|The Église des Saints Pierre et Paul in Brienne-le-Château. The façade you see here dates from the 14th century, but there has been a church on this site since the 11th century.|
After a second night in Brienne's hunting lodge, I woke to the pitter-patter of rain. Lingering for an hour in the Musée de Napoléon, I kept my eye on the sky, but it remained uniformly grey. There was nothing for it but to put on my rain gear and set off. My intention was to follow the valley of the river Aube for the next day or two. By 11 o'clock the rain had increased in velocity, and by 12 o'clock it was coming down in sheets. Hammered and lashed, and feeling like a drowned rat, I crossed the Aube and took refuge in the Café du Centre in Dienville. I drank a beer, while outside the rain poured. Gutters overflowed, and the road began to look more like a river.
I asked about accommodation and was told there was a hotel, the Auberge de la Plaine, a couple of kilometres away at La Rothière — the site of Napoleon's first defeat on French soil in February 1814. One of the café's customers offered me a lift in his car. And there I stayed — all afternoon, evening and night! I must admit I did enjoy the luxury of an en-suite bathroom and comfortable double bed for a change. Though the hotel itself was rather eccentric and haphazardly run, it did have an entertainment value, as I watched with hidden amusement the antics of a skeleton staff struggling to cope.
So I'd had another easy day, covering only 6 km in the last 48 hours. How quickly one can slip into laziness! After a fairly poor dinner by French standards — tired charcuterie, bizarre vegetables, an odd-tasting steak sauce and indifferent wine — I slept soundly, then rose early the next morning, intent on a full day's walking. It was still dull, but the rain had stopped, and there was a light breeze. I looked at my guide and suddenly realised I'd walked 470 km. I was exactly halfway through my journey! And completed in three weeks, so I was right on schedule . . .
|Crossing the river Aube into Dienville — the day after the deluge.|