Saturday, 19 July 2014
Distance 20 km
Duration 4 hours 10 minutes
Ascent 40 m, descent 52 m
Map 125 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
This was our last day of walking, and I finally admitted to myself that my right shin was not in a good state. It had been hurting for the past few days and was now red and swollen, but I hoped it would last one more day.
Choosing our moment to rise when the storms had temporarily calmed down, we packed up hastily, ate the bread and cheese that we had salvaged from last night’s dinner, and pushed off.
The park was awash and so was the boat ramp. We kept going past the snack bar, on a footpath that was squeezed between the river and the massive bulk of the levee bank.
It was not long before the storm returned, frighteningly close and loud. In an attempt to make myself less of a target for the lightning, I bent my knees and walked with a crouching gait, terrified but also ashamed of myself, as my relative smallness made tall Keith more of a target.
By some miracle we both survived, and after a few kilometres we saw the village of St-Clément-des-Levées ahead, pale and ghostly against an inky sky. The rain had stopped but everything was streaming with water.
Our path turned up towards the levee bank, and we found ourselves on the highway near the church. There were a few shops and bars, but as it was only 7:30 am, nothing was open except a boulangerie, which we visited for pastries, just in case we found an open bar later on.
The woman in the boulangerie was the only living soul that we saw in the whole village.
Back on the river bank, another hour’s walking brought us to les-Rosiers-sur-Loire, where a long road bridge went across to Gennes.
We had camped at Gennes previously and learned about the tragic defence mounted by the young soldiers of the cadet school of Saumur in June 1940, a few days after Marshal Pétain had ordered the French army not to fight the German advance. So in a way their disobedience was the first act of the Resistance.
This bridge and the one at Saumur were blown up by the Cadets, who were ultimately overrun. Looking across the river we could see the hilltop memorial to the many defenders who were killed.
The centre of les Rosiers was close to the bridge and it took us only a moment to find an open bar. The weather had improved to the extent that we could sit outside with our coffee and the pastries from St-Clément-des-Levées. My leg was not responding well to the walk so far and we were less than half-way to our destination, so we decided to change our route.
Instead of going to the station and following the track beside the railway line, we thought we would continue along the river bank, as this was a shorter way.
Setting off again, we soon found the track going down to river level and strolled along it without trouble for a kilometre or so. Then it disappeared into a morass of willows, rushes and nettles, unpleasantly wet and getting denser every moment.
For a while we battled on, but soon it became so nasty that all we could do was try to fight our way up the levee bank onto the road. Luckily we discovered a set of stone steps, completely buried in greenery, that led to a break in the wall at road level.
This was a great improvement, but on the other hand we then had an hour and a half of plodding along the side of the rather busy road.
At one point a sports car hurtled around a bend and Keith felt the wind of it as it missed him by inches. We agreed that it would be an awful pity to be killed on the road so near the end of our walk.
On the river side we saw occasional stretches of wheel track, but did not care to join them in case they turned out like the last one.
On the other side, flat fields stretched away to infinity, carrying all sorts of crops, including a beautiful flower farm.
Near la Ménitré the railway line converged on the road and we climbed down next to a bridge and joined the track that we should have been on all the way from les Rosiers.
My shin was now causing me agony, but at least we were no longer in danger of our lives.
The village of St-Mathurin finally appeared over a field of corn and we turned away from the railway line at the first street. Ten minutes later we were at the bridge, the exact point where we had finished our walk in 2006.
It was a joyful moment but I could hardly stand on my leg.
After taking a celebratory photo, we retired to the same bar as last time, la Gabare, which jutted out between two roads near the river bank.
We stayed there for over an hour and during that time I felt my leg steadily recovering from the pounding I had given it. The bar was crowded with drinkers, but none as pleased and grateful as we were.
As is usually the case at the end of one of our long walks, we were torn between two strong emotions – relief that our efforts were over for now and that we would soon be at home with all the luxuries of normal life; and regret that we were about to leave our beloved provincial France, with its beauty and its lifestyle.
St-Mathurin has a railway station. From there you can go to almost anywhere in France.
At about 1 pm we caught the train to Tours and went straight to our favourite hotel, the huge Ibis Budget, which was immediately behind the station.
We booked in and found that we had been given a very large room with handrails everywhere and low bathroom fittings.
Clearly it was for people in wheelchairs, and when we went downstairs the “Hotel Complet” sign was on the door, so we realised that we had got the last room available, which made us even more happy. It was reminiscent of our lucky break in Cressensac, when we had also got the last room in the hotel.
We had all afternoon to enjoy the luxury of hot showers, fluffy towels, a soft mattress, crisp sheets and so on.
At 7 pm we emerged into the beloved town of Tours that we had visited so often in the past few years. The streets around the station were full of cafés and restaurants, and people were strolling about in the warm evening air.
We settled down at an outdoor bar near the new tram line, for a glass of Vouvray Pétillant, a treat that we had been promising ourselves for weeks.
I was panicking at the thought of our imminent flight on the tragedy-prone Malaysia Airlines, but I relaxed as the drink worked its magic.
For our festive final dinner, we chose an Italian place which had a promising menu and the added advantage of an awning, as it was beginning to rain.
Keith ordered scallopine milanese with small potatoes on the side, while I had scallopine zucchine with salad. They came the other way round but we rearranged them.
With copious amounts of bread, water and wine, it was a glorious, satisfying conclusion to our long march, and an incentive to come back to France again next year.
The following morning, having made pigs of ourselves at the hotel breakfast, we caught the train back to Paris, stayed the night at the ever-reliable camping ground in the Bois de Boulogne, and flew back to Australia without any of the horrors that I had been imagining.