Friday, 10 June 2005
Distance 23 km
Duration 5 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 297 m, descent 257 m
Map 34 of the
Topo-guide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours
We made an early start from the camping ground. The only other people stirring were caravan-dwelling workers.
This time, instead of climbing to the top of town, we stuck close to the railway line and found ourselves on a large boulevard high above the river. Fortunately there was an ancient staircase down the cliff face and we then took the footpath over the railway bridge.
Suddenly we were in the country again. We had a lovely stroll in a wood beside the water, having rejoined the official GR, and arrived in Saint-Benoit in due course. For some reason, this little place has maintained its separation from Poitiers, in contrast to Buxerolles, although it is just as close.
The abbey buildings dominate the village and we approached through trees and over a footbridge. At a bar overlooking the abbey we had our second breakfast of pains aux raisins, croissants and coffee and Keith taped up his two or three blisters. I have too many to count.
Back on the GR, after recrossing the stream, we renounced it and took to the river road, which looked entirely delightful and had almost no cars.
When it met a bigger road, we struck off into the forest on a track that seemed to be heading the right way, and we very pleased when it took us straight up and over to Ligugé.
This little place is the site of the oldest abbey in Gaul, set up by Saint Martin in the year 360, even before Marmoutier. The present church, while old, is only a fraction of the age of the original abbey, and a fraction of its size.
Great excavations, or renovations, were in progress, and we sat amongst them on a low wall to eat our lunch, then crossed the street for coffee at a bar, where a group of workmen from the abbey were doing terrible damage to a three-course meal.
An hour and a half of pleasant GR walking later, we arrived at our destination for the day, Croutelle, where we intended to stay at the hotel mentioned in the Topoguide. As we entered there was a deathly calm about the place. It was no more than a hamlet and the only person in sight was a mechanic working in his garage.
He told us there was no accommodation of any sort in Croutelle. His advice was to go back to Ligugé, or failing that, to go north on the highway. There were three hotels in a row a couple of kilometres up there, he said.
It was with a familiar feeling of grievance that we set off on the side of the hated N10, breathing in the noxious fumes of trucks that rushed past inches from us.
We crossed a couple of exit roads in fear of our lives and plunged into an urban wasteland. The road sign “Poitiers” announced that we were back in the town that we had set off from this morning.
Luckily it was not long until the first of the three hotels appeared. The other two were tucked behind it, away from the highway, in descending order of merit. All were owned by the same chain (Accor) and we chose the back one, the Formule 1, on the grounds that any bed would be luxurious to us tent-dwellers.
Entry was by an automatic booking system which gave us a code, after taking payment from our credit card. To get into our room we typed the code into a panel. Inside it was like a space capsule, apart from the presence of gravity. Everything was made of metal or hard plastic, the windows were hermetically sealed, a television set glared down at us, but the bed was soft and delightful.
Down the corridor there was a plastic module containing a shower and toilet. As soon as you leave, the whole interior is drenched with powerful cleaning agents. What would happen if you opened the door and shut it without going out, I shudder to think. You might drown.
The superior hotel nearest the highway had a restaurant attached, and in our room was a voucher entitling us to a three-course menu for €10.95. The place was bustling with travellers. We were very grateful that we were not out in a hedge somewhere, eating cold muesli.
We began with terrine and fromage frais with little bowls of herbs. Then Keith had an entrecôte and I had some local delicacy, both delicious. A crippled boy of about ten was carried out by his father, his little wasted legs clinging, his father planting a loving kiss on his cheek. To finish Keith had a crème caramel and I, who normally abominate sweets, had three scoops of icecream – black-currant, coffee and vanilla.
Back in the space-ship, we watched TV for the novelty of it, then sank into a deeply deserved sleep.