Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Day 3: From Aurec-sur-Loire to Epercieux-Saint-Paul. A very mixed day - the wind blew me uphill in the morning and then blew in my face all afternoon.

Getting out of bed in la chambre bleue with its sagging matress proved quite as difficult as I'd expected. Again, I inched gingerly onto the floor and then crawled on all fours to the shower for the heat treatment wondering whether Homo Sapiens Sapiens wouldn't have been better off without the upright posture despite its alleged liberating effects on the swelling grey matter (mine felt like cold porridge). The protests from my lower vertebrae quietened down and I made it to the gloomy dining-room at 8.00, conscious that the grim-faced lady had been very insistent about the precise timing of breakfast. She appeared immediately and served the coffee and croissants. I told her my plans for the day and since she'd noticed my stiff posture, and heard my explanation without visible reaction, she informed me with a certain relish that there was a very long climb ahead of me before I reached the plain around Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert.

View AurectoEpercieux in a larger map]

I left her establishment in a thin drizzle reflecting that the clothes I'd dried overnight and that were now receiving a further wetting at least smelled fresher than they would have done otherwise. The road out of Aurec was choked with rush-hour traffic because the small town is now a dormitory for the rapidly expanding Saint Etienne. Nevertheless, I was able to overtake much of it on the downhill route to Saint-Paul-en-Cornillon. I was determined to enjoy this while it lasted because Madame Loubier's dire warnings about climbs were weighing on my mind, or at least my back.

The Loire at Saint-Paul-en-Cornillon a few miles out of Aurec

I found the D108 to Chambles and turned onto it. The contrast with the D46 that I'd been following up to that point couldn't have been greater. The traffic disappeared and the hill in front of me looked near vertical. Mercifully, the climb turned out to be a lot less demanding and indeed a lot more agreeable that I'd expected. There was a stiff breeze at my back for most of the time and the gradient felt almost imperceptible despite looking pretty punishing both in front and as I glanced behind. The ascent to Chambles was about eight or nine kilometres long, but Madame Loubier was proved wrong by it: it wasn't tough and had no effect on my back at all. I reached the top without breaking a sweat.

The view south on the Loire from Chambles

The picture above looking back to the south gives an idea of the height climbed in the course of those eight kilometres. From Chambles one could however also look north and see the first plain of the Loire stretched out ahead, providing the delightful prospect of a long gravity-fuelled and restful coast of eight or nine kilometres to compensate for the earlier exertions.

The view north on the first of the Loire plains from Chambles

I arrived in Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert in time to get a few provisions for lunch. But I was itching to keep going

The Romanesque church of Saint André de Saint Rambert-sur-Loire XII and XII centuries

and although I tried to visit the Romanesque church of Saint André de Saint-Rambert-sur-Loire, the doors were firmly shut and locked though it was the middle of the day.

From Saint-Just-Saint-Rambert, I tried to navigate a decent route on the small roads, but got rather lost and tetchy because I couldn't be bothered fumbling with reading-glasses in order to consult the GPS every five minutes. I found my way through Saint Cyprien but got in a muddle at Craintilleux and went off in the wrong direction. It was sheer haste that caused the mistake. I got too impatient to look at the GPS. In the end it was only when I stopped for lunch that I really got a good look at the device and found my bearings. It was then that I understood the miles of tedium that lay ahead. After getting lost a second time, I found the D1082 that I was to follow to my destination for the evening.

Lunch at a riverside lake near Craintilleux

The D1082 was one of the most boring bits of road I have ever ridden along. But its mind-numbing monotony was compounded by a stiff headwind that buffeted and unsettled me and blew dust in my eyes. i couldn't understand why the wind had turned around and was coming in the opposite direction from earlier in the day; but that was indeed the case.

A glance at the map beneath will give some idea of what was entailed on this old Roman route that runs the whole length of the plain without a bend for twenty-odd kilometres from Vauche to Balbigny.

View AurectoEpercieux in a larger map]

The road took me through Montrond-les-Bains

The Château of Montrond-les-Bains

and Feurs (the name illustrates what the French peasants did to Roman names: this stump of a word, as already mentioned, is all that remains of the sonorous Forum Segusiavorum).

The statue of the doughty Michel Combe - fervent Bonapartist - in the middle of Feurs

It wasn't until I turned off this road and onto the narrow lane that led to Les Barges my chambre d'hôte (see:http://www.montagnesdumatin.com/fr/desc_longue.php?id=sitraHLO433803 ) that the wind began to die down and the weather become more benign.

'Les Barges' - the wonderfully hospitable and relatively inexpensive B&B at Epercieux

Once again, my first action on arriving in my room was to dive into the shower to ease the aches and pains. Dinner fortunately turned out to be a first-rate meal of magret de canard with asparagus, a wonderful ratatouille and a selection of ripe local cheeses. The excellent local wine did much to settle the twanging nerves and the conversation turned out to be remarkably entertaining thanks to the presence of a crusty old retired civil servant who had plenty of acid comment to make on the current state of France. Mine host and his wife were a bit taken aback by the risqué comments of the old buffer, but the wine helped to smooth things over and had his wife not begun to nod off at the table, we may have made a long night of it.

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