Thursday, 27 June 2019
Distance 27 km
Duration 5 hours 15 minutes
Ascent 84 m, descent 124 m
We were so fearful of the coming heat that we hurried away from the camping ground at 6:20 am, with slabs of cold pizza in hand, as we knew there would be no sustenance forthcoming in the town at such an early hour.
Having taken the riverside path for the last time, we crossed the great stone bridge, from where we had a view from above of the scene of our delightful meal last night.
The other side of the town was less pretty but obviously thriving, and to our astonishment, we came to an open bar, which was quite busy although it was still well before seven o’clock.
We rushed in gleefully and had two rounds of coffee, all the more delicious for being so unexpected.
Revived and cheered by this, we turned onto a modest country road and found ourselves at l’Hôpital, crossing a small river with a mill, called the Maronne. (Although we didn’t know it at the time, this stream was the dividing line between the Blanche and Noire parts of the Xaintrie).
Soon after that we left the route that we had planned, and consequently had no maps.
All we knew about the intervening stretch was that the road we were on had the same name (D116) as the one that led into Beaulieu at the other end of our deviation. We were pretty sure that all we had to do was follow our noses.
This turned out to be the case, and we were in the blessed shade of the forest a lot of the time, but the road was much longer than our original route, as it followed the serpentine loops of the river.
The main road between Argentat and Beaulieu was on the other side, and almost the only traffic that we encountered on our side was a mowing machine trimming the grassy verges, a constant task in this most fertile (and beautiful) of countries.
There were a few tiny settlements but on the whole we were alone in the forest.
We sped along at 5 km per hour, timing ourselves with the kilometre markers (our goal being 12 minutes or less between marker posts).
Later there were walnut farms stretching down towards the river, the ground under the trees raked bare to receive the falling nuts later in the season.
Occasionally we sat down and ate some dried fruit or a bit more left-over pizza, and we drank water constantly, with the result that by the time we got close to Bassignac-le-Bas we were running short.
There was a bridge over the Dordogne here, the first for hours, and just past it a camping ground, which was open although seemingly deserted. We saw nobody as we hunted around for a tap, and finally found one in a shower block, so we refilled our bottles and hoped that we did not have far to go.
Unfortunately, not long after that we emerged from the forest into the blinding heat of the open fields, and began to climb, leaving the river behind. We were tired by then, as it was nearly midday and we had been walking for close to five hours.
This last section really tested our resolve. Because of not having a map, we missed an excellent short cut that we could have taken across the Dordogne, using a footbridge that we had walked over many years earlier, on our first visit to Beaulieu.
Instead we followed the merciless car road and at last found ourselves back on our maps, just before Altillac and the main bridge into the town.
It was a huge relief to arrive, and although the camping ground was close by, Keith suggested that we first go to a bar.
This was a brilliant idea, although it was a bit further to walk. We were exhausted, dehydrated, hot, sweaty, and in need of some civilised comforts.
After walking past a couple of cramped little bars, we came to a long square full of tables, with towering plane trees overhead.
Across the road was a big bar (l’Univers), and as we opened the door we realised that it had air-conditioning, a rare thing in provincial France.
Our bodies relaxed into the blissful coolness and we felt the luckiest people in the world.
It was lunch time and the square was full of people dining outside under the trees, but we had no intention of joining them.
We stayed with the air-conditioning and had Oranginas, followed by large coffees. Eventually we were sufficiently revived to walk the short distance to the camping ground on the river.
It was much modernised since we had stayed there in 2003 – it now had a swimming pool, a snack bar, cabins etc – and was privately owned instead of municipal.
We chose a hedged spot with as much shade as possible, but even so we had to keep shuffling our mats to avoid the sun.
When the office opened we went to pay, only to be told that we would have to move, as we did not have a car. Carless people like us were restricted a special open area without electricity, which was cheaper.
Our new location was quite delightful, a green expanse beside the river, with canoes drawn up on a little beach. There was plenty of shade, but the air was still oppressively hot. Several other small tents were already there, including a large group of Germans, which was a bit unusual.
Later we went back to town in clean clothes and sandals, to the air-conditioned bar, and indulged in our usual glasses of rosé.
While sipping our apéritifs, we heard on the TV that it had been over 40 degrees in this area today, and even worse was predicted for the next few days.
So it did not take us long to decide to have a rest day tomorrow, and that was a big relief.
It was cooler by the time we stepped across the street to the outdoor restaurant under the plane trees.
Actually there were two restaurants sharing the space, each attached to one of the large adjoining bars.
At our ease under the canopy of the magnificent plane trees, and surrounded by the happy chatter of other diners, we began by cleansing our palates with a salad, and then had bavettes with green peppercorn sauce, potato wedges, wine and bread.
It was a lovely end to a hard day’s walk.