Friday, 13 July 2018
Distance 26 km
Duration 5 hours 55 minutes
Ascent 357 m, descent 234 m
We had checked the bars and boulangeries of the town yesterday while waiting for the Office of Tourism to make contact with the gîte.
All the bars near the river, the really touristy ones, did not open until 8:30 or later – one of them said 11 am – but further up the street we had found one that opened at 7 am.
The boulangerie near the bridge was also good, opening at 6:30 am. Accordingly we left at about 6:45, taking the footpath from the camping ground up to the bridge.
This side of the river was as quiet as the tomb, except for two elderly fishermen pushing their boat off into the current, a scene that would not have looked out of place centuries before.
On the mainland (so to speak) we collected a bag of warm pastries and were at the bar at 5 past 7, but we were not at all the first customers.
The place was half full of relaxed looking locals with tiny black coffees in front of them.
We, on the other hand, covered the whole table top with our pastries, our maps and our large milky coffees. However we only had one cup each, as we had hopes of refreshments along the way.
At the top of the town, the road swerved off, but we continued straight ahead and ducked under the railway line through a pedestrian tunnel.
Rejoining the road, we passed beneath the mighty N7 and immediately turned left, following the red and white marks of the GR654.
We were in a great expanse of newly-cut wheat, with hedges separating the blonde, combed fields.
Soon after that the landscape turned green, and the track was shaded by ancient oaks.
We passed a graveyard and came to the village of Raveau.
Just as we were about to turn in the direction of the GR, we saw someone coming from the other direction carrying a baguette, so we went to investigate.
There was indeed a boulangerie nearby, and better still, a little épicerie/bar with a tiny terrace.
The grave, silent barwoman brought our coffee in paper cups and Keith dashed next door for one more croissant (I still had one left over from breakfast).
We were starting to wonder whether there was a medical condition caused by an overdose of croissants.
Keith went in to pay and was amazed to receive a dazzling smile from the previously stony-faced woman.
Then we continued on our way, or rather, we took another way, parallel to the GR and slightly shorter, through the vast deciduous forest of the Bertranges.
At first the track was overgrown, but soon it became the usual straight forestry road, rising through the featureless ocean of trees.
We counted off the side alleys as we passed them, in an effort to keep track of where we were.
It was a relief to reach a bitumen road at the top and reconnect with the GR.
About an hour later, most of it spent on tracks, we came out of the forest and climbed a hillside full of wheat, before dropping into the hamlet of Chasnay, a picturesque little place on a stream.
This was where we had hoped to find a bar, but it was either dead or resting (we could not decide which), so we kept going along the GR.
At the top of the houses, a sandy wheel track curved into the valley. On the opposite side there were patches of vines like corduroy carpets among the pasture, green on green.
The floor of the valley was a great sweep of mown wheat, and on our side the forest loomed.
We entered this forest at the head of the valley and were very grateful for the GR marks, as the path was often obstructed by fallen branches.
At one such blockage we met a man struggling downhill over a mass of vegetation, with his bike held aloft.
He was not a pilgrim, just a cyclist out for the day, and he lived at Pouilly-sur-Loire, having escaped, as he put it, from his life in Paris.
Despite the occasional impediment, most of the track was good.
An hour after entering the forest we came to the end of it, just as a straggling troop of uniformed teenagers of both sexes came the other way, bound for the gîte at Arbousse, they said.
We were now at the top of a great pale swathe of wheat stubble, glaringly hot after the forest.
It was 1:30 pm and we were getting tired, but luckily we only had a couple of kilometres to go.
We arrived in Châteauneuf-Val-de-Bargis, which was on the highway (the N151), and found the bar where we were to pick up the key for the gîte, just opposite the Mairie.
It was called la Halte de Campagne and was overflowing with people having lunch under umbrellas. It was not the right moment to approach the patron for the gîte key, but we did.
He distractedly told us to get a key from the boulangerie down the street, but when we got there the place was shut.
Back at the bar, the harassed patron finally handed over the key and said to come back later to do the paperwork.
The only trouble was that we did not know where the gîte was, except that it was somewhere across the road.
There was much activity in the courtyard of the Mairie as workmen assembled canopies and trestle tables for the great loyal feast of Bastille Day tomorrow.
We looked in vain for signs of the gîte, and the workmen did not know, so we eventually had to shout up to someone at a high window of the Mairie, who pointed us down a lane.
At last we saw a low doorway with the familiar gîte sign, and it opened without the key. The locked door was at the back, in a small enclosed garden.
Inside, the place was a riot of colour, every room different, with three bunk rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen. It was completely empty except for us, and remained so for the duration.
After showers, we went back to the bar to hand over our €20.
We also tried to give back the key, saying that we did not need to lock ourselves in at night, but the patron was so scandalised at this thought that we did not insist.
He said that it was lucky we had not arrived the previous night, when there had been fourteen scouts in residence – presumably the group that we had passed on the track.
After aperitifs, we walked to the Petit Casino and got enough picnic food for two nights – this one and the next.
We bought salad ingredients, a baguette, a bottle of wine, a tin of ratatouille, a jar of terrine and a shallot, which was so small that the shopkeeper smilingly gave it to us as a present.
Back at the gîte, we relaxed in the garden, which was weedy but charming, and then had dinner in the kitchen.
The gas stove did not work but there was a microwave in which we heated up the gratinée from last night to add to the table.
In the fridge we found a bottle of Orangina only sightly consumed, so we helped ourselves to that too.
After this fine little feast, we slept together quite comfortably in the lower bunk.