Thursday, 22 June 2017
Distance 27 km
Duration 6 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 136 m, descent 158 m
Map 142 of the
Anxiety propelled us out of bed before
With the predicted torrid temperatures, water was our main worry. We only had two litre bottles and one half-litre, nowhere near enough if the bar at St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze was closed, in which case we would have to go to the village graveyard to fill up (graveyards always have a water tap, presumably for mourners’ flowers).
We set off at 6:10 am and hurried up to the town of Montrevel, which was surprisingly populous and thriving, at least along the highway (the D975). There were bars already open and we were tempted, but did not dare to lose time, so we kept going.
Turning off near the hospital, we were immediately in the countryside, and very pretty it was, with its undulating carpet of green pastures and golden wheat.
Rounding a slight rise, we came to a still-working fifteenth-century farm, of which we could see nothing because of the screen of trees, but we liked the idea of it.
Soon after that we left the bitumen and took a wide grassy lane lined with oak trees, to connect with another small road.
At a farm along the way a family of chickens fossicked happily in the morning sunshine, little knowing that they would be for sale upside-down in a market before long,
They were the famous blue-legged fowl of the former province of Bresse, described as “the queen of poultry and the poultry of kings” by the great chef Brillat-Savarin.
They, like champagne, are protected by an “appelation controllée” label.
An hour later we were still cruising along quite easily, but as we got near to St-Jean-sur-Reyssouze we began to worry about whether the bar would be open, or even exist.
The last pull up through the wheatfields to the village did not inspire confidence, as the place looked tiny, hardly more than a church and a few cottages.
There was nothing to see on the main street, but then Keith remembered that the bar was supposed to be tucked away in a back street, and so it turned out to be. It was a rather long building comprising a pizzeria, a bar and a boulangerie side by side, and there was a wide terrace at the front, full of tables.
The boulangerie was beyond our wildest hopes, and we went there first, getting two croissants and two apple chaussons to go with our coffee. But first we ordered a litre of cold water and swallowed the lot in a few gulps.
Our waitress was a pretty young woman with large, pale, wrinkled burn scars on her face and arms, not disfiguring, but hinting at some tragedy in her past.
Another litre of water disappeared before we stood up to go, and we also got our own bottles refilled.
We left at 9:30 am, well satisfied with our progress so far. But the air was heating up by the minute and the second half of the walk was harder.
The landscape was just as benign, the paths and tracks were just as well cared for, but we were wilting by the time we got to the top of the rise above Pont-de-Vaux and joined the highway at a roundabout.
It was only a kilometre from there to the centre of town, and all downhill, but it seemed to go on for ever.
We plodded along the footpath beside the traffic, sweating profusely, and at long last came to a pleasant double avenue of trees, lined with shops and cafes.
Our most pressing need was water, as we had once again drunk all our supplies, so we sat down at a bar on the main square, with people having lunch all around us, and had another round of coffee with the water.
The statue in the middle of the square was of Barthélemy Cathérine Joubert, born here in 1769, who ran away from home to join the army and became one of Napoleon’s brightest stars, but was killed at the age of 30 at the battle of Novi, in Italy.
All we had to do now was to find the camping ground. We knew it was on a lake behind the houses, and found it easily, but we did not know where the entrance was, and walked an extra half-kilometre trying to find it.
Eventually we called out to a man inside the fence, who did not understand us, as we were speaking French. But it turned out that he was Dutch, so we reverted to English and he explained how to find the front gate, at the opposite extreme of the camping ground.
The manager was just closing up for lunch, but he took our €16 and advised us where the shadiest spots were. They were not exaggeratedly shady, and we found ourselves shifting about constantly as the afternoon progressed, dodging the rays of the sun that drummed down from a merciless white sky.
At 7:30 pm we walked slowly back to town, going the long way via the boat harbour to make sure of our route for the morning.
We had a glass of rosé at the outdoor bar on the other side of the main square, which was now in shade, while our previous bar was roasting in the late sun.
Feeling suitably mellow, we strolled on to the tree-lined boulevard, intending to go to the restaurant at the Logis hotel, le Raisin.
But before we got there we noticed another restaurant across the road, au Cochon Rouge, offering a three-course menu for €14 and a shaded terrace at the back.
There were also people dining at the tables to the front. We went through to the back terrace and sat down under an awning, but soon decided that it was cooler inside. Most of the other diners had come to the same conclusion.
Our new table was directly under a fan and our hostess turned on the light above us with a sort of skyhook. Now entirely comfortable, we set to work on the menu.
To begin, we had a salad of celeriac with herbs, light and fresh, and we did not hang back from the basket of bread that arrived with it.
After that we had great slabs of moussaka which banished any lingering pangs of hunger.
For the final course Keith had a couple of scoops of icecream in a glass dish with cream, and I had my choice from the plateau of cheese which madame left on our table. It looked beautiful but I only took a little, and even that I put away for another time.
Meanwhile we had been conversing with our waitress and her final remark to us was that she was sorry to have to say it, but we were completely insane to be walking in this weather. The diners at a nearby table laughed and agreed.