Day 2: Poule-lès-Écharmeaux to Cublize

Walking in France: Jenny preparing our muesli on her bedroll, Poule-lès-Écharmeaux
Jenny preparing our muesli on her bedroll, Poule-lès-Écharmeaux

Wednesday, 22 June 2011
Distance 26 km
Duration 6 hours 0 minutes
Ascent 696 m, descent 853 m
Map 142 of the TOP 100 lime-green series
Topoguide (ref. P691) Les Monts du Beaujolais et du Lyonnais… à pied

We were agreeably surprised when we woke and found that it was not raining, despite madame’s prediction.

The grass was wet from last night’s showers, so we moved all our gear over to the bitumen and sat on my bedroll while we ate our muesli.

We set off at about 7:30, past our sleeping fellow campers and down to the lake, then retraced our steps to the D385 on the track marked with daisy signs.

Walking in France: Looking back to Poule-lès-Écharmeaux along the walking track
Looking back to Poule-lès-Écharmeaux along the walking track

It seemed to be the fashion in this area to mark walking tracks with fanciful signs such as flowers and birds – as good a system as cryptic codes like MA2.

As we climbed we looked back to the village, suffused in misty morning light. Once we reached the highway, we crossed it and continued to climb until we entered the forest, crossed another, smaller road and found the GR again.

It was only about three kilometres but I was as tired as if I had run a marathon. The bone-aches  of the ‘flu were not as bad as before, but my violent cough made it hard to breathe on the uphills, and I felt as weak as a baby.

Walking in France: Going up
Going up

Soon the GR joined a bitumen road and we went along for a kilometre or so, to a crossroads, where it swerved off on a narrow path through the undergrowth, edged with wild strawberries and raspberries just coming ripe.

This path would have been delightful except that it was so steep, rising to the top of a sharp hill and down the other side to rejoin the road, which had merely gone around the base. In my feeble condition, I did not appreciate this scenic excursion.

I was glad to be back on the relative flatness of the road, but after only a few minutes the GR diverged again and this time we had to take it, as the road was going a different way.

Walking in France: Deep in the pine forest
Deep in the pine forest

The track shot up a pine-covered mountainside and Keith spent most of his time waiting for me to catch up, whereas normally we stride along at the same pace.

Near the top it got even steeper and it was all I could do to struggle up to where he was waiting.

I cast myself dramatically on the wet black leaves of the track, pack and all, and sobbed that I could not go on. Poor Keith.

Walking in France: A local walking track marker
A local walking track marker

However, a few minutes of repose in the mud, combined with the knowledge that I had no choice, got me to my feet again and soon afterwards we arrived at the ridge, where there was a wide forestry road. This was much easier to manage, although long.

We were in a conifer plantation, but it was easy to imagine ourselves in the sort of dark, featureless, wolf-infested forest that our ancestors must have dreaded.

Walking in France: Preparing a snack in the forest of stale bread, with butter and jam
Preparing a snack in the forest of stale bread, with butter and jam

Eventually (45 minutes later) we came to a road and decided to take it in preference to the GR, as I was not coping very well with the ups and downs of the track. This took us, after another 45 minutes, down to the Col de Nicelle, where we rejoined the GR.

Here we stopped under the pines for refreshment in the form of stale bread, with jam and butter from the plane, washed down with water. It was better than it sounds and we set off with renewed enthusiasm.

The weather was warm enough for me to unzip the bottoms off my long trousers.

The GR followed the same forestry track as before, on the very crest of the ridge,with glimpses through the trees of sunlit meadows far below on either side. An hour passed and we were still trudging along in the forest, but suddenly we began to descend and emerged onto a bare col where two roads crossed.

Walking in France: Arriving in Meaux-la- Montagne with high expectations
Arriving in Meaux-la- Montagne with high expectations

One of these roads bore the sign “Meaux-la-Montagne 1.4 km”, and as we knew there was a bar and a shop there, we made haste in that direction.

The twisting road fell dramatically through the forest and delivered us out into a serene landscape of steep fields, just at the edge of the village. The bells of midday rang out as we entered.

Around the church was a neat square of houses, including the joyful sight of a bar-restaurant with tables and chairs set out under an ancient spreading chestnut tree.

A few steps later the awful truth dawned on us – it was closed. Wednesday was its weekly day off, the only day that we needed it to be open. Deeply dispirited, I sank into a chair, while Keith went off to hunt for a tap to refill our water bottle.

There was nobody about except for a red-jacketed man who was taking photos of the church. When he saw Keith wandering about with the bottle, he beckoned him over and led him into the Mairie, where he filled the bottle with a flourish. He was the mayor.

Walking in France: The closed bar-restaurant, Meaux-la-Montagne
The closed bar-restaurant, Meaux-la-Montagne

Soon afterwards a mass of children and teachers emerged from the church and the mayor lined them up for a photo. He kissed some of them, presumably his relatives, and then they all disappeared, including the mayor, who waved cheerily as he drove off for lunch.

With the aid of the Topoguide and a friendly local man, we had worked out how we could get down to the big town of Cublize, in the valley, without climbing back to the GR.

As we left the village we passed the school, where all the kids were sitting about under the trees munching their sandwiches.

Walking in France: Leaving Meaux-la-Montagne with ominous dark clouds gathering
Leaving Meaux-la-Montagne with ominous dark clouds gathering

Our little road plunged down the valley between smooth pastures dotted with cows and the occasional farmhouse. It was a scene of tranquillity.

On the opposite slope we could see the distant block of the Château de Magny. After a while the land rose slightly and we joined another road, the one coming down from the GR, which led us precipitously into the settlement of Reviralet on the outskirts of Cublize. From there we walked up the main street of the town, looking eagerly for a bar, of which there were several, but they were all closed.

In fact, the whole town had the derelict air of a typical French town at 1:30 pm. All the shops were shut and hardly anyone was about. It was a depressing sight after our long, gruelling morning without comforts.

For lack of anywhere better, we sat outside one of the closed bars, wondering whether to forget about coffee and go off in search of a camping ground. Just then the clouds, which had been gathering unnoticed, burst in a frenzy of lightning, thunder and rain. Luckily there was an awning over the bar chairs where we were sitting, but even so we were splashed by the ferocious slanting storm.

Our timing had been pretty good – it would have been terrifying to be out in the open under this onslaught. As we sat there, I asked Keith whether he thought he could keep doing this for another twenty-seven days – the first three had been so troublesome and miserable. He thought not.

Just before the storm in Cublize

Then a door in the bar behind us opened and a woman peered out, having just come back from her lunch break. With great alacrity we tumbled inside, thanking her several times for the shelter, and sat over steaming cups of coffee (nasty coffee, but our first for the day), watching the storm through the open door.

We were her only customers, but the barwoman was taciturn, unlike most of her kind. The only information we got from her was that there was no hotel in the town (we already knew there were two camping grounds but the thought of camping did not appeal).

The rain stopped as abruptly as it had begun, and by then the coffee had worked its magic in our veins, so we emerged cheerfully enough and crossed the road to the Mairie, where we hoped to get more guidance on the charms of Cublize.

Sometimes the Mairie acts as a sort of tourist office, but in this case the two good ladies at the desk were completely bewildered by our arrival. They scurried about trying to help and eventually remembered that there was an actual Office of Tourism at the other end of the town.

We set off along the sodden main street, past the shops, then past houses and finally out into open country. The stream leading into the Lac des Sapins was ahead and the Office of Tourism, a vast temple in pink concrete and glass, stood on its shore. It was evident that they did not get many customers arriving on foot. The woman who served us suggested various chambres which were many kilometres away, and we finally decided that we would have to camp.

One of the camping grounds was visible just across the stream. The trouble was that there was nowhere to eat in Cublize, nor in the camping ground. The nearest eatery was an auberge, half an hour’s walk along the lake shore, and our helper kindly rang up and confirmed that they were open. She also rang the hotel in les Sauvages, our destination for the next night, and booked a room for us.

Walking in France: The makings of our picnic dinner in the tent, Cublize
The makings of our picnic dinner in the tent

Getting into the camping ground turned out to be a real puzzle. We crossed the stream on a footbridge and walked along a path beside tents and caravans, with campers of all sorts bustling about, the only trouble being that there was a high chain-wire fence between us and them.

We had to go back to the Office of Tourism and ask to be shown the way, which involved crossing a field and clambering through a muddy building site.

Finally we made it to the front entrance and soon afterwards we had our tent up, only a few steps from the wire fence that had kept us out before. It was a rather grand camping ground (at €15.80 it was Paris price) and the showers were magnificent.

We slept for a while inside the tent and when we woke it was drizzling, so instead of traipsing off in search of dinner, we had another picnic with our left-over food and wine from Poule-lès-Écharmeaux.

We were dry, clean and comfortable in our cosy tent, and we had accommodation booked for tomorrow. Things were looking up.

Previous day: Matour to Poule-lès-Écharmeaux

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