Friday, 20 July 2007
Distance with pack 17 km, time 3 hours 20
Without pack 2 km
Map 47 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
The rain had stopped by the time we rose at 7 o’clock, but it was a bad place to have been camping in a cloudburst.
The dust had turned to mud and spattered up all over the tent and onto our packs, which we had to rinse off before we could wear them. We sat on a stone seat beside the boulodrome to have our muesli, and left at 7:45.
By the time we got over to the old town, the bar we had visited yesterday was open, although devoid of customers.
We were the first, and with our coffee we had the apricot tart saved from last night.
Then, by a miracle, we managed to get straight onto the D34 without a mistake, using our inadequate map. It was a small road going towards la Force, and it proved to be flat and pleasant, at the base of a line of low wooded hills on our right, and bordered by a mixture of houses and fields.
As we drew near to la Force, the road suddenly veered uphill onto the rise and we were in tree-lined streets.
The name on all sides was Jean Bost, who turned out to be a nineteenth-century Protestant reformer. After the crushing of the Camisards in the early eighteenth century, the king had proclaimed Protestantism dead in France, but it actually continued quite vigorously.
Jean Bost started as a talented musician, a protégé of Liszt, but was called to religion as a young man, and founded a refuge for orphans and other unfortunates in la Force.
It was a long, strung-out village, and we were getting anxious about our chances of a bar by the time we came to one at the far end, a fine-looking hostellerie with a colonnaded verandah.
We bought pastries in the boulangerie across the road and consumed them on the verandah with our coffee.
Taking a descending road from the town, we resumed our peaceful way over the river flats, crossing one major road (the D32) and wending through a scattered hamlet to arrive at the Dordogne. There was a bridge leading to the village of Gardonne, and we could see the camping ground on the opposite bank.
When we got there, the reception was closed but an old lady bustled up to explain that the guardian would be back at 2 o’clock, and that we were to make ourselves at home meanwhile.
We had showers, nice new ones, and for lunch we took possession of a plastic table and chairs that were standing abandoned near the water, as the grass was still wet from last night’s rain.
Apart from a few foreigners like ourselves, the inhabitants of the camping ground seemed to be a settled community of elderly French couples, who all knew each other and were eating lunch together when we arrived. One enormously fat man had the word “BAR” printed over the doorway of his tent.
In due course the guardian approached and Keith went with him to the office. “You are English?” he asked in French. Keith said no, he was Australian, and the amazing answer, in heavily accented English, was “So am I, mate!”.
The story was that he had emigrated to Australia with his wife, and lived in Adelaide for 28 years, only returning to France in 2002. He was torn between his two beloved countries, but could not afford to go back even for a visit, although his daughter still lived in Adelaide.
It was clearly a great pleasure to him to have us there, the first Australians who had ever stayed at his camping ground. (He asked us to ring his daughter when we got back home, to pass on greetings from him, and said he would not mention it himself, so it would be a surprise for her. We did as he asked a few weeks later, and the reply from his daughter was “Oh, we’ve been expecting you to ring – papa told us all about it, he was so excited!”)
With our washing fluttering near the river and our clean clothes on, we lay down for a rest on our mats, but it was hard to strike a balance between too hot and too cold as the sun came and went amongst the hurrying clouds.
We went for a walk around the village and it was not an edifying sight, just a row of dead and dying shops on either side of the highway. The church was attractive but not old.
My spirits started to sink, and when we entered the only bar in town, an ugly, cramped little bar/tabac, they sank even lower.
There was only one restaurant in town, a decrepit pizzeria, whose deserted front room did nothing to restore my mood, but in fact there was also a wide covered terrace at the back, cheerfully decorated and full of diners. My estimation of Gardonne rose abruptly.
Keith had lasagne and I had spaghetti aux fruits de mer (we never have pizzas unless there is no other choice) and with wine the bill came to €20. When we got back to the camping ground the old French couples were sitting in a circle laughing and talking as they drank their wine.
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