Jean Vivier of UC Saint Lo with our President Jimmy Walker
THE WESSEX NEWSLETTER Edited independently in our three areas and published quarterly. Please contact your section or the access the club website for information on any events
DA SECRETARY Peter Loakes, Church Cottage, West Stafford, DT2 8AB (01305) 263272 BOURNEMOUTH & DISTRICT SECTION Jean Trill, 2 Parham Road, Bournemouth, BH10 4BB (01202) 513039 SALISBURY SECTION Alan Clarke, “Hill House”, Kelsey Road, Salisbury SP1 1JR (01722) 322188 WEST DORSET SECTION Mike Durham, 74 Westhill, Wyke Regis, Weymouth DT4 9NE (01305) 770140
Main Calendar Dates For 2006 Sunday 12th Mar Sunday 26th Mar Sunday 9th Apr Sunday 9th Apr Saturday 29th Apr W/E 5th -8th May Sunday 7th May Sunday 7th May Sunday 21st May Sunday 25th Jun Sunday 27th July Sunday 10th Sep Sunday 10th Sep Sunday 17th Sep Sunday 24th Sep Sunday 8th Oct ALL
50 in 4 Shawn Shaw 01202 685014 100 in 8 Shawn Shaw 01202 685014 Dorset Coastlet 100km Annemarie Manley 01202 294835 Dorset Coast 200km Annemarie Manley 01202 294835 Cycle Jumble Sale Ken Reed 01305 772654 St Lo Twinning in Wessex Norman Payne 01202 695179 New Forest 50/Day Out 100km John Ward 01590 671855 New Forest Excursion 200km John Ward 01590 671855 Dorset Downs 100km Peter Loakes 01305 263272 Devon and Dorset Downs 300km Peter Loakes 01305 263272 New Forest 1000km John Ward 01590 671855 New Forest 50 and Coast 100km John Ward 01590 671855 New Forest On & Off Shore 200km John Ward 01590 671855 Dorset Dirt 50km offroad Ken Reed 01305 772654 Dorset Delight 200km Peter Loakes 01305 263272 Gridiron 100km Terry Walsh 01202 247888 WESSEX ACTIVITIES CAN BE FOUND ON: www.wessexctc.org
Summer 2006 The Potterers have decided that the group size is getting too big and have decided to split into two, so you’ll see a new group on the runs list, the “Alternative Potterers”. As we already have some “Inters”, I’m waiting to see how long it is before the new group gets called the “Alters”. Only joking guys! Good luck to the group.
The Dawdlers Clubnights which were held at Ruth Merchant’s house, continue to be held now at Pelhams Community Centre on the same regular date, first Tuesday of each month, as before.
The “regular” clubnights will recommence at Pelhams on Wednesday 27th September after the summer break and are booked through until the end of this year but will not be continued after that because of lack of support. I’m hoping that in 2007 the Dawdlers Clubnight can become the “regular” one and we are talking about this.
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Portland Bill Lighthouse
OBITUARY DUDLEY JOHN HAMILTON PALMER Dudley passed away peacefully at home on the 14th April 2006 aged 92 years after a full life. A Chemist on Abbotsbury Road Westham for 35 years, Dudley was a member of the Lagonda Owners Club and owner of a 1931 Lagonda. He was a life member of the Wessex Road Club and of the CTC. With his wife Dorothy, he participated actively in many club events. I remember with gratitude that we were invited to use Dudley’s back garden as the Weymouth control point on the “Dorset Coast 200km” for a number of years in the early 1980’s when Dudley, Dorothy, Ruth & Jack Merchant and the team would be serving up refreshments. He showed me his Lagonda during one of those events, explaining that it wasn’t “motoring”, driving a Lagonda was just petrol assisted cycling!
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What’s On ? Blackmore Vale Section Rides Cycle Rides arranged by Richard & Margaret Nicholl. All rides meet at the Cafe at 10:00am for coffee and cake, departing at 10:30am. Please note that some rides are on a Saturday and some on a Sunday. Details (01963) 32840 Sat 3rd JUN Sun 18th JUN
Sat 1st JUL Sun 16th JUL Sat 29th JUL Sun 13th AUG Sat 26th AUG Sun 10th SEP Sat 23rd SEP Sun 8th OCT Sat 21st OCT
MEET: CASTLE CARY, Old Bakehouse, High Street LUNCH: Westhay. TEA: Yeovilton, RNAS Museum Cafe MEET: SALISBURY, Waitrose Supermarket, With Salis. Section. LUNCH: Salisbury Plain, Bustard Inn. TEA: Salisbury or Crockerton Furniture Store MEET: BRADFORD-ON-AVON, Lock Inn Cottage. LUNCH: Bath, on the Kennet & Avon. TEA: Avoncliff or Frome MEET: EAST STOUR, The Udder Farm Shop. LUNCH: Tolpuddle. TEA: Milton Abbas MEET: MERE, Angel Corner Tea Room LUNCH: Dinton. TEA: Shaftesbury MEET: East Lambrook, Manor Gardens LUNCH: Chard. TEA: East Lambrook MEET: WOOKEY HOLE LUNCH: Brean Down. TEA: Wookey Hole MEET: STOURHEAD, National Trust Cafe LUNCH: Norton St Philip. TEA: Radstock MEET: CASTLE CARY, The Old Bakehouse, High Street LUNCH: Muchelney. TEA: Yeovilton, RNAS, Museum Café The Alternative MEET: GILLINGHAM, Waitrose Supermarket. LUNCH: Wardour Castle MEET: MILBORNE PORT, Wheathill Garden Centre
Informal Wayfarers Rides to Burley
This ride happens every Saturday and is completely informal. There is no leader and no back up, but generally an experienced cyclist somewhere around. The route is designed for beginners but joined in by all abilities.
Start 08:45 at Pioneer Supermarket, Christchurch every Saturday
Or just make your own way to the New Forest Tea Rooms, Burley for 10:00 3
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THE 19th DORSET DOWNS 100km Not the best forecast, so out of 64 entrants only 36 turned up at Top O Town Café for the start. For those 36 the pretence of staying dry was shattered by foot drenching floods before even reaching Bradford Peverell. Up on the Roman Road, the riders were up in the clouds, and the wet descent down Spyway Hill was spiced up by that infamous cross wind by the gateway (know the one?) The lack of starters meant that there were plenty of refreshments, which went down so well that here is the recipe! Millionaires Shortbread Base: 4oz unsalted butter, 2oz caster sugar, 6oz sifted plain flour Topping: 4oz caster sugar, 4oz unsalted butter, 2tbsp golden syrup, 1 small (or ½ big) tin condensed milk Cream butter & sugar together until fluffy. Add flour & mix & knead until smooth. Press into base of greased shallow 8” square tin. Prick with fork & bake 20 mins until golden brown (180/Gas mk4). Leave to cool. Topping: put all ingredients in pan & heat gently until sugar dissolves. Boil for 6-8 mins, stirring constantly, until it begins to set. Pour over base & allow to cool. Melt 6oz chocolate in a bowl over hot water & spread over caramel Mark into portions and leave to set. Give all utensils to daughter to lick if you have one! The short cut back from the Wardon Hill Café was tempting for some riders, but 24 carried on to the Green Man Inn, which was heaving with customers, much to the disgust of Clive the marshal who was forced to sit in the corridor by the toilets. On the next leg various farms were noted down for the Info control (Gorse Farm was my intended one), but the question should have been “make of car in the ford?” – Mercedes. The last two riders back were delayed there for 20 minutes while a tractor towed it away. The two usually dry fords beyond Fifehead St Quentin caused some problems with cross currents. My father’s opinion of the riders who reached the Ansty control: “Salt of the Earth!” The later riders enjoyed a sunny ride into the headwind back to Dorchester, so congratulations to the 24 hardy cyclists who finished this tough ride! Thanks again to the marshals who gave up their time: Brian Archer, Clive Gerrard, Liam Jamieson, Imelda, Janet, John and Tamara Loakes Don’t forget the 3D300 on June 25th and the Dorset Delight 200km on September 24th Details from: firstname.lastname@example.org
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DORSET COAST & DORSET DOWNS . . . their future is in your hands! 2007 will see the 30th Dorset Coast 200km and 20th Dorset Downs 100km. Having reached these milestones, the organisers would like to stand down after next year. Both are classic events, over the years attracting thousands of cyclists from all over the country. So, are there any organisers out there who would like to take on either event? They can be kept the same, or new routes and controls can be created, as long as the events remain true to spirit. What is needed is an individual to take on overall responsibility for an event; both of us would offer support and advice, and there are plenty of club members who would be willing to help out on the day. We’re giving plenty of advanced warning, because neither of us want to see the demise of these events.
I’d like to add to this sentiments. The Wessex CTC is rightly renowned for its “open” randonnees. With countryside like ours of course, we can hardly go wrong! The fact that Pete Loakes has organised all 20 of the “Downs” and that Annemarie and I have organised all of the “Coasts” speaks volumes though. On the one side it shows that we have a real continuity, on the other side that the work just comes down to the “same old people”. Perhaps Annemarie and Pete will excuse the use of the word “old”, it’s just a relative term! We need some new blood in these events and I cannot believe that there aren’t people in our club willing to take over. Come on then, prove to me that there are.
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DORSET AMBULANCE “LUCAS” APPEAL The committee voted recently to make a donation of £500 towards the Dorset Ambulance “Lucas” Appeal. The original suggestion came from Margaret, and I don’t know if it was inspired by my recent adventure, but it certainly made some people start thinking about what help we might need when out cycling.
seemingly simple device to replace the paramedic thumping on the chest of a patient in cardiac arrest. Peter quickly told us that there’s more to it than that. The equipment is the end result of a lot of medical research on the most effective resuscitation strengths and rates. The
The questions were inevitable. What is the equipment? What does it do? If this equipment is so important why don’t Dorset Ambulances buy it from their budget? Margaret, Bob & Joan Courtney, Janet and I arrived at the Poole Ambulance station on the afternoon of Friday 31st March to meet Peter Wray-Cook and very quickly he had the equipment out for us to see. Poor Mr Dummy (he’s really known as a CPR Mannikin) was subjected, yet again I feel, to a rhythmic pounding on his chest as the Lucas equipment, powered by compressed oxygen, began slamming into his chest in regular powerful beats. It looked dramatic, it looked painful, but I can assure you from personal experience that in his state, Mr Dummy wouldn’t know a thing. So, there you go. The Lucas equipment is a
stroke is exactly correct and designed also to avoid any danger of breaking ribs, and can be deployed safely in a moving ambulance by one paramedic in under 20 seconds. Furthermore, a feed can be taken
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from the oxygen bottle for the patientâ€™s benefit if needed. Peter gave us a lot of technical stuff about avoidance of heart engorgement, re-establishment of proper heart rhythm and so on. The underlying fact is that the research leading up to the machine has brought about a change of protocol in the way paramedics treat
Dorset Ambulance have need for almost 50 of these machines on each of their vehicles, and at ÂŁ5000 each they cannot afford them all so they have decided to go for public appeal which is where we have come in our small way. You might think they are expensive and so they are, but they are the result of a great deal of
cardiac arrest and a success rate which has climbed from about 10% to nearer 40% with the Lucas equipment in use. The chances of getting the patient to hospital have dramatically improved. We can expect that the Lucas equipment will also be installed in hospitals too. The action is near perfect, and unlike the human staff, it does not tire or break ribs.
research and development and have to be made to the highest standards of reliability. All of that costs money.
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THE DORSET COAST 200km On a gloriously sunny morning, if a little cool, 89 hardy souls set off from Wareham Quay on the 29th Dorset Coast 200km. Entrants this year came from as far afield as Middlesborough and Michigan, USA! The route took them around Poole Harbour and over the Sandbanks Ferry to enjoy the Purbecks to Corfe Castle early on a quiet Sunday morning. On to Weymouth via Lulworth the hills start to build up but they haven’t seen anything yet! The route via Abbotsbury to Bridport then Chideock, Ryall, Whitchurch Canonicorum and Wootten Fitzpaine to Axminster is quite punishing. After lunch there is the climb back out of Axminster then it’s a rewarding descent back to Loders before the fantastic climb of Spyway Hill. Then it’s all plain sailing along the Roman Road to Dorchester and back to Wareham. 80 finished the Dorset Coast in the time allowed. A few dodged a stray hail or snow shower but generally the weather was most kind this year. 142 started the less punishing Coastlet 100km event - they didn’t necessarily feel it was an easier ride at first however with Creech Hill being within the first couple of miles. A quick visit to Lulworth Cove before going to Weymouth added some extra hills this time but the ride then went to Abbotsbury Swannery as usual so everyone could enjoy the climb up to Hardy’s Monument - quite a few stopped to take in the stunning view this year as it was quite a clear day. 139 got round the Coastlet in the time allowed and most seem to approve of the new route and less busy road to the finish. There were many tandems out this year including Jason Clark with a trailer bike too! I was fortunate to have lots of volunteers to help the events go smoothly again this year special thanks to Dave Chesworth and Mike Walsh for organising all the controllers in advance, they did a superb job at the start too and then rode the Coastlet! Barney and Dilys Barnes were up bright and early to manage the car park in Wareham and Ken Weston and Julian James had an early shift at Sandbanks Ferry; Rosie and Lucie coped with the rush at Lulworth Cove and we had a little army of helpers in the form of Mike Durham, Valerie Green, Alan Murkin, John Barnaby, John Hayter at Weymouth, with Johnny Read helping with the signage; at Dorchester it was our regulars in the shape of Clive Gerard and Brian Archer then at the finish there was Jean Burrell, Keith Matthews, Norman Payne, Wendy and Les Harris, and Terry and Agnes Walsh; not to mention of course my beloved pilot Nigel! Keith, Terry and Agnes were there to the bitter end too which made life easier as I was pretty tired by the end of a long day having been able this year to ride the Coastlet too since we were not catering this year (although given how tired I was at the start I think maybe Nigel did most of the pushing that day). Thanks to them all and anyone I have forgotten who helped make the event yet another success. Next year it’s the 30th Dorset Coast so we’d like to make it something special for the DA to stage so will be needing lots of willing volunteers. Next year will be my last year of organising it too so the DA urgently needs someone to come forward and take over the reins for 2008. I can always be there to help anyone new get into the swing of what needs to be done because we really don’t want to lose this flagship event of the CTC and Audax calendars. The Dorset Coast is the longest running Audax event which people come from far and wide to ride - lets not lose that prestigious acclaim!
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POST EVENT MESSAGES Hi, Just a belated thank you for another classic D.C. last weekend. What a ride, that sunshine on the trip across Purbeck was wonderful. The bit between Bridport & Axminster is just magical, especially the view from Ryall. A sail would have come in handy for the return, I think the Spyway was the only bit where any kind of pedalling was required!! Thanks again & congrats on your news, Best wishes, Alan Davies ***************** Dear Annemarie, First, many thanks for another outstanding Dorset Coast 200km. It really is my favourite ride - I suppose that much is clear given that I have done it 10 times now and I still come back from abroad primarily to take part. I’ll try to get back next year, perhaps as part qualification for the PBP. Ian. (Lewis) ***************** Annemarie, Thanks for everything – it was a fantastic route and I thoroughly enjoyed the event. Cheers! Robin Sillett ***************** Annemarie, Many thanks for a great day on Sunday. The organisation & the effort involved must be tremendous & its all down to you & your helpers. Its very much appreciated & I look forward to a continued association with the delights of the Dorset countryside. Regards, John Bateman (Westerley R.C.) ***************** Many thanks for organising the Coast rides once again. We enjoyed the Coastlet and found the run back from Dorchester much easier than last year. David & Ann Friend ***************** Hi there, Many thanks for yesterday’s organisation and thanks to the many helpers. I managed to cheat the weather and miss the afternoon rain and sleet. I fear that 200 riders may not have been so lucky though. I’d never done the 100 before. It’s a great ride and delightfully rural (even 20% on Creech Hill wasn’t too bad!) Thanks again, Mick (Simmons) ***************** Annemarie, Just a quick note to say Many Thanks for an excellent Dorset Coast yesterday. Terrific route, great scenery, brutal hills, very welcome food at Axminster, and the weather held. Looking forward to same again next year. Martin Croxford ***************** Hello Annemarie, I really enjoyed the ride yesterday, thanks for the superb organization as usual. Many thanks – Ben Jones ***************** Belatedly, many thanks for organising this ride. It was my first involvement in an Audax event & it did not disappoint. Good luck with future events. Alan Drake *****************
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SAINT LO TWINNING 2006 On the 5th May weekend we were invaded by the latest exchange visit from our friends at UC Saint Lo. Norman Payne took charge of the event and expertly co-ordinated everything most successfully. Organisers difficulties are many and varied, but the last minute high-handed cancellation of Brittany Ferries sailing home on the Monday was almost beyond the call of duty. The DA catered a free lunch at Cranborne for any club members who wanted to turn up for the ride and there was a very happy gathering. Having been to many of these
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exchange visits before on both sides of the channel, I was struck by all the new faces on the French side. Only a few of the old regulars remained, but these did include Jean Vivier. Back in 1990 this twinning arrangement was started by the two Club Presidents,
Barbara Johnson for Wessex DA and Jean Vivier for UC Saint-Lo and we have been visiting each other every few years ever since. Our President this year, Jimmy Walker who is pictured on the cover, was much in evidence in his swirling kilt, handing out trophies to all and sundry. On Sunday evening we hosted a catered dinner at Sturminster Marshall Village Hall and we all enjoyed an excellent meal with speeches, toasting, presentations and yes . . . community singing too. Norman led the room in rousing choruses of “Alloutte”, “Frere Jaques”, and “Yesterday” and “My Bonny Lies over the Ocean” both in French and English. I have to say that I thought the French contingent were better and more enthusiastic at both language versions. A successful weekend with good eating, good cycling and good companionship with the host families from our club. With grateful thanks to Norman, Velda and all the organising team for all their hard work.
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CYCLING THE RIVER LOIRE September / October 2005
Motivation - and a Word of Gratitude We thank a stalwart of the CTC in Bournemouth, Terry Walsh, for starting us on this adventure. He had been leading
the Saturday morning "introductory" rides from Christchurch for a number of years. My wife, Penny, and I had been enjoying doing 25 miles with this group for a long time before finally we took the plunge, joined the CTC, and felt like "real" cyclists. We are most grateful to Debbie Murphy,
who initially lent us a copy of a guide to the route (The Book) and to Terry's brother, Mike, for his continual support and encouragement to start this adventure. At last we gave in to his arm-twisting and
booked our transport from Bournemouth to Valence in the Rhone-Alps region of southern France. Yes - the Loire starts way down in the south of the Massif Central, only about 100 miles from the Mediterranean. As you can see from the map, by the time it gets to OrlĂŠans, it's already more than half way from its
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source, at le Gerbier de Jonc, to the sea, at St Nazaire in Brittany. Preparation Software When Penny presented me with the set of 8 detailed IGN maps , I knew that there was no going back. The pile of information grew: the Michelin Guide to the Chateaux of the Loire, the Logis de France handbook, our own copy of The Book, a notebook, bilingual information sheets for bike brakes and gears, etc. We were getting towards carrying a considerable weight of paper. So, out with scissors to remove the unnecessary parts of the maps and the guidebooks, thus saving a pound or so (half a Kg for the youngsters).
Throughout the summer we'd be plotting the gradients of local hills from the OS maps and comparing them with those in The Book, and checking our ability to climb them (see Firmware), and then going out and buying bigger rear cassettes. Hardware Our old bikes had done us proud for years, but most parts were, like the author, creaking, or cracked, or pretty well worn out. Although OK for short jaunts in and around the New Forest (within mobile phone range of a taxi in an emergency) we couldn't trust them for a long and demanding expedition abroad. We bought two new Saracen Panorama tourers and kitted them out with some lower gears, rear panniers, lights, etc.. Also, we thought we'd better get some of
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the yellow, wick-away tops and padded lycra shorts that "professionals" wear; but neither of us was convinced that cycling shoes would be needed, so we stayed with our trusty old trainers. Firmware That's she and me! We started as floppyware, but recognised the need to build up our capability in stages over a period of about 3 months, to prepare mind and body for the onslaught! That was the plan, but family visitors descended for days at a time through the summer, so eventually we put in about half the anticipated training. Our scheduled aim was to get out 3 times a week, often with local CTC groups, typically achieving about 120 miles per week for 3 weeks. I was worried by my inability to keep up with the rest of the riders ascending hills. Going down was easy for me - that was the bonus of being overweight! But, knowing the gradients that were in store for us as soon as we got to France, we worked hard. At the time we didn't notice any improvement, but in the event, we felt it was worth putting in the effort. Never having toured before, we did two long weekend rides, visiting friends and family, to discover what clothing and equipment was essential and what could be left at home. That experience enabled us to prune our loads for the main expedition by several pounds, to about 12 - 14 pounds per pannier (5.5 - 6.5 Kg each), plus picnic lunches, water, energy bars, etc. Thankfully, we did not have to carry camping equipment.
Getting to France The Book recommends taking the European Bikebus to Orange, so as to visit Chateauneuf du Pape and the roman aqueduct at le Pont du Gard, before returning northwards towards the Loire via the spectacular Gorges de l'ArdĂ¨che. Because we'd motored over the Gorges before, we thought that we could do without the huge climbs and terrifying descents that would be involved at the start of this journey. However, The Book also mentions a local bus which carries 2 bikes some of the way towards the source, starting from Valence, south of Lyons. So, feeling in need of every assistance, we made Valence our start point in France! The internet has hods of information and recommendations about methods of travel and preparing and packing bicycles for transit. Apart from the CTC's pages, it was contradictory and confusing. Eventually we decided on a one-way car hire from Bournemouth to Stansted Airport, Easyjet from Stansted to Lyon, shuttle bus in to Lyon city and train from there to Valence. Most was booked on-line, and our fares totalled about the same as two first class day returns by train from Bournemouth to London! Our return would be from by rail from St Nazaire to Cherbourg; thence by ferry to Poole and by bike for the 8 miles home. Thus our bicycle packaging could be binned at the first destination. More on: www.bournemouthctc.org
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Ruth Merchant Many Wessex DA members attended the funeral of Ruth Merchant at Poole Crematorium on 16th March. The DA made a donation of £50 in memory of Ruth to Cancer Research UK, the charity chosen by the Merchant family. A letter has been received from Ruth’s daughter, Jill Wilkins, thanking Wessex DA members for their contributions and support at the funeral. The donations have benefitted the charity by almost £1000.
Contributions and Photographs The committee meeting date is the deadline for Newsletter contributions. Editorial policy is to print all contributions, with minimal editing for the purposes of layout only. Contribute by email, disk, CD-ROM, typed or handwritten. Photographs are now welcome in any form. We can scan them and they will be returned safely.
Date of next Meeting Bournemouth Committee meeting at 7:00pm Wednesday August 23rd 2006 At the Conservative Club, Parr Street, Parkstone.
Keith Matthews: 7 Cotes Avenue, Poole, BH14 0ND TEL: (01202) 740388 Email email@example.com
CTC HQ, 69 Meadrow, Godalming, Surrey GU7 3HS http://www.ctc.org.uk
“CycleInk” is the Newsletter of the Bournemouth & District Section, Wessex District Association of the Cyclists’ Touring Club. Published four times a year for members. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the club.
Cycle Ink #141
Cycling the River Loire - September/October 2005 by Damian Buckley
Motivation - and a Word of Gratitude We thank a stalwart of the CTC in Bournemouth, Terry Walsh, for starting us on this adventure. He had been leading the Saturday morning “introductory” rides from Christchurch for a number of years. My wife, Penny, and I had been enjoying doing 25 miles with this group for a long time before finally we took the plunge, joined the CTC, and felt like “real” cyclists. We are most grateful to Debbie Murphy, who initially lent us a copy of a guide to the route (The Book)1 and to Terry’s brother, Mike, for his continual support and encouragement to start this adventure. At last we gave in to his arm-twisting and booked our transport from Bournemouth to Valence in the Rhone-Alps region of southern France. Yes - the Loire starts way down in the south of the Massif Central, only about 100 miles from the Mediterranean. As you can see from the map, by the time it gets to Orléans, it’s already more than half way from its source, at le Gerbier de Jonc, to the sea, at St Nazaire in Brittany.
Figure 1 - Outline Map of the Route
Preparation Software When Penny presented me with the set of 8 detailed IGN maps2, I knew that there was no going back. The pile of information grew: the Michelin Guide to the Chateaux of the Loire, the Logis de France handbook, our own copy of The Book, a notebook, bilingual information sheets for bike brakes and gears, etc. We were getting towards carrying a considerable weight of paper. So, out with scissors to remove the unnecessary parts of the maps and the guidebooks, thus saving a pound or so (half a Kg for the youngsters). 1
Cycling the River Loire, by John Higginson, ISBN 1 85284 383 7 Place names, road numbers and directions are given in detail in this book; if we mentioned them they are our deviations or points of special note. 2 Institute Geographique National “Carte de Promenade”, 1:100 000, numbers 24, 25, 26, 27, 36, 43, 50, 52
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Throughout the summer we’d be plotting the gradients of local hills from the OS maps and comparing them with those in The Book, and checking our ability to climb them (see Firmware), and then going out and buying bigger rear cassettes. Hardware Our old bikes had done us proud for years, but most parts were, like the author, creaking, or cracked, or pretty well worn out. Although OK for short jaunts in and around the New Forest (within mobile phone range of a taxi in an emergency) we couldn’t trust them for a long and demanding expedition abroad. We bought two new Saracen Panorama tourers and kitted them out with some lower gears, rear panniers, lights, etc.. Also, we thought we’d better get some of the yellow, wick-away tops and padded lycra shorts that “professionals” wear; but neither of us was convinced that cycling shoes would be needed, so we stayed with our trusty old trainers. Firmware That’s she and me! We started as floppyware, but recognised the need to build up our capability in stages over a period of about 3 months, to prepare mind and body for the onslaught! That was the plan, but family visitors descended for days at a time through the summer, so eventually we put in about half the anticipated training. Our scheduled aim was to get out 3 times a week, often with local CTC groups, typically achieving about 120 miles per week for 3 weeks. I was worried by my inability to keep up with the rest of the riders ascending hills. Going down was easy for me - that was the bonus of being overweight! But, knowing the gradients that were in store for us as soon as we got to France, we worked hard. At the time we didn’t notice any improvement, but in the event, we felt it was worth putting in the effort. Never having toured before, we did two long weekend rides, visiting friends and family, to discover what clothing and equipment was essential and what could be left at home. That experience enabled us to prune our loads for the main expedition by several pounds, to about 12 - 14 pounds per pannier (5.5 6.5 Kg each), plus picnic lunches, water, energy bars, etc. Thankfully, we did not have to carry camping equipment.
Getting to France The Book recommends taking the European Bikebus to Orange, so as to visit Chateauneuf du Pape and the roman aqueduct at le Pont du Gard, before returning northwards towards the Loire via the spectacular Gorges de l’Ardèche. Because we’d motored over the Gorges before, we thought that we could do without the huge climbs and terrifying descents that would be involved at the start of this journey. However, The Book also mentions a local bus which carries 2 bikes some of the way towards the source, starting from Valence, south of Lyons. So, feeling in need of every assistance, we made Valence our start point in France! The internet has hods of information and recommendations about methods of travel and preparing and packing bicycles for transit. Apart from the CTC’s pages, it was contradictory and confusing. Eventually we decided on a one-way car hire from Bournemouth to Stansted Airport, Easyjet from Stansted to Lyon, shuttle bus in to Lyon city and train from there to Valence. Most was booked on-line, and our fares totalled about the same as two first class day returns by train from Bournemouth to London! Our return would be from by rail from St Nazaire to Cherbourg; thence by ferry to Poole and by bike for the 8 miles home. Thus our bicycle packaging could be binned at the first destination. We begged manufacturer’s cardboard cartons from the local bike shop, added a polythene shoe3 to the trailing end and prepared to lug them behind us for the outward journey. Figure 2 - Bike Cartons, with Slippery Tails
Half of a 2 litre ice-cream carton, attached with Duck tape, makes for a wear-resistant and slippery tail end for crossing tarmac, paving slabs, cobbles, etc. - see Figure 2.
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Our arrangements worked: although we had to dismantle the bikes to fit inside them, the boxes survived the attentions of the airport baggage handlers and our own efforts. (Tip No 1 - look for the trolleys and disabled access points and lifts.) At last, after a 5.45 a.m. departure from Bournemouth, we tumbled in to our hotel in Valence at 7.45 p.m.
En-route for the Source Next morning, whilst I finished off re-assembling the bikes, Penny visited the bus station and discovered that the next bike-carrying bus departed 5 hours later. We decided to cycle all the way to our first night’s stop at Lamastre, aiming to be there before the bus set off, or, if the going was just too steep, we would still have time to return to Valence to catch the transport. The first 5 miles of the D533 were fairly easy: cycle lanes helped us in the city, then we were over the River Rhône, pausing to photograph the impressive ruined fort perched on a high point above the road and trying not to notice the even more impressive hills behind it. Fortunately, the sun was shining and our hopes were high. We were off! Within the hour we were “toiling in the boiling”: the gradient felt like 30º and the temperature was exactly that! It was just as it said in The Book - a lung-searing ascent (LSA), to be followed in due course by a “thrilling” descent. That was the pattern of our first 3 days: hot hard work! In this region of extinct volcanoes, it was a series of hard climbs of several hundreds of metres up to a col (or pass), then down the other side, losing most of the height, usually crossing a river in the valley bottom, then repeating the process. The D578 took us from Lamastre to Le Cheylard to Mézilhac, where we joined the route of The Book. By mid-morning of day 3, we made it to the source - from Valence, at about 40 metres above sea level, to the crossroads under the summit of le Gerbier de Jonc at 1417 metres - just under a mile high. And still we enjoyed warm sunshine and blue skies for the final climb up to the tip of the cone, on foot, to gaze out for miles over an impressive panorama of peaks and valleys as far as the eye could see.
Figure 3 - The Watershed between Atlantic & Mediterranean Figure 4 - The Summit of le Gerbier de Jonc
This official source of the Loire is a spout of good-tasting water, jetting into a cattle trough at the entrance to an erstwhile cowshed; now a souvenir shop. There are a few other springs in the neighbourhood, which could equally well claim to be the source, but being close to the road, this official one is convenient for tourist access and the vending of refreshments and mementoes!
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The Massif From the source, our road twisted downhill for some 5 miles, and our river grew from a modest stream to a proper 10-metre wide river, fed by dozens of rivulets trickling off the high moorland. We wished we’d stopped to take photographs of the infant Loire, but, at 30 mph, we were watching the road: there was no time to look at the scenery! After a long day’s ride through the northern Cevennes, and without having booked any accommodation, we were extremely relieved to fall in to the very hotel in the village of Goudet that Robert Louis Stevenson had used whilst on his “Travels with a Donkey”. The next day was cold and rainy. As we went up a few more LSA’s, the temperature went down and down. By lunchtime it was 8ºC, having been 28ºC the previous day, and we were crammed on every item of the (summer) clothing that we’d taken. As we approached le Puy en Velay, the squally showers were throwing stinging sleet at us, threatening to blow us in to the roadside ditches. We were pleased to be entering a large town after the sparse, isolated and spartan hamlets through which we’d passed. On our arrival, Le Puy was “en fête”: the annual medieval festival was in full swing and we stayed a two nights here. We rubbed elbows with lords and ladies, soldiers and serfs, farmers and farriers. We drank the spiced wine and ate the mincemeat (meat and fruit) pies and watched the street entertainers a welcome break from turning the pedals, but ye gods it was wintry!
Figure 5 - 10 miles from the Source at la Palisse
Figure 6 - Live Music in le Puy-en-Velay
For the next three days we cycled northwards, outwards from the severe, inhospitable and unforgiving heart of the Massif. We endured many long LSA’s and were rewarded by magnificent views from summits, until, north of the city of Roanne, the countryside relented and became less harsh. Cliffs and rocks, forests and scrubland gave way to fields and farms alongside the river. Man had been able to make his mark on the land. This was the sort of France that we’d cycled before, and to which we’d looked forward.
Twixt Massif and Orléans From Roanne, the Loire continues its middle course - wide, established and stately - for some 200 miles in a generally northerly direction, paralleled for a considerable distance by canals, firstly the “Roanne - Digion”, then the “Latéral à la Loire”. The route here is often closer to the bank of canal than the river, making for fast, level riding, until bridges are encountered. At Digoin, an aqueduct carries the canal over the river. An interesting and unusual engineering monument to the Napoleonic era, it provide a good excuses to stop pedalling for a while and take photographs. Modern industry is to be found in this region too: a massive power station, a concrete pipe factory, sited either in the open countryside or just across the road from a medieval monastery typically French! Passing Décize; we reached Nevers, with its cathedral - bombed by the RAF during the war and now boasting some startlingly modern stained glass - and took time to stroll past its ducal palace, historic streets, walls and towers.
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A little further on, La Charité-sur-Loire is a modest-sized, historic town, as full of bookshops as Hay-onWye. Between the two world wars, because of the width of the river and the town’s situation, midway between the mouth of the Seine and the Mediterranean Sea, it became a staging and resupply point for seaplanes and flying boats. A few miles further downriver we diverted to visit the attractive hilltop wine town of Sancerre. The panorama from the top would have been worth the LSA, but, by the time we reached the viewpoint, the clouds gave up the unequal struggle and released a deluge which lasted all afternoon. Thank goodness for the under-cover car park and the hotel-restaurant opposite! Eventually, we were awash with coffee and had run out of postcards to write, so out we went. What a time to discover that your new helmet seems to funnel the water along your specs and straight in to your eyes! But hey - who needs to see the map anyway! And what joy to find, when you get there, that the overnight hotel doesn’t open for another half hour yet!! The next day reminds us that autumn has arrived; it’s cool and misty. We get some atmospheric camera shots around the picturesque Mantelôt Ecluse, a canal-river junction at Chatillon-sur-Loire. Two miles up the road we go under a bridge and then up beside it. It’s another Pont Canal, decorated with sculptures and elaborate lamp standards, taking the canal over the Loire to Briare on the opposite bank. We use it to visit this attractive small town with pleasure boats in the canal basins. Locks, bridges and pretty baskets of flowers everywhere complete the picture. Unusually, its church is faced with ceramic tiles; once a staple product of the area.
Figure 7 - The Pont-canal at Digoin
Figure 8 - The Pont-canal at Briare
Then it’s on past Gien, to Sully-sur-Loire, where we stop briefly for a look at the first of the “Chateaux of the Loire” before crossing to the north bank to allow us to visit St Benôit-sur-Loire. The village name comes from the Benedictine monastery there. (In 672 the Saint’s mortal remains were transferred there from their original resting place in Montecassino and became the focus for spreading his principles through the western world.) After re-crossing the river at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire, we eventually stop for the night at Jargeau, an unexciting little town about 8 miles east of the centre of Orléans. Another fine day greets us; our route takes us along the flat top of the raised levée, overlooking carefully cultivated expanses of market garden produce and on into the outskirts of Orléans - where The Book runs out of accurate guidance - just where you need it. But by now we can relate the map to the ground, to within a hundred yards or so, so we leave the cycle track and follow the road which takes us under the railway and up on to a cycle track on the large bridge leading in to the city. We chicken out of the busy roundabout and push our bikes over the two carriageways and in to the narrow streets leading to the cathedral. The scale of the building is BIG - designed by the same architect as Notre Dame in Paris, and very similar to it; but this cathedral’s twin towers are topped with “crowns” of delicate stonework, since at the time of its construction, Orleans was the capital of France. Inside, the life story of Joan of Arc is told in the stained glass windows and on the wall of her chapel is a memorial plaque, in English and French to commemorate the one million dead of the British Empire who gave their lives in the Great War. A Page 5 of 11
poignant reminder of the futility of war and of man’s inhumanity to man, but housed in a soaring palace of peace. There is more lovely architecture to be seen in the nearby squares; elaborate ironwork on the balconies, buildings topped with slate-covered cupolas and decorated with flamboyant, confident fin-duSiécle carving and caryatids, which combine to create a harmonious and satisfying atmosphere. There are reasons to stay longer, but still many more miles to be done before nightfall.
Figure 9 - Sully-sur-Loire
Figure 10 - Orléans Cathedral
Orléans to Angers - the Real Chateaux Country The recommended route out of Orléans, following the GR 03 right alongside the north bank of the river, is a bit of a snare and a delusion. To be sure, it’s traffic-free, but it’s such slow going. It is not clearly marked in some places; some parts have poor surfaces and the approach to St Ay it is downright dangerous and should be avoided by cyclists. There has to be a better way to leave the city - but by the time we realised this, we’d toiled along for over an hour, avoiding pedestrians and their dogs, and only achieved about 3 miles from the modern, “rainbow-arc-ed” Pont de l’Europe bridge, which marks the end of Orléans. The alternatives were either to retrace our path back in to the city and look for a route on the south bank or to use the nearby RN152 towards our destination. We decided to join the incessantly busy traffic on the Route Nationale and get along it as fast as we could to Meung-sur-Loire, where we were due to cross the river again. It was a bit hairy, but at least we were travelling at 15 mph and not a walking pace. Over the river and on to the D78, a more tranquil road, whew! Our aim was to reach a bed and breakfast at the village of Thoury, putting us close to the chateau of Chambord, for a visit the next morning. The delay on the GR03 meant that we were behind schedule and daylight was starting to go: with some apprehension we made best speed towards Beaugency. At the junction with the D19, the commuters were going like the clappers, hell-bent on getting home for supper, so we left the planned route to by-pass the town. The man with the map was confident of his ability to regain the original route eventually, but the tired and hungry wife was full of foreboding. Thankfully, after a couple of miles a farmer confirmed that we Page 6 of 11
were going in the right direction, but there was still a good distance to be covered. The day was becoming cooler, we were getting more tired, the light was beginning to go, the road ran uphill through a forbidding forest, as far as the eye could see. After 10 miles of relentless riding we arrived at the village, only to find that we still had to carry on in to the unknown, looking for a farm in the back of beyond. At last we found it, and although distinctly agricultural, it was never so welcome. The next morning, we were glad to be on our way to visit the chateau of Chambord. Built in the time of Franรงois I, it is vast and magnificent, covered with ornate chimneys, turrets and spires: several hours should be allocated to do it justice.
Figure 11 - Chambord, North Faรงade
Figure 12 - Chambord, South Faรงade
We took the D33 from there to the city of Blois. What a pleasure it was to stay in a reasonable hotel and meet English-speaking fellow cyclists of a similar age, who had brought their bikes over from Canada. We swapped many a story over supper and wished them well on their (non-cycling) visit to Barcelona, then set off to explore the chateau. Again, well worth the visit - two hours should suffice here - but try to be taking a coffee/beer at midday outside the cafe/bar near the end of the courtyard shown in Figure 13. A surprise awaits you!
Figure 13 - Blois, East faรงade Figure 14 - Blois, Typical Ornamental Fireplace with the royal emblems of the Salamander and Ermine
From Blois we followed the southern bank to Amboise. We skipped the chateau and cathedral here, to avoid cultural overload, since we had earmarked the afternoon for Chenonceaux before returning to Amboise for the night. Page 7 of 11
The château is a few km to the south of the Loire, literally on the river Cher: the arches of the bridgelike foundations, which can just be seen in Figure 15, house the kitchens and other domestic departments. As at Blois, monumental fireplaces are much in evidence
Left: Figures 15, 16 - Chenonceaux - the château from the garden and vice versa Above: Figure 17 - The Salamander and Ermine portrayed on a grand fireplace at Chenonceaux
The following day we set off in the rain for Tours, through a succession of vineyards. After taking in a dégustation in Montlouis-sur-Loire, we found an alternative to the fairly busy D751, almost parallel and about ½ a mile south of it, running past the extensive rubbish tip, then through a retail / business park, on past an enormous factory area, followed by the ubiquitous high-rise apartments that seem to surround most French cities and on in to the centre of Tours. The tourist information office is on the north side of the “main” east-west boulevard, 150 yards north of the station. We were given a helpful map, with an enlargement of the city centre. Even with this to guide us, the one-way systems seemed always to be the wrong way round to the British way of thinking! Again, we spent two nights here, since there is lots to see: and one major task is to reconnoitre the route out of it and avoid joining the south-bound dual carriageway!! We ended up leaving on the D88, or was it the 48(?) between the Loire and the Cher, passing through more acres of well-tended market garden produce, as far as Savonnières, where we rejoined the D7. Figure 18 - The Bridge at Tours
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Because we were wanted to visit the chateau at Azay-le-Rideau, we continued though Villandry to the junction with the autoroute and took the steeply climbing D39 south before dropping down some miles later, in to the little town on the river Indre, beside which the chateau stands. Azay is not as immense as Chambord or Blois - it rises like a graceful, iced cake from the surrounding moat. In common with the others we had visited, this chateau contained huge, elaborate fireplaces, sporting the salamander4, fine old stone carvings, tapestries and furniture, as well as elaborate turrets and roofs.
Figure 19 - The château of Azay-le-Rideau
Figure 20 - Azay-le-Rideau ”Salamandered” Fireplace
Rejoining the D7 at Marnay, we continued past the fairy-tale castle of Ussé, allegedly the setting for Sleeping Beauty, and pass a less-attractive, modern architectural monument: the nuclear power station of Chinon. Shortly after that, we cross the River Vienne at its confluence with the Loire at Candes-St Martin, an attractive little town whose church is built on the spot where the Saint died in 397. The story is told that as his body was being taken upstream to Orléans during November, the shrubs on the riverbank burst in to flower, giving rise to the expression of a “St Martin’s summer”. At this point, we experience our only loss of air from a tyre on the whole voyage: not a puncture but a failure of a tube seam. Pressing on, we note the that hillsides on our left bank of the Loire are covered in vines with the names of the vineyards spelt out in large white letters: also the cliffs are riddled with caves and troglodyte dwellings - walled-up caves, with windows, doors and chimneys incorporated. In Saumur, we discover that our hotel is 2 miles out of town on the northern side at the entrance to a light industry park. The architecture and meal match the setting and we are pleased to be on our way the following morning to see the historic part of the town and make the steep ascent to the castle ramparts for fine views over the city. Time for a drink . . . where did someone leave his bidon? Yes, at the back of the hotel ordinaire, perched where we wouldn’t forget it whilst loading up in the morning! So, nothing for it but to retrace our tracks over the river, the mid-river island, the next bridge, etc., etc., to the hotel, pick up the water, and set off again, regaining our route, past a cavalry barracks, and, via cycle tracks around and under a major Figure 21 - Château of Saumur 4
The salamander was the armorial device of King François 1 of France
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intersection, leading to the comparative calm of the D751. This road took us through a succession of small, generally pleasing and historic villages, most of the way towards Les Ponts-de-Cé, 2 miles of bridges and revetments over the Louet and Loire, with a tower guarding the entrance to Angers.
Figures 22, 23, 24 - En-route to Angers - Trèves, Chênhutte and Les Ponts-de-Cé
Angers is must-see city and we were pleased to spend two nights at the Hotel Continental, centrally placed, with a little room for bike storage and a reasonable tariff. The ancient chateau dominates the bridge over the River Maine, near its confluence with the Loire. It houses the largest medieval tapestry in France, similar in importance to the Bayeux, depicting the end of the world and last judgement - as understood at that time. Again, a knowledgeable guide brought the subject to life for us. Again, the architecture of the historic centre with its churches and houses was a joy to behold.
Figures 25, 26, 27 - Footloose in Angers - Old House and Château Garden
Angers to the Coast - The Last Leg Leaving Angers, via Les Ponts-de-Cé, we join the Corniche Angevine, undulating over the many small hills and valleys with streams feeding the wide-spreading Loire, where the valley below is now a couple of miles across. A little before La Haie Longue, we pause at a pair of sombre granite memorials to pioneers of flight, one to René Gasnier, and one to his brother and wife within a tomb dedicated to Our Lady of Loretto, Patron of Aviators. We lunch at the waters edge at the village of St-Florent-le-Viel and take in a visit to the abbey. The adjacent gardens have a memorial column about half the height of Nelson’s in Trafalgar Square, commemorating nothing more than the visit of a duchess in the 1800’s. Stopping only to take a swig at Bouzillé, we venture in to the little town of Ancenis with its ancient riverside castle, sited to exact taxes from passing merchant vessels. These had to pass right against the castle walls, thanks to barriers placed in the river to guide them there. The road then climbs to the clifftop village of Champtoceaux, one of the most important medieval cities of France, and whose name is derived from ‘city in the sky’. Some excellent panoramic views can be had from the gardens behind the central church. Leaving the village, we whizz down the steep hill to river level, only to be confronted by a hard climb again, before the road flattens out on the river bank. Page 10 of 11
Soon after stopping to photograph the floral watering can at La Pierre Percée, you must turn right on the D37 to cross the bridge in to Thouare-sur-Loire (unless you intend to take the Nantes motorway ring-road). Immediately after crossing, take a track to the left, which is the GR03 and follow it, and then a cycle track, directly in to the heart of the huge city of Nantes. We missed our directions by the railway station, but followed our noses to a vast open area of traffic islands, teeming with cars buses and trams. Thankfully we were close to the tourist information office, which gave us an excellent map, showing numerous cycleways, one of which went due west, through interminable miles of old docks, then waste tips, then an eternity of suburban sprawl until we were clear of Coueron, with its shot tower and former naval base. Suddenly we emerged in to the deepest depths of unimproved rural France: a network of narrow roads through flat marshy fields, with only herons and cows for company. After joining the D93, the chimneys of yet another nuclear power station (Cordemais) became visible, grew, and diminished, then our destination for the day - Savenay. Quite the most depressing and dusty little town that we ever stayed in - the nearby railway station was probably the most interesting feature. We should have taken the hint in The Book and lodged just to the north. But we were excited: the next day would be the last one! So, with light hearts and in bright sunshine we set off for the last dozen miles, past the huge oil terminal at Donges, past the airfield, stopping for a photograph of that breathtaking new bridge winding its way in to the sky, then on in to the town of St Nazaire. Follow around the docks and you can feel the long road is leading you to the sea. And there it is - the American memorial, the seafront, the beach. We’ve made it!
Figure 28 - Near Nantes - La Pierre Percée
Figure 29 - St Nazaire Seafront - The American Plaque
After a champagne picnic, it was time to plan our return to UK. Who can believe that it takes from Saturday lunchtime until Sunday evening to get to Cherbourg for the ferry to Poole? and five trains? and an overnight hotel in Rennes? Ah well - all part of the great experience!
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THE LOIRE SOURCE TO SEA
JOURNAL OF OUR GREAT ADVENTURE
Penny & Damian Buckley
Day 1 Tuesday, 13 September Bournemouth Æ Stansted Æ Lyon Æ Valence
Day 2 Valence Æ Lamastre
The great adventure of our Gap Month starts at 5.45 am. The bikes are in their boxes in the car as also are the panniers, all that remains is to pack hand luggage and the ‘codes’. We make good time to Stansted and our luggage is safely checked in as ‘outsize’. Cheap ‘n cheerful is the Easyjet watchword but our flight is completely uneventful. We arrive at Lyon and take the shuttle bus into the city centre. There are two railway stations in Lyon but the time to transfer the bikes from the bus to either station is never quite enough, consequently blood pressure is raised somewhat! We finally get onto a train with our unwieldy luggage and arrive in Valence. Hotel les Négociants is wonderfully close to the station. It is sophisticated and provides a good meal. It is a world away from most English Station Hotels - we are not even kept awake by the rumble of trains.
Our first priority is to assemble the bikes. They seem to have survived the journey well and by 12.00 midday are ready. We have an excellent fortifying lunch and decide to get to Lamastre by bike. This is a change of plan as we thought we would take the local bus which can carry two bikes as far as St Agrève. The infrequency of this service means the next one doesn’t depart till very late afternoon and we are reluctant to be arriving at our destination so late. We set off.
After a good meal, we take a walk for a coffee and finish up directly in front of the station. It too is a world away from the average British station, pleasing architecturally and clean. We fall into bed tired but very excited at the prospect of cycling tomorrow.
Wednesday, 14 September 40kms
The road out of Valence takes us over the Rhône and immediately we see the mountains from which the region, Rhône Alpes, takes its name. The sun is shining and almost immediately we begin climbing relentlessly, in fact eight miles of steep climbing - not quite lung searing but not far off. It is a stark introduction to the reality of the Massif so we can only make 4 mph. We stop for rest/refreshment at an isolated crossroads and get our first experience of that ‘hors saison’ feeling; tables, chairs and sun umbrellas are all stacked away for the winter. At about 15 miles we have climbed to 758m at Col des Fans - the highest point of the ride, after which we have a lovely, long downhill descent into Lamastre. Hotel les Négociants in Valence made our booking at, coincidentally, Hotel les Négociants in Lamastre. It is a typical French Logis, absolutely adequate but the decor is rather 70s. The meal is good. Afterwards we talk to a couple who had seen us at Col des Fans. They were suitably impressed by our plans and offer advice and good wishes for the ascent of le Mont Gerbier.
Col des Fans
Bikes ready for flying
Day 3 Lamastre Æ Lachamp Rafaël
Thursday,15 September 54kms
Hotel les Négociants in Lamastre is as disobliging as its namesake in Valence was the opposite. The accent is on ‘petit’ for déjeuner and we leave Lamastre at 9.45 am destination Le Cheylard. First 10 kms to the coffee stop is a fair climb followed by downhill run into Le Cheylard. I feel frustrated that, having once achieved a certain height, we have to come down most of it, only to go back up to an even greater height. There’s not much to be done about it and we start the remorseless, relentless Lung Searing Ascent (LSA) to Mézilhac. This is probably going to be the most challenging climb, if the profiles in the Little Book are to be believed. The Book is absolutely right, the road is a series of sharp hairpins with unprotected edges. It is hot and hard work and we scarcely exceed 4.5 mph. There are no villages and few houses and I wonder why I was so keen to start this crazy exercise. We arrive at Mézilhac, a windswept unexciting col. Mont Gerbier de Jonc is still some 15 kms distant but Damian thinks we might make it and we set off. This turns out to be far too optimistic and we decide to look for accommodation in Lachamp Rafaël, the next village, which, allegedly, has a hotel. To call it ‘hotel’ is to give it delusions of grandeur. We have difficulty finding M le Patron but he eventually turns up and shows us his best room which we accept gratefully. It is certainly not what we would choose but beggars and choice come to mind and despite all its shortcomings, which are many, there is plenty of deliciously hot water, though the bath and basin do not bear close scrutiny. We find somewhere to serve us supper, which is clean and resolve to annotate the Little Book which advises Lachamp Rafaël as having ‘no facilities’. By 8.30 pm the good folk of Lachamp have turned in and we do the same. Tomorrow is the day for Gerbier de Jonc and the source of the Loire. So ends the second day of our Great Adventure.
Day 4 Lachamp Rafaël Æ Le Gerbier Æ Goudet
Friday, 16 September 64kms
We are more than happy to shake the dust off our heels at Lachamp. After a mean breakfast, we set off for Le Gerbier at 9.00 am - it’s cool but then it’s high - 1200 m. We are soon crossing the watershed between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic and the road climbs to over 1400 m, finally, the extinct volcano is suddenly there before us, a most strange, rocky extrusion on the landscape about 85 m high. We lock up the bikes and set about the climb, following a well indicated path but nevertheless moderately challenging. It is an amazing feeling, after weeks/months of looking at this spot on the map, on the dining room table, we are here. Many times I doubted we would get to this point; we almost talked ourselves out of the whole adventure several times, doubting if we would have the stamina. It’s a great feeling at the top and we make sure we have plenty of photographic proof of the event before coming down. Before we leave, we visit the cowshed in which we find one of the apparently many sources of the Loire. The building is refurbished and, because of its symbolic importance, is accorded due reverence. Time is moving on and we set off for the rest of the day’s ride. There are still some LSAs but from now on it will generally be downhill. The Loire starts off as a modest stream but quickly becomes wider. After 8 miles at La Palisse it is a river tumbling over rocks and boulders beside lovely meadows. As we race along thinking all’s right with the world and ‘we’ve done it’, Damian lets out a strangled cry that a wasp has stung him in the mouth. I’m worried and relive my own wasp experience, so launch into full paramedic role, I attempt to see the sting on his lower lip and suck it out. From this episode, I decide that such adventures can only be undertaken with a cycling companion with whom one is on the most intimate terms! I cannot say if the procedure has been successful but give him Piriton, after 15 minutes we set off again - chastened and mouths firmly closed. After another LSA, we stop for lunch at the ‘lavoir’ (medieval launderette) at Usclades and arrive at Lac d’Issarlès about 4.00 pm, too early to think of stopping for the day, so we press on for Goudet. This
is a mistake and we’re tired and worried that Goudet will not have a hotel. Mercifully it does and M le Patron is welcoming and kind enough to do our washing for free.
Day 5 Goudet Æ Le Puy en Velay
Saturday, 17 September 31 kms
We wake to a very cold grey damp morning. We would have snatched at almost any excuse to delay our departure but there is nothing to keep us in Goudet. The village is built almost exclusively of the greyish black volcanic rock of the region and today looks forbidding and unwelcoming. Before we leave M le Patron says if we can’t find accommodation in Le Puy, due to the fête, Roi des Oiseaux, we can ring him and he will come in his car, collect us and our bikes and bring us back to Goudet. This is a most kind and generous offer, we hope we don’t have to take up but nevertheless is a good back stop. Before leaving we rouse the keyholder of the church who shows us round. In fact, the church is surprisingly warm and well maintained especially as there is no regular weekly mass. We head out of Goudet straight into a LSA. Again it takes about an hour to do 4kms. Coffee stop is St Martin de Fugères at a warm, inviting bar/patisserie which we share with eight walkers on the Robert Louis Stevenson trail. RLS wrote his Travels with a Donkey in this area of the Cevennes. We swap notes and they are suitably impressed at our adventure, they also strongly advise us to book our hotel in Le Puy which we do. As we leave it is still cold and grey and I am thankful for Tim’s old tracksters which have proved to be leg savers if not life savers. Increasing the height of Mont Gerbier de Jonc!
The road is still very hilly, particularly the approach to Solignac. There is a hunt taking place in the woods and I see my first wild, wild boar only briefly and not in the woods but in the unlikely setting at the edge of a stone quarry. I assume it is the quarry (no pun intended!) since there are dogs barking and baying all around. The French appear to be much less squeamish about hunting and there are none of the class overtones with which some people associate hunting in this country. The bus shelter in Solignac is our lunch stop, affording a little shelter from the cold - it is 8º! The village is not particularly exciting but has a bar for hot tea. M le Patron tells us it can get to -27º which seems amazing since I didn’t think we were in the Russian steppes. We set off down hill to Le Puy. This is the first town of any size and there is a rather good feeling as we ride in. The centre of town is full of
medieval strollers of all ranks and classes; it’s the XXth Fêtes Renaissance du Roi de l’Oiseau. We watch jugglers, dancers, minstrels, drink Hypocras, eat mincemeat pies listen to the animal band but cannot see the real dancing bear for the crowds. Everyone, from the very old to the youngest toddler, has entered the spirit of the event but it does not seem forced or contrived. Tomorrow we shall have a rest day to see some of Le Puy.
Day 6 Rest Day at Le Puy
Sunday, 18 September
The day dawns no brighter than yesterday; it’s cold and grey but the breakfast is good and substantial. Thus fortified we set out early, choosing one of the town walks to take us round the old town. Le Puy is built in a region of extinct volcanoes and the old town is full of tiny winding cobbled lanes, which defy anyone to build anything, let alone massive edifices such as the cathedral. Soon the ‘medieval’ folk are abroad, including one herding a flock of geese with the aid of a goose dog. This seems a novel concept but on reflection only an extension of the idea of a sheep dog. After mass at the cathedral, we find our way to Notre Dame de France. A truly remarkable hollow structure built on another volcanic plug. It is similar in idea to the Statue of Liberty though not as big. It is made from the captured and melted down cannons seized at Sebastapol and has looked reassuringly down on Le Puy for nearly 150 years Finding something to eat is not easy. There seem to be many medieval cauldrons boiling up anonymous victuals but most look unappetising though hot which has a certain attraction. In the end we find some charentaise mussels - a long way from home but good. To warm up, we walk to St Michel d’Aiguilhe, a chapel built on another volcanic plug. This too defies all my previously held notions of construction. There seems to be room for no more than a couple of dozen workers and then there are the building materials to be brought up! It all seems incredible but they managed it in 962 and then enlarged it later. Le Puy was one of the main gathering points for pilgrims on the route to Compostela. The cockleshell symbol of St James is everywhere, carved on pillars, door lintels, in niches etc. In the 21st century pilgrims are still making the journey; a German couple AND their dog were setting out from our hotel as we were checking out. I am not sure if it is tourism or spirituality perhaps one comes from the other.
Notre Dame de France
The week of medieval merry making of Roi des Oiseaux culminates in a procession of several hundred participants from the cathedral to the lower part of the town. It’s noisy, colourful and quite unlike anything seen in England. We feel lucky to have arrived, coincidentally, in Le Puy when it was taking place. Tomorrow we are on the road again.
Day 7 Le Puy Æ Aurec sur Loire
Monday, 19 September 87 kms
The rest day is over and we think it may be a little warmer. We have a full day’s cycling ahead; quite how full we don’t realise till later on. With a good breakfast inside us we set out for Le Pertuiset. Unfortunately, we cannot book the hotel, so immediately we have a slightly uneasy feeling. It is Monday and many/most shops and hotels close on Monday, certainly in country areas. On leaving Le Puy we learn of a deviation in the area of Lavoute Polignac. This is just where we are going but are confident that ‘Route Barrée’ couldn’t possible apply to cyclists - not so! We have to turn back and make a massive LSA detour up over the mountain which adds at least 1½ hours to our journey; at times we can only manage 3.9 mph. While toiling up, a chap stops his car and we chat about our adventure. He too is a cyclist and has cycled from St Nazaire up the Loire. He’s pleasant but I think no more about it. When he gets back in his car, though, I marvel at such friendliness and doubt whether anyone would stop in England in similar circumstances. We press on and reach our lunch stop at Vorey. It too has the deserted Monday feel about it but we do find a bar for hot tea. Shortly after, in walks our friend from the LSA, quite obviously he set out to find us having an idea of our direction. He took us under his wing, cycling with us for 15 kms and showed us a way to avoid another steep hill. He eventually left us before our long steep descent into Beauzac. Jaques was charming, good company and gave us much needed encouragement. By the time we had parted, we had exchanged names, taken a photo but sadly could not exchange email addresses.
Day 8 Aurec sur Loire Æ Feurs
Tuesday, 20 September 72kms
Today looks as though it could be better. We saddle up and set off. Happily the Little Book tells us that this section will see the last of the LSAs and we look forward to this. We have a steep climb to Chambles, from which there are amazing views of the Loire gorge but once down from this village the whole nature of the countryside changes; it’s flatter, softer more cultivated and, joy of joys, it’s warmer. It is much more the France we know and love. Villages appear every 5-8 kms; very different from the Massif. Despite the fact it is 10 deg warmer, we still have a very strong headwind which makes riding difficult. We feel we could add 5 kph were it not for the wind. We ride into Feurs in good time and find our Logis. At 6.00 pm we make our rendezvous with my cousin Cliff. It all seems a little bizarre to be meeting in the middle of France, having met only once before in the last 34 years. However we have a happy evening and swap news and stories.
We make our night’s destination and found the tourist info with about 10 minutes to spare. This is cutting it too fine and we resolve to book the night’s accommodation before lunch time in future. Happily Tourist Info sort us out with chambre d’hôte and somewhere for supper but it gives us a nasty moment. Supper is a gourmet experience as far removed from last night as could be imagined. Each dish is a culinary confection to delight the eye, served with hushed reverence and announced just in case we had forgotten what we had ordered. Nonetheless it is delicious. Tomorrow we head for Feurs and rendezvous with my cousin Cliff
Lunch stop by the river
Day 9 Feurs Æ Charlieu
Wednesday, 21 September 80 kms
It’s a cold start. I visit Carrefour in search of cycling specs and Damian needs a scarf for his shoulders. I feel quite bold setting off on my own and negotiating french traffic fully ‘panniered up’. In fact, almost unfailingly French drivers give us a much wider berth than English and we find that when a car does cut us fine it turns out to be an English car. There doesn’t appear to be the frenetic rush which so characterises the driving in England. It makes for a much more pleasant experience.
We establish there is a room at the Logis at Charlieu and set off. Due to time pressure, we go straight through Roanne which seems disappointing. We leave Roanne through an area which reminds us both of York Road, Baltimore so perhaps we haven’t missed too much after all (apologies to Baltimoreans who read this!). The route is nearly flat and we fall into our next hotel at 7.05 pm with great relief and sore tail ends! We have an excellent supper and rate the crême brulée sublime.
Again, we notice the real change of landscape. We’re into fields with cows grazing, no scrubby hillsides now. The Little Book has told us that the LSAs are over and that seems to be so as we bowl along. However the route takes us away from the river up a steep hill to St Jodard - who has heard of St Jodard? There is a religious community here - monastery/convent, who knows but we get a clue as a slightly ancient car comes noisily down the hill with two nuns. This is followed, as we struggle uphill, by the sight of a young nun, in full regalia, jogging downhill. There is no reason why a nun should not want to keep fit but she made a strange spectacle in habit, wimple and sandals with rosary and pectoral cross flapping wildly as a result of her efforts. We arrive at Château de la Roche for our lunch stop. It is a fairy-tale castle built on a rock in the middle of the river. We can see that the water level is about 40 feet down and parts of the river are a livid, luminous green. It looks uninviting and unhealthy, far removed from the clear stream tumbling over rocks as it came down from St Eulalie on Day 3. After lunch we saddle up but the sun has got to Damian and we stop a little longer in the shade. When we do get going, the comfortable words of the Little Book turn out to be ‘faux amis’ and there are yet more LSAs to be conquered, which all seems rather unfair. As there is no option, we press on and get to the Logis above the barrage at Villerest. Here we completely revise our accommodation plan and decide to make a run for Charlieu, north of Roanne. This is not ideal, it being nearly 5.00 pm and 40 kms to do but the heat has gone out of the sun and if we don’t get on we’ll only have achieved 25 miles today - not really enough to keep us on target.
Château de la Roche
Giant sundial at Villerest
Day 10 Charlieu Æ Digoin
Thursday, 22 September 60kms
We have an excellent and plentiful breakfast, apart from appalling tea. All other aspects of the hotel are excellent. We make a slight detour to visit the town which has many beautiful old buildings serving various religious orders. Before we leave the sun is shining strongly. Very soon we are into beautiful countryside travelling, much of the time, alongside, not only the Loire but also the Roanne to Digoin Canal. It is all very pretty and we realise we have left the grey/black volcanic rock used for building the villages of the Ardèche and Auvergne. Now we are into a warm honey-coloured stone reminiscent of the Dordogne. Even on cold, wet days this stone cannot look too forbidding. We get along famously, stopping at the various villages the Little Book points out. I am struck by the gardens in France. The herbaceous border is something of a closed book to the French: in France the potager, kitchen garden is ‘king’ and the rest just muddles along. The French potager is a well ordered area of vegetables laid out in neat, well weeded rows. Flowers are generally restricted to dahlias which are for cutting. Even at this tail end of the year it looks got together. The rest of the garden, if there is any, is an unconnected assortment of bushes dotted about over the lawn. In addition, of course, there are hanging baskets and window boxes in which the French are in a league of their own.
Day 11 Digoin Æ Décize
As we expected, breakfast was a disappointment; a masterpiece of portion control rather than buffet and appalling tea. After buying provisions we set off. It‘s another cracking day and we are grateful. This adventure would have been difficult and unenjoyable if it had rained. As it is, to date, the photos look great and we feel lucky to be able to be doing it. We arrive at Abbaye de Sept Fonts: another large religious foundation. I decide to buy a postcard but this simple purchase causes the 80 year old Cistercian monk an apparently superhuman struggle with the earthly minutiae of a computerised till. It all seems rather trivial for someone whose mind and time is generally spent grappling with much higher matters. We carry on managing a respectable 15 mph. The Little Book warns us that the landscape will change and become industrial. This is indeed the case and we are surprised that there are not planning restrictions on building heavy industry plant on the banks of the Loire. Would anyone dream of manufacturing concrete pipes on the banks of the Thames? We’re out of this and soon enough back to herds of Charolais cattle grazing and on to Décize
While bowling along merrily we pull up on the canal tow path for a break and are invited by an English couple to share a cup of tea. They have hired a canal boat and we swap stories. They are suitably impressed by our adventure. We leave them and high tail it for Digoin, where we hope to have an ‘admin’ afternoon, to visit the launderette among other things. The Logis, into which we are booked, is comfortable; the room has a delightful balcony and classy bathroom with corner bath and two handbasins - light years away from our room at La Champ Rafaël! The meal is pretentious!
Friday, 23 September 80kms
Pont Canal at Digoin
Day 12 Décize Æ La Charité sur Loire
Saturday, 24 September 70kms
We have a good buffet style breakfast and are on the road by 8.30 am, a personal best so far. It’s a great time and I realise what we miss when we leave at 9.30 am. There is an ethereal mist lingering over the canal and the river, probably a result of it still being extremely cool. It reminds me of the photos publishers choose for October and November in calendars. Unfortunately, once out of Décize, we miss our turning but only add a few miles so it is not a big problem. We make good time and are riding into Nevers at 11.00 am. Again there is something very exciting about turning up in the centre of a big city on bicycles. We lock up and set off to see the sights of Nevers in the time we have allowed. This means the Cathedral, Ducal Palace and walking the Blue Line on the pavement. This is a great idea we first encountered in Boston but surprisingly, the Nevers version does not seem to be quite so well got together or perhaps it is us who are not so well got together! We leave Nevers at about 3.00pm en route for La Charité - it’s extremely hot and once out of town we have to pull into the shade of a church for a rest. We arrive in La Charité at 5.30pm. It seems to us that La Charité is the Hay on Wye of France and like other small towns we have visited, ‘hors saison’. There is precious little choice in where to eat.
Pont Canal at Briare
Day 13 La Charité sure Loire Æ Léré
Sunday, 25 September 50kms
We encounter our first set- back today but we have been lucky with the weather so far. We have a ‘portion control’ breakfast and eventually set off, after a tour of the ramparts, at 11.25 am. It’s sunny and all feels right with the world. Our first stop is to be Sancerre in the middle of the Sancerre wine region. The Little Book warns us of the steep climb to the hill top town and this is so. It quite reminds us of the Mézilhac, Usclades and other climbs. All around are vines beautifully tended. The grape harvest has begun but not finished. We make it to the panorama at the top and have our lunch and as we are finishing the rain begins. For the first time in our adventure, we break out the waterproofs. Suddenly there is a murky mist all around and it would be a complete waste to try to take any pictures of the town. To kill time, in the hope of an improvement, we head for the restaurant in the town centre. It being Sunday lunch, mine host is in no hurry to serve two rather wet tourists cups of coffee; we write some post cards and drink more coffee but eventually have to brave the weather. There are places to see in Sancerre, we visit the church of Notre Dame but give the tower a miss - a pity since the view would, no doubt, be stupendous - on a good day. As we head down the steep hill out of Sancerre I think of the many other more pleasurable ways I might be spending my Sunday afternoon. However, if I think rationally, we are fully watertight, we’re together and we have a room booked 8 miles down the road at Léré things could be worse! Léré is a small town, it’s Sunday afternoon and the Lion d’Or does not open till 6.00pm. When we arrive we’re wet and have 20 minutes to wait before M le Patron arrives to open up. I am surprised at how undespondent I am but this is to change when we are shown our room. The room is typically french, dark flock wall paper, tiny window, a bathroom of Stygian gloom and cold. The situation is only slightly redeemed by plenty of steaming hot water - the first prerequisite of the wet cyclist - and working space heaters. To add to our cup of joy, mademoiselle tells us that there will be no-one to serve breakfast the next day but she will bring up a tray to our room with breakfast before she leaves that evening. We’re not happy but there is not much we can do.
We are looking forward to dinner - a hearty cassoulet would go down well but this is not to be and only when we see the menu we realise what is in store. Patently, M le Patron is trying to major in the dining room department. It is charmingly and expensively tricked out with a menu to match and one instinctively knows the emphasis will be on the ‘less is more’ principle. This is not what we want and we decide to use the restaurant in the square On our return to our room, most of the wet clothes are dry and we can only pray for a better day tomorrow.
Day 14 Léré Æ Jargeau
Monday 26 September 95kms
We are more than happy to shake the Léré dust off our heels. As we expected, the coffee, kept in a flask overnight, was cool - altogether a bad experience. As I packed my panniers the thought crossed my mind that they seemed remarkably empty. I then realised that I was wearing all the clothes I could lay my hands on. We had hoped for a better day, after all it couldn’t be worse; it was - cold and misty - the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness had arrived in one hit and the proximity of the river only added to the effect. The views are nonexistent. We notice that the moisture condenses on our eyelashes and Damian’s rear view mirror before dropping off rather dispiritingly. Now we do feel despondent. Happily by about 10.30 am the sun starts to burn through and whole aspect of the day is lifted. We spend nearly an hour at the canal basin at Mantelot near Chatillon sur Loire and watch a pleasure boat pass through the lock. It provides a clear lesson in the principles of locks and dispels the notion that lock keepers are pipe smoking, crusty old salts. A young girl is in charge of opening the gates and once she had finished working this one at the Mantelot Ecluse, she climbed on her bike and pedalled off, at top speed, down the tow path to overtake the boat and repeat the process at the next one. By now the sun is well up and we are heading into Briare, where canals and rivers meet and mingle. It’s a pretty town and we linger over our lunch in front of the church but not too long there are still a good few miles to do and we must press on.
La Charité sur Loire
The landscape has changed, in particular, the roofs. Gone, several days ago in fact, are the flat pantiled roofs so indicative of hot sunny climes, now the accent is on slate with a good pitch to throw off the water. The last part of today’s ride is along the levée beside the river. Until the recent hurricane in Louisiana, I had not heard of this expression but it admirably describes the raised road which gives such a brilliant view up over the river. We eventually fall into our Logis at Jargeau run by Sulky Susan with the sloppy slippers.
Day 15 JargeauÆThoury (Back of Beyond!)
Tuesday, 27 September 70kms
The day starts off moderately well with a surprising reasonable breakfast - good tea! We set off along the levée in the direction of Orléans - it is a brilliant cycle way, although the surface is a bit lumpy and the hands are taking a pounding but there is no vehicular traffic. This area is the market garden of France with serried ranks of many lettuce types growing in the flood plain of the Loire. We also see a lot of corn on the cob but this is not for the table, the French feed it to their livestock. The cycle way continues into Orléans and we find ourselves at the cathedral, another massive edifice currently being cleaned there is no other word - it looks stunning. Orléans is a cycle friendly city, traffic does not cut us up and there is much more respect from motorists towards cyclists. Before we leave Orléans we book a room at a chambre d’hôte in a village in the middle of the Forest of Chambord. The Little Book which, until now has been excellent and easy to follow, now looses the plot - or maybe it is us! To leave Orléans, it suggests using the GR3 which hugs the river but is very rough going and consequently very slow. We are in danger of not getting to our destination before dusk. However, it is something of a Hobson’s choice since the other option is the Route Nationale - horrid and fast; we eventually abandon the GR3 and opt for the main road and make better speed although it is not a very comfortable experience. It is getting late and by 6.00 pm we still have to get through the Forest of Chambord, which is dark and unfriendly, and the road is straight as a die as far as the eye can see in front of us. We eventually find our chambre d’hôte which is situated some miles beyond the village, truly out in the sticks. It is full of rustic charm and not much else. There is no opportunity to go back into the village for food so Monsieur rustles up some puy lentils and tinned sausages. This is not what I have come to France for but it is hot. I am sorry that we had to miss several worthwhile places, Beaugency, Meung sur Loire and Sully sur Loire in order to get to Thoury at a reasonable hour and this is a shame. We must learn not to book so far ahead and I must learn not to become impatient as the day draws towards dusk - this is definitely my ‘bad’ time. On the plus side it doesn’t rain
Day 16 ThouryÆBlois
Wednesday, 28 September 30kms
Once again we are happy to shake the dust off our heels chez Mme Touchet. It is basic, unwelcoming, in the sticks and expensive. Damian even considers the possibility that buying the house in La Chataigneraie last year might have been a mistake because of the distance from it to any bar etc particularly ‘hors saison’. We have only a few miles to Chambord and arrive as the sun starts to break through. Once again we are thankful for the weather which has made our expedition such a success to date in spite of the fact that autumn is well and truly in the air - fallen leaves, hips and heavy dew in the morning. Château de Chambord is a wonderful Renaissance confection of towers and chimneys - 365 in all, we are told. It is situated close to the Cosson, a minor tributary of the Loire, and when Francis I built it he wanted to divert the Loire. However, this was a step too far and he compromised by slightly diverting the Cosson. We spend several hours there and learn a lot with the aid of the English audio guide. We leave in good time to cycle the 9 miles to Blois. This is the shortest day’s riding of our trip so far but now that we are in the most interesting section of the Loire, we may spend more time at each major city. Both Damian and I enjoy being in a city overnight and agree not to book into chambres d’hôte if they are in villages/small towns again this is important for us not having a car. As we lock our bikes away this afternoon we meet two couples who have come from Canada with bikes and cycled from Nantes to Blois - this seems particularly impressive as they are going on to Barcelona, though not with bikes. They are about our age and we tentatively suggest meeting tomorrow morning at breakfast to share experiences. We find a good restaurant and have a wonderful confit de canard for supper. There is much to see in Blois and we decide to spend another night here - it’s just great to be in a busy city again!
Day 17 Rest Day at Blois
Thursday, 29 September
This is good news, we haven’t had a rest day for nearly two weeks although we have not particularly wanted one. After a dodgy start, the sun shines again and the Château of Blois is shown to its best advantage. Bad or even indifferent weather would have completely changed how we looked back on our Great Adventure. We spend the morning in the château trying to digest a million facts of French history some of it is sticking from the previous day’s visit to Chambord. We come up for air, briefly, at lunch time and go back in for the afternoon. By 3.30pm we are “châteaued out” and just go walkabout - equally enjoyable as Blois is a big city and there is lots of people-watching to do. In the evening we meet the Canadian couple, Bev and Bill Stewart, firstly for drinks in our room, then they join us while we have supper. We spend a most happy evening comparing notes. We learn that they have negotiated the Paris Métro with fully assembled bikes. This seems wildly ambitious to me and makes our arrangements seem comparatively modest. In addition, they are travelling with another couple and I feel this raises their adventure to an altogether higher plane. Tomorrow they are going on to Barcelona by train.
Château at Blois
Day 18 BloisÆAmboise
Friday, 30 September 60kms
After swapping email addresses with the Canadians, we get on the road. It’s not too far to Amboise but this is part of the problem, if one can call it that - there is just so much to see in this part of the Loire Valley. Each village has some ancient antiquity and we feel we must do justice to them all. It is not a brilliant day but we’re in Amboise for lunch and decide to cycle out to Chenonceaux after lunch. This scheme contradicts all our self imposed rules for sight seeing, namely that we do not do culture overload, which only results in muddling them all up and not full appreciating each individually. However, Chenonceaux was one of my ‘must sees’ so there is nothing for it but to embark on our third château in as many days. It is beautiful and breathtaking and built on the Cher. Having arrived in the afternoon, it is very busy even in late September; one can only imagine how it might be in peak season. We use the cycle way back to Amboise which takes a quiet and pretty road, though it seems to take longer. The French are making a positive effort in their approach to green transport; one is tempted to think that the English approach is more lip service. Amboise is an attractive town and the château is right behind our hotel but we don’t visit this one. The town has a good choice of restaurants and does not seem completely dead once the shops are closed at 7.00pm. We find a welcoming establishment serving moules - just what I want tonight and we both enjoy a delicious meal.
Château at Chenonceaux
Day 19 Amboise Æ Tours
Saturday, 1 October 40 kms
We wake up to a slate grey morning; the roofs are shiny with water; we can scarcely see across the river and there is the unmistakeable slush of water as cars drive along the road. Our run of good weather has broken and we wonder if this is it for the rest of the trip. We try to think of any good reason to put off the moment of donning wet weather gear but none presents itself and we realise there’s nothing for it but to set out. I am not good on such days. We pay a brief visit to the Chanteloup Pagoda, a folly and all that is left of what was once a château but it doesn’t seem worth the visit and we set off for Tours. Tours is the biggest city on the Loire and it will be interesting not to say scary getting into it. We visit the cave co-operative at Montlouis for a dégustation and buy a bottle. We would love to try more but it would be stupid for me to have more that a sniff when I still have to negotiate Tours. Our hotel is in Rue Gambetta, a common enough name in French towns but it is our fate to either never be able to find it or, once there, to leave it. Tours has a novel approach to traffic in the pedestrianised area, only buses and bicycles are allowed. In the rest of the city car traffic is generally slower and more generous towards cyclists. There are more dedicated cycle lanes.
Day 20 Rest Day and My Birthday in Tours
Sunday, 2 October
As I fell asleep last night, I reflected on my 55th birthday tomorrow. I don’t think I have ever done anything so exciting or bold before and I am still rather surprised at my undertaking such an expedition and loving it so much! Breakfast is plentiful - I always seem to be hungry and I love being able to eat for England, knowing I will be burning it off very shortly. It’s cool with the promise of showers as we set out but there is a blue sky and even some sun. Tours is St Martin’s town and Tim took Martin as his confirmation name. We are reminded that we had promised to visit with Tim one summer holiday many years ago. As we approached the city the car radiator had started to boil and we felt we dare not stop, so Tim missed his visit. We walk around the old quarter, tall houses, narrow streets and pretty squares. After a long lunch of moules, we think about our exit strategy from Tours tomorrow. My Father used to say ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. We get on the bikes for a trial run and find ourselves getting on to a road which begins to look suspiciously like a motorway slip road. It’s 5.00 pm on a Sunday afternoon and almost busy; we don’t even want to think of it at 9.00 am on a Monday morning. We find an alternative route through the suburbs of Tours and trust we have tested it sufficiently to get us safely out of town. We feel we have demonstrated the wisdom of my Father’s words.
Bridge over the Loire at Tours Sunset at Tours
Day 21 ToursÆ Saumur
Monday 3 October 85kms
We manage an early start from Tours - 8.30am - this is good! Sadly, our efforts to find the efficient exit are frustrated by the on-way system, but we get there in the end and are soon in the country We plan to visit the château of Azay le Rideau but must leave after lunch in order to make our night’s stop in Saumur. It is an absolutely cracking day, bright blue sky, sun, not hot but this cannot really be expected in October. All around are the unmistakeable signs of autumn, bright crimson leaves on Virginia creeper, conkers and fallen leaves all around. We arrive at Azay le Rideau at 11.00 am, just enough time for a guided visit and have the exclusive use of a lovely young French girl to tell us about the château. She makes it interesting and informative and spoke slowly! With the change of month, France is now definitely on ‘hors saison’’ schedule and the château closes for lunch. We have ours, picnic style but in full sun then saddle up for a fairly long run into Saumur. We are making excellent progress when we come up against another Route Barrée sign. Not what we need, but a chap suggests we set off over a field and we will eventually rejoin the road beyond the obstruction. Happily, and despite my scepticism, this turns out to be so and we don’t have to retrace steps. The route is now alongside the Loire and we arrive in Candes St Martin, the place where St Martin died in 397! It’s a delightful town with huge church dedicated to St Martin. Unfortunately, we return to the bikes to find Damian has a puncture. We’re not altogether surprised having suspected as much in Azay but it’s annoying and the thing I most dread. It’s soon mended and we’re on our way again. It is a great evening and the late sun on the bridge and north bank of the river makes a wonderful sight as we arrive in Saumur. Unfortunately, our hotel is some distance from Saumur centre ville, surprising for a Logis de France, which, on this journey at least, have been central and rather traditional establishments. Saumur Logis is more formulaic like the Campanile chain. It is 3 km out of town impossible to get back in for supper and return late on bikes.
Day 22 Saumur Æ Angers
Tuesday, 4 October 55kms
We make a wonderfully early start this morning after an average breakfast. By 8.30 am we’re on the road back into Saumur. The château is huge and has a commanding view overlooking the river. It is an incredible building, again set off to perfect advantage by a crystal blue sky - we are so lucky. We feel we cannot visit the inside, probably a mistake, but there is a real danger of ‘château overload’. We plan our route out but realise we have left a water bottle at the hotel, so all the benefit of the early start is negated and we curse that this hotel is situated so far out. By the time we have covered the ground 3 times we are pretty familiar with it and feel Saumur is a pleasant town of a good size. The exit for cyclists is good. I am amazed at how ladies of a certain age glide serenely and confidently round roundabouts apparently oblivious to motorists who, equally, maintain a generous, unthreatening distance - would that this could be the way in UK. As we leave, we pass the School of Cavalry and there are plenty of soldiers about. The road between Saumur and St Hilaire St Florent is lined with several prosperous caves and we look wistfully as we pass, dreaming of the dégustations to be had inside. Wine tasting and cycling don’t mix and anyway we couldn’t carry a bottle so put the idea away in the memory bank till we can return in a car. It is while on this stretch of road we meet the couple on bikes with their pampered pooch. Pooch was enthroned in a carrier on the back of her bike: think old fashioned, large chafing dish and remodel in tasteful pale blue plastic, the lid was up allowing pooch to take the air! Here you have the last word in travel for the mutt who has everything! It made a strange sight. The day is almost the best to date, which implies that other days have been bad this is not so; almost every day has been great but this is even better, hot but not enervating and a ride through wonderful French countryside - I love it! The road takes us alongside the Loire through a succession of pretty and patently affluent villages. They are well kept with good surfaces and flower bedecked. There is something to be seen and some photo
‘op’ in each but this slows progress and we still have some miles to go and accommodation to be booked in Angers - we try not to stop, difficult as it is. Eventually we are into the outskirts of Angers, a huge city whose cathedral twin towers can be seen from a distance of at least 4.4 kms. I find entering big cities daunting but Damian seems to have successfully adopted the French approach. I am full of admiration but yet to copy. Our hotel is well situated right in the middle of the city, good value - perfect!
Day 23 Rest day at Angers
Wednesday, 5 October
Angers is a confusing city, busy but buzzing with life - it’s a university city. There is a château and we are reminded of the Canadians’ maxim ABC Another Bloody Château but how could one visit Angers and not visit the château with its famous Apocalypse Tapestry? I am ashamed to admit I have not heard of this tapestry but it is on the same scale as Bayeux and possibly the Overlord tapestry. There’s no doubt it needs all the superlatives to describe it. It is not quite so bright in the morning but the afternoon is better and I sit in the central square - Place Raillement to write postcards and watch Angevin life go by. It’s a great way to spend time requiring no effort on my part. I am also thinking that we are now within sight of our destination; our Great Adventure is coming to end.
The Adam and Eve house in Angers
Château at Saumur
Day 24 AngersÆ Champtoceaux
Thursday, 6 October 81 kms
St Nazaire here we come! When we finish today’s ride we will have 62 miles to do. It still seems unreal as I remember the day in Bournemouth when I highlighted the route on the maps, I wondered if I really would make it. God willing, we will. We leave Angers at 8.30 am with a remarkably painless departure considering it’s the morning rush hour - even the awkward part where we must get off and push is accomplished with ease. I am pleased; of the whole journey entering/exiting large cities is the worst part. The weather is overcast so the photo ‘ops’ are limited in fact it doesn’t brighten up till about 3.00 pm when we make a quick detour to Ancenis. We have our lunch beside the river at St Florent le Vieil. The river is quite broad here and fast flowing, difficult to imagine it has come from that little spout in the cowshed at Gerbier de Jonc. We are just about to leave St Florent when we find the Benedictine Abbey at the top of the town. The abbey church is huge and the land and buildings around equally huge with a great feeling of space and wonderful panorama over the Loire. Tucked in beside the church is a quiet courtyard with 10 sand pitches for some sort of game not pétanque - Damian’s suggestion. I can’t think what it is and anyway what would monks be doing playing at games of chance? I shall have to ask someone at home. We spend quite a lot of time around this community and look back on 23 days of this adventure, as well as our many holidays. We marvel at the outpouring of talent and devotion offered in the name of Christianity. How different and boring the landscape of Europe would be without that influence. Every village has its church, generally visible from all approaches, the cities have soaring cathedrals visible from even further - think Chartres. Along roads, major and minor, are calvaires and shrines and at street corners shrines and niches all contributing to the fabric of the landscape. We toil up the hill to Champtoceaux which, coincidentally, is twinned with Verwood. Champtoceaux is attractive and has one of the best panoramas of the Loire. Now we really are getting close.
Day 25 Champtoceaux Æ Savenay
Friday, 7 October 76kms
The day promises to be good despite early morning mist - it’s October for heaven’s sake! This is the day we negotiate The Big One - Nantes. We have driven round the périphérique many a time on the way to holidays and that is hairy enough, cycling right through the centre and out the other side is something else. In fact, I guess Nantes is a little smaller than Birmingham - 2nd city of England. However, it has sorted out a good system of cycle lanes so that any reasonably alert cyclist need not feel unduly threatened. The first part is along the north bank of the Loire and this is pleasant, especially as the sun is coming out. Soon we are following the green cycle lanes into the very centre of the Nantes. Interestingly, trams, phased out in the 60s, have been given a makeover and are reappearing in several French cities, proving the old saying what comes round goes round. Like all big cities it takes ages to get through and when we are through we heave a sigh of relief. However, I salute Nantes for getting its green transport plan together. Our route takes us through the Marais Audobon, a marshy area in which I see an otter - a first! We reach Savenay and know that it is only 17 miles to St Nazaire tomorrow. Savenay is disappointing, the room is depressing and there are several very old fashioned smells lingering. All has a general air of grubbiness even the Post Office looks modern grubby; so different from the PO at Angers - a wonderful example of fin de siècle architecture. We take the opportunity to look at train times for our return to Cherbourg and realise that it is not going to be as easy as we had thought. However, the clerk clearly wants to help us in our quest, a novel concept to us who have grown up with British Rail, for whom the customer is mostly an inconvenience. We think we are onto something which will allow us to catch the 8.00 pm boat from Cherbourg but it will involve 3 changes and some fast leg work in Cherbourg but it’s the best. We may find something more convenient at St Nazaire particularly if SNCF has more than one helpful booking clerk. We go to bed extremely excited at the thought of reaching the Atlantic tomorrow
Day 26 SavenayÆ St Nazaire
Saturday, 8 October 30 kms
Today’s the day!! We are more than happy to leave Savenay, which is smelly/dirty, and get on the road for the last 30 kms. It’s another GREAT morning, sunny high blue sky, wisps of cloud, perfect for The Photo at St Nazaire. We are quickly there, stopping only to take a picture of the new Pont St Nazaire which seems to soar into the sky.
We reverse one into the loo and pack it out with panniers and leave the other in the corridor. This is not perfect but there is no option. At Redon a young man in the carriage offers to help us extricate the bikes, just another example of unlooked-for kindness we have experienced. We’re into Rennes on time and into our hotel, close to the station. After a record quick change we’re out to a great supper in a buzzing city.
We arrive at the American Monument and ask an assortment of passers-by to take our photo telling each of our achievement. I put my feet into the sea; it is a great feeling, we have cycled nearly 900 miles since leaving Bournemouth, which it seems months ago. On several occasions I doubted whether we would succeed but once we were out of the Massif I felt that we could do it, although there were still opportunities for things to go wrong. We’re elated but mindful that we must get up to Cherbourg; the adventure is not over yet. St Nazaire station is again helpful and we sort out a journey over two days and five trains! The problem is finding trains to take bikes. We settle on getting to Rennes this evening with the rest of the journey tomorrow, arriving in Cherbourg with only an hour to get to the ferry terminal. Having sorted the admin, we buy some lunch, including a bottle of champagne and plastic wine glasses and head back to the seafront to celebrate our achievement. We are thankful for blue skies. What a shame if we’d had to huddle in a bus shelter. Several people pass by wishing us ‘bon appetit’ and we cannot resist telling them what we have done. After lunch we visit the submarine pens briefly and head for the station. By the time we complete this journey we will be fully proficient in vélo travel on French rail. The first stage is easy; we walk our bikes onto the train and hang them from designated hooks on the side wall of the carriage. There is space for 4 bikes; by this method they take up minimum room and do not move about. We take a picture to send to Network Rail. The next two trains are not so bike friendly, they are older generation and the bikes have to be manhandled up three steps.
American Monument at St Nazaire We’ve made it from source to sea!
Day 27 RennesÆCherbourgÆPoole Æ Bournemouth
Sunday, 9 October
Today we really put SNCF to the test. Do we have the power of persuasion to sweet talk M le Contrôleur into allowing two vélos onto his non vélo train - we shall see but it’s another lovely day. The first train has bike hooks and we settle down for the two and a half hour journey to Lison, which is obviously just a point in the French bocage where two railway lines happen to cross. Nobody seems to have heard of Lison and it doesn’t have any facilities. Very quickly we are in conversation with a young English lad who had hoped to find his fortune by means of his guitar, flute and clarinet somewhere in France. He had not been successful and freely admitted he was going home somewhat with his tail between his legs. He also was on his bike and had a full Michelin atlas which he offered us. Since Lison is the back of beyond and we have two and a half hours to wait there, we use the atlas and time to plan the route from Lison to Carentan which, we know from past ‘booze cruises’, has hotels. At least by cycling from Lison to Carentan, about 12 miles, we expand our options, namely: if M le Contrôleur decides it’s more than his job’s worth to allow two bikes on his train we will be in a town with accommodation and will have to accept that we don’t get to Cherbourg till Monday. It will be annoying but we feel we have covered the eventualities as best we can. Happily, we get bikes and panniers onto the train. M le Contrôleur sees us and nods benignly and we know we’ve done it and without having to cross his palm with silver! We are soon in Cherbourg and have only to get to the ferry terminal. Time is short and roads busy but we make it onto the lower deck with the lorries and within a few minutes the bow door is being raised. This could be the end of our Great Adventure but we have actually to get back from Poole to Bournemouth along the prom at 11.30 pm. We get home at 12.15 am after One Great Adventure!
Celebratory champagne on St Nazaire sea front
CTC Bournemouth Newsletter #141