Day 25: Bonneuil-Matours to Châtellerault

Walking in France: The luxury of plastic chairs
The luxury of plastic chairs

Sunday, 13 July 2014
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 85 m, descent 84 m
Map 139 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We ate our breakfast in the relative luxury of some plastic chairs in front of an unoccupied cabin near where we had camped. As usual, none of the other campers had stirred by the time we left at about 7:30 am.

Passing the bar with a flicker of hope (soon extinguished) of a coffee, we took the pleasant pathway beside the river and arrived in the village square, which was similarly dead. Evidently the locals do not rise early on Sundays.

Walking in France: Deep in the woods
Deep in the woods

We then continued along the road to Poitiers for a little way until we reconnected with the GRP that we had been following the previous day. This branched off into a steep wood and became a wheel track covered with wet, blackened dead leaves.

As we climbed it was dark under the trees, but to the side we could see bright fields and after a while the track came out of the gloom and kept climbing at the edge of the forest.

Walking in France: Out of the gloom
Out of the gloom

At the top of the rise we came to another, narrower track and turned right, obeying the GRP signs.

We plunged back into the wood and began to descend rapidly.

It was slow going on the rough, slimy path, but before long we emerged into fields of sunflowers, where several tiny roads converged and there were scattered farmhouses.

Walking in France: Back in the forest
Back in the forest

At this stage we were only a couple of kilometres from Bonneuil, although we had walked much further.

The GRP turned up one of these roads and back onto the wooded ridge, but we were feeling the need for a second breakfast and decided to take the line of least resistance into Vouneuil-sur-Vienne, on a small, gently descending bitumen road.

Walking in France: Getting our bearings
Getting our bearings

Forty minutes of easy walking through an agricultural paradise brought us into the streets of the village.

We were confident of finding a bar, and we did, but it looked pretty drab and also it was closed. The sign said it would open at 9:30, half an hour away.

It was too long to wait, so we pressed on towards the church, where there was a market in the square, and searched all around for a bar, but there was none.

Walking in France: The market in Vouneuil
The market in Vouneuil

Just as we were leaving this dismal, disappointing place, we saw a new sign – “Superette-Boulangerie” – pointing around the corner.

It seemed worth investigating so we turned back and discovered a little group of shops, including two boulangeries, and one of them offered hot drinks as well.

Amazed and delighted, we joined the queue at the door and very soon the bakeress turned on her tiny domestic coffee machine and made us two lovely coffees, to which she added some magnificent pastries from her shelves.

Walking in France: The wonderful boulangerie in Vouneuil
The wonderful boulangerie in Vouneuil

We sat outside feeling very pleased with ourselves, our opinion of the village having completely reversed. Light rain sifted down but we were under the eave so we did not mind.

It probably says something unflattering about us that we are so ruled by the presence or absence of bars, but on long walks such as ours, one’s needs and pleasures become very simple.

It is also the case that a spoonful of muesli at 6:30 am does not make up for the lack of a solid breakfast. And it is not just the nourishment that we crave – it is the whole experience of sitting up at a table amongst other people, and being waited on in a civilised way.

Walking in France: An excellent second breakfast
An excellent second breakfast

In great spirits, we set off again towards the north. We were no longer on the GRP and at first we had to get past a cordon of newly built pink-walled bungalows set low on the ground like toys, then past a graveyard, but after that there were small dirt roads to follow across the fields.

The river was not far away and we passed some ponds which seemed to be connected to a sand-mining operation. At the top of a slight rise an old man stood leaning on his stick, waiting for us to reach him. He looked hostile but was not, he just wanted to ask us our business and tell us his.

He had been mining sand and gravel for 35 years, mainly on the Loire, and had bought this little business a few years ago, having decided to settle here.

Walking in France: Leaving Vouneuil
Leaving Vouneuil

We shook hands warmly and departed on our way. It was gentle country for walking in, but the clouds were low and on the brink of rain.

Nevertheless there were beauties to enjoy, such as a fallow field seeded with wildflowers (what the French call ‘une jachère fleurie’) and an arrow-shaped skein of geese overhead, flying south, perhaps mistaking the cold weather for autumn.

An hour or so later we arrived in the streets of Cenon-sur-Vienne, remembering the bar where we had enjoyed our first coffees of the day in 2005, while walking the Way of Tours.

To our disgust, it had vanished and there was nothing else, so we trudged on over the bridge and followed the GR655 in the direction of Châtellerault.

Walking in France: A fallow field seeded with wildflowers ( 'une jachère fleurie')
Wildflowers in a fallow field

The track went along beside the river, past a group of nasty slummy shacks and caravans surrounded by mud, then under the mighty legs of the bypass road. Further on we joined a street lined with affluent houses, then crossed a stream and came to an unsalubrious area of small factories and houses.

Keith thought that we were close to the camping ground and he was right. A car stopped beside us and the driver said that he was the custodian of the camping ground, just leaving for lunch, but that he would go back and book us in.

Walking in France: Near Cenon-sur-Vienne
Near Cenon-sur-Vienne

It was starting to rain and if we had thought about it properly, we would have declined the offer and kept walking into the centre two kilometres away, where there were several hotels. As it was we were trapped in the tent the whole afternoon.

The camping ground was pleasant, with good grass and a willow-lined rivulet, but the rain never ceased and got heavier as the day advanced. Keith had a shower (a lukewarm one) but I decided that I had had enough exposure to water for the day.

An Algerian or Moroccan man in a tent near us kept up a constant shouting for hours. It turned out that he was talking on the phone, and seemed to think that he had to shriek loudly enough to be heard in his native land.

Walking in France: Statue of St Roche in the church of St-Jacques, Châtellerault
Statue of St Roche

We got so sick of him that we dismantled our tent and moved to the other side of the camping ground, only to find that he had followed us and was sitting under an umbrella nearby shouting away (we guessed that some other campers near his tent had asked him to move). I crawled out and conveyed by sign language that we needed him to shut up, and he did, which was nice of him.

As this long, dreary, wet afternoon drew to a close, we put on our raincapes and splashed our way into town. It was a long walk and everything was closed along the way, except for a pizzeria (Baila) which would open at 7:30 pm.

In the lovely main square with its paving and fountains, there were two bars open, but no restaurants, possibly because it was Sunday.

Walking in France: Dinning in the Baila Pizzeria, Châtellerault
Dinning in the Baila Pizzeria

For old times sake, we wandered into the church of St-Jacques, which we had visited in 2005, and said hello to the statue of St Roche, patron saint of pilgrims, raising his tunic coquettishly to show his his plague sore, with his dog beside him carrying a loaf in its mouth.

The legend is that the saint was banished to a forest after catching the plague and was sustained by a miraculous spring and a dog that brought him a loaf of bread every day. He recovered and went on to be martyred soon afterwards.

Walking in France: A lovely end to the day
A lovely end to the day

Having paid our respects to St Roche, we went into the Café de l’Industrie and had glasses of rosé, happy to be among other human beings in a dry, well-lit room.

A couple of heavy thunderstorms hammered the streets as we sat there and we had to choose our moment to leave, hurrying back to the pizzeria before the next downpour. It was about ten minutes brisk walk but we made it.

Once inside we began to enjoy ourselves. The two arched pizza ovens glowed with flame and sent out a wave of warmth. The tables around us filled with other diners and the atmosphere was convivial.

Keith had lasagne for the second night in a row, and I had a gratin of chicken, both of them wonderfully rich and comforting dishes.

So the day ended with some grace, and we even got back to our tent without being rained on again.

Previous day: Chauvigny to Bonneuil-Matours

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