Five Days Walking in France – Day 5: Saint-Jean-de-Côle et Angoulême


We did a bit of sightseeing before today’s walk (our last of 2016 together) in Saint-Jean-de-Côle, which is listed as one of the most beautiful villages in France. M. Besson and most of the books had recommended it. And the Romanesque Byzantine church to Saint-Jean Baptiste  was very special I must say, its stone walls almost white, with small rounded chapels to the side. They had choral music playing through the sound-system and long elegant candles (Pad and I lit two) and I could have stayed there longer and prayed. There was a map on a notice board at the side showing a walk through the village all the way to Santiago de Compostela, a good walk, beginning in Vezelay – almost 1,500 km according to Googlemaps. Now that would be a walk and a talk. But we agreed to settle for somewhat less that Friday. Maybe some other time.

The village square was large and the buildings lovely and the Chateau de la Marthonie was imposing, as it was meant to be. But the place was virtually empty, ne’er a shop or a café open, nor a local to be seen. Maybe in July. We took a picture in the square before we headed off south down the Côle river towards Saint-Jean, a sister village. It was still chilly, the sun was still low.


Through more forest, a somewhat immature collection of trees and a bit straggly, Pad thought; through another palombière unfortunately; though more farmland, well managed and productive as usual and down into to river valley until we eventually walked beside the small waterway and then turned around at an imposing castle ruin.

Today we talked a lot more, and Padraig found a long bullet on one of the paths. Hunters… Shakespeare took the honours today. When Dermot heard a rook during our lunch-break (another sunny meadow) he quoted from Macbeth.

It will have blood, they say. Blood will have blood.

Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak.

Augurs and understood relations have

By magot pies and choughs and rooks brought forth

The secret’st man of blood.

Like most film-makers Shakespeare liked his corvids to convey foreboding and menace. Bad Willie! But still, how can one find fault with the rooky wood?

Come, seeling night,

Scarf up the tender eye of pitiful day

And with thy bloody and invisible hand

Cancel and tear to pieces that great bond

Which keeps me pale. Light thickens, and the crow

Makes wing to th’ rooky wood.

Good things of day begin to droop and drowse;

Whiles night’s black agents to their preys do rouse.

Thou marvel’st at my words: but hold thee still.

Things bad begun make strong themselves by ill.

So, prithee, go with me.

Yes we walked with The Bard of Avon for a good while and John talked about the French obsession with Richard III, the archetypal political villain, and I mentioned that Ralph Fiennes is doing one now, speaking of villains. We laughed at the fellow who said that Shakespeare was full of clichés. We argued whether or not Lear can be acted and the lads said yes, I said no, but I couldn’t prove my point – I’d just read it somewhere once and it sounded good. So then we talked about the Victorians changes to the script and their inability to countenance Cordelia’s death, and the difficulty on experts to agree on a final text and a new book that John had read about Shakespeare and a couple that Dermot had read. And we talked about which ones we did for the Inter and Leaving Certs and I mentioned that Ian McKewan’s new book has a Hamlet theme told from the point of view of a fetus whose mother to be and the brother of his father are plotting his father’s murder and the disposal of the baby once born. I wondered if William would have approved. Then we talked about film adaptations, and then other adaptations of novels, and we listed a fair few.

And we talked about so much more – including Korean lesbian nuns (don’t ask) and we put one foot in front of the other. And we observed around us and within ourselves, as one does while on long walks.

And on we strode, back north now along dirt roads and quiet country roads and some cyclists shouted at us and whizzed by. And we went back down to the village to see if it had livened up and if we could get a coffee – it hadn’t and we couldn’t. So home to sunny Brantôme for a celebratory beer and some pâtisserie, our final day’s treat, and a sweet wine to go with it.


I cooked some tuna that evening and we finished off what we could of the food in the fridge and the wine and then began to get ourselves ready for the morning departure, and to hand the gîte back to Monsieur and Madame Besson. Merci pour tout.


On Saturday, the following day, we aimed to check out Angoulême on the way back to Nantes airport and that’s what we did, and it was a pleasantly attractive city, reminded me a bit of the quieter old areas of Nice but far far fewer tourists. Apart from us. The market was clean and bright. We bought some quiches to have as a picnic on the way north. The Cathedral was impressive.


And then it was over, and John was on his back into Nantes and we were on our Ryanair flight back to Dublin. We hugged and shook hands in the airport.

Adieu, mes frères. Until the next time. May we be well.

And we’ll give the last word to Bob, the first singer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (another talking point over the five days) since its 1901 inception.

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Farewell Angelina
The bells of the crown
Are being stolen by bandits
I must follow the sound
The triangle tingles
And the trumpet play slow
Farewell Angelina
The night is on fire
And I must go.

There’s no use in talking
There’s no need for blame
There’s nothing to prove
Ev’rything’s still the same
Just a table standing empty
By the edge of the stream
Farewell Angelina
The sky is changing colours
And I must leave.

The jacks and queens
They forsake the courtyard
Fifty-two gypsies
Now file past the guards
In the space where the deuce
And the ace once ran wild
Farewell Angelina
The sky is folding
I’ll see you after a while.

See the cross-eyed pirates sitting
Perched in the sun
Shooting tin cans
With a sawed-off shotgun
And the corporals and the neighbors
They cheer with each blast
Farewell Angelina
The sky it is trembling
And I must leave fast.

King Kong, little elves
On the rooftoops they dance
Valentino-type tangos
While the heroes clean hands
Shut the eyes of the dead
Not to embarrass anyone
Farewell Angelina
The sky is flooding over
And I must be gone.

The machine guns are roaring
The puppets heave rocks
The fiends nail time bombs
To the hands of the clocks
Call me any name you like
I will never deny it
Farewell Angelina
The sky is erupting
I must go where it’s quiet.