Tuesday, 15 July 2014
Distance 29 km
Duration 5 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 17 m, descent 23 m
Map 139 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
It was a clear morning as we ate our obligatory bowls of muesli and we felt hopeful about the day ahead – at least the hated Bastille Day was over.
Just after 7 am we set off through the village to the church square.
The sun was creeping across the roof of the halle and gilding the front of the church, which was an endearing mixture of Romanesque and Eastern styles.
According to our map, there was a footpath through the grounds of the château that would let us rejoin the GR48 further downstream.
We snooped about behind the church and along the wall nearby but could not find a way through, so we went out to the main road (the D910) to look for an entrance there, and we found one.
Unfortunately it was defended by tall metal gates and there was a notice about the hours and prices of visits – not quite what we had in mind.
The château itself was hidden from view, but across the highway were two huge, impressive buildings, one carrying the title “Poste aux Chevaux”, evidently the stables attached to the château.
For want of a better idea, we kept going along the side of the highway, looking for a gap in the perimeter wall (which we never found) and soon we had gone so far that we could not bring ourselves to turn back.
Luckily there was a quiet side road that went under the railway line and then parallel to it as far as Port-de-Piles.
Here we joined the highway and crossed the Creuse river, which was almost at its final dissolution into the Vienne.
Among the first houses of la Celle-St-Avant we saw what looked like a bar but it was only a restaurant, closed at this time of day. We had not had any coffee (and precious little food) since the previous morning and were feeling the need of it.
Then we saw a sign to the Hotel de la Gare and turned off hopefully, but it too was closed. We rattled the door, summoning a dog that barked at us through the glass. Back on the highway, we trudged uphill for about a kilometre, which was tiresome, but it was a fine straight stretch of road lined with plane trees, and there was a cycle path beside it for us to walk on.
Eventually we saw what we were looking for – an open bar. It was actually an enormous truckie’s restaurant and hotel, with a gravel forecourt containing a dozen lorries, whose drivers were all inside finishing their breakfast.
As the barman did not have croissants, Keith nobly volunteered to walk up to the boulangerie. He was away a long time, as it was much further that he thought, beyond the church, but the pastries that he brought back were exceptionally good and we sat outside relishing them with cups of strong, hot coffee (we had to ask to have the milk heated – that is a useful French phrase to know, if you like white coffee).
As we sat at our ease, we saw a woman wearing a pack, emerging from a house across the road and setting off down the highway in the general direction of Compostela (we assumed she was walking the Way of Tours). She was the only walker we had seen since Gramat, almost three weeks ago.
One by one the big trucks rolled away, and we did the same, feeling much better than when we had arrived. We went up the highway a bit and turned off on the D109, a modest little road lined by various hedges, walls and copses. Behind them stretched flat acres of cropland.
There were scattered houses, some with vegetable gardens that I looked at with envy. The road dipped under the TGV line and then followed along beside the local railway until we reached the autoroute (the A10), where there were gigantic new works in progress.
After that we came out into a treeless plain of wheatfields and took the turn-off into the village of Nouâtre.
There was some sort of army barracks at the edge of town, promising well for at least a bar in the village, but despite the many prosperous looking houses, the only shops in the place were a pharmacy and a “Country’s Grill”, which naturally was closed. This was the village that we had been relying on for our second breakfast, if we had been able to follow our intended route this morning.
We still had hopes as we crossed the bridge, as there seemed to be café-like buildings on the other side, but we were disappointed. There was nothing for it but to keep going along the river road, which was picturesque enough.
A few kilometres further on we came to a roundabout. The road to the right led over another bridge and into the village of Pouzay, but we were not keen to go there if it was going to be like Nouâtre. We asked a man who was waiting at a bus stop, and to our amazement he said that Pouzay had three bars and three restaurants.
It sounded unlikely but it was true. Pouzay was everything that Nouâtre was not, and the only reason we could think of was that it seemed to be on the main route from Tours to the big centres of Niort and la Rochelle.
Immediately over the bridge there were two restaurants, and the charming church square had a boulangerie and other shops. We bought a chausson and a pain aux raisins and took them to a nearby bar for a delightful third breakfast.
It was 11:30 am by this time and there were already trucks arriving for midday lunch, their owners passing the half-hour drinking rosé at the bar.
Leaving Pouzay, we had the choice of two little roads, one each side of the Vienne, but the one on the left bank was shorter so we stepped back over the bridge and resumed our progress, full of energy and hope.
We flew along so well that we did not even stop at the bar of Parçay-sur-Vienne, although it looked charming and one of our guiding principles is never to ignore an open bar. In this case our destination was only 5 km away and we were keen to arrive.
The road dipped towards the river and we went past a windmill with no sails, then a manicured vineyard, and finally, on the edge of the town, we saw the rusty skeleton of the old railway bridge.
Turning off the bitumen, we tramped over it, scrambled down a rotten staircase beset by brambles, and reached the GR48, which was a sandy track beside the Vienne.
Only a few hundred metres further on we found ourselves at the back gate of the camping ground of L’Île-Bouchard, and went in. We flung ourselves down on the soft, abundant grass, under a tree, and lay there basking in the joy of arrival.
When Keith went to pay at the office, the owner, who was just finishing lunch and possibly a little inebriated, waved his hand grandly and said we could pay tomorrow, any time after 6 am, and we could camp wherever we liked.
It was already 1:30 pm and the afternoon passed pleasantly with the small rituals of setting up the tent, having showers, sleeping and reading. Below us on the river, people were bathing at a sort of beach.
Later we went for a stroll over the bridge to the actual island for which the town is named, and visited the Office of Tourism to ask about possible eating places.
On the list there were plenty of places open for lunch, but surprisingly few in the evening, and the superior one was closed on Tuesdays (i.e. tonight).
The woman at the Office was rather apologetic until she remembered another one, on our side of the river, behind the massive Super U. She described how to find it and we decided it was the one for us.
Before going in search of it, we sat down outside the Auberge du Pavillon Bleu in the square, and fortified ourselves with a beer and an Orangina amongst chattering locals.
The contrast with yesterday’s sepulchral silence in les Ormes was not lost on us.
On our way to the restaurant we went into the Super U and replaced the lunch supplies that we had been forced to eat for dinner the previous evening.
Then we looked for the restaurant, but beyond the Super U there was nothing but a highway curving away across the fields. It was a dispiriting sight and we were about to give up when we noticed a small road going off at the curve of the highway.
On investigating, we found a street of houses with not one, but two restaurants, one of them also a hotel. It turned out that this street (la Rue des Quatre Vents) used to be the main entrance road into L’Isle Bouchard before the new highway was put in.
The hotel one was closed tonight, so we went to L’Atelier, which looked inviting with its tiny terrace carpeted with artificial grass and its line of rose bushes in bloom.
The place was filling up and we were pleased to get a table outside, as it was rather airless within.
To begin, we had our customary pastis and rosé and then consulted the menu, choosing the sort of meal that we have almost every night, but never tire of – large salads as entrées, then steak, with which Keith had Roquefort sauce and potato croquettes, while I had green peppercorn sauce and fresh beans. Everything about it pleased us, especially the contrast with last night.
It was a very short walk back to the tent, and just as we got to the entrance of the camping ground we saw a bar (la Civette) with a boulangerie nearby.
The bar opened at 7 am, which promised a good start in the morning.