Day 20: Chablis to Auxerre

Walking in France: Early morning in Chablis
Early morning in Chablis

Thursday, 29 June 2006
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 300 m, descent 338 m
Map 28 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

Eager to escape as much as possible of the heat of the day, we were up at six. We thought we would have to slink into the bushes for our morning bodily rituals, as we did not have a key to the shower block.

It turned out they were not locked anyway. Whether this was a kind act on the part of the manager, or just a mistake we did not know.

Walking in France: Chablis

The highlight of breakfast was a banana, the first we had tasted since a cyclone in North Queensland wiped out the crop a year earlier.

We hit the road at 6:45, taking the main street, now deserted, past the Syracuse and on to the roundabout to the west. The centre of the roundabout had been planted charmingly with vines.

Not far beyond it, as the highway swung away to the left, we took the small road into Poinchy and then a farm track through the vines, parallel to the busy D965.

Walking in France: Hot work through the vineyards of Chablis
Hot work through the vineyards of Chablis

The sun bounced off the shadeless white track, grilling us from above and below simultaneously, even so early in the day. We picked up the GR coming tortuously from Chablis, and passed an artificial lake, a cooling sight with its lawns and trees.

As we approached Beines we found out from a local woman that there was a cafe down on the main road.

Although it was a typical dingy indoor truckies’ bar, the coffee had the same enlivening effect as yesterday and we emerged full of zest for the way ahead.

Walking in France: Beautiful cherries
Beautiful cherries

For brevity we took the highway for a few kilometres. The alternative was the GR doing a classic zigzag, and the highway had a wide grassy verge, recently mown. Turning off, we rejoined the GR and walked pleasantly on a quiet shady gravel road, past vines initially and then a cherry orchard. Naturally we collected a hatful of the shining fruit.

Past the village of Soleines we took a footpath up to the church of Venoy on the rise. The fields were scattered with great golden rolls of hay.

Walking in France: Golden rolls of hay
Golden rolls of hay

We crossed the A6 and, just before Egriselles, we made a premature turn (before the power lines instead of after them), and ended up lost in a wheat field on the wrong side of a deep forested gully, into which we had to plunge.

Walking in France: Approaching Venoy
Approaching Venoy

There was a maze of bike tracks and a myriad of mosquitoes in there, but after a lot of thrashing about we came out onto a tar road, much to the surprise of some council workers having lunch.

Auxerre cathedral

They were at a loss to explain how we could get to Auxerre – according to them it was the way we had just come – but eventually they suggested we go up an appallingly steep dirt path and connect with a track.

This turned out to be the track we had tried to turn onto near Egriselles, and very soon we were over the N6 and heading into town.

The road hugged the bank of the Yonne and then turned left over an old bridge and saw the beautiful buildings of the centre reflected in the water. It was a pleasure to be in a town after our long exertions.

Walking in France: Wandering through the back streets of Auxerre
Wandering through the back streets of Auxerre

We visited the Office of Tourism (for a town map), a boulangerie and a coffee shop in quick succession. After that we only had enough energy to get ourselves to the camping area, which entailed a roasting walk through the less salubrious streets, but it was a paradise of green shade when we got there.

Surprisingly, there was another Australian there, a wiry little fellow, who was in France to see the Tour de France, he himself being a champion cyclist in the masters category.

Walking in France: Restif de la Bretonne
Restif de la Bretonne

The afternoon was a succession of luxuries– showers, clean clothes, a picnic of fresh bread and cheese, then a sleep in the shade on our bedrolls. Much later we returned to the town to send an email.

We knew where the cybercafe was supposed to be, but still we could not find it, not even when a shopkeeper took us out into the street and pointed at it. Finally we saw a little blue sign on a dark door. Inside all was modernity and coolness. It took us two hours to do all our business, including transferring our photographs onto CDs to make room for those to come.

When we emerged at 7:15 the street was less furnace-like and we strolled about looking at the sights, chief among them a huge golden clock surmounting an archway over the road.

Walking in France: The old part of Auxerre
The old part of Auxerre

There was also a statue of the local writer Restif de la Bretonne, whose eponymous walking trail we had crossed yesterday on our way to Chablis.

He was born in nearby Sacy (to which the walking trail goes) and wrote copiously during the turmoil of the late eighteenth century, on the brink of the modern age, looking back longingly on an idealised pastoral childhood as well as forward to the new order.

He was the first to use the term “communism”, which at the time had no derogatory connotations.

Walking in France: Apéritifs in the Place des Cordeliers
Apéritifs in the Place des Cordeliers

Auxerre was a fascinating town and a lovely place to spend an evening. We took a glass of rosé at a large sloping pavement bar overlooking the Place des Cordeliers, then, on the descent from the square, liked the look of a well-patronised Italian restaurant.

Where we sat at first was in the full blast of the airconditioner, so we moved to a side room which was perfect.

After a shared salad, we had pasta – carbonara and océanne – and a carafe of red, for the sum of €25.70, and sauntered back happily to our little tent.

Previous day: Vermenton to Chablis

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