Saturday, 14 July 2012
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 406 m, descent 339 m
Map 147 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Breakfast at the hotel lived up to all our expectations. We sat at the same table as we had for dinner, in front of the cavernous fireplace, and wrapped our hands around big bowls of coffee.
There was orange juice also, and plenty of fresh bread with a slab of butter and two sorts of home-made jam (apricot and cherry). It was certainly a contrast with our usual humble bowl of muesli.
We left reluctantly at 8:15, thanking our friendly host, who offered the information that it was forecast to snow later on. It was Bastille Day, usually one of the hottest days of the year.
Down the road opposite the Mairie, the GR turned off, crossed the stream and arrived at the tiny church. This was only a few steps off the highway but seemed to be in a different world, with its low, carved doorway and its bell-wall encrusted with lichen.
The little war memorial at the front was adorned with flags for the national holiday. We went inside, which was as grey and sparse as the exterior, and admired the simple, elegant vaulting of the roof.
Past the church were a few old houses and then we entered a forest. The track was slimy but it was not actually raining and we meandered along happily, at first through pines and then in a deciduous wood.
A patch of wild raspberries beside the path detained us pleasantly for a while and later we passed a small stone cross, the traditional way-marker, with a carved crucifixion still visible on it.
The path went up and down, over streams and past farms, eventually climbing steeply to join the road at la Villeneuve.
Somewhere along the way we crossed the unmarked border between the department of Corrèze and that of Creuse.
The best part of la Villeneuve was the handsome slate-roofed church with its black steeple, standing alone on the crest of the road.
There was no bar in the village, nor any other shops that we could see, but people were loading suitcases into cars outside the gates of the château, nowadays an upmarket chambres d’hôte.
By this time we were tired of squelching through mud and decided to take a short cut on the road (the D69) to la Villedieu, about 8 km away.
We crossed the youthful Vienne river and strode off. This was much quicker walking than the track, and the road was lined with mature poplars, their stout white trunks covered in moss.
At la Villedieu the houses frowned down on the road as it passed below them. Further on there was a bar/restaurant, now defunct, so we pressed on, up a long hill through forest and then down to a small, reedy lake.
From there it was no great distance into the village of Faux-la-Montagne, our destination for the day.
Past the church and fountain, we arrived at a line of shops. One of them was the Auberge de la Feuillade, which had a promising knife-and-fork sign, and Keith tried the door, but it was locked, although it was lunch time.
We supposed that this was because it was Bastille Day, when many shops in France are closed, although restaurants tend to be open.
Indeed the whole place looked dead, but as we continued despondently up the street we saw a gift shop with a board outside offering drinks.
Inside, out of the drizzle, we asked for coffee, which was obviously not a normal request but the girl did her best.
Meanwhile Keith went out to look around the village. He came back smartly, saying that he had found a boulangerie/épicerie which was about to close.
We left our coffee, rushed down there and I started assembling the makings of a picnic dinner for the evening, while Keith went scouting again.
The first thing he saw was someone coming out of the door of the Auberge, just opposite.
He had mistakenly tried the door of the kitchen earlier, not the public entrance. Having found out that the Auberge was serving lunch but would not be open in the evening, he dashed back in time to prevent me from buying anything except bread, croissants and a bottle of wine.
We hurried back to the gift shop, swallowed and paid for our neglected coffee, and flung ourselves across the street into the welcome embrace of the auberge.
Although it was 1 pm by this time, the dining room was still quite full. It was decorated in traditional style, with wood panelling, lace curtains, exposed rafters and chandeliers. Behind us a row of animal heads – boar, fox and stag – grinned from their mountings on the wall.
The air was warm and laden with savoury aromas. We could hardly believe our luck. The menu was €15 for four courses with wine.
We began with a sublime dish – oeufs en cocotte with mushrooms, resting on a bed of salad.
Then Keith had chicken in cider while I had lamb, both accompanied by beautiful potato croquettes, broccoli and carrots.
Following this, a platter of cheese came around and I put most of it away for the future, and then there was dessert.
Keith had a baked apple on a crèpe with ice cream, while I had coffee.
Things looked a lot brighter when we emerged from lunch, psychologically if not meteorologically. We sprang up the street, past no less than three defunct hotels, and found the camping ground tucked in on the left behind the houses.
The tent went up in record time and we scrambled in just as the drizzle turned to rain. Having ejected a large orange slug that had travelled with us from Lacelle, we settled down for a blissful sleep.
Later, when the rain eased, we had showers. The camping ground was a small, unmanned municipal one, but the showers were surprisingly good – copious and warm.
We hung out our washed clothes but had to keep bringing them into the tent when it rained.
The weather was making us change our plans for tomorrow. We had intended to follow the GR to Vallière, but experience had taught us that GRs can very easily become muddy trenches, slow and unpleasant to walk on.
The other worry was that, although there was a camping ground marked in Vallière, we had not been able to find it listed in our various camping guides. Nor did there seem to be any other accommodation in the town.
Our new idea was to take a small road to Royère-de-Vassivière, which was close to a lake and therefore likely to cater for tourists, and then push on to reconnect with our original itinerary at Montluçon, on the Canal de Berry.
As the light faded we went for a stroll around the village, mainly to check our route for the next morning, the D3. We walked as far as the cemetery and back through the upper street of the village, which was charming, even when drenched with the recent rain.
Back at the camping ground, we commiserated with some of the other campers – we were all feeling slightly hard-done-by – and then retired to the tent as the rain set in again.
We had a picnic of bread and cheese (the cheese from the lunch table) with half the wine that we had bought, pouring the other half into a water bottle for tomorrow. It was nicer than we expected, given that it had cost only €2 for a full litre.
Our washing was still wet and likely to remain so, but we took our socks inside and wore them to bed in an effort to get them dry.