The route from Le Puy is marked, as throughout France, by a wide variety of wayside crosses, but those in the large parish of Golinhac (where I am staying tonight) stand out: each has its own descriptive panel nearby, complete with history, poetry and anecdote. We learn for instance that bodies en route to Golinhac for burial would be carried by a team of four bearers, and put down as each cross was reached, while the accompanying priest said a prayer. But if the procession happened to take place in Holy Week, no stops were allowed.
For me, there was no question of not stopping: it was another hot day, and though I had set off early (7.15), I was extremely glad it was not a long walk. For some kms. from Estaing, the path ran along the river, through woods. Then came the inevitable climb, but not so steep as yesterday. At the top, I came across another Martin, from Denmark, washing under a water tap, which he held open for me. He was camping out. After he'd walked on, I allowed another lone walker to catch up with me, Peter from Germany, holding the tap open for his shower in turn.
Passing through the hamlet of Le Mas, I saw a woman pushing her wheelbarrow towards me. "Bonjour Madame," I said. No response. "Bonjour," I repeated. "Au revoir," came the reply. It was the first time I had been made aware of the impact we many walkers might make upon members of a community who have their jobs to do: some make a living by providing us with valuable services, but others no doubt resent what they perceive as our urban chirpiness.
I shall miss my two French companions this evening. They bestowed many kindnesses on me, not least making allowances for my fractured French and even weaker comprehension. They turned to me during one conversation and asked what I thought of the British Government's attitude: I started off about the health service reforms, before being gently told that the subject was immigration. In spite of everything, when Dominique said goodbye, he saluted me as "mon pèlerin préféré": that made me feel good!
Pole Touristique Bellevue, my berth here in Golinhac, is totally different from anywhere else I've stayed: it's a holiday village, the gîte surrounded by bijou chalets scattered over the hilltop: great views! I am awaiting the arrival of my friend of 54 years standing, Peter, who is to be my walking companion for the last four days.