Monday, 3 July 2017
Distance 33 km
Duration 7 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 314 m, descent 380 m
Map 136 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
We had a long way to go today, twice as far as yesterday, and there was no prospect of refreshments en route, so we were determined to pack in as much breakfast food as possible, the starchier and fattier the better, with plenty of coffee, before leaving town.
The camping ground was as quiet as the grave when we emerged onto the road and walked the now familiar kilometre to the top of Arnay-le-Duc, picking up a bag of still-warm pastries on the way.
The café had only just opened when we arrived, and the outdoor tables were not set out, so we went inside and spread out our breakfast on the table, with the coffee.
Just as we were ready to order a second round, there was a little commotion at the counter, with the barman cursing, peering into the coffee machine, flicking through the manual, and finally barking into his mobile phone.
The machine had died, and we were the last people to be served coffee that morning. The rest had to make do with glasses of wine, a bit of a challenge at 7:30 in the morning.
In the circumstances we could hardly complain about the lack of a second round.
Soon afterwards we set off, aiming for the cemetery to the west of the village, where our route turned off.
The trouble with hilltop towns like this is that the streets radiate like the spokes of a wheel, and it is easy to take the wrong one, which is what we did.
The result was that we saw more than we wanted of the less picturesque parts of the village, and eventually had to ask a truck driver for instructions.
An hour and a half after we left the bar, we finally made it to the cemetery, a direct distance of about 400 metres.
After that there were no more dramas and we swung along well enough.
The road was bitumen, but narrow and wholly devoid of traffic, the ideal walking surface.
The country around us was like a park, with lawns, hedges and shady trees, even the occasional tiny cluster of houses.
A couple of hours of this brought us to the place where an old Roman road crossed the modern one, and this was where we left the bitumen.
After two thousand years, the Roman road was still uncompromisingly straight, with only a slight waver as it crossed a stream, and another to get over a wooded ridge, where the track was deeply gouged by tractor wheels.
Some farmer had tried to repair the damage with a truckload of broken tiles, but another fifty truckloads would have been needed to fill these gaping trenches.
Out in the open again, we had a bizarre feeling of incongruity as we came to the intersection of the Roman road with the TGV line.
It was impossible to imagine what a foot-soldier of the time might have thought, if one of these trains had whistled past in front of him like a streak of lightning.
As modern-day foot-soldiers, we sat down on the track for a short rest, during which time three or four such missiles shot past on the overbridge nearby.
Pressing on, we came to a part of the road which, although unwaveringly straight, was becoming overgrown.
We were pleased when we came out onto a road, where there was a farm and a good clear track leading down into the fields, but suddenly our way was blocked by a mass of tangled vegetation, with no way of getting around it. We made a few attempts but it was hopeless.
Our only choice was to go back to the road and try to work out what to do next.
Because our home-made maps are so large-scale, we could only see the first hundred metres of the road, so we had to hope that it would eventually curve around and deliver us to the other end of the Roman road.
Then we remembered that our little iPod contained MAPS.ME, an app that we had downloaded before leaving home, with maps of all the departments that we would be walking through. This confirmed that all would be well if we took the tar road, although it was longer than the Roman way.
It was a pleasure to walk freely along the smooth surface of the road, and just around the bend we came to Nanteuil, which was no more than a few houses, all very neat in their well-tended gardens.
Here we turned onto the D107, which curved around obligingly in the direction that we wanted, and we soon arrived at the lower end of the Roman road, which was now the private entrance road of a farm. We would never have got through with any degree of dignity.
We turned off the D107 onto a pleasant little road through pastureland, bordered by trees in places.
As we got closer to Autun, the sprinkling of houses became a solid mass and the trees disappeared, leaving us trudging along through grey streets under the full force of the sun.
Even in our weary state, the sight of the Porte-St-André was impressive.
Autun was founded in the reign of the first emperor, Augustus, and named after him – surely only the French could reduce its original polysyllabic title of Augustodunum to the present terse grunt. It had huge walls, of which only a short section and two gates remain, an amphitheatre, baths, a forum, and indeed all the comforts.
The idea was to reward the local tribe for their cooperation against other Gauls, and also to convince any lingering Gaullish malcontents of the attractions of the Roman way of life, compared to that of nearby Bibracte, their original capital, a few miles to the west.
We passed under this mighty monument and toiled on until we came to the main road leading north (the D980).
There was supposed to be a bar here, but it was closed, so we continued disappointedly down to the Porte d’Arroux, which was as impressive as the first gate, then crossed the river, passed a field containing the enigmatic Temple of Janus, and before long arrived at the camping ground, which we remembered with affection from our visit in 2006.
Back then the highlight had been the elegant outdoor restaurant overlooking the river, where we had dined in style. Unfortunately the passage of eleven years had not improved this place. It had been taken over by a private company and was now mostly filled with cabins. There was still an area of lawn for tents, with the same lovely canopy of birch and chestnut trees, but the restaurant was now just a cheerless room where little more than cold drinks and lollies could be bought.
Our intention had been to have a rest day here, but when we saw how things had changed, we resolved to have a rest at our next stop instead.
Once we had finished our ablutions and hung our walking clothes out to dry, we strolled back to town in search of dinner. The dining precinct was high in the town, on the wide square flanked by the Avenue Charles de Gaulle and the Rue Guérin.
We chose the Brasserie du Commerce, whose glass frontage had been folded back to form a welcoming cave.
As a first course we shared a salad auvergnate (with walnuts and blue cheese), only remembering to take a photo as we polished off the last shreds of lettuce – we were starving after our long walk from Arnay-le-Duc.
Then we moved on to the main dishes. I had lasagne and Keith had boeuf bourguignon, which he chooses whenever it is offered.
Nothing had so far surpassed the one from the Château de l’Epervière, but he kept searching.
The day was fading as we descended once again through the Porte d’Arroux.
A gibbous moon hung above it like a portent, and across the field, bathed in soft evening light, the Temple of Janus was still standing after a couple of thousand years.
Apparently it had nothing to do with the god Janus, but got the name from a corruption of la Genetoye, a vast neolithic sanctuary that had occupied the site long before the Romans arrived. It was a mysterious and moving sight.