Day 3: Sainte-Marie-sur-Ouche to Pont d’Ouche

Walking in France: Breakfast in the playground, Sainte-Marie-sur-Ouche
Breakfast in the playground, Sainte-Marie-sur-Ouche

Saturday, 1 July 2017
Distance 18 km
Duration 3 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 53 m, descent 15 m
Map 136 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Much as we had enjoyed the sound of rain on the tent during the night, we were pleased that it had stopped by morning.

Outside, the rainwater had already been absorbed into the ground, leaving everything green and fresh, but not waterlogged.

We packed up and left before 7 am, only to stop five minutes later at the playground, where we ate some muesli on a park bench. It was not our favourite form of breakfast, but we knew there would be no other for a good distance.

Walking in France: Closed cafe at the lock of le Banet, Canal de Bourgogne
Closed cafe at the lock of le Banet

Half an hour on the towpath brought us to the gaily painted lock of le Banet, which also served as a little cafe.

Our hopes rose for an instant until we saw that it did not open until 11 am.

Walking in France: Threatening weather at the lock of St-Thaux, Canal de Bourgogne
Threatening weather at the lock of St-Thaux

Pressing on, we passed several other locks of the normal sort, and the canal became more and more sinuous as the wooded hills closed in on either side.

The weather had reverted somewhat, and we had to hurriedly put on our rain capes a couple of times, although only briefly.

Walking in France: The lock of Gissey-sur-Ouche, Canal de Bourgogne
The lock of Gissey-sur-Ouche
Walking in France: A well-earned second breakfast at la Forge, Canal de Bourgogne
A well-earned second breakfast at la Forge

We were getting a bit tired and disheartened by the time we got to the lock of la Bussière with its little boat harbour. There was supposed to be a bar in the village above (La Forge), but we had learned not to trust such fantasies until we saw the real thing. Nevertheless we went to look for it.

To our great joy, it did exist, with the lights on, the door open, and customers inside. The customers were all dressed in black, which seemed strange, but it turned out that they were on their way to a funeral and were fortifying themselves with a round of stiff drinks.

We stuck to coffee, which was delicious after almost three hours of walking, and a plate of pastries – a croissant, a pain au chocolat, a chausson and a pain aux raisins. We sat inside, as the weather was still cool and damp.

Walking in France: More weather at the lock d'Antheuil, Canal de Bourgogne
More weather at the lock d’Antheuil

Much improved in both body and spirit, we strode off again along the canal.

We only had six or seven kilometres to go before we reached the big bend of the Pont d’Ouche, where the canal leaves the valley of the Ouche and turns comprehensively north again.

Walking in France: Arriving at the Pont d’Ouche
Arriving at the Pont d’Ouche

We had been here before, and had followed the canal north from here to Tonnere, taking the best part of six days.

This time our intention was different – we would abandon the canal and follow the Ouche southward to Bligny, then branch off in the general direction of the Atlantic Ocean.

Walking in France: A warming coffee at the bar of the Pont d’Ouche
A warming coffee at the bar of Pont d’Ouche

The bar at the boat harbour was open, with its plastic curtains lowered against the showers, so we had another round of coffee there.

At this point we left the canal, but it is possible to walk straight through from Ste-Marie-sur-Ouche to Pouilly-en-Auxois in one day, although it is rather long. (The accommodation at Pont d’Ouche is doubtful.)

Probably a better idea would be to diverge to Bligny for the night, as it has all the amenities. It is 10 km on the marked walking track – see the description below – or 8 km by road.

The next section of our walk along the canal, as far as Tonnerre, took place in 2015, two years earlier.

Previous day: Dijon to Ste-Marie-sur-Ouche

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Off the canal – Pont d’Ouche to Bligny-sur-Ouche

Walking in France: Climbing out of Thorey
Climbing out of Thorey

Distance 10 km
Duration 2 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 177 m, descent 150 m
Map 136 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

It was almost noon by the time we rose from this pleasant pause. Although we had walked from Bligny to Pont d’Ouche last time, we had gone on the road, as it had been such a rainy day.

This time we resolved to follow the marked walking track, which left the bitumen at the village of Thorey, about half an hour from the Pont d’Ouche.

From there, the first part of the walking track was an alarmingly steep little road out of the village – alarming at least to people who had spent the last ten days strolling along totally flat river banks and canal paths.

We passed a few antiquated houses clinging to the slope, then an open meadow. Rain clouds were chasing us up the hill, and even sent down a few drops before we plunged into a dense, overarching birch forest.

Walking in France: Rain again
Rain again
Walking in France: Deep in the forest
Deep in the forest

The track was wide and easy to follow, and we began to suspect that it had formerly been a main thoroughfare.

This suspicion was strengthened when we came to a line of mossy stone markers, spaced about 100 m or so apart, engraved with the numbers 200, 199, 198, 197 and then no more – possibly because at that point our track turned and began to descend.

Walking in France: Start of the descent to Bligny
Start of the descent to Bligny

A couple of sharp bends later we emerged from the trees and saw the village of Bligny laid out at our feet. We remembered it from last time – the Mairie with its tall clock tower and the red-roofed cottages resting in their cradle of hills.

By the time we got to the main square it was after 2 pm, but we stopped at the hotel-restaurant (le Val d’Ouche), where a few diners were still happily working their way through the lunch menu, to make sure that we could get a meal there in the evening.

Walking in France: Bligny-sur-Ouche

Last time we were here, they had been closed, and we had been obliged to make do with pizzas from a van.

There was no difficulty this year, so we booked a table for 7:30 pm and proceeded down the street to the camping ground, which was just past the river, near the terminus of an abandoned railway line that previously joined Bligny to the canal.

Walking in France: Wide open spaces of the immaculate Bligny-sur-Ouche camping ground
The spacious and immaculate Bligny-sur-Ouche camping ground

As before, the grounds of the camping area were meticulously clean and tidy, with soft lawns, spreading trees, flower beds and picnic tables.

There were several other tents and caravans set up, but on such a spacious site our neighbours were all far away and we did not get beyond a few pleasantries at the shower block.

The afternoon was cool, so we had a rest inside the tent, and wore our warm garments when we went back to town.

Walking in France: Pork and herb terrine for starters at le Val d’Ouche, Bligny-sur-Ouche
Pork terrine with herbs for starters at le Val d’Ouche

Before presenting ourselves at the restaurant we had an apéritif at the bar across the street, which was full of locals.

They were a rough and ready lot, very curious about our native land, which they seemed to regard as an almost mythical country.

The only thing they knew about Australia was that we were very harsh on refugees, a policy which they approved of, although we told them we did not. There was a move to buy a second round of drinks for us, but we smilingly declined, and left, amid many protestations of friendship.

The hotel restaurant had a much more dignified atmosphere, although it was already well occupied with other diners.

We began with slices of pork and herb terrine, an unlikely colour combination of pink and green, but deliciously flavoursome. We demolished a basket of bread and half the wine with this.

Walking in France: Our main courses; boeuf bourgignon
Our main courses; boeuf bourgignon

Our main courses recalled the wonderful dinner at the château a week ago – boeuf bourgignon for Keith and chicken in cream for me.

Once again, both were excellent, the more so for the ratatouille, stuffed tomato and gratin dauphinois that came with them.

Walking in France: And chicken in cream
And chicken in cream

Before leaving, we checked that the bar would be open in the morning for breakfast. Years of unpleasant surprises had made us cautious about such things.

At the camping ground, the municipal officer had arrived and we paid our dues – the grand sum of €8.40.

Previous day: Dijon to Ste-Marie-sur-Ouche

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