Two angels on the road to Saint-Galmier

Trail Angels

They really are looking out for us

One of the greatest, and always unexpected joys of going for a wander, is the people you meet along the way.

An angel's roadside welcome sign

This is nowhere more special than in France. The great trails of Europe, the “sentiers de grande randonnĂ©e”, have been active footpaths for many centuries, and all along the trails, particularly the ancient pilgrim trails of leading to St-Jacques-Compostelle, various local people do what they can to make the pilgrim’s passage a happy one.

An angel's roadside table with coffee, juice and cookies

There are innumerable little signs, rustic markers, and small shrines installed along the way by local people expressing whatever helpful sentiment they have for the passersby. Oftentimes, these are created by people who have made the walk to Santiago de Compostela themselves, or hope to someday. Most of the time these roadside gestures are completely anonymous, but every so often you get to meet the people behind these acts of care, encouragement and kindness.

The further south toward the passes into Spain you reach, the more numerous and bountiful the signposts and waystations become, but I have met many ordinary French folk across the full span of the country who have been quick to ask if they can offer something to drink or nourish, and a place in the shade to rest and have a bit of conversation.

shady rest stop for 2

This little yellow cafĂ© table and two chairs, set up by a brook in southern France, was a welcome sight after a long climb and descent on my 2005 walk. They were still there, moved to the other side of the road, when I paused during a downpour in 2009. –SM

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