Sunday, 5 July 2009
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 321 m, descent 202 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Upstream of Uzerche, the Vézère parted company with the GR46 and went through a tract of country with neither a road nor a path to follow. Our plan was to stay on the GR as far as Chamboulive, then turn north to rejoin the river at Treignac.
All we had to do from the camping ground was to cross the footbridge and scramble up the bank to get onto the bed of the old railway line. There were tunnels and embankments, but all memory of noise and speed had gone long ago from the track. A few Sunday strollers with dogs were the only traffic other than ourselves.
As we came near to Espartignac, we turned up a little road to the village in the hope of finding a source of coffee. There was a restaurant, but 8:15 am was rather too early for it, so we kept going and the road curved down to connect with the GR again.
On the way we passed a spring dedicated to Saint Martial, one of the seven bishops sent out from Rome in the third century to convert Gaul to Christianity. Saint Martial’s destination was Limoges, but he seems to have been in no hurry to begin his evangelising work, as he spent a whole summer here on the way.
A few kilometres further on, the GR diverged, but we, slaves to the lure of coffee, continued along the railway line towards the former station at Saint-Jal, which was now in a pleasant riverside park.
We asked a woman walking by whether there was a bar and she said there was, up in the church square, but she doubted that it would be open. With hope and dread in our hearts, we climbed the steep street and got to the bar just as a plump woman came out to wipe down the tables. It was opening time (9:15am).
We sat down gleefully and the first thing our gaze landed on was a box of pastries beside the door, but our hostess said they were not hers – she had merely taken delivery of them for the shop next door, which had not opened yet.
Just then the shop-keeper wandered in for a coffee before opening up, and to our great joy agreed to sell two croissants to us. Half an hour later, strengthened and gladdened, we strode off in the direction of Chamboulive.
Instead of back-tracking to the GR, we made our way eastward on a succession of tiny winding roads through farmland. Some of the bends were in the process of being straightened as some sort of job-creation project. Big yellow machines were at their Sunday rest amongst the raw mud of their handiwork.
We continued our undulating way and arrived without effort at Chamboulive, which was on the highway and hence had all the amenities – a café, several shops and a large hotel-restaurant.
After another round of coffee and a stroll up the road to make sure the restaurant would be open in the evening, we walked the last kilometre to the camping ground, past a couple of artificial lakes with families picnicking. We were still with our old companion the GR46, but the following day we would leave it for a while, as we had seen a less circuitous way to get to Treignac.
At the other side of the lake, the camping ground was a wide swathe of grass and trees beside a beach. The beach was deserted, the drinks kiosk closed and the grass empty except for two dead caravans. However there was a woman in the office, so we paid up and found a relatively flat spot for the tent.
Soon after that, a stream of caravans descended on the place, settling close together like a swarm of bees. They were all from the nearby department of Haute-Vienne, as we could tell from their number-plates. Suddenly the moribund place was buzzing with children, dogs, fishermen and shouting women. The kiosk opened, the beach filled and we stopped feeling that we had arrived in a graveyard.
My eye, although some of the red weepiness had gone, was still pendulous and worrying. I strapped it up as best I could with sticking plaster and tried to forget about it.
On our way back to have dinner, we did a bit of exploring, trying to find a way through to the little road we would be taking the next morning, the D142. There was no way shown on the map, but after a visiting a couple of dead ends we found ourselves emerging onto the bitumen. Without this short cut we would have had to go via the village, two sides of a triangle instead of one.
It was a surprisingly long way back to town and the setting sun was in our eyes as we sat at the bar with our cold glasses of rosé.
Across the square was the great block of the church with its cavernous porch. The sounds of Wimbledon drifted out of the open window of the bar and the traffic rumbled by.
Presently we wandered down the highway to the hotel, where tables were set in an ample terrace and diners were already hard at work.
We had a menu of two courses for €16, starting with salade paysanne, distinguished from normal mixed salad by the inclusion of bread and bacon.
Then Keith had his invariable entrecôte and I had a pork cutlet, surrounded by vegetables and pleasantly scattered with pepper and herbs.
It was all delightful and so was the walk home through the parkland in the dusk.