28 th April Bourbon-Saint Hilaire

Today we explored Bourbon-L’Archambault closely, visiting the castle and the old mill, as well as the winding streets and the supermarket. It started to rain heavily and was bitterly cold.

71765172-64C2-40B1-B79C-7E6DDAE48600

Well shopping was a revelation. Had most things you need like bikes, mowers, wine food stuffs and the usual grocery items but all in the most ( to me, and Peter) disorganised arrangement. I was desperate to identify some logic but it was beyond me. The cereals were in ‘ breakfast’ aisle which included biscuits , jams, etc, but wine was in three places, oil was in three places, laundry was in an aisle next to gardening, bread was great but somewhere else and you could slice it yourself which I thought was great. We are so used to vegetables all the time at home I was shocked to find few leafy vegetables, but then thought they are coming out of winter so probably they are not available. I am on cooking duty tomorrow at the gÎte where we are staying and I had elected to do a stir fry for the vegetarians amongst us but also to satisfy my craving for GREENS. I managed to get broccoli and a Chinese cabbage at least.

We drove from Bourbon to St Hilaire through verdant forest and fields in a yellow green we rarely see in Australia. It is almost iridescent. The Chateau we were going to visit was closed, only this day(!) for a wedding. It was so pretty and Medieval. Chateau de Peufeilhoux is open as a Chambre d’hôtel so maybe another time after I have nabbed a rich boyfriend. Disappointed but not deterred we headed off in the rain through the forest, glad of our bubble car ( Nissan Micra) and not to be walking.

We followed a road Andy had selected as interesting. It was but also very narrow with no indications of where it was actually going. It meandered through more forest finally arriving at what looked like a door in a wall. We slowly drive through thinking we were in a private residence, only to see yes a house, but also a castle under restoration with massive crane and scaffolding all down one side. With relief we realised the road continued to the right and led us eventually to a very narrow mossy bridge over which the Micra just managed to fit, and onto a real road!

Our next interesting stop was Hérisson, French for hedgehog. What a charming ( if slightly mouldy) place with its winding streets, ruined castle, mirror like weir and a fabulous little restaurant. I had seen the door of what looked like a bar was ajar so I had stepped in to ask if they were open. The two women laughed and said no but directed us to the place that was, saying come back next season. They were renovating an old hotel which will look fantastic when it is finished. The town is the first we have seen with a retirement or old people’s care facility.

Lunch was delicious and full of salad and vegetables before we moved on to St Hilaire where we are staying two nights in a gîte. This is a private small house like a holiday stay. It is very cute and means we don’t need to put up tents in the next four days of rain. We will use it as a base to explore Moulins. Despite the 70 kms we covered we are actually only 15 kms from where we started this morning! We could have walked, but glad we didn’t. We saw two walkers looking decidedly miserable. Playing cards as you do on rainy days.

27 th April

Postscript

Souvigny is the correct spelling of today’s little town and for those who are not as mad as me to walk( attempt) to walk the ridiculous 800 kms. We have discovered that many of the little towns have quite pleasant circuits you can do. So car travel plus walking is definitely a possibility.

27 th April St. Menou

This morning we took the car to Souveny with the intention of walking a circuit around the district. It is a training walk for Peter with his pack and a test to see how I would fare.

The town is one that sprang up around another wealthy Cluniac/Benedictine Abbey. Because of the wealth there are many lovely and somewhat larger residences.

Before we set off we needed breakfast of course and we walked around for 20 odd minutes till we found a boulangerie and then a bar for coffee. The bar was quite interesting as it was very clean and modern, run by an immaculately dressed woman wearing her pearls no less! The cafe housed all the sporting trophies from the local football club around the walls.

There is no problem with eating our pastries in the bar and it was nice and warm inside. It must be about 5 degrees and a stiff breeze blowing. Great for Karen!

Fully fuelled with especially delicious pastries we wandered first into the church. It was the first place for ages where there were candles to buy. I made good my promise to light a candle for our good samaritans who gave us lifts and also thanks for all the gifts in my life. All the while the impressive church organ played beautiful music. It wasn’t recorded music either as several other churches have had. The organist played with sensitivity and the acoustics were great. It made a beautiful atmosphere.

Of course it was another place on the pilgrimage route and there was the shell outside a gorgeous house that had been a Refugio.

It was a delightful gentle walk which culminated in a forest where a pretty little dog followed us for ages. We got to a farm gate and were concerned he/she was getting too far from home so we held it back while we all went through the gate. It was so disappointed it yelped and yapped and then found its way under the gate. It came racing up with such joy. The next gate we tried again and succeeded. It looked so disappointed but turned and raced off.

We finished our walk back in the forest and eventually ended in Saint Menoux. The village has a church (7th century unusual Romanesque construction), where an Irish priest stopped on the way back from Rome. He stayed and eventually died here. He was a gentle soul with an apparent gift for healing headaches, migraines or depression. His relics are in a coffin in the church and there is a space like a bread oven beside them where you can put your head and pray for healing!

Peter and I have elected to stay here rather than complete the next 8 kms back to Souveny. My leg was no worse for the 11 km walk but I didn’t want to push it and Peter was feeling the strain. He was unwell with a sore back only a fortnight ago so we are giving him time to adjust.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch of duck in raspberry vinegar, champignons and potatoes followed by apple crumble. Karen and Peter had salad followed by the vegetables. I am missing my greens!

Karen and I were planning a massage at the spa but we are too late. Maybe tomorrow.

By the way I have loved all your comments just to let you know I am reading them.

25 th April Nevers

Today we are waiting for Peter Shackleton to join us from the UK. It is an easy restful start. We have done all our washing and we have organised a car to support us over the next five days to Vichy. With all our various issues, my shin splint ( improving after a bit of rest) , Karen still tired and with a few nasty blisters, Andy with a mysterious swollen leg( not painful) and Peter with water on the knee before he starts, we are a fine lot of crocks. We all feel okay otherwise.

Andy, Karen and I do a leisurely tour of the city, which is quite charming and has a rich history. One of the things it is famous for is Faience earthen ware. They are beautiful pieces that you will probably recognise. Many are blue and yellow with intricate patterns or stories etc. they are hand painted. We visited the museum and watched the whole process. I found it fascinating and would buy some if I wasn’t travelling for a long time after now.

There is a huge cathedral with two apses, one at each end. The cathedral of St Cyr and St Julitte, was devastated many times over the centuries but lastly during WW11. They have reconstructed it but have chosen to install modern stain glass instead of recreating the old windows. It is interesting and those modern windows more elaborately designed seem to suit better than the minimalist ones.

One end of the church

Nevers is where St Bernadette from Lourdes came after her vision and lived with the Sisters of Charity. Her body is interred in a glass case in the Susters of Charity. chapel there.

I have been amused by the French signs for dogs. A bowl of water is called the bar chien, and there are special areas for pooing and peeing.

They aren’t used all the time but the streets are pretty clean.

Yesterday it was Amex and today I have discovered my ANZ visa has also been compromised! I have no back up cards now just my travel card. It was so annoying as I had to change any direct debits I might have and to speak to ANZ I had to remember my telephone code. Not likely! Anyway I am grateful for their quick action and vigilance. No loss and only small amounts presumably as testers.

I loved the ladies sweeping up blossom under a tree. They are tidy gardeners in France.

24 th April Charité-sur-Loire to Nevers

Glorious morning because we are sleeping in and not packing up to be gone by 7. The tents will dry eventually though there is a soft mist overhanging everything. That was to be expected because we are camping on an island in the middle of the Loire. It is cool enough to pull out my puffy jacket as we eat breakfast of croissants and pastries but not coffee yet.

We decide to have coffee at a bar near the church and then explore the town. I feel a real sense of pleasure being here. It has energy and I probably am not tired! I am captivated by the dog in the boulangerie and the dog in the window of the hairdresser. It was so well behaved, just sitting watching, no barking. Alfie needs a bit of French good manners! There are always hairdressers open!

Next the church which I find really beautiful and moving. The flagstones are so uneven they tell of the centuries of worship yet it has very contemporary stained glass windows in some parts and beautiful messages around the church. It is a church that is used still.

The Church was taken over by the French Revolutionaries and the entrance was destroyed and housing was built. Since the 1990s the town has been restoring the buildings which are extensive. The monks were called Cluniacs and were very influential through the ages. It has also been recognised as a stop on a route to Santiago Compostella. Today I walked the mandatory 84 stairs for pilgrims.

The city has quite a few festivals, one of which is a festival of words and on many of the shops and buildings are quotes from literature. I find that really charming. This is the street we had our coffee. Eventually we returned to pack up the tents and catch the bus to Nevers. While I was doing that Amex rang to say my card had been used in New York! Anyway no transaction occurred due to their diligence but they have stopped that card. It isn’t a problem as I only bring it for emergencies but it took ages to sort out and I thought we would miss our bus. What a world. I am talking to a guy in America( Mumbai probably) while plugged into a caravan power site in France talking fraud then holding while they put me onto customer service in Actual America to send a replacement card! Anyway all is good. We arrived in Nevers as scheduled and are resting and enjoying a lovely Airbnb in a charming building. The washing machine finally worked when I realised you have to close the inner drum. I remembered from Croatia. Washed everything and now smell nice!

April 19 Jargeau to Sully-en-Loire 32kms

This morning as we folded the tents it crossed my mind, that I am nuts. The tents were wet with condensation and we needed to get off early because another hot day was predicted. We wanted to get as far as possible before the heat started to affect Karen. It is unusually warm! I keep thinking about what I can ditch but apart from the shoulders I am actually travelling okay. That was until today. When you follow a river it meanders and that added extra kilometres. We had not intended any long days for a week or so to give us all time to get our walking fitness honed. Hmph! Best plans and all that. It turns out there were different markers to our information and it turned into a long days walk. We all feel tired.

The walking was beautiful though with lots of bird life. Everyday we are surrounded by sweet bird song, trills and tweets, honks and cries. Then there are the frogs. I haven’t heard a cacophony of frogs for ages. They are prolific. We saw a flock of  cormorants surge up from underwater right in front of us. It was like watching submarines emerging from the water. Later a flock of white swans flapped and flapped in order to get airborne.

Eventually we arrived in Chateauneuf for second breakfast. Our first had been left over pizza and a banana. Some of these little towns seem very quiet and not a lot is open for dinner. We had to have pizza last night. I had a delicious cafe au lait, my first coffee in three days. Fortified we set off enthusiastically.

The Chateau

We saw a flat bottomed boat chugging up stream with sightseers, the first of the season perhaps. Then the next place was St Benoit. A beautiful and unusual church monastery. It was deliciously cool inside.

From now we start to struggle. It is unseasonably hot. Karen is wilting so the going is slow. Eventually we arrive at Sully and the camp ground is delightful but we are all worn out and it is late.. The town has few shops for provisioning for breakfast but Andy goes while we organise dinner. Not much choice, looks like chocolate brownies for breakfast! There is a charming chateau here. Quite a Repunzal

let down your hair type.

We enjoy a really delicious dinner and return to our tents and crash. Another hot day tomorrow means an early start again.

21st April Gien to Briare 30 km

This walk was really pretty, going past beautiful homes and chateaux finally arriving in Briare which is a canal town famous for its mosaics and earthen ware. It is quite a pretty place with lots of boats and a large canal that actually goes across and above the Loire River. We arrived feeling a bit stretched and finally found a place that sold gourmet icecreams and chocolates. While eating our treats a boat cruised past on the canal. Very weird to see a boat at footpath level.

Despite the boating activity, it is pre-season and many places are not open. We walked the town and only found one little restaurant. There may be others but without a car the options are limited.

The next day was Sunday and we discovered very little open again but the Tabacs (tattslotto, newsagents, coffees, some have the TAB horse racing) were the only things open and the real centre of village sunday life. In fact many of the little towns we have walked through have no bars, shops or bakeries. They are often closed up like the houses have been abandoned or they are holiday homes. It has meant we are struggling to get a breakfast or even a coffee on the way which has surprised us.

it has meant long days walking which has tired us all. Still that is part of the adventure to discover how the country works close up.

The camping grounds are interesting. Sometimes no loo paper, never toilet seats, unisex, and water rationed to 30 second bursts. There is a lot of emphasis on careful use of water, a precious asset. A bit ironic when we are walking beside a fast flowing river but I like the philosophy. Should be more of it at home. The water is hot so I have this technique now, of getting wet, soaping up and then rinsing off. You can press the tap as many times as you like but it always stops automatically.