In this first section of the great traverse of the Auvergne, we followed the beautiful clear stony river Sioule and later its tributary, the Sioulet, for almost the full distance.
We walked upstream, heading for the watershed where the land begins to slope down towards the south, but the gradient was not severe.
All around us were tall, darkly forested hills, but by keeping close to the rivers we avoided most of the steep pinches.
The weather in mid-June was not what we had expected, starting off rainy and cold.
After a while the rain stopped but the cold did not, and we suffered at night a couple of times, wearing all our garments inside our sleeping bags without managing to get properly warm.
It was probably lucky that we were forced to stay in a hotel in Giat, as this was the highest point that we had slept at so far, and we appreciated having dinner cooked for us after two nights of makeshift picnics beside our tent.
Getting to Gannat
After a shivering wait at the local bus stop in our summer walking clothes, we got to town and were transported in a bigger, warmer bus down the highway to Sydney airport.
The flight to Hong Kong was long and tedious, not relieved very much by the inferior food that we were served, and once on the ground we made the unpleasant discovery that our plane from there to Paris was delayed by three hours.
However the time passed with the help of a couple of rounds of hot, strong Starbucks coffee (the only thing available at 2 am) and we eventually made it to Paris.
As the plane was so late, we did not have time to indulge in our usual ritual for getting ourselves into a French frame of mind – namely, leaving the train at the Gare du Nord and strolling along the tree-lined Boulevard Magenta, stopping for a breakfast of coffee and croissants along the way.
Instead we had to take the RER all the way to the Gare de Lyon and hurry by foot to Bercy to catch our long-distance train. We armed ourselves with a couple of long sandwiches for the journey.
At Riom we changed trains, and had enough time to walk up the road and find a delightful modern boulangerie with a coffee machine, where we had a little snack.
From there to Gannat was only a short distance but when we got there it had begun to rain slightly.
As we hurried towards the camping ground the rain increased and we were thoroughly soaked by the time we arrived, via the back gate that we had discovered last year.
There was a good sprinkling of caravans and tents in the grounds, but the office had closed prematurely for some reason, so it was the first of several free nights.
We made short work of putting up the tent and crawled inside, where we fell instantly into an exhausted sleep.
The danger was that we would not wake again until the middle of the night (which has happened in the past), but this time we did wake up, and hastened into town in search of dinner.
It was still drizzling and we were robed in our ghostly white capes.
In the church square, the bar that had been closed last year was now flourishing and we sat outside under a large dripping umbrella for glasses of rosé, surrounded by a lively crowd of other drinkers.
Pressing on, we looked around for a restaurant but did not find anything that we liked, except the Turkish kebab shop where we had eaten last year.
It was pleasantly busy and, except for the absence of wine, the meal was excellent. In our enthusiasm we over-ordered, and had to put a good deal of the meat away for another time.
On the way back – quite a long way – the rain ceased, boding well for the next day, and we resumed our delicious sleeping marathon.
Day 1: Gannat to Ébreuil
Day 5: Pontaumur to Giat