Friday, 4 July 2014
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 5 minutes
Ascent 290 m, descent 470 m
Map 147 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Contrary to the prediction of our kind host, it rained only a little during the night, but we were still glad to have spent the night in the big tent and we were able to sit up at a table for our early morning muesli, even if our knees were under our chins (presumably the chairs were wheelchair height).
With so little to pack, we had no trouble leaving before 7 am and went straight down the road, hitting the main street just opposite a bar that we had never seen before, which was wide open and full of customers, as it was also a newsagency.
As we sat enjoying our second breakfast, with pastries from along the street, it started to rain and soon the cars were ploughing along through torrents, while the pedestrians had all fled into doorways.
We waited hopefully for it to pass but in the end we had to set off in our plastic capes, which had been getting much more use that we expected lately.
The road out of town was the D11 and it soon went under the railway line, at which point we turned off on the D119 and continued along beside the tracks. At the station there was a tall slab of stone, sad monument to the many “French undesirables” who were interned there in 1940 and later transported to North Africa, or worse still, Germany.
We squelched along the road, aware that our discomfort was trivial, and grateful that we were born too late for these horrors. Before long we crossed under the lines again and found ourselves in the straggling village of Biard. Low cottages lined the thin, potholed street, which looked like a mule track with a lick of tar over it.
Turning once again, we came to a level crossing over the railway track, and beyond that there was no more tar, only mud. After the last house, we were in open fields, the crops sagging under the weight of rain.
Our feet and legs were sodden, but our packs and upper bodies were surprisingly dry under our cheap plastic capes.
After passing through a patch of forest, we crossed the railway line for the fourth and last time that morning, on an overbridge for a change, and set off along a farm track across an open wheat field.
At this point the rain intensified into a ferocious thunderstorm with nasty bolts of lightning that sent me scurrying to the protection of a clump of trees on the slope ahead.
I felt that I would prefer to be killed by a falling tree than electrocuted outright.
After traversing another wheat field, we arrived at a tall wooden cross and stepped out with relief onto a bitumen road (the D173A).
Our original plan had been to take various little byways from here, but because of the weather we felt the need for the comfort of a bar, so we stayed on the road as it descended past an enormous graveyard and into the village of Meilhac.
It immediately became clear that there would be no coffee in Meilhac.
Luckily it was only another couple of kilometres to Burgnac, and this looked more promising as we swung into the main square.
Just behind the war memorial there was a fine old two-storey building covered with creepers, with all the appearance of an inn, but no sign.
We investigated it from all angles and finally had to accept that it was now a private house, and that we would get no refreshments until the end of the day’s walk.
Disappointment dragged at our feet as we plodded up the highway, looking for a small side road to take us to Aixe-sur-Vienne. By this time our home-made map had disintegrated in the rain and I had thrown it away, rashly as it turned out.
On the TOP 100 map there was only one place mentioned along the side road – le Marchadeau – and the first little road that turned off listed several places but not that.
We were about to continue along the main road when luckily we looked back and saw, beneath the main sign, a dark old board with the faded legend “0.2 Marchadeau”.
It was indeed the road we had been looking for and a very good short cut. Past the few houses of le Marchadeau, it plunged into a deciduous wood and then meandered through well-tended fields bordered by trees.
The road looked about the width of a cycle path but was probably a bit more, not that any cars came past until we were on the edge of the town.
The rain had stopped before we got to the intersection with the D110, and shortly after that we came to the Château de Leymarie buried in its grounds.
A bit further on we met a GR sign, something we had hardly seen for days. It was the Way of Vézelay doing a big detour around Limoges, which nobody seems to follow (all the walkers that we met on this pilgrimage in 2010 had taken the direct route through Limoges).
The road started to descend into the valley of the Vienne and became ever more thickly lined with houses. Street lights appeared, and so did a large sign warning that the lights would be off from 11 pm until 6 am every day.
The view widened, then our road swooped down dramatically and ended at a highway (the D32).
We were not sure whether to go right or left, but the day was saved by a GR sign pointing to the right and immediately left up a suburban street. Following the signs, we climbed the street, then went down a grassy strip to a stream, a minor tributary of the Vienne, and along its banks through gardens and picnic spots until we emerged onto the main thoroughfare of Aixe-sur-Vienne (the N21), just at the bridge.
We had trodden these stones before, so it was a moment for a kiss to celebrate another joining-up, our sixth but not our last for this year.
The most urgent thing on our minds was coffee and we had to walk quite a way to the left, up past an open-air market, the Office of Tourism and an épicerie (at which we bought some provisions), before we came to a good bar. It was called la P’tite Chopine and all the tables were set for lunch, as it was almost midday, so we sat up at the counter for our well-deserved and much appreciated first hot drinks of the day.
Having found out that they were open in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays only (today being a Friday), we sauntered happily down a side street to the municipal camping ground beside the river.
It was a lovingly tended little place full of trees, lawns and flowerbeds, and was crowded with campers, most of them in gargantuan vans.
We found a little corner at the back that was big enough for our tent, with shady trees which we did not need on such a soggy day.
Our hostess unlocked a room behind the office so that we could sit there instead of crouching in our tent for lunch.
We had newly bought bread, cheese, sausage and tomato, so our lunch was better than usual, even though we are never very hungry in the middle of the day.
It rained on and off all afternoon and after a while other people came into the room and set up rows of chairs facing the TV.
There was a World Cup match between France and Germany, so the French campers crowded in and we all shouted “Allez les Bleus!”, but
poiyhin vain – they lost.
After that we went back up the hill to la P’tite Chopine and managed to get a table for two, which was lucky, as soon after that the place was full.
We chose the menu for €15.65 and a half litre of house red.
Keith started with a home-made terrine, while I had a delicious oeuf en cocotte – a poached egg in its own little ramekin, with a cheesy topping.
For our main course we both had steak – the sort that is known as “faux filet”. There are many types of steak in French, just as in English, and we have enjoyed them all during our travels.
Here is a list of some of them:
- Filet = fillet steak
- Entrecôte = rib steak
- Rumsteck = rump steak
- Faux filet = sirloin steak
- Steak tartare = raw minced steak with seasonings
- Bavette = skirt steak
- Pavé de boeuf = thick slab (the word means paving stone)
- Onglet = steak from the back
- Pièce du boucher = could be anything
- Steak à cheval = not horse meat! Minced beef with a fried egg on top
- Steak haché – minced steak
We had both asked to have green beans instead of chips and we got so many that Keith was not able to look at a green bean again for the rest of the trip. The steaks were also uncharacteristically large for France, and we put half away for a future lunch.
When it came to dessert, Keith pursued his doctoral research into crèmes brûlées – this was a new version, with raspberries embedded in it. I managed to swap dessert for a coffee, so we were both happy.