Guided by my GPS

I leave Bazoches heading for Bourges bidding a, now fond, farewell to the farmer’s wife Madame Perrier who presents me with gifts, specialities of the region.

I had decided on a certain route which looked sensible. When I get to the main road my GPS wants me to go another way, however. So I follow her. And what a way she takes me. First through emerald green Burgundy countryside then onto a completely straight, quiet road which is easy and pleasant to drive for miles and miles.

At one point I wondered where she had taken me so I pulled over to check my map. “Continue on Rue St Jacques de Compostelle” said the GPS screen. I see. Even the car is placing me on the ‘Chemin’.   I am getting the message.

GPS

The way I’d planned would have allowed me to detour to Sancerre, the pretty wine growing village. The GPS took me to an even better discovery though, the little town of La Charité-sur-Loire, and guess what, it was a stopping point for pilgrims heading for Santiago de Compostela.

The first thing I notice about the town is its ancient ten-arched bridge which spans the wide Loire, because I picnic beside it. This low, sturdy bridge was built in 1520 and is still a main thoroughfare leaving the town.

Bridge 2

As I eat and gaze at the view I notice dozens of lorries crossing the bridge. As I watch, two coming from different directions meet in the middle and I feel sure they will get stuck, but eventually they pass.   I am stunned that this 500 year old bridge is carrying such weight and such vibration.

The little town is very old, with half-timbered buildings. Poor Charité has seen better days, but though it is shabby and even quite dilapidated in parts, I become very fond of it.

Its church and priory of Notre Dame was founded by the powerful Benedictine monks of Cluny in 1059. It was meant to be an important monastery and a further step towards their expansion over Europe. It soon became the second largest Christian base after Cluny housing 200 monks and there were plans for it to be an even greater religious centre.  In 1559 though, a huge fire ripped through the site destroying most of it. The church and monastery were abandoned and over the centuries fell into ruin, with the town slowly encroaching onto the land, so that now you walk through what is left of its main arched gate and instead of being inside a church you enter a small square and car park.

The Sainte-Croix Clocher & ruined church arch

The Sainte-Croix Clocher & ruined church arch

Despite its sense of ruin and lost glory there is a friendly feel inside this church. It has none of the magnificence of the places of worship I have visited in Vézelay and Tournus but somehow it feels more intimate.

Jean in the tourist office tells me that the town has only commenced a major renovation project in recent years.  You can see the work going on in the church and cloisters. He tells me very conspiratorially that they are finding bodies everywhere.

A large renovated 'pilgrim' scallop shell in the cloisters

A large renovated ‘pilgrim’ scallop shell in the cloisters

Jean becomes very animated when I mention my concern for the lovely old bridge.   “Oh,”  he tells me, “there is a huge ‘bagarre’ (fight) going on about that”.   Some people want to divert the trucks to save the bridge, but it means building an autoroute at some cost and with an effect on the environment, so no one can agree what to do.   Jean is adamant, he is for the autoroute and wants to save the bridge. He is incandescent that the 1,200 lorries crossing the bridge daily have to mount the old pavements to pass each other, so when he crosses the bridge he stands his ground and refuses to give way to them. It sounded like he was taking his life in his hands. Bravo brave Jean.

The delightful discovery about La Charité-sur-Loire is that it is one of France’s charming book villages. I have visited one of these before in the South. The streets are devoted to antiquarian book shops which I adore mooching through. The shops, of course, look older than the books.

Bookshop 1

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The town holds popular antiquarian book markets regularly and what is more, La Charité has an annual word festival! Every year the children parade with the word that they have each adopted and the town votes for the Word of the Year. How great is that?

Shop 2

During the week-long word festival people paint sayings on their walls which must include the word ‘mot’.  I am enchanted and wonder what word I would parade with or vote for.    Instantly I know it. It is ‘serendipity’, a word I have always loved for its sound as well as its meaning of a joyful happenstance that just occurs when you are not looking for it.

And it was serendipity indeed, with help of course from my GPS, that brought me to such a delightful town where I spent a very happy few hours on my Journey.

I wonder if you are thinking of your favourite word right now?

Words on wall

As I leave, I take a good look at the bridge’s construction and watch the thundering lorries. The other way of looking at the situation, I conclude, is what a cleverly, well built and strong bridge this is, still bearing up so well after half a century. Bravo brave bridge.

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Comments
2 Responses to “Guided by my GPS”
  1. Joan says:

    It just shows, rely on your sat nav!
    The place sound so full of history,and I loved the village of words. Although I like your word, I like mine more – “Meandering”. Oh how I would have liked those book shops too.
    This blog seems the best yet.
    Joan

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