In the landscape around Saugues, you pass quite a few local wooden sculptures as you walk. There is a wildness about them, that somehow speaks of the folklore that has been part of the isolation in the Auvergne for centuries.
This tower stood out against the dark sky at La Clauze,
-winter had not let go its hold of the Auvergne,
whatever spring blossoms were evident in Paris.
The day got colder, ever so much colder,
but somehow the people all got friendlier,
and all made cheerful comments on the cold day we were sharing. I bundled myself up warmly in multiple layers!
This region of the Haute-Loire has many crosses in the landscape.
At first I saw them as sort of a protection,
that people were praying for those who passed by.
But later I think I learned that they were in fact a means of warding off evil ones from the villages we were passing through.
(Don't take this conclusion as gospel truth though: I often got half the story right with my limited French...)
At Falzet, on a farm, a farmer's wife was serving hot chocolate etc in her barn, and I gratefully imbibed. The welcome was warm, and the shelter was very welcome to give a break from the bitter cold outside. The hot chocolate was just the thing on a day that was becoming bleaker and colder as it worn on.
The buildings in this area, made of the local stone,
looked sturdy against the elements.
I was deliberately taking 'short steps' these early days,
to break myself in gently... with such a long journey ahead...
It meant that many people I only saw on one day,
and then they passed on ahead of me along the trail,
but there were some people I came to recognise
who were walking similar stages to me.
There was a group of four ladies from St Etienne.
At Saugues they had befriended me
and made sure someone was speaking slowly enough for me at the dinner table.
This day they shared their lunch with me, local sausage and bread,
as we sat outside all bundled up against the cold while we ate.
(I haven't managed to make contact with these ladies to share my photos: if anyone reading this recognises them, I would be glad if you could tell them of my blog...)
And there was a family from Anjou, two parents and two of their four children, a daughter in her early 20s and a son who was about 8. I ended up staying in the same town/gite as them several times. This evening in Chanaleilles was perhaps the most special. We were staying in a gite a little way off the GR so there were not so many pilgrims. We arrived on this bitterly cold afternoon and the first thing that Mme Richard, the gite owner, did, was light the fire, which gave very quick and welcome warmth. Sitting in the comfortable lounge sharing some quiet time with this family, I felt very much 'at home'. At dinnertime we had to brave the elements to walk the short distance to the bar, but what a delicious meal. We had soup, perfect for such a cold day; then salad, with greens that the husband had collected freshly from the mountains that day. It was a lamb dish for a main. Great company and an excellent meal to give energy for the challenges of the next day.
Chanaleilles was only about a kilometre off the main track, and I am glad I stayed there. The cold weather limited exploration, but I saw the church, beautiful Romanesque with a distinctive belltower, and a medieval statue of the Virgin inside. And the gite was one of those very welcoming ones, pleasantly common in France, where the welcome in the afternoon gives renewed strength for the next day of walking.
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