Thursday, 13 July 2017
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 116 m, descent 155 m
Map 141 of the
We were not sure about today’s walk – whether we would stop at Hérisson, only
But one thing that we were very sure about was breakfast, and we wasted no time getting ourselves packed up and walking the kilometre back to the Routiers bar, with a happy feeling of expectation.
The gentle giant of last night was still at his post – he may have been there all night – and as genially energetic as ever. Several truck drivers were leaning on the counter with their small black coffees.
We had picked up a bag of pastries on the way, and with hot, milky coffee they made an ideal start to the day. We lingered over them as long as we dared.
When we set off, we first crossed an attractive little river with grassy banks, then came to a roundabout flanked by ugly supermarkets and warehouses, at which point we turned off, hurried past some soul-destroying apartment blocks and emerged into the countryside.
We left the bitumen at a pig farm and took a series of grassy tracks, some more overgrown than others, through the beautiful summer landscape.
Our way was shaded in parts by banks of trees, but as the sky was grey, we were not as grateful as normal for their protection.
After an hour or two we came to a ford over a stream, and crossed it without getting our feet wet, thanks to a few long planks that somebody had kindly slung across the water.
Shortly after that we joined a nameless little road, which in turn joined a bigger one (the D251) and we found ourselves beside a sharply falling escarpment.
We turned off at a wayside cross, passed a dilapidated farm and came to the very edge, where we looked down on an amazing sight – a ruined fairytale castle of many towers, standing on a knoll above the deeply sunken river, with houses clustered around its base.
We had no idea that Hérisson was such a remarkable village, having only seen its name on maps, and the sight of it convinced us to give up any idea of continuing further today.
There was a rough, dusty track descending the escarpment at an angle, and in fifteen minutes we were down in the streets.
Hérisson was a jumble of crooked lanes and charming old stone houses, which, combined with the romantic ruin, gave it all the qualities of a Plus Beau Village except for the obligatory baskets of flowers hanging everywhere.
We were looking for a bar, and found one just near the river, through an archway.
It was the sort of place that would definitely need to be cleaned up before the village could be declared plus beau. The tables were cramped and grubby, and the floor was covered in dead flies, among other things.
However it seemed popular with the locals, one of whom carried our coffee over to us, as the barman didn’t see the need to rise from his stool.
Pressing on up the main street, we soon arrived at a crossroads, where a lonely old bell tower stood, a remnant of a vanished church.
Beyond that was a pleasant square and in it the welcome sight of a restaurant (le Médiéval), with its blue-painted shutters and steep old roof.
It was closed, but would open in the evening, according to the sign, so we kept going through the lanes until we came to the river – the same river Aumance that we had crossed on our way into Cosne d’Allier.
We followed the road beside the water, looking across at the camping ground but unable to get to it until we came to a low concrete causeway that must surely go under the water every time it rains.
The first thing on the other side was a ruined farm and mill, complete with weir, and an old pigeonnier.
We then doubled back to the camping ground, which occupied the riverbank all the way back to the village (we realised later that there was a much shorter way back to town, via a footbridge at that end).
Predictably, there was nobody in attendance at the barrier, so we just walked around it. A gravel road went along beside the water and the sites were strung out along it, backed up against a steeply rising wood.
Everything was neatly mown and trimmed, and most of the sites were already occupied by campers.
We had a peaceful afternoon in the shade of the overarching trees at the back, dozing and reading, with the added entertainment of a concert of popular songs being performed just across the river – part of the annual summer festival, apparently.
A beautiful light, gauzy female voice floated across the water, supported by a man who did little more than speak the words.
It was charming to hear the woman in the caravan next to us, singing along blithely.
As the sun began to decline, we returned to town over the footbridge, and settled down outside le Médiéval for our customary rosé.
After a while some workmen sat at the adjoining table and they were visited by a somewhat elderly, artistically dressed woman (shawls and beads), who then came to our table.
It turned out that she was Dutch, and had been living in Hérisson for many years.
The workmen, she said, were English builders who were restoring an old house nearby, and inhabiting it (in some squalor) as they worked. They were living on beer and chips, and were desperately homesick.
When the time came to dine, we went indoors, into a spacious room decorated prettily with paintings, mirrors, and knick-knacks. Our table looked out onto the square, where the daylight was starting to fade.
Our first course was one of our favourites – salad with goat’s cheese on toast. We realised how hungry we were when we began to eat, so the basket of bread was quickly emptied (and refilled).
After that Keith had steak with Roquefort sauce and I had a veal brochette (on a skewer), both of which came with a succulent vegetable stack, penne and roasted potatoes. The local red wine blended beautifully with all these flavours.