There are so many places called Vitry that is is essential to add the Le Francois bit so people know where you’re talking about! Wikipedia lists no less than 14 places called Vitry in 9 different Departements.

Our lodgings for the night at Les Perrieres were most comfortable, and throughly recommended to other VF pilgrims. The family were very friendly and hospitable, and our table d’hote (evening meal) was excellent, with the added advantage that we didn’t need to carry extra food or any bottles! Our hosts are retired farmers whose son is giving up on his father’s large scale chicken rearing due to high energy costs and going into hosting fields of photovoltaic panels. An agricultural practice we’re not sure we support as we still need food and most energy use takes place in cities, where you don’t seem to see either photovoltaic panels or wind turbines….but diversify they must to survive.

Les Perrieres with our bedroom window to the left

We set off again in bright sunshine but a cool breeze. We called in at the village church but, predictably, it was locked. Of interest, there were six Commonwealth War Graves tucked around the back of the church, being an entire bomber crew killed on 19th July 1944.

Our route for the day was to walk straight down the Canal Lateral a la Marne on the west bank towpath. This is the most direct route to Vitry: about 23 km, versus something like 36 km on the GR route. Our host Denis had warned that there might be “travaux” on the path, but we decided that if there was a problem we’d just find a way around or if necessary blag our way past the works. Sure enough we found access to the tow path partially barricaded but it was not sufficient to deter us – or a few locals.

Looking back to Saint Martin le Ville

It soon became clear that the towpath was being remade. The first few kilometres were very comfortable walking on a newly laid roadbase. The sun was shining, spring in full bloom and activity around us.

At the next village of Pogny we came across a memorial to a group of locals who lost their lives defending their two bridges, over the canal and the river Marne, on 19 June 1940 during the German invasion. We began to notice in Chalons that in this area there is more evidence of events during the Second World War, as contrasted with further north where it seemed to be the First World War which left a more lasting impact.

Just beyond Pogny we passed a large canal-side factory owned by Omya, an industrial minerals company producing calcium carbonate products from the chalk, for use in a variety of applications including pharmaceuticals, paints, plastics, etc. It looked as though their use of the canal had diminished, judging by the disused look of the loading shed.

At the next village Chausee sur Marne we caught up with the “travaux” where there was a man guarding the barrier in a gilet jaune. Further down the path we could see several lorries and clouds of dust. As there was a reasonable alternative, by crossing over the canal, walking through the village, and onwards along a country road to rejoin the canal two bridges further on at Ablancourt, we decided not have an argument but to take that option. It actually made a pleasant change from the canal path.

Rolling countryside on the alternative route – it could have been anywhere in southern England in May

Thereafter we found that the path had been tarmac-ed, but the top dressing hadn’t been adequately rolled, leaving the surface slightly sticky to walk on. However they’d left sufficient margin of road-base at the side to walk on which was fine.

Lunch and the non-stick margin!

We stopped for lunch, just short of Soulanges. Here we heard another cuckoo and Tom saw two Danica mayflies hatch from the canal! The 20th April would be very early for them at home, but here, further south, every aspect of spring seems to be earlier.

Further on the canal appeared to have been carved from the hillside, but there was also evidence of quarrying activity, some historical and some current. So emerged around the corner the huge quarrying and cement kilning complex of Ciments Calcia. We could see a large reverberatory furnace and an extensive processing complex. Just around the next corner the barge Jersey which we had seen squeezing into the lock at Chalons (see yesterday’s blog) was alongside the wharf and its cargo of pulverised coal was being unloaded into lorries, presumably for the cement works.

By mid afternoon, Julie was flagging so we stopped for some crunchy bar and water to boost her blood sugars and enthusiasm for the last stretch. We had seen stone markers at intervals all day, and assume they were marking the distance from Vitry as the numbers were going down, though we weren’t sure!

3kms – but to where?!

Tom was excited to see cow-parsley in flower – again, very early compared to when we would expect to see it at home.

On our approach to Vitry the canal crossed over La Saulx, a sizeable tributary of the Marne. According to our research, this canal was built between 1836 and 1846, and it is good to see it is still in use and providing an effective transport network across France and into Germany.

Aqueduct taking the canal over the river Saulx

Soon after this our branch of the canal ended on the edge of Vitry, the other branch heading off east eventually to join the Rhine waterways. We were shocked to see a noticeboard informing us that 4.4 million euros is being spent on making 23.8 kilometres of cycle track along the canal – a huge sum of money considering the poor quality of surfacing work we had just walked along, though the concept is excellent and we were pleased to see that the 40+ plane trees alongside this section of the canal had been wrapped in thick insulation to protect them from the machinery.

Protected plane trees awaiting workmen to complete the cycle track

The last section of the walk into town was along a tree lined track adjacent to a section of disused canal, and then we came into suburbs with profusions of daisies in place of grass!

Vitry as seen today is a relatively modern town, the earlier one having been razed to the ground and later rebuilt in 1545 at the behest of King Francis, after whom it is named in gratitude. Consequently, the town is spaciously laid out, with wide streets, lots of trees and public gardens.

North gate to Vitry le Francois

The rather grand northern gate would have made an impressive entrance route into the town, though today it serves as a roundabout for traffic turning west to go to Paris. Our billet for the night was the other side of town, adjacent to gardens and hopefully quiet as we intend to spend our rest day there tomorrow.

Highlights of today include seeing Tom’s first mayfly of the year, and enjoying the glorious spring weather.

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