Day 17: Chef-Boutonne to Villefagnan

Thursday, 16 June 2005
Distance 20 km
Duration 3 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 175 m, descent 144 m
Map 40 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

Walking in France: An ancient Dubonnet sign on the side of a barn
An ancient Dubonnet sign on the side of a barn

During the night the gentle rain continued, but by morning it was gone.

At the café, whilst drinking our splendid large coffees, we realised that we were in single-kiss country, a very unusual thing in France. On our travels we have encountered two kisses, three kisses, even four kisses, but never anything as cursory as one. There must be too many Englishmen around.

It was 10 o’clock before we departed and we walked three uneventful hours on the little road to Villefagnan, the only sight of interest being a windmill with the skeleton of its sails still attached.

Walking in France: Sunny coffees in the main street of Villefagnan
Sunny coffees in the main street of Villefagnan

At the village there were signs pointing to the Office of Tourism but when we followed them up a flight of stairs, we found ourselves in a rural museum with some hayforks and drays.

The two attendants, who could well have been exhibits themselves, said that the Office did not open until the first of July, but that there was camping “à la ferme” about a kilometre away.

Walking in France: Camping at the farm, Villefagnan
Camping at the farm, Villefagnan

It was hot by now and we had lunch with our backs against the shady wall of the Mairie, then coffee at a hot little corner bar before setting off to the camping.

We did not like the sound of camping “à la ferme” – it reminded us of the squalid place on the pilgrimage near Figeac – but we were pleasantly surprised.

Quite quickly we arrived at the farm and found what amounted to a holiday village there, with cabins and tent enclosures, a fine swimming pool and a barbecue area half-constructed. The holiday season had not begun yet and most of the place was empty.

Walking in France: Produce for sale at the farm
Produce for sale at the farm

We found the owners in the cool interior of the house, bottling produce from their farm. The woman was straight-haired and fine-featured, dressed in conservative style. When we said we were walking she assumed we meant hitch-hiking (le stop).

After a swim we rested in the shade of a tree. Our farmer host excused himself politely as he drove past us, probably to some destination three or four days’ walk away.

Walking in France: Afternoon relaxation - writing the diary
Afternoon relaxation – writing the diary

About 7 pm we walked back to town and sat down in the bar for a preliminary drink. I asked about eating there and was told that tonight it would not be possible, as they were getting ready for the annual fair tomorrow.

A drunkard suggested we could eat 8 km away, but we explained we were on foot, and the woman kindly relented. She would feed us but there would be little choice, just crudités, boeuf bourguignon and cheese. We accepted gratefully.

Then we had to decide where to eat – in the bar, the dining room or the courtyard. “Amongst us!” roared the lout at the bar, “Amongst the French!” (he was Belgian).

Walking in France: Entry to the courtyard restaurant, Villefagnan
Entry to the courtyard restaurant, Villefagnan

We decided on the courtyard, as the evening was mild. We were awaiting the first course when a group of people came through the wide archway from the road and recognised us.

They were the four British cyclists we had met at Melle, who were staying in a house nearby. We thoroughly enjoyed their company with dinner and made sure they were grateful for our part in getting the woman to open her kitchen.

Walking in France: Wall detail on the farmhouse
Wall detail on the farmhouse

At the farm we found the woman in her kitchen, which took up most of the ground floor. Although it was only built in 1925, it had all the traditional virtues, such as a stone floor, thick walls, low windowsills with the glass opening in and the shutters out.

We paid our €9, as we would be leaving very early in the morning, we said.

Previous day: Brioux-sur-Boutonne to Chef-Boutonne

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