Day 1: Mehun-sur-Yèvre to Vierzon

Sunday, 10 July 2011
Distance 18 km
Duration 3 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 60 m, descent 81 m
Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Walking in France: Preparing breakfast before the rain came, Mehun-sur-Yèvre camping ground
Preparing breakfast before the rain came

For the second morning in a row, we ate our muesli in an ablutions block. Yesterday it was because of the wind, this time it was because it started raining while we were preparing it.

Our host was busy nearby with his cleaning duties. He looked a real ruffian, fat and shirtless, covered all over his face and body with black moles and hair, but was actually sweet-natured and fastidious.

He told us proudly that he had looked after the camping ground since it was established nine years ago.

When we left, the rain had stopped, but we felt like building up our strength before leaving town, so we returned to the Tour de l’Horloge, went through it and found the Café du Centre a few steps further on.

Walking in France: Second breakfast at the Café du Centre, Mehun-sur-Yèvre
Second breakfast at the Café du Centre

The doorway was blocked by smokers trying to be outside without getting wet from the dripping eaves, but once inside we found it full of hearty Sunday morning drinkers and we had a splendid second breakfast hard on the heels of the first.

With some reluctance we left this haven and continued down the Rue Jeanne d’Arc, passing the house in which the eponymous heroine had stayed while trying to inject some backbone into the king, Charles VII, who at the time was ruling from Bourges, as Paris was occupied by the English.

Walking in France: Jeanne d'Arc stayed here
Jeanne d’Arc stayed here

We reached the canal and clambered down to the towpath. At first this took us through the town, but then we left the houses behind and entered what we assumed was farmland, although it was impossible to see beyond the wall of trees lining the canal.

Some benevolent authority had recently mowed the grass along the bank, so the walking was easy. Then we struck an obstacle in the form of the autoroute (the A71), where the canal disappeared into a pipe and the towpath ended.

Walking in France: Leaving Mehun-sur-Yèvre beside the Canal de Berry
Leaving Mehun-sur-Yèvre beside the Canal de Berry

We asked a fisherman who was sitting peaceably on the bank and his advice was to follow the dirt road back beside the autoroute to the overbridge. It was out of our way but we had no choice.

Once over the autoroute we stayed on the road long enough to get to Foëcy, which looked just the sort of place for a coffee.

It was well provided with shops – a supermarket, a hairdresser, a furniture shop, two boulangeries, a couple of car works – the only thing missing being a bar (we found out later that there actually was a bar, at the railway station).

Walking in France: Back on the towpath after Foëcy
Back on the towpath after Foëcy

We swallowed some water instead and set off disconsolately along the D60, hoping to find a way back to the towpath. It was getting hot out in the sun on the road.

At le Fromenteau there was a lane wandering down to the right and fortunately it took us to the canal instead of into someone’s back garden.

Another hour of walking in the shade beside the water got us to the edge of Vierzon, where we joined the ring road (D32) and felt that we were as good as finished for the day. This was not to be the case.

Walking in France: Approaching Vierzon and the D32
Approaching Vierzon and the D32

The first thing we came to was a bar but it was closed, whether for the day or forever we did not know, so we set off on the ring road, crossed the railway line and headed towards the camping ground, which was on the other side of the Cher.

For three kilometres we plodded through nightmarish scenes of urban blight, scorched by the sun, until we got to where the road turned suddenly and we saw signs for the camping ground.

Even then it was another kilometre through the suburban streets before we found it, far below the road on the bank of the river.

Walking in France: A wonderful afternoon meal in Ivoy-le-Pré with Heidrun
A wonderful afternoon meal in Ivoy-le-Pré with Heidrun

As it was just after 12, the office was closed for lunch, but we made ourselves at home in a vacant enclosure, surrounded by the usual huge caravans and motor-homes.

The showers had magical reviving powers and soon we were sitting in the shade in our fresh clothes, eating a hasty lunch. It had to be hasty, because we had an appointment to keep.

A French-German friend of ours, who lived at Ivoy-le-Pré, was meeting us at the railway station at 2 pm. It was further than we thought and she was waiting when we rushed into the station yard. Then we drove a long way through the huge forests of the Solonge, an area associated in every French person’s mind with the novel “Le Grand Meaulnes”, half love story and half dream, set in this quiet corner of the country.

We spent the afternoon exploring the gardens of the village, and before taking us back to Vierzon, Heidrun treated us to a light meal, a veritable exhibition of local produce – paté de foie, goat’s cheese and bread, as well as eggs, fruit and salad from the surrounding gardens. We accompanied this delectable spread with wine from Mont Ventoux.

Walking in France: Writing the diary back at the Vierzon camping ground
Writing the diary back at the Vierzon camping ground

Back at the camping ground, Heidrun walked in to see our tent and was appalled at its smallness. It only confirmed her opinion that we were quite mad, doing all this walking. She declared that her feet started to hurt after a single kilometre.

The office was open by this time, so we paid for the night (€8.25) and enquired whether there was a way of getting to the centre of Vierzon without trudging through the streets, which is what we had done that afternoon.

Walking in France: The end of a lovely day, a quiet drink overlooking the Cher
The end of a lovely day, a quiet drink overlooking the Cher

There was – a footpath beside the river that only joined the road at the bridge. This would make for a pleasant start tomorrow.

We ended the day with a quiet drink at the snack bar overlooking the Cher. We were lucky to get a place to sit, as the campers were out in force, enjoying the simple fare and the warm evening.

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