Day 9: Saint-Sauvant to Melle

Sunday, 12 June 2005
Distance 28 km
Duration 5 hours 20 minutes
Ascent 161 m, descent 194 m
Map 40 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 6552) Sentiers vers Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle via Tours

Walking in France: Our first coffee of the day, at the Three Pigeons, Chenay
Our first coffee of the day, at the Three Pigeons, Chenay

When daylight and birdsong finally returned to the world, we scrambled out and munched our muesli in the icy wind.

Without returning to town, we took the road to Jassay, which was little more than a collection of farm buildings, and rambled on amongst fields flat to the horizon. The wheat crop would have made an Australian farmer weep with envy, even though the French were complaining of the drought.

Following the GR, we soon arrived at Chenay, which, being on the highway, had a functioning hotel (the Three Pigeons). We ordered coffee and drank it in cane armchairs in a sort of curtained alcove.

The dainty cups, the flowers on the table and the general air of comfort were just what we needed, and I basked in the relief of having my shoes off under the table.

Walking in France: Family graves in the a vegetable patch
Family graves in the a vegetable patch

Leaving this blessed haven, we continued with the GR on a pleasant small road until we rejoined the highway at Chey. After that we could see the that the GR was so tortuous that we would walk twice the distance to get to Melle, compared to going along the highway.

With feet like mine, covered with blisters the size of small fried eggs, the fewer steps I had to take, the better, so we chose the unedifying direct way. We must have cut a sorry figure, as a van stopped beside us and the driver asked us where we were going. “To Albi – too far for you!”, I said, and he laughed and drove off.

It was a long road, with all except a couple of kilometres towards the end on the side of the bitumen, but at last we drew into the streets of Melle and found the central market square. Next to it was a fine big hotel full of diners hard at work on the menu.

Walking in France: Communal wash-house and vegetable garden behind the camping ground
Communal wash-house and vegetable garden behind the camping ground

We sat out on the terrace for coffee and I cried for the second time this trip. The first time I cried from pain and despair, this time from pain and gratitude for having arrived. Keith put his arm round me as my tears splashed into my coffee.

Half an hour later I had pulled myself together, and my feet had calmed down enough to allow us to move over to the square and have lunch in the shade. The camping ground was not far away, on the river, with strip gardens all around it full of vegetables and flowers.

Walking in France: Inside the old communal wash-house
Inside the old communal wash-house

There was a fine old communal wash-house (lavoir) straddling the stream, evidently the centre of female society in former times.

The grass and the people were plentiful in the camping ground, for both of which we were grateful, and having a hot shower was one of the great simple pleasures of life on the track.

We lay down and slept for the afternoon, scantily clad, with all our other garments newly washed on the line above us.

Walking in France: Saint-Pierre, Melle

On the way back to the centre we passed Saint-Pierre, one of the three Romanesque churches of Melle, standing modestly in a square, with a line of delightful carved stone animals and faces around the eaves that made us feel that we were sharing a joke with the sculptor.

A couple more dog-legged lanes got us to the Pub du Square, on a corner with a chestnut tree.

We sat down for our evening drink next to a low stone wall, entertained by the sight of a tattooed tart in a plunging white gown holding court to several unprepossessing middle-aged men.

There was a bit of a crush at the restaurant across the road, the Côte de Boeuf, but we managed to get a courtyard table.

Walking in France: Our main courses at the Côte de Boeuf
Our main courses at the Côte de Boeuf

We took the €13.80 menu. I had my customary salad to start, and Keith had a terrine. Then I had a steak, which is what Keith usually chooses, but at my suggestion he ordered andouillette.

I had the idea that andouillettes were little spicy sausages like miniature chorizos, but when the dish arrived it consisted of a single massive slug-like sausage, greasy and sweating.

As soon as Keith broke the skin with his knife, it began to erupt, gradually releasing a mass of tubes and spongy lumps, together with a stench somewhere between dog food and a blocked sewer.

It was like a slow-motion horror movie and we watched, transfixed, until his plate was covered with spilled innards. Very bravely, he ate it, but only after smothering every mouthful in mustard.

We finished with fresh, clean pear icecream and coffee, then walked back on a lane beside the river, and were lulled to sleep by the shouting and laughing from a nearby game of boules.

Previous day: Croutelle to St-Sauvant

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