Monday, 14 November 2016

Monpazier

A week in Autumn in the Dordogne
My kind of cycling


Don't say it!


Monday, 24 October 2016

Moliet et Maa – Cabreton (just north of Bayonne)           (48 kms)

I had failed, last evening, to find anyone to pay for my stay and I was anxious to ensure the legitimacy of my accommodation. At exactly 08.00 the café opened and I not only settled my account but enjoyed a very substantial breakfast.
I had provisionally arranged to rendezvous with Alan at around midday and had chosen to do so before reaching the hustle and bustle of Bayonne. I have to admit to lacking the confidence to successfully locate him in a busy town. Thus, I had plenty of time to wander along the last few kilometres and take an unpressured surveillance of the countryside. Sadly, it was predominantly trees that were in evidence punctuated by numerous, now closed, very large campsites which offered everything for a jolly family holiday!
More interesting from my viewpoint was an eight kilometre (at least) long stretch of beach on which the surf pounded. Although hidden from view by extensive and quite steep sand dunes, access to the beach was provided by numerous steps and boardwalks. I later discovered that the surf here is so good that international events take place on a regular basis – but not today although there was no lack of surfers and their hangers on.
Needless to say, I arrived two hours early and resigned myself to a long wait alongside the river enjoying the sunshine; an area I shared with a constant stream of runners, dog walkers and fishermen. For the first time on this coastal ride, I did see fish actually caught and kept, presumably, to eat.

My phone rang at around 11.30 and, not unexpectedly, I and my man, were not in the same place! Carefully describing where each of us was, and deciding it was easier for me to move with a bike, than Al with a car, we finally met by the beach. I was both pleased and relieved to be reunited but also sad that another ride had ended. I look forward to the next one and hope that, on that occasion, it will be another shared undertaking. Throughout this trip, Alan had assured me that he was only ever about four hours away and this thought did provide a comfortable assurance that I was never isolated. However, sharing experiences is so much more fulfilling even if one does have to make inevitable compromises! My thanks also to those of you who encouraged and commented on my short venture and I look forward, as ever, to continuing this blog in the future.


(Mentally and physically strong, a love of life, and an enduring spirit of adventure - I am so proud of you. As we're over 70 next year, can we do a Saga all inclusive cruise!!!!!   Ed.)

Saturday:  01.10. 2016        Parentis en Born  -  Moliets et maa     ( 91 and a quarter kms)

The promised thunder storms arrived during the night but, except for the odd flash and significant crashes, I slept through the lot. Having reconciled myself to a wet start, I was not to be disappointed. Tele meteo had assured me that by the afternoon, improvements could be expected. Humph! How wrong were they!
My very wet and dripping route this morning was going to take me, I thought, to within a whisker of the large Biscarrosse lakes. It did, but as with so much of this route, sights of water, be it fresh or salty, was so often obscured by trees, sand dunes or, occasionally, by housing.
By the time I got to Peurnaout, I was ready for breakfast and stopped at the boulangerie where excited locals were in competition as to who could speak the loudest and fastest. It was all very cordial and that extended to my welcome as well. I took a coffee and croissante  out to the small but covered table outside and enjoyed the banter.
This was Saturday but it would seem that even the fanatics would prefer the duvet to running, biking or, indeed any form of physical exercise. Only a handful of people with enthusiastic dogs had braved the elements.


These elements had commenced with an innocuous drizzle, which my sixth sense warned me was a forerunner of what was to come. Absolutely correct. In the time that it took me to retrieve and don my rain jacket, the rain was coming down in stair rods. It beat a rhythm on my helmet and covered my specs with raindrops rendering me all but blind. I hoped for a short sharp shower, but an hour later the storm was still dogging my pedalling and I was beginning to take this wetness personally. There comes a point when it is impossible to become any wetter and it was at this point that I came across a group of three bodies (live ones). Two of the trio, were young women in running gear (very, very wet running gear) and one was a middle-aged man under a brolly! Significantly us three women were being pounded by water and our gentleman friend remained firmly attached to, and underneath the shelter of his brolly. It appeared that the girls were lost and looking to find themselves. They hoped that my map might help. After much intense discussion, les girls followed my route with one of them riding a bike and the other running and then apparently changing over. Triathlon training!
It was still raining when I reached Leon which, my book assured me, had some accommodation but it was wrong. I took to the road calculating that any hotel would be on a road and not on a cycle track. I was correct and at Moliets there was indeed a hotel prepared to offer me a room, despite my very soggy condition. The restaurant was closed but the pizzeria next door was open and provided a really delicious pizza.

This is my last stop before meeting Alan tomorrow at the end of my first solo ride. 
Friday: 30. 09. 2016            Ares – Parentis en Bourn      (89kms)

This very splendid house of last evening produced, not unexpectedly, a very splendid breakfast to which I could not really do justice. I was joined, during my repast, by monsieur, who was quite charming and a retired professional cyclist. Our very enjoyable conversation and debate ranged over many and varied subjects stretching my knowledge of the French language to a challenging level. In view of my pathetic appetite, madame insisted on packing up cakes for elevenses, which at eleven o’clock were very welcome.
I picked up my route, from which I had slightly deviated, with no problems. There were more cyclists out and about today, most notably a ‘lady’ on a sit up and beg bike, who looked as though she was sucking on several lemons. My ‘bonjour’ was entirely ineffectual at eliciting a response; in another kilometre I passed what must have been her twin closely followed by someone who could only have been the brother! Such sad faces!
Soon after, I arrived in Biganos – a town to be avoided. It hosts a massive factory of indeterminate production. Whatever it does produce, appears to require the belching of thoroughly unpleasant smelling ‘smoke’ from numerous chimneys. A horrible and wide ranging pong. Ugh!
I misplaced myself just before La Teste de Buch but was put right by the inevitable kindly couple.
Now, my map showed lots of arrows indicating ups and downs but not all of them! Someone had told me that they were ‘only dunes’. Don’t be fooled – they were very big dunes! Having gasped my way over them, I took to the road to avoid the plethora of car parks and their accompanying sand and cars. That worked well.

At Biscarrose Plage, I had already decided against the up and over route as it had double arrows marked on my map. I cannot even push my bike and Sherman up double arrows (more than 20 percent!) so I took the alternative route on the road: still lots of up and down but not as steep. Having saved that smidgin of energy, I ignored the inviting looking hotels in Biscarrose and continued to Parentis en Born. A sad little place but a decent enough hotel and lock up for the bike (not entirely convinced about the efficacy of the locked doors). Expecting breakfast at eight o’clock was, however, a step too far but there is always a boulangerie. 
Thursday 29. 09.2016.      Montelivet  - Ares      (90kms)


Conscious of having to make up some miles, today has been a bit head down and go. I couldn’t even irritate grumpy cyclists with my jolly ‘bonjour’ as I saw not a single soul for 40 kms! Those 40 kilometres were without incident on generally well maintained paths. (There was even a dedicated sweeper machine to hoover up the pine needles!) However, nothing lasts forever, and the stretch between Maubuisson and the D6 was ‘hilly’. Two such hills were indicated on my map and the other umpteen were not! Ten percent rise was not unusual and it certainly gave the old legs a work out. (Certainly eradicated the complacency which this ride had induced.) I fervently hoped that the rest of the route would be less arduous. The difference was marginal: just a small improvement. And I always thought that beaches were quite flat – mm…. won’t make that mistake again.
Where roads intersected the cycle path and culminated in vast car parks allowing pedestrian access to the beaches, the cycle signs took a back seat to the plethora of car parking information. Beach lovers had also transported swathes of sand on their return to their vehicles and much time was spent ploughing through this artificial beach and hoping that the grains of sand were not causing great damage to my chain and gears.

 I reached my preferred destination and the first grumpy man I accosted for information, told me that Lege cap Ferrat had no hotels and no chambres d’hotes and that I would have to continue to Ares. Not half a kilometre further on, I discovered a stunning Chambres d’Hotes. It might have been just in Ares! The delightful hosts had a room to spare and, after a very welcome iced drink, I was shown upstairs. It was all so beautiful I was afraid to sit down until I had disrobed and showered! Fortunately there was a balcony on which I felt I could make a little more mess, lay out my smelly clothes for an airing and write my blog. I completed the day with another very good Carrefour salad (and a pudding) eaten while watching a splendid and colourful sunset.
Wednesday 28th. September     Palmyre – Montalivet                                           (51kms)


 I covered not many kilometres today, almost entirely due to the enforced wait for the ferry which would transport me, bike and trailer across the Gironde Estuary. Despite this, I was very glad that I had made the decision to remain in Palmyre overnight and had resisted the temptation to push on for the ferry last evening.
I left my hotel with no regrets and having taken on supplies from the local boulangerie, I was enjoying yet another fine day. The nearby coastline was a marked change from the long sandy surf beaches. This coast was a series of rocky bays and smooth sandy inlets. Sadly, the path along the prom took a turning into the urbanisation of Royan. Along with the change of scenery was the change in the topography of the road and it was this latter that endorsed my previous decision to stay in Palmyre overnight. The buildings were generally very beautiful and undoubtedly very expensive, but the roadway was a tad hummocky. For fresh legs this was a challenge easily met but yesterday’s tired legs might have struggled.
Away from the towns there was much evidence of the activities of the last war. Embedded into the dunes and rocks of the coast were the remains of ammunition stores and concrete shelters presumably protecting the mouth of the Gironde. Running alongside the constructions was an old small gauge railway line which would have transported the killing machines and the soldiers. Its present rebirth as a tourist train shows a determination to improve and, for a new generation, to forget.
Back with a sea view, I stopped to admire a memorial constructed to commemorate the ‘Cockleshell Heroes.’ Standing and looking down at the place where they had boarded their canoes and, taking in the vastness of the estuary, it was hard to imagine men so brave. It was an intimidating sight in broad day light in peacetime but to paddle a canoe in complete darkness up the river to wreak havoc among German shipping with the ever present danger of being seen and shot was truly inspiring. That even two survived to return to the submarine seems incredible: that so many died is a tragedy.
My wait for the ferry was around two hours during which time I found the ‘people watching’ quite fascinating. I have remarked during this trip on my own that, as an elderly female, I am all but invisible. The great advantage of this, is that no one views me as any kind of threat. Occasionally my presence is acknowledged with a nod and a curious embarrassment but more usually it is ignored. I find this very liberating as I am able to gaze unhindered at the endless idiosyncrasies of the human. As the waiting continued, I was joined by every sort of motorised transport and a handful of other cyclists. Of the latter, one couple held my particular interest, as the only evidence of their bikes were the wheels, which were just visible, poking out from a multitude of panniers and rucksacks! I have seen many loaded expedition bikes, but these were on a whole new level. Among my other fellow cyclists were a family of two parents and two young children who were sharing a trailer. Dad towed kids and rucksack and mum, the panniers. I cannot help but applaud this type of undertaking.
We did eventually board the boat for a voyage which lasted around thirty minutes. During this time, my flag attracted the attention of a little man who beset me with the usual questions but did, in return, provide me with a nugget of information. He assured me that the track from Pointe de la Grave (the ferry destination) to Montalivet provided an excellent and unbumpy surface – and he was not wrong.
By the time that I reached Montalivet, it was already 15.30. The next town to offer suitable overnight accommodation was still some 30 kilometres further on. Erring on the side of caution, I sought a likely bed for the night. This was a bit of a one horse town and I chose one of the only two hotels still open.

My evening wander took in the nearby beach on which surfers of varying competence were enjoying the waves of the evening high tide. Youngsters were shrieking with delight in safe and shallow waters while the older experienced exponents were taking intrepid rides on the much larger and longer waves further along the shore. Not quite such fun was the story told to me by a couple I met on my return. A lady in a wheel chair and her companion were happy to share her unfortunate story with me. She had been knocked off her bike by a youth driving a car. The result was a broken leg and several weeks of immobility. It served as a reminder to be ever cautious when sharing the highway with motorised traffic.
Tuesday:    27. 09. 2016  Chatelaillon Plage – Palmyre    (83kms)

I had left my very gentile hotel by 08.30 having consumed what passes for a normal breakfast of croissants, bread , juice and coffee: all very delicious but  this morning, unusually, I would have preferred an English breakfast of bacon, eggs and fried bread! I collected my bike from the laundry room (it does reside in some very inappropriate places) and set off along a sea front no longer populated by seething sun worshippers, but by bins! Just another hazard for the unsuspecting cyclist on bin collection day.


I retained a fairly good recollection of the route to Rochefort having explored it on our previous holiday. Much of it followed alongside a busy and noisy main road which, while unpleasant, serves as a reminder of just how intrusive the motor vehicle really is. Yes. I know we cannot manage without it and it has clear advantages over bike travel (like going a long way in a short time) but it does smell and make a racket. I did eventually leave all  the bustle behind and, determined not to take a 20 kilometre detour, took a turning to the right instead of left on the assumption that I could only get lost if I fell in the river. Thus, I followed it (the river) diligently until the only way forward was to cross it. According to my information, there existed a transbourder  (transporter) bridge, and indeed I could see it from some three kms away. At a point just short of the bridge, my route veered towards the river! No one had thought to mention that it was under repair and to access the opposite bank via said bridge would require a wait of three years! The temporary alternative was a small ferry presently grounded at low tide! Apparently, already waiting was a French cyclist (a very nice man) who informed me that the tide would rise sufficiently to float the boat, by 11.30. Yipee, that just meant a wait of at least an hour and a half. In between communing with his two ‘phones, my French (very nice) companion chatted about his ride and his intention of reaching Bayonne.( It was during one such conversation that I felt an unwanted lump on the base of my shoe – a fish hook had pierced the sole. How lucky that it had avoided embedding itself into bike or trailer tyre!)  

We were joined later, by a large group of Germans on electric bikes who seemed content to enjoy the enforced rest. Not the case for a second group of three. The gentleman of the trio clocked my Welsh flag and came over and proceeded to complain vociferously about this unexpected delay to his journey. “It was vital that they reached their destination on time; their hired bikes were rubbish and they had only two gears!” Phew! I pointed out that our ferry was presently resting on bottom of the river and we would have to allow nature to take its course in the form of a rising tide. Sure enough, at 11.30 the boat was afloat and le capitaine commenced loading. This was far from simply plonking bikes aboard as there had to be a balanced weight. Nonetheless, after much gesticulating and arguing in German, French and English, we floated across. Docking went without a hitch but I eyed the gang plank with alarm. Angle between boat and bank was around 30 percent and I had Sherman to haul up to terra firma! Thank goodness I had foregone the camping gear. My thanks to the diminutive female guide of the German group who gallantly assisted my climb. (No chaps in sight!)
Pedalling along canals is not the most exciting or exhilarating activity but it can be exacerbated by the poor quality of the track. In fact, this particular 650 metres of track was unridable. It was preceded by a notice which apologised for its unsuitablilty as a cycle track promising reparation very soon. The worst yet.
This difficulty was very soon followed by yet another sign indicating a ‘route barre’. In fairness, I was already misplaced in Marennes but a road under serious repair did nothing to help. However, the usual practice of stopping and head scratching produced the usual helpful response from a group of the workmen. I produced my map and explained my predicament. There ensued an animated conversation between colleagues until finally the dilemma was resolved and the onward route explained. My rescuers kindly removed sufficient barriers for me to pass and even lifted and carried my trailer until we both reached the tarmac. A few kilometres later I was on the approach to the Le Pont de Marennes and imposing bridge spanning the river Seudre.  Alas, it was impossible to experience the undoubtedly spectacular view as the cycle lane, as is ever the case, was just wide enough to incorporate a bicycle and trailer and /or panniers with less than a hairs breadth separating cyclist from motorised traffic much of which was quite large! Having survived the dice with death or serious injury, the canal path took on a whole new persona and, tranquillity restored, I took a drinks and nibbles stop. Who should come by but my nice Frenchman. How I had transpired to get ahead of him remains a mystery but his assurance that the next thirty kilometres of track was of good surface was indeed, welcome news and true. It also provided my first ever sighting of genuine wild boar, three of which tripped across the road not 20 metres in front of me.
Making the decision that Royan might be a step too far, I finished the day in Palmyre. Not a very beautiful place and the hotel was the most expensive yet and staffed by yet another indifferent concierge but, in its defence, the food both at dinner and breakfast was excellent. A balcony off my room was transformed into a makeshift drying room for the smellier bits of my clothing. Yah boo to indifferent receptionists!

Tomorrow will take in the ferry from Royan across the Gironde estuary tides permitting!

Friday, 14 October 2016





Monday   26. 09. 2016   La Tranche sur Mer – Chatelaillon Plage             ( 92 kms  )

Why is it that people with no charm and no apparent fondness for their fellow man insist on following a career in hospitality? I completely understand that my host was obliged to rise early in order to lay out my breakfast but a smile, even an insincere one, would have been a pleasant greeting! Ignoring such grumpiness, by 08.30 I was retrieving bike and bits from the overnight lockup. Notable at this time of the morning was the slow dawning of daylight; it was also a good deal chillier than the previous evening when I had spent a comfortable half hour drinking a beer (quite a small one )at the café on the other side of the road. This morning I returned to a very cheery barman who sold me a can of Orangina and sent me off with a smile and a ‘bonne route’.
So, today has been an experience and an education in very different road surfaces: everything from baby bottom smooth  (not much of that) to real bone shakers and single wheel tracks. Thus I spent quite a lot of the ride looking down, trying to avoid punctures and, more importantly remaining upright.
It was also a day of very flat lands and, if birds were your thing, there was a plethora of different species which sadly I do not have the expertise to identify except by size and colour although they did seem to have in common a love of mud and slush. They were the natural inhabitants of this curious environment unlike the vast machine I encountered shortly after ignoring a ‘route barre’ sign. It was the size of a small bungalow and was devouring the hedgerow growing alongside the canal. And these hedges were really small trees up to 2 or 3 metres high. It has to be said that this was an awesome spectacle if unsettling to see how quickly nature could be destroyed. The purpose of all this activity escaped me although it appeared that the canal was undergoing a widening process which may have been necessary to retain adequate drainage of the marais. I know not.
Equally extraordinary but entirely natural was the sudden appearance of a cliff in an otherwise completely flat landscape. Dredging up sparse knowledge from an old Open University Degree, I could only speculate that this had once been in the sea. On the summit stood a village called La Dive and I have since researched the name and discovered that it was indeed an island at a time when the sea covered this area. I had nurtured a hope that the name might involve bungie jumping. Mmmmm.
As I left the flat lands and met the canal path I encountered a very polite middle aged male cyclist waiting patiently for me to complete a short but narrow descent. He spotted my Welsh flag and my Welsh cycling vest and embarked on a conversation thankfully in English, well, Irish. He enquired after my venture and then explained that he had caught the ferry to Santander and was making his way north to St. Malo and then back to the Emerald Isle. We wished each other well and continued in our opposite directions.
I have included a photograph in this day’s blog which illustrates a very bizarre form of fishing. People without fishing lines but with huge nets which they hurled into the canal Maritime on a rising tide and then proceeded to frantically winch back in using a curious winding gear. The fish which were the object of the exercise were apparently mullet although in the short time I spent observing this activity I saw not a one either in or out of the water.
Thereafter, I followed some twenty kilometres of various canals on boneshaker tracks! Hurrah! It was, therefore, almost a pleasure to reach human habitation in the form of La Rochelle. During a short break earlier in the summer we had taken the motor home to Chatelaillon Plage and I had ridden the cycle path from there to La Rochelle. I remembered it well, and so that which might have caused a getting lost situation, was avoided. A final thrust along the coast and I arrived in Chatelaillon Plage with the sun still shining and the tide coming in. Content to end the day here, I stopped at the first hotel, Le Rivage, where I requested a room for me and one for my bike. Having deposited said bike and unloaded my gear, my return to reception was greeted with a bottle of ice cold water and an energy bar. I guess I must have made a hot and dusty impression but what a response! Many  thanks to a very thoughtful receptionist.

After a shower, and a remarkably good salmon and rice salad from Carrefour washed down with an exceedingly small bottle of wine, I look forward to tomorrow with a growing confidence.
Sunday  25. 09. 2016    St. Gilles Croix de Vie – La Tranche sur Mer     (81kms and a bit)

It is early days and I had not quite got into the swing of things so this morning could be described as a little tense and disorganised. (No lists, you see). My bike was retrieved from the back of the car and my trailer unceremoniously dumped and opened in order that I might check I had packed all the ‘stuff’ I would need for my onward journey. Despite the time taken to check and recheck I was ready to pedal away by 10.00.
It was my first proper day and what a wonderful day on which to recommence the Velodysee. The weather was unseasonably warm- not hot- and sunny and the wind had come round so that, although not exactly behind me, it was certainly not in front! After a good few kms through the forest, the track ran along next to the coast and a blue and foaming sea was actually visible. This was followed by the marais – an astonishing area of marshy ground where there were times when it felt as though only me and my bike were above the water and that on a narrow causeway – (wobbling became a serious concern, not that drowning was a worry but the smelly water was hardly enticing for taking a dip.) Despite all this bog and water, enterprising folk had actually built homesteads on small plots of raised ground – no accounting for taste.
Civilisation reinstated itself (and how!) in the form of Les Sables d’Olonne where it seemed that yesterdays’ teeming crowds from St. Gilles had descended on this, a different town. For me it was a return to dodging people, cars and bikes. As is so often the case, when the signs are most needed, they disappear among all the other roadside furniture. In my anxiety to avoid getting lost, I suspect I irritated a few drivers and pedestrians with my little indecisions and subsequent dithers. The solution, it seemed, was to continue as far as was possible without falling into the sea and then carry on following the coast.
Relieved to have located my route I was moved to greet fellow travellers with a cheery bonjour. As I think I may have mentioned in previous blogs, I have noted a reluctance among my fellow travellers to recognise my call as a greeting – middle aged male cyclists in particular. Methinks I shall continue to annoy them.
As with the weather, the sea conditions for the sports people were excellent with an abundance of surf for kites, boards and canoes but possibly not so good for actually swimming.
So the old legs of one Old Bones lasted the 80 kms and by 15.30 I had found an adequate hotel with a restaurant which I was assured would be open’ ce soir’. It had been an encouraging start and my confidence was markedly increased. I didn’t hurt, I had got lost only momentarily and I had checked into a suitable hotel  for the night.

Tomorrow will require a traverse of La Rochelle but hopefully Monday will signal a return to work for at least some of the pleasure seekers. 
Saturday  24. 09.16    La Barre de Monts – St. Gilles la Croix de Vie   (35kms)

After checking into the hotel, I changed into a cyclist and we piled into the car to set off to locate the cycle route. We found a car park not a great distance from where the map indicated the cycle route should pass. Leaving Al to explore the area or go back to the hotel, I confidently and enthusiastically shot off in the direction of the sea. ( after all this is a route which follows the ocean – more of that later.) As I was to discover during much of this ride, the sea was often obscured by trees as was the case on this inauspicious commencement. I found myself confronting  a dead end, or so I thought, until the usual helpful locals arrived and walked me 5 metres to show me a sign clearly indicating my chosen path!  My profuse thanks were accepted with a gentle headshake such that one would accord an ignorant six year old. (and a 70yr old!!! – Ed.)
The woodland track wove and undulated its way along an invisible coast with the trees markedly reducing the force of my old favourite, the nostril wind! The sea front towns I passed through could have been on another planet the wind being only one of the differences. 

Admittedly it was Saturday, the sun was shining and the temperature was around 25 degrees C but……………….. there was an ever present danger of killing a pedestrian sauntering along oblivious of the rest of the world, bumping into a vehicle looking for a parking spot on the cycle path or worst of all, being run down by a fellow cyclist. These weekenders had all the appearance of focussed beach worshippers and had left at home their general awareness of the population in general. Thankfully, I avoided killing anyone or colliding with a vehicle but it was vital to remain alert and vigilant, so admiration of the sea itself was a definite no no.
Despite having to avoid the numpties, I made good time. I crossed the final bridge and nearly came to an unfortunate end on hearing a voice in my left ear say “Well done.” It was Al intending encouragement and support.
So far, all well! We drank a very welcome beer, had a shower and then discovered that the hotel restaurant was closed every weekend! Explain that if you will! Surrounded by nearby eateries , acquiring an evening meal was not a problem. A lovely evening to complete a busy day and to contemplate the morrow when I really get going, trailer and all.