A change of direction

On the outskirts of Bellac I met a lady working in her garden, which sloped up at an angle of about 60° from the road. Large stones served as footholds, and the steep bank was a dense cloudy mass of pink and blue, dominated by a wisteria in a shade of palest pink. It was beautiful, and I stopped to admire it. The gardener negotiated the bank skilfully.
"The garden is nothing this year," she said sadly, "too much rain in spring, and now too much sun." Gardeners are the same the world over.
She invited me in for a cold drink, but I had been walking for 10 hours and wanted to get to the campsite and get my boots off, so I declined politely.
"Promise you will come back, then, one day," she smiled.
Was the campsite close by, I asked?
"Yes," she pointed. "Just after the crossroads, about two hundred yards."
I headed for the crossroads, expecting them to be just around the corner. They were not. The road wound down, down, down, and above the valley into which I had now descended the town sat perched on top of a steep hill.
On the floor of the valley, I met another lady and her cat. Was it very far to the crossroads, I asked?
"Oh la la!" she puffed. "It's a long way. You must climb up there,"—she indicated the hill, "then walk right through the town. You will come to the crossroads—where the 4 big national roads meet, and then carry on from there. The campsite is signposted."
Climb, climb; it was so hot and every twenty paces I had to stop and catch my breath, but finally I reached the town square, where three people sat on a bench.
"Where are you looking for?" called out one of them, a lady with tight rust-coloured curls like coiled snakes which slithered in a rather sinister way as she talked.
"The campsite. Can you direct me, please?"
"Ah yes, it is very simple. Continue up the road until the bakery, then turn left. No, it would be quicker to carry straight on. When you get to the Post Office, cross over and then turn right. No, no, wait a minute. Don't go by the Post Office. After the bakery, carry straight on. Turn right at the épicerie, then cross over and turn left."
I shifted my weight.
"On the other hand, you could go via the tabac. That would be quite quick. Not the first tabac, the one after. Where they sell the Loto tickets. Go past that, then when you reach the crossroads, take the left hand, which will bring you out by the Post Office, and then....."
It was frightfully hot, and I felt like toppling over. I wondered how long she would keep this up.
Her female companion murmured something. She nodded.
"But if you want," she continued, "you could go down to the bottom of the hill and turn right, then follow the road up to the Mairie ..."
"Thank you very much, I think I will take your advice and go via the épicerie," I said, and made my escape. I headed for the bakery, and behind me her voice continued:
"Now, don't forget to turn right before the bakery, otherwise you will end up at the Post Office. But if you do get to the Post Office, the best thing would be to carry straight on ......"
I started walking faster, almost jogging.
"...left, tabac, or Post Office, straight on, no, possibly right ....."

The above passage is an extract from "Best Foot Forward - a 500-Mile Walk Through Hidden France

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