Friday, 7 July 2017
Distance 19 km
Duration 3 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 1 m, descent 16 m
Map 141 of the
Our first act in the morning was to have another shower, just because we could (it is a deplorable habit that we have when staying in hotels).
The room was very slick and modern but there was no disguising the ancient beams holding up the ceiling, the best part of the décor in my opinion.
Our coffee came in traditional bowls and was accompanied by orange juice, yoghurt, bread, butter, jam and croissants.
We ate everything and had our bowls refilled by the obliging waiter. We were not in a hurry, as the weather was cool and the day’s walk short.
Stepping out of the hotel, we crossed the river on a footbridge and found ourselves at the beginning of the so-called Rigole de l’Arroux, a channel that feeds water from the Arroux into the Canal du Centre and the adjoining Lateral Canal of the Loire.
It is the narrowest canal in France, and for a while it carried materials by barge to and from the great forges of Gueugnon, but this traffic ceased in 1953.
The other remarkable thing about this part of town, known as le Vieux Fresne, was that in Roman times it was a famous centre of pottery-making, supplying pottery mainly to Autun, up the river. The ruins of the ovens are still being excavated.
There was a path beside the Rigole all the way, and most of it was shady.
Ignoring the Parcours de Santé (fitness circuit) that French towns love to put along canal banks, we took the opportunity to get rid of the leaden pizza from Tournon, by flinging it into the shrubbery beside the track, where it no doubt gave the local fauna indigestion.
We crossed to the other side of the canal and walked on a wide dirt road under overarching trees for a few kilometres.
It was a warm morning so we appreciated the shade. The canal itself was only a few metres away, but hidden by the undergrowth, so we felt that we were on a normal forest path rather than a canal-side track.
At the next bridge the road shrank again to a narrow path, still pleasantly shaded, and half an hour later we emerged at the first lock (there are only two), prettily decorated with tubs of flowers.
We continued beside the canal through the lush greenery, as straight as an arrow – the Romans would have been proud.
After a slight lean to the right, we came to where the canal went under the highway (the D994) and we used a little footbridge to change to the opposite bank for a kilometre or so.
Now for the first time we were walking beside the water instead of in a tunnel of trees, and it felt like a normal canal path.
We were in the outskirts of Digoin by then, and fast approaching the end of the canal. We passed the second lock – not as picturesque as the first – and then walked beside the canal as it sailed over a stream and melted into the Canal du Centre a few metres further on.
Approaching Digoin was a lovely feeling, almost like a homecoming, because we had spent a couple of days there last year, recovering from Keith’s swollen leg.
That had been wonderful time of relaxation, doing little more than eat and sleep.
However, from the end of the Rigole there were still three kilometres to go along the Canal du Centre before we arrived in town.
Digoin is not the most photogenic of towns, at least not in the outlying part with its factories and warehouses.
Once at the boat harbour, which presumably marks the division between the Canal du Centre and the Lateral Canal of the Loire, we took to the streets, which were full of shops at that point, and soon got ourselves to the cathedral, with its lopped-off steeple and its tympanum depicting a local chef among the saints.
In this square we had had a glorious breakfast last year when we arrived on the bus, after a dismal day of rain, hunger and anxiety.
This time we kept going, heading for the café that had been our salvation, Chez Lily, which was just outside the entrance to the camping ground. It was still flourishing, so we sat down for a cool drink and then walked the extra few hundred metres to the camping ground.
Nothing much had changed here either. Small tents like ours were accommodated on a sort of grassy shelf at the top of the place, with a walking path and the Loire river beyond the boundary fence.
A line of mature plane trees shaded the plots, and we had the added luxury of two plastic chairs, lent by our amiable hostess.
The afternoon passed in relaxed fashion, with the usual washing rituals, sleeping and reading.
Our possessions were scattered all over the place on the grass, looking as if they could never have fitted into our packs, and we did not bother to put up the tent until just before returning to Chez Lily for dinner.
On our way out, we fell into conversation with some German people with a big caravan, just below our little perch. They were from Leipzig (“You know – Bach, Mendelssohn…” said the man with a quizzical smile).
Leipzig had been reduced to rubble by bombing during the war, they said, but had now been reconstructed, although not always convincingly.
They were indulging in a glass or two of white wine, which they politely offered to share with us. As they had only two wine glasses, we managed to satisfy public health requirements by sipping from the opposite side of their glasses.
After this delightful encounter, we strolled back to the brasserie and sat down at an outdoor table, but it was in the full force of the hot evening sun, so we retired indoors, under a ceiling fan.
Starting our meal in the usual way, we had a large, fresh, delicious salad, loaded with ham, croutons, yoghurt and herbs.
To follow, I chose something that I did not know, but which sounded substantial – une brique.
When it arrived, it was far from brick-like, resembling more a thin, feather-light purse of pastry, but it sat on another considerable salad, so with the help of a basket of bread, I dined well. Keith meanwhile stuck to his tried and true steak and chips.
As a final treat we had a Café Liégeois, that exuberant tower of ice-cream, coffee syrup and cream that epitomises the French contempt for Anglo-Saxon anxieties about fat and cholesterol.