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Archive for the ‘D. AVEYRON TO QUERCY’ Category

Quercy is the old name for a region that takes in this part of Lot, and that’s the term you hear most often. Here the hills are more compact and wooded than in the Aveyron. Indicating a different geology, buildings are roofed more often with tiles rather than lauze.

Now, in mid April, it’s safe to talk of spring:

My first traffic warning against rogue poultry:

Faycelles is mostly by-passed by pilgrims, and it’s surprising. A town without street signs or any urgency to attract tourism, it is, in fact, of very great tourist value. Perhaps being a victim of Richelieu’s centralising policies, which cost Faycelles its castle and moved it uphill, has taught the residents to keep their heads down. (Richelieu did have a point: the old town had long before been captured and used by those accursed anglais.)

As in all agglomerations which rise above the status of hamlet, there is a proud, plucky mairie, which has no doubt had many a political tussle with the facing (and huge) church. Only in France.

Rustic without roughness would be a good description for the general tone of the villages of Quercy.

Faycelles’ one restaurant doesn’t do haute, nouvelle, touristique or molecular. It just feeds you as if you were a hungry human. A good reason to stay the night in Faycelles, which I did.

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The Aveyron is left behind as the track heads to Figeac. Much flat, even marshy, walking.

A reminder of the importance of pigeonniers, or dovecotes, to the people of these regions over the centuries. (Mind you, this could be just a shepherd’s hut. The perforations made me think pigeonnier.)

Sometimes the architecture of pigeonniers is rustic, sometimes elaborate. The meat, eggs and dung of pigeons were important products, and remain of some value. Further along the French Camino one sees light wooden pigeonniers suspended in forests, along with signs requesting silence from the pilgrims. A hunting arrangement, I’m guessing. (UPDATE: As Fred has pointed out in the comments, this structure is actually a shepherd’s hut. Merci, Fred.)

At last Figeac, a medieval river town of unforced elegance. A mix of architectures, no quaint uniformity, and no rough-hewn defenses. Traditional centre, rather than nervous outpost.

***

In a house off  the main square, a boy, born in 1790, lived his first ten years. Too poor for school, he was fortunate to have a studious but practical brother, who was to help him throughout his life.

In his home town, Jean-Francois Champollion, instead of swapping footy cards to buy his first Gameboy, tried to master Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Chaldean and Chinese. His progress was such that some schooling was arranged, in Grenoble. Thus began an academic career which took in many things, but especially oriental languages. He was still but a boy when he was able to put forth a more or less correct theory connecting the language of the modern Copts with that of pharaonic Egypt. He soon got closer to Egypt with a gig in the Louvre’s antiquities collection.

So, imagine how it was when a more mature Champollion was able to get to Egypt – for one year! Yet for all that he achieved there, his name is most closely linked with an object found at Rosetta by French troops during Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign.

There is no one Father of Egyptology, but Champollion comes closest; this in spite of some vandalism on his part, typical of the earlier days of archeology. He was not alone in the decipherment of the Rosetta Stone, an exercise that was something of a race, which Champollion might be said to have won, with the help of predecessors as well as competitors. Like that other genius of decipherment, Michael Ventris, he died early. Time has cast few doubts on his achievement…and the proud citizenry of Figeac never had any doubts.

Figeac is Champollion town.

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Advancing west, still near the River Lot…

Very much in the Aveyron…

St. Roch’s here, of course…

Country lanes…

Snacks and a nap in the town square of Livinhac-le-Haut…

After a short day’s walk, a rural gîte at Montredon, the best kind. I won’t gush. Remember the name: La Mariotte. Like the Tour des Chapelains at the foot of the Aubrac, it’s not to be missed.

Within a day’s walk we will be in a different département, the Lot. The country and its productions will be different. That’s what makes the way from Le Puy such an experience: with nothing but leg-power, even a dawdler can find himself in a different country in the space of hours.

France is a hundred countries. When Flaubert told a legend of mon pays, “my country”, he wasn’t talking of France, he was talking of one little corner of one region. All French people are regional. To be purely and simply French is not to be French at all.

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Best to leave Conques in the early hours to get the big climb out of the way. Yeah, even moi.

The departure is by one of those famous pilgrim bridges. Here I waved goodbye to two new Alsatian mates who were, ahem, wanting to walk a bit faster. We’d only met the night before, but one night’s friendship on the Camino is equivalent to a month in civilian life.

A last glimpse of Conques, the Jewel in its Shell, through mist.

Trekking once more through the wide green Aveyron…

Decazeville is the large town ahead. The common advice is to by-pass the nineteenth century industrial centre, now a bit shabby and depressed, with a good rugby side and sizable population of unemployed.

Hey! Add some surf and that could be Australia!

So it’s on to Decazeville.

Louis XIV and successors gave mining rights to their mistresses. Cheaper than Fabergé eggs, no doubt. In the nineteenth century, one enterprising aristocrat who ended up with the rights decided to develop the region in a big way. Coal deposits were large, and for quite some time generated exports and powered a thriving foundry. Some heavier industries sputter along, though the last mine closed a few years back.

It gave me a buzz to shop that evening in an Aussie-sized supermarket, complete with teenage mall-rats, in weather that had grown suddenly balmy.

Conques was certainly behind me now.

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