Saturday, 14 July 2018
Distance 23 km
Duration 5 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 185 m, descent 247 m
The thought of boiled coffee made from the stale grounds in the gîte, accompanied by yesterday’s baguette, made us decide to go to the bar for breakfast.
It opened ostensibly at 7 am but there was no sign of life when we crossed the road at 7:15. This did not matter, as we first needed to visit the boulangerie in the side street.
There was very little on the shelves there, and when we asked for croissants the woman disappeared through a door and came back with some warm ones, which we later realised were stale ones reheated.
When we got back to the bar there was still no action until, with a screech of brakes, the patron stopped his car beside us and shouted “J’árrive!” before tearing off in the direction of the boulangerie.
He was apologetic when he came back, and hurriedly made our coffee, which we enjoyed in the little tree-shaded triangle in front.
On the blackboard was written “Dimanche 17H00 Allez les Bleus”. Much more important things than Bastille Day were taking place this weekend.
Setting off at about 7:45, we took the main road for a few hundred metres (passing another, better-looking boulangerie on the way) before it swooped off importantly to the left, leaving us to continue on the old road, which was also the GR.
This soon degenerated into a path, and then a wide wheel track as we plunged into yet another forest.
As we came to the edge of the forest and the merging of our track with a bitumen road, we met a pair of young women with packs walking the other way, who said that they were heading for the gîte at Arbousse.
Considering that we were on the main Way of Vézelay, it was remarkable how few pilgrims we saw, especially as we were going against the flow.
There were more patches of forest before we came out into the sunlight on a high hill where the hay was already harvested, lying amongst the stubble in huge blonde rolls.
A snake was enjoying the warmth on the side of the track, but we did not disturb one another.
As we descended to the village of Champlemy we were surrounded by sunflowers, all obediently facing the same way.
We marched into the village along a rising street of houses.
Some people who were just getting into their car barred our way, saying that we must be lost – Compostela was in the other direction – so we turned melodramatically and pretended to go back (for a few steps), and we all laughed.
At the crossroads there was a bar, an épicerie, a church, a château and a lot of people. Some kind of Bastille Day ceremony was in the offing.
We crouched under the umbrellas outside the bar with our coffee and the remains of the Orangina from the gîte, which we had diluted with water.
When we left Champlemy, we also left the GR, not being silly enough to do a big loop for no reason.
We dropped down behind a chapel and strolled along past some fields, where a farmer was in the act of making hayrolls with his very clever tractor.
Soon the errant GR rejoined us and we entered another forest, mercifully shady, where piles of cut logs lined the way.
The first half of the track was uphill, the second half down, and at the bottom our track merged with the unpleasantly busy N151.
We could see the town of Varzy below, and looked forward to its comforts.
When we arrived in the streets, nothing was open except for a boulangerie, which was on the point of closing.
We just managed to buy two cold quiches before they shut the door.
It was Bastille Day, with all its usual hazards for walkers. There was not even a bar open, so we kept going, past the grand double-spired church and a line of closed shops, past some sawmills and factories, to the camping ground, more than a kilometre from the town.
This was on a the edge of a picturesque lake but there were only two or three campervans there, plus a few tents which did not seem to be occupied.
The little office was closed, but underneath it at the back we found a dank, cramped pilgrims’ room, with four beds, plus a stove with no power and a sink with no water.
It was too squalid for us, but the rest of the camping ground looked pleasant, with flower beds, shady trees and a well-maintained shower block. We put our packs in one of the hedged enclosures, had showers and lay down on our mats.
As we were not confident that we would get any dinner, we decided to have lunch.
We still had food left over from our gîte picnic last night at Châteauneuf-Val-de-Bargis – sliced sausage, salad and cheese. Added to the quiches that we had bought today, it made quite a respectable spread.
After that it was time for a sleep, but soon we were woken by voices.
Two young walkers had appeared, speaking some unrecognisable tongue (it turned out to be Dutch). The man was carrying a mountainous square pack, while the woman had a tiny satchel.
They sat at the table outside the closed office, fiddling with their phones, so I went over and tried to speak to them in French, quickly discovering that they preferred English.
They had started from Vézelay two days ago and had no tent and no food (so what were they carrying in the monstrous pack?).
They were pleased to hear of the little room at the back, which they immediately occupied.
If that had not existed, presumably they would have called a taxi and departed for some gîte or hotel further along the pilgrim way.
As to dinner, they had rung a pizzeria in town and found that they would deliver to the camping ground. Would we like to join them in the order?
Naturally we said yes and we all consulted the menu on their phone. They wanted to order beer too, but apparently it is illegal in France to deliver alcohol as a takeaway.
Meanwhile the gardienne had arrived and we all paid our dues (ours were €8.44).
While we waited for dinner to appear, we moved our tent to a more open spot under a tree, with a view of cows and the lake, while our new friends brought out plates, glasses and cutlery from the pilgrims’ room.
The delivery car arrived, driven by an Englishman (he owned the pizzeria) and we set out our dinner – the four pizzas, plus our scraps from yesterday, which were half a bottle of red wine and the last of the salad.
Altogether it was a delightful evening of conversation, and a lesson to us in how the modern pilgrim operates.