Saturday, 12 June 2010
Distance 25 km
Duration 5 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 250 m, descent 363 m
Map 47 of the TOP 100 blue series
Map 56 of the TOP 100 blue series (or Map 153 in the new lime-green series)
Topoguide (ref. 6542) Sentier vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Vézelay
The dew was heavy on the grass when we emerged, so we carried everything to the verandah of one of the unoccupied cabins. Although the wooden floorboards were dry, the plastic table and a stack of plastic chairs were awash.
We raised two legs of the table to let a great stream of water flow off it, and lifted chair after chair until we came to a couple of dry ones at the bottom of the pile. After that we had a comfortable breakfast and did our morning foot repairs – mine on my shoes and Keith’s on his blistered toe, which was making a recovery at last.
At 7:30 we made the short walk into the village, passed regretfully in front of the closed bar, and pursued our way down the street and out into the fields towards the south.
Just before we left the houses we saw two ruins side by side – one the thirteenth-century Château Barrière, the other the twentieth-century wreck of the Hotel du Périgord. Of the two, the hotel was the sadder.
The château recalled an age when Villambard was a prosperous staging point between Périgueux and Bergerac, with its own noble family, the Barrières.
The only prosperous looking thing in the present town was a walled mansion set in elaborate flower gardens, which we came to just as we left the main street.
It was now run as chambres d’hôte, and at the gate was a signboard offering frighteningly expensive rooms and meals.
Nevertheless we may have been tempted by the dinner menu if we had known about it. We wondered whether Henk had stayed there last night.
The little road crossed the stream and continued beside it, past straggling farmhouses, until it became an overgrown grassy track. At this point we said goodbye to the GR, having had enough of wet feet and all the troubles that they had brought us.
We crossed back to the D4 and followed it for a couple of kilometres, enjoying the dryness of the bitumen and not bothered by any traffic – it must have been too early. Across the stream we could see the GR rising over a partly wooded hill, while we were descending slightly. At the bottom of the road we turned left up a side stream and before long were joined by the GR as it came down steeply through a field.
For a few metres we continued together, long enough to cross a bridge, before the GR wandered off to the left. We went straight ahead on a small rising road, the D107, and stayed on it almost all the way to Bergerac.
It soon became clear that it was the same Roman road that we had taken through the forest yesterday, although this section was now covered with bitumen. The most surprising thing about it was how few bends it had developed over the last twenty centuries.
The sky was uncharacteristically blue and we were glad of the shade of the forest after the initial climb through farmland. At 9:30 we stopped at a crossroads, sat down on the grassy verge, and pretended we were at a café. We had pastries but no coffee, only cold water.
As we resumed our progress along the empty road we were surprised to see a man with a dog lurking in the undergrowth, moving slowly with his head down. From a distance he had a furtive air, but as we came nearer we saw that he was looking for something.
I asked him whether he was collecting snails, but he said no, he was after mushrooms – girolles and cèpes in particular. He showed us his finds, which were not many, as he had just arrived from Bergerac in his car.
After that the way was long and uneventful. We crossed the GR at right angles as it headed off on another tortuous detour, and an hour later met it again coming back, at which point joined it.
By this time we were passing vineyards, reminding us that we were now in the third of the Périgords, Périgord Pourpre, having traversed the green and the white Périgords in the previous week .
We were getting close to Bergerac and I was fading badly. Luckily the way was somewhat downhill until we came to the main road (the N21), where we sat in the gutter for an unrestful swig of water.
At that point the GR finally gave us some help, guiding us across a sort of town park beside a little tributary of the Dordogne. The path snaked its way among lawns, trees, seats and playing equipment, all very pretty but we were so tired that we resented every twist and turn.
Eventually we emerged onto a street and crossed the railway line. Nearby was an impressive spire covered in scaffolding, which we told ourselves could not possibly be the cathedral, but it was.
Suddenly we were in the centre of town, with the Saturday market just packing up and crowds of people enjoying themselves at a pavement bar. We sank down amongst them with a prayer of thanks to the patron saint of coffee. It was 1 pm and none of the precious fluid had passed our lips all day, or indeed since yesterday morning.
Not only did we have the pleasure of the coffee and the knowledge that our walk was over for the day, but also, as we had been to Bergerac on a previous walk, a happy feeling of familiarity with the town.
From the cathedral we dived into the steep lanes of the old town, going down towards the river. Bergerac’s early life was as a river port, transporting the famous local wines among other things, but latterly road transport had taken over and the landing stage had become an entertainment area.
Past the chapel of Saint Jacques (a reminder that Bergerac had been a staging point for pilgrims since the twelfth century), past the statue of Cyrano de Bergerac, past the great doors of the cloister of the Recollets and over the old bridge, we went straight to the camping ground.
We had stayed there on our previous visit in 2007 and had had great difficulty finding a place to put our tent amongst the hordes of other campers. This time, as it was earlier in the season, there were only a few vans and tents, all far up the grassy slope from the river.
The office was closed, but we found a lovely site beside the river, looking over to the old town, and spread out our lunch under a willow tree. The water was swirling around the trunks of the nearby trees, the colour and consistency of thin mustard.
When we finished, Keith went to the office to claim our chosen site, only to be told that there was a government flood alert in force, and all campers had been moved to higher ground. The previous night the water had almost reached the shower block. We had to go to a much less picturesque place away from the river.
During the afternoon we fell into conversation with an English couple and ended up having a cup of tea in their caravan. They said that the police had arrived the evening before and ordered them to attach their car to their van so that they could escape up the road if the flood rose too high, which it did not quite do.
Back over the bridge, we found that this Saturday night was the Fêtes de Bergerac. Luckily it was a warm, fine evening, and the streets were crowded with people in costume, brass bands, dancers and stalls selling beer and chips, rather a surprise in a famous wine town.
We found the Office of Tourism at the top of the rise and went in to ask the whereabouts of the nearest internet point. “It’s just here!” replied the assistant, indicating a computer at a desk. It was free for tourists, but the limit was 15 minutes, or should have been. In the event we used it for an hour, with the blessing of the staff.
Once out in the town again, we sat down at a table in an upper square for a glass of rosé before dinner. The entertainment was provided by a garbage truck trying to make its way through the festive crowds.
First a motor scooter had to be lifted bodily by two waiters and carried away, then a woman had to move her pram. Several drinkers got up and obligingly shifted their chairs to let it crawl past. It was all very good-natured.
For dinner we went down to a lane below the statue of Cyrano and got a table at le Richelieu. It was a tiny table against a wall, with a pronounced lean and a wobble, which we fixed with the aid of a stone.
We had the €12.90 menu, starting with a plate of the local charcuterie and a mixed salad, and pressing on to lamb with herbs and chips. Instead of dessert I had coffee, but Keith had a crème caramel which was in danger of overflowing because of the slope on the table.
We wandered back through the beautiful alleys of the lower town, well satisfied with our evening, especially compared to last night’s cheerless picnic in the tent.
From our sleeping bags we could hear the drums of a concert on the landing stage across the water, but they did not keep us awake.