Thursday, 20 July 2017
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 187 m, descent 283 m
Map 140 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Today’s walk, our last for the year, was only a stroll of 15 km, so we made a leisurely departure.
Nevertheless there was still no sign of life from our camping companions of yesterday when we finally stepped out into the road in search of breakfast.
The main square, abutting the grounds of the château, contained a beautiful old halle, within whose dark timbers centuries of commerce must have taken place.
It was here that much of Jacques Tati’s film was shot, and in honour of the seventieth anniversary, the original merry-go-round, horse-drawn caravan and flagpole from the film had been brought back.
A full-sized bronze statue of the postman stood in one corner and streamers fluttered overhead for the festive occasion.
We felt pretty festive ourselves as we collected a bag of pastries and descended through the lanes to the Guesclin.
Cheerful red umbrellas had appeared on the terrace, and we sat under one for our delicious breakfast of two coffees and two croissants each.
When we eventually left this great little town, we the town, we went down a steep wheel track and crossed the river Indre, which was not hard given how small it still was.
We then climbed sharply to a road, and stayed on it until it veered away at Préjolais, at which point we took a much smaller one that ambled through meadows full of creamy cows.
After crossing a stream, we went up gently on a track to the hamlet of les Courreaux, only to find our way blocked by a gate. However a man came out of a house nearby and assured us that we were not to worry, he would open it for us.
This saved us the annoyance of going around by the road, and we shook hands and thanked him for his help.
A few kilometres after that the cows were replaced by sunflowers, vast fields of them, all turning their faces towards us.
The land started to rise and we left the bitumen. We were now reunited with the GRP and GR46 of yesterday, in addition to a variant of the GR654 (the Way of Vézelay). So there was no danger of straying off the track.
We descended through a wood and crossed a footbridge over the Indre, now a slightly more respectable river, and continued beside it for a few hundred metres before seeing the sign pointing up the hill to the camping ground.
This was where we would stop for the day. We would finish the whole trip next morning by walking the last couple of kilometres into la Châtre.
Having reached a bitumen road, we entered the camping ground with its magnificent modern reception building and immaculate grounds. The swimming pool was empty as it was remarkably cool, the sort of day that would have made our 37 km forced march two days ago much more bearable.
Our hostess showed us to a large hedged site with a tree, and pointed out the ablutions block and the restaurant, which were both in the main building.
As soon as we had put up the tent, showered and changed, we hurried to the restaurant for a coffee of arrival. We took this on the terrace, where an attractively gnarled olive tree poked through a hole in the decking. It was deeply satisfying to know that our labours in France were as good as over for this year.
A few hours later we were back on the terrace for dinner, this time in the company of many other campers.
We began with an apéritif in the form of a small carafe of rosé, which came in a clear plastic carrier full of iced water, labelled “Ice Bag”. This seems to be the latest trend in France for summer drinks. With the wine we got some toasts and a bowl of olive tapenade.
Pushing on to the main menu, we changed to red wine. Keith’s first course was a flaky cheese tart laden with rocket, and mine was two bowls of creamy seafood.
For the main course we both had small, choice steaks with herb butter, accompanied by potato wedges in a paper boat. It was a rich and delightful meal and we had an equally delightful sleep to follow.
With an excited holiday feeling, we left the excellent la Châtre camping ground at about 7:30 am and followed the GR along the green riverbank for about a kilometre, then left it and crossed a causeway into the outskirts of the town.
After a stiff climb we came to the old centre, where we wandered about until we found the bus stop in the Champ de Foire where we would catch the bus to Châteauroux.
Having worked that out, we retired to a bar in the main square that was just opening its doors, with a bag of croissants in hand.
After breakfast we caught the bus at about 10 o’clock, after ceremoniously throwing away the last of our walking maps in a nearby bin.
As the bus raced through the flat, monotonous countryside, we felt pleased and relieved that we were not on foot.
At Châteauroux we had more coffee at a bar near the railway station before taking a second bus that delivered us to Tours, an old haunt of ours.
Our aim was to spend our remaining few days camping in Bléré, a beloved village about 20 km up the Cher river, so we got tickets for the early afternoon train.
We had been corresponding by email with a Welsh couple who were travelling about in a campervan.
We had never met them, but had been trying to for the past three years, and they had gone to Bléré especially to meet this train, delaying their drive to the channel ferry as long as possible. However they would need to set off later that afternoon to cover a bit of distance before night.
So it was particularly unfortunate when this train was cancelled. In the event we did not get there until 6 pm and had given up hope that they would still be there.
As we swung into the camping ground we were astonished to hear “G’day mate!” and see a beaming man advancing towards us – our Welsh email friend, Tony, who then introduced us to his wife Shirley.
They had decided to stay in Bléré for the night and make a dash for the ferry in the morning. Later they took us out to dinner in the village, a very happy and talkative occasion.
We stayed in Bléré for another two nights, doing little but eat, drink and sleep on the first day.
Our coffee breaks were shared amongst the various bars of the village, the main streets of which were overhung by garlands of coloured umbrellas strung across the street, we never worked out quite why.
We returned to the same restaurant – la Charbonnette – that evening (there was not much choice of restaurants here), and were lucky to get an outdoor table, as it was stiflingly hot inside.
Just in case, we booked a table for the following evening, but we had to accept an indoor one, as all the outdoor tables were taken.
On the second day we paid a visit to the Office de Tourisme in the main square and got a brochure describing small circular walks that could be done in the area.
We spent the morning strolling, pleasantly pack-free, along the river and then over the vine-clad slopes.
On the way back to town we came upon a small domed chapel surrounded by one of the most beautiful flower gardens we had ever seen.
This chapel was built in 1526 by a local noble, Jehan de Saignés, in memory of his father, and has survived remarkably well. Somebody still loves it, judging by the garden.
By the time we arrived at la Charbonnette for dinner, the weather had deteriorated and heavy rain was hammering down, so we felt very smug that we had an indoor table booked, while the outdoor diners were being turned away.
The next morning there was a little ceremony to conduct – the throwing away of my walking shirt which had definitely reached the end of its life.
I had mended it so many times that it now had patches on patches, and was still full of holes.
Then, after a leisurely breakfast in the bar, we walked to the station, which was over the Cher river and about a kilometre further on, at la Croix, and got a train back to Tours.
That night we stayed at the Ibis Budget and had a glorious valedictory dinner in the gastronomic centre of the town, with a traditional glass of Vouvray Pétillant to begin.
On our final day in France, we began with a monumental breakfast at the hotel, then did a bit of gentle tourism in the old quarter of Tours before catching the Intercité train to Paris.
Our Australian friend Roz met us and escorted us to her charming borrowed apartment in Montmartre.
As we were to fly out of Paris that night, we took the precaution of having a little nap on her floor, after which she took us to her favourite local restaurant, la Jolie Bohème, at the foot of a steep staircase leading to Sacre Coeur.
It only remained for us to take the RER to the airport and endure the 24 hour punishment of the flight to our native land.