Day 3: Chaumot to Châtillon-en-Bazois

Friday, 17 June 2016
Distance 33 km
Duration 6 hours 45 minutes
Ascent 72 m, descent 51 m
Map 135 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Walking in France: Early breakfast at the Chaumot camping ground
Early breakfast at the Chaumot camping ground

None of the vans surrounding our boggy lawn had signs of life as we crept out into a cold, grey dawn. We ate our muesli in profound silence at a table in the vine-clad outdoor area of the restaurant, and were on the road by 7 am.

We had weighed up the merits of deviating from the canal to have a proper breakfast at the town of Corbigny, against the drawback of walking an extra three kilometres, and had decided, uncharacteristically, to abstain from gastronomic pleasures and take the direct route.

We thought the day’s walk was already long enough (33 km), but in retrospect we should have made the deviation to Corbigny and then stopped at Baye for the night.

Once we got back onto the towpath there was hardly a bend for an hour. Luckily my mind was busy with the struggles between parliamentarians and royalists in seventeenth-century England (a podcast).

Walking in France: On a dry towpath
On a dry towpath

After a while, having passed the waterside village of la Chaise, we came to boat harbour, with some sheds and a few moored boats.

Beyond that the towpath disappeared into a mass of weeds, so we crossed the canal at a lock and joined a little road beside the canal on the other bank.

We had had enough of wet feet, but unfortunately the damage had been done yesterday and a crop of blisters was quietly forming with every step we took.

Walking in France: A picnic of leftover cheese from last night's dinner
A picnic of leftover cheese from last night’s dinner

Another hour passed and we came to a sharp bend in the canal, with a bridge, a lock and a picnic area consisting of a closed kiosk and a couple of seats.

It seemed a long time since our meagre breakfast, so we sat down, took off our shoes and socks and ate the cheese we had saved from last night’s dinner. It was cold and unappetising, but better than nothing.

This lock turned out to be the first of sixteen closely-spaced locks – the so-called “ladder of Sardy”, which led to the topmost point of the canal.

Walking in France: One of the locks of the “ladder of Sardy”
One of the locks of the “ladder of Sardy”
Walking in France: Port-Brûlé

As we walked, the land became ever steeper and the green hills closed in around us.

After about four kilometres we reached the summit, at a lonely row of houses called Port-Brûlé.

After that we took a descending road through thick deciduous forest, while the canal sank beside us into a declivity and eventually disappeared into a series of tunnels (les Voûtes de la Collancelle), emerging at the feeder lake near the village of Baye.

We cut the corner here and went straight to Baye instead of following the canal, as we were getting tired.

Walking in France: The delightful la Marine, Baye
The delightful la Marine, Baye

We had no great hopes of the culinary possibilities of this place, but the first thing we saw as we approached the canal was a newly-refurbished house carrying a big sign – “La Marine, Bar Restaurant”.

There were furled red umbrellas in front and a sort of wooden annexe on one side. It looked closed, but just then the door opened, and we were the first customers of the day.

Inside it was the picture of elegance, all blue and white with a nautical air, no doubt in deference to the boating traffic on the canal.

Walking in France: Morning coffees at la Marine, Baye
Morning coffees at la Marine

We settled down gratefully with our morning coffee, which we had walked almost four hours to get. It was too cold to sit outside, and anyway we felt in need of the comforts of the interior.

The decision we needed to make was whether to stay here for the night (there was a camping ground on the lake shore) or press on to Châtillon-en-Bazois, about 16 km further along the canal.

We were tempted to stay but it seemed a bit weak to give up so early, as it was only 11 o’clock.

Walking in France: And then lunch
And then lunch

In the end we compromised by spending the rest of the morning at la Marine, then having a proper lunch there before going on. We hoped our blisters would respond to the pause.

Lunch was served in the annexe adjoining the bar. Everything about the room was fresh and delightful, from the white tiles on the floor to the pin-striped chair covers, the canvas tablecloths, the blue blinds, the boating pictures and the tall pot plants.

A cheerful light filtered through the windows from the cold grey day outside.

Walking in France: Two reviving salads
Two reviving salads

We had salads – a seafood one for me and a classic chèvre chaud (hot goat’s cheese) for Keith. With the addition of wine and a basket of bread, it was a real treat after a hard morning’s walk.

Feeling a lot stronger, we set off down the canal, but after half an hour we turned off towards Bazolles, whose sturdy Romanesque church stood on a rise across the meadows. We had the idea of having our after-lunch coffee there.

Walking in France: Bazolles, and a hoped for post-lunch coffee
Bazolles, and a hoped for post-lunch coffee

Facing the church was a small bar, the opposite in every way of the elegant Marine. It was dark, cramped and untidy, but had a certain artless charm.

An old woman with a whiskery chin and startlingly black hair was knitting in a sea of balls of wool, but she managed to produce two cups of coffee and even some sachets of milk.

A couple of local lads came in and she chatted comfortably with them while continuing to knit.

Walking in France: At ease in Bazolles
At ease in Bazolles

Back on the canal, we resumed our placid stroll. The sun ventured out occasionally from heavy banks of cloud, and lines of trees mirrored themselves in the canal.

The walking was so easy that we hardly felt that our legs were moving as we cruised along the towpath.

Walking in France: Approaching Marré
Approaching Marré

A couple of hours later, just for a change of scenery, we left the towpath where the river Aron passed under the canal, and took a little road that climbed through the fields to a water tower on the highway. From there it was a matter of minutes to descend into the streets of Châtillon-en-Bazois.

The commercial centre was strung out along the D978. It had a slightly run-down look and we had heard that there were no longer any restaurants operating in the town, so when we came to a Logis hotel we went in and booked a table for dinner, just in case, although it looked expensive and over-refined for people like us.

Walking in France: Arriving in Châtillon-en-Bazois
Arriving in Châtillon-en-Bazois

Crossing a loop of the river, we found ourselves in a livelier part of town, with many shops, including a bar, although the only thing resembling a restaurant (a pizzeria) looked derelict. Through the window we saw chairs and tables stacked up and a life-sized plaster chef propped up sadly among them.

But at the moment we were more interested in finding the camping ground, which was supposed to be at the back of the church near some sports fields.

All we could find was a strange assemblage of antique horse-drawn caravans in a field, some with cars parked outside. There was no sign of people or a shower block, and the caravan at the entrance, which may or may not have been the reception office, was locked.

Walking in France: Châtillon-en-Bazois' slightly mysterious camping ground
Châtillon’s slightly mysterious camping ground

Mystified, we went to the épicerie across the way and asked the shopkeeper, who pointed back to where we had come from.

For lack of any other ideas, we put up our tent between two caravans and crawled inside, just in time for a violent thunderstorm to crash over us. Then the sun came out hotly before another burst of rain.

Later, when we were sitting on a log next to our tent, a car came crawling up and stopped. It contained the manager of the camping ground (yes, it was indeed the camping ground) and his Asian wife. We explained that we had already taken the liberty of installing ourselves, and he said, “But where is your tent?”

Walking in France: The pizzeria was definitely open
The pizzeria was definitely open

Only when we pointed at it did he see it, green on green. In exchange for €5 we got a key for the showers, which were in a metal shed at the side of the field. We promised to leave the key outside his mobile home in the morning, as we were leaving early.

In the course of conversation he mentioned that the pizzeria in the main street was open tonight. It was almost 8 pm by this time, so without delaying to have showers we hurried up there, and were delighted to see the plaster chef standing out on the footpath. Inside it was warm and convivial, with quite a crowd of diners already installed.

The menu was simple – pizzas or nothing. Keith had a Regina (with ham) and I had a Roma (with mushrooms). As a concession they gave us a green salad as well.

Walking in France: Châtillon-en-Bazois' finest pizzas
Châtillon’s finest pizzas

The pizzas were in the classic Italian style, light and crisp, with big blackened blisters on the edge of the crust. It was a lovely meal and all the better for being a surprise.

We ate the whole lot and washed it down with red wine. Before going back to the camping ground we walked up to the church to make sure we knew where the boulangerie was, and to check the opening time of the bar (7 am).

Back at our peculiar resting place, we had long-delayed and very enjoyable showers, then hung out our washed clothes and retired for a blissful sleep. All our washing got soaked during the night but we did not care.

Previous day: Dornecy to Chaumot

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