Day 1: Clamecy to Varzy

Walking in France: Breakfast in the church yard, Villiers-sur-Yonne
Breakfast in the church yard, Villiers-sur-Yonne

Wednesday, 5 July 2006
Distance 40 km
Duration 8 hours 50 minutes
Ascent 617 m, descent 552 m
Map 28 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)

The camping ground at Clamecy was almost a kilometre upstream from the village, on a ribbon of land between the canal and the Yonne.

We set off early to escape the heat, taking a little road up rather strenuously to the D34 and then continuing more sedately, through forest and areas of pasture.

The thunderstorm of the night before had freshened the air and we made good progress to Villiers-sur-Yonne, which straggled down from the road towards the canal. There were no shops and all it could offer was a graveyard beside the church. There was a nice seat under a yew where we had our muesli.

Walking in France: The garden at the lock-keepers cottage, Villiers-sur-Yonne
The garden at the lock-keepers cottage, Villiers-sur-Yonne

A man poked his head over from the adjoining vegetable patch and said we had courage and that it had been 40°C yesterday.

The other end of the village abutted the canal and from there we took the towpath again. We were in no hurry, as we only intended to go to Tannay. Past a lock with a beautiful flower garden, we crossed over and entered Brèves, another charming old village.

Until recently there was an oak tree outside the church of Brèves that was planted by Henri IV (a contemporary of Shakespeare).

Walking in France: The church of Saint-Léger, Tannay
The church of Saint-Léger, Tannay

Being on the highway, the place had a bar, to our joy, so our breakfast was rounded off with large cafés crèmes. The barwoman told us that Italy had won last night’s match by scoring two goals in extra time.

Back over the canal, we pressed on along the towpath as far as the road, which took us directly up to Tannay, a thriving place with a whole street of shops. We asked at the boulangerie where the camping was, only to be told that it was closed long ago, although our newly acquired departmental map still showed it.

This put an entirely different complexion on our dawdling during the morning. Long experience had taught us that the Office of Tourism was the place to go when in doubt, but in this case the fat, blank-eyed youth at the desk could only suggest that we go to Bazoches or Clamecy, not seeming to comprehend that we were on foot.

To give ourselves time to think, we did a quick circuit of the town and found the erstwhile camping ground with its grassy terraces and lines of trees, now incorporated in a private garden. We suspected the mayor.

Walking in France: Amazing

Even though it was an attractive town, and there was a rather elegant little hotel in a lane that we could have stayed at, we had gone off the place because of its lack of consideration in not informing the departmental office that its camping was closed. Varzy was only 20 km away, on a GR all the way, and it was only twelve o’clock.

At the supermarket we laid in a tin of fish and a bottle of water and off we strode along the road to Amazy (a name almost as delicious as Misery, which we had passed two days ago), cutting through a field and joining the GR as it entered a forest.

Walking in France: Church at Cuncy-les-Varzy
Church at Cuncy-les-Varzy

It was a relief to be out of the roasting sun, although hot enough still under the trees. A long wandering track brought us out at last into the open and we descended to the river Beuvron at Thuringy, a pretty little village, where we stopped beside the water for a late lunch.

We still felt strong but my heels were beginning to have the hot feeling that warns of blisters, so I taped them up thoroughly.

A lone pilgrim with a cockleshell round his neck shuffled past and we realised we were now on the Way of Vézelay, one of the four great historical pilgrim routes. After we finished our lunch we caught up with him.

He was a Dutchman and was aiming to spend the night at Cuncy-les-Varzy, a hamlet with no amenities whatsoever, so he must have been booked in to a refuge attached to the church, like many other religious travellers.

He was following a set of printed notes which seemed to make little sense to him, as he insisted on veering off into the corn on a farm track, heading back towards the Beuvron, but later we saw him back on the track behind us.

Walking in France: Refurbishment outside the church of Saint-Pierre, Varzy
Refurbishment outside the church of Saint-Pierre, Varzy

Past Cuncy-les-Varzy the wide-open sky suddenly filled with clouds and it began to rain. We put on our capes and walked the rest of the way through long wet grass, rounding a hill and descending abruptly into the town before we knew it. We had been very lucky that the weather had turned so mild in the afternoon.

It was close to 5 pm as we sat down for a triumphant coffee. The streets of Varzy were in the midst of a major gentrification, all dug up and muddy, with heavy machinery and piles of pavers everywhere.

A sign said the camping was 1.5 km away, not the best news for people who had already walked 39 km.

Some local people came up to us in the street to ask about our itinerary, as one of them had done the Way of Vézelay as far as St-Jean-Pied-de-Port last year. It is a common occurrence to meet fellow walkers like this, and it gives us a very happy feeling of encouragement. A lot of passing drivers toot or wave in the same spirit.

The rain having stopped, the walk out to the camping, past timber yards and a small reservoir, was not as bad as expected. There was actually someone in attendance at the office, where we handed over pur €6.60. We also found out that the place to eat in town was the Gourmet Café.

Walking in France: Street scene, Varzy
Street scene, Varzy

The showers were ancient and cold, a fact that caused madame to scurry off apologetically to tinker with the plumbing – to no avail, as Keith found out later. Soon we had our little pimple of a tent up.

It was almost too chilly for a rest on the grass, but I curled up into a ball with all my clothes on. A wave of homesickness came over me, as much from hunger and fatigue as anything.

Presently it was time to make the long return to the village for dinner. Halfway there we were offered a lift with an elderly Dutch couple, who were also staying at the camping ground. They were very worried about us having walked so far that day.

Walking in France: Chapelle of Saint-Lazare, Varzy
Chapelle of St-Lazare, Varzy

They told us that the Gourmet Café was closed, but there was another place near the former railway station and this turned out to be the Hôtel de la Gare, a fine solid old establishment with a flowery terrace.

Here we parted company, as they were smokers and were eating outside. It was warm and convivial within, much more to our taste, and soon we were well into the $10 menu, which started with elaborate crudities – ham, grated carrot, beetroot, boiled eggs, tomatoes – and continued with a turkey casserole, sausages and potato balls.

For dessert Keith had a crème brulée, part of his scientific research for the best example of the genre in France, and I had cheese, which I slipped into my bag for tomorrow. It was all fortifying and delightful. The waitress was black and spoke both French and English fluently, having lived in London.

When our Dutch benefactors were ready to leave, we declined a lift as we wanted to watch the semifinal between France and Portugal. A big television was set up in the bar. The place almost exploded when France won and we walked home amidst screams of joy and the frantic honking of car horns.

Back to this section’s summary

Back to top