain, dotted with little villages and lined in the distance with low hills


Once I had to stop and wait as a family moved their cows across my path from one field to another. Most would follow the others, the big animals lumbering across, the little ones putting on a bit of a gallop. But not all. A few recalcitrants in the corner of the field refused to budge and a farmer had to go and move them along.


A little further on I arrived at Saint-Germain-Laprade. On one side of the valley was the town, the older buildings clustered around the church, with more modern housing on the outskirts. Further along was the petro-chemical industry: storage tanks, long, low factories, a chimney emitting steam. No pretty, but it kept the town alive.


The church was interesting so I decided to take a look. The door was closed, but I tried it any way, pushing against it, expecting it to stop against the lock. It sprang open with a clang, startling the parishioners within. It was Sunday mass and the church was full to the back pew. I backed out apologetically.





A few kilometres on, I arrived at Brives Charensac. And a surprise: the Loire. It was not the first time I had crossed it on a walk. Nor was it the first bridge to nowhere I had seen across the river. 


And then I walked along its bank, and that of its tributary, la Borne, to Le Puy-en-Velay. One more hazardous crossing, ignoring the “prohibited when under water” sign. And forgive me, but once again, dear reader, I remind you that such a crossing would not be possible in anything but serious leather boots. My feet were as dry as a bone. But yours, in runners or light hiking boots?




In the past, I have arrived at Le Puy by train and walked past all those hotels with their magnificent towers to the old town, the cathedral, and the nearby pilgrim gîtes. This time, I arrived from below and saw how the old town is dominated by the golden statue of the Madonna and Child, and the amazing Chapelle Saint-Michel surmounted on the rock.




I shunned the pilgrims’ quarters around the cathedral, thinking that I had earned myself a night in a hotel. I am staying at the Ibis, opposite the station, and have enjoyed a shower, both hands free, without having to press my back against the tap to keep the water flowing, and with water warm enough to enjoy a prolonged experience.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Day 17. June 2, 2018. Saint-Jeures to Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. 20 kms.

They always get the best positions





I wonder how long the railway strike will last. The few people I have spoken to believe the government will win. Certainly, many people are being hurt. Martine, for example, who runs the gite, says that her business has really been affected. The walkers aren’t passing through in the numbers that they used to. 


On the advice of Martine I was following the shells, not the red and white markings. She said that former route was shorter and more beautiful. It turned out that the routes coincided for most of the way but at the end they differed considerably.


I set out on a farm road around the edge of the valley climbing slightly towards Araules. To my right were the volcanic plugs. I tried to imagine them millions of years ago, thrusting up through the older rock spitting fire and spewing forth lava.


A little way out of town  I passed some young cows in a pen in the corner of a field. They were restless, shifting about nervously in their pen displaying not the typical bovine curiosity, but fear and I anxiety. These poor animals! I think they knew their days were numbered. Sure enough, some farmers arrived in a tractor pulling a large wagon. They were off to market.


I believe that the world’s cattle contribute one tenth of the worlds pollution. Not as much as oil, though.


I read a disturbing article this morning which maintains that for the the government’s gamble in buying the Kinder Morgan pipeline to pay off, its own proposals to prevent climate change will have to fail. For if the world succeeds in existing on other forms of energy then there won’t be a demand for Canada’s heavy oil at all.


I should explain that the pipeline in question, an addition to an existing pipeline, is necessary to get Alberta’s tar sands oil to the coast. It is supported by most Albertans, and many British Columbians, but opposed by the BC government under extreme pressure from the Green Party, which keeps them in power. To avoid a serious rift in Canada the federal government has supported Alberta and the pipeline, even against its own environmental principles. That’s an oversimplification of the most serious issue to face Canada in years.


I walked through Aroules, up along a wide bitumen road into the forest, and along a narrow path towards the highest crossing on this Camino. But it was nothing compared to previous brutal climbs, because I have been climbing steadily since crossing the Rhone. Today’s gain in elevation was only  six hundred feet.


I passed an old rugged cross, well, no longer rugged, but weathered, still standing but much eroded, rather like the Church itself.





I went to a Billy Graham Crusade once, in my Presbyterian youth. What I enjoyed most, I remember, was the singing of George Beverly Shea. I didn’t go forward, but many did. Yes, they were gullible, but nothing compared to the congregations of today who contribute towards their pastor’s new jet because he tells them that Jesus said he had to have one to be closer to God.


Up to the summit and then down the other side towards the spectacular village of Queyrières. Some villages form in the valleys where there is water: others on a hill for defence. Half way in between, Queyrières seems to have huddled around a great monolith for comfort.






I walked along the road through the hamlet of Monedeyres and down a valley between two plugs, one of them exposing a steep basalt wall, perhaps a challenge for rock climbers.


Arriving at a forest, the path split, the GR heading left up towards one of the mountains, the Chemin de Saint-Jacques following the river down to the Moulin Guérin, a mill on the river still in use, apparently. The path followed the river down to the village of Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, where I am spending the night in the gîte. At the edge of the town, I noticed a particularly nice bed of iris.




Installed in my private room at the gîte, once again I was the only one there, I decided to visit the church, a restored eglise Romane. To get there was a Camino in itself. A walk to the top of the town, a climb up a stony path, and then another climb up some steep steps. How did the faithful infirm get to mass?


After church, I had a choice of nearby eating places: the Restaurant Vidal where the entrees started at €25 and the mains at €40, or the Snack Bar du Meygal, Chez Mich. I chose the latter. On arriving at the door, the hostess said, I’m doing pizza tonight. I said, I’ll have a pizza.


Friday, 1 June 2018

Day 16. June 1, 2018. Montfaucon-en-Velay to Saint-Jeures. 20 kms

Broom is busting out all over






A fine gîte, the municipal Gîte Saint-Regis. Typical of many municipal gîtes, it was a modern facility in an old building that housed other communal programs as well. These villages are not short of old buildings. This one may once have been associated with the Chapelle Notre Dame next door, where instead of stations of the cross were twelve Flemish paintings (Abel Grimmer 1592), depicting the months of the year and each representing a Biblical scene. January reminded me a little of Bruegel. 


After supper last night, I had a very pleasant beer with Jean-Francois, a camerade du chemin I had met seven years ago on the Chemin d’Arles. He was driving from Geneva to Gaillac and made a detour to say hello.


It was all blue sky when I looked out the window this morning, but as I set out, heavy rain clouds were building up, always menacing, but they never came to anything. It was easy going at first, fairly flat along minor roads and farm lanes. And then, I came over a rise, and could see the volcanic plugs (les puys) in the distance which had given Le Puy its name. Eventually I arrived at Tence (below).






In the sun, when it shone, the broom was spectacular. It seems to have bloomed all at once. After borrowing the line from Carousel, I had Rogers and Hammerstein songs in my head all morning. I doubt if the musicals are performed much anymore, especially with songs like “Poor Judd is Dead”.


These are sensitive times. Gilbert and Sullivan’s great comic opera, The Mikado, will be performed this year in Victoria with a special prelude, probably explaining that the performers aren’t really making fun of the Japanese. Not that they ever were. But these are sensitive times.


Especially in Canada. A church not far from the Penny Farthing, the pub that serves Fat Tug beer, has had the Men’s and Women’s signs removed from the doors of the toilets, lest they offend anyone who doesn’t identify as either a man or a woman. The vast majority of us who do, have to interpret the new artistic symbols on the doors, representing urinals and sit-down toilets. Usually I choose the door with two of the former and one of the latter.


These are debatable issues. Not so, in my opinion, was something I observed in Tence this morning when I entered Le Grand Cafe for a petit cafe. It was a posh restaurant where they were getting ready for the noon customers. At the entrance to the dining area was a life-size model of a young man with a deferential smile, holding a waiter’s tray. He was black. He should have been cast into the bin of discarded racist artifacts on top of the golliwogs.


I grew up with golliwogs and racist rhymes like the earlier version of “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe”, and swarthy villains in the Enid Blyton books. We didn’t realize they were racist, of course, but I’m sure they had a subtle effect on us.


Tence is a busy bustling town. I could hardly find a break in the traffic to cross the street. I came out of the town and walked along the bank of the river for a while. Then I started to climb, nothing brutal, but in the undulating afternoon, there were more ups than downs. 


I came over a rise, and looked up towards the village of Saint-Jeures. Towards the right was the church steeple. On the left was the first of the volcanic plugs in the region. Tonight, I am staying at Gîte le Fougal.