Wednesday, 4 July 2007
Distance 30 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 561 m, descent 636 m
Map 58 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Map 65 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Everything was wet after the night rain, so we were glad to find a picnic table on the well-groomed bank of the Tarn, just outside the camping ground.
While eating breakfast we decided to change our plan for the day. Le Truel, our intended destination, was not very far away and we thought we could make it to Broquiès, which had a hotel but no camping.
It was ten days since we last stayed in a hotel and by doing this, we would save a day and have more chance of making it to Montcuq to celebrate the fourteenth of July with our friends.
At 6:50, without going back to Saint-Rome-de-Tarn, we started off on the road to Saint-Victor, rising slowly but relentlessly through thick forest. Occasionally the river could be seen far below.
We made a long diversion around a side valley and eventually reached the cleared heights of the causse and the village of Saint-Victor, with its decrepit château and church.
It was pretty but there was no bar, only a boulangerie. so our much-desired second breakfast had to wait. Although it was sunny, we could see rain coming – a dark mass billowing across from the Tarn.
Down the other side of the plateau we arrived at the nearby village of Melvieu, also attractive, which had signs pointing to a bar but no actual bar, as one of the locals kindly informed us.
We had to shelter briefly from the rain under an archway before hurrying down the forest road in our plastic ponchos, beside a steep tributary, until we rejoined the Tarn at Le Truel. By this time the sun was shining again.
We passed the camping ground and crossed the bridge, not expecting much after our previous disappointments, but we did the place an injustice.
A little way along the riverbank was a single shop, encompassing supermarket, newsagency, bar and restaurant, with umbrellas and pots of flowers adorning the terrace.
Here we finally had our first coffee of the day and ate the four rounds of bread scrounged from last night’s dinner table, with some sausage and cheese – a combination of second breakfast and lunch.
With new zest we stepped out for the second half of our day’s walk. It was delightfully flat compared to the first, keeping close to the river, which gradually took on a swollen appearance, and after a while we came to the barrage of la Jourdanie, feeding a little hydro-electric station. It was the first of several on this part of the Tarn.
The road began to rise away from the river. Above the trees, some big white water birds were harassing a brown hawk by diving on it with wailing cries, while the screams of their chicks rose from the canopy. Eventually the hawk gave up and flapped off lazily over the ridge.
Soon we came to a fork in the road, leading down to the river on the left and up to Broquiès on the right. Unbeknownst to us, the hotel was not actually in the village, but down at the bridge.
We found this out the hard way after we had toiled up in the midday heat, and had to turn back ignominiously, not in the best of moods.
We found the place at last, tucked in beside the Tarn, a fine solid old house with a wistaria-covered balcony on the river side. Lunch diners were still at the tables, both on the balcony and inside. The waitress summoned a skinny, flustered man with a grey pony-tail, the chef and apparently her father, to show us a room.
It had a shower, but the WC was down the corridor, he said apologetically. We did not mention that it was a lot closer than we were accustomed to.
The hotel had been superficially renovated with wallpaper and floating floor-boards, but its age was visible in the deep window embrasures, the shutters and the undulations of the floors.
I spread my half-dry muesli out on my rain cape on the floor and left it there till morning.
We washed ourselves and our walking clothes, changed into our better outfits, and descended to the balcony for coffee and a slice of the berry tart we had noticed on our way in.
A severe-looking woman in a wheelchair was supervising another daughter’s piano practice inside, so we had a musical accompaniment.
Then we went for a walk over the bridge, largely to examine the road signs so we could decide how to proceed tomorrow.
The thought of going up to Broquiès again was not very appealing, but the alternative via the river seemed to have mysterious tunnels on the road, unpleasant for walking through.
Later, over apéritifs, we asked our host, the gaunt, excitable chef Alain, which way we should go. Although there were ways of getting around the tunnels, he recommended that we go up to the village and continue down from there.
The conversation moved on to other topics. He was a northerner, much easier to understand than the locals, and like all the French people we had spoken to, was totally opposed to the American invasion of Iraq (“Ce Bush, c’est un imbécile!”).
His crippled wife, who was half-Italian, opined that it was all because of the Iraqi oil. We can only be grateful, she said, that Bush was not in charge during the Cuban missile crisis. We found we agreed on many things.
Other guests appeared in the dining room and we sat down to eat. First we had substantial salads laden with eggs, cucumber and red onions.
This was followed by an escalope à la crème with cèpes for Keith, and duck wings with orange sauce for me, accompanied by crisp vegetable pancakes. Keith had apple tart to finish this excellent meal.