Friday, 3 July 2009
Distance 25 km
Duration 5 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 742 m, descent 537 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We had our muesli at the table before lugging it dutifully back to its rightful place. Taking our leave of the jovial Irishman, we set off just as the seven o’clock bells rang from the chapel. The beauty of the chapel was more in the beholding than in the hearing – it sounded like a rusty bucket being banged with a stick.
As soon as we were over the river we turned left onto the GR, climbing relentlessly past Le Saillant Vieux (which looked no more ancient than the riverside village), and on into a forest. The wide track had once been a road and still had patches of bitumen here and there.
After an hour we emerged onto a rocky promontory high above the river, and nearby a beautiful grassy glen. We sat down to rest at a table made of a single massive slab of stone.
This section of the Vézère went through an inaccessible gorge, which was why the GR had come up so high, but once we had reached the plateau the going was easy.
We followed a series of paths and little roads across impossibly pretty farmland, gently undulating and lit by slanting morning sun. The scene was full of interest, such as a monumental dunghill almost as high as the farmhouse it sat next to.
Three cherry trees beside the way still had fruit, so we ate as we went along. It was like walking through paradise.
Our high spirits were rather deflated when we got to Estivaux and discovered it had no bar, although we had hoped for one.
Then the GR turned downhill to visit a château but we took a shorter way, and reconnected with the GR at Chatras, a tiny cluster of houses at the end of a road.
As we were taking the footpath away from Chatras we met three men with sticks and walking boots, out for the day. One of them lived in Terrasson and was impressed that we had walked from there.
The next part was one of those featureless stretches in which we walked and walked without seeming to make progress across the map. We were in forest most of the time. I started to feel the hot stinging on my toes that warns of blisters, so I stopped to apply sticking plaster.
At last we came out into farmland (where we saw a cow in a sling being lifted by a tractor), and were told that the camping ground was at the top of the next hill.
We had envisaged one of those camping grounds with all the amenities – bar, restaurant – which would allow us to stay there, but this one, while it had an abundance of well-mowed grass, had little else, not even customers, apart from a couple of caravans in the distance.
All we got from it was a refill of our water bottles.
We set off again on the GR, through beautiful wooded country, somewhat hillier than before as we came down towards the river. Once again we were trapped in a time warp, in which no amount of walking seemed to get us anywhere. Meanwhile my blisters were developing nicely.
It was after midday when we limped out onto the road, half-way between the village of Vigeois and the recreation area where the camping ground was supposed to be.
We were on the horns of a dilemma – whether to turn left into the village, where we would be certain of coffee and food, but might then have to walk all the way back and more to get to the camping ground, or to turn right towards the putative camping ground and hope it existed and had amenities. It was a kilometre and a half either way. In the end we decided to live dangerously and turned right.
Trudging along on the edge of the rather busy road, we felt more and more doubtful and less and less strong. When we got to the recreation area, which was on the banks of an artificial lake, there was nothing but a snack bar to be seen, but even that was a beautiful sight.
Then Keith noticed a sign directing us further along the shore to the camping ground. A few more stumbling steps took us to an elegant raised terrace full of umbrellas and diners. We fell into chairs and ordered coffee, our first for the day at 1pm.
As we had not passed a shop since we left Allassac, we had no bread for lunch, so we treated ourselves to a proper restaurant lunch, although I could hardly walk across to read the menu on the wall.
We had large, fresh, delicious salads, with bread and a lot of cold water. The enjoyment of this was commensurate with the effort that had preceded it.
Later we hobbled over to the office to book in and found a pleasant spot for our tent, overlooking the lake.
The showers were magnificent and the flower garden in front of them was a dream of beauty, with poppies, buttercups, cornflowers and candytuft nodding gracefully in the breeze.
We slept most of the afternoon and paid another visit to the restaurant in the evening, for a simple meal of salad, steak and chips.
On our way back to the tent we spoke to an English couple who gave us some tea, the first we had tasted since we left home.