Sunday, 15 July 2018
Distance 21 km
Duration 4 hours 25 minutes
Ascent 118 m, descent 182 m
Our dining companions from last night were nowhere in sight as we packed up with the efficiency of long practice.
We said good morning to an old couple in dressing gowns who emerged from a nearby campervan, and to the cheery gardienne when she drove up at 7 am, just as we were walking out the gate.
For the first kilometre or so we stayed on the main road, the D977, which was blissfully quiet at that hour of the day.
We then we turned off, crossed a stream and continued along what was clearly the old main road, now a peaceful, meandering way linking a series of villages that were now free of the nuisance of passing traffic.
Many of the houses had been lovingly renovated, although there were still signs of earlier times such as crosses and lavoirs.
The only person that we spoke to was a gardener working in his patch next to the road, who commended us on our good sense in using the early, cool part of the day, as he was doing.
The road, which followed the stream, was flat but the landscape around it was full of sudden hills and escarpments, most of them darkly wooded.
At the hamlet of Chivres, a statue beside the church commemorated one of Napoleon’s generals who had lived out his old age in the nearby château of Bazarnes, where he had no doubt enjoyed himself very much.
Another half hour through beautiful rolling hayfields brought us to the edge of the bigger village of Corvol l’Orgueilleux (which translates as Corvol the Proud), and we climbed into the main street with hopes of breakfast.
Like the other villages, it seemed to breathe the air of an earlier age.
The Grande Rue was a canyon of little stone houses, among which we found two dead boulangeries and a cave-like bar occupied by a few old men.
The barman had no croissants and advised us to try the other bar, down the street.
This bar, also cave-like, was presided over by a taciturn old woman smoking alone, who did not seem overjoyed at our arrival.
When we asked about croissants she muttered that the boulangerie was down near the church, but that we should hurry, as they did not have much.
We rushed down and managed to get the last croissant, the last pain aux raisins and the last chausson.
Back at the bar, very pleased with ourselves, we enjoyed our first coffee of the day. It was still only 9 o’clock, so it had not been too dire a privation.
As we left the café, the previously scowling barwoman gave us a beaming smile and wished us well, much to our surprise. We had misjudged her.
The next part of the walk was on a small, flat road, through open fields exposed to the increasing force of the sun.
Just past the village of Latrault a long wooded ridge rose abruptly from the plain and the road zig-zagged up it, but we found an old track that got us to the top in half the distance, but with twice the effort.
After that we crossed a sun-drenched plateau spotted with rolls of hay stretching to the blue haze of the horizon.
The road descended slightly and crossed a new-looking highway (the N151), probably a bypass around Clamecy.
There had been no traffic so far on our little road, but at that moment we were passed at flying pace by a woman on a bicycle, followed by a man in a wheel-chair who was probably exceeding the speed limit of the road. It was impressive.
A kilometre further on we joined a bigger road in order to get across the railway line, and then took to the suburban streets of Clamecy.
It was a part of the town that we had never seen before, high above the river, with prosperous, old-fashioned houses backed up against a ridge.
Eventually we came to an intersection with some shops, and descended sharply into streets that we recognised, within sight of the ornate, square-towered cathedral.
Half the streets were no more than tiny lanes or even staircases, and we weaved our waythrough them, down to our favourite bar, la Taverne, which we had discovered on our first visit to the village in 2006.
The square outside was charmingly enclosed by old houses supported on massive timbers, no doubt hauled long ago from the great forests of the Morvan to the south-east.
It was midday and we celebrated our arrival with a beer. This is always a risk, as it assumes that nothing will go wrong that could force us to keep walking, as has happened in the past, but in this case we were confident that both the camping and the dining in this town would be adequate.
The camping ground was a short kilometre away, along the Canal du Nivernais, which was like an old friend after several earlier trips along different parts of it.
Originally this canal had cut right through the village, but in 1902, following complaints about its smell, the offending section was filled in and is now a street.
When we had stayed here in 2006, the camping ground had been a mean, run-down place with shaggy grass, a locked shower block, and very few campers. This time it was all spruced up and brimming with visitors.
The sanitaires were sparkling, the grass was neatly trimmed, and our hosts lent us a couple of red plastic chairs and a table, on which we set out the food that we had not eaten last night because of the unexpected pizzas.
We had been carrying most of it for two days, so we were keen to be rid of it.
It was the day of the World Cup grand final and we did not want to miss it, so we walked back to town in time to get a table at the big bar across the bridge (le Café de France), out of the sun but not too far into the stuffy interior.
The place was full of people with red, white and blue faces, wigs, flags, even false moustaches. We were unadorned but enthusiastic.
Every time France scored a goal we all rose as one screaming mass, and if there were any Croatians in the bar, they were keeping very quiet.
When France won, the whole village went mad (as every other town and village in the country surely did).
The air was thick with smoke from the fireworks and there was a never-ending stream of honking cars, with revellers hanging out of every window, while we all cheered hysterically from the kerb.
There was special applause when the gendarmes and the fire brigade joined in.
After that it was time to eat, but it proved not as easy as we expected. Several restaurants were closed, others were booked out or not to our liking.
In the end, with some reluctance, we went into a Moroccan restaurant, the Marrakesh, which seemed deserted but was not at all.
The dining section was deep inside, past a series of elaborately decorated vestibules, and from there the chaos in the street was no more than a muffled murmur.
The room was large and opulently furnished, and there were even curtained recesses, presumably for amorous couples to dine in private.
We began our meal with a large, fresh Moroccan salad, and then we both had tajines. Keith had beef and I had vegetarian.
When we emerged from this luxurious cocoon the celebrations were still going on, but we had seen enough and strolled back through the cooling evening air to our tent.