Tuesday, 11 July 2006
Distance 28 km
Duration 5 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 103 m, descent 120 m
Map 27 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We left the camping ground just after 7, and by the time we had crossed the bridge the bar at the other end was open, but we kept walking, afraid of the heat to come.
The river road, which was also the GR3, dwindled into a poor patched thing and then into a dusty wheel track, flanked by the tangled foliage of the riverbank.
When the GR turned away from the river, we ignored it and kept going on the wheel track, which took us across hayfields to reconnect with the bitumen just before the nuclear power station of Dampierre.
It was odd to see the peaceful fields and farm cottages of Arcole against such an improbable background, as if some milking buckets had suddenly grown to a thousand times their normal size.
Up close, the four stacks were breathtaking and there were new road works all around. We had an anxious moment when the remains of the old road petered out against the embankment of a new one, but we crawled through a large drainage pipe under the embankment and were soon on our way again.
We had to walk a few hundred metres on the main road before taking a smaller one, which climbed steeply to some houses and then swerved back unexpectedly.
We were lost for a while, until we saw a track pointing to le Petit Moulin (the Little Mill), and this took us down across a stream and then over the rise into Ouzouer-sur-Loire, where we intended to stay the night.
Despite being at the intersection of two busy roads, Ouzouer was not much of a town, with the bare minimum of shops and a plain church. The “caravaning” was 1 km away, according to the sign, and we were not sure what that meant.
However, our immediate needs were met handsomely at the boulangerie and bar.
Whilst luxuriating in front of very fine pastries and coffee, with trucks rumbling past our bare toes, we decided that it was too early in the day (11 am) to stop, especially in such a nondescript place, given that it was only another 9 km to Sully-sur Loire.
The barwoman kindly refilled our water bottles and we set off to the river, renewing our acquaintance with the GR3 which had come in from the east. The land was flat and open to the horizon.
We walked on the levée bank beside the river, exposed to the sun but with a fresh breeze, then on a shadier wheel track that took us to within sight of the great castle of Sully.
A flotilla of canoes was gliding downstream and we kept pace with it for an hour.
At the bridge we wondered whether to cross, as there was camping on both sides, but decided to stay on the right bank, at Saint-Père, as it would give us a better start in the morning. Before going to the camping, we stopped at the one and only bar in Saint-Père for another much-appreciated coffee.
The camping ground was a grand three-star place with a shop and a café. We set ourselves up in an area reserved for tents near the river, in a deeply shaded corner with a picnic table.
Our lunch consisted of bread, lettuce and mayonnaise, the only food we had.
To our astonishment, another pair of walkers arrived – a pair of burly French women with spiky haircuts. They set off again as soon as they had put up their tent, taking the GR3 which went along the back fence of the camping ground. We saw them returning as we were crossing the bridge into Sully at 7 pm.
The town of Sully is cut in two by the big road coming over the bridge, but they have tried to retain some village charm with a system of one-way streets.
We bought some fruit and cheese for tomorrow and settled down for apéritifs at the Café des Arts, opposite the château with its romantic moat.
We were on a lovely wide, umbrella-shaded terrace overlooking the river near the bridge. Our drinks came with a little bowl of nuts and olives, an unaccustomed luxury, and we decided to stay there for dinner.
The place quickly filled up with diners and we heard English being spoken for the first time in many days.
Keith had lasagne and I had chicken in cream with gratin dauphinois, a delicious but rich combination, some of which made its way into my ever-ready plastic container for tomorrow’s lunch food.
When we got back to the camping ground, our fellow walkers were bowed over a map and we fell into conversation.
They had done two days of a fortnight’s trip down the Loire, starting from Gien, and were aghast that we had come from there in a day.
Their final destination was Tours, and tomorrow’s was Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire. At that rate, they would never make it, we thought.