Friday, 13 July 2012
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 418 m, descent 256 m
Map 147 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
For the second morning in a row, we lay in bed late. This time it was because it was sprinkling with rain.
We were not sure what to do, but at 9 am, as it was no longer actually raining, we decided to set off on the track to Lacelle, a track that we had trodden three years earlier. It was 9:30 when we called in at the office to pay for our night’s accommodation.
The stone-faced receptionist said she knew nothing of a hotel in Lacelle, but she thought there was a restaurant, and we were pretty sure that we could camp there.
The beach opposite the camping ground had a wintry look, the lake surface like pewter and the wooded hills behind pale with mist.
The children’s playground was deserted, but as we started along the road, we noticed a car parked next to the snack bar, and went down to investigate.
To our joy, the waitress from last night was there, taking delivery of supplies, and she was happy to provide coffee for us.
We had the extra treat of fresh bread and butter (she had no jam), and the men from the delivery truck got coffee too, so the plastic enclosure became quite lively, considering that it was ostensibly closed.
This unexpected delight put us in a happy mood for our real departure. As before, we took the first turn off the bitumen to the left, a muddy wheel track that went up to a timber yard in a clearing.
On the far side, a track rose in zig-zags through the forest. By this time it had started to rain again and we put on our plastic capes.
At the top of the rise we expected to join the GR coming from Treignac, but it was actually quite a distance down the other side before the sight of the main track, with its red and white markers, gladdened our eyes. From that point on we had no difficulties of navigation, especially as we had walked this way before.
A short distance further on, we met a party of eight or ten people, also in raincoats, walking the other way. They were on a day walk to Treignac and had left Lacelle in fine weather, so they were slightly aggrieved about the rain.
They had hoped that summer was about to arrive here – apparently it had not appeared so far this season. We, on the other hand, had endured too much heat in the south, and were pleased to have cooler weather.
The GR continued through forests and fields on a narrow, sodden path. Long grass charged with raindrops soon drenched our socks and made us worry about getting blisters.
We came to a veritable canyon of newly harvested pine logs, filling the air with the scent of resin, and beyond that a fine little lovingly-tended vegetable plot in one corner of a field.
Then there was a stretch of bitumen that led downhill to the hamlet of St-Hilaire-les-Courbes, seemingly lost in the wilderness beside a small artificial lake, and completely empty of inhabitants.
The road went across the dam wall and then the GR climbed away over the hills again.
We were getting tired, and our squelching shoes and flapping capes did not help.
As the map was safely stowed away out of the rain, we did not know how far we still had to go, which made it seem long.
Eventually we crossed a tar road and after that it was only a couple of kilometres until we struck the top of the village of Lacelle.
Down the steep street to the highway, we saw the hotel, which we remembered from 2009. A board stood outside with the heartening message “Ouvert 7/7 midi et soir”.
But before we went in, we checked the camping ground behind it, just across the stream. The grass was soft and well mown, the trees handsome and the showers clean and hot, so in spite of the rain, we decided to stay there that night.
In the warm bar of the hotel, we stripped off our capes and ordered coffee. It was 2 pm, too late for lunch.
While we were enjoying our hot drinks, the door opened and a couple of bedraggled, white-haired motorcyclists came in.
It transpired that they were English, from Bristol, and had come to France for four days in search of sunshine, as no such thing had been seen in the UK so far this season. This was their second day of driving through rain in France. We advised them to keep going south and told them about the heatwave that we had suffered there.
There was a large dining room visible through glass doors and we made sure that we could eat there in the evening.
Then our burly host invited us to watch while he and his mother made sausages in the kitchen at the back. She was half his size but just as round-faced and cheery. They ran a charcuterie business as well as the hotel. Not only that, they were the custodians of the camping ground, so we paid our €7.80 to them.
Leaving the bar, we strolled along the road and found the other restaurant but were told rather brusquely that they did not open in the evening.
For what remained of the afternoon, we had showers, which ranked five out of five on our scale – hot, powerful and spacious – and then rested in our tent.
At 7:30 we went back to the bar, where a few local drinkers had gathered, and ordered apéritifs.
Our host was eager for us to move into the hotel for the night, to get out of the rain, but we had no need to, with our wonderful little tent.
For dinner we had the choice of the formal dining room or the bar and we chose the latter, as it was warmer. Another couple made the same decision.
We had the menu for €16, starting with an obligatory plate of home-made charcuterie, plus a salad “lacelloise”, with walnuts.
For the main course, we would have chosen our usual steak, but out of politeness to our hosts, Keith had a trio of their sausages (flavoured respectively with chestnuts, girolles and cèpes) and I had the pork knuckle that we had seen simmering in the kitchen. Both dishes were accompanied by a rich gratin dauphinoise and ratatouille.
To finish, Keith had a crème brûlée (field work for his forthcoming scholarly study ‘Variations in Crème Brûlée in Provincial France’) and I had an apple tart, most of which I handed over to Keith.
The weather forecast for tomorrow was not encouraging, and there were no villages along the way that looked likely to provide coffee, so we arranged to have breakfast at the bar at 7:30 am, although they normally do not open until 8:30.