Thursday, 15 June 2006
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 270 m, descent 264 m
Map 37 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Map 36 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Having forgotten to buy fruit, or steal it, we found our muesli a bit austere this morning.
We were on our way just after 7 am, cutting through to the Autun road rather than going right back into town, as it was too early to hope for coffee there.
Almost immediately we got onto a small side road, which became a dirt track up the slope and then a road again. It seemed to be the old main road to Épinac, flanked by some fine old coaching inns, now private houses.
A wrinkled fellow working in his garden said it was 6 km to Épinac, but it didn’t seem possible, because we were soon amongst apartment blocks and strange towers, or chimneys, which turned out to be the remains of a coal mine.
Épinac was a coal mining town and consequently one of the first in France to have a railway (now closed). They also had electricity very early, for the same reason, and a massive bottle-making enterprise supplying the surrounding vineyards.
Unfortunately this part of town was a considerable step from the actual centre. The wrinkled man was right. We were hot and thirsty when we arrived and it was remarkably small and depressed-looking. There was one bar, with no terrace, and nowhere to eat in the evening.
Nevertheless we enjoyed a lingering coffee in the dim interior, reading the local paper. One of the loafers propping up the counter came over to ask whether we had finished reading it, and Keith said no.
The second time the man came over, he explained that it was actually his paper, not the bar’s, and he had to leave! I apologised as profusely as I could and we parted with laughter and handshakes all round.
The camping area was on the river, just below the town, beautifully shady and grassy. Even better, it had a little bar/restaurant beside the water, which served evening meals, so our needs for the day were taken care of. After lunch, showers and a sleep, we looked around the town. It was 38°C so we kept it brief.
The most interesting thing was the château, even though it is invisible behind a high wall. It was one of the residences of Nicolas Rolin, powerful fifteenth-century adviser to the dukes of Burgundy and founder of the Hôtel-Dieu at Beaune.
He is portrayed in two famous religious paintings of the time, a Madonna by Jan van Eyck and an altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden (he had paid for them both, after all).
As fierce afternoon softened into mild evening, we settled ourselves at the riverside bar with a carafe of rosé and watched the World Cup on TV. Then we sat down for a fine €10 dinner on the terrace.
We started with little vegetable quiches and followed with a dish of chicken and mushrooms, with salad and the obligatory basket of bread.
At a nearby table were two school teachers from Autun who had driven over for a quiet meal on the river. One was an English teacher and the other a German teacher but we spoke in French.
The English teacher had a hunted look, no doubt dreading having to demonstrate her English to us, but there was no danger of that – we insist on speaking French whenever we can. They promised to look out for us the next morning on their way back to school, not that we would be on the highway, nor accept a lift if we were.
Later that night we did speak English, when we were approached by a couple of bossy little Dutch/Brits who are trying to take over the management of the camping area from the present charming Swiss people.
The interlopers have been in residence for over a year so far, making trouble at the Mairie and no doubt at the camping ground. They didn’t look as if they would be pleasant to deal with.