Wednesday 24 August

(magnify) The church at Fontenay

A thunderstorm during the night seems to have cooled things down a little this morning. We drive north through spots of rain, the sky turning increasingly leaden as we go. Just beyond Montbard on the D905 we stop at Fontenay Abbey. We are slightly early – they don’t open until ten – so we decide to wait in the van.

The church is very plain but has a certain sense of tranquility. Although some of the work of the monks who lived there was doubtlessly hard and it must have been very cold in winter (only one room in the abbey was heated) the monks could not have asked for a more lovely location.

(magnify) Virgin Mary statue

For me the most interesting part is the forge where they smelted, refined, and worked iron. Both the furnace bellows and the hammer were driven from the mill race and the still-turning water wheel can be seen outside.

There are beautifully laid out gardens with waterfalls and ponds, but much of it is private. When the heavens open we hurry to the exhibition and inevitable gift shop before resuming our journey.

We continue up the D905, realising as we go that it is too late to find a baker that has not yet closed for lunch. But we still have the two tarts/flans that we bought yesterday, so heat them up and devour them in a layby.

The forge at Fontenay

We calculate that we need to reach at least Troyes today to comfortably make the boat on Friday morning, so decide to aim for Château Thierry, which will put us nicely ahead of schedule. Lady Garmin guides us to the two star municipal campsite there, which we reach at four o’clock, but it is in the industrial zone and we do not much like the look of it.

Her next suggestion in vaguely the right direction is Les Biches – Villers Hélon. It is a bit off our route but looks worth a try. She sends us off down the D80, which is virtually a farm track, and seemingly into the middle of nowhere. We are just beginning to think we are on a wild goose chase when I spot a sign to the campsite and our faith is restored.

It is the only sign we get though, and presently we pull up outside a beautiful château where a marquee is going up. But there is no sign of a campsite. Someone walks over to us and explains that the campsite no longer exists. Oh well. Lady Garmin knows of no other campsites between here and Soissons, so Soissons it is then. By this time I am quite tired, it is later than we intended, and we are also much nearer to Calais than we really need to be.

Happily, the municipal campsite at Soissons is acceptable, even if the facilities are not clean. They must have been designed by a bureaucrat because you have to enter a code to get in, then everything is segregated in a most inconvenient fashion – the men’s wash basins are in a different room to the toilets for example!