Friday 12 September.
We were awake at 6am and read for half an hour before getting up and packing. Down in the dining room we had breakfast, a hard boiled egg, bread and jam and coffee. There was a huge crowd of guys in the kitchen and dining room cleaning up and had the place shining. The Internet signal was good again downstairs and we downloaded the newspaper and I posted my blog of yesterday's walk.
As we left, early this morning at 7:30am, the sun was just rising and it was breaking through the row of tall plane trees that surrounded the paddocks. As we passed the stables the horse heads were sticking out above the half doors waiting for their morning feed. The sun dazzled as we made our way along the road to Missamcourt a little village only 2km out of Beraucourt-Epourdon. After that we entered the Foret de St Cobain and made our way to the next village of Saint Nicolas-aux-Bois. It was lovely through the trees and was a change from the open countryside since Calais. It was a minor road but surprisingly the traffic was heavy and we had to keep going onto the grass verge as cars passed near us.
Going through St Nicolas-aux-Bois the instructions were a bit confusing and after leaving the village we were looking for the ruins of the Abbaye de Saint Nicolas but didn't see it. I thought we had made a mistake somewhere in the village, I checked the map on iPad and it looked like we were all right. We continued the lovely walk in the trees and beside some beautiful small lakes and reached the junction with the D7, it was as planned and we were on track.
On the D7 it was 15 km to Laon and the route kept to this road all the way. It was still mainly in the woods and a pleasant walk. With not having to worry about route finding we were able to stride out and made good time. The road was a lot quieter than the minor road we were on earlier though the traffic did get heavier as we neared Laon. We stopped at the village of Cessieres at a bench in a park outside the Mairie where we made a cup of coffee. This was 4.5km down the D7 and we had been walking for nearly 3 hours without a stop.
After Cessieres we could see Laon old town high on the only hill in the large flat plain. It was still 10 km away but we could see our destination and it put a spring I'm our stride and continuing to make good time. The weather had been chilly when we started off this morning but now it had warmed up and getting hotter. When we reached Laon Neuville the newer town around the foot of the hill we checked a map in a bus shelter for the hotel we had booked. It was the Premier Classe Hotel on the Av General de Gaule and was on the other side of town and on the way out. It was a long walk and I took a photograph of the map, so found our way easily enough. On the way we came to a %Dia supermarket and got some bread and beers for lunch. There was a park nearby where were sat on the grass and had our lunch of bread and cheese with a beer. The hotel wasn't far now and it was a Formula 1 type hotel, nothing special bit adequate. We showered first then relaxed for an hour before going out again to see the old town.
The walk back to the lower town centre didn't seem as far as when we walked out to the hotel and we were soon at the start of a steep climb to the cathedral on top. There was a funicular railway that went up, so that shows how steep it is; little one coach trains were running up and down every few minutes on the funicular. We walked and it was quite a climb going up a mixture of near vertical paths and stairways, we were glad we hadn't tackled it when wearing our packs. At last we reached the magnificent cathedral, who's tall square towers had been visible all the way up. Inside the two outside aisles and the centre one were through arched columns, there wasn't much decoration just beautiful rose windows at each end of the church and at the end of one arm of the transept. But the architecture was outstanding and you wonder how something that must have been extremely difficult to build, especially on the 12th century, was achieved.
After visiting the cathedral we had a stroll through the streets of the old town. They were narrow and lined with shops and restaurants. We made our way to the far end of the ridge that the town sits on to the convent, another structure with two square towers. From there we turned back and were rewarded with another breathtaking view of the cathedral prominent at the other end of the ridge. Among the shops we came across a small hardware store, we were looking for a canister of Gaz. They only had the old type that has to be punctured when fitting the adaptor; we were under the impression that Health and Safety and the EU had banned these. From the centre of the old town we followed the path beside the funicular to the bottom and made our way back to our hotel.
On the way we had picked up roast chicken, tomatoes and prepared cous-cous which we had as a picnic dinner in our room. The WiFi signal was very good and we listened to the radio from the BBC. We heard people in the other rooms next to us, the walls seemed to be thin and I expected to be kept awake but there was no undue noise and we had a good night's sleep.