Friday, 3 June 2005
Distance 12 km
Duration 2 hours 35 minutes
Ascent 157 m, descent 125 m
Map 26 of the
Tours is the home of Saint Martin, one of the most energetic early disseminators of the Christian faith. He was a Roman, born into a military family in the fourth century, when Christianity was legal but still only a minor cult.
Posted to Amiens in a cavalry unit, he was confronted one day by a beggar, and impulsively cut his cloak in half to give to the shivering fellow. That night Jesus appeared to him in a dream wearing the half-cloak, and he became a whole-hearted believer.
From then on he devoted himself to the religious life and was assiduous in the conversion of the native population. Most of the Gaullish peasantry saw the error of their ways at the point of a sword, but then Saint Martin, together with later missionaries, would have said it was for their own good. He helped them along by destroying traditional shrines and holy places, and he ranged over an astonishing area of northern France in so doing.
By the time he died, Christianity was dominant in western Europe, although he was not solely responsible for this – the fact that the emperor Constantine had become a Christian may have had something to do with it. Tours was the centre of Saint Martin’s influence and remains so today, notwithstanding the many churches dedicated to him throughout western Europe.
Near the railway station we found ourselves in a grand open square with fountains, the Place Jean Jaurès, and stopped for coffee before launching ourselves on the pilgrimage.
The first part of our walk was a lesson in what not to do. Before leaving Australia we had searched the Internet for camping grounds in Tours. The nearest one we found was at Veigné, about 12 km from the centre of Tours.
We had bought the Topoguide for the Way of Tours in Paris, but, for some reason now forgotten, did not bother to open it.
From Tours to Veigné the GR takes quite a circuitous route, so we decided to make a quick dash down the highway. This was a big mistake.
If we had checked the Topoguide we would have seen that the GR passes a camping ground and all the comforts at Saint-Avertin, only 6 km from the centre of Tours.
At first it was not too bad, as we went through suburbs with footpaths and gardens. We stopped for lunch under a willow in a little park, then the real hardship began.
The greenery gave way to barren flyovers, underpasses, cloverleafs, and general concrete spaghetti, roaring with traffic, in the midst of which we felt like tiny superseded crawling life-forms about to be extinguished by a more dynamic species. On all sides were factories, car yards and billboards, sapping our strength through their very ugliness.
At last, just as we reached the turn-off from the N10 towards Veigné, there was a bar. It had a drab look but there was a sweet little terrace at the back, tranquil and full of flowers. With our boots off and steaming coffees in front of us, we quickly regained our spirits.
The rest of the walk, while still on a road, was much calmer. By slithering down a path, we cut off the hairpin bends of the descent into the valley and found ourselves in a lovely little village on the river Indre, where a tall pink mill building stood as proud as a château.
The camping ground was on the river nearby. We booked in and were touched to be invited to sit down and have free coffee, after our unpleasant afternoon of road walking.
We found out that there was a restaurant and bar attached to the place, a fact that proved useful later, when we went to explore the village and found that not one of the cafés was open at night. By that time there was a solid line of cars on the street, going we knew not whither for a weekend out of Tours.
Back at the camping, we sat on a wide terrace looking over the water meadows and ordered a jug of red. The air was coolish and for dinner we moved down to a large marquee next to the river, where we had rillettes as a first course, then paella and a large salad, all much enjoyed. We finished with execrable coffee, a phenomenon not much found in France these days.