Thursday, 12 July 2018
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 206 m, descent 223 m
With no prospect of coffee in town, we saved ourselves the walk, and set off past the playing fields, towards an underpass of the A77.
We considered having muesli before we left, but decided not to bother, as we had marching food in the form of half a croissant from yesterday and the last of the dried fruit from our garden in Australia.
We ambled along, rising gradually, until we reached the foot of a heavily wooded ridge and entered a tunnel of greenery. There was a château somewhere above us but we did not see it.
For reasons unknown, the road was lined with opulent mansions set in well-maintained gardens – a sort of millionaires’ row in the middle of nowhere.
After a kilometre or so of this we emerged from the forest and were joined by the GR654, the Way of Vézelay.
Our little road began to descend, but we took a parallel way on a farm track, as we were getting sick of walking on bitumen.
The pretty village of Chaulgnes was dominated by its tall, pale church, which looked down on public gardens and a school.
There was a bar on the corner but the door was closed, to our great disappointment.
A couple of hundred metres along the street was a small supermarket (closed exceptionally this morning) and a boulangerie which was open, and miraculously had a coffee machine.
Then there was more disappointment when the girl in the boulangerie said that they only served coffee at weekends.
So instead of croissants, we bought a tarte aux poireaux and a tarte aux myrtilles, thinking that they would be easier to eat in the absence of a hot drink.
The girl was puzzled that the bar would be closed, so in desperation we walked back, tried the door and it opened!
A large bristling dog barred the way but its owner, a tiny old woman, soon bundled it out the back door and took our order.
We went outside, dragged a table and two chairs from the wall and set them up in the shade while she made the coffee.
I asked her to heat up the milk, which she obligingly did, but when she came back she apologised that it had curdled, and that she had no more. We assured her that it was fine because we had powdered milk.
I rushed back to the boulangerie for two croissants, so in the end we had quite a feast for our second breakfast – or was it our first?.
After that we followed the GR on a pleasant path through a forest, and then on some little roads, but when it turned away towards la Marche (the original site for the Cluniac abbey now at la Charité-sur Loire) we parted company with it for a while, crossing over a highway and then under a railway line, at which point we reconnected with the GR after its wanderings.
From then on we stayed close to the railway line as we approached la Charité-sur-Loire, but the going was not as easy as we expected and, unlike the railway line itself, far from flat. We had three big climbs to negotiate.
A friendly dog walked with us for a while, until we started to worry that it would get lost and had to stamp our feet at it.
Finally we began to descend into the town, and saw the abbey and the river.
The new houses high on the ridge gave way to older, closer-set terraces, then shops and bars.
At the abbey, among the crush of tourists, we found the Office of Tourism, and went in to ask them to telephone the two gîtes at Châteauneuf-Val-de-Bargis, our destination for tomorrow.
Gîtes are not normally our favourite accommodation, but there was no camping ground there, and we had been warned that it was necessary to book ahead, but we did not have a phone.
Our man tried the first gîte but it was booked out. The second one did not answer, so we arranged to come back at 2 pm.
Meanwhile we went to the camping ground, which was on an island in the Loire. We had camped here before and it looked much the same, but now there were security codes on the gates and an area beside the water reserved for small tents.
This area was almost empty when we arrived but later filled up, mostly with cyclists. Our tent was shaded by riverside trees, with the Loire slipping by smoothly just behind our washing line.
Back at the Office of Tourism, there was still no reply from the gîte, so we went off and had coffee, and when we returned, our man got through to the gîte and booked us in.
We were to pick up the key from the café in the village. This was a great relief to us and we thanked our helper very much.
He was determined to speak English to us, but I was just as determined to speak French to him, so that is what we did, to everyone’s satisfaction and amusement.
After a reviving doze beside our tent, we walked back to the bridge via a riverside lane, and managed to get an outdoor table at the pizzeria overlooking the Loire. We were lucky, because it was the last one outside, and later arrivals had to go indoors.
From our table we looked onto a wide pool in the river that was used at one time as a resting and refuelling place for seaplanes making the journey from Paris to the Mediterranean – hard to believe now.
As usual we started our meal with a salad, fresh and simple, and a quantity of bread. To follow Keith had a pizza and I had a vegetable gratinée which was more substantial than it looked.
I was obliged to smuggle half of it into the plastic bag which I always have about me for such moments.
The local red wine was delicious, and a wasp had the same opinion, with the result that I was stung on the lip when I took a sip. That was the first of many encounters with wasps, although the only time that I was actually bitten.