This would be a walk with a difference. Firstly, this would be our first walk of any significant distance in France. Secondly, we would be walking through a river valley which we know extremely well, whereas our previous long walks had deliberately been chosen to take us through terrain and to visit places with which we had been unfamiliar. Thirdly, we had always taken pride in the fact that we use public transport to reach the start of a walk, and to find our way home once we had finished. But in rural France, that would prove to be out of the question – the rail system serving small towns and villages seems to have atrophied over the last few decades, and the countryside is devoid of buses!
The walk has been recently devised, and is rather grandly called, “In the Footsteps of the Men of Lascaux”. I suspect that the walk was created in the wake of the wave of publicity which occurred with the opening of Lascaux IV (of which there is more tomorrow, day 2), and it follows the valley of the Vézère from where the river enters Périgord at Terrasson, to its confluence with its big brother, the Dordogne, at the village of Limeuil.
Julia and I know the Vézère and it’s valley, as Julia owns a small house in the village of Sergeac on the river’s rive gauche. We have therefore walked many times, almost always in a circle, because of the lack of public transport, and absolutely always within the light of one day! The rolling countryside is dominated by woodland, and is dotted with châteaus and villages hewed out of honey-coloured stone. It is beautiful. And so this six day sojourn through our own back yard felt like a little gift to ourselves.
It was approaching 11a.m. when Chris, who lives and works in Sergeac, and just happens to be Julia’s brother, dropped us off in Terrasson near the old pedestrian bridge. A lively Sunday morning market was in full swing on this north bank of the river as we fiddled with our rucksacks and prepared for our grand depart. Julia found a fetching dress with purples and black at only 20 Euros! But the harsh truth that we were carrying all our own gear for the first time in a few years meant that the dress stayed on the market rail.
Having crossed the 12th century bridge, I proceeded to make a right pig’s ear of leaving town. We took a wrong turn, and therefore trudged along about 3 kilometres of tarmac to the first landmark of any size after Terrasson, the hamlet of La Talerie. It was only as we came close to this settlement that we discovered my mistake: instead of following a line along a rural track, we had plotted a semi-circle, a course taken by humans in cars rather than those on foot. We had been indignantly berating the dearth of waymarkers. But of course…there hadn’t been any waymarkers because we weren’t on the way! Julia wondered aloud as to why she was still following me after nigh on forty years.
La Talerie was in a lovely spot on a ridge overlooking the valley to the north – its handful of buildings were an incongruous mix of well-tended luxury and crumbly beauty. From here on there were plenty of the circular, yellow waymarkers; finding our way was a doddle. We stopped further along this ridge, at a picnic table. The table was in shade, so we sat on the stony ground in the sun to eat our lunch. The day was predominantly sunny with less that 50% cloud cover; but it was very cool, particularly out of the sun.
Soon after lunch, we changed direction. Having followed a line west, roughly parallel to the river valley, we turned left, descending south through woodland to the valley of the Coly, a tributary of the Vézère. Continuing south we moved upstream alongside the beguiling Coly until it reached its eponymous village.
We know Coly; it’s only a tuppence ha’penny place, but it boasts a brewery, which we have visited, and a no-nonsense eatery, La Table de Jean. The latter was only a matter of 50 metres or so off our itinerary, so we called in. They served us the local Chavagn bière blonde, which we opted to drink on their terrasse. I’m not sure whether this was bravura or stupidity, as the ambient temperature was redolent of winter; at least the beer hit the spot.
We climbed past the brewery onto wooded upland, meeting a cyclist from Newark-on-Trent who was making his way along these rough forest paths. We plummeted precipitously towards St. Amand-de-Coly. So much so that we found ourselves almost upon the roof of the villages gargantuan church before we had seen it. The church undoubtedly dominates the little village. It was originally part of an abbey, and built during the 12th century, although it has required renovations over the intervening centuries. Indeed, at this moment, it is into its fourth year of repairs to the roof. As is the case with many village churches in Périgord, it is fortified – i.e. it had defensive capabilities as well as being a place of worship. During the one Hundred Years’ War, these churches provided safe haven for the community when opposition troops came marauding!
Having sauntered around the church, we booked in to the Hotel de l’Abbaye. Our room, in a separate dwelling across the road from the hotel/restaurant, was rather twee and cramped, but warm on a particularly chilly evening. The hotel’s restaurant was light and cheerful; its fare was rather elaborate and rich. The main talking point was ice cream with the starters: walnut flavour with the foie gras, and ginger with the salmon terrine. We’re usually quite adventurous when it comes to food; but for us it didn’t hang together well; to be honest it seemed to be a waste of good ingredients.
A day of flowers!