Monday 22 September.
We were awake at our usual time of 6am but there was no hurry to get up the distance we were doing to day was only 12km. I made a cup of tea and we lay in bed with it, Moira reading and me getting my blog up to date ready for the next access to the Internet. It was about 9am when we had breakfasted and packed and set off. There was no surprises with the bill which we paid in the bar downstairs. There were a few early morning drinkers and not just coffee. The barman directed us to a supermarket which was on our route out of town.
It was about 5 minutes away and there were three supermarkets together, Lidl, Aldi and Carrefour. We shopped at Aldi and got most of what we wanted there, our guide said there was cooking facilities at the Convent where we were staying tonight so we stocked up. The bags were quite heavy now but as it was a relatively short distance we reckoned we would manage.
Now on our way it was only a short distance to the first village of Fontaine on a minor road. We crossed the river L'Aube again here then there was a steep climb to reach a gravel track. Initially it dropped down but after the dip it was a very steep climb through once again rows and rows of vines. We sampled some of the grapes, red and green and they were sweet and juicy. Over the top the landscape was as described in Cicerone, spread out like a map. The village of Baroville sat in a hollow with the hill climbing on the other side, the tracks through the vineyards radiated out in all directions. When we dropped down to the village there was a seat at the Mairie where we had a break and a cup of tea with a mini coconut bar that Moira bought at Aldi.
Out of the village it was another steep climb on tar before veering off onto a wide gravel track. We could see the route in front of us as it climbed steadily through the trees. After this effort with our heavy packs it eased as we dropped down the other side again and joined a wide forest trail in the Sommiere des Moines, a forestry National Park. There was still some climbing to do but not so strenuous as the route undulated through the woods. A short while later we reached a Hunting Club Building where we found the door open and used it for our lunch break. The hut was a bit dilapidated with broken windows and rubbish lying about. There were benches where we could sit down for our bread and cheese with coffee.
After lunch the route description became a bit confusing with all the veering left and right, and joining roads that didn't appear. Fortunately it was also a GR trail and we followed the red and white markers. This eventually took us to a tarred road with a sign telling us 1.5km to Clairvaux. Before reaching the village we had to follow a path round the walls of the Abbaye de Clairvaux which is no longer a religious retreat but a high security prison. Surprisingly when we got to the front gate there was a welcome sign to tourists as part of the old abbey could still be visited. We carried on and found our accommodation, the Fraternity of St. Bernard. Moira knocked on the door and the nun said 'Ecosse', Gerard must have booked us in as the couple from Scotland.
We were then sat down given apple juice and cake, while our room was prepared. It was a lovely room in the hostel next door, it is mainly used for the visitors to the inmates in the prison. The book said it is busy at weekends when most of the visiting takes place, so it seemed empty today. Sister Marie Bertille told us to dine with her and Sister Blondine tonight so we will now have all the food we bought to carry tomorrow again.
After showering we looked the route for the next two days. There is a gite and a B&B in the next town of Chateauvillain but after that very little for about 50km. The decision was to check at the Tourist Office tomorrow in Chateauvillain for assistance. About 4pm we went for a walk to the abbey. Through the gate there was a huge courtyard and the building was enormous. I wasn't sure which part was the prison and which the abbey. Also I was frightened to take photographs in case security descended on us and arrested us as spies. There was a notice that you could go on a tour of the abbey but unfortunately it closed at 3pm.
There was also a lovely little chapel at the end of the yard but it was locked up and weeds growing on the entrance porch. At one side of the big building was a huge barred gate, obviously the prison entrance when uniformed guards came in and out. A few other tourists were wandering about just as perplexed by it all as we were. With nothing else to do we returned to our room, had a cup of coffee and read until dinner time.
The person commenting in our accommodation list said that the sisters shared their simple meal with him. I don't know what we were expecting but the simple meal we got was a feast. We started with soup and plenty of bread, next was fried chicken breasts with pasta and a tomato sauce. After that a bowl of green salad, grated raddish and a variety of cheeses. I was hoping that was all as I was full but there was dessert, stewed apples. Also I mustn't forget the bottle of delicious red wine. The sisters were both charming and we managed to hold a reasonable conversation even with our limited French and their few English words. Sister Marie had been here for 23 years while Sister Blondine just one year. We were their 107th pilgrim on their way to Rome and the first ones from Scotland. After such a wonderful meal the least we could do was to wash up. Ignoring protests from the Sisters I washed while Moira did the drying.
It was now bedtime and before saying goodnight Sister Marie took us outside and pointed out a floodlit statue of St Bernard high on the hill above the hostel. We had seen an arrow pointing to the route up the hill to it earlier but didn't fancy another hill to climb. We got to bed straight away and read for about an hour before getting to sleep. There were another two people staying in the hostel but we didn't hear a sound from them.