Saturday, 11 June 2005
Distance 34 km
Duration 6 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 207 m, descent 210 m
Map 34 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours
As usual, the day started well. We felt we had the strength in our legs and the mental stamina to overcome any difficulty.
We had muesli in our room and on the way out we saw a great number of people assembled in the self-serve breakfast bar, which was a surprise, as we had not seen a soul in the corridors. We had thought that we were the only people in the building. Certainly we never saw any staff the whole time we were there.
The walk back to Croutelle seemed less of a chore than yesterday and the traffic was a bit lighter. Once there, we took an underpass beneath the N10 and left it behind, praying never to walk on it again.
The GR wended its way through a wood punctuated by fitness stations (instructions for step-ups, press-ups, chin-ups etc, which we ignored), as far as the entry to Fontaine-le-Comte.
The beautiful, half-ruined Cistercian abbey lay before us over a water meadow. Beyond it, the new town looked crass and temporary, but on the other hand, it had a bar and a bakery. We shared a tarte with our coffee for second breakfast.
Pressing on, we were faced with a dilemma – whether to stay on the GR as it zig-zagged wildly on country lanes, or follow the highway (now the N11, not as bad as the N10) as straight as an arrow. We ended up with a mixture of the two.
At Coulombiers the highway was like a canyon through the middle and there was a large old inn on the corner which provided our second coffees for the day. We sat on a high stone terrace looking out onto the church.
After that the GR began to thrash about even more. We felt we were at a disadvantage compared to our twelfth-century counterparts, who would definitely have taken the most direct way from town to town, along the main road.
So, trying to ignore the traffic, we did the same, except for a few delightful kilometres of shady path as we got close to Lusignan.
The town of Lusignan was an important stopping-place for pilgrims, under the protection of powerful lords who claimed to be descendants of the mermaid-fairy Mélusine and had a fortress on the high crag above the river.
The fortress was a casualty of the Wars of Religion, replaced by a somewhat anodyne garden, but there is a fine church and a market halle to admire in the upper town.
We had lunch under the halle and then went to find the Office of Tourism, which was in a big grassy field, but it was closed, so we had a lovely siesta there while we waited. Eventually we realised that it was never going to open, as the extended summer timetable did not begin for two more days.
We fell into conversation with a pair of Spanish walkers, also waiting, and found out that they were doing the pilgrimage from Tours, passing their own front door in Pamplona on the way, and were staying in pre-booked hotels and chambres. All this was accomplished without a word of common language. They spoke Spanish and I spoke Italian and we all waved our hands a lot.
They showed us their guide that stated that the camping ground and restaurant at Saint-Sauvant were open all year round, which gave us the confidence to set off for Saint-Sauvant, whereas we could have stayed at Lusignan. We were going to regret our faith in the written word. We had forgotten that municipal camping grounds in small places never open before the 15th of June.
For the rest of the afternoon we stuck to the actual GR, which took us through pleasant farmland, deviating only once, around the domain of a chateau. It had turned hot but the path was bordered by hedges in places, giving us shade from the low sun. We passed a sort of agricultural station and several farms before pulling in to Saint-Sauvant.
In the square the only sign of life was a small shop about to close its doors. The shopkeeper said that the camping ground was closed, there was no hotel, and the restaurant had long since disappeared, so we hastily bought the makings of a picnic (wine, bread, ham, soft cheese and a tin of ratatouille) and set off glumly for the camping ground. It was slightly out of town, beside the swimming pool, which was also as dead as a dodo.
The grass was dessicated and full of burrs. After our delightful walk through flourishing agricultural lands, it was a disagreeable surprise.
The showers were locked but we managed to climb over the high pool fence and do a few cooling laps in the water, giving our clothes a bit of a rinse at the same time.
We put up the tent, set out our little picnic and enjoyed it as best we could. We were early to bed. I thought it was spooky and horrible, alone in this deathly place on a Saturday night. The village clock chimed every hour and half-hour all night and I heard most of them, over the constant intestinal rumbling of the pool’s filtration system.