Day 16: Vézelay to Avallon

Sunday, 25 June 2006
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 342 m, descent 295 m
Map 28 of  the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

Walking in France: A late start in the Saint-Père camping ground
A late start in the Saint-Père camping ground

We left at the relatively late hour of 8 o’clock, as it was only a short distance to Avallon. Using a photocopy of the description in the Lonely Planet (Walking on France), as well as the yellow PR marks, we made our way via tiny roads, overgrown tracks and steep scratchy lanes, to Tharoiseau, high on a hill.

Why we went there I do not know, as it had nothing to attract the walker, only a few houses and a private chateau hidden behind a wall. We prefer villages with bars.

The day was muggy, so we sweated copiously as we continued on our way, although the descent was gradual and the spreading fields looked very fine with their ripe crops.

Soon we came to another uninteresting hamlet on a hill, with the odd name of le Grand Island. The houses had all the marks of maisons secondaires – fresh paint, a smart car in the driveway, etc. But no shop, let alone a bar for the thirsty passer-by.

Pressing on in the heat of the morning, we went down into a wooded valley, crossed a road and followed the yellow waymarks into a large forest, where a great height of shimmering green foliage kept the worst of the sun off us.

Walking in France: Some contented locals
Some contented locals

After a brief halt to eat some of yesterday’s bread with the last of the precious butter, we continued along a forestry track, then suddenly veered off into the depths of the wood, as the signs indicated.  If you come this way, do not do this. We were soon abandoned by the yellow marks, the last of which was a puzzling zig-zag arrow on a tree.

Thrashing around in all directions in search of the next mark, we ended in a maze of undergrowth and fallen branches, difficult to get through whilst wearing a pack. With the help of the compass we struggled along on a north-east course, in the sure and certain hope of hitting the Avallon road sooner or later.

This is the advantage of France over Australia. In Australia we could walk for days on a single compass bearing and never see a sign of civilisation.

We came to a forestry road quite quickly, and then a group of cars. These turned out to belong to some people in the treetops, who were negotiating flimsy rope bridges with every sign of terror, despite being firmly belayed. It was some sort of character-building or corporate bonding session.

Walking in France: At last, cold drinks and coffees!
At last, cold drinks and coffees!

The only person at ground level, quietly reading in a car, told us how to reach the road to Avallon (the D127). All we had to do was march a long way on the dirt road, then the bitumen, and then we were crossing the river Cousin on a high old bridge.

The town proper was ahead on the top of the hill, but we saw a camping sign pointing down to the river road and there in front of our astonished eyes was an open bar!

Madame was most solicitous at the appearance of two purple-faced walkers drenched in sweat, and sat us down on her little breezy terrace with a jug of water and a round of coffees.

Half an hour later our frustration and anger at the evil yellow marks had dissipated and we were fit to continue. It was a surprisingly long way upstream to the camping ground, through the ramshackle outer edge of the town.

Walking in France: Guard tower on Avallon's outer wall
Guard tower on Avallon’s outer wall

As we approached the reception, a man shouted out from the balcony of the adjoining house, telling us to have more respect, couldn’t we see the office was closed?

Meanwhile his wife was hastening towards us to open it and take our contribution (€8.40). He shouted a few more times during the afternoon – he must have been off his medication.

Walking in France: Walking into Avallon in the late afternoon
Walking into Avallon in the late afternoon

It was a fine establishment, with shaded grassy plots (or bare sunny ones for the Dutch sunbathers) and showers with adjustable temperature control.

Another walker, as usual a solitary male with walking stick and cockle-shell, wandered in later but disappeared into some corner without seeing us. France is full of austere middle-aged men undertaking lone walking expeditions.

At 6 pm, as the worst of the heat was fading, we walked up to Avallon itself, taking a footpath at the back of the camping, and then another one, the original steep cobbled track up to town.

Walking in France: Leaving Avallon after dinner
Leaving Avallon after dinner

Once inside the ramparts we found a pleasing mess of tiny streets, archways, crooked houses and a grand old untidy church, crossed in the centre by a couple of wide modern streets.

At the main intersection we sat down for a glass of rosé and asked the patron where we could eat, as there was nothing visible. He pointed across to a small descending street with a group of restaurants.

They were uninviting places for the most part, but the one we chose was a nice-looking pizzeria with the fire already glowing in its cave.

We had two lovely pizzas with sauce piquante and a salad, washed down with red wine, for the outlay of €23.50, then strolled back to our comfortable grassy bed. So the day ended better than it began.

Previous day: Lormes to Vézelay

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