Having climbed the direct route to the cathedral on our rest day we opted for the zig zag road to the top of the mont this morning with our full sacks. Unfortunately the old funicular railway is no longer operating! Once again we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the cathedral and the space in which it stands, which was empty and quiet at this hour of the morning.

West door of Laon Cathedral

The pilgrim route out of town took us back down the pedestrianised streets and through one of the medieval town gates, dating from 1200.

La porte des Chenizelles
Outside La Porte des Chenizelles

Rather than simply heading south off the mont, we were led westwards along the old ramparts, giving us more spectacular views, before descending a cobbled track beneath the university.

On leaving the city walls we stopped to chat with a man walking his King Charles Spaniel. We ascertained that he lives in Laon, so told him what a beautiful town it is. We chatted about the history of the place and how well it had survived the two world wars. Quite remarkable, he said. He pointed out the leaning turret close to us, explaining the engineering geological reason for this. Not dissimilar to the tower in Pisa, Tom thought.

From here we descended to Ardon on the plain below, taking a more direct route than suggested by the Via Francigena app, and headed southwestwards on the Rue Porte de Laon.

In Bruyeres-et-Montherault we were pleasantly surprised to find the church of Notre Dame open and the organ being played, though it quickly became apparent that in fact it was being tuned: perhaps for Easter. The original structure of the church dates from around the time of Laon cathedral (ie 12th century), with later additions, but with similarly simple lines. Notable was the fan vaulting in both north and south transepts, and a modern stained glass window by a renowned French artist (of whom we’d never heard!)

Notre Dame en Bruyeres

Just outside the village we opted for a more direct route along the old road to Reims, which had a convenient grassy bank in the sun for our lunch stop.

Lunch stop at the divergence of the old Reims Road

We dined on pizza leftovers from the previous evening and mandarins we had picked up in the Spar shop in Laon. From our lunch stop we climbed up on the old VF route towards Cheret.

It was part way up the hill that disaster struck. Tom felt a sharp pain in his left calf. As he continued upwards the pain became worse and the stops more frequent. By the time we reached the road at the top of the hill, matters were worse and we stopped for an unscheduled rest.

Tom struggling uphill through a lovely meadow of cowslips

We tried some Emulgel and rested for a while. Onward, there seemed to be no respite and Tom was moving very slowly and with much pain.

Lovely countryside near Bievres

Several more stops and we descended into the village of Bievres where we decided that we needed to call for help. There was no way that we were going to walk to Corbeny, our destination for the day. We sat on a wall and contemplated our situation. Tom was still in a fair amount of pain and the prospect of walking much further was unrealistic, so we called a taxi and reluctantly called it a day!

After a fair amount of faffing and failing to find a taxi willing to come this far out into the countryside, we found one and to our relief she was with us within twenty minutes. Another twenty minutes and we were at our billet in Corbeny, tails between legs, but the same legs up and resting. Let us hope that a night’s rest and some ibuprofen solves the problem. Internet research points to calf cramp which should recover quite quickly. Let’s hope!

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