Friday, 8 July 2011
Distance 24 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 120 m, descent 122 m
Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
When we rose at 6:20, none of the hearty canoeing fraternity was in sight, and nor was anyone else.
We sat on a park bench under a willow in the cold breeze to eat our muesli and were under way soon after.
We went down to the end of the canyon-like main street, crossing the Cher as we did so, and turned onto the road along the left bank.
There were roads on both sides of the river but we thought this one looked quieter, and were gratified to see a sign warning motorists that the level crossing one kilometre away was closed for repairs. This meant that we had the road to ourselves, which was delightful.
When we got to the level crossing we found that the works were finished and the crossing was not closed after all – someone must have forgotten to remove the sign.
We continued at a leisurely pace, meandering through a forest and out again into sunlit fields of hay and corn.
Beyond these fields was the village of Corquoy with its cluster of cottages and sturdy little church.
At Effe another road came in from across the river and a few cars went past us as we swung along. We were sometimes close to the river and sometimes further away, in undulating farmland or woods.
An hour passed and we arrived at the top of the village of Lunery, with hope in our hearts for a bar. Descending from the raw outskirts to the central square near the station, we found just what we wanted – a smart new brasserie with a bakery and supermarket opposite.
It was 9 o’clock and definitely time for a break. We sat outside for a while but later moved indoors, as the wind was sharp.
This fine establishment served meals, but only at lunchtime, and although there was a camping ground nearby, we were not ready to stop for the day.
Our goal was the big town of Saint-Florent-sur-Cher, about eight kilometres further on.
The first half-hour of this walk was pleasant enough, although still on the road. Then we came into a long strip of broken-down factories and neglected houses lining the river. The traffic increased and we started to feel tired.
It took an hour of determined trudging to get to the bridge and cross over into the town itself, where the weekly market was in progress and the streets were lively with stalls and shoppers. All we wanted to see was the Office of Tourism, as we needed to find accommodation for the night.
Eventually we were directed to an “information point”, where a very stupid woman listened to our explanation about being on foot, and advised us to go back to Lunery, if we wanted to camp, or else to a chambre d’hôte fifteen kilometres away. There was nowhere whatsoever to stay in St-Florent itself.
In the end she remembered the camping ground at Villeneuve-sur-Cher, five kilometres down the river, but warned us that there were no amenities of any sort there, so we would have to take our own supplies.
Weary and disgruntled, we took refuge in one of the several bars in the square and soon felt better after a second round of coffee and the surreptitious removal of our boots under the table.
The place was packed with market-goers, mostly stout elderly men in cloth caps. Next we visited the Carrefour supermarket at the top of the town, near the level crossing, and laid in tomatoes, lettuce, sausage, peaches and wine. To save weight we transferred the wine into my water bottle. Then we set off on the D35, emerging surprisingly quickly from the houses.
The road curved up into a forest, with a large artificial lake below. After that we were in open countryside and the road was deserted, except for a woman who kindly stopped her car to offer us a lift. We always feel slightly churlish, and a bit rigid, declining these offers.
Villeneuve was a small riverside settlement at a crossroads in the sweeping landscape, and as we got nearer we thought we saw a Tabac sign in the street.
It turned out to be a bar, and not only a bar – they served meals both at lunchtime and in the evening. This joyful discovery contradicted the purveyor of gloom in St-Florent, and sent us on our way in great spirits.
We turned left and crossed the long bridge over the Cher, high above the shrubby line of the river, to the camping ground on the opposite bank. This was a vast expanse of dry grass with a sprinkle of trees, a splendid, modern ablutions block and a few tents here and there.
At the entry gate there was a notice requesting us to press the button, which we did, eliciting the guardian from his lair in the ablutions block. He was young, pudgy and taciturn, taking our €12 with hardly more than a gloomy grunt before disappearing again.
Spreading our possessions out on the grass, we had lunch, rather grander than usual, with the food that we had bought for dinner, plus a plastic tub of wine each, after which we put up the tent, had very fine showers, and lay down for a rest.
Then our pleasant drowsiness was shattered by a sickening crash and scream from the bridge. Cars started to bank up on the road, the police arrived, but we could not see what was going on.
With some trepidation we walked up and found that the victim was a donkey, hit from behind by a car as it was crossing the bridge. It had jumped suddenly from the footpath onto the road and it was the woman leading it who had screamed. The poor animal stood with its head hanging, one leg raised and its panniers beside it on the ground.
We pressed on to the bar for an afternoon coffee and on the way back the gendarmes were still directing traffic around the donkey but it was now dead, being loaded into a trailer with its large, lustrous eyes gazing on nothing. The vet was just packing up his van.
Back at the camping ground, we were surprised when the guardian came over and made himself pleasant. We must have disturbed him last time from whatever he was doing in his room – whether writing up his Ph.D. or playing video games we never found out.
He told us that the next two towns on our way, Mehun-sur-Yèvre and Vierzon, were not very pretty, in contrast to Bourges.
At 7:30 we walked back over the bridge to the restaurant, expecting to dine in solitude, but when we got there, the bar was full of well-dressed chattering ladies. We were shown into the formal dining room and soon after they all trooped in too, so it was more convivial.
The ladies were locals and thought us very exotic. One of them insisted on taking a photo of us, which inevitably was out of focus as she was so excited.
Our entrées were a salad of chèvre chaud (small round goat’s cheese, warm) and a plate of raw ham.
After that Keith had his unvarying choice of steak, with green peppercorn sauce, and I had a mountain of four lamb chops. It was a lovely meal and much better than a picnic in the wind outside our tent.