Tuesday, 5 July 2011
Distance 3 km
Duration 0 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 47 m, descent 27 m
As we packed up for our walk to the railway station, we chatted with some of our French neighbours emerging from the small tents around us. We had assumed that everybody else would be doing the pilgrimage, the most popular walk in France, but neither of the couples that we spoke to were.
The first lot were cycling down the length of the Loire, from its source at Mont Gerbier de Jonc to the sea. The second pair, also cyclists, were on their way to Provence, although they had done the pilgrimage two years earlier. They had a remarkably long and unwieldy vehicle consisting of a tandem bike with a trailer on the back.
For the last time we climbed to the town along the Boulevard Carnot, pausing at the top to admire the statue of General Lafayette, who was born in the district.
As a young man he went to America to fight for his belief in the Rights of Man and became a hero of the American Revolution but, on his return to France just before the French Revolution, he fell foul of the new regime and spent five years in prison. This seems rather unfair, given his previous idealistic support of enlightenment values, but after his release he never again lost his popularity. Like his contemporary Talleyrand, he managed to keep on the right side of the ever-changing factional forces in French politics for the rest of his life.
In anticipation of our coming train journey, we took our coffee close to the station, in the Square Coiffier. We ate our deliciously fresh pastries and read the local paper, which was lying on the counter – it is often already taken by one of the other customers, but this time we were lucky. Everybody else in the bar was North African.
At the station, the train was already waiting, so we got a good forward-facing seat with a table. It was exciting to glide along over the route that we had so laboriously covered a couple of days before.
The gorge, the château of Lavoûte, the loop at Vorey, the old abbey at Chamalières, the fields of Retournac, the stony rapids near Bransac and the broken bridge of Aurec-sur-Loire, all slipped past our window, then the unforgiving road to the bridge of Pertuiset, where we turned away from the river.
After St-Étienne we followed our progress on the map, as we had not walked that part, but we saw the village of St-Christo-en-Jarez etched on the skyline. Descending to the Rhône, we changed trains at Lyon and continued north.
To our delight, the route took us back over some of our walk in the mountains of the Beaujolais. We went into a long tunnel under the ridge at les Sauvages and popped out in the valley that we had walked up from Amplepuis.
A long time passed and we crossed the Allier near its confluence with the Loire and arrived at Bourges at 6:40 pm.
The next part of our journey was to be by bus, so we retired to a pleasant bar for a glass of wine while we waited for it. When it came, we asked the driver whether he knew where the camping ground was at Saint-Amand-Montrond, but he had no idea.
Then another passenger arrived, an old woman who had lived there all her life. Not only did she know where the camping ground was, but she had her car waiting at the station and would drive us there! The bus driver said that in his opinion French people were generally very unwelcoming, but that we had stumbled on the exception (we did not share his opinion).
The trip took over an hour and the four of us had a fine conversation. Our driver, middle-aged, tattooed and raffish-looking, was a jazz musician who had travelled all around America, especially enjoying la Nouvelle Orléans. Even more remarkably, he had been to Tasmania and worked on an oil-rig in Bass Strait. He was twice divorced, with children grown up, and his present lady friend drove a long-haulage truck for a living.
Our fellow passenger was a very different character, a conservative, well-to-do widow, with a daughter in Paris, whom she had just visited, a son in Tours and another one in Saint-Amand. However they got along very well and were as one when they saw a Macdonald’s sign – both became angry. We gave them a bit of our history also and the time passed quickly.
The bus dropped us at Orval, the twin town on the other side of the Cher. Madame whisked us through the streets of Saint-Amand, darkening and deserted, and dropped us at the door of the camping ground just before 9.
The place was well occupied by campers but the office was closed, so we wandered in, looking for somebody to ask the way to town, as we needed a meal. But before we could do that, we bumped into a little wooden chalet with a sign -“La Cuisine” – and a simple blackboard menu. We were saved!
There were people on the deck, drinking and eating, and we quickly joined them and ordered the €8.90 menu. Our first course was tomato salad with omelette, and this was followed by sausages with chips and a green salad. To finish, I had a coffee and Keith had an icy-pole.
It was a lovely end to the day and a lot better than the muesli or stale bread that we might have had to make do with.