From La Romieu, for a while the soft rolling country gives way to immense flats which could be part of the black soil country of the Darling Downs.
And another Aussie touch a bit later.
It needs repeating: walk for a day in this part of France, in France Profonde, and you’re in a different country. A reason to do it!
A pause at an isolated chapel along the road, chats with other pilgrims who wander in off the track…This is the Camino.
My lunch! One of the great edible joys of southern France is brebis, sheep’s milk cheese. I love it in all its forms, Roquefort, Basque, Corsican or other – unpasteurised for preference. It has concentration of flavour without weight or butteriness. There was nearly always a chunk of firm or semi-soft in my pack.
Condom ahead, and it’s ready for us.
Condom is a pilgrim town, with a millennial tradition of accommodation, medical care, church services and commerce centred on the needs of pilgrims. The oldest brandy of France, armagnac, was popularised not so much by canal commerce as by pilgrims, who not only drank it in Condom but carted it away with them.
How many millions have trod where this pilgrim treads?
It seemed a handsome town, with pilgrims and locals doing serious lunch here in one of France’s prime gastronomic regions.
Some luck: I wandered into the cathedral before looking for my accommodation.
Up in the choir, two kids were rehearsing, one a singer, the other a violinist. There was an organist too, but not visible. A fine rendition of Panis Angelicus transfixed not just me but all the casual visitors.
Kumbaya in Cajarc, vespers in Moissac, and now Bread of Angels in Saint-Pierre de Condom. And I still haven’t had to buy a concert ticket. That’s the Camino.
Accommodation was out of town, in an ancient chai along the Baïse River. A chai is a storage and maybe production building for armagnac. One of the owners was a Gascon, with some of the fiery manner associated with Gascons of fiction. (Interestingly, there was a real d’Artagnan, born in this region, who was indeed a captain of Musketeers.)
My host told me of one of his vivid childhood memories: how on a fierce winter’s night he entered a warm chai, the alembic lit for the distillation of new aygo ardento, the “burning water”. He was given his first armagnac, and the warmth flooded him from inside and out…
The enormous chai converted to a gîte was run with efficiency, probably too much efficiency, by absentee hosts. Still, with these French ladies – one of whom was seventy-two and was striding thirty kilometres a day – I passed a cheerful evening over dubious delivered couscous.