The one night we decided to sleep with out a tent and it rained. Only a few spots at around 5am, but enough to wake me and wonder if we should abandon camp. It was still dark. I decided to hope for the best and go back to sleep. Half-an-hour later we were woken by torch lights. This time fishers hoping to find a quiet spot for an early stint with the rod. I think were as surprised by them as they were by us. We got up and watched the dawn light up the water for two hours.
We cycled 10km to find breakfast, the morning still a welcome cool temperature and overcast. We were happy to reach Bréhemont, perched on the dyke above a sweep in the Loire. Since the confluence with the Cher the river has changed character. A bit wider with sand banks that make great habitats for birds. We saw bird watchers along the banks with their telescopes.
The next section of path passes through a reforested area of land between the dyke and the river. Long ago the river borders were marshy woodlands that would flood several times a year. The marshes were drained to make agricultural land but now the terrain is being left to return to rich woodland. The space is cool and lush. We followed an enormous bird of prey which glided down the cycle path ahead of us through the trees.
Lunch in Avoine, a great example of a town that has invested in its public spaces to create an environment that attracts visitors and supports civic life as well. A lovely town square, well appointed with cafe, tabac, supermarket, boulangerie and street market. Spaces for parking bikes and doing maintenance. A water feature.
We cross the Indre river, a tributary of the Loire, and enter the valley of the next tributary, the Vianne. We find a friendly looking campsite, very laid back with furniture out by the river, and we wade in the Vianne’s waters- colder than the Cher last night.
Approaching Saumur, we climb up the valley sides to the plateau above where the regions famous grapes are grown. The path then winds down again and suddenly takes you underground into a recently-restored subterranean village. Not long ago the village high street was in a deep canyon in the limestone. The shops were in eroded and excavated caves to either side. Plants hung down from above, adding additional shade to prevent the sun overhead from heating the space too much. After the heat of the hills the space was so refreshingly cool.
These incredible underground spaces are from the past but they could be the future too. All around us the signs of a climate heating up are increasingly obvious. It feels almost unbearable to be out in the midday sun and yet here is a way to live in the cool in the hottest place in the valley that uses just the shade and the coolness of the earth to create habitable conditions.
As if to emphasise the impact of climate heating locally, we cycled out of the underground village and almost immediately into a bone-try forest. But this isn’t the south of France, it’s the middle bit. This is not normal.
In Saumur we camped on the island in the middle of town. Camp sites on islands in rivers close to big towns seems to be a common format of civic infrastructure in France. Perhaps it is common more widely to European countries with wide rivers running through them. I enjoy being able to step out from your tent, cross the bridge and absorb the evening atmosphere.
The strange feeling we had though in Saumur is of a place that is in the middle of a heat crisis but no one seems to mind. As long as the wine is cold.