Here I am, deep in the Auvergne, having had a beautiful first day, after setting out from Le Puy. 24 kms. walked. It's been a little controversial!
But not at the outset: first, there was the 7 a.m. Cathedral mass, followed by pilgrims' blessing. About 100 of us! Will we all find somewhere to sleep tonight? Happily, Roland had booked us in to "his" gîte, at Combriaux - us being me and one of our other room mates last night, Dominique, from Riberac. (It seems that many of the hundred are day pilgrims, not going on to sleep along the way.) After breakfast, I set off along the former pilgrim route, not the main drag that departs past our gîte. My way, advocated on the web, was easy to follow as far as Bains. It enabled me to visit a substantial shrine in Espaly Saint Marcel en route. From there, it's a short, steep climb up to level tracks to Bains, with wonderful backward views to Le Puy and its volcanic outcrops, dotted with monuments. (You can see Espaly's huge St Joseph statue in the lower left of my photograph.)
After a decent lunch at Bains' one and only eaterie, Le Del'ri, and a look at the delightful romanesque church of Sainte Foy, with its 15th Century polychrome stone Pieta, I set off full of confidence - too full, as it turned out. For I was following the wrong set of markings: a lovely walk, but in almost completely the wrong direction! By the time a passing cyclist had put me right, and I'd got back on track, I was soon exhausted. So, after hitting the main road in Montbonnet, I decided to hitchhike. No problem, except that I was dropped in the main square of St Privat, where the whole walking world was assembled to drink beer. Heads turned in horror as a "pilgrim" took his rucksack from the back of a car. And this on the first day!
In one sense I was glad therefore that my destination lay a little further on than St Privat. On the other hand, Combriaux (a quiet hamlet right on the GR) is steeply uphill, 885m., up from 625m. at Le Puy; and in addition Roland's and Dominique's faces on my arrival were not exactly filled with warm endorsement for the set-up at gîte d'étape l'Estaou: I was offered by our host, Serge, either a double bed to share with Roland, or a put-you-up bed in a room of my own, but almost completely full of junk, and with no window. To Roland, master of understatement, it was "original". However, Serge, whose house has been a gîte for 12 years, gradually managed to overcome the chaos surrounding him, providing warmth and quite a decent dinner; and now it's very much time for bed.