Tuesday, 18 July 2006
Distance 11 km
Duration 2 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 57 m, descent 48 m
Map 26 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Having exerted ourselves so much yesterday, and having only a short walk ahead of us, we slept in till 7:45, had our muesli at one of the tables at the closed bar and left at 8:30. There was a long queue for bread at the little camping shop, so we went to the baker in the village and got excellent croissants and a baguette.
The bar was open by then so we stepped in for a second breakfast hard on the heels of the first. The barwoman and her husband were relieved to see us looking so much better, and they told us that the best way to get to Chaumont was by the track along the river bank, not by the GR.
We started walking in earnest at 9:30. It was already hot but the path was shady almost all the way, which is more than could be said for the GR. According to the map it was up in the hills traversing three sides of a square.
Just after the confluence of the Beuvron and the Loire, the GR joined our track, but then took off across the open fields, while we continued comfortably along the riverbank under the trees.
It only took an hour and a bit to cover the six kilometres to Chaumont and the first thing we saw as we approached was the camping ground. Rather than go straight there, we decided to press on and look around the village, even though we still had our packs. It seemed a bit early to be installing ourselves.
Once under the bridge, we took a footpath up to the short strip of shops and cafés, and selected a bar on the shady side of the street for another round of coffees and a jug of water.
Looming over the village on a crag was the château, and we thought we would go up and have a look before settling in at the camping ground. It was a long, hot haul from the entrance gate to the vast grounds at the back of the château. Part of the grounds were given over to the annual garden festival, France’s answer to the Chelsea Garden show.
We went through the impressive entrance with its drawbridge and gleaming conical towers, to a courtyard enclosed on three sides by the wings of the château, the open side dropping off dramatically to the Loire. The fourth side had been removed in the eighteenth century to improve the view.
It was a beautiful palace, but had been hated by at least one of its owners in the sixteenth century, after a famous act of jealous revenge.
The original château-fort was built in the tenth century, but burned to the ground in the fifteenth by order of the unpleasant Louis XI, to quell the rising power of the counts of Amboise. It was then rebuilt in its present form by the same counts after a reconciliation with the king.
The following century it was bought by Catherine de Medici, the wife of the recently deceased king Henri II, not because she wanted it, but so that she could force the king’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, to take it in exchange for the château of Chenonceau. Diane had been given Chenonceau by the king and loved it dearly, but the hard-boiled Catherine managed to dislodge her, taking it for herself.
To proceed from the airy courtyard to the interior of the castle, we found we would have to pay €13 each, and we felt we were running out of energy for such a thing. We needed to get back to the camping ground and find some shade.
It was roasting hot as we descended, and we did not find a lot of shade to camp under. We made do with a low-growing willow near the ablution block.
Having paid our €7.60, we had showers, then lunch on a bench and spent the rest of the afternoon under the willow trying to keep cool. When the heat got too much, we walked into the shower fully dressed, and came back drenched for a blessed period of evaporation. The sound of someone’s radio reporting the Tour was soporific.
The evening was as furnace-like as the afternoon and I felt myself fading, both physically and emotionally. We went up to the village for dinner and found the brasserie we had fancied in the morning was closed, as were several other places.
After a dispiriting search we ended up at a snack bar that turned out surprisingly pleasant. The buildings across the street cast a solid block of shade on the tables, which were occupied largely by English-speaking tourists.
We had pizzas, of which a good section of mine vanished into my ever-ready plastic bag for lunch. When we ordered the second carafe of water, the waiter got the message and just kept bringing them, and we drank four or five of them, plus one of wine.
Some hot-air balloons were lifting sluggishly over our heads as we ate, seemingly having trouble getting the air any hotter than it already was.