Monday, 18 September 2017

Benefits of Being Lost

17. 09. 2017     Tralee
Well, well, we awoke to sunshine this morning. Not exactly hot but no rain and no wind and a large yellow ball in the sky! Al already had our route for this day sorted. ‘a really pleasant 38 kms of relatively flat riding along well surfaced roads. After an early lunch (let’s not rush these things) we geared up and took to the road. Cycle paths are very intermittent in Ireland. I am assured that in London, if a car is parked in a cycle lane, it can expect at the very least a scratch down the side. In Ireland, not only are vehicles parked in the cycle lane, they are in the cycle lane and on double yellow lines. Dicing with death for cyclists it seems is all part of the adrenaline rush. Maybe?  Irish speed limits are generally much higher than the continent (100kms regardless of the width or condition of the road! – more Irish logic) and many car drivers see it as their mission to keep as close as possible to these speeds. I have to comment on the many who remained patiently behind two elderly cyclists until the road ahead was clear and given us a wide berth.  Many thanks!

Spot Mary
We have been lost/misplaced many times today and were in sore need of Brendan the Navigator who we didn’t meet until the ride was almost complete.( Where are you Bren when we need you the most!?)  It has to be said that each misplacement was an opportunity to explore otherwise ignored parts of the coast and thus, much appreciated. For example, trying to locate a small road through the dunes that had been obliterated by a considerable depth of sand, resulted in a turn back and spying a notice extolling the nearby beach as the’ best in Ireland’. We could not pass up this chance to explore. Hoisting bikes on our shoulders we overtopped the dunes and were rewarded with the view of a glorious sandy beach, rolling breakers and surfers. Deciding that the road through the dunes was un-ridable, we pushed the bikes along the beach and through the kelp to the next solid access point. Sand in between your toes!

Easy now – just follow the road through the wiggles. Mmmmm…… arrived in the wrong spot but we knew where we were! Follow this road – nope. Wrong again. But now we found St. Brendan the Navigator in Fenit; another venue we had not planned to visit! Altogether getting lost seems to be the way to go. It was to continue. Tralee is not huge but one wrong turning left us meandering around the town centre for some time and having no idea which direction to follow. Stopped a lot. Turned around a lot and then found locations that we recognised. Thankfully, the camper was where we had left it and our ride of 35 kms morphed into 50. Feeling good though.

St Brendan the Navigator

And all this time not a drop of rain! 

Followed by a Proper Ride

16. 09. 2017  Kilarney
Having removed the cover from the bikes, it was with some relief that we found them still intact after such a long lay-off. We decided to take on an undemanding circuit of a loch which lay nearby. According to our instructions we were to follow a route which passed a very grand house and thence to the start of our circumnavigation. Not only did we pass a grand house, we also passed a number of horse drawn carts and rode through quite a lot of horse doo doo! We did, however, locate our path (we thought). Weather was gentle if not hot and the path flat with excellent views of said loch. In amongst the plethora of signs was one for Torc falls. The waterfall was quite spectacular and just one of the many popular stops for the coach parties following the ring of Kerry. Al stayed with the  bikes, saying he would sort out our ongoing route, while I squished my way the bottom of the falls to take a photo. On my return, we remounted and took off …………….in the wrong direction! Fortunately, it was only a kilometre or so before we realised the lake was on the wrong side. Dah! Returned to the falls and then continued in the opposite direction and found ourselves on the lakeside, on a track with a very definitive one way sign indicating that bikes could not be ridden in this direction on pain of death! So, what does every law abiding rider do faced with such a directive, walk for the prescribed 1.5 km to a tea house. To our consternation this one way track continued in this direction for 4.5 kms. Do we walk, ride, run or fly? We had a cup of tea!

We walked/rode the next 4.5km on an excellent and wide track and saw three lots of oncoming traffic (e.g. three bikes/smug gits). In all our experience of cycle paths we were totally perplexed by the logic behind this one way system particularly as there had been no warning. It seems to me that all that was required was care and courtesy and the danger of collision would have been negligible.
We did finally return having completed 28 kilometres of interesting Irish logic but enjoyed some spectacular views and had been thoroughly entertained.

Yesterday was a bit more of a ‘proper’ ride. We left the van and rode to the start of the Gap of Dunloe described as’ one of the most spectacular places in Ireland, a narrow steep sided gorge 450m in depth and almost 4km in length’. What our guide book omitted was the mention of the steep climby bits. These were described as a ‘road which meanders through this awe-inspiring paradise interjected by a series of old bridges, ribbon like waterfalls and sparkling lakes’! It was quite pretty although not quite a paradise.  Slightly out of breath and having given way to walkers, motorists and numerous horses and carts, we reached the top and enjoyed a long and cold descent into Black Valley. This really was a complete contrast as few sight-seerers had the stamina to continue over the top. This was untouched countryside – a glacial valley of huge rocks and gushing rapids. A road so rarely used, that grass covered much of it. It probably felt more remote than it really was, but a lunch stop beside a small waterfall was reward for the journey thus far. Another fairly long climb returned us to civilisation and a more main road with the advantage of a café with cream teas. Yes, we were hungry again. The last 26km were admittedly along part of the ring of Kerry but no less beautiful for that. Apart from holding up numerous large coaches (all of which were very courteous) the descent back to Kilarney was uneventful. We were, though, beginning to feel the effects of not having ridden for some time and legs and lungs were relieved to find rest back at the van after a 60km round trip.

A Trip to Ireland

11. 09. 2017  Bantry

We are in Ireland! And fully intending to complete a few forays ‘ a velo’ around the coast and country. We have, however, been utterly confounded by the weather and that happens rarely (or are we getting older and more discerning/ cowardly?) Our arrival has been heralded with winds up to 40mph and torrential rain which has continued almost unabated until today. Thus far we have managed a hill walk, a coastal meander and a wander into Kilarney .  Not quite what we had planned. Nonetheless, various muscles have re-awakened which, particularly in Al’s case, have been slumbering after pretty major surgery. I don’t have that excuse.

Bikes are being surgically separated from the van tomorrow and this blog will, hopefully, return to something to do with ‘bikes’!

Monday, 14 November 2016


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!