We stayed at a little farmhouse in a quiet quiet village down the canal, where the only sounds on an evening wander were the church bells, the yapping of a frisky dog in a window that we passed, and the belligerent quacking of one of the ducks in a big flock on the water.
On the first morning, while polishing off a bowl of muesli and the basket of breads at the dining table, I excused myself to go back to the lounge where I had seen a series of laminated hiking maps. Bringing it back into the kitchen, I asked the innkeeper en français whether the trail origin was just up the Rue de Montagne that we had seen down the road. Yes indeed!
We set off on a steady climb up the trail, walking alongside woods and vineyards, where a low layer of mist clung to the ground and tweed-clad hunters slowly meandered in the aisles, their beagles giving the occasional baying bark as they gave chase. At the top of the climb, we reached a plateau where the well-marked GR took us straight along, until we could see the town of Auxerre in the distance, with its series of three relatively enormous gothic cathedrals and abbeys. The circuit descended into the town, where we diverged to pop into the Monoprix to procure groceries for our room picnic that night (no store in the little village where we were staying, and the Sunday market sign that I had spotted turned out to be out of date). Baguette, tapenade, cucumber, a wheel of Epoisse, and a bottle of Petit Chablis, which our tour guide Franck, while showing us the vineyards of Chablis, had affectionately described as the wine you drink while playing pétanque.
The walk back brought us along the same towpath that we had previously cycled alongside the Canal du Nivernais, until we reached the turnoff that brought us back up into the farmlands and past the cherry trees for which the Circuit de Cerisiers was named.
This was the hike on which we discovered the joys of the well-maintained GR trails, and it inspired our hikes for the rest of the holiday.