Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Distance 12 km
Duration 3 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 26 m, descent 58 m
Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We were woken by heavy thunder and crawled out to a sky full of low, menacing clouds.
It was no time to linger, but we knew that the next town was only three kilometres away and hoped to get there before the storm struck.
We ate a hasty breakfast on a bench beside the ablutions block, smiled at sympathetically by various people in dressing gowns going past to the showers.
The towpath continued along the levee bank of the canal and as we hurried past the last house of the village, a man standing at his gate said, with some glee, “Very soon you will be wet!”. He was right.
To the accompaniment of rumbling, the rain began to sprinkle and then to pour.
Lightning bolts crashed down frighteningly close to us, sending us scrambling off the exposed bank to cower under a hawthorn tree.
It felt safer, but we were getting drenched, so as soon as the onslaught weakened we set off again, got to the bridge at Mennetou and crossed it, getting soaked again by the bow-wave of a passing truck.
We found ourselves in a spruced-up mediaeval village with thick stone portals, steep lanes and the remains of a priory, all streaming with water although the rain had almost stopped.
The charms of sightseeing were greatly outweighed by those of the boulangerie and bar on the main street, both of which we visited in quick succession. It was good that we were quick, because as soon as we were settled comfortably inside the bar, the storm returned, turning day into night and air into flying water.
But by the time we had finished our coffee and croissants it was over, and we stepped out, through the archway dedicated to Joan of Arc, to find the Office of Tourism. We were in a new department (Loir-et-Cher instead of just Cher) and needed to get lists of accommodation, which are organised by department.
We found the office in the old quarter but it was closed until 10 o’clock, half an hour away, so we left, but not before Keith was scolded by an angry housewife leaning out of her window, for putting his raincape down on her tiny flower bed.
Back on the canal we took the right bank, behind the empty, washed-out terrace of the bar that we had just visited, and swung along for a while until the canal suddenly vanished – the highway (D976) had been built over it, as there was no other space between the railway and the river.
The result was that we found ourselves unexpectedly road-bashing for a kilometre or so, until the canal slid out from underground and veered away to the left.
There was a freshly shorn-off tree blocking the towpath, no doubt a casualty of the recent storm.
We came to the lock of Langon and crossed a bridge into the village, where we took a second round of coffee at the bar, although we did not really need to, so soon after Mennetou.
We were somewhat mortified to see that we had left a trail of muddy footprints across the carpet, especially when we were only charged €2.60 for two grands crèmes, the normal price being €4.40.
The final push along the towpath into Villefranche-sur-Cher took less than an hour and as we arrived, we saw signs pointing to the camping ground down on the river.
But first we crossed the canal to visit the alimentation shop on the corner of the highway, where we laid in a few supplies (cheese, tomatoes and a shallot) and asked about the possibility of a restaurant for this evening.
We were pleased when the shop-woman recommended one very close to the camping ground, which she said was two kilometres away.
It turned out to be 700 metres at the most, just before the bridge across the Cher. It often seems to be the case that the locals, who never walk anywhere, grossly overestimate the distances between places, and consequently give us more credit than we deserve for our walking.
The camping ground was a swathe of newly-mown dry grass, bisected by a line of young trees, going down to the thickly vegetated river. Unlike at the camping ground that we had left that morning, there were no boisterous family groups in evidence, in fact no people at all, and only two or three caravans.
The small stucco office building was locked, only to be expected in such a small place in the middle of the day.
We dropped our packs under a tree and set off on a little side road that we hoped would lead us to the restaurant, and we came to it immediately beyond the camping ground, a slightly ramshackle annexe of steel girders, metal roofing panels and plastic sheeting, attached to an older, solider farmhouse.
There was a boulodrome outside and various other leisure offerings such as canoes and a children’s playground nearby We asked the barman about the possibility of dinner tonight and he gave us the answer that we wanted, and not only that – he said that they would have the Tour de France on the TV during the afternoon.
Returning to the camping ground, we had showers, changed our clothes and started pitching the tent, when we were interrupted by a florid, white-haired old man attached to a small dog by a string.
He was in charge of the camping ground and lived in the rather prosperous-looking house across the road. We hastened to pay, but he said that we should set ourselves up first and do the paperwork later – for his part, he was off to the restaurant for lunch.
After lunch and a nap in the shade, we wandered back to the bar, where we had beer (Keith) and coffee (me) at an outside table. The TV was on but nobody was watching it, so I asked one of the ladies behind the counter to put it on to the Tour de France.
As soon as she did, quite an audience assembled from somewhere and we enjoyed the last hour or so of the day’s racing. Meanwhile the barman killed wasps by electrocuting them with a sort of battery-powered tennis racquet – another good spectator sport.
The time between that and dinner was occupied by walking over the bridge to the village of St-Julien-sur-Cher, partly out of curiosity and partly to look for a telephone box, to ring our Australian friends who were staying in a gîte near Selles-sur-Cher, our destination for tomorrow.
This all worked out well with the help of the woman in the bar on the church square, who practically led us by the hand to the phone box, as we could not see it. We arranged to meet our friends at 6 pm tomorrow outside the church of Selles-sur-Cher.
Back at the camping ground, we waited until 8 o’clock before going to the restaurant, not wanting to appear too Anglo-Saxon, although the French campers around us all ate at about 7.
To our surprise, the restaurant was well-attended, several other parties having arrived by car. We smiled at the old man in charge of the camping ground who was at a nearby table conversing with a friend, while their two little dogs played at their feet. Once again he did not want to bother taking our money until later, he said.
The tables were solid dark wood, decorated with plastic flowers and blue plastic mats, but the chairs were flimsy and the floor unadorned concrete. Nevertheless the atmosphere was pleasant with all the other people around us. Many of them seemed to be locals, as there was a great deal of kissing and hand-shaking among the groups.
After our usual apéritifs of pastis and rosé, we launched into the three-course menu for €12.50, starting with a lovely dish of tomato, mozzarella and herbs swimming in oil, the epitome of summer.
For the main course, Keith had his predictable choice of steak and for once I had the same, but I had salad with mine, while Keith had chips. A couple of baskets of bread and a carafe of wine also disappeared.
Then we finished in style with two Cafés Liegeois. Meanwhile some people erected a marquee outside, presumably for tomorrow’s Bastille Day feast – a giant paella, according to the posters.