Saturday, 18 June 2016
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 12 m, descent 24 m
Map 135 of the
We woke to birdsong and daylight, although not exactly sunlight. The rain seemed to have gone for the moment and we stuffed our wet washing into a plastic bag as we packed up. We were in the act of putting the key outside our kindly host’s door when he appeared, and we thanked him again for his hospitality.
In the happy expectation of breakfast, we climbed the steps beside the church to the boulangerie and bought two croissants and a half-baguette, which we took around the corner to the bar.
It was 7:30 and the place was already half full of workmen building up their strength for the day, talking and laughing over small black coffees.
We ordered large milky ones, and spread out our purchases on the table between us. The idea of buying the bread was to use up the butter and jam from the plane before it leaked or went rancid in my pack. Like the workmen, we had two coffees each, and altogether it was as satisfying and delightful as a hotel breakfast.
Just down the street we came to the canal where it flexed back on itself, mimicking the big bend in the river that enclosed the town.
A tall château stood on the knife-edge between the two arms of the canal, and there were signs of the earlier importance of Châtillon-en-Bazois as a port – abandoned docks which were formerly piled high with timber, and a boat harbour now full of pleasure craft.
As soon as we left the town, the countryside became hilly and the canal began to thrash about, if you could describe its tranquil looping curves as thrashing.
We must have walked twice the actual distance on these loops, only once cutting a corner by climbing over the ridge, but it was a beautiful walk and the day was warm, if cloudy.
After a dozen or more of these meanders we came to a joyful sight – a lock-keeper’s cottage that had been turned into a café, with tables and chairs set out invitingly under an awning at the front. It was now 11 o’clock and we were ready for refreshments.
The man at the counter apologised for not having croissants, but after a shouted exchange with the kitchen he said we could have toast and home-made jam.
It was our second substantial breakfast of the morning and we were very pleased.
An unfit looking English couple on bikes, with their glum, portly little dog riding behind in a trailer, puffed up and had coffee next to us. They had a houseboat moored about eight kilometres along the canal at Panneçot, which was our destination for the day.
The last section, after the café, was much flatter and straighter. The cyclists with the dog waved as they glided past us, although the dog continued to look glum.
Just before we arrived, we came to a lock where the river Aron surged into the canal to feed the big boat harbour of Panneçot. We saw the red umbrellas of the restaurant across the water as we turned off the towpath.
It was hard to find the entrance to the camping ground. We had to circle most of the way around the harbour, past a weir where the river separated once more, then beside a railway line that looked derelict but may not have been.
Arriving at last, we found the reception closed, which was not surprising in the middle of the day. We strolled on to the enclosures, all pleasantly hedged and grassed, but soft and squelchy underfoot. Most of the campers were further around the shore of the lake, past the moorings, in slummy-looking permanent caravans – probably they were occupied by boat-owners.
Having set up our tent and had showers (which were no more than tepid), we hung out our wet washing and for the first time this year, it dried before evening. Meanwhile we were getting worried by the crop of blisters that we had both developed, and Keith still had a tight feeling behind his knee, first noticed as we left Domecy two days earlier.
Later we went for a stroll around the campsite. There were two boats tied up at the moorings, both much grander than the standard hire boats that frequent the canal.
One had a British flag and a row of potted flowers, and turned out to be occupied by the cyclists that we had met earlier. The other one was a long, sleek, beautifully made wooden boat with gleaming brass portholes, adorned with several Australian flags.
The owner was sitting on a park bench nearby. He said that his wife was tired of boating after five years (a fact that did not surprise us – five days would have done it for me), so he had sold it and was now taking it to its new owner in Roanne. After that they would go back to their little farm in New South Wales.
The terrace was lined with large photographs of local farms and farmers whose produce was used in the restaurant – vintners, orchardists, cheese-makers, market gardeners, apiarists and producers of Charolais beef.
By the time the first dinner guests arrived at 8 pm, the air was distinctly cold, so we followed them inside and got a table against the window, with the maelstrom of the weir below us.
The menu was rather strange – we could choose one of only two main courses, both of them cold except for some warm boiled potatoes.
I had the smoked salmon version and Keith had charcuterie. Both were delicious and we finished off a basket or two of bread as well.
After that there was soft, white fromage blanc with raspberry coulis, which Keith ordered and hated, or normal cheese, which I ordered and enjoyed.
Then there was dessert, and Keith brightened visibly at the sight of the elaborate ice-cream concoction that was put in front of him. I had coffee instead, as I am not partial to desserts.