Day 21: Étang-sur-Arroux to Toulon-sur-Arroux

Walking in France: Ready for breakfast
Ready for breakfast

Wednesday, 5 July 2017
Distance 26 km
Duration 6 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 320 m, descent 329 m
Map 135 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

At 7 am we strolled out of the orbit of the odious petty tyrantess, who was not in sight at that hour, and walked up the highway to the little squeezed-in bar that we had found yesterday.

We stopped at the boulangerie on the way for a bag of pastries, but even so, we were the first customers.

It was too chilly to be sitting outside, so we occupied a table under a window, spreading our still-warm breakfast delicacies, our hats, our maps and the local paper around our coffee cups. To be on the safe side we had a second round of coffee before we faced the day’s walk.

Walking in France: Breakfast

After passing the delightful restaurant of last night, we came to the Arroux, which by now had become quite a sizeable river.

On the bridge was a plaque to four Russians who were cut down by the retreating Germans in August 1944, and the saddest thing was that one of them did not even have a name – he was just listed as “inconnu”.

Walking in France: Crossing the Arroux at Étang
Crossing the Arroux at Étang-sur-Arroux
Walking in France: Leaving Étang-sur-Arroux
Leaving Étang-sur-Arroux

As soon as we had crossed the bridge, we turned off the highway, past the imposing church, and quickly found ourselves on a very small, very straight, very flat road.

We left the bitumen when it veered off, and continued straight ahead on a raised embankment, by which time we had concluded that we must be on an abandoned railway line.

Walking in France: Crossing an old railway bridge
Crossing an old railway bridge

This guess was confirmed when we came to a rusty metal bridge with the iron tracks still embedded in it.

Before long the railway line emerged onto the highway (the D994), or rather the highway swallowed up the railway line, and we walked a couple of dead straight kilometres along it before veering off on a wheel track.

This was a refreshingly normal country lane, winding through hedged fields, and we soon began to climb. At the top was a bitumen road which we followed for a few minutes.

Walking in France: On a lovely country lane
On a lovely country lane

We then had to decide which of two tracks shown on our map we would take to get to a lower road.

The first one was shorter, but there was an ominous break in it just as it approached the lower road, and in the end we decided to go the long way.

Later we were gratified to see that the first track was completely blocked at the bottom by a mass of brambles.

Walking in France: Looking up to the church of Dettey
Looking up to the church of Dettey

The little road that we had joined came to a stream, at which point we turned off over a bridge and continued south on a gently rising wheel track, half bitumen and half grass.

After a while we saw the church of Dettey high on a forested spur ahead of us. We knew there was a bar there, but we also knew that it was closed on Wednesdays, so we saved ourselves an unrewarding effort by skirting around it on the low road.

About six kilometres further on, the little road that we were on turned into a grassy descending path through a pine forest, unmown but easy to follow, and we ended up on another small road, near a farm.

Walking in France: In a pine forest
In a pine forest

This road led directly out onto the D240, which would have taken us quickly into Toulon-sur-Arroux, but we had seen another way on the map, a tiny track that looked more adventurous and enticing than the highway.

Walking in France: Very carefully opening an electrified fence
Very carefully opening an electrified fence

It certainly proved to be more adventurous. Unfortunately for us, there were several tracks and we took the wrong one, ending up on a barren hillside with no path at all, only a line of high-tension pylons overhead.

Walking in France: About to get lost
About to get lost

Trying to head for the highway, we crossed the stream at the bottom and crawled under a fence, only to find ourselves blocked by tangled vegetation and obliged to retreat.

Walking in France: Going under a, possibly, electrified fence
Going under a, possibly, electrified fence

After several such forays we finally noticed a faint path in the grass leading to a gate and a proper track, which we were very relieved to see. We had taken about an hour to go a kilometre.

Once on the highway we arrived in Toulon in short order and flopped down gratefully at the bar (le Meridien) on the corner of the main square. It seemed a long time since breakfast in Étang-sur-Arroux.

We found out this establishment would not be open for meals in the evening, but there were other possibilities so we did not worry.

Walking in France: Our second camping spot in Toulon-sur-Arroux
Our second camping spot in Toulon-sur-Arroux

Just over the bridge was a classy-looking bar-restaurant called la Crémaillère, which was serving lunch customers, but would be closed in the evening. However, madame assured us that it would be open in the morning for coffee.

The camping ground was just around the corner, on the riverbank. There was nobody at the office, so we strolled in and found a fine grassy spot near the water, under a tree, where we stretched out for asleep.

We were woken by a corpulent camper from a nearby caravan, who told us that the spot we had chosen was reserved for camping cars, so we obligingly moved a bit and resumed our siesta, only to be woken again by the same person.

This time he wanted to explain that the access to the camping ground had recently been automated. People arriving in cars had to put their credit card into a slot to make the barrier rise, so he wanted to make sure that we did the same, even though the barrier was no impediment to us. We promised that we would.

Walking in France: Back into town to look for an open restaurant
Back into town to look for an open restaurant

As the heat of the day started to fade, we had showers and put up the tent, then paid our dues at the automated entry machine and walked back to town in our clean clothes and sandals.

The terrace of the Meridien was in the long shadow of the church and it was very pleasant sitting there amongst the locals with our glasses of cold rosé.

Walking in France: On the terrace of the Meridien, Toulon-sur-Arroux
On the terrace of the Meridien

On the advice of the waitress, we then moved over to the pizza restaurant across the square, which was incongruously housed in the former Mairie, a grand building with high, arched doorways emblazoned with the resounding slogan “Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité”.

Awnings had been strung up at the front and the tables underneath were crowded with diners.

It turned out that these diners were a children’s sports club celebrating the end of the season. The children sat at one long table and the adults at the other (with a surprising further segregation by sex among the adults).

Walking in France: The highly segregated diners from the children’s sports club
The highly segregated diners from the children’s sports club

We occupied a table in the former lobby, and since we had arrived after the sports people, we had to wait until they were all served, which took a great amount of time.

Luckily our hosts brought us some wine to pass the time.

Walking in France: Stodgy pizzas and a half litre of red for dinner
Stodgy pizzas and a half litre of red for dinner

When they came, the pizzas were fairly stodgy, but we were hungry and they were hot and filling, a lot better than a cold crust sitting on the ground at the camping ground.

Nevertheless we could not finish them and took away the leftovers for a future lunch. But the next day they looked so heavy and indigestible that they ended up flying into a thicket as a treat for the local wildlife.

Walking in France: Toulon-sur-Arroux's early twelfth century church
Toulon-sur-Arroux’s early twelfth century church

On the way home, the last rays of the sun were warming the old stones of the church, which dated from the early twelfth century and looked every bit of its age, with all its sharp corners rounded by time.

Back in the camping ground, while I was in the shower block cleaning my teeth, our fat, nosy fellow camper accosted Keith for the third time, demanding to see the receipt from the entry machine, which was hardly his business, so Keith kept him guessing by pretending not to understand him, until he retreated, seething with indignation.

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