Monday, 26 May 2003
Distance 26 km
Duration 7 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 838 m, descent 918 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Before we left the camping ground, we made our third or fourth trip to the office, but it was still deserted, so we walked off with a clear conscience, having had two nights’ free accommodation.
We picked up Penny from the chambre d’hôte, and after she had parted with her hosts and €156, we set off downhill into the countryside.
Sunshine sparkled on walnut and apricot orchards and fields of young corn. Along the way we stopped to sample the cherries from an overhanging tree.
At Saillac we admired the unusual painted tympanum of the little church, and the thriving appearance of the village.
The walking was very pleasant now that the rain had gone, and we arrived without difficulty at the viewpoint overlooking Curemonte.
As it was 12:30, we were worried that the boulangerie would be closing, so we rushed down and managed to get the last two raspberry tarts in the shop, as well as a baguette. We ate these on a bench in front of the church, then retired to the warmth of the bar to have coffee.
Curemonte is another plus beau village, a deserving one, with its tall fortified château on a ridge above the valley.
Getting out of the place tested our powers of observation. We kept losing the GR marks until one of us noticed a turning sign painted on a metal drain in the street. This led down a steep, slippery lane and eventually to the river flats below the village.
Once we lost sight of the majestic towers of Curemonte, we saw no more villages till we straggled in to Beaulieu about four hours later.
The way was interminable, forested and hilly, with occasional farms. Admittedly we lost the track towards the end, and had to take the much longer road, a final trial for our unfit legs. We were speechless with exhaustion by the time we got to the camping ground at Beaulieu, which is on an island in the Dordogne (we later found out that there is another one under the bridge at Altillac).
Despite the rather pretentious air of the establishment, and the cost of €12 per tent, shocking after our last two nights, the showers were no more than tepid, but we were past caring. Our need was for sleep.
An hour later, with strength and spirits fully restored, we set off across the footbridge to see the town. The main feature is the great grey abbey church, with its carved doorway, but most of the streets had a dilapidated appearance, perhaps having not fully emerged from their winter sleep so early in the season.
Penny was too tired to eat out, so she got a plastic-wrapped chicken leg from the little supermarket and retired to her sleeping bag.
We chose one of the hotels in the main square to dine in. Stepping across the threshold, we entered a world of old-fashioned comfort and dignity.
Chandeliers hung from the low beamed ceiling, the tablecloths were thick white damask, red roses cascaded from silver vases on every table and the waiter addressed us reverentially, ignoring our humble attire. Even before we ordered, a basket of bread and a terrine arrived, to keep us going till the main dishes were ready.
We had poularde (fat chicken) with vegetables and a sauce of the local mushrooms called morilles, and cod-fish similarly garnished, for which not only a fish-knife, but a fish-spoon was provided. For dessert we had a crème brûlée and a frozen soufflé of ground walnuts.