Thursday, 28 June 2018
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 351 m, descent 322 m
The first thing that we needed to do today was to get back to Longues, so that we could continue our walk where we had left off yesterday. There was a train leaving at 8:33 am and we had time to stop at a large bakery for coffee and croissants on the way.
At the station, we had an unpleasant surprise – all early morning trains were cancelled because of the strikes, and the first one for us would be at 11:33 am.
We searched in vain for a bus to take us, and then we tried to hitch-hike, walking out from the centre of Issoire on a large road going north.
A woman stopped obligingly, but she was not going to Vic-le-Comte, and we realised that the road we were on was in fact only a feeder road for the autoroute.
Disconsolately we returned to town and wandered about in a beautiful park, where workers were tending the beds.
We sat down on a bench just as the watering system sprang to life, which gave the workers a moment of good-natured amusement, and as it was a hot day, we were happy to have a shower.
The remainder of the wait was spent pleasantly at a bar near the cathedral, but we were relieved when the promised train actually turned up, and transported us effortlessly back to Longues.
We set off on our day’s walk at noon, the time when we might normally be approaching our destination.
Longues looked as dreary as yesterday but we did not care now, and marched off in high spirits on the D758.
Only a few cars were going past, and most of them turned off after a kilometre or so, leaving us to trudge up under the brow of a forested hill and descend into the streets of Lissac.
Here we turned off the main road and climbed up past the cemetery and onto an unmown grassy track through a steeply rising field of wheat.
It was hard work in the full glare of midday, with no shade except for the occasional tree.
Behind us we could see the valley of the Allier spread out, with its woods, fields and villages fading into the summer haze.
Eventually, at a wayside cross, our uphill track intersected another one and we turned with relief onto this much flatter way.
There was a line of cherry trees beside it and we took advantage of them in our usual way.
After a while we began to lose height and plunged from the fields into a tangle of vegetation, from which we emerged into a small village cut in half by the busy D229. By taking a side road we arrived at the next village of Laps, where we found a truckies’ café, as we had hoped.
It had a terrace shaded by white market umbrellas, as well as a large inner room which was still full of diners, although it was nearly 2 pm.
We sat outside to enjoy our coffee with a scrap of bread and steak left over from last night at Issoire.
Then we pushed on through the village, gradually rising until we crossed the main road and continued to meander through the quiet fields.
The road was bitumen but hardly wider than a walkers’ path. In the distance we could see the smooth, dark mound of le Gros Turluron, the hill that stands guard over the village of Billom, which was our destination for the day.
Descending a little, we passed through St-Julien-de-Coppel, a pretty little place with a monastery and a square with a bar, sadly deceased.
Beyond this the road became a gravelly wheel track that swept down across an immense wheatfield and merged with a tar road that took us eventually into the streets of the town. On this long stretch I became conscious of how painful my blisters were.
The central shopping area of Billom was busy and picturesque, with a walled stream flanked by lanes, half-timbered houses and gardens.
At the Office of Tourism we asked about restaurants and were given a list, but the choice was not much – one classy place and a couple of pizzerias, apart from numerous bars.
The camping ground was almost a kilometre away and uphill, through the less picturesque parts of the town, but it was a pleasant sight when we got there, set in a grove of tall trees.
There was what looked like an apartment block on one side of the grounds, but the reception and the ablutions block were on the ground floor, so we were not sure.
As the day declined, some people drove up in cars and walked upstairs, as if coming home from work, so we revived our theory that it was an apartment block.
The showers were hot and excellent, but the reception was closed and stayed that way for the whole time that we were there, so it was a free night.
A few caravans were scattered about among the trees, including one near us where the old couple looked too shaky on their legs to be camping at all.
Apart from one laborious trip to the sanitaires, the woman spent the whole time in a chair with her head bent sweetly over her sewing as if modelling a painting by Vermeer.
As we had arrived so late, we had little time to rest before setting off for town again. The evening was remarkably cool for the time of year so we took our jackets.
For apéritifs we went to a lively, attractive outdoor bar lined with potted bamboo and shrubs, and roofed by a sail.
After that we stepped across the Rue Carnet to a pizzeria, and chose a table in the doorway, neither inside nor fully outside.
The atmosphere was busy and pleasant, with people coming and going to collect their take-aways.
Keith had his staple pizza, Neapolitan, and I had a sort of aubergine creation, which was delicious.
Back in the camping, we got into our sleeping bags fully dressed, as the air was rapidly cooling off.