Our day started with breakfast; the large windows looked over the garden. The sky remained cloudless, defying the rather bleak forecast.
Before departure we bought sandwiches for lunch. And as the evening would see us chez-nous, we visited a patisserie for éclairs. We disobeyed the official instructions, and walked down the lane hugging the river’s rive gauche as far as Le chemin de Gouny, where we fell back into line with the yellow, circular waymarkers.
Our morning was initially on tarmac, narrow lanes skirting the Chateau Puy Robert; we caught a brief glimpse of a deer bounding through a meadow. Our lanes brought us to the small village of Brenac. We must have passed it a hundred times or more by car or bicycle on that riverside road which runs from Montignac down to Sergeac. I had always thought that it was a farmstead, but Brenac is much more than that, with its own chapel and neat gardens. It also boasted a persistently noisy shaggy dog. Julia carried her walking poles all the way from Terrasson to Limeuil, but, in retrospect, only used them when she felt the need to impose her authority over this aggressive canine!
Continuing south on these small lanes between arable land, we reflected on the differences in rambling through this part of France and back home in the UK. In France, the routes follow more formal pathways. There are no stiles; very rarely does one cross meadowland. And, as Julia pointed out, you never go through fields of livestock in France. Hence, this walk, which ostensibly follows the Vézère through Périgord, by and large wanders over the wooded ridges some distance from the river. The land closer to the Vézère is more intensely farmed and therefore off limits to recreational walkers. Undoubtedly this has advantages: you don’t find yourself hastily gauging the mood of a herd of surly cows; you don’t become bemused in fields which don’t appear to have a mode of egress. But on the other hand, it doesn’t feel like the complete rambling experience!
Our next wooded ridge, between Brenac and Valojoulx, took us to the Maquis. The Maquis, or maquisards, were bands of rural guerrilla combatants resisting the Nazi occupying forces during World War II. And one band operated from this sylvan retreat. I am sure it will have been a relatively safe haven, but living conditions must have been harsh.
The church at Valojoulx, like the one at St. Amand-de-Coly, was covered in tarpaulin and being extensively renovated. Unfortunately, there was no chance of going inside. We put our feet under a table – a picnic table, for lunch. Valojoulx has a swathe of them around its salles de fêtes. Luckily there was one in the shade of la salle – it had remained sunny and was beginning to get hot. Hard to imagine that we had awoken to frost on the previous morning.
From Valojoulx, there was just one last ridge before we reached Sergeac – a climb through woods scattered with shanty dwellings, to the hamlet of Le Caillou, and then a walk along the ridge to La Voulperie. This second hamlet is within the commune of Sergeac. As we dropped down to cross La Seignolle, a stream that feeds into the Vézère, we were made aware of just how hot it was when there was no recourse to shade. The bridge over the stream used to be a delightful place, but the trees on the banks have been lopped down, and a pond has been created close to La Seignolle. Mother Nature modified by a very heavy hand.
But we were soon marching into the tiny village with its old château and imposing, fortified church, both wrapped in tarpaulin; the latter’s roof being repaired apparently at a snail’s pace; the former, privately owned, has recently been sold…. and bought. It’s roof has been crumbling for years. It is made of lauzes – flat pieces of limestone, and their is a shortage of this material at the moment. I have it from a reliable source that the new owner would like to use tiles. But, as the château is classified as an historical monument, he may not be allowed to do so. This tarpaulin could run and run!
Our place, The Barn, is tucked in between château and church. The good weather had remained with us all day – so I cut the grass; we sat outside with Chris (Julia’s brother who lives at Castel Merle, just outside Sergeac) sipping beer, contemplating the second half of our walk. The weather forecast for the morrow was apparently grim. But I think that it would be fair to say that we underestimated just how grim it would get!