Friday, 23 June 2006
Distance 17 km
Duration 3 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 316 m, descent 298 m
Map 28 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Under the happy misconception that Lormes was only 9 km away (that was the number we had seen on a signpost, but it referred to the number of the track, not the distance), we left our tent standing and strolled back to Brassy for a second breakfast of coffee and croissants at the Hotel.
One of the other customers was able to tell us that Australia had qualified for the “huitièmes”, i.e. the main rounds of the World Cup, but more than that he could not say, and the papers had not yet arrived. Nevertheless it gave us a happy feeling as we farewelled our estimable broken-down hostess and took the road, for the fifth and last time, back to the camping.
With no map, we placed our trust in the yellow PR signs to get us to Lormes and were not let down.
One of our fellow campers, the one with a caravan surrounded by flower beds, came over to say she had been asked to collect our money, as we were absent when the municipal officer called in last night. It was the great sum of €6 and we got two Morvan car stickers as well.
Passing the Lac de Chaumeçon immediately beyond the camping, we were taken off on tiny roads to plunge into a wild, steep, mossy wood, smelling of fungus and as quiet as a church.
We came out, after much more than 9 km, at a road junction and discovered we still had 5 km to go.
With slightly less enthusiasm we crossed a plantation of pines, then skirted a large, beautiful pool reflecting the forest that crowded around it. It was artificial, of course, but no less delightful for that. Shortly afterwards we emerged at the camping area, having seen no sign of the town.
Since we had no bread and it was almost 12:30, we kept going towards Lormes, on a long, dull, vaguely industrial road, but at last we found a boulangerie that was still open and soon afterwards we were in the centre of the town. In the usual way of French country towns, it was a little gem surrounded by distressing ugliness.
One of its features was a series of stained-glass signs hanging outside shops, indicating the butcher, the bar, the cake shop, the solicitor etc, for those good citizens who could not read. Actually the signs were modern, but quite charming.
While were were sitting at our ease outside a bar with our coffee, a ragged fellow came into the square pushing a bike-trailer on which was scrawled “Londres-Barcelone”.
He had just trudged down the highway from Vézelay, as his trailer was no good on walking paths, and he was heading for the camping – we told him how to get there.
The barman gave us directions to the internet place, but after a lot of chasing about and further enquiring, we gave up and returned to the camping area.
The manager, who had a monkish air, was tending his garden of medicinal plants and proceeded to give us a long talk on the significance of the two bad women, Mary Magdalene and la Samaritaine, to Jesus – Mary Magdalene’s relics being the reason for the fame of Vézelay as a pilgrim site.
This added value presumably accounted for the high price of the camping (€11.40).
Our campsite was in a grove of trees on the shore of a small lake. The London-to-Barcelona man was already installed there, and we were joined by another lone walker, a young religious pilgrim.
Vézelay is the start of one of the four main pilgrim routes in France, and he was on his way to Compostela.
After lunch, showers and a sleep, we went back to the town and bought the elusive map at last, then hunted about again for the internet place. This time we found it, a kilometre out of town on the road to Vézelay, tacked on to the back of a decaying barn.
It was a startlingly modern, cool, elegant, glass-walled space, a local government project called la Mission Numérique, and it turned out to be free for first-time users. I did point out that we were first- and last-time users, but even so they refused to take any money.
Back in town, we had apéritifs in the main street, studying our new map, from which we discovered that there was nowhere to stay between here and Vézelay. An early start would be called for to make the 27 km before the heat of the afternoon.
For dinner we patronised the Hotel Perrault, a rather grand Logis de France establishment. The dining room, romantically lit by stained glass lamps in the same style as the shop signs, had an air of discreet opulence and was populated by a well-dressed elderly throng.
There were not quite as many of them as we initially thought, as we found out when we caught sight of ourselves at the other end of the room, reflected in a mirror wall.
Scruffy and incongruous as we were, we still enjoyed our evening with another sort of traveller – it seemed like another age as well. We confined ourselves to one course each, fillet steak for Keith and poulet forestière for me, and ate a lot of bread with it.
When we got back to our tent we found that yet another lone pilgrim had arrived and had settled down between two trees in his sleeping bag, without even a tent. Such is faith.
The night was balmy and we slept with the quiet lapping of the water on one side and low pilgrim snores on the other.