Wednesday, 8 July 2015
Distance 24 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 94 m, descent 107 m
Map 134 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We had taken the precaution of checking the opening time of the bar in the square, which was 7 am, and we ate our smoked salmon sandwiches on the way there.
Sitting at a bar in the early morning, sipping coffee and watching the village go about its business, is always a good start to the day.
We were feeling very pleased to be going to Mehun, a town that we had taken a fancy to on our walk down the Cher river in 2011.
Mehun is not exactly on the Cher, but it is on the Canal de Berry, which it was our intention to walk down this year. (The pre-revolutionary province of Berry encompassed the land west of the Loire centred on Bourges, and we had actually been in it ever since leaving Gien.)
When we set off from the bar, we walked back towards the camping ground and took the Chemin de Mehun, which was marked as a GR (the GR41A).
It soon degenerated from a thin tar road into a strip of white gravel, which was actually the abandoned railway line whose station we had seen behind the camping ground.
We walked through a beautiful forest of mixed deciduous and evergreen species, a reminder of the enormous forests that had enveloped the Sologne in older times.
The track followed beside the small river Barangeon and there were ponds and even picnic tables from time to time along the way.
After an hour we turned off on a forestry road lined with cut logs, in order to visit the village of Vouzeron for a second breakfast. That was the plan, but things were not so simple.
The first difficulty was that the road was barricaded at the river because the wooden bridge was too rotten to support a vehicle, but we hoped it would support us.
With some difficulty we clambered around the fence and then tip-toed one at a time across the boards, thinking light thoughts.
Nothing dramatic happened and we continued to the highway (the D30) and into Vouzeron.
Vouzeron was the second difficulty. It looked attractive as we approached, with its grassy verges and its church steeple as black and pointed as a wizard’s hat, but the bar that we had hoped for was defunct.
The old fellow in the boulangerie advised us to go to Neuvy if we wanted coffee.
It was only 9:30 am so we pulled ourselves together and pressed on. For five or six kilometres we walked on the side of a bitumen road, the D79, as straight as an arrow through a forest of oaks and beeches in their summer finery.
There were hardly any cars and eventually we emerged from the trees into fields of wheat.
The road curved at last, and we took the turn-off towards a ford, the Gué Lasnier, at which point we left the bitumen and joined a GR.
This consisted of a rising strip of mown grass between a wheatfield and a hedge.
We went over the top and down through a flowering meadow to a farmhouse buried in trees beside a stream.
The GR then forked off sharply and we parted company with it – we had only been on it for one kilometre.
Our way was on a thread of a road through the hamlet of Bréand, where the hay had just been cut and baled into great blonde rolls, and then past fields of sunflowers until we met a road.
Turning left, we quickly arrived at the village of Allouis, which looked as if it had risen out of the ground in the last few weeks.
The road was lined with white-plastered bungalows, each one in a sea of builder’s rubble behind shiny lamp posts and newly planted street trees. Only the church and the few houses close to it looked old.
On a corner near the church there was a bar, but by that time we could smell the stable and did not stop, even though we had been walking without a break for over four hours.
The first buildings of Mehun were already visible across the grassy water meadow, and we set off towards them with vigour. Half an hour later we were in the town.
Near the centre we saw two restaurants that had not existed in 2011, l’Epoque and Aux Saveurs de Mehun. Both looked good.
Last time we had been here, the choice had been starvation or the Asiatique Pacifique Mandarin on the highway, which had turned out quite delightful despite its overpoweringly pink décor.
It was midday and we felt the need for some refreshment, so instead of going straight to the camping ground, we plunged into the main street.
We got two croissants and two small quiches at a boulangerie, then headed for the Bar de l’Horloge which we remembered fondly. It was set picturesquely into the old ramparts, next to a clock tower, but to our disgust it was closed, and looked as if it had been for years. We were shocked but not daunted, and continued through the portal to another bar, the Café du Centre.
Here we spread out our pastries and ordered coffee, enjoying the lively atmosphere of the place, which was full of lunch diners. However the waiter warned us that this was their last day – they would be closed for six weeks starting tomorrow.
The camping ground was a short distance along the highway on the highest point of the town, between the swimming pool and the water tower. The wind was suddenly strong up here.
The only trees were rows of enormous planes whose smooth trunks offered no resistance to the wind, and we were soon chasing our possessions across the grass, having cast them down carelessly as usual.
It was surprisingly cold, considering what blistering heat we had been through recently, and we put up the tent before having showers, to have somewhere sheltered to retire to afterwards.
Then Keith realised that we had left our clothes lines behind in Neuvy.
It was not the day for spreading our wet clothes over our packs, so we had to thread our socks and undergarments through loops on the tent, or on nails on the trees. The bigger things we attached to the wire fence, tying them on with a piece of string that we found.
We went for a stroll before dinner, as we needed to find a bar for breakfast tomorrow, to prepare ourselves for the Canal de Berry. Beyond the Café du Centre the street went down steeply, past many derelict shops.
We crossed the bridge over the river Yèvre, where there was an old mill, and soon came to another bridge, this time over the canal. On the corner was the Bar de France looking out pleasantly onto the water, and we went in for an apéritif.
The woman at the counter said that they would be open at 6:30 am tomorrow, just right for us.
While sipping his pastis, Keith admitted that he was feeling low. He was despondent about losing the clothes lines and also worried about the day after tomorrow, when we were supposed to walk 32 km in what was likely to be very hot weather.
I in turn confessed that I was dreading the night after that at a remote camping place on a farm. Our experience of camping at farms has not been good and I feared that it would not exist and that we would spend the night under some spooky hedge.
On our way back to the camping ground we went through the back streets near the château, which at present is no more than a couple of half-collapsed towers, but which in the fourteenth century was one of the most beautiful and lavish possessions of the Duke of Berry (and is depicted in his famous Très Riches Heures).
It passed into the hands of Charles VII in the following century and Joan of Arc stayed there on her way back from liberating Orléans. Mehun at the time was on the front line between French and English territory.
At the camping ground we discovered that while we had been away, several more monstrous vans had arrived, one of them parking almost on top of our tent. They probably did not even notice that it was there – we were relieved that it had not been flattened.
We paid the guardian, who was only in his office from 6 to 8 pm. He was the same burly, sweet-natured ruffian that we remembered from our previous visit, only a bit greyer and better groomed.
I had washed my white evening shirt and it was still wet, so I had to keep wearing my day shirt when we strolled off to choose a restaurant. The Saveurs de Mehun did not have a menu displayed, so we went over the road to l’Epoque and ate there.
It was set back from the highway behind a small park and inside it was sparsely elegant, with a white-tiled floor, black tablecloths and soft lighting. There seemed to be plenty of diners, for a Wednesday.
The menu was €14 for two courses or €17 for three, and we chose one of each.
To begin, Keith had a salad of chèvre chaud, a fine example of this old favourite, with two saucer-sized goat cheeses melting onto their toast. I had poached eggs with bacon in a wine sauce, also very good.
Predictably, Keith had steak for his main dish, with green peppercorn sauce and chips. I had chicken with ratatouille, also with chips, which I would have swapped for something else if I had had my wits about me. Nevertheless they were good.
For dessert Keith had Café Liégeois, that exuberant concoction of coffee, ice-cream and whipped cream. I am not fond of desserts but I helped him with this one, because of the quantity of coffee and cream in it.
It was a lovely meal and very strengthening for our morale.