Wednesday, 26 July 2006
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 87 m, descent 91 m
Map 25 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We woke at 6:15, packed up with the practised ease of 47 days experience, and went out past the barrier to eat our poor breakfast at a picnic table in the adjoining park.
By 7 am we were crossing the bridge to town, with the stones and bitumen still pumping out the heat of yesterday into the cool morning air.
Determined not to repeat yesterday’s roasting road-walk, we followed the bike-path religiously, only to discover that the first part of it was on roads anyway, and annoyingly circuitous as well.
However, after a while we reached a dedicated cycle track beside the river and when it did merge with a road, it was a very small one.
Three tiny villages in succession – Chenehutte, Trèves and Cunault – were pretty enough but did not offer a single bar for the tired, thirsty walker. We had to content ourselves with admiring their churches, plus a mysterious tower in Trèves, remnant of a fifteenth century fortress.
We were not alone on the bike path. Twice we were passed by a family with two tandem bikes pulling trailers, and we passed them while they were having refreshments at a picnic table.
We had seen them on and off since Chaumont, which just goes to show how a couple of determined walkers can keep pace with cyclists over a long stretch.
The best feature of the morning was the wayside fruit – prune plums, yellow plums and finally a wonderful feed of rich, dark blackberries. Four hours after leaving Saumur, we made it to the roundabout at Gennes.
There was a large, modern bar on the corner, but no sign of a boulangerie, and it was so blisteringly hot that we decided to do without pastries, and to retreat immediately into the air-conditioned heaven of the bar for our first coffee of the day and a look at the local paper, which was full of news of the heatwave (la canicule).
Later we ventured into the village, set back slightly from the highway, and found it much less spruce and sparkling than the bar. We found the boulangerie and bought a half baguette, and at the little supermarket we got a tin of fish and some tomatoes.
Opposite the bar on the highway was the Office of Tourism, where we disturbed a man who was vacuuming the floor for want of other occupation. From him we got a map of the village and the information that there were two restaurants to choose from for dinner this evening.
We crossed the road to the camping ground and paid our €8 for admission. It was a big open field not long converted from farmland, with young trees casting small pools of shade.
We could see the river in one direction and a wooded hill in the other, on the top of which was a tall steeple commemorating the battle that was fought here as the Germans advanced in June 1940.
Cadets from the cavalry school at Saumur defended four bridges, including the one at Gennes, until they were overrun and slaughtered. As this was just after Marshal Pétain had ordered French troops to surrender, this defence is often considered the first act of the French resistance.
The shower block was elevated, reached by a set of steps, as if there were a danger of floods, which there probably was, so close to the temperamental Loire. After showers and general ablutions, we crouched under a bushy little tree and had lunch. The bike-riders were doing the same nearby.
The thermometer on Keith’s watch registered 40 degrees as we lay gasping on our bedrolls. Our host came round and showed all the campers the orange alert notice issued by the Météo. There was a tremendous storm coming and we were advised to secure all our belongings.
Dark clouds started assembling, so we did what we could and then decided to go back to the bar. There was a short-cut past a boulodrome, at which a large group of locals was engrossed in a game, oblivious of the heat.
In the bar, the cool air was thick with cigarette smoke and the noise of the TV, but we had no complaints. We sat there happily for a long time over another round of coffees.
When we got back to the camping ground, the black clouds had passed and it was a normal hot evening. A pizza van had arrived and was setting itself up near our tent. I went over to ask whether they had bottles of wine (as most pizza takeaways do in France), but they did not, so we reluctantly set off to investigate the two restaurants.
The first one was not far away, near the bridge, elegant and expensive. The other one required a long sweaty climb to the top of the village, and turned out to be attached to a Logis de France hotel. It too was elegant and expensive and since we were now in rags, there seemed little point in trying to put on airs.
The choice was the pizza truck or a heroic Burke and Wills style expedition over the river to les Rosiers in the hope of better eating there.
We decided that the pizza truck would be fine if we could get something to drink. The supermarket could not help us, as it had been closed all afternoon, so as a last resort we got one of our water bottles and went back to the bar.
First we ordered a small jug of white wine, which we sipped in a leisurely way, then a half-litre of red, cold from the fridge. Decanting it into our bottle, we said goodbye all round and walked out.
The meal was excellent. We had a comfortable table, a view of the Loire and a delicious large pizza to share, delivered personally by the maker’s daughter.
We had the onion-rich one called Pleureuse (tearful) and it was beautifully crisp. The wine tasted good from our plastic containers.
Later we went over for a chat with the bike-riding family, who were Dutch. They were doing a two-week ride from Sully to Angers with their half-grown son and daughter, leaving their camping car in Orléans. They had only one more day to go, which was good, as the children had had enough.