Saturday, 4 July 2009
Distance 12 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 249 m, descent 280 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We took the precaution of waiting until 7:30 before leaving, not wanting to arrive in the village before the bars opened. The walk back along the road was much better than the outward journey and we cruised in, through the usual unedifying outskirts, to the old centre.
There were two boulangeries and two bars operating in the vicinity of the abbey. We got bread from one, croissants from the other, and retired to the bar on the corner of the square. As the outdoor tables were all wet (the owner having just hosed them), we went inside for coffee.
The charming interior, with its wood panelling and lace curtains, was somewhat marred by a dead spider the size of a dinner plate in a glass case on the wall. The barman proudly said it was from South America.
Our walk today was only short so we were in no hurry to leave, but eventually, after a thorough perusal of the paper, we set off, admiring the great golden abbey with its rounded apses as we did so.
Following GR marks, we meandered through the streets, gradually descending below the defensive wall to the river, where there was an old footbridge. Like many traditional stone bridges, it had big “beaks” on the upstream side to deflect the force of the water.
On the other bank there was a grassy track that took us along to the newer road bridge, where we crossed the Vézère again, and immediately turned left beside the river.
The path was cool and deeply shady, some parts overrun with nettles and brambles, others a spongy carpet of dead leaves. We felt far from civilisation, although the railway line was only a few hundred metres away.
When we came to a side stream the GR turned away from the main river, went under the railway line in a culvert, and then on a small rising road through grassland.
At the top, a little bridge took us over the autoroute and the path descended abruptly to river level.
Soon the gleaming rooftops of Uzerche appeared through the trees and we climbed again to the ridge leading into the town. Uzerche occupies a high promontory enclosed by a loop of the river, forming a natural defensive citadel.
Although we were hot and tired, we ignored the first bars and pressed on through a portal, up to the great sloping square in front of the abbey.
Here we found the Office of Tourism and got information about the camping grounds for the days ahead. We also found out that the only internet connection in Uzerche was at the Médiathèque, a few doors away.
There was a bar in the square but we went back, weaving down through the lanes, to one of the bars we had passed before. It was only 11 o’clock and we had arrived at our destination, but it was just as well, as the air was already as hot as an oven.
Whilst luxuriating with our coffee and pastries, we asked the waiter the way to the camping ground. He amazed us by pointing over the road and saying, “Just there!”. For cars it was a kilometre or more of winding descent, but walkers could duck under a barrier at the bottom of the steep road opposite and enter the camping ground immediately.
The office was at the far end, past a long line of caravans and tents stretched out along the riverbank. It also served as a base for canoe hire and there was a weir on the river, with slalom poles dangling into the water.
After we had established ourselves comfortably at a site with a picnic table, showered, washed our clothes and eaten lunch, we lay down for the customary rest, the entertainment being provided by parties of canoeists who had to plunge down a concrete slipway from the upper to the lower level, with varying degrees of success, then negotiate the slalom. On such a hot afternoon, just watching was enough to cool us.
Late in the afternoon we climbed back to the town. The bar that we had visited in the morning was closed, as was the brasserie nearby that we had picked out for our evening meal. It was Saturday afternoon in deep France.
We went a different way to get to the upper square, first descending slightly on the main road as it went towards the bridge, then clambering almost had over hand up a staircase into the stony streets, stupefied by the heat.
When we to got to the Médiathèque, we found we had left it too late – it was just closing at 5pm. So we strolled back to the coolest place in town, the camping ground, and watched the first day of the Tour de France on television in the big communal room attached to the office. We even got little plastic cups of coffee for €1 from the bar, so it was pleasant enough.
I went for an exploratory walk, looking for a little road marked on the map that we could use tomorrow, but either it did not exist or I missed it.
As the heat loosened its grip, we went up to town for the third and last time. We had noticed a couple of hotels earlier, down near the bridge, and chose the classier of the two, a Logis de France place with a wide balcony overlooking the water. All the outside tables were occupied by guests, but we got a table just inside, in the grand dining room.
As entrée, Keith had a feuilleton, a big airy cheese pastry, and I had a salade aux gésiers. This dish sounds better if not translated – in English it is gizzard salad – but I found it delectable, with the hot gésiers and potato set off by the cold salad leaves. Next I had trout, while Keith stayed loyal to his nightly steak.
To finish, Keith had crème brûlée, for the sake of research, and I had cheese.
As it was an establishment of some distinction, the cheese board was not just left on the table for me to help myself, but offered by the waiter, who cut off a sliver of the ones I pointed to.
Very pleased with this lovely meal, we decided to explore the other side of the Vézère on our way home. We went over the bridge and discovered that the high-level viaduct beyond it belonged to an abandoned railway line.
The area around the erstwhile station had been made into a park for camping cars, heavily occupied at the moment, with the station building serving as a shower block.
We realised that the old line, whose rails and sleepers had been removed, was now the GR, the track we would be using in the morning. We followed it as far as the metal footbridge, where we crossed over conveniently to our waiting tent.