Monday, 11 July 2011
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 12 m, descent 15 m
Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Rising at about 6:40 am, we packed up with the efficiency of long practice and took everything over to the snack bar, which we had to ourselves, unlike last night. It was a beautiful morning, with the sun streaming in over the river, and we could see the track that we would take to the town.
We walked along the riverbank for about half an hour, mostly through overarching greenery, until we got to the bridge, or rather the succession of three bridges that span the Cher and the Yèvre.
On the other side was the town itself and we wasted no time buying bread and pastries and settling down at a sunny café in the Place Aristide Briand, a tree-shaded enclave near the river.
With our coffee we read the local paper, catching up on the latest results in the Tour de France.
From the bottom of the Place we turned into the Rue 11 Novembre, past various frigid civic buildings, and quickly arrived at the bend where the canal emerged into the daylight, having crossed the Yèvre before going underground.
The towpath seemed to us a better way than the GR41, which followed the twists and turns of the Yèvre, then crossed the canal and zig-zagged along small roads before arriving at Châtres-sur-Cher, going at least twice the distance of the canal path.
We were not sure where we would stop for the night, as there were three possible villages within easy reach, all of them with camping grounds – Thénioux, Châtres-sur-Cher and Mennetou-sur-Cher. With the added virtue of complete flatness, it was ideal walking country for a recovering ‘flu victim like me.
Once clear of the houses and under the autoroute, the canal pursued a straight course through fields open to the sky, not the tunnel of greenery that we had encountered the day before.
Nevertheless there was often shade from the marching line of plane trees along the bank, put there by the same benevolent public authority that had lined the country roads of France with trees.
After the bridge where the GR41 crossed, the towpath was squeezed between the canal and the railway line – the two great marvels of the nineteenth century – and we walked for about an hour, until we arrived at Thénioux.
Here the main street had the predictable doleful look of Monday, with all the shops closed, including the bar, but luckily we noticed a sort of snack bar on the grassy bank just across the canal, where a woman was sitting outside at a table.
Hastening over the footbridge, we found that it was a tourist information centre, being minded by a young student.
While she fumbled about making coffee for us, she told us that she had been at university in Tours for the past three years – a lovely town, she said – and was off to Pau for more study in September – also a lovely town, we assured her (she had never been there, but we had spent several happy days in Pau at the end of our 2003 and 2004 walks).
From there it was only a short distance to Châtres-sur-Cher and the first thing we came to was the camping ground, which was on the sandy strip between the canal and the river, with a multitude of caravans and tents sheltered by mature trees.
It looked inviting and we decided to stop for the day, not least because we had more than enough time to get to Tours and needed to pace ourselves, so as not to arrive too early.
We paid at the entrance, the princely sum of €6.25, and found out from madame that there was a restaurant in the village, as well as a snack bar down near the river. It was hot by this time, but we found a well-shaded little spot for our tent between two pollarded willows on the back fence.
After deeply satisfying showers and a change of clothes, we settled down to a picnic lunch and a snooze. In due course we bestirred ourselves to stroll into the village, where we discovered a handsome little church in a square. Nearby was an elegant-looking restaurant, but, not surprisingly, it was closed on Mondays, and we would have to rely on the snack bar for our evening meal.
This turned out to be very enjoyable, although hardly in the gourmet category. Outside the ramshackle café itself, chairs and tables were arranged under the trees on the edge of a broad park going down to the river, where people were having picnics in the warm evening air.
The menu was of the simplest but we devised a fine dinner for ourselves – first courses of tomatoes, eggs and ham, followed by sausages with chips and green beans, all washed down with a half-litre of local red.