Is that a Space Rocket?

(Summer Blog Sprint: post 4 of 7)

I’m so pleased with my idea of following the River Charente to its source. Upstream of Angoulême, the river turns northwards and meanders through tiny villages of tumbledown stone cottages.

Quiet, discreet and as calm as ever, our river no longer has a towpath. Instead, it plays hide-and-seek, appearing in the centre of villages, where it’s tended by the inhabitants, and then winding away into pastures or woodland.

Refreshed by our ice-creams at Saint-Yrieix lake, we pedal towards Montignac-Charente, quickly escaping the busy D737, which is as noisy as the aeroplane that shares the same number.

This is equine territory, and we pass stables and fly-maddened horses as we follow lanes across gentle hills and valleys.

At Balzac, we see the sign to a castle, but our legs are too tired to follow my desire to explore its literary heritage. (And I’m too tired to take photos).

We stop for a rest in Vindelle, where there’s a supervised bathing spot, canoe hire and a pétanque court. We regret not bringing our boules.

Actually, that’s a lie: they’re far too heavy to carry in the trailer. If we invested in an electric bike and trailer, however, we’d be able to bring them. Easily. Without any effort at all.

 

At Guissalle, the River Charente becomes even more mysterious, splitting into branches and delighting us with four hump-backed bridges.

Well, delighting me: my partner has a grim expression on his face as he accelerates before each hump, launching the trailer into jerky rebellion.

 

He cheers up when we arrive in Pétouret and see the silo that a genius has converted into a space rocket. At least, that’s what it looks like to our tired eyes.

I want to knock on the door and meet the person who had this idea. But it’s late, and the campsite is still a dozen kilometres away. The advantage of taking your holiday in your own region is that you can easily return.

“Do you think we should phone the campsite?” asks my partner, “and check they’re open?”

Of course they’re open: it’s August.

I stop and make a call anyway, only to hear a recorded message saying they’re closed.

I’m not going back to Karaoke-land*. We’ll carry on and camp wild if we have to. I have no idea where the next site is, and my secretary isn’t answering the phone. She and her sister are probably watering the garden or putting out the dustbins.

We start to notice green signs for cyclists. Each one is on a pretty stretch of road, and we suspect they follow a scenic route, though we’ve no idea of the destination. All we want, by now, is to arrive at Montignac.

We stop for provisions in Vars, where the baker tells me she’s sold all her bread, and that there are no shops in Montignac. However, she tells us, there’s a small supermarket outside Vars, so we’d better stock up there.

We cycle an extra few kilometres and buy practically the whole supermarket for dinner. It’s lucky there’s room in the trailer, though most of the provisions, including the heavy Charentais melon, end up on my bike carrier. I don’t want to tire out our trailer.

At last, with my counter reading 55km for the day, we arrive in the little market village of Montignac.

There’s a bakery, butcher, newsagent, bank, bar and restaurant here, all grouped around a marketplace square (or rather a triangle) and an 11th century castle. There are also lots of signs. (This, in itself, is a sign, as you’ll see in tomorrow’s blog post).

Either the Vars baker mistook my accent and thought I meant a different village, or we’ve fallen foul of inter-village rivalries.

I remember, now, that I’ve always been attracted to Montignac. I drive through it a couple of times a year on my way to reiki shares or writing meetings, but I’ve never stopped here. All I’ve ever noticed is its grand avenue of plane trees, whose majestic trunks I always admire.

Today, the plane trees lead directly to the municipal campsite.

Which is open.

It’s a flat, green field studded with mature oak trees. Sitting between two legs of the River Charente, it backs onto a field of maize. There’s no snack bar. No pool. Not much of anything other than tents and caravans. It looks ideal.

“We’re only open in the morning and evening,” explains the receptionist as we check in for one night – and I realise that the phone message referred to the office, not the whole campsite.

It’s small, friendly and quiet. We park the trailer under an old oak tree, where it looks happy. In fact, it looks as if it would like to stay there for more than one night.

Given the way my partner collapses onto the grass, I think he’d like the trailer to stay there forever.

We set up camp for the night and open the two cans of beer that our trailer has been nursing since our departure from Cognac. Despite my partner’s efforts to cool it in cold water, It’s warm (but I’m English, so that’s acceptable). We cook a huge meal of spaghetti bolognaise on the old Trangia from my Dartmoor Ten-Tors days and relax for the evening.

We’re in the far corner of the field. I can smell the freshness of the river, the showers are hot, and everyone says hello as we pass their tents. One camper invites us for a campsite aperitif he’s having in a couple of days’ time.

I think we may stay here awhile.

***

* I have no idea whether the campsite in Saint-Yrieix is how I imagine it to be. Maybe we missed out on a natural wonder. Maybe I’d better go back and check.

(Do you know the River Charente? Have you got a favourite spot there? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it)

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