Thursday, 3 July 2014
Distance 22 km
Duration 4 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 272 m, descent 239 m
Map 147 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Although we had collected all our clean walking clothes from the hedge the evening before, I could not find my orange shirt amongst them. It was a mystery, and quite dispiriting.
Having turned everything inside out, we moved down to the table outside the office and had our frugal breakfast there.
We had saved some of the paté from last night’s meal to supplement our muesli, but at that early hour it had lost its appeal and we threw it away, glass jar and all.
We set off before 7 am, retracing our walk of yesterday along the beach, past the disappointing restaurant and along to where the road forked.
Here we took a turn to the left, away from the lake, and soon found ourselves in orchard country, the apple trees heavy with fruit under their white veils. I was still puzzling about the disappearance of my shirt and suddenly I remembered that it had not been on the hedge at all – I must have left it in the shower block.
We had already been walking for twenty minutes, so it was hard to turn back, especially on the slim hope of finding it, but turn back we did. I searched the shower block in vain, then went to the office, which by this time was open.
I explained my problem to the cleaning woman, who knew nothing about a lost shirt, but as she was telling me this I saw it hanging over a chair in the inner room. Seizing it with delight, I thanked her and rushed off to start all over again, this time in fine spirits.
For an hour or so we walked along a crooked thread of bitumen between orchards and green fields.
From a distance the netted orchards were like cascades of wild water. Coming to a railway underpass, we heard the hum of an approaching train and it shot past a few seconds later. Such are the moments of high excitement in a landscape as mild and predictable as this.
After a while our lane arrived at the D11A2 and we were in the act of crossing it to continue our bucolic ramble when we noticed a large new placard, advertising a hotel and bar down the road at la Meyze.
It was a deviation, but not a big one, and it took us only a few seconds to decide to do it. We were less than half way to Nexon and there was no other prospect of refreshment except a possible bar at St-Hilaire-les-Places, much further away.
Half an hour later we re-crossed the railway line and followed it down to the village of la Meyze.
Passing the épicerie and church, we found the hotel, with its brown umbrellas clustered invitingly on the terrace. We asked the barman about croissants and he sent us up to the far side of the village, over the railway bridge, where we got four pastries instead of the usual two and returned gleefully to consume the lot with our coffee.
We had a strange little encounter with the waiter when we asked him to heat the milk. To our astonishment he refused, saying that it was a sunny day and the milk would curdle if he warmed it. We said we would risk it, so he reluctantly raised it to lukewarm with much muttering and shaking of his head.
Nevertheless it was a gloriously happy moment and a great restorer of energy, especially for me.
Instead of trying to go back to our original track, we made a dash straight along the road (the D17) to Nexon.
It was only seven kilometres and turned out to be a good plan, as there was hardly any traffic, and no hills after the first rise. We were still feeling strong when we started to descend into the town and saw a sign, just past a large supermarket, pointing left to the camping ground.
We walked for at least a kilometre along this rural road, with no buildings in sight, and felt that we were going back into the countryside, but eventually we arrived at a long clipped hedge – sure sign of a camping ground – with the roofs of caravans and cabins peeping over.
When we came to a break in the hedge, we slipped in and the first thing we saw was a long white marquee with wheelchairs bristling out of it on both sides. A group of handicapped people were having lunch.
Everybody else seemed to be doing the same outside their caravans, and as the office was closed, we selected a spot and sank down with relief onto the grass. All we wanted to do was to lie motionless.
We were woken by the peremptory voice of the manager requesting us to move, as a caravan was about to be installed on our spot, which was reserved.
We got up and started to collect our gear, but the old fellow in the car kept backing and nearly mowed us down, while his wife screamed in alarm and the manager banged on the roof of the car.
Somewhat ruffled by this display of rudeness, we packed up more slowly than necessary and moved a couple of places further along to resume our slumber.
Later Keith went to the office to pay and became quite friendly with the manager, who spoke good English. He said that heavy rain was forecast for the night, and offered us the use of the white marquee to sleep in.
The people in wheelchairs finished eating and began to sing, old songs like “Auprès de ma Blonde” and “Encore un p’tit verre de vin”. It was a pleasure lying on the grass listening to them. By 5 pm they had all been lifted into vans and driven away, so we took our packs over to the big tent, and parked them in a corner while we went to see the town.
Between the camping ground and the town below was a wood surrounded by a high stone wall. This wood was large, dark and somehow threatening, with its tangled undergrowth intersected by wet, slippery tracks.
When we emerged into the sunlight at the bottom, we found ourselves on smooth grass at the back of the houses and the château, facing a strange white building in the shape of a circus tent, which turned out to be a museum of circus arts.
The nearby Office of Tourism supplied us with a list of restaurants in the town, a list remarkable for its brevity. Apart from a couple of bars, there seemed to be only one restaurant and a pizzeria to choose from in Nexon. Nevertheless we were pleased, and hurried along past the church, past the closed pizzeria, to the bar in the village square, where we ordered the usual pastis and rosé and settled down to watch the world go by.
Various locals were relaxing over their drinks, presumably on their way home from work.
The barman came out at one stage, helping a fat old man, obviously very drunk, across the square to his car. But the man did not drive off and after a while he stumbled back and sat down with a group at the table next to us, where he took another drink.
The barman reappeared, escorted him firmly back to his car, put him in the passenger seat and drove the old fellow home himself. As the car hopped across the square, the barman shouted cheerily to the locals, “I’m not used to a manual!” It was a lovely little vignette of village life.
The restaurant, called le P’tit Chef, was only a street away and we presented ourselves at about 7:45, rather early by French standards but not deplorably so (Dutch and English tourists are notorious for wanting to dine at 6 pm).
There were other people there but they were only drinking at that hour. One of them was a woman of advanced middle age – we guessed the mother of the chef – heavily made-up, with a pile of peroxide blonde curls, tight jeans, a wide clinch belt and tottering platform shoes – rather a sad sight.
We sat under the blackboard menu and had a delicious, satisfying traditional French meal, consisting of a dish of crudities (lettuce, radicchio, carrot, cucumber, tomato, radish and hard-boiled eggs) followed by steaks with another mountain of salad.
Our craving for red meat was no doubt related to the muscles that we were building up.
As we had not had lunch, we consumed everything on the table, including all the bread, wine and water, and enjoyed it greatly .
Afterwards our host came with us into the street and pointed out the road to the camping ground, which was much shorter, easier and less spooky than the way through the woods.
We did not need to pitch our tent that night, because we already had the protection of the great white marquee, complete with tables and chairs to drape all our gear over.