Friday, 24 June 2005
Distance 15 km
Duration 3 hours 40 minutes
Ascent 363 m, descent 355 m
Map 48 of the TOP 100 blue series (now superseded)
Topoguide (ref. 321) Traversée du Périgord
It took an effort for us to decide to walk again, but the air was cool and the sky completely cloudy, so after a visit to the pâtisserie and a strengthening coffee at the bar, we set off on the GR along a lovely, slightly overgrown mule track through the trees, high above the river.
It started to rain, but only lightly, and we sat out a couple of heavier shower under a canopy of leaves.
After a while we came out into farmland and saw a strange zoo calling itself Prehistoric Park, which bore scant resemblance to Jurassic Park, with only a few bored-looking bison and Przewalski horses wandering about.
Presumably the owners were trying to join in to the spirit of the valley of the Vézère, which is known as the Valley of Man. It was here that many of the fundamental discoveries of prehistory were made, and the names – Mousterian man, Magdalenian man, Cro-Magnon man – recall the sites in this valley where the excavations were done.
Going downhill from here, stopping only to help ourselves to refreshments from a large cherry tree, we crossed the bitumen road and struggled up the other side on a steep track of boulders.
We got a glimpse of the tower of la Vermondie, leaning alarmingly to one side. It was privately owned so we could go no closer, but we worried about the farmhouse, which looked to be in the direct path of an imminent catastrophe.
Further along, we perched beside the churned-up forestry road to have lunch. Then it was a straight run down a grassy hill into Saint-Léon, our destination.
A very charming village it was, with a church and a château on the banks of the river and some crooked lanes adorned with flower tubs and window boxes. At the café beside the bridge we ordered coffee and sat back to enjoy the satisfaction of a day’s walk done.
Then our peace was shattered by the sight of a road sign “Camping Paradis 3 km”, pointing down along the river. We had supposed the camping ground was in town.
By now the clouds had vanished and the sky was brassy with heat, but we forced ourselves to face the prospect of continuing another 9 km on the GR, to Tursac, rather than 3 km to an isolated camping ground on a dead end.
With hearts full of dismay, we set off over the bridge. I happened to glance to the right and there below me was a mass of tents and caravans on the grassy bank. I wondered whether I was hallucinating.
Hurrying back, we found that a tree branch had obscured the upper part of the sign, which read “Camping municipal 0.1 km”.
For the sake of others, we broke the branch off, then tumbled down to this blessed place, thanking Saint Léon and all other local saints for our deliverance.
Next to our tent was a big van whose occupants helped us to charge up our camera. They were from Normandy, a bright-eyed whiskery little fellow and his younger lady friend, blonde and vivacious.
They also told us how to have a shower by buying tokens at the office. We bought two, each for three minutes, and decided to pool them and share a six-minute shower.
This was all very pleasant, but after 10 or 15 minutes we were still on the first token. We ended up donating the second one to our Norman neighbours and in exchange they invited us to try authentic “kir normand”.
We occupied their two chairs while our hosts perched on the step of the van, carefully pouring out the three components of their regional drink – first a dash of blackcurrant wine (cassis), then a good slug of Calvados, and finally cider.
We had two glasses each and found ourselves able to chatter about all sorts of things. His name was Jean-Jacques (“like Rousseau”) and hers was Marie (“like the Virgin”).
We got their email address but subsequently lost it, which was a sorrow to us, as we wanted to send them a photo of our little impromptu party.
Eventually we said goodbye and went off in search of dinner.
Having had nibbles with the Normans, we only needed a single course, so we went to the Restaurant de la Poste, where the plat du jour was duck with potatoes Sarlataises (€9). Under the big overhead fans in the courtyard at the back, we were cool and comfortable.