We awoke to dry clothes and boots, although I noted that the upper on my left boot had split open. So we both started out in footwear that we had decided was destined for recycling after the completion of our walk. For the first half-a-mile or so we had to retrace our steps, walking the length of the town to cross the bridge over the river. The day promised to be sunny but cool, although there was a chance of rain. We continued downstream on rive-droit of the Vézère, through meadowlands with views across the river to Les Eyzies. In fact rive-gauche was an impressive limestone escarpment, twisting in parallel to the river, for a good two-three kilometres.
We crossed a level-crossing, and moved slightly away from the river, climbing to the farm at Les Eymaries, which seems to be primarily an equestrian centre. Not far beyond the farm, we came across a fascinating dwelling cut into the limestone cliff. There was a slip of A4 paper protected by a plastic bag informing us that this was an example of a cluzeau (a word from Occitan) – a habitation in the rock. We were free to enter and have a look around – so long as we shouldered the responsibility for such a venture. It was much more substantial than a shelter; it was a chamber high enough to stand up in. There was a stairwell leading down to a subterranean corridor leading to other smaller rooms. No one is quite sure who made these dwellings, or for how long they have existed; but those who study these things seem to think that they were created and lived in during times of threat or siege. It is thought that this particular one dates from the 13th century.
Blinking my way back into the sunlight, we were soon in the pretty hamlet of Le Peuch, the houses built into the escarpment. We had come across this during the previous evening: we had called into a cafe in Les Eyzies and had noted that the back wall was raw limestone!
From Le Peuch, the path climbed through woodland onto the ridge and the settlement of Les Plagnes, before dropping to the outskirts of St. Cirq. Our route took us past La Grotte du Sorcier, which we had visited some years previously. I remember it as only a small cave; its wall engravings date from 17 to 12 millennia BCE, and are unusual in that they include the depiction of a human – Le Sorcier. An intriguing fellow; I thought he had three legs. “Non” the female guide corrected me, “Le Sorcier has a very long phallus”. The moment has stayed with me.
Descending, and skirting the houses, a hare came lolloping nonchalantly out of St. Cirq. He stopped, looked rather disapprovingly at us, before leaping away at great speed! We were now descending upon an unmade path, the Vézère valley to our left and a woody ridge to our right. It was sunny and dry, and in a clearing free of hares and sorcerers, we sat on the grass to lunch on what we had purchased in the sandwicherie that morning in Les Eyzies.
It was difficult to get going again; it was warm, bright and quiet; in addition, we knew we were only 4-5 kilometres from Le Bugue, and the day’s impetus seemed to have evaporated. Once again we climbed up the ridge on our right into woodland.
This brought us to the outskirts of Le Bugue, and we descended on tarmac, crossing a main road, and continuing to the river before turning north-east to follow the Vézère towards the town centre. This approach to Le Bugue does not show it at its best. There is a garish theme park dominated by an adventure climbing frame – Big Bird – 22 metres high, and immensely ugly! We followed the main road from here, rather than the river, as we wanted to pop into the local office de tourisme. The road is narrow and not really designed for vehicles, and yet it has obviously been the main thoroughfare through the town for decades. The formidable buildings on either side are grey with grime and look forlorn.
Having finished the day’s walk, we entered the Bar de l’Union for a beer. The few customers present seemed to have been drawn there by the betting shop at the back end of the bar. From l’Union it was just a hop, skip and a jump to our hotel. The Royal Vézère is an unprepossessing four-storey block, looming over the adjacent river and bridge. Taking the lift and gloomy corridors put me in mind of a prison; not that I’m familiar with such establishments! But our room was spacious, comfortable, and boasted a bath. From the full-length window we had a great view of the town hall, river and bridge – totally unfair, I know; for those at ground level looking up at the hotel saw an edifice preposterously out of character with the town.
Mysteriously we decided to augment our day’s walk with a couple of extra miles, crossing the bridge to visit Le Bugue’s latest attraction….drum roll, please….a new Lidl. Reassuringly, it looked like every other Lidl. The only difference that I could detect from the ones back home was their range of wines. Lidl have obviously been pragmatic and decided that the French will not drink wine from beyond their own borders unless it is virtually given away. The walk was made worthwhile by the roadside planters, filled with bearded irises of every hue, and combinations thereof…..strawberries and custard here; Wycombe Wanderers home kit there. Wonderful!
In the evening, we walked but 300-400 yards to eat. Down narrow back streets, we became aware of the treasures and allure of the old town. Le Bugue has been ruined by the motor car – the streets used for through traffic are dirty, desolate and noisy. But, I suppose, it is far from unique in that respect. In Le Bugue’s case, the problem has been compounded by dodgy planning and development. Who allowed the Hôtel Royal Vézère to be built….and Big Bird? Beyond belief.
We ate at the Crêperie L’Abreuvoir (I think that un abreuvoir is a water trough for animals) which picks up on the local mediaeval feel. A beautiful room, excellent waitress, and the food hit the spot. It seems that they produce an eclectic array of European dishes; but they’re all wrapped in a galette! I went for une Galette Buguoise with ducks’ gizzards; Julia for one with goats’ cheese. Julia’s dessert of pears, chocolate and pear ice cream (yep; ice cream, not sorbet) attracted many covetous glances. So if you find yourself in Le Bugue, visit La Crêperie L’Abreuvoir, and get yourself some pear ice-cream!