Day 11: Dissay to Poitiers

Thursday, 9 June 2005
Distance 24 km
Duration 5 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 232 m, descent 167 m
Map 34 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours

Walking in France: Entering Saint-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux
Entering Saint-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux

As we left the camping ground there was utter stillness amongst the caravans.

The Dutch cyclists were sitting on their stools eating bread and cheese, exactly the same as they had been last night. We had nothing inside us but muesli and stolen cherries.

We took the bike path towards Saint-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux initially, but when it started to meander away along the river, we turned off and clambered up through a building site to the road. I felt that my blistered feet did not need any extra kilometres today.

The road was small and quiet and it served us well, delivering us into the church square, where we looked around with anxious hope for a bar. We were not disappointed, in fact there were two.

Walking in France: A glorious château we passed near Chasseneuil
A glorious château we passed near Chasseneuil

After half an hour’s luxuriating in front of large bowls of café au lait, we strode off invigorated towards Chasseneuil, passing a glorious château along the way, which is now a private residence.

Then we rejoined the GR as it continued on the Roman road of yesterday.

In typical Roman fashion, it rose unswervingly up a steep grassy hillside and across a broad expanse of farmland devoid of houses and people, except for a schoolgirl on a bike who came bumping down the track.

At the end, the path ducked under the ring road of Buxerolles and delivered us into an unedifying morass of new bungalows.

Walking in France: Approaching Buxerolles on the Roman road
Approaching Buxerolles on the Roman road

We needed bread for lunch so we hurried towards the centre, a surprisingly long way, and got to the boulangerie before it closed. For lack of anywhere better, we sat on the grass in front of the mairie to eat our meagre meal.

Walking in France: The church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande, Poitiers
The church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande, Poitiers

The thing to see in Buxerolles is the Pas-de-Saint-Jacques, a depression in a stone outside the church of Saint-Jacques which is reputed to be the footprint of Saint James himself. I, like a good pilgrim, wanted to see this, whereas Keith was not interested.

We had seen signs pointing to Pas-de-Saint-Jacques as we first entered the town, so I prevailed on Keith to go back there. It turned out that one of the suburbs of Buxerolles is called Pas-de-Saint-Jacques, although it is nowhere near the stone, which is in the centre of town.

In our ignorance we followed a sign saying ‘ASSEDIC Pas-de-Saint-Jacques’, and ended up at the counter of a government unemployment office.

Walking in France: The main square of Poitiers
The main square of Poitiers

Thus we found out what ASSEDIC meant. Feeling very foolish, I apologised to Keith and we trudged back to the centre and found a café. We never did see the stone. It was a lesson to us that walking and tourism do not mix.

After our coffee on a shady terrace, things improved. It did not take long to get to the river and cross into Poitiers itself. We rejoiced to see the dark old stone buildings after the depressing flimsiness of most of Buxerolles.

The camping ground was to the right, up the Avenue de Paris which rose beside the river. Half the road was closed for repairs, so walking was easy. Then we climbed a set of stone stairs to the top of the cliff and found the camping ground immediately.

The little manager was at hand to recommend the shadiest site. It was all very pleasant except that the ground was a sheet of flinty gravel, impossible to get tent pegs into. How the grass grew on it, and how our tent stayed up for the night, I do not know.

Walking in France: Some of our fellow diners in the light shaft
Some of our fellow diners in the light shaft

After ablutions we went back to the bridge and took a steep lane up to the centre of Poitiers, which is on a considerable knoll on a bend of the river.

The spacious main square at the top is the only flat land in the town, and even that is rather sloping. The church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Grande stands supreme, with its wide western façade flanked by two scaly conical steeples in the Byzantine style.

The main doorways carry a charming Biblical frieze in which the pilgrims of the twelfth century, most of whom were illiterate, could recognise the well-known stories. Even without the vivid colours in which it was once adorned, the church is extemely impressive.

Walking in France: Our dinner in Poitiers
Our dinner in Poitiers

Cars are excluded from this square and there were people promenading in all directions on the cobbles, shaking hands, sittting at cafés, buying flowers from street stalls.

We had a drink under the buttresses of the church, then wandered down one of the descending streets till we came to a little restaurant in an odd-shaped courtyard behind a bar, surrounded by three-storied buildings. We felt as if we were in a well. Heavenly light sifted down onto the white umbrellas and bleached masonry.

The place was full but we got a table as someone left. As we were the only non-French people there, the waiter insisted on practising his English, but I stuck relentlessly to French.

I had a beautiful chicken dish, while Keith had steak with a blue cheese sauce. To finish we had tiny cream coffees called noisettes. The walk back to the camping ground was long, but we enjoyed it after such a fine meal.

Previous day: Châtellerault to Dissay

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