Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Distance 17 km
Duration 3 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 175 m, descent 236 m
Map 40 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours
Instead of our usual dreary muesli, we took advantage of the proximity of the town and had a glorious breakfast of pastries at the hotel, sitting in wicker chairs on the terrace, warmed by the slanting sun. Morning café au lait was served in wide twelve-sided dark green cups with a gold rim, whose elegance greatly improved the occasion.
We left eventually and went past beautiful Saint-Hilaire again as the GR took us out of town. As we climbed away from the river, we found cherry trees leaning invitingly over a stone wall. It seemed only polite to pick a few handfuls of the shiny fruit.
Before very long we pulled into Saint-Romans-lès-Melle and found it was not as dead as it seemed – there was a bar and épicerie in the square.
While we drank our coffee in the dim interior, Keith took some classic photos of the signs that hang in every French bar – the Protection of Minors sign and the license based on the law of 1941. Given that the country was under Nazi occupation at the time, it seems odd that it is still the prevailing law.
The next point of interest was the Gallo-Roman excavation site at Mazières, of which only an aqueduct could be seen, although the remains of the medieval priory were lovely. One of the yew trees is said to be a thousand years old.
Out on the road again, we tried to improve on the GR by following an abandoned railway line, the “Voie des Cabinets”, but very soon our way was blocked by a hedge and a shed so we returned to the straight and narrow.
Luckily at that point there was a large bed of raspberries with ripe fruit spilling out over the track so we collected a modest handful and had them with our lunch on the grassy verge.
The rest of the way was easy and pleasant. A white stony wheel-track, flanked by dark trees, took us over the plateau and down to the road at Brioux-sur-Boutonne.
For us this was to be the parting of the ways from the GR655, the main pilgrim route described in the Topoguide.
Reading ahead, we had discovered that accommodation and eating were not going to be easy to find further on, at least not for campers.
Our idea was to head for Angoulême by a route that was neither one nor the other of the traditional ways. The men at the Office of Tourism in Brioux set themselves to finding a route for us with enthusiasm.
We were in the department of Deux-Sèvres and our helpers had no information beyond that, so they had to ring up their colleagues in the department of Charente to enquire about accommodation there.
Between us we worked out a way that sounded very satisfactory: Chef-Boutonne tomorrow (13 km), then Aigre the next day (20 km – it turned out to be 29, maybe their eyesight was at fault). We were so pleased that we shook the hands of these obliging men.
Later we were to find that every bit of the information provided by the department of Charente was wrong.
The camping ground, right in town beside the bridge, seemed to be deserted but then a campervan arrived, and a GB one at that. The occupants were a charming couple from Lancaster. After showers we went back to town and bought a map.
It was a surprisingly small town but in the square behind the church there was a Routiers restaurant (for truckies), the Cheval Blanc. Trucks were lined up on the gravel and their drivers were all in the bar or watching TV at the back, having evidently eaten at midday. We were the only evening diners.
We had a plentiful four-course meal for €9.50, not the most elegant, but a great deal better than its Australian equivalent.
We started with a tray of crudités, then had slightly tired turkey with peas, followed by a generous cheese board (what is delightfully referred to as a plateau of cheese) and dessert.
The sun was on the horizon as we got back to our tiny abode.