Sunday, 19 May 2013

It was 20 years ago today .....

Sgt Pepper taught the band to play ... etc.
Well, that's as may be, but 20 years ago today I had wandered from Montreuil-Bellay to Airvault and then on to Thezanay, the first part by bus, then on foot, en-route to the Black Virgin of Rocamadour.

I slept undisturbed until about 7.00 a.m. and forty-five minutes later breakfasted in the bar on fresh rolls, butter, preserves, and a large black coffee. Having packed and paid my bill, I made my way down to the bus stop, buying a couple more postcards on the way and attempting to look inside the 12th century Augustinian priory church which, as I expected, was locked, the notice attached to its door implying that it was never open for visitors.

I was the only person at the bus stop, my presence seeming to interest not only the local children making their way to the primary school on the opposite side of the road, but also the builders working in the house behind me, who stopped for a moment to gaze at this early morning apparition in bush hat, dark glasses and rucsac, leaning against the garden wall munching on a tube of Smarties. Five minutes late at 9.15 a.m. the coach arrived. I paid my 17 francs, the eighteen kilometres down the arrow straight D938 to Thouars working out at about 11p per mile. The journey lasted just over fifteen minutes and as well as getting me to the town not only took me out of the Maine et Loire departement and into Deux Sèvres, but also onto my fourth map.

Getting off at the main railway station I went into the booking hall to see about transport down to Airvault. Studying the various timetables I soon discovered a service leaving at 11.16 a.m. and went across to the ticket office to purchase my "billet", only to be informed that this was not a train route but another bus connection. Re checking the timetable I now saw the word "Autobus” in big letters at the top, so, placing my pack on the floor, I sat down on one of the ubiquitous red plastic chairs that seem to infest public transport waiting rooms to while away the hour and a half until it arrived.

This bus was right on time, and the twenty four and a half mile trip to Airvault cost me a further 22 francs. Unlike the first part of this day's drive, this was a rambling country route, coming off the D938 just out of Thouars and taking the smaller D135 to visit St. Varent, then re crossing the main road and going off to the hamlets of Soussigny and Soulievres before arriving at the larger sprawl of Airvault. This was an unimpressive town at first sight, its outer environs appearing to consist mainly of factory units. However, as the bus negotiated the steep narrow streets, the age of the place became ever more apparent, and when I was dropped off in the upper market square at ten minutes to twelve, I was looking forward to exploring the place in order to find somewhere for lunch. My first steps though were inauspicious, for having used the benches in the bus shelter to assist in heaving on my pack, I then missed the single step in the doorway, lurching headlong into the square and its weekly market with muttered oaths and flailing staff, much to the amusement of several locals and stall holders. I rapidly regained my composure and my balance and strode on.

And so the journey continued .....

1 comment:

  1. My copy of Never Look Back has been read so many times it is literally falling apart. Still recommended reading on a warm summers evening outside, with a bottle of wine.