Clad in waterproofs, we congregated in the car park behind the Church of Saint-Germain in Juigné-sur-Loire for a prompt 10am depart. Our leader, Tony Oakley, counted us in and having checked that all were present and correct, including three dogs, we set off for a walk into the Parc des Garennes, which for most of us was unknown territory.
The Parc was once an important open cast slate mining area. Following the Great Fire of London, 1666, it was slate from here that was used to cover the roofs of more than 10,000 new houses that were constructed in the city. Slate was extracted until the time of the French Revolution. However the quality was poor and gradually it was abandoned as a suitable material for roofing and the site fell idle.
We walked along paths lined with trees and bushes, sometimes with beds of acorns under our feet, sometimes with chestnuts. The rain kept off. The atmosphere dried up. Little by little the rainwear was cast off and put into back-packs or tied around waists. The pace slowed down. Frequent stops were made to look at mushrooms and toadstools many of which were edible. Others stopped to collect leaves and berries for table decorations and to discuss various culinary uses of potential harvests.
At times we found ourselves on land strewn with slate. The surface is covered with little more than moss and lichens but incredibly the ground maintains many unusual conifers of various kinds. We dropped down to make our way back to the village beside a “boire”: formerly part of the Loire, now a dried river bed. Along the path we stopped to look at a post showing the levels of water in times of flood. As water levels today are at an all-time low, it was all the more amazing to see the heights reached in years gone by.
Mindful of the time, all too soon we were back at our starting place. The Auberge “Le Cheval Blanc” was close-by and several members were already waiting to join the walkers for lunch. This had been laid out for us on one long table in a room set apart from the normal dining area. The food was excellent and the atmosphere friendly. Once again we were the last to leave, all agreeing we should come again soon, though not realising at the time how soon that would be. Due to an unscheduled cancellation at the venue reserved for our Christmas meal, we will return to the “Cheval Blanc” to celebrate the festive season on 9th December.
Our thanks to Tony for organising the day: for planning the walk, for liaising with the restaurant and especially for ensuring that everything ran smoothly. Just one question: Please, Tony, can we have another walk sooner rather than later?