I left Les Barges in Epercieux at around 9.30 in wonderfully clear weather and conscious that the back issue was resolving itself. The last bit of straight road took me to Balbigny where again I got a bit lost. Eventually, I found the route along small roads down to the Loire and from there got onto the D56 that was to take me most of the way to Roanne.

The D56 was a real pleasure, not only because it hugged the banks of the Loire and thus ran downhill, but also because it was closed to traffic on this morning on account of some street-party type of event that was being organised at one point along its length. The road does rise up the coteaux at two points, but the rest of its length is a very restful meander through the Loire gorges.

A view on the Loire from the D54 about half an hour from Balbigny

The D56 first leaves the bottom of the Loire gorge as it rises up to the village of Saint Jodard. The street party was just at the junction of the D56 with the D38 that goes up over the bridge in the picture below. So from here the road was open to traffic and that much less restful.

The view back to the Loire gorge from the D54 as it rises to Saint jodard

Once past the village of Saint Jodard, the road drops back down into the gorge again just at the right point to view the little Château de la Roche on its island in the middle of the river.

The Château de la Roche

It was then simply a matter of following the D56 along the Loire as far as the junction with the D18 which goes across the dam forming the Lac de Villerest.

Le Barrage de Villerest - the dam forming the Lac de Villerest.

This dam, which was built in response to the drought of 1976 was started in 1978 but not finished until 1984. Its function is to control the wild fluctuations of the river between drought and flood and above all to stop the kind of catastrophe that happened in 1856 when towns downstream such as Orléans and Tours were badly damaged by very high water. Along with the Barrage de Naussac near Langogne in the Auvergne, this artificial lake achieves complete control of the Loire and allows a regular, predictable  flow to the river.

The Lac de Villerest from the top of the dam

After lunch at the dam, I headed off to Roanne where the Loire emerges once more from its gorge

The last of the Loire gorges, just downstream from the Lac de Villerest

and begins again to flow across a wide plain.

The Loire, having emerged from the gorge, approaching Roanne

Roanne is a fairly tatty sort of place and things were not improved by the ubiquitous travaux in the town centre destined to create pedestrian zones and renovate the infrastructure. The mess at the moment is pretty horrendous.

Eglise Saint Louis, Roanne

The Place Georges Clémenceau in the centre of Roanne

From Roanne, the D482  which turned into the D982 (same road) took me the whole way to Marcigny.

This is a rather featureless road, similar in many respects to the ride of the day before through Montrond and Feurs and it was only around Saint-Pierre-la-Noaille that the landscape got a little less flat and a little more wooded. The road, however, remained pretty straight and flat which perhaps was no bad thing. I tried to get off the main road and explored the possibility of following the little lanes nearer to the river itself. But these wound so unpredictably around every tree and bush that finding a route would have taken me more time than I had and then following it even more. So I stuck to the D482/982.

From Iguerande there is a cycle track the goes all the way to Marcigny. I missed this at its start, so I was still battling with lorries on the D982 a dozen kilometres from Marcigny when I spotted the track running along the river and got onto it with some relief.

Once on the piste cyclable it was downhill and traffic-free until Marcigny. I cycled around the little town for a while until I located the Tour du Moulin and thus the chambres d’hôte called La Musardière in the rue de la Tour.

The medieval Tour du Moulin, now a museum

Marcigny is a pleasant little town, a quiet backwater living on the memories of its heyday as a river fishing-port. Its other claim to fame is as the location for one of the monasteries founded as part of the Cluniac revival. The wealth of the church of course attracted predatory attentions and the town was besieged in 1366 by the Black Prince and then in subsequent centuries by sundry other nobles and royals.

La Place des Halles, Marcigny

The town walls that were constructed in response to these depredations have since been torn down. The closure of the priory in the nineteenth century saw a downturn in the town’s fortunes, but these picked up again almost immediately with the new industries of tanning and pottery.

The Eglise Saint Nicolas - mostly medieval, Romanesque, but with bits tacked on

I arrived at La Musardière around four-thirty but found no-one there to receive me in spite of the fact that all the doors were wide open. Eventually a chap with very disconcerting eyes – a bit like Marty Feldman – appeared from a cellar and showed me to the room. This was Jean-Pierre Ricol. He and his wife Catherine not only run the B&B and a series of rentable Gypsy-style caravans, but also sustain a considerable business as travelling entertainers, doing impersonations of famous actors and singers from the past.

'La Musardière' - my B&B inMarcigny

The room I was assigned is stuffed with theatre- and cinema memorabilia. The bathroom is entirely in rose bonbon but the enormous bath allowed me to soak away the wear and tear of the day. The whole place has a genteel if slightly dilapidated air about it. Higginson apparently stayed here when he was preparing his guide; but he doesn’t say anything about it. The Ricol couple are delightful people, full of character and very friendly, if a bit scatty. Breakfast, for example, was a bit chaotic, since Madame Ricol had miscalculated the number of German guests who had filed into the cellar-cum-breakfast-room before me; and I had to sit around while her husband nipped out to buy my croissants. But I would recommend this place to anyone without hesitation (see: http://lamusardiere.net/).

Dinner was a plate of friture with chips and salad at an establishment bearing two names, Le Bar du Marché, and also Le Restaurant Le Vieux Puits located on the market-square. Once again, I seemed to have been lucky in my choice, or at least the appetising smells that came out of the door had been a reliable indicator,  since the place rapidly filled up with locals most of whom ordered the friture as well.

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