16: Vaylats to Cahors

The splendor of Cami Ferrat

 

DIDIER HEUMANN, MILENA DELLA PIAZZA, ANDREAS PAPASAVVAS

 

We divided the course into several sections to make it easier to see. For each section, the maps show the course, the slopes found on the course, and the state of the roads. The courses were drawn on the “Wikilocs” platform. Today, it is no longer necessary to walk around with detailed maps in your pocket or bag. If you have a mobile phone or tablet, you can easily follow routes live.

For this stage, here is the link:

https://fr.wikiloc.com/itineraires-outdoor/de-vaylats-a-cahors-par-le-gr65-30297634

It is obviously not the case for all pilgrims to be comfortable with reading GPS and routes on a laptop, and there are still many places in France without an Internet connection. Therefore, you can find a book on Amazon that deals with this course.

Click on the book cover or title to open Amazon.

The Camino de Santiago in France / V. From Puy-en-Velay to Cahors (Via Podiensis) on GR65 track

 

If you only want to consult lodging of the stage, go directly to the bottom of the page.

The whole network constituting the ways of Saint-Jacques in France is recognized by the world heritage. The decision to inscribe the Santiago de Compostela routes in France on the heritage list dates from 1998. By this inscription, Unesco wishes to draw attention to the exceptional universal value of this heritage. To do this, monuments or trail sections have been selected.

The track approaches Cahors, the largest town on Via Podiensis, with its 22,000 inhabitants. The journey from Bach to Cahors, the 26 km of the Cami Ferrat are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The same is true of St Etienne cathedral and Valentré Bridge in Cahors. The track runs up towards the North and the Lot plain.

The route crosses an area where there are virtually no villages. The A20 motorway, Occitan Highway, from Limoges to Toulouse, passes through here. You are still in the Department of Lot. In Cahors, you will be almost halfway between Puy-en-Velay and St Jean-Pied-de Port. This route avoids places of human settlement, which adds to the mystery of this gently hilly part of the causse

For the Romans, the way was the Via, a solid, reliable, usually straight way for the passage of carts, soldiers and horses. These tracks were often “railroad” (lou cami ferrât, in Occitan, as hard as iron), in other words reinforced with a packed and rammed coating, most often stoned. When it comes to Roman roads, the word that comes up most often is “it’s straight ahead”. When Julius Caesar invaded Gaules country, he had these roads established to move his troops rapidly throughout the territory. In medieval times, Cami Ferrat from here was an important pilgrimage route that linked Rocamadour to the South of France, and beyond, Rome and the Holy Land.

Cami Ferrat is above all a wide dirt road with little stones, but it sometimes changes structure on the way, especially when the oaks are a little denser than at the edge of the forest and the stones take over the dirt.

Slope variations (+314 meters /-470 meters) are low. The profile of the stage is now to the advantage of the walker. There aren’t any big bumps, except one halfway through. Otherwise, the track undulates gently. Only a severe and tough descent to Cahors marks the end of the stage.

Remarkable stage for the pilgrim! The Cami Ferrat is above all about wide dirt roads. Little tar, the dream, right?:

  • Paved rosds: 3.1 km
  • Dirt roads: 20.9 km

Sometimes, for reasons of logistics or housing possibilities, these stages mix routes operated on different days, having passed several times on Via Podiensis. From then on, the skies, the rain, or the seasons can vary. But, generally this is not the case, and in fact this does not change the description of the course.

It is very difficult to specify with certainty the incline of the slopes, whatever the system you use.

For “real slopes”, reread the mileage manual on the home page.

Section 1: Beyond Vaylats, you join GR path in the forest.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

When you leave Vaylats to join GR path on Cami Ferrat, you quickly find yourself in the forest on a wide dirt road with few stones.

The pathway sometimes runs through the forest along stone walls or in the clearings. You quickly find Cami Ferrat which comes from Bach.

Two donkeys start braying here in the forest.

The pathway climbs a little at the beginning, then slopes down again towards the Valses stream. In dry weather you will never see a drop of water here. There is no more water in the Coubot stream, a little further on. A magnificent “gariotte” is hidden here in the woods.

What marks the causses are the stones along the paths, sometimes gray, sometimes yellow and ocher, on which such a special light plays, in a country where hollow paths alternate with arid moors where junipers and boxwoods reign. and small downy oaks. The oaks huddle together, drop down to the ground, form hedges of honor to the passing walker. Oaks thrive and smother other small trees and shrubs by depriving them of light. Here you will rarely see pine trees, which need light to grow. Sometimes a few rare brooms quiver.

Here, you do not meet anyone, except the pilgrims loaded with their heavy bags. Sometimes the oak forest opens up a little to reveal some rare signs of human presence. To see cultures, you have to stare wide-eyed.

 

 

On this incredible track designed by the Romans, you will sometimes feel lost, alone in the middle of wild nature. Sometimes again, the undergrowth fades in favor of the moor, on the ocher ground where broom, a few rare boxwoods or junipers grow.

Section 2: Flat, on Cami Ferrat.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: course without any difficulty.

 

In these funnels of greenery, the forest can sometimes give way to a sort of scrub, or to plantations of truffle oaks, of which you can guess the potential presence of fungi with the round trace of earth that emerges around the trees. We know that truffles grow in poor soils, in limestone and filtering soils. You need a soil in which organic matter breaks down quickly. The mycelium of the truffle lives in association with the roots of truffle trees, downy oaks or hazelnuts. But be careful, all these trees are not ready for truffles!

Don’t assume that all truffles come naturally. Truffles are real work. They clear and plow the land favorable to the truffle. During the winter, young oaks are planted with the mycelium of the truffle. You have to wait 3 to 6 years of maintenance of these trees to hope to see the “burnt”, this grassless zone around the tree, synonymous with high hopes.

 

In the place called Fontanilles, the pathway approaches Mas de Vers.

It crosses a small paved road and continues, wide as desired, in the beauty and majesty of the causse. As far as Mas de Vers, the route flattens through clearings or oak undergrowth.

What more can be said? Nothing, listen to the silence. It’s just grandiose, out of time..

Wait for thr video to load.

There is a semblance of civilization near Mas-de-Vers, a hamlet that the track avoids. Here again, as between Faycelles and Cajarc, Unesco took pleasure in classifying lost pathways, far from men.

Leaving Mas-de-Vers, a shortcut leads to a gîte, the gîte de Poudally, which should be noted, as there is so little accommodation before Cahors. Has Unesco struck again for the misfortune of landlords? Because, it must also be said. A kilometer more sometimes discourages the pilgrim. In this world of drought, sometimes an abandoned farm appears behind the boxwoods and oaks. In the woods, oaks are omnipresent, but sometimes also country and Montpellier maples, trees very common in all the Causses of Quercy.

And the pathway advances, peaceful, almost monotonous in its natural beauty. The eye is lost in often sublime landscapes. Sometimes the clay is so smooth that you could play petanque.

Section 3: A few shuddering dales on Cami Ferrat.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of route: course without any difficulty.

 

If the oaks are the masters of the forests of the causses, the boxwoods are not necessarily their servants. Boxwood is the most invasive shrub in the causses. Almost perennial, it retains its green foliage all year round. Exposed to the sun, the foliage takes on an orange color, which gives a rather impressionistic symphony of colors along the roads. Why are there so many boxwoods in the causses? Shepherds will tell you it’s because sheep hate their tough leaves. The nature of the poor soil is undoubtedly the best explanation. An undemanding species, tolerating large variations in temperature, it has little competition here, apart from the junipers.

On the way, there is sometimes a small clearing in the forest. The gaze then falls on the countryside, on the plowing truffles or on the stone walls covered with moss of Cami Ferrat. We cannot say enough about the beauty of these low walls which mark out the paths. Moss and lichen in the causses creep in everywhere, on pebbles, on trees, living or dead, weaving the space with thick curtains.

 

Here, all you have to do is walk forward and enjoy the silence.

Nothing moves, nothing changes along the oak trees, except sometimes a little more stone on the pathway.

A little further on, GR path crosses the road that leads from Lalbenque to Laburgade. Sometimes a rare vehicle drives along these remote axes of the hinterland. The pathway then runs through fields, at the edge of the undergrowth. Here the forest leaves little room for the countryside. Only a few poor meadows allow rare peasants to survive by practicing some animal husbandry.

Rarely will you find in the midst of creeping aridity a few vague grains which hardly express themselves.

 

 

Then, suddenly, the landscape changes, a bit as if you had changed country. From straight the pathway becomes a little more tortuous, stonier in the undergrowth. Along the way, a sign indicates the presence of a gîte, outside Cami Ferrat. The particularity of the stage of the day is to ignore the hamlets. Did Julius Caesar foresee this? Curious! Is it to preserve the attribution of the Bach-Cahors section to UNESCO heritage that Cami Ferrat is hiding in the forest?

ometimes pilgrims, inclined to make stops in isolated places, stop there, such as here in Gascou.

It is still a very beautiful dirt road surrounded by stone walls that leads to the fountain of Outriols. The water here is not drinkable. There is no water point on the course, except at the Repose-Pieds refreshment bar. Remember to fill your water bottles well before departure!

 

It is true that the pathway is changing. The pebbles increase significantly in number and size and there is sometimes even a little slope. On the way, the signs always indicate the lodgings present outside the way.

You are now 1.8 km to Le Pech. You have to leave the dirt road to follow the paved road that slopes down to the fork that leads to Le Pech / Laburgade. Here you are at the halfway point. GR path does not go to Le Pech. You have to make a detour of 800 meters to reach a lodging.

Section 4: Everyone, to the refreshment bar!

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: some slopes a little more marked, but nothing very severe.

 

At the Le Pech fork, you are about 1 km to the A20 motorway, the Occitane Highway. The dirt road will run alongside Cieurac brook Here, it is a cradle of greenery where the little stream is lost, timid and almost invisible, under the foliage.

It is by crossing a sort of no man’s land, on a small lane in the middle of the weeds, that the highway is approached.

What a shock to suddenly find yourself in the heart of noisy civilization, while you have been surrounded by silence for miles! The motorway bypass is done in a complex network of intersecting roads. GR path follows the paved D6 for a while, and the slope becomes steeper.

Along the way, an owner, no doubt tired of seeing pilgrims ringing at his door to ask for water, installed a fountain and a tap by the side of the road. Write a few words in passing to this generous donor.

At a place called Le Gariat, GR path leaves the tar and returns to the undergrowth. On the Camino de Santiago, tar, dirt and stones go hand in hand. They put up with it, because if the pathways belong to the pilgrim, the people here must be able to move around every day without facing potholes and the jolting of the tracks.

Tired of walking along the motorway, its empty surroundings and its ordinary world, the pathway comes back to life and plunges again into the undergrowth. So gradually, the engines of the cars fell silent in the woods. What silence! You can almost hear the trees quivering in the light wind. GR path sets out again on the stones and the path climbs toughly. It changes, right?

Happiness is announced here just a little higher.

The Repose-Pieds refreshment bar is a welcome and essential stop on the track. It’s often here that you will see pilgrims congregating for a deserved break. You will do the same. The jovial owner of the refreshment stall will tell you that he has rarely seen a pilgrim run straight past his shop.

 

 

Beyond the bar, GR path flattens a while. Everything is still drought, in spite of some meager meadows which sometimes point the nose on the hills

But flattening does not last. A long descent then begins on the very stony path. At more than 10% slope, your feet are not sure on rolling stones. All around, the oaks, so thin, will give you little shade.

Section 5: Back to a little more civilization.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route: slightly steeper hills, but no slope is greater than 15%.

And this little ride on the stony pathway, continues through oaks and thickets until the junction of Pradelles, just before Flaujac-Poujols. Here again, you guessed it, the Cami Ferrat ignores the village.

Beyond Les Pradelles, you are playing the same game again. A first ripple is in front of you, but you can guess others, in a horizon that opens up a bit. The route approaches Cahors, from vale to dale. The pebbles sometimes roll under the foot. And if for a few moments of respite, we skip the ups and downs a bit for a bit calmer for the knees and joints, all we have to do is ask. Here a wide avenue of dirt leads you towards the Quintarde and La Marchande which is announced at the top of the hill.

The pathway slopes up, at the beginning a little beside a road where hardly anyone passes.

The pleasure, in these long solitary crossings in the undergrowth, or at their limit as here, is that you become by force sensitive to details. Others don’t care and will instead let their minds wander. But for all walkers, the mind becomes accustomed to these tranquil scenes where nature displays simple beauties. The Roman diggers of the time only had to collect stones around them to arm the path. They were not lacking, and will doubtless never be lacking. And too bad, if the topography of the region was rugged. All you had to do was follow the slopes and hills: up, down, then up and down, usually at the edge of the forest. Julius Caesar undoubtedly liked to see his troops transit, on the edge of the woods, so that he could take refuge there if necessary.

Higher up, the stones are back on the pathway, the slope too.

Soon, here is the locality called La Quintarde, where the slope becomes less steep and where the tar regains its raison d’être.

Here, the horizon finally opens onto a semi-countryside that gives way to the undergrowth.

 

 

The paved road then turns at a right angle towards La Marchande.

Between the Quintarde and the Marchande, the road flattens among small villas. The city is exported to the countryside, as everywhere. This is the only stretch of the track that changed Julius Caesar’s plans. But, on the Camino de Santiago, as soon as you find an alternative to the road, you are sure to go there.

The Chemin de la Marchande is a pretty pathway that wanders in the shade of oak trees.

At the end of the pathway, it is the paved road again, then a crossroads of roads. La Marchande is not a real village, rather a row of scattered villas.

At the exit of La Marchande, GR path still follows the paved road for a few moments. A sign announces the Chemin de Cabridelle.

Here the landscape changes drastically. The path of Cabridelle, earthy and stony, gets lost and undulates on small false flats, on a grandiose peeled ridge, where the vegetation is crude, with its junipers, wild grasses and brushwood.

Section 6: Downhill all the way to Cahors, jewel of the Lot.

 

 

General overview of the difficulties of the route : tough descent, sometimes with more than 25% slope towards Cahors.

 

Over the ridge, there is a great reordering of the area, whichever way you turn. It is the majestic Pech de Fourques which dominates Cahors. Not a living soul. Nothing but the splendor of the silence sometimes interrupted by the crickets. The soul expands with the gaze.

At the end of this ridge that will fill you with happiness, the stony lane ends on a small asphalt road which flattens for a few hundred meters.

Then the horizon opens wide. The road begins to toughly slope down to Cahors, where you can see the railway bridge in the distance, and further still the Valentré Bridge.

 

The descent is very steep with a slope of more than 25% in places. Oaks, we have come across tens of millions in the past week. These will be the last oaks of the day.

 

The road arrives at the bottom of the descent at Chemin du Pech de Fourques, near the railway line, in the St Georges district, suburb of Cahors.

The pilgrim then enters the St Georges district, passes under the railway line, then reaches the Louis Philippe bridge. He is in Cahors, in the city center. Lot River is at its feet, calm, peaceful.

Section 7: In Cahors.

 

Cahors is the only medium-sized town on the Camino de Santiago in France. The city itself contains 22,000 inhabitants, but the greater Cahors nearly 50,000. Our intention is not to describe Cahors in detail. Let’s just say that the city, enclosed in a loop of the Lot, is cut in two by Boulevard Gambetta, the main axis that crosses the city, with its gigantic squares and its shops. It is on this boulevard that Cahors is teeming with activity and people.

Léon Gambetta (1838-1882), a great French politician under the Third Republic, was born in Cahors. The city entrusted the sculptor Alexandre Falguières to erect a monument to his glory, soon after the death of the great man. The statue of Gambetta sits on a gigantic square above a fountain. The small square in front of the courthouse is much less noisy.

The old town is wedged between the boulevard and the Lot River, on one side of the Lot loop. The other half are more modern, less interesting. The old Cahors is made up of narrow streets, almost deserted, and small shopping streets.

In terms of monuments, in the old town, the Saint-Étienne cathedral, built between the XIth and XIIth centuries, is remarkable for its cupolas. It houses the Headdress of Christ, brought back from the Holy Land. But, it’s not the only church in the world with the divine headgear! It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, under the Camino de Santiago in France. In the adjoining cloister, in Flamboyant Gothic style, sculptures represent shells, drunkards and musicians.

Jacques Duèze (1244-1334), born in Cahors, became pope in Avignon in 1316, under the name of John XXII. It was the latter’s brother who rebuilt the paternal house into a palace. The latter was demolished for the repair of the Pont Neuf. There remains a magnificent tower, five floors high.

 

 

But Cahors is above all the majestic Pont Valentré, also called Pont du Diable, or Pont de Balandras, in Occitan. It is obviously part of the UNESCO world heritage. Recently, vines have been added to it, to clearly mark its belonging to the region’s wine heritage, although there are no vines, or almost in Cahors.

The bridge is a humpback over 100 meters long, with 6 large Gothic-style pointed arches. It is flanked by three square towers with battlements and machicolations overlooking the Lot, 40 meters high.

A legend runs in Cahors about the construction of the bridge. As the work did not progress much, the master builder signed a pact with the devil, pledging his soul. And of course, the bridge rose quickly. To save his soul, the foreman asked the devil to provide himself with a sieve to go and draw water from the source of the Carthusians. Clever though he was, the Devil failed in his endeavor. In revenge, he came every night to unseal the last stone of the central tower. And the game lasted for centuries …
In 1879, during the restoration of the bridge, the architect had a stone carved with the effigy of the demon affixed to the empty space. And since then, the demon has remained desperately clinging to the top of the bridge.

 

Lodging