Wednesday, 1 July 2015
Distance 19 km
Duration 3 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 58 m, descent 101 m
Map 128 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We were up at 6 am and out the gate by 6:35. We had already decided to shorten our route because of the heat, but even so an early start was in order.
In our hands we held sandwiches made from last night’s bread and cheese, and some of the remaining ham from Toucy. They were somewhat stodgy but very comforting.
We wove our way around woods and through fields of rapeseed and wheat, with the early sun casting our gigantic shadows over the land.
After crossing a road, we continued along a wheel track and came to a ford over a stream.
There were tractor marks gouged deep into what looked like very sloppy mud, but some kind soul had built a wooden footbridge alongside, so we did not even get our feet wet.
When the track joined a small road, we followed it until we came to the place where we had intended to turn off, a circuitous series of paths leading to the village of Champcevrais. On our new plan, we just stayed on the road.
A gang of workmen with heavy machinery was shovelling gravel and the road was blocked to cars, but we slipped past the barrier, only to discover that we were not alone.
Another couple had stopped their car at the roadworks and had done the same thing. It turned out that they lived locally, in Champignelles, and did this walk every morning.
They were bird fanciers and normally walked in complete silence, they said, in order to see and hear the birds. This morning was different. We talked the whole way and they were happy to do so, declaring that in these parts Australians were rarer than the rarest birds.
At a fork in the road we parted company with these excellent people and a short time later we joined the main road and arrived in Champcevrais a couple of kilometres further on.
Adjoining the church square was a fine old hotel that looked newly renovated. The woman at the bar told us apologetically that she only had one croissant, one pain au chocolat and a baguette left, but would we like to have them all?
We said we would, and took a table on the shady side terrace, looking over the lopped trees of the square.
The second breakfast that followed was magnificent. Madame provided butter and jam to go with the fresh bread, and the large coffees came with a jug of hot milk and a sugar bowl with a china bird on the lid.
We looked at the local paper, whose ominous headline was “A Week in the Oven”. The prediction for Auxerre tomorrow was 41°C.
Meanwhile we had dreamed up another shortening of our route. Instead of branching off on a complicated zig-zag through the nearby ridges and valleys, we took the direct road to Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses, our destination for the day.
At the branching point there was a modest château being used as a farmhouse. It was one of three châteaux in the vicinity, none of them very old although standing on Gallo-Roman foundations.
After six kilometres of flat, quiet bitumen, we crossed a little river with a handsome old mill, and the next thing we came to was the camping ground, on the banks of the Canal de Briare.
It was immaculately neat, with cheerful flags and tubs of flowers beside the gravel paths, and a few caravans and tents scattered about.
The only thing missing was someone to take our money but later in the day a man drove up and relieved us of the princely sum of €5.40.
It was only 11 am when we arrived, so we dropped our packs under a tree and walked on the short distance to the bridge over the canal, which was the centre of the village.
It was delightful to see the boats drawn up in the harbour, a sight that we had missed since leaving the Canal de Bourgogne.
There was a café with an awning beside the canal and we sat there to enjoy our arrival. Just across the water was the impressively tall dry stone staircase of the seven locks after which the village is named.
We found out later that the Canal de Briare is one of the oldest in France. It was begun in 1604 and was in operation by 1642, at least twenty years before the Canal du Midi was even started.
Although there were already canals in Europe, this was the first one to cross a watershed (between the Seine and the Loire), and it was therefore necessary to provide many locks. This staircase of seven locks was supposed to be an efficient way to gain height.
The trouble was that each boat had to pass through all seven locks before another one could start, which caused huge delays and the multiple lock was eventually abandoned.
From where we sat it looked as if the present canal ended at this point.
On our way back to the camping ground we called in at the Office of Tourism and enquired about camping in Briare.
The heatwave was making us wonder whether we really wanted to walk 30 km to Gien tomorrow. Yes, there was camping at Briare, and we got the address.
It was the ideal moment to use up the spare day that we had allowed for in our schedule, by breaking the long day to Gien into two manageable short days.
Once back in the camping ground we spread our stuff out under a thick catalpa tree and indulged in deliciously hot showers.
For some reason we felt like eating lunch, something that we do not normally do, so we borrowed three plastic chairs from a nearby unoccupied cabin – one for a table and the other two for us.
The supplies left over from our enforced evening picnic at Toucy included bread, ham, mayonnaise, a tomato, a small lettuce and some wine.
So the menu was ham sandwiches with salad, to which we added a handful of fresh herbs – basil, chives and parsley – that we took from a planter on the railing of the cabin. We sipped the wine daintily from plastic containers.
After that a siesta was called for in the deep shade of the catalpa. Some council workers came around in a truck to water the flower beds, and even the herb planter, and I listened tranquilly to my iPod while the emperor Domitian was set upon and assassinated .
It was too hot to do any exploration so we got out a hard crossword that we had brought with us and amused ourselves with that until the sun began to lose some of its force.
Then we strolled back to town and had apéros at the same bar, after checking that the hotel on the corner would be serving meals later.
We shared the awning with four English boaties – two hard-faced bottle blondes and two barrel-shaped men.
All were loud in their criticism of the French way of life, but complimented us on our government’s punitive policy against refugees.
At about 8 pm we moved down to the hotel terrace, followed by the boaties, who began by asking the bewildered waitress in English “Is there air-con inside?”.
Evidently there was not, as they reappeared after a brief inspection, but luckily they did not sit near us. The other diners were all French.
The terrace was attractively edged with tubs of flowers and the red tablecloths gave it a festive air.
The menu was €22, and the wine was €12 for a carafe, which was a bit steep we thought, not that it held us back.
Our entrées were similar to lunch – ham, terrine and salad. We seem to have a great capacity for salad while in France.
This was followed by steak for the unwavering Keith and duck for me, both accompanied by baked potatoes and tomatoes roasted with herbs.
The final course was the highlight for Keith, as he had the best ice-cream and sorbets that he had ever tasted, home-made in the establishment. He had three flavours – passion fruit, pear and strawberry.
I had a classy selection of cheeses, of which I ate some and then put the rest away for marching food in the morning.