Day 6: Simandre-sur-Suran to St-Étienne-du-Bois

Walking in France: Our tent lost in the greenery, Simandre-sur-Suran camping ground
Our tent lost in the greenery

Tuesday, 20 June 2017
Distance 16 km
Duration 3 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 173 m, descent 243 m
Map 143 of the TOP 100 lime-green series or
Map 142 of the TOP 100 lime-green series

As the hotel breakfast did not begin until 8 o’clock, we had time to pack up completely before arriving.

We were hoping to eat in the courtyard, as we had last night, but madame showed us in to the bar, which was somewhat crowded and messy.

Several locals were already propped up at the counter and two small schoolgirls (grandchildren presumably) were munching methodically while staring at their screens, with the air of young cows.

Walking in France: Getting ready for breakfast, Logis hotel, Simandre-sur-Suran
Getting ready for breakfast

Our hostess was fussing over a baby in a stroller nearby. Later the father of the children emerged from somewhere and took them all off by car.

We sat at the adjoining table and had fresh bread rolls, croissants, two sorts of home-made jam and a great slab of butter. The coffee came in jugs, with hot milk, and we had two cups each.

We are always devoutly grateful for a breakfast like this, after the many times when we have set off unfed, or almost.

Walking in France: Our glorious breakfast
Our glorious breakfast

Thus reassuringly padded, we set off, pausing to say goodbye to our camping companion, who was just sticking his head out of his tent as we walked past.

It was almost 9 am and already quite hot. We also said goodbye to the camping manager, Mélanie, as she arrived to do whatever duties she had.

Walking in France: Near Thioles
Near Thioles

Passing the church, we turned off onto a minor road through Thioles that curved around between two forested hills and then joined a wheel track.

This became a tar road, but we only stayed on it for a kilometre or so before we left it again, and began to plunge down a ridge.

The path was covered with loose white stones and the vegetation pressed exuberantly in on it, forming a canopy that made even the air look green.

Walking in France: Descending to Treffort
Descending to Treffort

At the foot of the ridge we came out into farmland. There was a fine old lavoir, a communal washing place, that had served the good women of the area from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century.

In those times it was customary to lay the clothes out on the grass, rub them with ashes, and then rinse them in the clear water of the lavoir, which straddled a stream.

Walking in France: The Lavoir de la Plate, Treffort
The Lavoir de la Plate, Treffort

A short, stiff climb took us to the edge of the village of Treffort, and we admired the beautiful vegetable gardens that surrounded it.

We spoke to a man going past with a bucket of prunings, who proudly showed us his patch, complete with chickens and ducks, and said that he had 500 square metres of garden, which made me very jealous – I only have about 50.

Walking in France: Treffort

The centre of the village was just around the corner, a pleasant looking square with a few shops and bars, all baking in the harsh morning sun.

Taking refuge under an umbrella, we ordered coffee and shared the one croissant that we had saved from breakfast.

A group of jovial drinkers at the next table interrogated us, curious to know why we had landed in their town, as it was not on any recognised walking route.

Walking in France: Under an umbrella, Trefort
Under an umbrella

One of them borrowed Keith’s camera and took a photo of us as we got up to go. These kindly-meant photos are usually dark and blurry, but this time the light was so bright that he could not fail.

Walking in France: Leaving Trefort
Leaving Trefort
Walking in France: On the way to St-Étienne-du-Bois
On the way to St-Étienne-du-Bois

Beyond Treffort the country was open and no more than mildly undulating, but in the full glare of the sun the heat was savage.

We felt ourselves being roasted, basted in our own sweat, as we trudged along a series of small, crooked roads. An hour or so later we were getting close to our destination (the village of St-Étienne-du-Bois) when I noticed a short cut on the map.

It was a farm path through a descending field of corn and we left the boiling bitumen with relief. The tall fronds of the corn beside us gave us a cool feeling if nothing else.

Walking in France: Heavy going in a cornfield
Heavy going in a cornfield

At the bottom of the field we turned towards the camping ground, which was just ahead, but unluckily for us the path fizzled out, and we were facing an impenetrable wall of blackberries and nettles.

The right thing to do would have been to retrace our steps, but we have a deep-seated aversion to that, so we decided to push our way up through the corn to rejoin the road.

This was easier said than done. The leaves of the corn were taller than we were, and a good deal sharper-edged, but at last we burst out into a grassy field and got to the road, only a hundred metres from where we had left it almost an hour ago.

From then on, we stuck to the road and had no more dramas. We turned and went down past the other end of the overgrown track, where we cast a look of hatred at the tangled vegetation that had thwarted our brilliant idea.

Walking in France: Relaxing in the Camping du Sevron, St-Étienne-du-Bois
Relaxing in the Camping du Sevron, St-Étienne-du-Bois

A few minutes after that we arrived at the camping ground, which was a thing of beauty, like a gentleman’s park, with lawns and trees around a broad curving stream held back by a weir.

There was a hump-backed bridge over the stream, blonde cows in the field behind and plenty of the usual mammoth white vans, but no other tents.

We set ourselves up under a tree near the stream, beside a picnic table.

Having washed ourselves and our clothes, we spent the afternoon lying as still as possible in the shade.

The village itself was not far away, over the hump-backed bridge and up the highway, but we did not visit it until the heat had begun to abate.

Walking in France: Ready to eat at Le Saloon, St-Étienne-du-Bois
Ready to eat at Le Saloon

According to our map, there were several restaurants, including a strange one on the highway nearby (le Restaurant de Bresse), a large bald block of glass and concrete, that proclaimed it was open every day of the week. However it was closed and deserted when we went there at 7 pm – perhaps it only served lunches.

Up in the village itself we came to what passed for the main square, where a few roads coalesced, and there were two more restaurants, but both were as dead as the earlier one.

By now we were getting worried, but we pressed on, passed the church and eventually, almost at the edge of the town, found a bar/pizzeria that was open.

It was called “Le Saloon” and did not look very salubrious, but there was a big sign announcing it was under new management.

Walking in France: Our one course dinners - fondue de volaille stuffed with cèpes and accompanied by a salad, and a steak with chips
Our one course dinners

Our hosts, a pair of middle-aged men, were very welcoming and keen to cook for us, so we took a table under the awning on the footpath. People came and went collecting pizzas, or stayed for a drink, but we were the only serious diners.

After the customary cold glasses of rosé, our dinner consisted of a single course. I had an elaborate “fondue de volaille” stuffed with cèpes and accompanied by a salad, while Keith remained loyal to steak and chips.

A basket or two of bread and a jug of red wine rounded out this delightful dinner, and we thanked our hosts warmly. They had saved us from a dreary evening eating scraps in the camping ground.

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