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Day 32: from Saint-Alban-sur-Limagnole to Le Puy-en-Vélay : 80 km

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

I had a very bad night. A hideously soft bed that sagged in the middle so that I thought my back was on the floor. In addition, it was very hot and sultry. The storm that had been announced did not come. At 1 am I went to take a cold shower. and then I fell back asleep. I got up at 4:30 am and woke up Bruno at 5 am. He wanted French bread with an omelette for breakfast and to take with him on the road. He also ate some of the pasta from the night before.

On our way to the Col de l'Hospitalet

At 6:15 am we are out the door and up the mountain towards the Col de l'Hospitalet, 1304 meters high on the Montagne de la Margeride of 1322 meters. It is a long climb of about 15 kilometers and it is progressing very well. It's chilly and unfortunately it hasn't thundered as announced. We stop for a few minutes at the chapel of Saint Rochus at 1185 meters. St. Rochus was one of the most popular saints in the middle ages. He is also one of the plague saints who was invoked against the plague and also against rabies. There are also several pilgrims out and about at the chapel. We wish each other a good and safe journey. They are going in the right direction, we are going the wrong way …

Bruno and other pilgrims at the chapelle St Roch

In the meantime day breaks and the sun rises, which allows us to take some nice pictures of the sunrise and of the surroundings. We are near a nature park called la Sauvage and the nature is really beautiful. There are also a lot of cows walking around and also a lot of horses. In the village of Espalantes Vaillantes we see a beautiful (partly medieval) site: the church with a beautiful clocher à peigne (bell wall), the castle with its round keep on the hill, the town hall, all in the heavy local granite stone and next to a beautiful cross a "Métier à ferrer"(also called travail à ferrer) a stone structure within which one can tie a horse to shoe the horse. We also saw such a métier in La Brugeire. Such métiers or travails were used to shoe horses and cattle with irons.

Espalantes Vaillantes with its "clocher à peigne" (bell waal) , round donjon znd "métier à ferrer"

We switch from the D 587 to the D 585 to reach Saugues, again through a beautiful landscape. We have been in the département de Haute Loire for a while now, part of the new Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region and close to the source of the Loire, the longest river (more than 1000 km) in France.

It is market day which allows us to see many local specialties, especially cheeses. In the middle of the market is the collegiate church of Saint-Médard, Gothic and largely 16th century but rebuilt in the 19th century. It has an octagonal bell tower at the crossing. The church has a 12th-century Mary as the seat of wisdom, a 15th-century pieta, a unique granite pulpit and much more.

Sauges: the church and the local market

Saint Benilde (1805 - 1862, canonized in 1967), member of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, is highly venerated there. He was killed by the Indians. Almost next to the church is the Tower of the English, a square keep of the thirteenth century. Before and after Saugues, people in several villages were confronted with la bête du Gévaudan, a gigantic animal that caused panic and death in humans and animals in the 18th century. Everywhere you see images of it, beautiful and ugly. The name is widely used and misused.

Sauges: Saint -Medard church: Mary seat of wisdom (sedes sapientiae), granite pulpit and piéta

After a nice coffee we start the most difficult part of the day; first a long fast descent (no time to take pictures!) and then back 500 meters up to St Privat d'Allier. It is a struggle to get up because it is getting warmer, but the landscapes continue to amaze us. A bistro awaits you upstairs with… la bête du Gévaudan in front.

La bête du Gévaudan, landscapes in the neighbourhood of St. Privat-d'Allier

There I have to charge the batteries of my bike for 2 euros. The town has a beautiful Romanesque St Privat church that stands a little outside the village. Inside we meet the old sacristan or sexton, Jean. First I have to explain to Bruno what a sexton is. Jean gives us each a stamp on our credential and wants to be photographed. As you can see, Bruno is almost twice as tall as our dear sacristan.

St. Privat d'Allier: the church and Bruno with the sexton

Back on the bike and another 8 kilometers of pedaling before we reach the hamlet of Lebonnet (the hat) the highest point on our way in this stretch of the Via Podiensis. In front of us we see the Massif Central in the distance with all its extinct volcanoes: the highest, Le Puy de Dôme, is located at Clermont-Ferrand at 130 km, but that is for the day after tomorrow. Another 16 km of cycling and we are in the center of Le Puy-en-Vélay.

We cycle down into Le Puy-en-Vélay. From afar you can see the Notre Dame cathedral, within the cité épiscopale, on one of the hills, with the giant red statue of Mary right next to it. We also see the Rocher et chapelle of St Michel de l'Aiguilhe on a reddish brown hill. Bruno is really impressed because he expected a small city and finds a big city with a very old ville haute, the oldest part. Very pleasant but also very tiring to visit. I am also happy to be back there after 40 years…

Bruno reaches the top, view on the Massif Central and Notre Dame du Puy

We are both very happy that we have successfully cycled down the Via Podiensis. It was in the opposite direction and we especially felt that in our legs. Bruno cycled the whole way without an auxiliary motor and was always in front. We both enjoyed it. We are especially happy that we have completed the second task of this pilgrimage, cycling down the Via Podiensis, almost 800 kilometers. It was very hot and we felt it but are very happy and even proud that we did it. The two assignments were carried out with Floky along the Via Turonenis to the Pyrenees and with Bruno back from the Pyrenees over the Via Podiensis to Le Puy-en-Vélay.

Le Puy-en-Vélay

I know that Rientje is also happy and proud that we made it. We did it for him and to support other children and their parents who are going through a similar ordeal. We hope that more money will be donated to the Rinus-Pinifonds account of the King Baudouin Foundation.

We thank all the generous donors who donated small and/or large amounts, who sent us hearts or messages to encourage and support us. Also a big thank you to Magda. She is the best logistical support one can imagine. Now she still has to guide me home with Rientje, preferably by bicycle. Tomorrow I will start to Brioude, where a beautiful monastery awaits me! Today I continue to visit the city of Le Puy-en-Vélay, as I did yesterday afternoon with Bruno. I write about the visit to the city in blog 33 of this Saturday. I wrote part of this blog Day 32 this Saturday morning because we are up early. At 12:34, Bruno takes the train with his bicycle to Lyon where he sleeps near Saint Exupéry airport. He leaves for London Stansted at 7am on Sunday morning and then to Oxford and back to work on his esophageal cancer research on Monday. It was nice to cycle with him and to be able to talk a lot with each other. This morning it is raining in Le Puy-en-Vélay; it thunders and there are lightnings… a good time to say goodbye. Rientje rests on top of the crown of the large statue of Our Lady. There he feels safe.

Bruno and grandad in Le-Puy, proud that they have cycled together the whole fVia Podiensis for the Rinus-Pini fund

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