Friday, 15 July 2011
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 26 m, descent 40 m
Map 133 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We were slightly dilatory in rising this morning, although not as dilatory as our fellow campers, none of whom had shown their faces by 7 o’clock (everybody had been up late with the fireworks show last night). Our muesli was eaten conveniently at one of the tables of the deserted outdoor restaurant.
We made a rather thin brew with the last of our powdered milk and resolved not to buy any more, as we only had three more days of camping to go. Henceforth we would do without muesli and stick to local breakfast foods like croissants and pains aux raisins, so much more comforting.
Making the short return walk into Saint-Aignan, we arrived at 7:30 but the bars were still closed, so we pressed on beside the river on a small road that passed through flat fields and vines, being encroached on by raw new housing estates.
After an hour we came to the village of Mareuil-sur-Cher, where the houses and the church were reassuringly old and solid, with the sober beauty of the local style, all gleaming in the morning sun. Beyond the church was a camping ground on the river bank.
There was a square planted with young trees, in which were a few shops, but the only ones open were the boulangerie and the bar. Fortunately they were they only ones that we required.
Emerging with new vigour after our coffee and croissants, we continued along the road, went under the autoroute and soon connected with the GR41 which had been thrashing around in the hinterland since Saint-Aignan.
This took us down to the river flats, under the highway (D976), over the Cher, then over the railway line, and into the village of Thésée.
To our chagrin, it was devoid of a bar, having evidently suffered, like Noyers-sur-Cher since the D976 took the traffic off the local road.
A few steps out of this ill-favoured place we came to a remarkable sight – the great standing walls of the Gallo-Roman town of Tasciaca (from which the name Thésée is descended).
Built in the second century, it survived the barbarian attacks of the fourth and fifth centuries and continued to be occupied in Merovingian times.
Its position on the main Roman road from Bourges to Tours made it strategically important, and we could see from the fine workmanship of the walls, with their herring-bone patterns and ornamental stripes of terra cotta, that it had been a wealthy town.
Soon after that we left the road, crossed back over the railway line and followed a wheel track sign-posted “Écluse des Aiguilles” into the scrappy forest beside the river.
As we had expected, this track continued the entire distance into Montrichard, squeezed between the water and the railway line. It seemed a long way, although it was only about 9 km.
The only relief from the monotony of the track was at Vineuil, where the river looped away briefly from the railway line, leaving space for a sports field. This was full of people busily dismantling the stage and seating of last night’s Bastille Day celebrations.
We were very pleased to see at last the squat ruined tower of Montrichard rising above the trees. We had been to this town before, in 2005, and we recognised it.
With what remained of our strength, we hastened towards the centre of town, just near the bridge, and sank into chairs with gratitude and relief, under the welcome shade of a market umbrella.
The coffees were expensive (€5.80 for two grands crèmes), but worth every centime. It was past noon and the tables were set for lunch at the cafés and bars that surrounded us. We knew that we would eat well that night.
Although we remembered the general direction of the camping ground, a kilometre or so further down the Cher, we had forgotten the existence of a riverside short-cut to get us there, so we trudged along the road in the heat and arrived by the car entrance.
Nobody was in attendance at the office but we went in and chose a grassy plot.
There were plenty of other campers there, but no other walkers. This was not a surprise, indeed we were surprised when a pair of long-distance cyclists sailed in, the nearest thing to fellow-walkers that we normally see. They disappeared to the far end of the site.
The shower block was old-fashioned, tumbledown and small. I went in and lasted about ten seconds under the tepid flow, just long enough to dislodge the day’s sweat and grime.
Keith did the same and then we had a picnic lunch and a rest on our mats.
The manager came wobbling past on his bike, and said he would be back in the office after cleaning the “petits sanitaires”.
We wondered vaguely where the “grands sanitaires” might be, as there were no other buildings in sight, but our ablutions were over so we did not really care.
He looked a bit like the exuberant long-haired hippy who had been running the place when we were last here six years earlier, and when Keith went to pay, it turned out that he was the same man, only with shorter hair.
He claimed that he remembered us, both because we were Australian and because we were walkers, two unusual things, and gave Keith two cold bottles of Orangina as a gesture of Franco-Australian solidarity.
He also gave us a little map of the town and instructions about the riverside path, so that when we went back to town in the evening, we got there much more quickly.
We had apéritifs next to the Mairie, at a bar lined with interesting old photographs of the street from before 1900.
For dinner we moved into the square and looked for the restaurant that we had enjoyed last time – le Petit Olivier. We found it, but it had fallen on hard times and was closed and derelict.
Instead we ate at a pizzeria that offered a three-course menu for €12.50. The best bit was the initial buffet of crudités, from which we piled our plates high with delicious bits and pieces. It was a meal on its own.
We ate some of the main course, small pizzas, and for dessert Keith had two scoops of ice-cream and I had cheese, or rather I ordered cheese and stashed it away for a future lunch.
On the way back along the river, we saw the two cyclists that we had noticed arriving at the camping ground, walking in the same direction. We had no language in common so we just smiled and nodded as we shot past them.
After three weeks of continual walking we had built up quite a speed, even I who had started off in such a decrepit state.