Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Day 5: From Marcigny to Bourbon-Lancy. The featureless roads of today's ride closely resembled those of yesterday - the two days fuse in my mind.

Breakfast in La Musardière was, as already noted, a bit disorganised (the Germans, by contrast were highly organised and filed in and out with military precision), but it was abundant and to my liking with lots of dried and fresh fruit, crusty bread and - eventually - croissants. I made a good fist of it and left at around 8.30.

I finally took the road out of town after a bit of shopping at the market and was so intimidated by the D982 going north and stiff with heavy goods vehicles, that I decided to find a route along the small lanes that run between this main road and the river.

This is an example of the sort of small road I was riding on in the region of Baugy.

I ended up going through Baugy as did Higginson, but instead of going over to the other side of the river at Vindécy, I made the mistake of continuing on the small roads and was thus eventually forced to get back on the D982 and put up with the lorries.

This sort of well-preserved Romanesque church is very common in the region

Higginson was a lot wiser - or better informed - than me because he was able to follow the Canal Latéral as far as Digoin, whereas I got snarled up in the traffic he warns about. Unfortunately I'd forgotten to bring his little book with me and so missed out on his excellent advice.

At Digoin I went down to have a look at the canal I'd missed, but there was little else to detain me

The spot in Digoin where the 'Canal Latéral crosses the Loire on a 'pont-canal'.
Another view of the pont-canal at Digoin

in the town so I was soon heading north-west on the D979.

The D979 was another of those featureless roads that run parallel to the Loire and I have enormous trouble in distinguishing the journey from Digoin to Bourbon-Lancy from the one I made from Roanne to Marcigny. Both were along featureless roads and both ended with a dozen or so kilometres along cycle tracks.

View Marcigny to Bourbon-Lancy in a larger map]

The weather was definitely getting warmer and after searching for a good hour or so for a suitable place to have lunch, I was finally reduced to stopping in the shade of a little monument on the roadside. (This lunch stop shows up as a little blip on the blue line of my itinerary about half a mile south-east of Gilly-sur-Loire and if you go to Google street view at this point you can visit it yourself!)

I tried repeatedly to get off the main road and onto smaller roads but they seemed to go nowhere and in the end it was simpler just to carry on.

View Marcigny to Bourbon-Lancy in a larger map]

The cycle-track came as an enormous relief from the thunderous roar and gusts of hot air generated by the trucks. I stopped at one point and stretched out on a pic-nic table and the effect on my protesting joints and vertebrae was nothing short of luxurious.

I arrived in Bourbon-Lancy at about 3.30 and immediately made for the town centre without reflecting that this might not be necessary. The town centre was, of course, at the top of a nasty little hill and I arrived in a lather that could only be cured by a cold beer.

The cold beer in question in the centre of Bourbon-Lancy

The town of Bourbon-Lancy has nothing to do with the Bourbon family but gets its name from the Gaulish divinity Bormo (from the Celtic root beru 'to boil' or 'to bubble') who was associated with the healing properties of bubbling spring water. It is notable for a Druidic site and for the quality of its waters which, as the Romans knew, are good for rheumatism and associated aches and pains. When I tried to visit the centre of the town I was prevented from doing so by a ghastly fairground that had set up its noisy rides in the narrow streets.

Downtown Bourbon-Lancy looking a bit like Disneyland

The metallic shrieking of the machinery, the inane squawking of the adolescents queueing up to be excited and the abominable din of the piped music soon drove me away. I set off to look for my hotel - Le Rocher - imagining it to be somewhere near the centre. It was - but at the bottom of a bluff on the south side of the town. So having found a way down, I freewheeled to the front door, conscious that no power on earth would induce me to go back up to the centre, bubbling, ache-relieving springs or not.

The hotel 'Le Rocher' in Bourbon-Lancy

The hotel turned out to have a reasonable restaurant associated with it (see: http://www.le-rocher.fr/). I discovered this by following my nose. My first encounter with the management of the hotel, however, wasn't particularly encouraging. I rang the bell on the front door and a vague looking woman appeared behind the glass. She took a look at me and promptly disappeared without opening the door. I then waited for a good three or four minutes until she finally reappeared and unlocked the door. She looked at me as though I was an invading army. I said I had a reservation for this evening and she replied encouragingly that she didn't think so. "J'ai personne ce soir," she said, "there's no-one in the hotel tonight," and she was about to close the door when I objected plaintively that she could then perhaps let me have a room. She thought about this for a few seconds and then said, "oui, peut-être, pourquoi pas?"

She had a badge on her blouse with her name Maryline Brunaud and the fact that I had an e-mail bearing this name confirming the reservation I had made three months before made no difference at all. I didn't press the point. I agreed to take the room and she proceeded to shut the door instructing me to go round to a little gate at the back . She seemed to have unfocused eyes perpetually gazing beyond, so I was quite surprised when she materialised at the gate and let me in.

The restaurant associated with the hotel was also called Le Rocher and that's where I opted to have dinner.The thought of climbing back up to the town centre on the hill was simply unbearable. As it happened, the fare at the restaurant was fairly tolerable. I had a rather leathery omelette and a plate of re-heated chips, but the salad and the cheese were both excellent. So was the dencanter of Bourgeuil. The waitress turned out to be Maryline Brunaud, now wearing glasses, chirpy and welcoming and completely transformed.

I shared the terrace with a stringy, weather-beaten French couple who immediately recognised me for a cyclist and began to interrogate me about my activities. They were camping enthusiasts and only found themselves in a restaurant this evening as a sort of reward for weeks of privation and spartan campsite living. It turned out that they belonged to that almost mythical band of people, the bénévoles who paint the waymarks on the trees to indicate the routes of the grandes randonnées. I found it hard to imagine that such people existed, yet here they were. They were very jolly and cackled uproarously about their small stock of clothing, about being refused entry to restaurants because they didn't look - or smell - right, about washing their smalls every evening, about the communal washing facilities in the campings, about the sound effects at night... and so on.

I went back to my room at about nine and collapsed onto one of the beds in the room. It was so saggy that it was like a hammock. The second was no better. And the third was worse. I spent a restless hour or so trying to find a comfortable position on the least collapsed of the mattresses and listening out for the fifteen minute chimes of the church across the square (repeated on the hour), convinced that there were small scurrying creatures crawling on my skin, until oblivion finally took over.

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