Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 13 – Berry au Bac – St Leonard – 52km

This morning the first 15 kms is spent in getting lost – we have to retrace our steps to our starting point, but having found it we also find the second set of VF signs we have seen since starting out. Easy navigation after that – so congratulations to the commune and may there be more, equally keen VF-ers in the next one.

The whole process of following these routes gets so much easier and gives so much more opportunity to reflect and to enjoy the moment when the signing is good. While it is great to see the emergence of signs on the VF, did they have to choose the same colours as used by every commune for its circular walks. The 15 km we lost was when we started following the new VF signs which immediately intersected with a walk around a charming little town that turned out to be in entirely the wrong direction. Hint – double everything and if you aren’t going south then something is fishy.
Most of the day is off road and along the canal de l’Aisne tow path where we see a lot of very active, working barges from all over Europe – Belgium, Holland, Germany and France, among others, which is encouraging. I, as always, briefly toy with idea of becoming a bargee, but as Paul points out, I would need six lives to do everything I want.
From there the route takes us into the woods and some serious off-road biking, marginally softened by the fact that we are in Champagne land. Vast vistas of vines producing all kinds of champagne, some of which I recognise. That is the good part, the bad is that all of this is on mountains, involving a great deal of climbing and puffing on my part, and whinging on Paul’s because he has been in champagne country for all of five kms and still not tasted a drop.
Route finding is difficult enough, without farmers who plough over ancient routes, but in spite of this we find our way back onto the canal to Reims – an experience all good pilgrims and anyone else, for that matter, should not miss.
In the evening we find a newly opened chambre d’hote in St Leonard, with dog-doting owners, and a micro waved meal in some place marginally better than the Buffalo Grill.
The Bar de St Leonard is just off to the right of the canal as you begin to quit the industrial zone to the south of Reims. Look out for a communal car park. A double cost 40 Euros without breakfast. Unfortunately there is no evening meal or even drinks available at the bar or at the other hotel in St Leonard. They have totally given in to the lunch trade from the factories.

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