After breakfast I set off with C along the nearby canal des Deux-Mers. Or was it the canal de Golfech? The confluence of the River Tarn and the mighty Garonne was on our left and the canal on our right. Or the other way around.
The path was flat and straight so there was no need to follow the signs of the GR65 too closely because it would be impossible to get lost. Also it was lovely and cool due to all the giant trees that provided total shade on a very hot day. A little group of us built up as we walked. It was all very pleasant and only 20Km to our destination in Espalais.
A mother and daughter (C&G) joined us. They are from somewhere near Pittsburgh and had walked the Camino Frances in Spain already so, like me, they are walking the Via Podiensis. It was good to engage with some more native English speakers. And then a young couple tagged along who are brother and sister from Grenoble. They are destined for Compostela and are walking with their limping dog. It was quite a family affair.
We soon passed a couple with a donkey at what proved to be a critical point on the path. Everyone noticed the donkey but nobody noticed the “turn left” or “wrong way” signs behind it. On we marched, chatting away and enjoying the canal.
Eventually I pulled out my iPhone to check the route to Espalais and noticed we had just passed the turn off. “Never mind”, I said, “we just need to backtrack 100m to that bridge”. But at the bridge the full horror of our position became clear: there was no way onto the bridge above us. We were on the wrong bank of the canal and faced a long slog back to the donkey point. This was where the various rivers and canals intersected and where we had to cross over to the correct bank to gain access to the bridge to Espalais. Just to add more confusion, F the ghost pilgrim, passed us twice in different directions and I had to explain his strategy to the others who must have been at the point of jumping into the canal. Or the river.
It was a very hot day and it became a long slog, relieved only by a local woman who sold us huge bags of freshly picked cherries for 1.50 Euros.
I had booked into the Chateau de Lastours in Espalais which offers a pilgrims package of dinner, bed and breakfast for 55 Euros and C booked too. I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turns out to be a genuine sprawling chateau at the edge of the village. Quite an experience and I welcomed a real bath and a fridge full of beer. I pity the poor English owner who must be spending a fortune on maintaining the place. But for the pilgrims staying here it is yet another extraordinary stopover on the Chemin de Compostelle.