Monday, 16 July 2007
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 241 m, descent 79 m
Map 57 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
We had breakfast at a concrete table beside the river. It was 7:30 when we left, as we had slept in a bit, but nobody else had so much as stirred.
The road continued on its quiet way, with a ribbed carpet of vines on either side, and we sped along unhindered by traffic, turning at Anglars to cross the Lot.
This took us to Castelfranc and the first thing we saw as we came off the little bridge was a bar.
We sat down gratefully outside it in the morning sun for our first coffee of the day, but decided to leave the pastries until later, when the muesli had had time to settle.
Castelfranc was a bastide town carved in two by the highway, and the only way from there to Prayssac was along this highway, unless you counted the GR36, which, after one glance, we did not.
The mere sight of the cliff that we would have to climb to join it gave us aching legs. It was only three kilometres of highway, after all, we told ourselves.
We walked between speeding trucks and a low wall, beyond which was a 20 metre drop to the riverbank, so the three kilometres were not as restful as the previous four or five from Albas, but eventually we made it to the large village of Prayssac, with its charming circular centre.
Across the square we found the Office of Tourism and discovered that the camping at Puy l’Évêque (l’Evasion) was actually some kilometres out of the town, away from the river.
The good thing was that it was in the direction that we wanted to go the following day, and also it had its own restaurant, so it would be possible for us to dine in our usual style in the evening without marching a vast distance.
With a baguette and a bag of croissants, we sat down at a café table, but immediately changed our mind, deciding that it would be better to get to Puy l’Évêque before having our second breakfast. Once again it was a short stage and we preferred the highway, dangerous but direct, to the more tortuous GR.
As we approached the town we gained height and came in on a curve at the top, looking down on the old houses near the river.
Luckily, the Office of Tourism was close at hand and they undertook to telephone the camping ground for us, to make sure it was open. All was confirmed in a moment and we went out very pleased with ourselves.
We finally had our much-delayed second breakfast under an umbrella at a hotel nearby, enjoying both the refreshment and the unfamiliar feeling of certainty about our accommodation for the night.
The ascending road from the village (the D28) went through forest reminiscent of Grimm’s fairy tales, dense and forbidding, and by the time we turned into the camping ground the staff at the reception were worried that we had got lost. Perhaps the Office of Tourism had forgotten to mention that we were on foot.
The term “camping ground” did not capture the full magnificence of the place. It had the self-contained comfort of a cruise ship, with a bar, a restaurant, a shop, rows of cabins, a fitness club, a children’s room and a huge, elaborate pool with palm trees, a waterfall and a loop going under a bridge. The campsites looked out onto the endless forest. It was full of families, all French, and naturally it was expensive, but we were happy to pay, after the squalor of Lauzerte.
We spent the afternoon at the pool. It turned out that we could be propelled around the loop by an artificial current, which was very pleasant. Then we lay on plastic deck chairs in the shade. Nobody else was in the shade – they were all working on their tans.
Several young matrons near us were tanning their breasts in the French manner, causing their children to want to rest their heads on the exposed maternal bosom, or even to try to suckle. I could have sworn one of them was a man, except for the pair of rather shapely breasts exposed to view.
Later it turned cool and drizzly. We put on long pants and jackets and took our apéritifs on the terrace of the restaurant, where the wind was snatching at the place settings. It was not a night for outdoor dining.
The dim, cavernous dining room was already well filled when we stepped in, but we got a good table. Our entrée was a salad with walnuts and goat’s cheese, and then we had entrecôtes, mine garnished with some rarified salt, Keith’s with a slab of Roquefort.
Finally Keith had a crème brûlée as part of the research for his forthcoming Ph.D. on regional variations in this uniquely French concoction.
Before we had finished eating, the entertainment began – a karaoke show. Our host got things going in a surprising way, by singing, in heavily accented English, a song whose refrain was “Waltzing matilda, waltzing matilda, You’ll come a’waltzing matilda with me”. It was lost on his audience, all of whom were French and we thought afterwards that he did it for us, although he did not say so.
There followed a succession of children and bashful adults at the microphone and even after we were tucked up in bed, we could hear them still at it, through the noise of the teeming rain.