Sunday, 8 July 2018
Distance 24 km
Duration 4 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 133 m, descent 205 m
We were keen to be on the move before the heat arrived, so we left the camping ground just before 7 am.
Having thrown the horrible soft, sweet bread from the Moroccan shop into the hedgerow, where it would no doubt threaten the health of the local fauna, we took the long main street into town, past the grand spa hotels.
It was downhill all the way, and we could just imagine what it must be like to live here in winter, with the sun barely rising all day above the high ground to the south.
To our surprise, both bars that we had seen last night were closed, and the only thing open was a boulangerie, where we hopefully bought four pastries and some bread.
I asked for a demi-ficelle (a ficelle being a sort of small, thin baguette), but the lad behind the counter said they did not sell ficelles in halves, so we got a demi-baguette instead.
Thoroughly disgusted with the amenities of the town, we marched off, but took a wrong turn, which was lucky, as we came across another bar, and this one was open, its lime-green metal chairs and stripy tables set out on a corner in the sunshine.
The sweet-faced, motherly barwoman brought us large coffees and a jug of hot milk, and we set about the serious business of breakfast.
We ate the half-baguette with the butter and boiled eggs saved from the hotel in Moulins, plus the salt from the Belgian café.
Seeing what we were doing, our hostess brought us a dish of her own jam, made from apricots and red currants out of her garden. In consequence we kept most of the pastries for later in the day.
By this time we were in much better spirits, but we managed to take another wrong road (there are four confusingly parallel roads leading out of the place), and ended up back at the bar, where our benefactress pointed us up through a lane to the edge of the ruined château. After that we had no further trouble.
An hour’s stroll through an agricultural paradise brought us to the village of Franchesse, which occupied a slight ridge.
The houses were strung out prettily along the road and among them was a bar, so we went in to refresh ourselves and to finish off the pastries that we had not eaten for breakfast.
It was a charming little yellow-painted room with a garden terrace at the back.
Pressing on again, we decided not to take the more circuitous minor road, preferring the direct way along the D1, which was as empty of cars as we could wish.
It was hedged with hawthorn and blackberry, beyond which green pastures rolled to the horizon.
There were houses here and there along the road, most with a well-tended vegetable garden attached.
We noticed one large garden that was lying fallow, and in a typically French way, it had been sown with flower seeds.
This charming phenomenon is called “une jachère fleurie”.
After an hour we came to another village, Limoise, and it too had a bar, so naturally we paid it a visit.
It was turning out to be a very well-refreshed day, but we still had a good ten kilometres to go, and as we left Limoise we had to make another decision.
The route that we had mapped out for ourselves involved a deviation of several kilometres to join the GR300, which we would then follow into le Veurdre, our destination for the day. However, the GR300 was entirely on bitumen and so was most of the deviation.
Given the lack of traffic on the straight road (whether because it was Sunday, or because it is always like that), we did not see the virtue of adding to the distance, so we set off along the D13.
It was not the most interesting walk in the world, but nor was it the least.
Our main problem was the scorching midday heat, and we were grateful for every tree that cast its shade onto the road.
We came into the village on a street lined with low, whitewashed cottages, with the black spire of the church rising behind them.
Although we did not see it, the Allier was now close by on our right. We had angled sharply away from it at Moulins and were only momentarily revisiting it – it was the best we could do as walkers to follow this elusive river.
There were a few shops, all closed at 1 pm on a Sunday, but around the corner we came to a long, handsome, freshly painted hotel with a terrace shaded by a large tree (l’Hôtel du Pont Neuf).
People were lunching, mostly indoors for some reason, but we sat outside and celebrated our arrival with a beer.
Having confirmed that the restaurant would be open this evening, we walked the last half-kilometre to the camping ground, which was tucked in amongst the houses in a friendly, welcoming way.
There was nobody at the acceuil, but several tents and caravans occupied the hedged enclosures.
We had showers, finishing just before the arrival of a flock of young cyclists to do the same thing, which seemed to take them hours.
They were camping in a huge long tent at the back of the camping ground, near a stream, and there was an equally long trestle table covered with an awning for their meals.
We had no intention of eating so humbly, and as the heat drained from the day, we walked back to the hotel and sat down under the awning to consult the menu, whereupon we heard English being spoken by a couple at the next table and fell into conversation with them.
They had no idea where they were, as their car had broken down near Bourges, and the insurance company had put them in a taxi and paid €137 to send them to this remote hotel, probably because the owners were English. This was news to us, as the owners had shown no sign of being foreign.
We began our meal with a shared salade paysanne, elegantly presented in a glass bowl and accompanied by a vegetable parcel wrapped in filo pastry.
We augmented this with several pieces of fresh baguette and a glass of the local red.
Then Keith had his great stand-by, entrecôte and chips, while I had truite meunière, in memory of the wonderful one that I had had at Lavoûte-Chilhac. This one also was also excellent.
A table covered in spotless linen was drawn up beside me and the waiter daintily extracted the spine from the fish before presenting the plate to me.
As we were paying the bill, we asked our host whether we could come for breakfast in the morning. We were very welcome, he said, any time from 7:30 am.