Monday, 31 May 2010
Distance 29 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 699 m, descent 722 m
Map 35 of the TOP 100 blue series (or Map 140 in the new lime-green series)
Topo-guide (ref. 6542) Sentier vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Vézelay
We were up earlier than our companions and had finished our muesli before they appeared. With farewell hugs and promises to communicate, we opened the door and promptly shut it again.
There was a wall of rain outside, requiring capes to be put on and resolve to be summoned. In the end we compromised by sprinting over to the bar and building ourselves up with hot coffee before really setting off.
The GR left Cluis by an astonishingly high viaduct over the river meadows, a former railway bridge now used for bungee jumping. At the other end of it the GR went off on a weedy track but we stayed on the bitumen, hoping to keep our feet dry for as long as possible.
Blisters were becoming more of a problem now, after five days of wet weather. It was a nameless little road through flat fields as far as Hallé, then it was graced with the title of the D30E for the rest of the way to Pommiers.
It was a charming little place and we had hopes of it, as the Topoguide said it had a shop and a bar, but we were not very surprised to find that both had died. The only remaining service in the village was that bread could be ordered at the Mairie for the following morning.
As we walked on it seemed to have stopped raining, although it was difficult to say with all the trees sprinkling us as we went past. We were tempted by a short cut at Foy but when we saw it in reality we quickly went back to the road. It was a steep, slimy, overgrown chute.
Past Dampierre we came to a crossroads and descended abruptly to a bridge leading to the plus beau village of Gargilesse. We took what looked like a shorter way, marked as a walking track, but it took us down a great deal further to river level, then laboriously up again to the streets.
Gargilesse clung to the side of the valley, its crooked lanes deserted, although pretty enough. It was not looking its best on this dark morning. We wandered down to the church but found nothing except dug-up roads and repair trucks.
Back in the higher streets we came upon a café with a large dining room set for lunch, where the staff were eating before the busloads arrived. The terrace outside was a wasteland of wet, empty tables.
We went in to the tiny bar and after a while someone got up and came to serve us. The coffee was particularly delicious, and as we were the only people there, we took off our soggy shoes and socks to give our white, wrinkled feet some air.
Crossing the bridge on our way out of the village, we met the pilgrim with the wheeled cart coming the other way. It was a pleasure as usual to talk with a fellow walker.
He had recently retired from his job in northern France and was taking advantage of his good health to make this pilgrimage before old age caught up with him. He looked as though it would not catch up with him for a while yet.
We hurried back to the crossroads and took the D40 south, across the high open land above the river Creuse, pausing at a rest area for lunch.
At Cuzion, which was decked with flower beds and much more cheerful looking than Gargilesse, we started to descend to the river, through a forest of pines.
This was the “Vallée Noire” of George Sand’s novels, and it was certainly deep and dark. Since her time the river has been dammed at a couple of points, including just upstream from where we crossed it at the Pont des Piles.
It was a hard pull up the other side. The road went in zigzags but we cut a few corners.
By that time it was sunny and hot and we kept going up, although not as steeply, all the way to Éguzon, on a dead straight road flanked by houses.
Before we reached the town we were relieved to see the camping ground on our right. There were trucks and workmen crawling all around the grand old farmhouse and the grounds. We called out in French to enquire whether they were open and got a reply in English – the owners were Dutch and had not been there very long. Most of the workers seemed to be Dutch too.
We put up our tent, had delightfully hygienic Dutch showers, hung our clean washing between two trees and continued up the road to the centre of the village.
The main square was at a complicated intersection of roads and was lined with shops. It looked promising, but at the Office of Tourism we encountered the Monday factor – all the restaurants except two would be closed tonight.
One was in the Hotel de France, a sumptuous establishment behind a hedge a few streets away, for which we felt we had neither the clothes nor the inclination. The other was a pizzeria amongst the shops, which looked defunct but had a sign saying that it would be open at 7pm.
A bit further along the street we came to a large supermarket, the first one we had seen on this year’s walk, and went in to replenish our supplies of muesli, powdered milk, soap and lunch food.
Retiring to one of the bars in the square, the Café des Sports, we found we were sitting next to a pair of English expatriates who lived near Cuzion but came here for the supermarket and to visit the doctor. The man had suffered a stroke a year or two ago and was full of praise for the French medical system, although he said he had not fully regained his powers of speech. He must have been a formidable talker before, as he was very chatty now.
Then we had a period of repose at the camping ground, in a sort of lounge room with sofas and shelves of books, most of them in Dutch.
We had a conversation with our hostess, who said the family all spoke English but found French much harder. The children, of course, were learning much faster than the adults.
At the pizzeria, which was pleasantly set with red-checked tablecloths, we had a large Greek salad followed by a pizza and a galette. There were a few other tables of diners and a great many people getting takeaways.
On the way home the sky was clear and we decided that the rain had passed and we would have fine weather from now on. We were wrong.