Friday, 8 July 2005
Distance 18 km
Duration 4 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 243 m, descent 441 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
This was a day of dogs.
Soon after we left the village, we were bailed up by a large, snarling animal and Keith, who had trained his own dog well, was infuriated by the irresponsibility of its owners and began to shout at the top of his lungs, until a woman with a toddler put her head out of the door, to be roared at by him in English.
She got the message and made a feeble attempt to call the dog off, but by then it had lost interest and we passed on our way.
Retracing our path of two years ago through the forest, we came to the fearsome drop of the Cirque of Autoire and made our way gingerly down the face of the cliff to the valley floor, with occasional help from fixed ladders and handrails.
The track was well-marked but in places it was no more than a torrent of loose stones, so it was a relief to have hard bitumen under our feet for the last kilometre into Autoire.
The village is backed on three sides by cliffs and has an “English château” (a relic of the Hundred Years’ War), and several picturesque round pigeonniers.
We had coffee and croissants on the terrace of the hotel, feeling that we had earned it.
Just outside the town, the GR was a dirt road behind some houses and here we were again accosted by a big dog.
This one streaked out of its yard and barred our way with lips drawn back and hackles up, bringing on more angry bellowing from Keith. A woman emerged and said that it wasn’t her dog and its owners were out.
We retreated slightly and the dog returned to its yard, but as soon as we set off again it was back. With the strength of necessity, we ripped a post from a barbed-wire fence and Keith advanced on the animal with baton raised, sending it fleeing into the bushes.
We kept the stick, shortened to half its length, for future encounters with the uneducated dogs of France.
After crossing the road and strolling pleasantly beside a stream, we turned uphill towards the great bulk of Castelnaud. We were surprised and a little dismayed to see how close Loubressac looked, after all the hard yards we had covered that morning (we had gone in a big loop).
The château has a mediaeval village huddling at its base and a belvedere with a lovely view, where we stopped for lunch.
Afterwards, we found a restaurant and bar at the exit of the village and enjoyed a second round of coffees looking down on Bretenoux, our destination.
Below the château the GR had forsaken us and we thrashed about in a tangle of paths until we found one going down to Felines.
From this pretty little place we walked the short remaining distance to Bretenoux on the road.
As we had been here before, we had no trouble finding the camping ground, just over the river from the village. It was packed with holiday makers in their huge vans or canvas mansions.
There was one other tiny tent like ours, with what looked like a dead body face-down outside it, but turned out to be a young fellow with a few weeks work in the town.
Keith had a shower and advised me not to, as it was somewhere between tepid and stone cold. Instead I had a deliciously hot wash in a cubicle with a basin. We lay down for a sleep on the grass, but the weather kept changing from too hot to too cold as the sun went behind clouds, so we retired into the tent.
Bretenoux is a fairly well-preserved bastide, with a clear grid layout and some of its arcades still standing in the cobbled central square. It was never fortified and was more of a land-reform measure on the part of the local lord, consolidating his tenants into a manageable community.
After strolling appreciatively round the lanes, we stopped for a drink at a bar on the main road and then had dinner in the square. It was a plentiful and excellent meal.
We began with fresh tomato soup, then a home-made duck terrine appeared on the table, from which we carved big slices (some of which vanished into my bag for lunches – I always carry a plastic bag for such occasions).
The main course was chicken in a herb sauce with golden-fleshed potatoes. There followed a cheese platter (more lunch food), apple tart and coffee.
Little wonder that I had an attack of diarrhoea during the night and was up and down constantly, disturbing Keith as I struggled in and out of the tent.
Actually I did not blame the dinner; it was probably the powdered milk, which had got damp at some stage and started to curdle instead of dissolve.