Sunday, 5 July 2015
Distance 23 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 58 m, descent 50 m
Map 127 and Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Having been let down, although ever so gently, in the night by the mattress, I felt rather tired as we ate our muesli and packed up.
It was already too warm by the time we set off at 6:45 am. For marching food we only had a scrap of lamb saved from dinner, with some limp bread, and it did not really do the trick.
Rejoining the GR3C, we went along through farmland for a few kilometres and then plunged into a forest that continued for several more.
Although it was nothing like the vale of horrors that we had passed through in the Puisaye, it had its share of mosquitoes, an unusual thing in France, and the track was a muddy grey forestry road.
This marshy forest is apparently typical of the Sologne, the area of land between the Loire and Cher rivers.
The soil here is generally too poor for agriculture and we could see by the piles of newly-cut logs, that this was a working forest, not a nature reserve.
At the edge of the forest we left the GR and took a small road to the south, which soon arrived at the Canal de la Sauldre.
This short canal was built in the mid 19th century with the aim of irrigating and sweetening the rock-hard soils of the area, and it was also used for transport.
It had fallen into disuse by the 1940s, but it is still picturesque and the towpath is favoured by cyclists, as we discovered. Several groups of them sailed past us as we trudged along in the direction of Argent-sur-Saulde, where we hoped for a substantial second breakfast.
We left the canal a couple of kilometres before the village and followed the river road past various unedifying sights – a sewage works, a broken-down motocross circuit – until we finally made it to the main street.
By this time Keith’s leg was threatening a repeat of yesterday’s collapse and I was so hungry that I felt as if my vital organs were being gnawed from within to fuel my footsteps.
There was quite a queue outside the boulangerie and we joined it. In view of our broken-down state we got a double ration, then walked on to look for a bar.
The village was charming, loomed over by a big bulky church with a crooked steeple.
The former main road through the place had been bypassed and was now a quiet curving street of shops, hotels and eateries. We stopped at the first bar that we came to.
Inside the bar, in front of a splendid array of coffee and pastries, I allowed myself a few tears of exhaustion, but with every bite and sip I felt myself recovering and by the time we had finished a second round of coffee I felt good.
Keith’s leg also calmed down during the break, so we set off again with gusto.
Past the church, our little road veered off, out of the houses and into a green deciduous wood full of piles of cut timber.
We were on a marked GRP and when the road petered out we followed the signs across a field to the highway, crossed it and then descended through grassland for a couple of kilometres.
We did our best to stay in the shade but there was not much of it. On my iPod I was listening to the last chaotic days of Commodus, most loathsome of Roman emperors, which combined strangely with the peaceful, orderly landscape that we were passing through.
When we reached the little town of Aubigny-sur-Nère, the first streets that we came to did not inspire confidence – they looked poor and desolate.
But when we got to the old centre at the Rue du Prieuré, everything changed. There were cafés and bars everywhere, tubs of flowers, people strolling about and flags flying overhead. At the bottom of the street we could see the château.
We went to the Office of Tourism, a pretty little half-timbered cottage adjoining the church, and got a street map and a list of accommodation, which we studied while taking our ease in the shade at the Atomic Bar.
The camping ground was a kilometre and a half away, the day was hot and we felt that we were ready for a bit of luxury, so after our coffee we went up to the roundabout and took a room at the Hotel de la Fontaine.
We spent the sweltering afternoon lolling about in air-conditioned luxury, and emerged at about seven to look around the town.
The most striking feature of the old houses was that they were half-timbered in a very un-French style, and the explanation for this goes back to the Hundred Years War.
In 1419, the future king Charles VII, invoking the Auld Alliance between France and Scotland, called upon Scotland to help him expel their common enemy, the English, from the region.
When this was successfully done by an army of the house of Stuart, the king made its leader Lord of Aubigny in thanks, and his family remained here for 250 years.
Every year there is a Franco-Scottish festival in Aubigny, with a street parade, marching bands and all the trimmings – tartan kilts, bagpipes, haggis etc. It was to take place the following weekend, which was sad for us, but on the other hand, we never would have got a hotel room then, as they would have been all booked out.
At the Café du Centre we sat down for a drink, pastis for Keith and an enchantingly pale rosé for me. The wide pavement with its big potted shrubs was a relaxing place to be after the heat of the day and plenty of people were doing what we were doing.
For dinner we had to choose between le Bien Aller and la Via Donna, a few steps further up the street. In the end we chose the latter, for no very good reason. It may have been a mistake but we will never know.
The terrace at the back was full, said the waiter, and the internal room was as hot as an oven, so we ate on the pavement at the front, together with other late diners.
We began with a tapas plate consisting mainly of diced cheese, toast and aïoli. We thought nostalgically of the wonderful tapas plate that we had shared at the food van in Avignonet.
Our main courses were steak, chips and salad, adequate but not very exciting.
However we enjoyed the summery feel of the street, with people passing by as we ate, and before long we had the pleasure of returning to our palatial room, just around the corner.