Wednesday, 19 July 2017
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 296, descent 413 m
Map 140 of the
The previous night, the stone-faced woman had told us that the bar would open at 8 am, and we had seen an encouraging sign on the wall describing the breakfast – orange juice, croissants, bread, butter, jam and coffee.
Our eagerness was such that we arrived before the appointed hour and had to sit outside until the metal door creaked up and we were allowed in.
The woman, still unsmiling, asked us whether we wanted croissants or pains au chocolat, and came back with a single croissant each to go with our coffee, and nothing else, saying she had no more (as a concession, she did provide a couple of pieces of fudge).
Some workmen came in, at which point more croissants miraculously appeared. At least the derelict old drinkers from last night had not yet arrived.
We left the café feeling that we never wanted to see Préveranges again.
After a short distance on a local road we turned onto a wheel track, which was marked with red and yellow GRP signs – it was called “in the steps of the Maîtres Sonneurs”, recalling a nineteenth-century novel of that name, set in this area, by George Sand.
We joined a road which threaded under an abandoned railway line and presently parted company with the GRP.
Soon after that, we crossed the trickling Indre river, only a kilometre from its source – a newborn babe, swaddled in nettles.
It was hard to believe that it would ever grow big enough to give its name to a whole department.
Once again the road became a wheel track, pleasantly flat and dry, and we had a brief flirtation with the GR46 before it swung away to the north (we would meet both it and the GRP again before the day’s walk was done).
Reverting to bitumen again, we came down steeply to an intersection, and it suddenly began to rain, so we draped our capes over our shoulders, hoping it would not last.
It didn’t, and we were soon strolling along in the sunshine again.
Perhaps not strolling, as by now we had been walking for three hours on a single croissant and a coffee, on top of virtually no dinner or lunch the day before.
Another hour passed as we wove our way through a series of small roads and tracks and then plunged down to the banks of a tributary of the Indre.
We were now back on the GR46 and the GRP.
The track climbed a ridge and headed straight for our destination, the village of Ste-Sévère, about which we knew nothing.
I began to worry that it would be another desert like Préveranges.
I was wilting badly by the time the ridge path finally switched back and descended to the road, just at the bridge over the Indre (which was still only a small stream, although it had grown a bit since we last saw it).
Beyond the bridge, the village clung for dear life onto the precipitous slope, and we laboured up through small, unremarkable streets until we reached the main road, where the land flattened out.
Turning towards the church, as is our habit in a strange town, we heard happy chatter and came to a large restaurant (le Relais du Facteur) full of lunch diners.
The great wooden stable doors at one side were open (or rather a small inset door was open) and we could see tables crowded with people eating.
An instant unanimous decision was taken by all two of us, and we rushed in, sweaty packs, muddy boots and all. We were escorted courteously to a table, as if we were as well dressed as everybody else, and we soon had the indescribable pleasure of a three-course lunch.
We had already made inroads on the bread and wine before our first course arrived – gazpacho with a small, buttery pastry.
After that Keith had his usual favourite of steak and chips, while I had a piece of lamb covered in herbs, with succulent braised courgettes.
Feeling much better by this time, we finished off with fruit salad for Keith and coffee for me. We looked forward to visiting this excellent place again in the evening, but the waitress informed us that they would be closed. However, she said that the Bar du Guesclin, halfway down the hill, would be open for meals.
The next thing was to find the camping ground, and we were surprised at how close to the centre of town it was, a few blocks along the main road, past the church.
It was the tiniest camping ground that we had ever seen, with only eight places, three of them already occupied, and a minuscule shower block down a flight of stairs.
We were so happy to be here, full of food, and in the company of other campers.
Next to us in a small tent were two women cyclists from Amiens, and in a big van nearby, a fat, jolly old fellow from Savoie and his wife, who had been in residence here for several days.
The other person was a man from Rennes, just passing by in a car.
At about 6 pm we heard a saucepan being vigorously banged with a spoon, and the fat old man shouting that it was time for apéritifs.
A ring of chairs had been set up outside the van, and we all gathered around while our host produced a bottle of martini and some slightly cloudy tumblers. Conversation and drink flowed freely and everyone enjoyed it.
We were instructed in Ste-Sévère’s principal claim to fame, the fact that in 1947, Jacques Tati (inventor of M. Hulot) made his first film here, a comedy called “Le Jour de Fête”. The main character in the film was an eccentric postman, played by Jacques Tati himself.
That was exactly seventy years ago, and there had been great celebrations and re-enactments in the village a few days before, on Bastille Day.
None of the others had met an Australian before, although the women from Amiens knew about the many Australian lads killed in the First World War in their area. One of them, a teacher, and could not resist trying out her English on us, to everyone’s amusement My French was also a source of amusement.
Eventually, the party broke up and we walked into town, where we found the Bar du Guesclin without trouble.
It was a warm evening and we ate on the vine-enclosed terrace, with its pretty blue shutters and railings, and its tubs of flowers.
Our appetites were undiminished by our hearty lunch, so we ordered the four-course menu, which amazingly only cost €14 each.
For entrées, I had a vegetable-filled pastry buried in ham and roasted tomatoes, while Keith had two enormous ravioli with a cream sauce.
We still had plenty of appetite, and were very conscious of the contrast between this feast and the starvation rations of yesterday. We also enjoyed the murmur of conversation from the other tables, so different from last night’s dismal solitude.
For our main course we both chose a bavette (i.e. a steak), with pasta and salad.
After the main course had been despatched, a big platter of cheeses appeared and we sampled every one of them, even the alarming looking red cone. Our waitress told us all their names, which we immediately forgot.
To finish, Keith had a slice of cherry clafouti and I had a coffee ice cream swathed in cream.
It had been a wonderful day, made even more so because it followed one of our worst days ever.
The knowledge that we only had one more day of walking also made us very happy as we ambled back to our tent, passing a comical statue of the postman on the way.