Tuesday 16 September.
We were up at 6am and I made a cup of coffee, plenty of Gaz now though I'm still squeezing some out of the old canister. We packed and had breakfast. I had prepared my blog and before going published it out where the WiFi was strongest, but it still took far too long. If these hotels advertise WiFi the it should be usable.
We walked up to the bus stop at the supermarket and there was a bus waiting. It took about 20 minutes to get to the city centre; I wasn't sure where we were when we got off but Moira was confident and led the way to the canal. Cicerone said we should be on the left hand towpath but there didn't seem to be a walkway there while the right hand side had a lovely tarred track. It well used by walkers, joggers and cyclists, but mainly people running, there were hundreds of them. The canal itself was still quite busy with barges working from the many warehouses and plants along the other bank. After about 6 km at St Leonard's the tar track finished and so did he joggers etc. it became a narrow path between the grass still good for walking and now we didn't have to worry about cyclists coming up behind us.
The next place, where we came away from the canal, was Sillery but I wasn't sure how we knew when we got there. All I had put in my notes was: follow the towpath to Sillery. We came to a bridge over the canal and stopped to consult the iPad and found that we would recognise Sillery when we arrived at the marina there. When I was
lifting my rucksack to get going again I discovered it had been in dog's 'doings', I also stood in it and had it on my hands and legs from the rucksack. We cleaned myself and the rucksack as best we could using water from the canal but I was still smelling.
It was another 2 km to the marina at Sillery and there we found the toilets open. I got the soap out and thoroughly washed myself while Moira gave the rucksack a good scrub. There was a aerosol can of air freshened in the toilet block and Moira sprayed me and the bag with it, I now smelt of apples. After cleaning up I made a cup of coffee and we had it with a biscuit while watching the ducks in the canal. At the marina there were a number of canal cruisers tied up.
From Sillery we crossed the motorway and a railway line before turning along a lane through the fields of vines. We saw a number of caravans and motorhomes in a piece of waste ground and thought at first it was a group of travelling people but it turned out to be accommodation for one party of migrant workers who were picking the grapes. There were hundreds of these groups of workers all over the vineyards harvesting the grapes. Once they filled their baskets they were collected into crates and vans picked these up for delivery to the winery. We spoke to one of the workers and he gave us each a bunch of green grapes. They were small but juicy and sweet, very refreshing on what was turning out to be a very hot day.
When we reached the next town of Verzernay. It was much quicker than we expected, the book said 5.5 km but it was about 2km shorter. There was a detour we could have taken and followed a GR route to visit the Moulin de Verzernay, an old windmill that we could see on a hill to our right. We didn't bother with the loop and made do with the view of the windmill from a distance. When we reached Verzernay we couldn't find a place to sit and have lunch but we continued through and up a very steep hill to La Phare where we found a picnic area. La Phare was an actual lighthouse on a hill in the middle of the fields of vines. It was the work of a champagne merchant Joseph Goulet who built it to promote his champagne house in 1909. It is now a museum and the Musee de la Vigne restored it in 1999 and used it for visitors to explore the world of the champagne vineyards. After we had lunch at a picnic table we had a walk round the lighthouse and I got some good photographs. Also from this height the view was outstanding, out over the flat plains with row after row of vines while sitting below in a hollow was the town we had just passed through, Verzernay.
While we were stopped we considered our options about finding a bed for the night. There was a few B&B's at the next village of Verzy just 1.5 km further, or a hotel in Villers-Marmery 3 km after that. The only problem with stopping early was that it meant a walk of over 30 km tomorrow. As a last resort I decided to try out my French on the phone and call the gite in Trepail that we had attempted to contact yesterday through the tourist office. I got through, managed to make myself understood and got us booked into the gite. We now set off with a bit more confidence.
We reached Verzy and decided to take an optional route that by -passed the village itself and also missed out Villers-Marmery. It picked up a GR trail but our guide book was confusing over the distance to Trepail. From it I understood it to be only 3.5 km but it turned out to be 7.5 km. it was a pleasant route after a very steep climb along a contour path through the forest. The nice track was firm underfoot and we were making fairly good time in now very warm conditions. When we reached a road the GR red and white markers stopped and we weren't sure which way to go. A tractor came down from between the vines and I was about to ask directions when the guy spoke first. He was the one I had spoken to on the phone and his mother ran the gite in Trepail. He gave us directions, the street to make for near the church and the house number. I think he had been watching for us coming along the road to keep us right, good service.
We found the house without any problem and Mne Jacquesminet was charming though no English. She took us over to the other side of the street through a barn door and up a rickety stairway to a small dorm. It had a double bunk and two single beds. She said that two more people were coming, we grabbed the single beds and left them the bunks. It wasn't the best of places but we had a bed and the water in the shower was nice and hot. I got rid of the sweat and any remaining smells of the dog droppings from earlier. Before anyone else arrived I boiled some water and we and a cup of tea. In another room there were two of the workers from the grape harvesting who arrived about 5pm, an hour later two Swiss guys also doing the Vai Francigena arrived, they had also started from Reims today.
At 7pm we went across to the main house for dinner. The table was set out in the courtyard and in the corner was a horse in a small paddock outside its stable. It was dining with family, there were Mne Jacquesminet and her son, another young guy who we thought was one of the grape workers but turned out to be well at home so another one of the family, a young woman but she left early and the two Swiss pilgrims. I don't know if this was a normal meal but it was magnificent, we started with a glass of champagne, then it was bread and homemade pâté, along with the main course of meatballs and rice there was a rose wine, there followed cheese and bread with a rich red wine, to finish we had a tub of chocolate mousse and a liqueur. At the end we were very satisfied and totally full. The only problem had been that we missed out on the conversation which was all in fast French.
We went to bed first but the two Swiss guys weren't far behind. They were soon in bed as well and the light out. The bed was very comfortable and I slept very well, just some light snoring from one of the Swiss.