Tuesday, 26 June 2018
Distance 23 km
Duration 4 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 77 m, descent 100 m
We left rather later than usual, at 7:30 am, and said goodbye to our lovable host as we passed the accueil, complimenting him on his excellent camping ground. He modestly replied that it was not his, pointing to the insignia of the municipality on his shirt, but we still gave him credit for it.
Once again we took the pedestrian track that he had recommended, bypassing the main part of Brassac, and then followed the D34 for a kilometre or so until it crossed the Allier and swept across a water meadow into the village of Jumeaux.
We hoped to find a boulangerie there and we were not disappointed, except that all the pastries were gone and we had to make do with a couple of slices of tarte.
There was a bar a few steps further on, somewhat plain and dark inside, and too close to the road to allow for any outdoor tables. However the coffee was good and we had two rounds.
A group of workers in fluorescent vests seemed to be in no hurry to get back to work, but they finally wandered off just before we did.
The GR300, that we were more or less following, went up a steep-looking sidetrack as it left the village, but we stayed on the D34, and the GR soon came back.
Its next departure from the road was more inviting and we took it – a wheel track across the fields, which rejoined the road in the centre of Auzat-Combelle.
Then the GR disappeared behind the houses, but we continued along the road as far as a bridge, where we turned right.
As we went along, we saw a strange pointed peak becoming ever larger over the flat fields, with a village clinging precariously to one flank.
This was Nonette, and about half an hour later we came to a parting of the ways, where we had to decide whether to go up and visit it, or just admire it from afar.
The upward track (which was actually the GR again) looked steep and dusty, and the day was rapidly heating up, so in the end we took the less heroic option and continued up the little road and over the saddle (we told ourselves that these pretty villages were often better viewed from a distance, without the details of the rubbish bins and graffiti).
As we started to descend, we met the GR coming down from its excursion to Nonette.
Below us in a grassy bowl lay the village of les Pradeaux.
We wondered whether to go down into the streets in search of a bar, or just keep going along the road and have our refreshments at Parentignat, about three kilometres further on, where we knew there was a hotel.
As the road was so quiet, and we had grave doubts about the existence of the bar in les Pradeaux, we took the latter option. It seemed a good idea at the time, but later we were sorry, because when we arrived at Parentignat, the hotel was defunct.
It had died only a few months earlier, and a hand-written notice on the door lamented its demise after being in the family since 1952.
We also lamented, but only because we had been walking for three and a half hours since breakfast and were getting tired.
The town was small but rather imposing, with an elegant château and a walled park shaded by trees.
We sat on a bench in this park and ate some dried fruit, feeling a little disconsolate, despite the cheerful babble from the school nearby.
Luckily it was not far from here to our destination, and for this last section we stuck to the GR, which meandered pleasantly beside a tributary, before being forced onto the highway to cross the Allier itself, described as usual on the sign as “Rivière à Saumons”, possibly the reason that we had been eating so much fish lately.
The bridge was a mighty concrete and steel affair, but next to it were the remnants of a much older, rickettier construction – the so-called “pont suspendu”. Presumably it had failed in its suspension duties at some time in the past.
The outskirts of Issoire were upon us, but we had to make a long, hair-pin detour to get over another tributary and then under the A75 (it was actually a very pleasant woodland walk) before we arrived at the mass of hotels and restaurants that lined the autoroute.
Behind them we found the municipal camping ground, beautifully calm and green, with flower gardens blooming and many campers in residence, if the term “campers” includes people occupying enormous self-contained vans.
We chose a shady spot close to the shower block, and after our ablutions we spent the afternoon stretched out on our mats.
At about 7:30 we went back up the road and looked at menus, eventually deciding on the Buffalo Grill.
It was a huge establishment with many dark, enclosed booths inside, upholstered oppressively in red, but outside there was a garden terrace with umbrellas, much more to our liking.
The waiters and waitresses wore checked shirts, jeans and boots, but still did not look American, and although the menu was a garish, laminated thing, the food, fortunately, was French.
We both had faux filet with salad and beans, plus the usual bread and wine. With the meat Keith had his favourite Roquefort sauce and I had my own favourite, green peppercorn sauce.
As we strolled the short distance back to our tent, we looked forward confidently to an easy day tomorrow – always a temptation to mischievous fate.