Day 23: Gueugnon to Digoin

Walking in France: An early start at l’Hotel du Centre, Gueugnon
An early start at l’Hotel du Centre, Gueugnon

Friday, 7 July 2017
Distance 19 km
Duration 3 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 1 m, descent 16 m
Map 141 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

Our first act in the morning was to have another shower, just because we could (it is a deplorable habit that we indulge in whenever we stay in hotels).

Then at 7 am precisely we descended to the breakfast room, expecting to be the first ones there, but a couple of other guests were already well into their coffee and croissants.

Walking in France: Breakfast

The room was very slick and modern but there was no disguising the ancient beams holding up the ceiling – the best part of the décor in my opinion.

Our coffee came in traditional bowls and was accompanied by orange juice, yoghurt, bread, butter, jam and croissants.

We ate everything and had our bowls refilled by the obliging waiter. We were not in a hurry, as the weather was cool and the day’s walk short.

Walking in France: Crossing the Arroux, Gueugnon
Crossing the Arroux, Gueugnon

Stepping out of the hotel, we crossed the river on a footbridge and found ourselves at the beginning of the so-called Rigole de l’Arroux, a channel that feeds water from the Arroux into the Canal du Centre and the adjoining Lateral Canal of the Loire.

It is the narrowest canal in France, and for a while it carried materials by barge to and from the great forges of Gueugnon, but this traffic ceased in 1953.

Walking in France: Endangering the health and safety of the local wildlife
Endangering the health and safety of the local wildlife

The other remarkable thing about this part of town, known as le Vieux Fresne, was that in Roman times it was a famous centre of pottery-making, supplying pottery mainly to Autun, up the river. The ruins of the ovens are still being excavated.

There was a path beside the Rigole all the way, and most of it was shady.

Ignoring the Parcours de Santé (fitness circuit) that French towns love to put along canal banks, we took the opportunity to get rid of the leaden pizza from Tournon, by flinging it into the shrubbery beside the track, where it no doubt gave the local fauna indigestion.

Walking in France: Beside the invisible rigole
Beside the invisible rigole

We crossed to the other side of the canal and walked on a wide dirt road under overarching trees for a few kilometres.

It was a warm morning so we appreciated the shade. The canal itself was only a few metres away, but hidden by the undergrowth, so we felt that we were on a normal forest path rather than a canal-side track.

Walking in France: The pretty lockkeeper's cottage at lock number one, Rigole de l’Arroux
The pretty lockkeeper’s cottage at lock number one, Rigole de l’Arroux

At the next bridge the road shrank again to a narrow path, still pleasantly shaded, and half an hour later we emerged at the first lock (there are only two), prettily decorated with tubs of flowers.

We continued beside the canal through the lush greenery, as straight as an arrow – the Romans would have been proud.

The high road and the low road

After a slight lean to the right, we came to where the canal went under the highway (the D994) and we used a little footbridge to change to the opposite bank for a kilometre or so.

Now for the first time we were walking beside the water instead of in a tunnel of trees, and it felt like a normal canal path.

Walking in France: Heading straight for Digoin
Heading straight for Digoin

We were in the outskirts of Digoin by then, and fast approaching the end of the canal.

We passed the second lock – not as picturesque as the first – and then walked beside the canal as it sailed over a stream and melted into the Canal du Centre a few metres further on.

Walking in France: Rigole de l’Arroux joining the Canal du Centre
Rigole de l’Arroux joining the Canal du Centre
Walking in France: A short walk on the Canal du Centre
A short walk on the Canal du Centre

Approaching Digoin was a lovely feeling, almost like a homecoming, because we had spent a couple of days there last year, recovering from Keith’s swollen leg.

That had been wonderful time of relaxation, doing little more than eat and sleep.

However, from the end of the Rigole there were still three kilometres to go along the Canal du Centre before we arrived in town.

Walking in France: A happy return to Digoin
A happy return to Digoin

Digoin is not the most photogenic of towns, at least not in the outlying part with its factories and warehouses.

Once at the boat harbour, which presumably marks the division between the Canal du Centre and the Lateral Canal of the Loire, we took to the streets, which were full of shops at that point, and soon got ourselves to the cathedral, with its lopped-off steeple and its tympanum depicting a local chef among the saints.

In this square we had had a glorious breakfast last year, when we arrived on the bus after a dismal day of rain, hunger and anxiety.

This time we kept going, heading for the café that had been our salvation, Chez Lily, which was just outside the entrance to the camping ground. It was still flourishing, so we sat down for a cool drink and then walked the extra few hundred metres to the camping ground.

Walking in France: Followed by Originas at the Chez Lily of fond memories
Originas at Chez Lily of blessed memory

Nothing much had changed here either. Small tents like ours were accommodated on a sort of grassy shelf at the top of the place, with a walking path and the Loire river beyond the boundary fence.

A line of mature plane trees shaded the plots, and we had the added luxury of two plastic chairs, lent by our amiable hostess.

Walking in France: Not fully installed in the Digoin camping ground
Not fully installed in the Digoin camping ground

The afternoon passed in relaxed fashion, with the usual washing rituals, sleeping and reading.

Our possessions were scattered all over the place on the grass, looking as if they could never have fitted into our packs, and we did not bother to put up the tent until just before returning to Chez Lily for dinner.

On our way out, we fell into conversation with some German people with a big caravan, just below our little perch. They were from Leipzig (“You know – Bach, Mendelssohn…” said the man with a quizzical smile).

Leipzig had been reduced to rubble by bombing during the war, they said, but had now been reconstructed, although not always convincingly.

Walking in France: To start our dinner, a salad with ham, croutons, yoghurt and herbs
To start our dinner, a salad with ham, croutons, yoghurt and herbs

They were indulging in a glass or two of white wine, which they politely offered to share with us. As they had only two wine glasses, we managed to satisfy public health requirements by sipping from the opposite side of their glasses.

After this delightful encounter, we strolled back to the brasserie and sat down at an outdoor table, but it was in the full force of the hot evening sun, so we retired indoors, directly under a ceiling fan.

Starting our meal in the usual way, we had a large, fresh, delicious salad, loaded with ham, croutons, yoghurt and herbs.

Walking in France: A main course of a non brick-like une brique
A main course of a non brick-like brique

To follow, I chose something that I did not know, but which sounded substantial – une brique.

Walking in France: And a Café Liégeois to finish
And a Café Liégeois to finish

When it arrived, it was far from brick-like, resembling more a thin, feather-light purse of pastry, but it sat on another considerable salad, so with the help of a basket of bread, I dined well. Keith meanwhile stuck to his tried and true steak and chips.

As a final treat we had a Café Liégeois, that exuberant tower of ice-cream, coffee syrup and cream that epitomises the French contempt for Anglo-Saxon anxieties about fat and cholesterol.

Previous day: Toulon-sur-Arroux to Gueugnon

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