Tuesday, 25 July 2006
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 42 m, descent 38 m
Map 25 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
This day was not one of our most glorious. Like the last few, it was ruled by the great heat, and we were handicapped also by not having the map of the bike paths of the Loire, which we acquired later in Saumur. Our TOP 100 map only showed the GR, and we were reluctant to prolong the agony by following its twists and turns and climbs, rather than the road.
Not expecting a very long walk, we rose slightly late at 6:45 and ate our muesli at one of the tables of the bar adjoining the reception. It had a gas barbecue set into its surface, the only sign of multi-star pretension that we could find in the whole expensive camping ground.
We left at 7:30, hoping to connect with the cycle path by going along the road, but unbeknownst to us it had gone up onto the escarpment, so we never found it.
An unpleasant trudge beside the traffic took us as far as Turquant, where we turned off on a quiet lane to look for the cycle path again.
What we saw was a glimpse of the sail-less blades of a windmill on the ridge, so we struggled up a considerable way before realising that we would never reach it from this direction.
On the way down we did find the cycle path, but foolishly decided not to take it, as it was heading for the hills. We thought our present quiet road would take us on our way, but it soon merged into the highway and we resumed out thankless trudging.
It was already hot and we sweated copiously. A passing motorist kindly stopped to inform us that there was a GR up on the escarpment, a fact that we already knew, although we thanked him.
We took the next side road at Parnay, which took us under a sweet little château, through a natural stone arch, and straight back to the highway. The only encounter we had on this detour was with a couple of snarling black dogs who resented our intrusion.
As we dragged ourselves along the main road again, we went past two closed bars, which did not improve our mood, and we were very out of sorts by the time we arrived at the outskirts of Saumur.
The château stood alone high above us and the bridge was still far away, but it got steadily nearer.
The good thing about mornings such as this, when everything is hard and hot and unpleasant, is the relief that follows when it ends.
Tucked into a deeply shady bar in a side-street, with croissants, pains aux raisins, a jug of iced water and two big coffees spread out in front of us, we were in paradise.
We enjoyed the comings and goings of the townsfolk around us, shopping, gossiping, urging children along.
The ample woman in the lace shop opposite came out with a bucket and broom to clean the cobblestones in front of her door, and to chat with the bar-owner.
After coffee we went to the Office of Tourism and got a map of the town, plus one of the cycle paths of the Loire and a list of cybercafés.
The camping ground, like the one at Amboise, was on an island in the Loire, but before going there we walked right across to the other bank to enquire at the railway station about possible trains back to Paris on Friday.
We also found out that we could get a train back to Saumur on Thursday afternoon, after we had finished our walk at Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire.
From the bridge we had a good view of the château with its many turrets and its walls of the soft, pale stone known as tuffeau.
The original fortress was built in the tenth century as a stronghold against the marauding Normans coming up the river.
The following century it was destroyed but it was rebuilt by the Plantagenet Henry II in almost its present form.
Returning to the camping ground, we lined up at the sweeping reception desk and found that it was even more exorbitant than last night – €23, although we could have got in for €20 as two single randonneurs.
We had stayed in hotels for little more than that, and I said accusingly to the receptionist that it was much dearer than Paris. “But you can swim here.” “We have no swimming costumes.” “Then you can play tennis!” We had just walked for three hours in a heatwave, madam.
Despite our indignation, it was quite a well-appointed place, and it was not their fault that we had no swimmers. There were children in abundance and massive family tents all around. We chose a plot with a portion of shade and ate our lunch, then had showers in the excellent ablutions block. I even washed my shoulder bag in preparation for the plane trip home.
My hat was in tatters, as was Keith’s shirt, my shoes were coming apart and my sandals wrecked, although the bitumen repair I had done at Mailly-le-Château was holding up well.
The first part of the afternoon we spent trying to keep ourselves in the shade by constantly moving our mats. It was oppressively hot even so, and eventually we got tired of it and walked back to town, where we found a bar with dense dark green awnings (le Pub) where we were much more comfortable.
Saumur was a great place for an evening meal. There were squares and lanes lined with restaurants, all spilling out of doors onto the cobbles. Even at 6:30 they were doing a brisk trade.
After a visit to the supermarket and a little jug of cold white at le Pub, we chose an Italian place in the sloping church square. It was 8 pm and still stifling, but a breeze was funnelling down the street onto us.
I had tagliatelle with pesto and Keith had penne with gorgonzola sauce, and we finished with icecreams and coffee. The waiter had difficulty making his way between the packed tables.
We got back to the camping ground in the dimming twilight just before 10 pm. The reception was closed but the staff were still at their desks, no doubt adding up the day’s enormous profits.