Day 1 was a lot of hard travelling to reach Le Puy. I had a cheap BA flight to Lyon for £17.50 and a few airmiles, an empty bus to St Etienne, a train to nowhere then, finally, a crowded bus to Le Puy. I found the hostel which is called a Gite and settled in to a nice room with 6 French men. But after a few minutes I had exhausted my 1960s French vocabulary and went to sleep.
Today dawned with lovely blue skies and after a very French petit dejeuner I bid my roommates a Bon Chemin and set off to explore Le Puy. My heart warmed to see several pilgrims heading for distant lands. France has far fewer pilgrims than Spain so it was good to see them even though most are French and only walking the first week or two.
The Cathedral is the starting point for the Camino but is also a pilgrimage destination in itself. It houses the most famous Black Madonna in the Auvergne and the Druid fever stone which was the source of a miracle way back in the 3rd century. A recent addition is a statue of St James. More about that tomorrow.
I collected my pilgrim credentials (upon payment of 5 euro) then climbed the nearby Statue of Notre Dame made from 213 canons seized at the siege of Sebastopol. It towers over Le Puy.
After a lunch of the popular Le Puy lentils I set off to climb another volcanic stub upon which Bishop Godescalc built the Chapel of St Michel in 961 following his pilgrimage to Compostela. It is a very special place and most people stay a long time if only to recover from the climb.
The Black Madonna, the fever stone and the Chapel of St Michel are very special. If I’m struggling to write anything over the coming bleak days of desolate plateau, I’ll return to them. Le Puy is a source of energy and a worthy starting point for this Camino.
This evening I attended a reception for tomorrow’s new pilgrims. All French of course. If I do make it to the Pyrenees it might be a big challenge to stop in Pamplona when I can speak English again.
If you have a map, tomorrow I am staying in Saint-Privat-d’Allier. I’m not yet familiar with this Saint but the Camino reveals all. The day will start in spectacular fashion with 7am Mass in the Cathedral, a blessing of the pilgrims and then the starting gun. I better set my alarm.
Notre Dame statue, climb to the top
St Michel Chapel