The Val Domignon in Trefcon was a very comfortable place to stay. The Wynand family have diversified from farming to provide, not only chambre d’hote but also canoeing, horse riding, carriage driving and livery. They make leather saddles and harnesses using a very substantial sewing machine. Hubert is a fount of knowledge about the natural history of the area and very interesting to talk to. Tom and he found they shared an interest in the conservation of rivers. Three generations of the family live together, with their lovely dog Lilie, a border collie-picarde sheepdog cross.

Lilie at the Val Domignon bidding us farewell

Despite another wet forecast we left the Val Domignon in bright, if not particularly warm, sunshine. We decided to take a direct route to Seraucourt-le-grand, via the Vermandois villages, rather than the dogleg to Saint Quentin which the official VF route takes. After crossing the A29, we passed through first Beauvois and then Vaux en Vermandois. to reach Roupy (with all its lakhs and crores – silly joke!).

On the approach to Roupy a large crop spraying machine appeared on the road ahead of us. To our horror it turned into the field immediately adjacent to the road extended its arms and began spraying with one arm well over the drainage ditch and almost over the road. As it approached with the wind blowing the spray right at us, Tom shouted for him to stop, crossing his sticks in front of the sprayer. Just at that moment a hare dashed out in front of us. Fortunately the tractor driver got the message and stopped and turned the sprayer off. He could clearly see our distress but probably couldn’t hear a thing from inside his positive pressure cab. With a wave in thanks we strode onwards with the filthy smell and taste of his awful spray in our throats.

Approaching Roupy

As we approached Seraucourt we were confronted by ‘Route Barree’ signs which made us nervous since the alternative route to cross the Saint Quentin Canal entailed a diversion of many kilometres. To our relief, the works to replace the bridge had included a temporary footbridge and so we were able to cross.

Temporary footbridge over the St Quentin Canal

The old iron bridge certainly looked like it needed replacing!

At Seraucourt we found a suitable lunch spot with a seat in the sunshine, adjacent to the St Quentin canal and some fishing lakes where there was a competition going on. Tom was fascinated by the huge long poles the anglers were using. They seemed to be catching small carp, mainly.

At Seraucourt the VF is crossed by one of the Compostella Camino routes originating in the Netherlands. While we were lunching a man on a heavily laden bicycle stopped and hailed us. Ben had ridden from his home in Limburg, South Holland. After two days of miserable weather his wife had turned back so he was heading for Santiago on his own. We weren’t surprised in that awful weather. We wished each other well as he went on his way. He did admit a little assistance as he pointed to the ‘E’ part of his bike!

Crossing point of the VF and the Camino

From Seracourt we rejoined the official route across open countryside and a surprisingly good cobbled road – most were dirt or just plain muddy after recent rain – undulating through huge fields of arable crops. The rape was in full bloom in the sun.

The path wends its way from village to village, first Clastres and then Jussy. Clastres church was locked, but we found a tap to replenish our water bottles. As we approached Jussy we could see a huge ornate building on the horizon, far bigger than the church spire. Was it a monastery? Or even a mosque? No, it was the town Mairie!

Jussy’s Mairie

From Jussy the route follows the canal to Tergnier, our destination for the day. It started very promisingly, walking along a flat grassy path beside the water, sun shining, birds in the surrounding trees. However, just around the corner the path disappeared under more and more dense vegetation, eventually making it more and more likely we might slip and fall into the canal! We turned back, with a degree of frustration at this stage of a long day, and reverted to walking down the minor roads.

At first the tow path of the canal was ok, but within metres it became impassable due to overgrowth………..
……….so we turned back and found another route.

Our alternative route took us to the west of the canal and railway, over the busy D1 and into Mennessis where we found a convenient bench to sit and gather our resolve (eat a sugary fruit bar!) for the last stretch. We were disappointed to see a self service machine to buy bread, and across the road a closed boulangerie. It seems that French supermarkets and social change have now arrived in rural France.

Checking our route through Mennessis

Another 45 minutes and we arrived at the outskirts of Tergnier – a sad, post industrial town and seemingly very run down. Foundries, railway engineering and embroidery had been the economic backbones of the place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the arrival of the railways and then the canal. But today it has clearly lost its heart and no-doubt most of its economic viability. We walked through a large area of poor housing and past the social security office.

With no overnight accommodation available anywhere in Tergnier – though according to our guide book there were previously three hotels – we had decided to take a train to Laon, our next destination, have a rest day and then return to walk the long day from Tergnier back to the cathedral city of Laon. We eventually found our way to the railway station which was completely deserted. Dozens of platforms with information screens all telling us about forecasts of snow and disruption on April 1st! Not very useful. We found a bus waiting to depart, apparently for a rail replacement service, but to where? When we managed to persuade the driver unwillingly to open her window and speak to us it was as if we were from anothet planet. We both have half reasonable French but it seemed like she was speaking another language entirely. Her body language was enough to tell us that she wasn’t going to help us. She just wanted us to leave her in peace.

Feeling quite forlorn, with no idea whether there was a train or a replacement bus service or what, we considered the propect of very expensive taxi ride but with absolutely no idea of whether there were any, or if there were, where to find one. The only person we could find at the station was a young woman glued to her phone with no more to say to us than “sais pas”. We had a strong feeling that we wanted to leave Tergnier and do so quickly, but we had no idea how.

Eventually a young man appeared who seemed to have a little more about him. He also wanted to go to Laon but was as confused as we were. He at least spoke a French which we could understand and together we worked out that there was a train due at 2005 hrs and that it would come from Laon and return there. Not long after an SNCF person arrived who was most helpful, confirmed that there was a train, that we could buy a ticket on the train and that it would arrive at the platform we were standing on. With much relief we boarded a warm and comfortable train for the half hour ride to Laon.

We rolled into our hotel, which was close to Laon station, exhausted and ready for supper and bed………and a rest day!

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