Monday, 10 September 2007

Day 17 – Dienville - Pont-la-Ville – 57 km

The human body was not designed for sleeping on hard earth. Our bones stick out in all the wrong places and no matter how much cushioning fat we have, it is never enough to reduce the pain of sleeping on lumps and bumps. I am in agony, walking like an old crone. Paul doesn’t look much better, but the sun is more or less shining and we have got another 50kms to get through today. 50kms of sheer ascent. A trek up to 300 metres, our highest yet, but by no means the highest we will have to go. Why didn’t I insist on having an electric bike? The sort with the little engine on the back, just for hills. Still, when I am able, I do notice that we are skirting the worst of the peaks. In fact, this section of route, which takes us through forests and fields and alongside the occasional impressive abbey (particularly in Clairvaux – a spooky place, which is in fact a prison for long-term sentences), is probably one of the most interesting so far.

Everything is going suspiciously well, until we discover that the hotel is Clairvaux is booked up and all the other places on our list, have either closed down or didn’t exist in the first place. We add another 12kms to our journey, but by 6.00pm we are in Pont-la-Ville with our only prospect, a gite, also full.

Enter Philippe and Catherine BERNARD. I suppose after having stumbled on so many good people during our travels, I should not be surprised when they offer us a bed in their own house, but then again, outside of our travels we do not encounter anything like the same level of generosity. We are given a bed, a meal, special anti-allergy dog shampoo for Vasco and the kind of challenging conversation that sits just within our range of French. I didn’t want to stay in a hotel anyway. Being with people like this is infinitely better and more interesting, so naah to you Hotel l’Abbaye in Clairvaux.

The stretch before Clairvaux involved crossing vineyards and a long stretch in the forest of Clairvaux, rarely near habitation and the few small villages we passed had no even the most basic facilities. Having discovered that the hotel at Clairvaux was full the apparently helpful owner told us the closest alternative was 25 kilometres in entirely the wrong direction for us. This wasn’t a prospect that we warmed to and our TOPOFRANCIGENA showed bed symbols in each of the next 4 villages with a 5th mentioned in the Vademecum. The score was as follows: Outré-Aube (chambre d’hôte) – locked up and no one home; Longchamp-sur-Aujon – “we stopped doing that years ago”, Maranville, no one had heard of the street it was on or admitted the existence of a chambre d'hôtes; Cirfontaine-en-Azols – phone number had a digit missing and the locals insisted there was no accommodation there; Pont-la-Ville – pleasant chambre d’hôte with helpful owner, but full and finally we stumble on Catherine and Philippe. It always seems that when we are at our lowest we find the greatest rewards.

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