Thursday, 27 July 2006
Distance 14 km
Duration 2 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 60 m, descent 52 m
Map 25 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We woke to a sky full of clouds, infinitely better than the brassy one of recent days, and it was noticeably cooler.
For breakfast we cut up the yellow plums we had scavenged yesterday, and added some flaccid grains of muesli and a pale liquid made from the last of the powdered milk. The remains of our muesli supply went down the river bank for the wildlife to enjoy.
At 7 am we set off, with the morning bells ringing joyfully. Before long I realised that I did not have the map in my hand, as I normally did while walking, and we never saw it again, even after scrounging through our packs.
It must have somehow been swept up and discarded with the pizza wrappings. It was just as well that it was our last day of walking, and that we had studied the map closely the evening before.
We took a bike track to the bridge and the tiny river road from there to le Thoureil, a charming place on the very edge of the Loire. The road jutted out over the low-lying sandy flats of the river where boats rode at anchor on the shining water.
There was a delightful church, a restaurant and an inviting-looking bar, but unfortunately, as it was not yet 8 o’clock, we were too early for anything to be open. The little houses looking straight out on to the Loire had neat gardens and a prosperous air. The river was so wide here, the banks so sandy, and the sky so full of birds, that it was like a seaside village.
A sprinkle of rain fell and we put on our plastic capes, which billowed around us like big soap-bubbles.
Another hour’s walk took us to the village of Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne, sprawling around its old church, and here we found not only an open bar but a boulangerie, where we got apple turnovers as a change from croissants and pains aux raisins.
It had stopped raining but the barman had not had time to put out the terrace tables, so we sat inside. The interior was still warm from yesterday’s heat, but not too warm, and we got to read the local paper as we sipped our coffee.
The last steps of our seven weeks’ walk were over the bridge to the twin village of Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire. There was a duplication project under way, involving a rough causeway of rocks halfway across the river, where a big machine was sinking holes for the piles.
Presumably the process would be repeated from the other bank in due course.
Saint-Mathurin, with the advantage of the highway, had a proper little shopping centre and plenty of new paving and flower pots.
We bought some lunch supplies, then found the railway station by the simple expedient of walking perpendicularly away from the river. We went in and discovered that it was actually no longer a railway station, but a little museum.
However, the old gent at the desk assured us that the train would stop here and that we could buy a ticket from the conductor.
Walking back, we saw a pole with the awe-inspiring height marks of recent floods on the Loire. The flood to beat them all, which we had seen noted all down the river, was in June 1856.
To celebrate the end of our three weeks close association with the Loire, we had another round of coffee at an oddly shaped bar with frontages onto both the river and the shops. It was cloudy, so we sat out on the narrow balcony overlooking the sandbars and islands of the river, until the sun came out and we were driven indoors.
Our hostess was most gratified to learn that her village was the end-point of our long walk, not realising that it was simply a matter of our running out of time.
The train journey back to Saumur took about 20 minutes and cost €9.20. The afternoon was spent buying a replacement map for the mysteriously lost one, sending emails and buying up a stack of best French chocolate bars for our friends at home.
In the evening we returned to the church square, to the restaurant on the upper side, where we ordered the most expensive dish on the menu – côte de boeuf for two, with green pepper sauce, gratin dauphinois, green beans and a salade verte.
Altogether it was a scrumptious and plentiful meal, finished off with pear ice cream and small coffees.
We returned to the camping ground, and next morning at 7 am we were on the railway platform waiting for our train back to Paris and the airport.
It had been a strenuous but deeply satisfying expedition, lightened all along by the wonderful food and by the generosity of the French people we met.
Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire has a railway station. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France. Our train from Saumur to Paris took about three and a half hours and cost €51 each.