Day 24: Briare to Gien

Walking in France: Near the end of the Canal de Briare
Near the end of the Canal de Briare

Friday, 3 July 2015
Distance 12 km
Duration 2 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 1 m, descent 0 m
Map 128 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We left as early as we could, at 6:45 am. There was a gate at the back of the camping ground giving onto the old Canal de Briare, which was where we wanted to go, but unfortunately it was locked. Instead we had to go the long way, right around the perimeter on the official GR.

As we made the detour, we ate our spaghetti sandwiches from last night, soggy but delicious.

The tail-end of the canal was in remarkably good order, considering that it had been superseded for well over a century, and it soon took us to a sandy track beside the Loire.

Walking in France: Separated from the Loire by a hedgerow
Separated from the Loire by a hedgerow

This was pleasant to walk on, as the sun had not yet gathered strength, and in any case we were mostly shaded by trees or hedges.

The last time that we had come this way, we had obediently followed the GR up to the highway on the outskirts of Gien and had then been obliged to walk the last four kilometres on the side of the hot, busy road, no doubt objects of pity to the drivers hurtling past.

This time, with our new detailed maps, we could see that the track continued along the river bank right into the town.

Walking in France: On a sandy track
On a sandy track

At about 8 am we emerged from the riverside bushes, just before a highway bridge over the Loire, into a large open field. This was set up as a parcours sportif, a circuit of different forms of health-giving exercise, with explanatory boards in front of each instrument of torture.

Nobody was availing themselves of this opportunity for improvement, except one man who stood facing the newly risen sun, alternately covering one of his eyes with his hand and raising the corresponding knee. We hurried on in case it was infectious.

Once past the highway bridge we came to a fine double avenue of pines, under whose black shade was a memorial to the resistance fighters of World War II.

Walking in France: Beside the Loire
Beside the Loire

Gien has a special place in the history of this war, as it was where the Germans first attacked the Loire in their invasion of France in June 1940.

The bridge was bombed to cut off the retreat of the French army and the resulting fire destroyed most of the town, including two churches and the château. They have subsequently been rebuilt.

Further along the river there were signs describing the importance of the Loire as a trading artery, a function that survived from Gallo-Roman times or earlier, until the arrival of the railways in the 19th century.

Walking in France: Traditional Loire barge
Traditional Loire barge

A few specimens of the traditional thin, dark wooden barges were moored there, although no longer with their original square sails.

By this time we were within sight of the long, many-arched stone bridge of Gien, and soon after that we arrived in the streets of the town.

Our first thought was to find a bar and a boulangerie, which we did without difficulty, but inexplicably the boulangerie had run out of croissants at this early hour of the day.

Walking in France: Just after 8:30 am and arriving in Gien
The day’s walk nearly over at 8:30 am

We turned into a shop-lined pedestrian lane and came to a square where tall white tents were being set up, for a mediaeval fair this weekend. The Office of Tourism was here but not yet open, so we doubled back along the river front, finding another boulangerie which was also out of croissants.

Walking in France: Coffee and stale croissants, Briar
Coffee and stale croissants

At this point we were back near the first boulangerie and we went in to buy whatever we could get. I noticed some croissants in a bag on the counter and gleefully bought them, but it became clear when we were settled with our coffees at the adjoining bar, that they were yesterday’s. It was a lesson to us, although they were certainly better than nothing.

It was only 9 am and we had finished walking for the day, which was just as well, as it was shaping up to be fearsomely hot. We were in no hurry to go to the camping ground, which was far away over the bridge, so we strolled about the streets.

At the Office of Tourism we got a map and also discovered that we could send an email this afternoon from the cultural centre/library.

Enjoying what was tantamount to a day of rest, we then had another round of coffee at a bar beside the river, under age-old plane trees. Across the water we could see a wide sandy beach and the camping ground behind it, not looking far away at all.

Walking in France: Gazing at the camping ground over the Loire
Looking across the Loire at the camping ground

This leisurely interlude was followed by lunch in the pedestrian lane. Our table was deep under the awning, but some people were out in the sun, getting roasted alive.

We had a light repast of omelettes and salad, with a quarter-litre of icy rosé, and we learned a new word – “baveuse” refers to an omelette that is runny rather than hard-set.

At 2 pm it was time to visit the library, which was in a street at the foot of the château.

When we asked about using the internet, the women on the desk explained apologetically that because of the heatwave, the upper floor, where the computers were, was closed.

Walking in France: Omelettes and salad with icy rosé for lunch, Gien
Omelettes and salad with cold rosé for lunch

There was a bit of whispered conversation, and then they generously offered us the use of the spare computer in the director’s office, so we sent off an email under the benign gaze of the director herself.

Finally we felt that we should make the crossing to the camping ground, as we were getting sick of lugging our packs about. At the far end of the long bridge we noticed a bar and a boulangerie, both opening at 6 am. This was useful information for tomorrow morning.

The camping ground, where we had stayed in 2006, seemed to have undergone a face-lift. There was a fancy new restaurant, a bar, and a pool that we did not remember. Last time we had camped on an ill-defined area of dry grass beside the beach, but now everything was much more organised, with numbered sites and many permanent cabins.

While we were paying our €14, we booked a table at the restaurant and were pleased to find that this booking had earned us a free glass of kir each when we presented ourselves there later.

Walking in France: Trying to cool down at the camping ground bar, Gien
Trying to cool down at the camping ground bar

The heat was debilitating and we set up our tent between a dense tree and a tall hedge, not that it made us cool.

Even showers failed to refresh us. We lay on our mats, moving as little as possible and after a while Keith realised that his mat had a slow leak. This was to haunt us for the rest of the trip.

In due course we wandered down to the bar and claimed our glasses of kir, which we sipped in a gravel garden below the terrace of the restaurant, pleasantly shady and full of comfortable plastic lounge chairs occupied by other people trying to keep cool.

Walking in France: Our free kirs, Gien camping ground
Our free kirs

As we had booked a table, we took our time over these drinks and finally went up to the restaurant at about 8:30. It was crowded with diners, all sweating copiously but seeming to enjoy themselves.

The menu was two courses for €13.50. Our first courses were ham and melon for Keith and oeufs mayonnaise for me.

Walking in France: Ham and melon, and oeufs mayonnaise for starters
Ham and melon, and oeufs mayonnaise for starters

They were classic French starters but I did not feel as hungry as usual, no doubt because of our constant eating during the day, so I wrapped up some of the eggs in bread for a later lunch.

For the next course Keith, predictably, had steak and chips, while I had chicken with green beans and a creamy herb sauce. A good deal of the chicken found its way into my little plastic bag with the eggs and bread.

Walking in France: And steak and chips, and chicken with green beans for mains
Steak and chips, and chicken with green beans for mains

As soon as we had finished, we paid the bill and took the rest of our wine down to the gravel garden in the hope of catching a breeze, but it was just as oven-like there, and we continued to sweat all through the night.

I had swapped bedrolls with Keith, as I was lighter and had more chance of surviving the night without hitting the ground, but it did not quite work. I made contact with the earth in the early hours of the morning.

Previous day: Rogny-les-Sept-Écluses to Briare

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