Sunday, 19 June 2016
Distance 31 km
Duration 6 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 15 m, descent 47 m
Map 135 of the
Although there was no hope of coffee at the snack bar, we made ourselves at home on the terrace to eat our muesli, which was a lot pleasanter than crouching in our water-logged emplacement. Everything around us was deathly quiet at 6:30 am.
We expected to be passed later in the day by the stately Australian barge, but in fact we never saw it again, nor did any other boats come past. Business was definitely not booming in the canal boat trade this summer.
My boots had not dried out overnight and as I put them on, my socks became wet immediately. My blisters were in full bloom – I had several on each foot – and Keith’s were not much better. .
However, as is the way with blisters, after a couple of kilometres the pain become duller and I could ignore it.
Our progress along the canal was uneventful, except for King Charles I having his head chopped off in my podcast.
There was hardly a bend until we came near the village of Cercy-la-Tour and the only building of any interest was the Château of Chaumigny, set back a bit from the canal. By that time the sun had come out briefly from an ocean of cloud and everything looked better.
We knew we were close to the town when we met a flock of Saturday morning joggers coming towards us. They didn’t look as if they were enjoying themselves, but perhaps they thought the same of us.
It was very encouraging to come round the bend and see a mass of houses crowded along the riverbank. Behind them the village rose to a gigantic squat grey tower, last remnant of an ancient fortress, on which stood a distressingly white statue of Christ.
However, our interests at that moment were more mundane, centring on second breakfast.
Along the canal front were shops, including an épicerie and a bar. We went to the former before sitting down at the latter, but unfortunately they only had one croissant left, so I sat down outside the bar to nurse my blisters while Keith nobly ascended, via a staircase, to the top of the village where the real boulangerie was, returning eventually with three more croissants.
As we lingered over this lovely second breakfast, the clouds parted and the full force of the midsummer sun bored down on us.
I took off my warm top and unzipped my trouser bottoms, but even then it was too hot so we retired indoors, where Keith sat under the stuffed head of a stag mounted on a mirror, with the air of a successful big-game hunter.
He noticed a red patch at the back of his knee, the same knee that had felt strained since the second day, but it looked like sunburn so he put some cream on it and thought no more about it.
Setting off again, we went along beside the pretty boat harbour (formed from the combined waters of the canal and the river Aron), and continued along the towpath.
After a couple of hours we turned off the towpath past a handsome white church, to the village of Champvert, and arrived just as the bar was closing, but the barman kindly left off packing up his chairs and tables to make coffee for us.
We only had about five kilometres to go as we left Champvert, all flat and easy. The only problem was that the clouds had reformed and now a cold breeze sprang up, causing me to regret having stripped off so much. The more I walked, the colder I became.
All my warm garments were inside my pack and to avoid having to stop and get them out, I held the map against me like a breastplate in a vain attempt to keep the wind off. By contrast, my blisters were on fire.
At last the grubby industrial outskirts of Decize came into view and we crossed to the other side of the canal, went under a metal railway bridge, past the rusted hulk of a factory, and emerged onto a roundabout on a big road.
Here we turned away from the canal, crossed the Aron and went along a canyon-like street of shops, which presently opened out to reveal a wide grassy meadow on our right, with a long, many-arched stone bridge marching over it. This meadow turned out to be the almost dry bed of the “Old Loire”.
It seems that the town of Decize grew up originally on a sort of island between two branches of the river, and only in the last century or so has the Loire shifted definitively to its present bed.
Having crossed the bridge and arrived at the main part of Decize, we still had about a kilometre to walk to reach the camping ground, which occupied a flood-prone corner of land between the river Aron and the old and new Loires.
We walked, or rather hobbled, along a fine double avenue of plane trees, past sports fields of various sorts, and finally into the camping ground.
It was a large, well-run place with shady trees (not that we needed shade on this chilly afternoon), elaborate flower beds and shower blocks like temples.
The man at the reception surprised us by revealing that that he had spent two years in Australia driving a tractor, in order to learn English. He spoke it fluently, with a terrible accent.
We put up our tent on the lush grass beside the Vieille Loire, which at this point had a backwash of water from the nearby river Aron. Just beyond that, the Canal du Nivernas was taken into the final embrace of the main Loire.
On the advice of our tractor-driving host, we decided to eat at le Petit Agité, on the other side of the Loire, which he said was the best restaurant in Decize, with the added advantage of being open on Sunday nights.
The evening was cold, grey and breezy and our blisters were troublesome, so it seemed a long way.
After we left the handsome avenue of plane trees the streets looked dreary, and on the other side of the long bridge over the river they got even drearier, until a welcoming light shone out – it was the restaurant, a beacon of cheer in the gloom.
Inside it was bright, warm and well-attended. The menus were on blackboards around the walls and we both chose steak, which came with potatoes and a mound of salad.
Being a superior sort of place, it only offered wine in bottles, so we had a bottle of Château de Luc, in memory of our happy visits to this village in the Cevennes.
The meal was expensive but we felt much better for having it, and returned to our tent in a hopeful frame of mind.