‘Of what shall a man be proud, if he is not proud of his friends?’ (Robert Louis Stevenson)
All the ups and downs of our route were a matter of some concern to my companion, and debate between us. Galaxy was always looking at the map in the evening finding an alternative route that climbed or descended more steadily, away from the river. Yes: it’s called the main road. I wanted to stay with the rivers, which were the ‘idea’ of the trip. This tension came to a head above the riverside village of Goudet, when we stood at a fork in the road for ages, dithering pig-headedly, if that is possible, and nearly went our separate ways.
It was obvious from the map that the road I wanted to take descended steeply to Goudet, and ascended steeply on the other side, to St Martin de Fugères. G could see a flatter way, and wanted to take it. I was not for turning, because the road down to Goudet might take us past Arlempdes, the first Loire château. I also said I thought we would be more likely to find a restaurant in Goudet than in St Martin, and the time was right for one. Mention of lunch swung it, and G reluctantly turned his bike through 180 degrees and followed me down the hill. It was a big pill for him to swallow, and it was a gamble for me. I knew if it failed he would be one angry man on the road to St Martin.
We were the wrong side of the river to see Arlempdes at its best, but Goudet’s castle ruins were no less fine and Walter Scottish. Imagine my relief to find the solid and reassuring grey fabric of the hotel-restaurant de la Loire beside the bridge. Joy died a swift and painful death when we read the sign on the door. Fermeture Exceptionnelle.
I am not always the best at asking for directions, but this was an emergency. Surely, there must be somewhere in Goudet we could get a sandwich. Goudet is on the Robert Louis Stevenson donkey trail, for heaven’s sake.
Spying a small green sign to the Ferme Auberge du Pipet, we found a teenager cutting the grass. He gave no answer, but ran off. A woman appeared at her door. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t help you. All I have is a small amount of charcuterie and a bit of cheese.”
In no time we were installed on this fine woman’s porch, which turned out to be the Ferme Auberge. She brought piles of meat and cheese, plus a bottomless vat of soup, an embarrassment of salad, enough wine to be going on with, and a surfeit of bread. There may have been a pudding too. It was a feast.
Her husband drove up and introduced himself as Massebeuf Jean Claude. We chatted about our trip and discussed the suitability of his daughter Ludovine – ‘a good worker’ – as our next au pair. Then Galaxy spoke.
“How far is it to St Martin?” he asked casually.
“Only 4km,” said Massebeuf Jean Claude. “But it’s a different country up there. Often snowy.”
“That’s a nice van you’ve got,” said Galaxy.
“Yes. It’s a Renault.”
“A good size. I bet you can carry lots of useful stuff in it.”
“Yes. Not bad.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if you could fit a couple of bicycles in the back, and a couple of cyclists.”
Eventually Massebeuf Jean Claude caught on. At first he thought Galaxy was joking, then he was shocked.
“I thought you said you were cyclists, not hitch hikers.” To think, he had considered entrusting his daughter to one of these charlatans.
“Of course we would prefer to cycle up the hill to St Martin,” Galaxy said, and I swear I almost believed him. “But we really want to visit Puy-en-Velay and if we cycle up the hill to St Martin, we won’t have time. Everyone says Puy-en-Velay is one of the most beautiful towns in France.”
I have had many occasions to congratulate myself on my choice of travelling companion. This was his finest hour.
Massebeuf Jean Claude and his people carrier, at St Martin de Fugères