After having to share the path at the Canal des Moines with several others we have preferred to walk in places less likely to attract holidaymakers during the school hols. Hence heading for tucked away areas of the Correze recently.
However, I fancied a return to the Cele valley with its majestic cliffs and pretty villages. Hunting for walks and in particular ‘boucles’, circular walks, was difficult as a lot of them climb up and down those very cliffs. My knees can’t do downhill and my stamina weakens on the up bit! The French IGN maps have many footpaths marked on them and some march across the landscape, coloured red and carrying numbers. These are the GR, grand randonnee paths. Not circular in character and travelling very long distances. The one that follows the Cele valley is one of the three main Compostelle pilgrim ways across France towards Spain. The Camino de Santiago is the stuff of legend and, since being rediscovered in the twentieth century, subject of many books and television documentaries by various survivors of the journey. We had walked a tiny part of it in Northern Spain a few years ago, following two genuine pilgrims who were carrying the traditional scallop shells on their backpacks.
The scallop logo, a golden shell on a blue background, adorns the GR 651 as it follows the meanders of the Cele, coming close to the river between the two villages that make up the commune of Espagnac-Sainte-Eulalie. Close inspection showed that between the villages the GR looked a simple and doable walk, an aller/retour as it is called when you walk back the way you came.
Espagnac has a priory which is open to visitors be they pilgrims or just curious. The village also has several ‘gites d’etape’ for the use of weary pilgrims looking for a bed for the night. Searching on Google earth I saw there was a tiny carpark near the bridge into the village. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be ‘complet’ when we arrived.
The drive across the causse was very different from the earlier ones in June. The fields were dry and yellow and no sign of poppies on the verges. While descending into the valley I noticed how many of the trees were beginning to change into autumnal colours, brought on early by the high temperatures.
As we approached the turning for the bridge we passed a large group of walkers…oops, going our way? There were just two places left in the car park and ‘I’m only the chauffeur’ neatly slotted us in. So much for avoiding holidaymakers!
As we walked through the village looking for the exclusive red and white balise of the GR I found a notice board with a village walk that I hadn’t found online. Its last few kilometres followed the same part of the GR that I had chosen. Dommage. But it was eleven kilometres which was a bit of a push before lunch.
The walking group had disappeared so I assumed they were following the village walk. Our planned jaunt was going in the opposite direction so we would probably meet them coming towards us at some point. Let’s hope there would be enough room for social distancing!
After trudging up a pretty steep hill (I thought this route followed the river) we came to our first red and white waymarker. Then it was downhill, for quite a long way. Hmmm, that would mean an uphill finish to our walk.
This was very confusing. Uphill and then down on a tarmac surface and no sign of the river. After a while I glimpsed water away down on our left so we were following the Cele but at a distance. The trees between us and it were covered in a clinging, dangling type of moss. Quite spooky.
Soon, however, fields replaced the woods and there were some grazing donkeys. The river completely disappeared and we came to the tiny hamlet of Salebio, a pretty collection of houses.
The house on the left is for sale!
Now we got rid of the road and were walking on grass, much kinder to the feet. The sun was trying to break through and the path seemed less gloomy.
Then we were in the trees again and walking on stones and fallen leaves, another sign of autumn. That odd moss was back on the trees and rocks beside the path. The river was nearer and suddenly, scarily, a long way below us which made me think it must be very misty in winter to cause so much dampness.
It occurred to me that the moss might be spagnum moss as it was very damp to the touch. Very useful for lining hanging baskets but I had never thought much about how it grew or where.
There was chalk showing through the moss and undergrowth, reminding us of the cliffs close by.
We were dropping down again towards the river and we could hear it tumbling, fast and shallow over its gravel bed. The path crossed a dry stream and came to a junction. A red bar crossed with a white one told us that was not the turn for us so off to the right and onto the road that led to the bridge and village of Sainte Eulalie.
Up to the bridge we went to mark the end of our own ‘balade’ and then turned for the ‘retour’.
The return always seems much quicker than the outward journey, probably because fewer photos are taken. Himself had already disappeared around the bend. Hungry?
As we turned onto the path a family came towards us and then another. Suddenly it was the Canal des Moines all over again. If they were doing the village Val de Paradis walk they had opted to do it in reverse.
As we walked back I was reminded of ‘Going on a bear hunt’…’back past the dry stream, stumble trip, stumble trip; back past the mossy mossy walls, slip slop, slip slop; back past that nasty drop to the river ‘mind the edge!’. The retired teacher is never far away!
As we came out of the trees in sight of the little hamlet there was s very strange call from a bird across the valley on the cliff. No idea what it was so a quick video clip to help with a later online search.
Past the hamlet we were back on the road and yet another family came towards us. ‘Tous la monde’ shouted the father cheerfully as they passed. In other words, ‘Busy, isn’t it?’ Just a bit, I thought.
Further on I noticed a rare clump of flowers. As I approached five butterflies flew up but quickly settled back down. I counted three different species. Poor things must be getting desperate as the August temperatures shrivel everything.
By now the road was going up…and up. But I must be getting slightly fitter as it didn’t seem too bad.
In fact, the bonus of having climbed up meant there were glimpses of lovely views across the village rooftops to the priory.
And I noticed a bread oven on the end of a barn
Of course, had we wanted to visit the priory, which should have been open, it was, in fact, shut…fermeture exceptionelle. Two of the most frustrating words in the French language!
Eschewing the strip of shingle below the bridge as a possible picnic spot, not enough shade, we drove downstream to St Sulpice where I had noted an ‘aire de repos’ alongside a canoe embarkation point. Just under a bridge like our first picnic at Monteils nine weeks ago!
Murphy’s law ensured there was a family firmly ensconced on the only picnic table but with our own in the boot we were soon set up under a handy tree. There was a lot of canoe activity on the river but it soon became clear that the family were not canoeists. Like us, they had simply chosen to picnic by the water.
They soon packed up and left us to enjoy a quiet pause….until a party of canoeists came chattering and laughing down the river and hauled themselves and their boats onto the bank past the bridge.
It was becoming overcast again so time to go. As we drove up the steep hill out of St Sulpice a few drops of rain hit the windscreen. Glad we weren’t in a canoe or still walking the pilgrim trail!