Travel day: Angoulême to Pèrigueux (by bus and hitchhiking)

Monday, 20 June 2005
Distance 11 km
Duration 2 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 68 m, descent 98 m

Walking in France: Château and abbey, Brantôme

Château and abbey, Brantôme

We had found out yesterday that the weekly bus to Brantôme and Périgueux left at 8 am on Mondays. Having heard about the beauties of Brantôme, “the Venice of Périgord”, our plan was to stop there overnight, then catch another bus to Périgueux, followed by a train to the Dordogne.

Just as we got on the bus, which was parked by the station, a swarm of gendarmes on motobikes, on foot and in cars, swirled into the forecourt and ordered the bus to move. Some bigwig was arriving by train. The driver’s response was to leave ten minutes ahead of time, which must have been tough on the latecomers. We sailed through the lower streets of Angoulême and out into the country.

There was a second encounter with the police when we came to a roadblock diverting traffic around a dead body on the bitumen, covered with a sheet. As walkers who are often obliged to take our chances on the edge of roads, we got a particular thrill of horror from this.

Walking in France: Bridge, Brantôme

Bridge, Brantôme

Both Rochebeaucourt and Mareuil had romantic ruined châteaux and seemed good little places, but we had no regrets that we were missing them. The sensation of being carried through the countryside with no effort was unfamiliar and delicious.

At a big new roundabout, the bus swung off the highway and into Brantôme. A short walk took us into the old town which was confined on all sides by a division in the river Dronne. The resemblance to Venice began and ended with that.

The few streets were pretty but seemed to have no life beyond tourism, and English tourism at that. Copies of the Daily Mail and the Times were being read in the square where we had coffee.

Walking in France: Looking down the main street of Périgueux towards the cathedral

Looking down the main street of Périgueux towards the cathedral

The famous château and abbey were backed up against a cliff and we dutifully went through them with the other visitors. Then we walked to the camping ground about a kilometre down the river, put up the tent and left our bags inside. There was nobody in attendance at the office.

After lunch we went back and asked at the Office of Tourism about a bus to Périgueux the following day. The shocking reply was that the only bus this week was the one we had just got off, and that we would have to wait until next Monday. Great consternation and rethinking ensued.

We thought of taking a taxi (it was 30 km), even walking – but somehow our enthusiasm for walking had not returned yet. For lack of a plan we retired to an internet café and sent an email.

Walking in France: A better view of the cathedral, Périgueux

A better view of the cathedral, Périgueux

By that time it was 4 pm and Keith suddenly remembered the great transport method of our youth – hitch-hiking. We had nothing to lose by trying it, anyway. We sneaked back to the camping ground and retrieved our belongings, relieved to see it was still unmanned.

Out on the highway, we only had to wait 15 minutes before we were picked up by a man in a big blue truck. He was from Réunion and was in France for the work. I kept up the conversation as best I could for the half-hour of the journey and he dropped us at the outskirts of the old town.

All we had to do was cross the bridge and head for the cathedral. Like the one at Angoulême, it was roofed by domes, but this one was more extravagant, like something from Constantinople.

Walking in France: Dinner in the Place-Saint-Louis

Dinner in the Place-Saint-Louis

Delighted with ourselves for having got there so easily, we had coffee in the street and set off for the camping ground which was up the cycle path a couple of kilometres, beside the river Isle.

It was a relief to find it fully functioning, after the many times we had been faced with an abandoned wasteland. On the other hand, the ground was so stony that we had great trouble putting our tent up. There were two other walkers there, siting on the ground between their two tents, eating something red and slimy from a frying pan. They were on the other pilgrimage, the Way of Vézelay, and had been walking since the first of May.

We had quick showers and hurried back to town in search of something more elegant than our fellow walkers’ dinner. After a search we found the café quarter in the Place-Saint-Louis, where at least four restaurants were doing brisk trade. The old paving stones were giving up their store of warmth from the day as darkness gradually fell. Even though we had walked very little that day, our appetites were undiminished.

We had crudités and terrine initially, then lamb cutlets for me and slices of beef and turkey for Keith, who topped it off with a pear bavarois. Lights came on under the awnings as the crowd thinned and the air cooled.

We strolled back through streets drenched in yellow light, and along the dark, smoothly flowing river.