Thursday, 10 July 2014
Distance 23 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 78 m, descent 66 m
Map 139 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
As we ate our humble muesli and packed up with the efficiency of long repetition, we were the only people awake in the camping ground.
Our route to Lussac-les Châteaux was along an abandoned railway line, mostly following the GR48, and Keith declared that it would be the easiest day’s walking of the whole trip.
We were no great distance from the GR as we left the camping ground, but there was a mass of trees and undergrowth in our way and we had to go back almost to the swimming pool (which was right on top of the old railway line) to pick it up. But once on it, we had no further trouble with navigation.
The railway had been closed and dismantled in 1969, leaving a broad track, shaded now by an arched canopy of trees leaning in to the space available. They had been unpruned for half a century.
Every now and then there was a rusty metal bridge or a road overpass to remind us of the original purpose of the path, but it was a world of its own in this quiet tunnel of greenery.
We were happy in the knowledge that there was a bar at Moussac, about an hour’s walk from L’Isle-Jourdain. We had checked this on the internet.
The village was slightly to one side of our track, but we turned off along the D111 as it crossed the GR, and this took us straight in to the centre, which was marked by a handsome church spire.
Before the church we passed a small Vival supermarket in the process of being renovated, with a new wooden deck on the front and builders’ rubbish all around. This did not interest us, as the bar was around the corner, beyond the church.
To our horror, we found it boarded up with a “For Sale” sign. In desperation, we went back to the Vival, picked our way through the chaos to the interior, and asked the shopkeeper whether he served coffee. His reply was no, but he added reassuringly that he would have a café in his shop when the works were done, in a few weeks’ time.
With hatred in our hearts for this innocuous little village, we trudged off to rejoin the GR and continue.
Without the fortifying second breakfast that we had been expecting, it was not as pleasant as before.
The scrap of muesli that we had eaten was long gone and I began to feel myself wasting away.
My lack of stamina was a worry this year, and I put it down to the after-effects of shingles.
We were using our own detailed maps, printed out from the internet, for this day’s walk, and an hour or so after leaving Moussac we got near the end of the last map, where there was an inset showing the streets of Lussac-les-Châteaux.
My spirits rose at the thought of arriving in the town. To confirm where we were, I pulled out the TOP 100 map and discovered that we still had at least ten kilometres to go – our maps did not cover the last bit, as it was entirely on the GR.
This was another blow to morale. The railway line went on for another two hours and became for me a sort of nightmarish time-warp, during which we plodded endlessly but stayed in the same place, trapped in the green tunnel.
Keith did not feel the same way and indeed it was not hard walking – flat and shady. At last our path was intersected by a road, which led to the camping ground, and we emerged into a landscape of open fields, with the river not far away on our left.
The camping ground was immaculate and full of large white vans, but there was not a soul in sight. I cast myself down exhausted, while Keith looked about in vain for someone to pay.
When he came back I said that I hated the place. It was all alone two kilometres from the centre of town and I desperately needed town comforts, starting with coffee and croissants.
Keith felt the same, so we decided to press on and find a hotel for the night. We were glad when we arrived at the noisy, built-up, fume-filled highway (the N147) with its solid line of trucks toiling up the hill from the bridge.
We did likewise and eventually reached level ground, where a sign indicated the centre of town to the left
The centre was just off the highway, a long, elegant square with newly planted shade trees and the church steeple peeping up at the end.
There were shops all around but the one we focussed on was the bar, with its lime-green umbrellas spread invitingly on the forecourt. It had been a morning of starvation since we left L’Isle-Jourdain at 7 am – it was now almost 1 pm and my eyes were staring out of my head with fatigue.
However, before we sat down, we had to go round the corner to the patisserie to get food. The only things left were “cookies” and a couple of small rolls, so we bought the lot and hastened back to the bar for the large, creamy coffees that we should have had five hours ago. The barman was horrified when we said that these were our first coffees of the day.
Magically revived, we soon began to consider the matter of a hotel.
We had passed a very expensive one on the way up the hill (l’Orangerie) and there was one beside the church (Hotel de la Paix), a much humbler affair which we decided would suit us.
To our amazement it was booked out, but the man suggested the Montespan, about half a kilometre back down the highway, its name no doubt recalling the famous mistress of Louis XIV, Madame de Montespan, who was born in this town. We had seen it in the side street on our way up from the camping ground, and it had looked newish and uninteresting.
On second inspection it looked much better, with a screen of trees across the front and a well-tended air. We had no trouble getting a room (€39 plus €6 each for breakfast), and our tubby host was incredulous when we said that we were on foot. Walkers are evidently not common here. The room was palatial and we became very fond of it, even though, after blissful showers, we spent most of the afternoon asleep.
In the evening we went back to the square in our clean clothes and had glasses of rosé at the bar, then wandered around looking for the châteaux suggested by the name of the town.
All we could find were a few stumps of stonework sticking out of a lake below the church, with a disintegrated tower at one side.
We then turned our attention to restaurants and found that they were surprisingly thin on the ground. In the end we settled on the pizzeria in the square, a few doors along from the bar.
Like many pizzerias in France, this one offered a full menu as well as pizzas, and it was obviously the place to be in Lussac-les-Châteaux.
It was crowded with happy diners but we managed to get a good table near the window, looking down the square.
We began with a simple salad, helped down by quantities of bread and wine, and then moved on to steak, the great stand-by of the hungry walker.
With our steak we had green peppercorn sauce and curiously shaped vases of hot, fresh chips.
It was all lovely and a good reward after our sufferings on the track – as far as I was concerned, it had not been the easy stroll that Keith had predicted.