Day 24: Digoin to Dompierre-sur-Besbre

Walking in France: A final visit to Chez Lily
A final visit to Chez Lily

Saturday, 8 July 2017
Distance 28 km
Duration 5 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 69 m, descent 81 m
Map 141 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

We woke early, dismantling our camp with the efficiency of long practice, and set off for our third visit to the ever-welcoming Chez Lily.

The nearest boulangerie was quite a step along the river road, but it was a necessary diversion.

We returned with a paper bag full of lovely light, buttery pastries to accompany our coffee.

Walking in France: Breakfast

At ease under the striped awning, we watched the town waking up around us.

In due course we tore ourselves away and crossed the Loire, arriving at the Lateral Canal a few minutes later. It was to be our last day on canals for this year.

The water was like glass, reflecting a placid blue sky, and the cycle path beside it was shaded by an overhanging mass of trees.

Walking in France: Beside the Lateral Canal of the Loire
Beside the Lateral Canal of the Loire
Walking in France: A welcome surprise in Coulanges
A welcome surprise in Coulanges

After a couple of hours we came to the village of Coulanges and were surprised to see a hand-made sign propped up beside the path, inviting passers-by to visit the café on the highway below.

Naturally we decided to investigate and found it in an old house, with a few picnic tables in the shade of the wall.

Next door was the church, which had so many turrets that it resembled an outcrop of toadstools, but was charming nonetheless.

We enjoyed this unexpected round of coffee, then resumed our stroll along the towpath. By now it was 10 am and getting hotter by the minute.

Near Pierrefitte a fishing competition was taking place on the canal and the contestants were strung out along the bank with their folding tables and chairs, sun umbrellas, rods, fridges, bags and buckets, presumably having an exciting time.

It looked pretty dreary to us, and they no doubt thought the same of our chosen activity.

Walking in France: Fishing competition near Pierrefitte
Fishing competition near Pierrefitte
Walking in France: Farewell to Diou forever
Farewell to Diou forever

An hour later we cut the corner of the canal and arrived at Diou, the scene of our miserable collapse last year. It was not much pleasanter this time.

We went into the one and only bar, la Tradition (which was for sale) and ordered coffee with two glasses of water.

To our amazement, the woman said that water was only served with lunch. We were pretty sure it was illegal to refuse water in French bars, but we did not argue, just got up and left.

We were well enough caffeinated to be able to show our displeasure in this way.

We were soon back on the canal, but not for long. About a kilometre later we parted company with it forever, or at least for this year. The canal was following the Loire to the north, but we were heading west to Dompierre-sur-Besbre.

Walking in France: On the way to Dompierre-sur-Besbre
On the way to Dompierre-sur-Besbre

It was no great distance and there were farm roads and wheel tracks to keep us off the highway.

Nevertheless, when we got near to the town, we decided not to zig-zag any more, but just to march down the side of the main road (the D779) for the last kilometre or so. It was too hot to delay.

The camping ground was close to the river, at the far end of a long series of sports fields. Two helpful women in the office took our money (€9.50) and suggested a good emplacement, next to a bed of chives and tomatoes that they had planted for the use of their customers – not that we were thinking of cooking at all.

The town itself was on the other side of the river, and we did not get there until later in the day, after the usual rituals had been enacted.

Walking in France: The camping ground chive and tomato garden, Dompierre-sur-Besbre
The chive and tomato garden at the camping ground

At about 6 pm, with our tent up, the washing fluttering above, and our evening clothes on, we strolled over the bridge to see what Dompierre had to offer the hungry walker.

Just after the river we met an unexpected canal – a short stump that links Dompierre to the main Lateral Canal – whose existence we had forgotten about, although it was marked on the map.

Walking in France: Looking for a meal in Dompierre
Looking for a meal in Dompierre

The street rose sharply from there to the main intersection, where a tall church squatted awkwardly, and there were plenty of shops, but at first glance none of the sort that we were after.

At second glance it was not such a desert, and we settled on a pleasant looking terrace half way down the street (La Paix) for an aperitif. The air was oven-like, but at least we had shade.

When it was time to eat we asked whether we could be served outside, but the waitress strongly recommended that we go inside and we soon found out why – there was beautiful air-conditioning in what was obviously a recent extension to the original building.

We and all our fellow diners luxuriated in the sudden coolness, and the mood was almost festive.

Walking in France: Enjoying the coolth in La Paix, Dompierre-sur-Besbre
Enjoying the coolth in La Paix

Our dinners were good, standard French fare – entrecôte for Keith and chicken with mushrooms for me, with the usual carafe of wine and basket of bread.

The table next to us filled up with some late diners, and we were puzzled when the waitress went to them and murmured something, whereupon they got up and walked out.

She then explained to us that the power had gone out in the kitchen, due to an electrical storm somewhere, and they could no longer cook.

We began to hear thunder so, conscious that we were a long way from our tent, we hastily paid the bill and set off towards the camping ground.

Walking in France: The last dinners served for the night at La Paix
The last dinners served for the night at La Paix

As we crossed the bridge the wind hit us like a solid wall, tearing small branches off trees and sending objects hurtling.

We sprinted across the playing fields, past the office of the camping ground (where one of the women shouted that we could have a cabin for the night if need be) and kept sprinting until we got to our tent, grabbing the washing off the line and diving inside just as the rain arrived in torrents.

We had run a full kilometre and Keith had not slowed down the whole way, but I had had to stop and gasp for breath a couple of times.

We were still more or less dry, and our trusty little tent withstood the lashing of the storm for the short time that it lasted.

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