13 Sep 10: Nasbinals to Saint Chely d’Aubrac

Route: 30 km (via GR 6 unintentionally) with a 500 ft climb followed by 1600 ft descent

Tour: I left town with the pilgrim horde about 9:15 (the boulangerie was closed on Monday, so I made do with a store-made jambon beurre on cracked wheat from the quick-mart). The weather is very windy as we head for the highest of the daily crests (about 20 knots eventually, 55 F to start), with puffy clouds zipping by. We climb steadily upward – 400 ft for two hours with a grassy track, sharing the pasture with many herds of Aubrac cattle. Miles of stiles! We have to pass through or over or around a stile every time we cross a fence. Maybe a dozen all told. The route makes a short descent into Aubrac, making good 9 km with climb and descent in two hours, a really good pace for me. Morning is really my best time physically, and it’s nice to finally be able to take advantage of that. After Aubrac, I took a wrong turn, following the GR6 instead of the GR65 (the waymarks are the same white-and-red, but my French was not adequate to decipher the warning signs). GR6 was the old CSJ during the Middle Ages and has the corresponding old walls in some places. The early part was a lovely forest walk, shady and out of the darned wind. The route climbed some, picking up an old Roman road and then running through a tangle of cross-country ski routes in the provincial forest. Only occasionally waymarked, so I used the topo map (think of the trouble I would have saved if I’d consulted it earlier!) and compass, kept heading in the general direction of the next town. Finally I came to the edge of the Aubrac plateau, and a stupendous view: over 30 miles around a 270 degrees panorama. Still there was no sign of town, but after quite a road march and asking directions when the opportunity arose, I managed to complete the 1500 ft descent and find the town. It turns out my afternoon was 21 km rather than the intended 8 km – I swear I will pay more attention to the maps in advance!

Lodging: CH Bar le Relais Saint-Jacques (I think – records incomplete)

Cuisine: A magnificent breakfast, the best yet: scratch pound cake, fresh fruit salad, yogurt, sliced ham, toasted baguettes with orange marmalade. At Saint Chely, both Monsieur and Madame are from Belgium. He served a Belgian mixed fruit jam (pear, apple, date) with the cheese plate chevre, very tasty. Dinner was plain home cooking but very tasty and personal service (we only had ten lodgers at the table). Best soup yet – carrot and noodle, with chicken stock I think. (How can anything with real chicken stock be bad??) A garden salad with mustard vinagrette. The main was a broiled tomato stuffed with a meat ball, very nicely seasoned, moist, very tasty. The cheese plate included chevre but no blue, for the first time. A very sweet peach jam for dessert. There was good conversation, mostly French and gestures, with very little English. Monsiuer says the walkers he sees are mostly French, then Germans and Swiss; he sees a fair number of Canadians including Quebecois.

Grace: Saint Chely is a hillside town which I had to cross and climb to check-in my lodgings. (GR6 and GR65 enter town from opposite sides) I must have looked exhausted. Lodgings are in a private home near the GR6 on the east side of town (downhill), while dining is up the hill on the west side of town. Monsieur put me and my pack in his car and drove me downhill to the lodgings. I had a room to myself, a bidet with a chair to soak my feet, and a laundry spinner that made my hand-wash almost bone dry. This town was full up tonight, but the two Swiss women who had lodged with us at Saint Albans were able to find accommodations eventually.

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