4 th May Chabreloche to La Chamba 25 kms

We set off early to the Boulangerie to get provisions for tonight as we are staying in my first Gîte etape( like a Refugio/ Albergue) at La Chamba. There is no town and the Gîte is on the way of the Randonnée ( hiking route) and also the Chemin Saint Jacque(Camino). The walk is really pretty through lovely farms and forests, but it is all uphill. On the roadside I was delighted to see a puddle full of tadpoles! Frogs are very present in France and the area we are walking in is very environmentally conscious. The constant up hill started to take its toll on Peter and after a while he was falling behind and we were getting anxious about him. Eventually with about 7 kms to go Karen was able to flag a car down and ask for help. The wonderful young woman turned around and drove about five minutes back picked him up and then stopped again to ask where he needed to be dropped off, and would we like to give us our packs? We told her La Chamba at the church and then we were too proud to give up our packs. Silly girls. It turned into a steady going up hill and then the last three kilometres seemed endless though Peter came out to meet us and had paid for the Gîte etc.

This is the Gîte near the church and the kitchen.

We were so glad to get there and then discovered that the showers were basic and really there was no room to put your clothes and every part of the floor got wet as well. I didn’t want to wash my clothes so I had nothing to stand on! But being clean is wonderful and the water is hot! So really no complaints.

We ate our gourmet meal of instant soup and Uncle Bens microwave rice with Champignons, to which we added peanuts! It was pretty tasty and the peanuts made the dish and lightened my load for the next day.

This town La Chamba is an Etoilé town. They turn off all public lighting at 11 pm so the stars can be seen. Unfortunately the skies were cloudy so no stargazing for us. Instead we played cards.

I was extremely successful at losing! It was good fun. The next morning as we were having breakfast I went to get something from the bedroom and met an extremely tired walker who was staggering down the stairs to the kitchen. She was very distressed and it turned out she had got lost in the forest on the way from Chabreloche and had not arrived till nearly 9.00 pm. She was very sore and burst into tears telling us. We gave her a hug and then rushed to find medication and strapping for her leg. It transpires she is walking the Chemin St Jacque and had started in Paris. It seemed to settle her to be able to tell of her ordeal. I think she is very courageous to do this walk on her own. What we have done is very strenuous and the last few days quite challenging so doing it on her own is very brave.

3 rd May catch up

It seems that a post I thought had been published failed. That is why the dates are out of sequence.

We are staying at a gite here at Chabreloche. The weather is freezing but the gite is warm with good wifi. Peter is feeling better after a couple of good meals and a rest day again. He won all the card games tonight!

26 th April Nevers-Bourbon-l’Archambault

Today felt weird at first because Peter and Andy set off to walk to Gimouille, about 8 kms out of Nevers where Karen and I would be waiting with our trusty black Nissan Micra. Gimouille is on the canal but no bar or cafe so we met the guys at the church, a simple 15th century Romanesque style.

We have hired the car to assist us between Nevers and Vichy due to the distances. I wanted to rest my leg another day and Karen is just starting to feel rested. A 30 km day was not an option. It gave us the chance to visit one of the prettiest towns in France, Apremont-sur-Allier. We are now travelling alongside the Allier river which is similar to and a tributary of the Loire.

Apremont was beautiful (perhaps in the Cotswolds style) situated on the Allier River with manicured gardens and a spectacular Floral Park, chateau and carriage, bicycle museum. The little cafe overlooked the river, the chickens pecked around our feet, the sun was out. All was right with the world.

This is on the pilgrimage route( nearly every place is it seems!) the 15 th Century village was once home to stonemasons but once the Chateau was bought by Eugène Schneider heir to the Le Creusot dynasty in the 1890s, the village was restored and embellished to be in perfect harmony with the Chateau and the estate. His great grandson was an inspired landscaper and created this magnificent, floral park. We spent ages strolling amongst the flowers and lawns. It has three follies in the vein of the 18 th Century gardens, a Turkish Pavillion, a Chinese bridge and a Belvedere. The house situated amongst the gardens are so picturesque. And no tourists and in fact not very commercial at all. There are adventure canoe activities but that was the only obvious commerce. Just good taste and harmony.

After checking out the ramparts of the castle we took to our black steed and drive through the town we would have stayed in if we were walking and onto our next place- a spa town.

3rd May Chabreloche

It was a really cold night and by 4am I was looking for my thermals! Peter has not come with enough warm clothes and was freezing last night. He was taken ill and by morning was not up to walking uphill for 23 kms. After discussing the options I volunteered to stay with him ( Pete’s French is even worse than mine plus he needs company) and I will arrange some sort of transport to the next village where we are booked into a Gîte. My bad French plus google translate are being utilised to find a lift or bus or taxi. Karen and Andy are walking on and will meet us in Chabreloche. After a freezing hour and a half in the town square speaking to people, a taxi finally appeared. Peter was so cold the taxi was the best option even if somewhat pricey. The warmth was so welcome and we had an interesting discussion with the driver. He was very friendly and we had a halting conversation about these country towns. The work is mainly sawmilling timber and the traditional agriculture is diminished. The young people are going to the larger cities, the local uranium mine which was mined for medical purposes is closed so work is limited. It is the same the world over.

We passed Andy and Karen on the road and they texted to tell us the next town had an Auberge that was open and they were having coffee and tissane!

The taxi dropped us at a cafe where we have set up a base. The owner is very generous and has let us charge the phones.

2nd May Vichy to Ferriers sur Sichon 23 kms

We have had a lovely walk out of Vichy into the hills. Looking back we were surprised how high we were. The path took us into many beautiful forests and past picturesque farms and hamlets. No coffee or lunch anywhere though! We had anticipated this so we had a pile of provisions to keep us going.

Before we left Vichy we divested ourselves of some extra gear and left it with Karen’s Mum. It made the packs lighter but then we stocked up with food!

We wound past lots of Charolet cattle who are so curious they follow us in their paddocks along the road. They come right up to the fence to look at us. There were lots of horses too. This is really starting to get into the country and soon we were deep in forest and beside bubbling streams.

As always the last few kms are tough especially up hill but eventually we arrived in Ferriers. The camp site has just opened but the showers were not open and only one toilet. I felt so yucky I got changed in the toilet and then went around to the laundry tubs and had a bird bath wash, I felt better and we just rested in our tents for awhile. Peter was really doing it hard today but revived after a sleep. We had thought to stay in the Auberge but they only had one room for $80, they weren’t open and we had to go back at 6. When we arrived hoping for a meal the owner was aghast that we had not booked for dinner and refused to give us a meal. As luck would have it a mobile pizza van was parked up the road so we rushed up there to grab a pizza. The young girls said they wouldn’t be ready till 9.00 pm because they had so many orders, but when we said we were camping she took pity on us and cooked us two pizzas right then. We took them back to the Auberge where we had bought drinks while waiting for the pizza to cook. The owner came out and said we couldn’t eat them there! We finished our drinks and then we walked down by the river and ate them at a picnic bench. Old stuffy France versus young vibrant France. The girls are the future and the guy is the past. It is a small town but on a major road and a friendlier person would have had our business. We were not impressed. The camp ground is very pretty and the amenities are good. I only hope he is friendlier in summer. We think he wouldn’t have given us a room either.

In the way into town we passed a riding school and these young riders had just finished their lessons. Bluebells growing wild amongst the other wild flowers.

Early to bed because it is cooling down quickly. No internet either.

30th April -1st May Vichy

We had a pleasant drive to Vichy spotting a heard of Bison no less and several chateaux and grand houses. The farms are larger here and seem more mechanised. Herds of creamy Charolet are the beef cattle of choice though the herds are hardly more than 30. It is calfing season and there are lots of Plat de Jours (plate of the day) offering calf heads!

I have tried the charolet steaks twice now and while I find them tender they don’t seem to have much flavour.

Getting rid of the car to Avis was a tedious ordeal. The car needed to be left in the station car park; after taking a parking ticket you leave the keys with the station information desk. None of that was clearly explained and we left it twice before finally getting the correct information. We were quite cross with the Avis rep but when we passed the office and saw him inside we decided to check with him. He was so pleasant we lost our ill humour. Still the explanation needed to be clearer.

Our AirBnB is really charming and well situated though we were disconcerted to discover our hosts were living here with us.

We stumbled on the most unusual and beautiful Art Deco church. We were all blown away by its stained glass and the decorative touches.

The river Allier which runs through Vichy has beautiful parks and sports areas along its banks. It also has a beach and beach boxes. There were several slippery dips from the higher level of the park. I had a go and it was so fast I landed in a patch of wet playground.

We returned to our house for a home cooked meal after booking a massage at the Spa for Tuesday afternoon. We are meeting Karen’s mother Sue and her two French friends Denise and Nicole for lunch.

They are the loveliest of women. So very friendly and asking us to come and visit. It was a wonderful day topped off by us showing them the Art Deco Church! They admitted they know the Vichy ships best! I showed them where u bought my swimsuit for the spa and they agreed it was a good choice but expensive. The spa was too upmarket for me to go in my underwear!Then it was off to the spa for which Vichy is famous.

Because it is May 1st, a very serious public holiday hardly anything is open.

There are flower sellers everywhere selling Lilly if the valley which are always sold in the 1st if Mat and symbolise a happy home for the year ahead.

After the spa we looked for a place to dine having exhausted our provisions the day before. I was starving and couldn’t believe nothing was open. Eventually with the help of the internet we found an Indian restaurant 19 minutes walk away. Disaster averted!

29 th April St Hilaire Le Petit Moulin Gîte

We visited Moulins this morning and managed to see most of the town which was the centre of the Bourbon Ducal Dynasty. There were beautiful old streets, a tower that was a prison during the Second World War. This was the edge of the German occupation with Free France across the river Allier. Today was a significant day for some of the families whose members had been incarcerated by the Germans in the prison tower. Wreaths were laid outside and a special tour took place so it was closed to ordinary tourists.

The cathedral was full with beautiful singing from the choir, the Sunday market was bustling but otherwise France, in the countryside anyway, closes down on Sunday (except for the boulangeries, and a few cafes.) We are so used to 7 days a week trading in the UK and Australia it comes as a shock. We did get some garlic at the market and a large hot flat bread from a stall.

The merry-go-round is a common sight in Paris and other towns. This one in Moulin was busy with children.

After the rain returned in earnest we adjourned to Le Petit Maison (our Gîte) and played cards the rest of the afternoon. A very satisfying day really.

Even the chickens and the rabbits were looking for shelter.