Saturday, 17 August 2013

Saturday 17th August

After a couple of days without wifi I can now make a post. Each of the first three days have been different.  On Thursday I set off from Le Puy in glorious sunshine. Leaving the city was like climbing out of a saucer with spectacular views in all directions. The views  back to Le Puy were particularly impressive. Despite my apprehension about the enormity of the task ahead I was pleased to be actually on the road . At this early stage I simply concentrated on the next hour and not on the extraordinary distance which I am endeavouring to walk. The first day there were a number of chapels along the route. I stopped in each one and offered a prayer especially for dead relatives and friends. A delightful touch in each chapel was that  there were glasses and water. On both the first two days I had a raptor circling around me in the heat of the afternoon-quite appropriate since my rucksack is called a kestrel!
I arrived at St Privat d'Allier before 2.00pm only to find that the gite did not open until 4.00pm! There is something frustrating about walking for over 6 hours only to find the place closed! (Fortunately this would prove to be a rare occurrence.) My first companions were three frenchmen . Two of them said that they planned to walk the whole way . After that first night I never saw them again.
On Friday I had a daunting day with 30km and a massive climb up the Allier gauge. The walk was 8 hours but it was worth it for what came at the end. My destination was an Auberge run by 2 former pilgrims. The welcome gave me a huge insight into the spirit of the pilgrimage . I was welcomed by Lucette the wife of Jean-Louis Bouffar who insisted that I drank plenty of deliciously cool water before she showed me my room which had five beds and its own bathroom. No rucksacks were permitted in the room as a precaution against the spread of bed bugs! There was a comfortable terrace and ample space to dry washing . I also noticed that there was no alcohol on sale. The two Belgians who were carrying their luggage on sledges also turned up.
Before supper I met Jean-Louis.He asked about my plans and declared that I would be in Santiago in just over 60 days . It was only later that I realised just how accurate he was . On the second evening 60 days seemed like an eternity.
Nothing really prepared me for what happened next. Around 7 we assembled for supper.There must have been about 25 of us.Jean-Louis began by offering each of us an aperitif. He then took up a guitar and taught us the song Ultreia. We then sat down to a hearty supper washed down with ample quantities of wine . At the end of the meal Jean-Louis spoke about the philosophy of the pilgrimage and the meaning of Ultreia.He said that every pilrim who makes it to Santiago has a choice . They can either return home with a sense of achievement or with a sense of responsibility . The true pilgrim attempts to live out in their daily life what they have experienced during the pilgrimage . It was a message which resonated throughout my own pilgrimage. Ultreia really refers to this challenge: 'above and beyond'.
Having served digestivos he opened the floor to all for a general singsong. When I finally retired to bed the singing still continued.
After breakfast I took my leave of them. Today dawned cloudy and the walk was along a valley and through woods. Towards the end the vista opened up to a wonderful sky and rolling hills. Tonight I am in a tiny hamlet . The evenings assume a routine-shower, washing the clothes, and then rest with supper at 7. I am praying the Psalms and reading Eliot-especially The Journey of the Magi and Little Gidding. I feel amazingly privileged to have set out on this journey and I feel surrounded by support and prayers. 

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