Saturday, 4 June 2005
Distance 32 km
Duration 6 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 230 m, descent 214 m
Map 26 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topo-guide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours
After a superior bowl of muesli, with yoghurt and nectarines, and a mug of tea with a couple from Bournemouth in their palatial campervan, we set off on the GR, which we were grateful to be reunited with. As we went past the allotments along the river I had a pleasant chat with one of the gardeners.
Not long afterwards we lost the GR, not being used to the big scale of the maps in the Topoguide (twice as magnified as the TOP 100 maps). It was our first day with the Topoguide for this year. We were not seriously lost, and by scrambling down through the pine needles in a steep forest, we got back on the track.
We crossed a small waterway with a hunting lodge on its bank and continued haltingly, trying to work out why the GR marked on the map seemed to bear no relationship to the one we were following.
However we got to Sorigny in the end, a pretty little place on the N10, and as we had hoped, it had a bar open. That is the advantage of highways, as long as you can avoid walking along them. We spent a happy half-hour there with our boots off, drinking big reviving cups of coffee with home-made chocolates provided by the establishment.
Further on, the GR was a flat, grassy farm track through young corn, parallel to the road but far enough away to seem in another world.
Further on, the wheat was tall on either side and we met a couple on horseback with a Dalmatian dog who moved in a series of high bounds, like a kangaroo, trying to see over the wheat.
Then the GR took an abrupt turn to the left, probably to skirt a piece of land for which permission to walk had not been granted, but we kept going straight.
We thought we could get through the forest ahead, with or without permission, if necessary by pretending to be lost.
As we approached the edge of the forest the track led us right into the yard of a farmhouse, which made us nervous, and then, even worse, the farmer and his son appeared. Luckily they were not inclined to accuse us of trespassing – quite the reverse.
They were extremely friendly and helpful, perhaps in deference to our grey hairs. They gave us directions to get through the forest, saying that it was private property but we need not worry.
So we didn’t, and at the far side of the wood we rejoined the GR, which had gone twice as far as we had, and descended on a small road into the village of Sainte-Catherine-de-Fierbois.
This little place is a shrine to Joan of Arc, who spent a night here in the spring of 1429. She was not just passing by – she had come to collect a sword engraved with five crosses that had been hidden in a trunk near the altar of the church.
She had been told about it by divine voices in a vision, and had written to the churchmen of Fierbois requesting it. Reportedly it never left her side from then on until she was captured and burned at the stake by the English a couple of years later.
The church looked onto a bronze statue of the maid-saint in the square. There was also a little park with seats and toilets for latter-day pilgrims like us.
It has been a place of pilgrimage since medieval times but the earlier ones were not looked after as well. We had our lunch there and then took up a position on the terrace of a café adjoining the church for our second coffee of the day.
Beyond the village, the GR crossed the N10 and meandered down into a glen with a huddle of cottages (Courtineau), which would have been remote except that the autoroute shrieked and growled right next to it. We went on over the stream and up to wander again in the fields.
Before long we were at the entrance to the town of Ste-Maure-de-Touraine, where we were surprised to find a great commotion in progress. Police cars blocked the road, a loudspeaker was blaring, pennants fluttered overhead and a flood of people surged towards the centre. We thought it was a political rally, but it turned out to be the annual goat cheese festival.
Food stalls filled the squares, people crowded round wine-tasting booths, there were rides and bands and dancers in traditional dress. A papier-maché goat the size of a house was sending a continual stream of milk into a tub.
With some difficulty we got directions to the camping ground below the town, on an artificial lake. All the big rigs belonging to the fair folk were parked out the front, unable to get through the gate, and very magnificent they were on the whole, with bow-windows, lace curtains and of course a savage dog chained to the wheel. One of them had a Smartcar on a trailer at the back.
Back in town at 7 o’clock, the scene was wonderfully chaotic. We pushed our way into a street bar and got a couple of glasses, then joined in the communal feast in the biggest of the squares. We lined up to get a tray of sausages and beans and a jug of wine, and settled in at a long trestle table.
There was no chance of prolonged conversation with our neighbours because of the band that was belting out Elvis songs at tremendous volume. Eventually we strolled off to our tent, well pleased with this unexpected festivity.