Thursday, 13 July 2006
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 106 m, descent 116 m
Map 27 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We lugged all our gear over to the red plastic tables of the snack bar, overlooking the river, and ate our breakfast there. No other campers were about, but then no other campers were thinking of walking further than to the shower block that day.
We left before 7, picking up the GR as it came over the bridge, and made good progress on a wheel track which wandered through the scrubby riverside forest, periodically taking to the levée bank for a change.
The official GR3 was on the other side of the river and we were not sure which GR we were on, but it was waymarked and it took us where we wanted to go, namely to the village of Jargeau, where we hoped to have second breakfast.
Long before we got there we could see the bridge and the opposite village, Saint-Denis, through the trees. I passed the time by singing tunelessly to myself, no doubt like generations of peasants before me.
Ignoring the grim emptiness of the outlying streets, we pushed on into the centre, which had a delightful pedestrian precinct and a grand church.
We sat in the shade of a dark red awning while our coffee and pastries worked their restoring magic.
Jargeau was the scene of one of Joan of Arc’s triumphs in 1429, shortly after having relieved the siege of Orléans.
It was strategically important because of its bridge. The English had occupied it for a few years and had built a fortified wall and ditch around it, but the French attackers under Joan of Arc managed to breach these defences and force the English to surrender. It was the beginning of a wave of French successes on the Loire, and the turning of the tide of the Hundred Years War.
At the nearby Office of Tourism we got a list of the camping grounds of the department of Loiret, something we had been trying to find for a while. We were pleased but we should not have been, as it turned out to be grossly inaccurate and caused us a lot of trouble later.
We crossed the bridge, close to the ruins of an earlier one, and took the GR3 along the river. It was a good path at first, but soon degenerated into a tangle of branches and nettles. The local walkers’ group had not been doing their duty.
We scrambled up through a steep building site and were confronted by a locked chain-wire fence, which we climbed over inelegantly to reach the road.
A short walk through a forest brought us out at a château, with the church spire of Mardié already visible beyond.
We passed a few lovely old farmhouses on our way through the fields to this small, neat village.
Just past here the GR divided as it approached the canal of Orléans, and we got slightly lost until a passing motorist put us right, and we arrived at Chécy soon afterwards.
Like Mardié, it was dominated by an impressive church set high above the village. But unlike Mardié, it proved to have a row of shops and a couple of bars, one of which (le Diligence) was also serving lunches.
We sat down in the courtyard and ordered coffee from the frantically busy waiter, and found out that they were not open in the evening, but that the other restaurant, behind the church, would be.
One look at the price list of this other restaurant convinced us that it was not our sort of place, and two local women told us that we would eat much better at the Diligence, so for only the second time in five years of walking in France, we decided to have our main meal at lunch time.
The outdoor tables were in the sun, but we managed to get a table indoors, although the place was crowded. The dining room had whitewashed stone walls, low rafters and the usual assortment of nostalgic bric-a brac, and the windows were wide open to the breeze.
We had the €12 menu, starting with a home-made paté and a mussel salad. The main course was lamb cutlets with mushrooms in cream, accompanied by green beans and something called “pom au soleil”, which turned out to be potato chips.
Pressing on, we had crème brûlée, then a plate of three local cheeses, which vanished into my bag. All this was washed down with a half-litre of red and we emerged contentedly into the blinding afternoon sunlight.
Fortunately the camping ground was very near, immediately below the church on a water-meadow.
It faced the Loire but had no direct frontage to it, so for once we did not sleep on the bank of the river. The grass was thick and green, despite the heatwave, and we found a shady corner reserved for tents.
We went to pay (€7) and found out that the camping ground at La-Chapelle-Saint-Mesmin, where we had hoped to stay tomorrow, was closed, and so was the one at Olivet. The nearest functioning one down the river was at Saint-Ay.
While we were in the office, an Englishman climbed out of a massive motor home and tried to register, but he had not a word of French and no ID. He had to write down his name and the town he lived in. “C’est en Angleterre?” asked madame. We translated (That’s in England?), and he said, no, it was in France and he had lived there for ten years!
The showers were operated with jetons (tokens) so Keith and I shared a two-jeton shower, then settled down to digest our lunch.
In the evening we had a picnic of the food we had not eaten at midday, followed by a stroll up to the village, which was not at its liveliest.
It was the eve of Bastille Day and during the night the ground shook with explosions, whether an invading army or celebratory fireworks, we were not sure. Nevertheless we slept well.