Tuesday, 16 June 2015
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 102 m, descent 77 m
Map 174 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
As usual we were the first people stirring in the camping ground. Our neighbours in the reserved area were all cyclists and did not seem to have the same need as us to get going early. Anyway it was not very hot.
We left at about 7:30 am, taking the little riverside path and the Pont Vieux for the last time.
Our destination was the Place Carnot, that gastronomic paradise, and we found several bars already open, so we sat under an awning with our coffee and pastries, watching a market being set up under the trees.
Although the covered arcades have disappeared from the square since the thirteenth century, it was not hard to imagine the first inhabitants milling about just such a market in their new bastide town.
This breakfast was a perfect prelude to the day’s walk. With some reluctance we finally got under way, cutting across the square and through some lanes until we rejoined the canal. Soon we reached the railway bridge and used it to cross to the other side, where there was a nice gravel path instead of a road.
After about an hour of canal walking we turned off the towpath in the direction of Pezens, where we felt sure there was a bar.
We followed a farm track around a slight rise and naturally there were vines every inch of the way, some of them newly planted – apparently there are not enough vines yet in this part of the world.
The village itself was no more than a few streets with a highway running through and a few shops. We walked the length of it and found three bars and a hotel, all of them with doors boarded up, windows thick with cobwebs, and rubbish accumulating in front.
At the end of the street we met a grim, wizened, hobbling old man, the personification of the village itself, and he wheezingly confirmed that we would get no comfort here.
Fortunately we were not starving, so we turned back to the canal along the D48 and resumed our placid ramble beside the water.
As well as the usual few cyclists, we met a group on foot, a rare event, and they turned out to be English birdwatchers.
One of them said that they had heard nightingales in the woods half an hour ago, adding disparagingly that I would not hear them because I was wearing earphones.
I replied that we had already heard them this morning (nightingales are conspicuous in the dawn chorus), and that I was now improving my mind with French lessons, which I felt put me on the moral high ground.
It was a circuitous part of the canal and after several florid loops, we decided to shorten our way by cutting through the next village, Villesèquelande, and checking out their amenities at the same time.
Pushing through the screen of trees, we joined a small road and headed for the centre. It was a pretty little village with a leafy church square full of flowers and seats, but there was no bar.
We were running low on water by now, but, passing the graveyard, we remembered that they always have a tap (for flowers), so we pushed open the great green wrought-iron doors in the wall and went in. The tap was just inside and we filled our bottles and ourselves with the cold, delicious fluid.
It was lovely to get back on the canal, with its shady banks and occasional stone bridges. A couple of kilometres further on, we turned off it for the third time, through the village of Ste-Eulalie, not in search of a bar this time, but simply because it was the quickest way to Alzonne, our destination for the day.
The land between the two villages was planted with vegetables, wheat and vines, as flat as a dance floor and completely treeless, which was no problem as the sky was now thick with clouds.
After three kilometres we crossed a footbridge over a stream and arrived in the streets of the town at 1:30 pm, just as the children in the local school were being collected, or perhaps deposited, by their parents. We dodged through the chattering crowd and found ourselves on the main road.
This time there actually was a bar, Chez Mama, set back behind a row of stout old plane trees.
We ordered coffee and settled down at a table under the trees, but it suddenly began to rain, so we retired indoors, where people were attacking meals of hamburgers, chips, sausages and the like.
Our host assured us that we could eat there in the evening, and as the only alternative was a breathtakingly expensive establishment that we had passed on our way in, we were pleased.
The camping ground was about a kilometre away, on a steep side road, and as soon as we set off, the rain began again. It did not seem heavy enough to warrant putting on our capes, but by the time we arrived it had increased and we were soaked.
The manager saw us from his house nearby and came sprinting across to unlock the office and book us in. He said there was a restaurant on the premises, but unluckily for us it only operated at the weekend.
Having paid our €15.20, we rushed to our allotted place and quickly put up the tent. It only took a minute, but in that minute the rain redoubled and everything got wet, inside and out.
After that Keith bravely went and had a shower, but I wanted no more dealings with water and retired to my damp sleeping bag.
It rained hard all afternoon, finally easing off about 7 pm, which gave us the chance to walk back to the village. Our rain capes were at the ready but were not needed and we were even able to admire a patch of vegetables and flowers at the edge of the houses, a fine sight that we had missed as we hurried past earlier.
In the town the streets were dark, deserted and shining with water. The only bright spot was the restaurant, with its warm, bright interior full of drinkers. People came and went getting take-aways, and there was much talk and laughter.
We sat down and ordered apéritifs, enjoying the atmosphere although not really part of it. The menu was severely limited – Toulouse sausage with chips, merguez with chips, duck with chips, hamburger with chips, pizza or salad.
Keith asked for Toulouse sausage, but that was off. So was merguez, his second choice, so he had a hamburger and chips. I had a mountainous salad, which was delightful.
An elderly couple tottered in and sat down near us, ordering pizzas, and we soon fell into conversation with them. The man was English but had lived here for eight years, while the woman, his neighbour, was a local.
As she had spent a few years in America, we were able to chat in English for the most part. It turned out that he was a great hater of the British government and had even written books exposing its evil ways. We were able to offer examples of our own government’s iniquity, and so the evening passed pleasantly.
He informed us that the barman, Mathieu, spoke good English as his mother was from England. He had not spoken anything but French to us, which we took as a compliment.
Walking back to the camping ground, we saw that the sky was sparkling with stars, a good omen for tomorrow. At the entrance, the high metal gate was closed and there was no way in, but we pressed a button and to our relief, a voice answered, presumably the manager, and the mighty structure slid open.
The night was cold after the rain, and I wore all my clothes inside my sleeping bag.