Tuesday, 28 June 2005
Distance with packs 21 km (including 5 km being lost), time 5 hours 10
Ascent 318 m, descent 310 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topo-guide (ref. 321) Traversée du Périgord
Galvanised by the tremendous heat of yesterday, we got up early and were away by 7:30, a change from our recent lazy ways.
Taking the shaded quayside path, we clambered up steps into the middle of town and found ourselves amongst the bustle of a street market being set up.
All around the little bar where we sat for croissants and coffee, stallholders were creating beautiful arrangements of sausages, fruits, breads, cheeses and vegetables.
The headline of the local paper was “Suffocant!” and the accompanying article asserted that this summer combined the horrors of the drought of 1976 and the heatwave of 2003.
Most of the streets were closed off for the morning and all the cafés were full of tough-looking stallholders at that hour of the morning.
We set off full of vigour on what I thought was the river road, but which turned out to be the main road to the north.
I thought it odd that there was no turn-off onto the GR, and the road seemed surprisingly busy, but by the time I realised my mistake we were more than two kilometres out of town and there was nothing for it but to turn round and trudge back, with our zest much depleted. I had to beg forgiveness from Keith.
Back through the market, now going full strength, we tried again and this time found the GR, rising in a wood beside the thread of road. At the top we took to the road for the gentle descent through farmland to Limeuil.
A couple of English cyclists were fixing a puncture and they said we were obviously English because we were walking on the English side of the road (the left). On the contrary, we said, it was the French side for walkers, facing the oncoming traffic.
A bit further on, just before we arrived at Limeuil, was the twelfth-century chapel of Saint-Martin, standing alone in a field.
Limeuil was in English hands during the Hundred Years War and this chapel was built in reaction to the shocking murder of archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury cathedral.
It also served as a haven for pilgrims, being part of a chain of fortified churches stretching through the Dordogne, of which we had already seen examples at Saint-Amand-de-Coly and Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère.
All were distinguished by their tallness and simplicity, their defensive slit-like windows, and their loving workmanship. The tiniest ant could not get between the great stone blocks of the walls.
Limeuil sits at the confluence of the Vézère and the Dordogne rivers and there is a little sandy beach with boats drawn up, a pleasant view from the café where we had our morning coffee. The village straggles up the steep promontory behind and culminates in a park at the top.
It had the makings of a pretty little tourist town (for tourists with good legs and lungs), with its old houses and remnants of a wall, but did not seem to justify its classification as a plus beau village. Too much litter, too little new paint, too few window-boxes, I suppose.
We gave the man at the Office of Tourism a headache by asking whether there was a pedestrian lane on the railway bridge across the river to Mauzac. He had never been asked that before and had no idea. Nor have we, even now, but we think not, because the designers of the GR would have used it, if it existed.
From the top of the village we saw GR marks going out through a portal and followed them until we realised we were on our way back to le Bugue.
Out through a different portal, we got lost again, plunging down to river level and having to climb back to find the GR, which rose on a stony path towards the escarpment. It was not turning out one of my best days for navigation.
Once up on high ground, we joined the road along the cliff edge and had an airy view of the flat, patterned farmland across the river. At la Pénétie we stopped for lunch on a green bank beside the road, recently mowed and shaded by a line of walnut trees.
The rest of the way to Trémolat was a stroll on the almost deserted little road, which looked less strenuous than the GR. We arrived while the last of the lunch customers were being attended to.
The tiny village is top-heavy with restaurants, a state of affairs the we applaud. We took a table in one of them, with the breeze funnelling in on us through the open door, and had coffee and icecream, Keith’s favourite flavours of cassis, coffee and vanilla.
Trying to get to the camping ground we got lost for the third time that day. In fact we were not lost, but thought we were, which amounted to the same thing by the time we came back and tried another way.
With perseverance we arrived at the nautical centre and camping ground, and chose a spot on the very banks of the Dordogne, under some leafy trees.
The river here was deep and majestic, unlike both its parents above the confluence – weedy, shallow things.
Some Dutch cyclists arrived and had their tent up and their dinner cooking before we could blink. They had left their car in Bergerac a fortnight ago and would be back there tomorrow. Like us, they had sufferred in the great heat (but I think we sufferred more as walkers).
When we tried to put up our tent, the ground was like concrete, even though it was grassy. We had to water it well before the pegs would go in and my hip-hole was a job for a stonemason.
On the way back to the village, we passed a hotel-restaurant with a degustation menu for €85 a head. It was the most we had ever seen at the time and to find it in this backwater made us laugh.
Now that we were clean and rested we could appreciate the beauty of the fortified chapel of Saint-Hilaire which was just opposite the bar where we sat for a preliminary glass.
As the tables filled up around us on the little corner terrace, we decided to stay and have pizzas.
I had to give half of mine to Keith, as my appetite had not fully returned, but it was a pleasant meal. We had a large salad and, in deference to the heat, a jug of cold rosé.
Back on the river bank, a slight breeze had relieved the leaden stillness of the afternoon, and during the night a short, noisy storm tested our tent, but we remained dry and snug.