Monday, 7 July 2014
Distance 23 km
Duration 4 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 215 m, descent 232 m
Map 146 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We thought it would be wise to disappear from the aire de camping car before we were noticed. Luckily there was a public toilet adjoining, so we were able to make our morning ablutions, and the packing up took only a few minutes. There was no hint of life from the vans as we sneaked off at 6:20 am.
Crossing the little square in front of the bar, we got to the entrance of the park and found a bench that was not completely waterlogged (it must have rained again during the night).
Our powdered milk had been lost in the chaos of last night’s hasty departure, so instead of muesli for breakfast, we made do with a stale crust and the last of our cheese and cucumber.
After this we went back to check whether the bar had opened, but it had not, so we pressed on over the footbridge to the camping ground, which looked sweet and innocent by daylight, then up to the main road (the D59) for a short distance, turning off towards the river again at le Mas.
This was on a muddy wheel track overhung by trees which dripped copiously on us as we walked along.
After an hour or so, having passed the entrance to another, much more glamorous looking camping ground, we emerged at the bridge over the Vienne which led to the village of Exideuil.
This was not strictly speaking on our way, but we had hopes of a coffee there, so we crossed the smart new bridge (one lane for cars, one for pedestrians and bikes) and came immediately to the local bar-restaurant.
It was closed, which was no more than we expected on a Monday, but still very disappointing.
We knocked on the glass door just in case, and in so doing noticed a blue light emanating from the coffee machine in the bar. Then we saw the board with the opening hours – it would open at 8:30 am, which was in five minutes’ time.
While we were waiting, a huge truck stopped and the driver waved a delivery form at us, pointing at the address.
He spoke no French and we were hardly experts on Exideuil, but at that moment the bar door opened and the barman directed the driver with much hand waving, then ushered us inside.
He had no croissants but he offered us a full breakfast – orange juice, fresh baguette, butter and coffee – and we sat on the sunny terrace at the back to enjoy this wonderful spread.
There was plenty of bread but no jam and he wanted to bring us some charcuterie, but we were happy with the bread and butter. He said that there were many English people in the area, but I was pleased that he did not try out his English on us.
Well satisfied with our little detour, we said goodbye to our host and went back over the bridge, where we continued straight ahead on the D165 rather than following the curve of the river.
It was a beautiful walk through fields and copses, and before long we arrived at Chirac, a tiny town with a big square-towered stone church. Just beyond the church we saw a bar, always a pleasant sight, but it seemed to be closed.
An old fellow hobbled over the road towards us and I asked him whether it was closed on Mondays, at which he laughed and said that it had been closed for three or four years.
Luckily we were still strong from our second breakfast so we cruised on unperturbed, on an even smaller road that called itself the D59. This took us down gradually to the edge of the Vienne, where there was a bridge to Manot, but we did not cross it.
Further on, at a poultry farm, we turned onto the D310, which was only slightly grander than a dirt track, meandering along past the turn-off to Ansac, then beside the broad, shining river and eventually reaching the houses of Confolens, where it rose to meet the main road at the entry to the town.
Confolens is named for the confluence of a large tributary, the Goire, with the Vienne, and the old town is jammed onto the high ground between the two rivers, with alleys going off at strange angles from the main road.
For reasons that we never discovered, the streets were festooned with blue and yellow bunting and there were flags of various nations hanging from the cathedral and the two bridges.
This gave the place a cheerful air but there were quite a number of boarded-up shops and we did not come to a café until we were almost at the Goire, in the wide square of the Marie.
The terrace of the Bar des Sports jutted far out over the bitumen and was full of lunch diners (it was almost 1 pm). A rather ugly nineteenth century market hall stood on the opposite corner.
We got the only vacant table with an umbrella, but the other customers seemed happy to sit in the sun when it eventually broke through. As Australians, we are trained to seek shade.
The coffee was reviving and we only had a short way to go afterwards, over the Goire and a few hundred metres beyond, to get to the camping ground (Camping Municipal des Ribières).
It was like a gentleman’s park, its smooth lawns dotted with trees of all kinds – poplars, pines, elms, oaks and lindens – under which great camper vans were roosting.
As the office was closed, we selected a shady square of grass and sat side by side on a sleeping mat for a simple lunch, then had showers and finally an afternoon sleep. Even though the showers were tepid, we thought it a very good place.
At about 5 pm we walked back to look at the town. The church was worth casting an eye over, as were the oddly shaped half-timbered houses in the steep alleys behind the main street.
We walked over the old bridge, which is now closed to vehicles, but used to be the only crossing point until the new bridge was built in about 1850. It seems that the Roman road from Angoulême to Bourges crossed the river at this point, which was why the village grew up there.
Circling back over the new bridge, we began looking for somewhere to eat and it was surprisingly difficult. Apart from a strange cafeteria that looked like a school lunch room, there was nothing except the Logis hotel, l’Emeraude.
We stepped inside to enquire about dinner, and while we were there we had another round of coffee. I asked the barman whether we could watch the Tour de France on the TV, so he obligingly changed the channel and we spent a restful hour staring at the toiling backs of the peleton.
At the slightly early hour of 8 o’clock we went through into the large, elegant, old-fashioned dining room.
We thought we were the only customers at first, but there were several groups eating outside on the back terrace, which was too cold and breezy for our taste. Later the inside room filled up considerably and included a surprising number of lone diners, presumably here on business rather than pleasure.
The three-course menu was €23, so we had one menu plus an extra main dish, which was a good arrangement, as I did not want dessert.
For our first course we chose the buffet of crudités, which we shared. It contained melon, boiled eggs, a herb terrine, mushrooms and various grated vegetables enclosed in a glistening sauce.
It was not the best dish of crudités that we had ever had, but also also not the worst, and it was a real pleasure to be sitting in such a civilised room with its pink tablecloths, graceful drapes and lights, and the murmur of other diners around us.
We enjoyed it especially because of the contrast with the night before. Accompanying this we had the superior house wine – it came in two grades at this establishment – and the usual basket of bread.
Then we both had steak, with beautifully cooked small potatoes and ratatouille, a classic French plate. Keith finished with a tall glass of something frothy which I was glad to be able to avoid.
When I went to pay the bill, I explained that it was a birthday treat for monsieur. The waiter laughed and said “So it’s back to inferior wine tomorrow?”
Back at the camping ground, the denizens of the vans and tents were packing up for the night, while outside the gate other vans clustered in the aire de camping car, which had no electricity connection but was free.
We were happy not to be camping among them, as we had the previous night, and since the office had never been open while we were there, our tent site was free anyway.