Sunday, 9 July 2017
Distance 30 km
Duration 6 hours 30 minutes
Ascent 257 m, descent 235 m
Map 141 of the
During our wanderings around the shops of Dompierre the previous evening, we had found two bars and asked what time they opened in the morning.
The answer in both cases was disappointingly late
It was at least ten kilometres to the first possible bar, so we swallowed some muesli with powdered milk and started walking.
We took a side street at the restaurant and left the built-up area almost immediately, winding through a small wood until we reached the main road going south (the D480), which we crossed.
A few steps further on we turned off on another side road and went along for a couple of kilometres until we came to a wheel track lined with hedges.
This wound its way up a slight rise and joined a tar road, then another one, and eventually a muddy track, still wet from the last night’s storm.
Having crossed a swollen rivulet, we found ourselves on the bitumen again, where a high stone wall ran beside the road.
The door stood open and inside we saw a small château, the château of Beauvoir, with a sign inviting us to rent it for a holiday, a wedding or a conference.
We pressed on and quickly left the road, following a grassy path through pastureland for a kilometre, then taking a little road straight into the village of Vaumas.
This was our great hope for second breakfast, after three hours on the hoof, and to our considerable relief we saw the bar just opposite the church, with its doors flung open invitingly.
Having collected a bag of good things from the boulangerie, we settled down to make up for the lack of a real breakfast earlier. It was still only
When we opened the bag, we discovered that we had been given an extra croissant – whether it was a mistake or a gesture of encouragement, we never found out.
This had its usual magical effect. With a delightful feeling of abdominal distension we set off again, crossed the Besbre and turned onto a smaller road, the D295.
Our idea was to leave this after a couple of kilometres in favour of a wheel track, but when we came to the fork, we decided to stay on the bitumen, as it had begun to rain slightly and the wheel track looked slimy and steep.
There were no cars on the road so we swung along uneventfully for two more hours, in and out of our rain capes, until we came to Jaligny-sur-Besbre with its stumpy church steeple, a handsome little town that had seen better days, judging by the number of boarded-up cafés and shops.
However on the corner was the grand Hotel de Paris, with its cavernous double doorway facing down the street to the river.
It looked just the place for us, so we went in and indulged in another round of coffee.
It was already after midday when we started out again. Crossing the bridge, we turned left at the first intersection, then right onto a much smaller road, on which we continued for four or five kilometres.
All around us were immense fields of harvested wheat, the stubble rough and golden like the coat of a lion.
We approached the village of Treteau, or rather the edge of it, where huge concrete grain silos dominated the skyline, and there was a saleyard full of shiny agricultural machinery.
Our destination was a Dutch campsite less than two kilometres down the road, but those two kilometres caused us some grief.
No sooner had we set off than the sky darkened, thunder rolled and sheets of rain descended on us. We wallowed along in our capes, which did little to protect us, and were soon drenched.
Our main worry was that the camping ground would be closed, or not exist – we had only seen it on the map and on a website – but we came to an open gate with a camping sign and a life-sized straw woman on a bike, and stumbled in with relief.
Ahead was a vast old farmhouse and some smaller buildings, separated by a courtyard which at that moment was composed of liquid mud.
We saw a lighted room, and burst into it, startling the occupants, who were watching something on a large TV.
Luckily the floor was of stone, as water was streaming off our capes, forming quite a pool.
A tall, handsome woman with close-cropped grey hair came over and welcomed us to her campsite with a sympathetic smile. She was Dutch, and so was everybody else in the room.
Having offered us a room for the night (which we declined), she gave us coffee while we waited for the storm to pass, and then took us to the camping lawn at the back.
There were numerous tents and caravans dotted about, and we chose a patch of grass under a lichen-encrusted old tree to put up our tent, which we did with unusual haste.
We then had showers, and our kind hostess produced a clothes rack for us to dry our clothes on. The sun emerged, weakly at first but getting stronger, and we had our afternoon nap outside the tent, although expecting to have to dash inside at any moment.
The wall behind them was decorated with dozens of brightly painted little wooden houses and caravans, perhaps the fruit of long winter evenings in the off-season (our hosts had mentioned that they had sold up everything in Holland and now lived here permanently).
We went over to join them, whereupon everybody swapped seamlessly from Dutch to English – most impressive and polite. There were no French guests at all, and we were the only non-Dutch ones.
The seats were in full sun, in typical Dutch fashion, although we would have preferred shade. However we spent an enjoyable hour or so with these excellent people while sipping our cold white wine.
The cavernous dining room next to the terrace was enclosed on three sides by rough, whitewashed stone walls, and open to the garden on the fourth.
Its walls, like those outside, were elaborately decorated, mostly with little blackboards advertising drinks.
We started our dinner with an entrée of ham and green melon, light and delicate, then moved to the other end of the culinary spectrum with a mighty plate of barbecued spare ribs, accompanied by chips, vegetables and mayonnaise.
Bread was not served, which would have been shocking to a French diner, but we were having trouble getting through the ribs as it was.
Our stomachs were shrinking as the days went by, and we had now been walking continuously for almost four weeks.
After this beautiful, ample feast, we had to walk only a few steps to get back to our tent, and slept the sleep of the well-exercised and the well-fed.