Monday, 3 July 2006
Distance 11 km
Duration 2 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 112 m, descent 94 m
Map 28 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Once again we had very modest ambitions for the day, satisfied just to crawl a short distance before the heat overpowered us.
We set off at 7:30, calling in at the bakery for bread, but the bar was still closed so we pressed on. Instead of following the towpath around a lengthy meander of the Yonne, we took the GRP up steep stone alleys and stairways to the top of the village.
The church of Saint-Potentien was not what it had been in the grand old days of pilgrimage, but retained a ramshackle charm.
Beyond the church, the track led through an archway and out into the high fields, gradually descending to meet the river road.
There was a slight error in the map at this point (the junction is actually on the side road that leads to the little Château de Faulin), the result being that we visited the château by mistake, and a very fine mistake it was too.
Enclosed by a high wall were the turrets, towers and battlements of a fairytale castle.
The hairy farm dog we had picked up along the way began a passionate barking contest with an unseen rival inside the gate, so we left him to it and went down the road to rejoin the canal at Lucy-sur-Yonne.
At the foot of the imposing church we found a bar for our second breakfast.
We sat by the window in a cool, low-beamed room with lace curtains billowing out onto tubs of flowers, and ate the end of our fresh baguette with the coffee.
Down on the towpath we met an American who lived in the village. He had met his French wife on the pilgrimage to Compostela, and they had also walked to Rome, but he said walking in Italy was often a matter of highway-bashing.
On a third expedition he had ruined his ankle, not surprisingly since he carried a 20kg pack, and was now a non-walker. We don’t see this happening to us with our little 8kg packs.
The stony white path continued beside the canal for a while, then we had to take to the road, but at least we had shade of trees, unlike the people on the passing pleasure boats, baking on their decks.
At Coulanges-sur-Yonne we turned off across the canal and railway line, and immediately saw the camping area on the left. We chose a deeply shaded plot with a river frontage and set off in sandals to examine the capabilities of the town.
Gastronomically speaking they were limited, verging on non-existent in the evening.
On the way back we stopped at a large friterie (snack-bar) near the bridge and had coffee under a spreading tree, where a bank of grass sloped down to the slow, gleaming river. A little girl was having an open-air flute lesson nearby.
Refreshed by strong, hot coffee and strong, hot showers, we had our lunch on the riverbank, admiring the ducks and dragonflies on the water. The dragonflies were either a strange double-decker variety, or they were all mating.
In the next emplacement there was a stolid, sandy horse cropping the grass beside a horse-drawn caravan, lovingly decorated. We were disappointed not to see Toad, Ratty and Moley emerge from it. Instead a charming family from the Cher appeared, one week into a five-week trip to Alsace.
A fisherman came strolling past and stopped to chat, or rather to discourse at length on the meaning of life.
He engaged us in a half-hour conversation in French on literary and philosophical topics, quoting liberally from Dumas, Hugo and George Bernard Shaw.
Some of his quotes were “in the house of happiness, the biggest room is the waiting room” and “life is short, only boredom lengthens it”. He said he never caught any fish, it was just an excuse to meditate. For us it was a good French lesson.
The evening was spent at the same friterie that had provided our morning coffee. It was plain fare of sausages and chips (in fact it had been a while since we had had a dinner worthy of the French nation) but delightful nevertheless, at a table under the trees, with quite a throng of other diners.
After the hot, airless afternoon, the breeze off the river was a luxury.