Day 26: Gouzon to Chambon-sur-Voueize

Walking in France: Breakfast outside the snack bar
Breakfast outside the snack bar

Thursday, 19 July 2012
Distance 17 km
Duration 3 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 90 m, descent 131 m
Map 140 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We woke up at 6:30 am and were packed by 7. As we munched our muesli at a table outside the snack bar, we were the only conscious beings in the camping ground. Even the mosquitoes were asleep. Keith had to have some of my very fibrous muesli, as had run out of the sort he liked and had not been able to buy any.

Our life was starting to be ruled by the state of Keith’s leg, which did not seem to have responded much to the night’s rest. Luckily we did not have far to go today, only 16 or 17 kilometres. He took some more pills and we set off at a slow pace.

Walking in France: Back in Gouzon's church square
Back in Gouzon’s church square

When we got to the church square, it looked no livelier than before, but just as we were leaving, we noticed that there was movement at the new glass-fronted bar, the one that had been closed yesterday.

The doors were open and two fat ladies were bringing tables and chairs out on the sloping apron at the front.

We rushed in, incredulous at our good luck, showering them with thanks, and Keith sat down while I ran over to the boulangerie behind the church for a croissant and a pain aux raisins.

Walking in France: Happily installed in the new bar
Happily installed in the new bar

The surroundings of this unexpected pleasure were greatly to our taste. The chairs, umbrellas and metal frame were the traditional dark red of French bars and even on a cool, dull morning like this, it was flooded with light coming through the glass roof panels.

It looked out over the expansive square with its fountain, war memorial and newly-planted plane trees. We could have happily stayed there all day, but we had a mission to complete so eventually we set off again.

Walking in France: An early second breakfast
An early second breakfast

A couple of kilometres along a straight suburban street (Avenue du Bourbonnais) took us to the intersection with the massive autoroute that bypasses the town to the north, but just before this we turned away along the much smaller D915, which was to be our undeviating way for the rest of the morning’s walk.

It was not a busy road, but it was narrow and had no verge, so the occasional cars were a nuisance.

Walking in France: Haybales
Hay bales

Keith trudged along grimly, oblivious to the beauty of the passing countryside with its lakes and rich green meadows.

At the halfway village of Lussat, which had no amenities that we could see, we sat on a low wall to let Keith recover, then struggled on.

The land became more undulating as we approached the deep valley of the Tardes, although the road continued on its straight and level course.

Walking in France: A bucolic scene
A bucolic scene

To keep going we were reduced to timing ourselves from one kilometre post to the next and we could gauge how bad things were by the fact that it took nearly thirteen minutes for each one, whereas normally we would take ten or eleven.

Suddenly the road swept around a bend and revealed the village below, with the towers of the abbey church rising gracefully from a mass of steep brown roofs and chimneypots.

Walking in France: Approaching Chambon-sur-Voueize
Approaching Chambon-sur-Voueize

The descent was particularly painful for Keith but it was short, and once we had passed a tall, dreary apartment block (possibly a retirement home) we arrived at the Voueize, the lesser of the two rivers of the town, with its ancient foot bridge. This was where the old part of the village began.

All we were interested in was a bar and we found one opposite the abbey, its cheerful awning signalling relief and sustenance.

Walking in France: Ancient foot bridge over the Voueize
Ancient foot bridge over the Voueize

Half an hour later, at midday, I summoned the energy to go across to the Office of Tourism and ask about the possibilities for dinner.

The only one was the hotel “Les Estonneries” that we had passed on our way in, near the Voueize. The camping ground was further on, over the Tarbes.

It seemed a long way, with Keith’s leg giving him agony, but when we got there it was a little gem, like a gentleman’s park, newly mowed and dotted with trees and caravans.

Walking in France: The park-like Chambon camping ground
The park-like Chambon camping ground

At the office, the woman invited us to set ourselves up and come back later to pay (she was busy having lunch).

We cast ourselves down under a tree and followed her example, then had showers, which were excellent – roomy, adjustable in temperature and long-lasting between presses of the button. We awarded them 4 out of 5.

Resuming our prone position on the grass, we were suddenly hit by a rainstorm and had to scramble to put up the tent. No sooner had we crawled in than the rain stopped, but we stayed inside anyway and fell asleep.

Later in the afternoon we went to the office and paid the punishing sum of €5.40, then walked back to town. Miraculously, Keith’s leg was free of pain and it looked as if the pills had finally begun to do their work.

Walking in France: Chambon's abbey church
Chambon’s abbey church

We visited the large supermarket near the bridge, where Keith bought some muesli. One bowl of my muesli was more than enough for him.

Then we investigated the Médiatheque in the elegantly striped building on the corner, in the hope of being able to send an email, but it was closed on Thursdays.

Duties done, we retired to a bar (le Lion d’Or) in a tree-shaded square beside the abbey. It was not a high-class establishment – there were piles of junk lying about and the barman was in a singlet and bare feet – but it had a large TV screen showing the Tour, so we stayed.

Walking in France: The closed Médiatheque
The closed Médiatheque

A steady stream of tourists came to the outside tables, and each time they left, he came in and proudly reported to us where they were from.

They all seemed to be from foreign parts like Canada or Denmark. No doubt he boasted to them that he had a pair of Australians inside.

Back at the camping ground, many more caravans had arrived but in the section where we were, with no electricity, it was still pleasantly spacious. There were no other small tents, a fact that did not surprise us, as the district was hardly a walker’s paradise.

All the way from Faux-la-Montagne to Montluçon, our walk was entirely on roads, and we were only going this way to make the transition between Treignac and the Canal de Berry (there was a GR, but it was circuitous, boggy and lacking in accommodation en route).

Walking in France: The dinning room of Les Estonneries
The dining room of Les Estonneries

At 7:30 we ventured forth for dinner, but stopped for apéritifs when we got to the outdoor bar that we had visited that morning.

The long tables under the awning were being set for dinner, but after the plain fare of last night, we had set our hearts on something grander, which we hoped to find at the hotel.

With the anxiety of long experience – would it really be open? – we walked down the street and were relieved to see lights twinkling at the hotel.

The woman at the desk hesitated when we asked about dinner, but then smiled and showed us into the dining room, after which she discreetly set up another table.

Walking in France: Our entrées: terrine and salad, and a chèvre chaud
Our entrées: terrine and salad, and a chèvre chaud

We found out later that they normally only provide meals for their house guests. The furnishings and the atmosphere were genteel and the windows looked out over a beautiful walled garden at the back of the hotel.

We had the two-course menu for €16. Keith started with terrine and salad, while I had a classic salad of warm goat cheese (chèvre chaud). Both salads looked as though they had just been picked from the garden outside, even the nasturtium flowers that adorned them.

Then Keith had thinly-sliced beef in a rich sauce and I had juicy pork ribs with quantities of garlic. With the addition of wine and bread, it was a lovely meal and we drew strength also from the refined surroundings.

Walking in France: Keith's main course of beef
Keith’s main course of beef

At a table nearby was a Danish couple speaking English to the waitress (we spoke French on principle) and we went over to chat with them. They were on their way to the Canal du Midi for a boating holiday and this was their first day ever in France.

The other guests took the last of their wine downstairs to enjoy it in the garden, but we declined the offer to join them and went home, as it was already getting slightly dark.

A car and trailer had just driven up next to our patch and the man struggled to put up their tent while his bedraggled wife and child pumped up the air bed with a strident whistling noise. The miracle cure of Keith’s leg had not lasted long and he took more pills before going to sleep.

Previous day: Ahun to Gouzon

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