Wednesday, 27 June 2018
Distance 20 km
Duration 4 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 426 m, descent 456 m
For the first time this year, we set off without a plan for breakfast, the only hope being coffee at the bar at Orbeil, if it happened to be functioning. It was only a kilometre away, across the Allier, but the prospects were not good.
Leaving the camping ground, we set off for the bridge, and on the way we passed the hotel Ace, one of many clustered along the autoroute.
In the garden outside we saw some people with trays of food, so on an impulse we went in and asked the man at the desk if we could join in. To our surprise he was perfectly happy, in exchange for €6.90 each.
With glee and gratitude, we proceeded to work our way through yoghurt, orange juice, several coffees, croissants, pains au chocolat, toast, butter, jam, cheese, ham and boiled eggs.
The eggs were labelled “oeufs frais”, which I took to mean “fresh”, whereas it actually meant “raw”, so I got a surprise when I tried to crack one. Another guest took pity on me and showed me the poaching bath with its little wire baskets to lower the eggs into the boiling water.
This was a much better start to the day than we had any right to expect, and we marched off full of vigour, ignoring the bar at Orbeil (which looked dead anyway), and climbing a series of steep lanes through the houses to join the GRP.
However, we only stayed on the marked track for a few hundred metres until it turned off, leaving us to continue on a tiny rising road to the hamlet of Naves. After that the road ran out, but we kept ascending on a grassy track.
It was a perfect summer morning and the young wheat shone greenish-gold in the sun. Although we were going uphill, we were so well fuelled that we did not feel tired.
After a while we came to an intersection and took a small nameless road which descended into the pleasant valley of la Laye.
Just past the village we came to an impressive array of about 700 solar panels on the roof of a barn, enough to power the whole district, by the look of it.
Soon the bitumen gave way to a steep, roughly mown track through the wheat and we could see that we were near the top of the range, marked by a mobile phone tower.
Also on this crest was the meeting of two GRPs, and for once we followed their combined path, although only as far as the nearby village of Yronde, which was loomed over by a strange fortress-like rock, which looked man-made, but wasn’t.
Once out of this village, we had a long downhill stroll, some of it hedged with brambles, but mostly open to the fields, before we arrived at Vic-le-Comte, the big town of the area.
There were roadworks in progress, with barriers across some streets, but as walkers we ignored them, and soon found the central square, with its cafes and fountains. It was after midday by this time and we were very glad to stop for coffee.
Pressing on, we walked for about three kilometres on roads and tracks and arrived at the edge of Longues, by which time we were starting to feel hot and tired.
This part of Longues consisted of an uninspiring new housing estate, although the original village must surely have had an interesting history, with its advantageous position on a bend of the Allier.
When we got to the main road, there were a few shops clustered beside an attractive avenue of trees, but the only bar was on the point of closing, and there did not seem to be anywhere to buy food.
However we knew of two restaurants further down the street, so we set off to investigate. They were serving lunch and looked pleasant enough, but in both cases we found out that they would be closing for the day at 3 o’clock.
There was a third possibility, on the other side of the river, but before checking that, we decided to go to the camping ground and set ourselves up.
Crossing the railway line, we skirted around a huge old factory enclosed by a security fence. The dark, Dickensian stone buildings looked like something from the nineteenth century, and it was hard to know whether it was still in operation. We passed a series of lanes lined with old-fashioned cottages, called “pavillons” on the sign, presumably built to house the workers. The only thing that we could find out was that it was (or had been) a paper factory.
Beyond the factory we came to some sports fields and beyond that again was the camping ground, or it would have been if it had still existed. We peered through the locked gate into a morass of weeds and a collapsing shed or two, sad remnants of a place that had obviously been derelict for years.
We now had a double problem – nowhere to stay for the night and nothing to eat. It was all very surprising and dispiriting. Suddenly our beloved France seemed a hostile, unwelcoming foreign country.
We sat down in the shade of a bush and began to go through the possibilities. After discarding the idea of lurking about until dusk and then putting up our tent amongst the bushes where we were sitting (we did not come all this way to do dismal things like that to ourselves), we thought of catching a bus back to Vic-le-Comte, where there would probably be a hotel. If there was no bus, we could catch a train.
Somewhat cheered, we hurried back to the highway, searched in vain for a bus stop, and went on to the railway station.
To our surprise, this was called “Vic-le-Comte”, which rather suggested that we would get no closer to the actual town of Vic-le-Comte than we were at present. The station was deserted, but a timetable on the wall listed the stations to the south.
The one that riveted our attention was Issoire, the town that we had walked out of this morning. It had never occurred to us, but we now saw that another night in the proven comforts of Issoire would solve all our problems.
There was a long wait because of the railway strikes, but eventually at 5:30 pm a train arrived and whisked us back to our starting point. Then we had to walk for 45 minutes to get back to the camping ground, but we did not mind at all.
The responsable of the camping was amazed to see us, as were some of our neighbours who had bid farewell to us that morning.
By 8:30 pm, washed and brushed, we were sitting on the terrace of the Buffalo Grill enjoying another delightful meal, and looking forward to another peaceful, civilised night in the camping ground.