After Lauds and breakfast, we set off from Conques, pausing to talk with one of the Abbaye's Norbertians, Père Jean-Régis, drinking coffee in a bar. My photograph, looking back at the village, was taken by the Chapelle Sainte-Foy, built near a spring: its waters have worked miraculous cures for those with eye problems. From Conques, we descended further, to the bridge over the River Dourdou, before a steep walk up through woods. There was further to go - it's a 300m. climb in all - but the effort was well worthwhile: on the crest you can see for miles almost 360 degrees around. We followed the variante to Noailhac, where the church has a fine, modern stained glass window, depicting "Le fils de l'homme à la croisée des energies divines."
24kms. today, and it's been hot. After a long time on the ridge, it was downhill, and then the final stretch was steeply uphill from the outskirts of Decazeville, the first industrial town we had encountered. I was tipped off about a way to avoid it, but failed to heed the directions: they would have involved some unsigned road-walking, but that route saves the fierce down and up. Peter in particular found the last lap gruelling: for me, carrying 11kgs. plus water is something I'm used to by now, but it's different on only your second day.
Six of us are staying here at Brigitte d'Halluin's quite newly-opened Gîte Sentinelle: it's an old house, not large - very much a simple, private home, filled with rather beautiful and unusual things. Brigitte had cold beers and open arms in welcome, and cooked us a delicious dinner (starting with nettle soup) - the first vegetarian meal I'd encountered. She has taken in hand the priest's garden, from which most of the produce comes, and keeps 15 hens. Père Pierre Calmette, 84, still wearing his cap, gave us a pilgrim blessing in the little church over the road. It's filled with statues, pictures and interesting information about the village's saint: we keep coming across him, with his wounded leg, staff and dog - almost more ubiquitous than St James himself indeed.
Over supper, Brigitte initiated a conversation about the "why" of the walk. This prompted a gentle, marvelously eloquent speech by lovely Louis de la Vallée (from Arras), listing four separate possible goals for the pilgrim. I wish I'd been able to record it. Afterwards, we passed across to the church once more, where Brigitte led us in night prayer.