Autumn Walk

Friday 21 October 2016

A long-standing tradition of the ESU Loire Valley is to celebrate the arrival of spring with an annual May Day Walk. For several years members have been able to shake off the winter blues by exercising their legs, chatting with friends, and taking time to appreciate the local flora and bird songs that usher in the summer months.

Following a beautiful walk in May this year in the meadows and woods around Blaison Gohier, several members approached the organiser, Tony Oakley, asking if it would be possible to have a second walk during the autumn.

So, on Friday 12 October, twelve members gathered in a car park in Gennes to set off on a walk which would take us up and down the surrounding hills on a route clothed in very different colour schemes to those of springtime.

The autumn mists were soon left in the valley below as we set off up the hill to the church of St. Eusèbe, the spire of which dominates the surrounding landscape. The steep climb up a narrow pathway led to more than a few groans but as we entered the churchyard all was forgotten: our reward was a spectacular view of the river Loire below us surrounded by misty fields and trees clothed in autumn greens, yellows and orange

Since the French Revolution, the church has had various uses. It has served as a school, as a museum and during the Second World War, as a look out post. Today it hosts exhibitions in the summer months but it is known primarily for its memorial to the officers and cadets from the Ecole de Cavalerie in Saumur who lost their lives in June 1940. Having fought for 3 days to stave off the advancing German army they were overcome by the sheer numbers and superior weapons of the Germans. 17 soldiers are buried at the foot of the church spire. A memorial has been erected to all who lost their lives.

Having admired the view and absorbed the history at St. Eusèbe, we continued on our way, heading leisurely towards the Etang de Joreau. This is a beautiful lake set in woodland which was full of the smells and colours of autumn. We trampled on leaves and fallen chestnuts stopping occasionally to admire fungi of various shapes and hues before dropping down into the village.

Our second pause of the day was at the parish church of St. Veterin, where we were able to enter and admire the interior. Parts of the church date to around the year 1000AD. Constructed on a hillside, the church has suffered movement at all stages of its history which explains the variety of architectural styles within the building. Most construction took place between the 11th and 15th centuries and following complaints from local inhabitants the building underwent substantial renovation during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Outside, there is an unusual architectural feature on the west side of the church: the doorway is half hidden by a large porch no doubt constructed to protect worshippers from the strong westerly winds.

With one eye on the clock, mindful that we had a rendez-vous at 1pm, we dropped back to the carpark, passing close to the old village ‘lavoir’. After a short drive we arrived at the restaurant La Vallée de Clairay, where several members were already waiting to join the walkers for lunch. The long table prepared for us encouraged the convivial atmosphere. The lunch was excellent; so was the company. As is so often the case, we were the last to leave, with all agreeing to ask for more autumn walks and a return visit to the restaurant.

Thank you, Tony, for planning the route and organising the meal. And please, can we have more of the same?