Thursday, 16 June 2016
Distance 28 km
Duration 6 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 53 m, descent 10 m
Map 135 of the
We slept beautifully in our airy bedroom with its view over the water meadows of the Yonne, and by morning all trace of tiredness and jet lag had gone. The only slight problem was that Keith had a tight feeling behind one knee, but it was so minor that we thought nothing of it.
Before going down to breakfast we had another round of showers, luxurious but completely unnecessary. In justification we told ourselves that it would be a long time before we saw the inside of a hotel again.
When we descended, we found the dining room set with a magnificent array of good things, from which madame invited us to help ourselves.
I had orange juice, two lengths of fresh bread, butter, home-made jam, ham, cheese, salami, two croissants and three coffees laden with hot milk. Our solid pile of maps stood on the table between us, a reminder of the long journey ahead.
While we were eating, we saw through the window our hostess’s small son standing outside in the cold drizzle, waiting for the school bus to take him to Clamecy.
Just as we were saying our farewells it began to rain in earnest and she was worried on our behalf. It had been “un juin execrable”, she said, and was showing no sign of improvement.
We would always have been sorry to leave this refuge, and the rain made us even sorrier, but we were amused to see on the menu board outside that gratin dauphinois, some of which had adorned our plates last night, was for sale by the kilo (€5.50 a kilo, and worth every cent).
We took a different route back to the canal, hoping to avoid the floods, but it was even worse than last night. The river had become a lake between islands of green, with only the fence line to keep us on the track.
However, a few hundred metres of wading brought us to the security of the towpath. We scrambled down through a fragrant mass of wild mint and washed our muddy feet in the canal before putting on our shoes and socks. They were still fairly dry, but not for much longer.
At first we went along easily on the raised bitumen towpath, past locks, sodden pastures and the occasional herd of disgruntled white cows streaked with mud.
After an hour, near the village of Brèves, two heavily laden bikes came towards us. Each was a tandem, with a small boy riding behind his parent.
They turned out to be a family from New Zealand, who had started riding in Morocco some months ago and were hoping to finish in Scotland in September.
The children had not been to school for four years but were having some sort of correspondence lessons. It was all most remarkable, especially the forbearance of the children.
We decided not to go up to the bar at Brèves, as we had been there on our previous walk along the Canal du Nivernais, and we still felt well fed from the lovely hotel breakfast.
Pressing on, we came to the double lock of Tannay, where the Way of Vézelay crossed the canal, but we continued on the towpath for another half hour, heading for refreshments at the hotel beside the former railway station of Tannay.
When we got there we discovered that it was not only the station that was former – the hotel had gone the same way. Luckily the nearby village of Cuzy had a cafe that was flourishing, particularly on a rainy morning just before lunch time.
The bar was packed with rowdy half-drunk local workmen waiting for the dining room to open. We were greeted as amusing oddities and had our hands shaken all around, while the waitress sat dourly in a corner, eating and reading a book before starting her duties.
We peeled off our billowing capes and wrapped our hands around lovely hot coffees.
When we emerged, the rain had stopped. Carrying my cape and hat in a bundle over my arm, I somehow managed to drop my hat, only noticing its absence some time later.
Last year when this happened I was very upset and we wasted a long time going back to find it, but this year I found that I did not care. I had realised how faded and worn it was the previous day.
The towpath continued with many locks and footbridges, some of which could be raised to allow boats to pass.
The walking was pleasant until we crossed the canal just past Dirol, when the hitherto solid towpath became a sloppy, muddy wheel track.
Here the swollen canal was overflowing across the path and despite our efforts our feet were soon saturated.
We continued for an hour in this way before we came to a pretty little café, formerly a lock-keeper’s cottage, at Marigny-sur-Yonne.
It was well past lunch time, but we stopped for another round of coffee, just for the pleasure of taking off our wet shoes and socks.
After that the towpath was drier and it only took us half an hour to arrive at the camping ground of Chaumot.
We could see it from the canal but we had to cross a road bridge and walk a few hundred metres to find the entrance.
The place had a slightly run-down look, but inside it was better and there was a large restaurant at the back of the reception.
The owner was a big Dutchman who said that the camping ground was waterlogged, but we could have a cabin for half the normal price. We replied, perhaps rather boastfully, that our tent would be fine (and it was).
He also said that they were hosting some sort of French touring club convention, and that the restaurant was booked out tonight, but seeing our dismay he relented. After consulting the chef (also Dutch), he said they would squeeze us in somehow.
Beyond the buildings, dozens of big white vans were lined up nose to tail on the gravel circuit surrounding a half-submerged grassy field. They would have sunk to the axles if they had gone off the gravel.
A couple of caravans had ventured onto the lawn and there was one large, sad-looking family tent. We put up our tiny tent and crawled inside, at which point the clouds cleared and we began to swelter, so we moved our mats outside to a relatively dry spot under a tree.
We started with tall glasses of kir, then had an entrée of fried camembert, very rich.
The main course was a thick slice of cooked ham with green beans, mushrooms, roasted potatos and chips – simple but pleasant. We washed this down with red wine.
For dessert we had the choice of cheese (which I ordered, then put away in my bag) or icecream (which Keith ate on the spot).
At this point the evening’s entertainment arrived, in the form of two female singers. One was a large, Junoesque Dutch blonde swathed in a sort of orange sari, who was the wife of the owner, and the other a small mousy Frenchwoman with a surprisingly beautiful voice, who also played the keyboard and accordion.
They sang pop songs in French and Dutch, to the alternating delight of the two long tables. There were even a couple of Beatles songs in English, perhaps for us. There was much enthusiastic singing along as the evening progressed, but eventually we slipped away, as jet lag was starting to drag us down.