Sunday, 9 July 2006
Distance 20 km
Duration 3 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 101 m, descent 122 m
Map 27 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
There was no sign of life from our new friends as we slipped away at 7:15 am. We went back to the canal bank and had our muesli at a table on the manicured grass. Even the litter bins were spotless and were labelled No Fish.
We bought bread and croissants at the boulangerie and set off over the canal in the direction of the power station, which loomed ever larger until we felt like insects under the huge steaming stacks.
Water from the Loire is diverted to cool the towers, and then fed back into the stream. We hoped that somebody was in charge – certainly nobody from the Belleville camping ground was.
Once over the river, we entered Neuvy-sur-Loire, a normal French village, and passed a bar that was closed until 9 am.
It was only 8:45, so we walked on till we came to a little square in front of the Mairie, with another bar opening at 9.
We seated ourselves on the terrace and were the first customers of the day. Large bowls of coffee, with the croissants from Belleville, put us in a hopeful and energetic mood.
Past Neuvy the little road rose sharply to a plateau. There was no GR here but it was very pleasant walking all the same, amongst the wheat and the sunflowers.
As we descended into Bonny-sur-Loire, we finally left the region of Burgundy, that we had been in since we started walking, and entered Centre.
Bonny-sur-Loire was strung out along the highway and we had to cross under the railway line to reach the centre, where we found a vine-covered bar full of Sunday morning drinkers. We joined them of course.
Afterwards we had some trouble finding the GR3, which was supposed to come down from the east to the river at this point. We finally worked it out. It was a tiny tar road winding through the nettles and bushes of the river flat.
Hordes of cyclists sailed past us in elaborate lycra outfits. We covered several slow kilometres before reaching Ousson-sur-Loire at midday.
Here we left the GR, for fear that we would not be able to get onto the high bridge that crossed the river towards Châtillon-sur-Loire, as the map showed the GR going under the bridge.
We need not have worried. After our slight detour on the road, we approached the bridge and found that the camping ground was immediately on our right, not across the river in the village, and that the GR came straight to it.
We also noticed a bar/brasserie on the left, which we hoped would be open in the evening.
The office at the camping ground was closed but the place was quite crowded with large tents and caravans, stretched out along the riverbank. Children and dogs dashed about while adults lay supine in deck chairs.
We found a grassy knoll, inaccessible to cars but big enough for our tent, overlooking the fine flowing river and the bridge.
From this vantage point we saw in the distance a fat man outside his tent, wearing a bra and dancing suggestively for his partner – at least, we thought it was a man.
The showers were no more than tepid but they served the purpose and we felt good as we settled down for lunch and a sleep.
It was the day of the grand final of the World Cup, to be played that evening between France and Italy.
Late in the afternoon we sauntered over to the brasserie across the road and found out that they had a huge TV screen downstairs, and also they would be serving dinner that evening, before and during the match.
We walked over the great iron bridge to the canal with its busy port and the main town beyond. It looked a fine place on its elevated promontory, although most of the shops were closed for Sunday. Streamers and flags hung from windows, from car aerials, from people’s hats, and shouts of “Allez les Bleus!” rang through the streets.
Down at the port the old inn had TV sets positioned in both windows of the bar, facing out to the dining terrace. We stopped there for an apértitif but had to go indoors to escape the low, searing sun.
Having seen no menus to interest us in the town, we returned to the brasserie near the camping ground to dine. The downstairs room was packed with camping people having the special Coupe du Monde menu, but we ate upstairs more elegantly.
We had salad and steaks, our normal fare, but beautifully done. When we heard a roar from below we picked up our wine and rushed down, to find that France had scored the first goal. Just then Italy equalised and from that moment on, nothing went right for the French.
Zidane committed his now-famous head-butt, two other stars were injured and they ended up losing the shoot-out. We were all incredulous as we slunk back to the camping ground. An hour later the sky erupted as the fireworks, prepared for victory, were let off in defeat, accentuating our gloom.