25 Aug 2012

Cluny route- introduction

In 2008 I walked from Le-Puy-en-Velay to Santiago de Compostela, but found the Camino wasn't quite 'finished' with me yet. I 'discovered' the route from Cluny to Le Puy when I fell in love with a set of photos of the route posted on Picasa, and then found a booklet on the CSJ website that outlined practical points like accommodation and finding food. I was hooked...

A viewpoint after Col de Patoux, while descending from Mont St-Rigaud
During my Camino in 2008 I met Francis, a Frenchman who had walked the Camino from Dijon to Santiago, including the chemin from Cluny. When I told him of my plans, initially he had some concerns. He was keen to make sure I understood that the Cluny route was harder in various ways than what I had already walked. He told me it was hillier, with many ascents and descents, and that food and accommodation were both harder to find. He also told me that it was more solitary, with several days spent mostly in forest, and that I would probably not meet many other pilgrims on the route. But he also said that it was a spectacular route, with many beautiful views...

When I was still keen to walk from Cluny, Francis supported my decision. He also told  me that he would walk with me the first two days of the route if I wanted that, and I was very glad to have the chance of his company as I walked.

Prior to leaving for Cluny, I was invited to stay with Francis and his wife at their home in a small village in Burgundy. A warm fire was burning in the lounge, and Francis spent quite a bit of time there with me before we left, going over the Amis guide to the route. He highlighted places where I might find food and accommodation, and he worked out distances between towns and villages to give a possible itinerary. Some of the gîtes he chose were ones that he had previous knowledge of from his own walks. 

Francis also made sure I understood the crucial importance of how the shell balises were used on this chemin, so that I could find my way. On a tree in the village he showed me a balise for the Chemin, which passed right near his house. (The base part of the 'shell' motif -not the 'fingers'- indicates the direction to walk.)

Soon it was time to leave for Cluny. A valued friendship formed on my 2008 Camino had become the springboard for the start of this walk from Cluny in 2012.

Day 1: Cluny-Tramayes

Wednesday 18 April

On Tuesday afternoon, April 17th, Francis and I left the Cote d'Or departement for the drive south to Cluny. We passed by much forest, and later, vineyards. We stopped briefly at Taize to say a prayer for someone who was ill, and I was amazed by how much the place had grown since my younger days when I had visited there in the early '80s.

When we reached Cluny we were too late to take a guided tour, but even a walk around the outside of the ruins of the old monastic buildings gave an idea of how immense this monastery had been.

We dined at a restaurant but were home in bed by 9.30pm, ready for the early start we needed next morning.

Next morning (April 18th) we breakfasted in the gite, then donned our packs before a walk to the boulangerie for fresh bread. My pack felt very heavy at this stage, as we had to carry food for several days, and I had extra clothing for the cold, wet weather that seemed likely.

I hadn't read the route guide or map too carefully, so I was a little surprised by the steepness and length of the initial climb out of Cluny. We met two women who seemed to be teachers at the school on the hill, and they guessed we were on the way to Compostelle, and wished us Bon Chemin. Very French, and very much appreciated.

My education began immediately, as Francis took his opportunities to make sure I knew which direction was indicated by the shell balises- in this case a left turn. At this stage we were sharing the route with the GR3, with the red and white markings, but the Chemin diverged from this at several stages along its length. The bottom marking here was a mark for a new route from Vezelay to Assisi that we shared the path with briefly.

Francis also taught me about some of the flowers that we passed along the way.
After the initial climb out of Cluny, we followed a fairly flat path for the first few kilometres- in places quite muddy after recent rain. This was indeed the last really 'flat' bit of track for quite a few days.

I loved this beginning to the walk as I breathed in all the rural atmosphere, the flowers, animals, birdsong, spring leaves budding forth on the trees...

 These donkeys soon came up to the fence and loved to be patted on their noses, though they were probably hoping for spare food that we didn't have to give them.

 Francis had longer legs than I did and was much fitter than I was, so I got a few photos of him walking ahead... It was about 7km to Sainte-Cecile before the climbing began. I soon came to realise that Francis' definition of a 'slight' climb was different to mine, and we had many spectacular views throughout the day.

We also walked on quite a few sections of forest path, which gave an indication of what lay ahead when I walked on my own in two days' time.

 I loved the colours on these felled trunks.

 And the spring colours on the forest on the hill ahead of us looked very beautful. And that road that climbs steeply up beside the forest and farm buildings? Well, yes, we climbed up that hill, and when you thought you had reached the top, you would find there was yet another steep climb ahead. (There was certainly a lot of hill climbing to be done this day, and I was grateful for every time I had climbed up the Gorge route or Green's Rd in 'training'.)

But the great thing about climbing is that you get many wonderful views back over forest and farmland. And some of the views across valleys were just spectacular.

Some of the forest was deciduous, and leaves were budding forth.

It seemed like a long day. We had made an early start, but it was getting close to 4pm before we saw this view of Tramayes down in the valley in front of us.

We were instantly welcomed in the town. A couple who had already walked to Santiago spied us as we entered the centre of town, then they took us to the nearby house where we were staying- at an 'accueil jacquaire'- where someone took pilgrims for Santiago into their own homes.

 We were made very welcome by Mme Galland, who was allowing us to stay, and who had prepared a meal for us, even though she herself was returning to family in Lyon for the night.

 And Francis just loved the selection he could choose from in the cheese course...

Day 2: Tramayes- Gros-Bois

Thursday 19 April

I'd already looked at the contour lines on the map, and I had been warned by someone who had walked it, that the climb to Cenves was long and difficult.... so I made sure I ate a hearty breakfast! By 8am Francis and I were setting off for the day's exertions, and it wasn't long before we were climbing. The gradient was a bit less severe than I was expecting- but I was surprised by how muddy some of the track was.

Here's the worst of the muddy section through farmland. A friend who saw this photo thought it was a stream rather than the track... It was quite hard work walking up this track, but somewhere through the years, I've learned to just keep plodding on steadily upwards.

As on the previous day, this morning there were some lovely sections of forest with spring leaves just emerging, and as you can see, the track is less muddy here. (Can you hear my sigh of relief?)

In this region of France it is quite common to see crosses in the landscape. They were of many sizes and kinds, and were there for different reasons. Some had been erected after a 'Mission' had been preached, while others were memorials for someone who had died.

Once we had reached the top of the climb, we were at an altitude of around 700m, and the grass growth was sparse. This was hill country that reminded me of home, with sheep in the fields.

The climb to Cenves was about 5.5km, and once we'd arrived we had a short rest break there on the steps of the large gite. Francis told me that after Cenves the track was 'facile' (easy) and 'plat' (flat) but I was to quickly learn that we had different definitions of the same words! This photo was taken on the climb out of Cenves- where we were afforded yet another beautiful view.

It was another 6km to reach St-Jacques-des-Arrets, the village with a church that had interior walls covered with religious art by the painter Jean Fusaro. The works were full of interesting and thought provoking details- but the overall mood as Francis said was a little 'triste'. We found a rest spot for lunch on a roadside seat just past the village, and amazingly the sunshine came out and gave us a little warmth as we ate.

After four more kilometres we reached Ouroux. (I was quite tired by this stage, and it felt like much more than 4km!) Another climb before we entered the town took us to a great viewpoint over the historic church, and we descended on a path that took us straight to a courtyard in front of it. It was one of those paths that made you think of all the pilgrims that had walked before in past centuries, especially since we crossed an old stone bridge over a stream to arrive at the church.

Francis had by now taught me how to recognise the tower design with window shapes that indicated the church had been allied with Cluny.
And additionally, this tower had a beautiful design in the tiles of the roof.

From Ouroux you could see a bit of the chateau of Gros Bois that we were heading for. It was only one and a half kilometres away, but there was 100m of ascent. I was tired, but it was time to bring out that last bit of perseverance.... It started drizzling on our way uphill and we arrived at the gates of the Chateau just in time to avoid a torrential downpour and thunderstorm!

I was to be the 'queen' of the chateau for the night- and my accommodation was a definite 'step up' from my normal...  I enjoyed the unaccustomed luxury of my own bathroom, and loved noticing beautiful details in the building. I was having 'demi-pension' and enjoyed the great meal I shared with the Monsieur and his partner.

And this was also where I had to farewell Francis. I'd been blessed to have his company on the first two days of this walk, and was sad to have to say 'goodbye'.

Francis had warned me about the more 'solitary' nature of this Camino, and I was steeling myself for the more lonely days ahead. But remarkably, there was a German couple staying in the gite part of this chateau, and I was to end up crossing paths with them for a few days.  The owner of the chateau told me that most days he had one or two pilgrims to stay- he seldom had nobody staying during the season- but we pilgrims seldom met each other.

Day 3: Gros Bois- Azole

Friday 20 April

I'd fallen asleep by 9pm the night before, and woke this morning knowing I had a hard climb ahead of me up near the summit of Mont St-Rigaud. But I was glad to discover that much of today's climb was at a more gentle slope than yesterday's. The hardest steep bit was on the very stony path just before the road towards Col de Patoux at the top.

In this area there was a lot of forest, and woodpiles of various kinds were a common sight. I quite liked taking photographs of various wood stacks, and the sunshine on this pile as I left the chateau environs caught my eye. It was great to have some sunshine after the heavy rain of the night before.

I must admit I had a few jitters when I saw the beginning of the ascent on this very muddy forest path, and thought I was indeed in for some hard, slippery climbing. But it wasn't long before the worst of the mud was behind me.

Francis had told me this whole day was in forest, but I was to discover that compared to 'whole days' in New Zealand forest, there were actually some clearings where I could see views of 'civilisation', and I did pass near a few farms such as this one.

Here's a typical view of some of the forest paths I walked on, wide and easy underfoot.

As I approached Col de Crie around 10am, two fellow walkers appeared behind me on the track, the German couple who had also stayed at Gros Bois. They were walking the Camino in sections, and had started this time from Taize. They had already had previous weeks' experience of walking a route that had few other walkers, and they had appreciated and retained in their memories all the others they had shared time with.


The three of us had a bit of an adventure when we reached the road just before Col de Crie. To our surprise, a car appeared, heading quickly uphill. I only just managed to get far enough across onto the edge of the road when the driver passed us, but he managed a cheeky kind of wave as he drove by. Next minute, there was a second car coming: and this was the rural gendarmerie who were in pursuit.

As we reached the tourist shop at Col de Crie- an unexpected and welcome source of a hot chocolate!- the gendarme's car returned. They'd lost sight of the car they were pursuing, and wondered if we had managed to get the registration plate. We hadn't- it had all happened very quickly, and staying alive as pedestrians had been our priority! But the young woman and male gendarmes were very pleasant and friendly, and it was nice to talk to them.

We'd timed it well at Col de Crie it seemed, as the tourist office had only just opened. The young woman who served us our hot chocolates was also very cheerful. 

Nearby, there were more signs of the timber industry of the region.

So far the overall altitude gain had only been about 70m. But from Col de Crie (620m) there was much more climbing as Mont St-Rigaud lay at some 1000m.
Again, there were some views through the forest. 
I think this was probably the town of Monsols(540m) down below.

But there was indeed a lot of forest to walk through. At this stage the route was shared with the GR65, and the red and white balises for the GR65 were prominent. And although the route was clearly marked, the markings were not always frequent on straight sections. My biggest fear was missing a symbol for a turn (as on the right hand photo above) and getting lost on some remote forest path. Not for the last time, I was soon praying for some signs to appear ahead of me soon as I walked!

I always like to mentally prepare myself for tricky parts of routes, and I had read the Chamina guidebook closely for this section, so I could talk myself through the 'hard' bits. I knew that after a bit of road walking from Col de Crie, I had two and a half kms of forest, then one and a half kms of stony path, then 2km by road to Col de Patoux. I was expecting the hardest climbing to come on the final road ascent, but actually, it came on the stony path which was very steep in parts. It was good being able to repeat to myself though that I only had one and a half kms of this! Francis (a deacon) had given me a blessing of St Jacques before we parted the day before, and I also drew strength from this as I climbed- it didn't seem as if I walked alone.

Once I reached the road at the top, there were some patches of snow lying around. Strangely though, it wasn't too cold up here- though I had worn raincoat, hat and gloves during some lower parts of the climb.

I got a wee bit confused about the route once I reached the road, as we parted ways with the GR65, and there were only the Chemin 'shell' balises to rely on, and on the straight road, there weren't too many of them. I was glad I had the Chamina guide to reassure me I was 'right'.
Here's the road section near the top of Mt St-Rigaud, much easier walking than I'd expected. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself as I neared the top, as I had managed the day's climbing and forests quite well so far. The chemin doesn't actually go quite to the summit, which is the high point of the Rhone departement.

Since I still had so much energy, I decided to make the diversion to the sacred fountain of pilgrims, which wasn't too far from the main route. The waters are reputed to help with various things, including infertility and arthritis. I decided to plunge the wrist I broke two years ago into the waters- and I can assure you the mountain waters were icy cold!

Not far away I came across this little cabin, and at about 2pm, I sat and relaxed and had lunch. I tend to like to get things like 'climbs' out of the way before I can relax and eat properly! The sunshine even came out for me. A couple of jovial Frenchmen also passed by: remarkably, these two had taken only two days to walk from Taize. I suspected they had to be Chemin 'beginners' though to be doing such long days- and in subsequent days, they did indeed reduce their daily distances. They were clearly very fit, but such distances as they had walked will give blisters to most people, as had happened for them.

Once I reached the Col de Patoux, mostly the day involved descents. I had done a good job of mentally preparing myself for the climbing of the day, but not so much for the next section downhill. And it seemed quite a long way before the town of Propieres finally came into view. As was quite typical of this route, after all the descending, there was a wee grunty climb up to the town!

I went 'shopping' in Propieres and bought supplies before I headed another one and a half kms downhill to the camping ground at Azole. I had no idea what a wonderful chalet and kitchen I was going to have, and I never bought 'proper' food for cooking, which was a bit unfortunate. Chocolate biscuits might be nice to eat, but they are probably not the best diet to give strength for the next day's march!

The camping ground at Azole had been one of Francis' suggestions, and it really was lovely there. The chalets were set out beside a small lake- and I suspect that in summertime it is fully booked with families. But late in April it was easy to get a booking. I had a chalet to myself, the Germans had the adjoining one, and the two Frenchmen were in a third one.

The local woman who came to collect our fees was very cheerful and friendly. And it seemed like the few pilgrims I had met had already acquired that 'glow' that comes from being in the mountains.

I had intended to ring Francis this evening to let him know how the day had gone... but it was a pleasant surprise to hear my phone ring, and it was his wife ringing to see how I was. The call was very much appreciated.

Day 4: Azole -Cuinzier

Saturday 21 April

The overnight rain had stopped, and the altitude profile in the Amis guide looked easier than for the day before. I left the Azole camping ground feeling like the day's walk was all 'under control'. I guess I learned a few things today about the 'approximate' nature of the altitude profiles in this guide: there were actually several steep rocky paths to ascend. The day was in fact quite a challenge!

The first couple of kilometres took me to Col des Écharmeaux- which came at a crossroads between routes.  Here I actually became a bit confused about my direction, and where I had come from, and where I had to go. Then the two cheerful Frenchmen I had met the day before both emerged, and put me right- my first angels for the day.

Footprints in the mud were definitely also my friends along this route- they gave some assurance that you were on the right path, when fellow pilgrims were few and far between.

This was another day with forest, much of it was more foreboding and dark, with fewer clearings to see the views. But there were still glimpses of the nearby hills, and moments of sunshine. And the forest type wasn't always the same either...

It was 17km of walking today from Les Echarmeaux to Le Cergne, without passing through any villages. So a sign like this, warning of an imminent road crossing, was both necessary and comforting, a reminder that there were indeed other people not so far away.
It actually turned out to be a very cold day, and I wore my jacket for quite a while at 700m-800m altitude. I knew my friend Francis would have been surprised to see this, as he had marveled at my attire of shorts and light jersey on the first two days, while he had kept his own warm jacket firmly zipped up.

This was also a day when I had some unexpected good company- an older French couple, the two Frenchmen, and the German couple- six other pilgrims in all. I started to feel that there would indeed be plenty of other company along the route. But soon I was to take a shorter day than the others, and my walk became much more solitary until I was nearer to Le Puy.

Moving on.... I always enjoyed seeing signs that indicated the change of 'departement' or region, as it confirmed 'you're moving on'.

This blue cross is one that I had seen in several albums online before I walked. Today I came to understand why everyone takes photos of it: there is a lot of forest, and not a lot else to take photos of during this part of the walk.

As I neared Le Cergne, the rain began to fall quite heavily, (and my camera had to be buried in my pack.) I began to be concerned as I didn't really know how to get to the gite I was staying in for the night. I knew it was a few kilometres off the Chemin, and it was a place that Francis had recommended. He told me that the owner of the gite might pick me up from the Chemin and take me to her place. But my French had been severely challenged during the phone conversation I'd had with her, and I only understood the words 'coiffure' and 'quinze heures'- so I thought I had to get to a hairdresser's in Le Cergne before 3pm.

Before the descent to Le Cergne began, there was a chapel to Our Lady of Fatima. It was closed, but I decided I needed to have a serious talk to Our Lady as I passed by, telling her I was cold and wet, and needed a bit of intercession to get my night's accommodation sorted.

And in the event, all was well. I felt like a completely drowned rat when I arrived in the town, but then I saw a hair salon, open beyond its normal Saturday hours. I walked in, and they instantly made this bedraggled foreigner welcome. This wasn't the 'coiffure' I was supposed to find, but they rang the gite owner, and got me all organised. The man who was the customer in the hair salon even drove me to the gite in Cuinzier, which was 5km away. I met quite a bit of kindness along the Cluny Chemin, and this was one of those instances. You remember this kind of kindness for a lifetime.

This was my comfortable bedroom in the gite. I had a hot shower, and soon felt much better!
Eventually the rain stopped, and the sunshine even came out, so I was able to take a short wander in the small town of Cuinzier. Spring flowers brightened up the street.

There were election hoardings for the first round of the Presidential election in the main street as well. These were the same as I had seen elsewhere. There are laws in France that 'standardise' such posters.

And the mystery of the 'coiffure' was solved: the coiffure was in the same building as the gite in the town of Cuinzier- it hadn't been 'quinze heures' I'd heard after all.

And I had a lovely evening. My hostess, Mme Destre, cooked a delicious meal- and face to face I was able to converse with her quite well in French. Talking on the phone is always harder: face to face, someone can see if you don't understand, and words can be spoken more slowly or rephrased. She even rang ahead to book accommodation for my next evening. And the next morning, I signed my name on a large tablecloth she had with the names of all the pilgrims who had passed through and stayed in her home...