Day 21: Toucy to Villeneuve-les-Genêts

Tuesday, 30 June 2015
Distance 24 km
Duration 5 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 240 m, descent 211 m
Map 128 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Walking in France: The bar in the main square of Toucy
The bar in the main square of Toucy

For breakfast we had muesli with the delightful addition of peaches from our emergency shopping expedition yesterday.

We felt that Toucy owed us something after last night’s rough treatment, so instead of setting off on the day’s walk we went back to town and had a very pleasant round of coffee in a bar that looked out onto the statue of Larousse. Only after that did we begin walking in earnest.

Walking in France: Coffees before walking
Getting our priorities right

We had started early, worried about the heat, and it was only 7:15 am when we crossed the railway line and took the main road out of town.

A smaller road went off to the left, leading to the half-built château of Guédelon 20 km away. This was a fascinating project – an attempt to build a castle from scratch using only materials and tools available in the 13th century.

Walking in France: A mowing machine way off the beaten track
A big mowing machine in a small lane

Work began in 1997 and is progressing steadily. We would have loved to see it, but it was too far out of our way.

We walked uphill on the side of the D965 for a couple of kilometres to avoid a tortuous detour, and arrived at a lane rising steeply into the trees.

Our way was blocked initially by a mowing machine grinding its way along the track, but the driver courteously stopped and waved us through with an encouraging smile.

Once past that we came to open fields, with a wide swathe of grass to walk on, freshly mown a few minutes earlier by our new friend.

Walking in France: On the freshly mown track
On the freshly mown track
Walking in France: In the pestilential Puisaye forest
In the pestilential forest

The path dipped, crossed the highway and entered a wood. It was not the green, shady variety of wood, but rather the dark, dank sort, with dismal black trunks and pools of slimy mud in the ruts of the wheel tracks.

Everything was a tone of grey – it was as if our eyes had lost the ability to see colour.

Mosquitoes welcomed us in a cloud – they had not seen this amount of exposed flesh for a while.

With these annoyances we also had to keep count of a myriad of side tracks and pick the right one to turn into, which we did somehow, and soon found a GRP coming in as we hoped from the right.

Walking in France: Deeper in the Puisaye forest
Deeper in the forest

Not long after that we emerged into the light, where a tumbledown cottage stood on a brilliant patch of grass. Despite the car parked outside, it looked remote from the world (in reality it was only half a kilometre from the highway).

Pressing on, we wove our way around some fields before the track plunged back into the wood with its vicious biting insects, sunless mud and festering pools.

The only good thing was that the track was rising and eventually it rose above the slime and the gloom, and became a pleasant grassy wheel track and then a small road.

The area that we were traversing, between the Yonne and the Loire, is known as the Puisaye and was formerly covered in dense, wet forest.

After the Revolution the forests were declared the property of the people, and there was a frenzy of land clearing, the timber being sold as stakes and barrels to the wine industry, or burnt to make ash for fertiliser.

Walking in France: Cold drinks and pizza in front of Mézilles' church
Cold drinks and pizza in front of Mézilles’ church

This was deplorable, but on the other hand, the clearances resulted in the disappearance of malaria in the district. Our walk through these remnants of the ancient forests had given us a feeling for why people had been so keen to cut them down. We felt guilty that we would have done the same.

Another kilometre brought us to the outskirts of the village of Mézilles, where we hoped for refreshments. As we entered the village we had the choice of a hump-back bridge or a ford to cross a small sliding stream (we chose the bridge).

We headed for the church square and found a bar, but unfortunately for us it was being renovated, and the workmen’s assurance that it would be open tomorrow was no comfort.

Walking in France: Leaving Mézilles over the hump-backed bridge
Leaving Mézilles over the hump-backed bridge

There was supposed to be a hotel on the highway, but we could see nothing of the sort, so we assumed that it had died. Actually we had marked it wrongly on our map and it was a bit further on, over the stream. We never saw it but later found out that it was functioning normally.

We finally found a boulangerie in a back street and bought two cans of cold drink, which we took back to the front of the church where there was a shady bench. It was a beautiful spot between an ancient stone wall and a youthful linden tree, and the pizzas that we had bought in desperation last night slipped down very well with the drinks.

Retracing our steps over the bridge beside the ford, we branched off up a little road that rose into open pastureland and later became a leafy lane through a patch of trees dappled with sunlight.

Walking in France: Passing through Tannerre-en-Puisaye
Passing through Tannerre-en-Puisaye

After that we hit a tar road again and entered the steeply sloping village of Tannerre-en-Puisaye.

The heights above are largely composed of a gigantic slag heap, the residue of thousands of years of iron extraction and smelting, mostly during the Roman occupation.

This “ferrier” is one of the largest in France, and although smelting ceased in 1982, it has been developed as a heritage site where visitors can see examples of ancient methods of iron extraction.

Walking in France: A beer of arrival at le Bois Guillaume camping ground
A beer of arrival at le Bois Guillaume camping ground

According to our map, there was a bar down the street but we did not think it worth the effort to descend and investigate. It was nearly midday, oppressively hot, and we still had an hour’s walk ahead of us before we reached our destination.

We kept going along the road for a couple of kilometres, then turned off on the GRP, crossed a bridge and followed a succession of crooked tracks and roads until we came to a dark pine wood – le Bois Guillaume.

We saw with relief the sign for the camping ground, which turned out to be both open and occupied, with a pleasant looking restaurant attached to the office. There were many people staying at this place, mostly in enormous vans.

We were greeted by a smiling woman who said sympathetically that it was far too hot for cycling. When she discovered that we were on foot she was speechless.

Walking in France: Forgotten bandage on my right arm for the hated shingles
The forgotten bandage

To celebrate our arrival we had glasses of icy cold beer on the terrace of the restaurant, and then moved to our pitch and collapsed.

The tall pines cast shade, but it was thin and patchy. However, as our tent took up only a little bit of the space allotted to us, we were able to move our mats about as the afternoon progressed, and avoid the sun.

Before returning to the bar terrace for apéritifs, I had a dip in the pool, resurrecting my seldom-used swimmers from the bottom of my clothes bag. The water was clear and pleasant, but as warm as a bath.

Walking in France: Back at the bar for apéritifs

As we sat under the awning with our pastis and rosé, I noticed that I still had a great square of sticking plaster on my right arm. I had put it there in Tonnerre when I feared that I was getting a second attack of shingles, the disease that had confined me to bed for weeks last year.

This bandage had survived several showers, but I had forgotten all about it, as the pain had faded after a couple of days.

Walking in France: Starting with calamari fritters
Starting with calamari fritters

While she was bringing our food, our hostess informed us that there was an official heatwave at the moment, and that tomorrow the temperature would reach 40°C in many parts of the country.

We tried not to think about that as we concentrated on the joys of the menu. We found ourselves very hungry, as we had not had lunch.

Walking in France: Followed by steak for mains
Followed by steak for mains

We began with calamari fritters on a bed of lettuce, with lemon slices and mayonnaise.

For main courses we had steak, our great staple, adorned with shallots and that other great staple, green beans.

Walking in France: And raspberries and cream to finish
And raspberries and cream to finish

Then there was cheese, which I put away with four rounds of bread, for marching food in the morning, and lastly raspberries and cream. A jug of red wine and a basket or two of bread rounded out this delicious meal.

As we were paying the bill, madame offered to drive us to Champcevrais in the morning, where she would be going to deliver her daughter to school. It was lovely of her, but naturally we declined.

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