The Way of St James (Route in France GR65 ) by Hal Bishop
If we credit Aimery Picaud with codifying, if not creating, the four major routes, it is from Le Puy that we can credit the first recorded pilgrimage. It was that of the Bishop himself, Gottschalk, who went in 951 though we do not know exactly what itinerary he followed -presumably a mixture of old Roman roads and those linking the newer settlements of post-'Barbarian' Europe.
The political geography of the domains and fiefdoms the Le Puy route travelled through in medieval times and the historical mutability of feudal ties led to many shifts of the actual path travelled by the pilgrim between the eleventh and the twelfth century.
Places along the Le Puy Route Just is the ribs of early medieval vaulting were supported and enhanced by the later addition of liernes and tiercerons, so the four principal routes through France had many interconnecting links and secondary shrines many on the Le Puy pilgrimage path. Indeed the most visited shrine in Europe in neither in Rome nor Santiago but Rocamadour in the Auvergne, west of Aurilliac.
The thirteenth century land-bagging of south-west France's independent Occitan states, that went under the euphemistic title of a crusade, and the later dynastic wars between the Anglo Gascon Plantagenets and the northern French Capetians and Valois which lasted until 1453, witnessed the building of many new settlements and altered the road pattern from some of the earlier etapes.
For example the ubiquitous Sauceterres, as well as Castelnau and Salvetat are generally of ecclesiastical origin or places founded by the military orders in the twelfth century. Chateauneuf and Caster are baronial foundations often appended with the surname of their founders. Most numerous of all are the bastides, new towns of the Middle Ages and a product of the Anglo-French wars.
They generally date from 1220-1350 though some fall outside this period. There are over 300 in Gascony/Guyenne alone.
Between Le Puy and the river Lot, the terrain is all above 600m/2000 and always poor, it was rarely in historical contention and today the GR 65 runs more or less exactly along the historical route. Sometimes utilising Roman roads such as the Agrippan way. though where parts of it are now the D 987 it has been avoided.
The descent to Conques from the heights above it on the north side of the river Ouche would be recognizable to the medieval traveler. After the foundation of Lauzerte in 1177 an alternative and increasingly popular route from Cahors went via Montcuq to Lauzerte and then into Moissac. this is what the GR 65 follows today. Pilgrims crossed the confluence of the Tarn and the Garonne by ferry to a point just north of St-Nicholas-de-la-Grave, then the way ran west to Auvillar and Saint-Antoine.
The GR 65 goes south. crossing the Tarn by the canal viaduct to Castelsarrasin before turning west to cross the Garonne and meeting the historic route at Saint-Antoine. The way then went via Flamarens and Miradoux to Castet-Arrouy and then into Lectoure. Much of this part of the way has been turned into minor roads but the GR 65 is almost always nearby and parallel when not on the historic route itself.
Between Lectoure and Condom the route from Rocamadour, the GR 652, joins the GR 65 south of Le Romieu. West of Condom the way went south of Larresingle crossing the still extant Pont d'Artigues as does the GR 65 to reach Eauze via Lagraulet-du-Gers. After the foundation of Montreal in 1289 the route veered north into it, as does this. Between Eauze and Aire-sur-L'Adour the N 124 replaces much of the route which instead wends its way through the typical Gascon mixture of vineyards, maize and tobacco fields.
Between the rivers L'Adour and Gave de Pau any definitive way is difficult to pin down. It was, and is, countryside of small villages often dominated by ecclesiastical overlords who were in competition with the secular rulers for the pilgrim trade. South of the Gave de Pau the county of Beam had a number of routes crossing it. The GR 65 goes south and west via Pimbo. Arthez de Beam, Sauvelade and Navarrenx where it crosses the Gave de Oloronand enters the Basque country.
Just south of Saint-Palais the three northern French routes converged, and a monument allegedly at the right place though not without its critics- marks the spot. It is just a short distance to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the walker will enter the walled town via the Porte de St Jacques and leave it from the Porte d'Espagne to ascend to the frontier just short of Roncesvalles.
Sample Page from the Book
7km Saint-Privat-d'Allier 890m
Hotels, restaurants, shops, camping. Gite (the large building on the left, the former Ecole Chretien, just before the road leading into the village). Key from the Hotel de Ia Vieille Auberge.
Leave the village and the D 589 by going uphill past the PTT then
following the path to the left which cuts the bends on the lane leading to
Rochegude 967m. Pass behind the simple chapel, from where the views down
into the gorge are stunning, to descend a slope.
Already one can see the pylon concentration which will be passed in front and hear the miserable dogs of the village below. The pine slopes are hot and resinous in the sun; on reaching outside Pratdaux turn left, the path leads through the village. (Actually there is no real need for this, keeping to the road avoids the dogs heard above.
To rejoin the waymarked path turn right between low drystone walls under the first set of pylon lines.) Continue under further pylon lines through fields then steeply down the slope cutting the hairpins of the upper road before following it into
5.5km Monistrol-d'Allier Hotels,
restaurants, shops, camping. SNCF (Paris-Nimes line).
Leave the town by the west, cross the bridge then descend right from the main road to the mill. Cross the river then climbs steeply uphill. At the cast-iron cross (olive green!) turn left to pass the rock-hewn Chapelle de Ia Madeleine.
Bear right then left through Escluzels climbing via hairpins to cross the D 589, continue through pines and deciduous woods passing lush meadows on the right to reach 4km Montaure 1022m Leave the hamlet by its access road to the south .
After 300m turn left off the road onto a cart track which leads south to Roziers, then a minor surfaced lane leads westwards to Vernet. On leaving this hamlet take the first of the two parallel tracks on the left i.e. the one beside the pines not the one through them, it is not well marked. Passing under two sets of pylon lines Rognac is reached (Shelter possible in the Maison d'Assemblee). Follow the road NW for 1km then leave it for a path on the left which after crossing yet again the D 589 descends into the town ahead.
8km Saugues 960m
Hotels, restaurants, shops. Gite at the camping site, on the NW side of the town by the artificial lake.
An attractive town with old stone houses. XIVc Tour des Anglais and church of St Medard.... (etrc cont next page).....
The Way of St James by Hal Bishop (The GR65 the French part of the pilgrims route) is priced at £11.95 and is available from the Telegraph online Book Club. This book is the Companion book to Alison Raju's Way of St James (Spanish part of the route) The book is available from Telegraph Online International Book Club by mail order.