Monday, 2 July 2018
Distance 19 km
Duration 4 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 148 m, descent 184 m
At exactly half past six we walked up the sleeping street and presented ourselves at the bar. It was already open, although a lot emptier than last night.
Our beefy host was just driving off, presumably to earn some money somewhere, and his wife was in charge (as she had also been yesterday).
With our coffee we ate the chaussons from yesterday, which were still delicious.
Leaving this happy haven with reluctance, we wove down through the streets, crossed another main road, and passed a few scattered houses on a small road that circled the base of a hill.
Before long we branched off on a wheel track and arrived at the D223, just opposite a tiny, ornate, dilapidated cottage that looked like a gingerbread house. Behind it was a thick forest of oaks and pines.
On either side of this house, a track disappeared into the trees, and we wanted the left-hand one, but after a few metres it was blocked by a massive pile of earth and branches, so we took the other one, confident that we could find our way through the forest.
Our map showed several tracks, but they all went off the edge of the map and we had to guess what joined to what. Unfortunately all our guesses later proved to be wrong.
After turning back a couple of times, we took a compass bearing and blundered through the undergrowth in that direction, which at least got us onto a road.
Soon after that we came to Lezat, the village we had been heading for all along. This was a great relief. It had taken us almost an hour to go a kilometre and a half.
The village was ghostly quiet, but we had the comfort of some small yellow plums as we passed by.
A bit further on we became conscious of a low growling sound, and looked around to see a huge bus creeping along behind us, unable to pass but reluctant to frighten us by sounding the horn.
We leapt off the road and the driver laughed and waved, as we did.
On a succession of wheel tracks, paths and roads, we got to the bigger village of Denone, and sat down for a moment beside the road. I noticed that my blisters were much better today.
After that we only had an hour’s easy walking through the fields before we arrived at the pretty little church of Poëzat with its crumbling graveyard, surrounded by houses and vegetable plots.
We were now in the department of the Allier, having just left Puy-de-Dôme.
In another couple of kilometres we reached the edge of Gannat and passed under the railway line, then climbed up interminable streets of new, well-to-do houses, crossed the main road (the D2009) and kept climbing.
There seemed no end to the expansion of the town. At last the houses thinned out and the road swooped up towards the distant ridge. Luckily the camping ground entrance was just around the bend.
We marched in and went to the reception, but there was a sign on the door announcing that it would be unattended every Monday during July. It sounded like another free night coming up.
The grounds were beautiful, with velvet lawns and terraced flower gardens, and there were plenty of people already in residence in their vans, mostly Dutch or French.
We were tired, but we felt the need for a bit of café culture, so we left our bags under a bush and walked down to the highway again, this time turning towards the centre of town.
It was about a kilometre away and the first half of the walk was distinctly underwhelming. The houses lining the highway looked neglected and there were boarded-up shops one after the other.
Only when we got near the church did things improve. A band of poverty seemed to stand between the prosperous new housing estates on the outskirts and this equally prosperous old inner part.
The church was set back in a slightly sunken shop-fringed square, which might have been quite lively if it had not been Monday, and was curiously asymmetrical, as if a clock tower had erupted on one side of the original modest structure, flanked by a turret like a sharpened pencil.
It looked charming and intriguing, at least what we could see of it through the strings of flags festooning the square, which turned out to be for the annual multicultural festival that was about to happen in the town.
Soon after that we arrived in the central square, where a brasserie was serving lunch under the trees, so we sat down for coffee and luxuriated in the sociable chatter around us.
As we were paying, we asked whether they would be serving meals tonight (no, not on Mondays) and what time they opened in the morning (7 am), then checked our road out for tomorrow and also enquired at the kebab restaurant beside the brasserie.
To our relief they said they would be open tonight, so we walked back with our minds at ease, through the band of misfortune, to the magnificent camping ground.
As is our habit, we set up our tent quite close to the ablutions block, on grass as soft as a mattress, from where we even had a view of the land far away to the south.
The showers were a delight, and once we were in our clean clothes, we sank down for a bite of cold pizza, then an afternoon rest.
A deeply suntanned old couple came over to talk to us. They had just walked into town and hated it – the cars, the noise, the fumes – they much preferred it here.
We agreed, and hoped that they did not notice when we set off shortly afterwards in that very direction.
The walk back to town did not seem as long or as dreary this time. After a preliminary glass of rosé at the brasserie, we moved around the corner to the kebab shop, where half the world seemed to have gathered.
By a miracle we got a table in the middle of this happy hubbub. The atmosphere, despite the lack of alcohol, was animated and convivial, almost like a footy crowd.
We began by sharing a salade norvegienne (with smoked salmon), and after that Keith had a steak assiette, which consisted of two or three slabs of steak, a mountain of chips and a fine salad.
I had a kebab assiette, which was the same as Keith’s except that instead of steak I got an enormous pile of shredded meat.
It was a satisfying end to the day and we swung back happily through the blighted streets to our little home.