Sunday, 9 December 2012
The enjoyment of this holiday was in no small part due to the venue we had chosen. Over the last couple of years, we have stayed in many a different hostel, hotel, hut and campsite all with differing standards of provision. We are both in agreement that Correze Cycling Holidays (correzecycling.com) beat all the other competitors in every category. I know that Sam and James will read this along with, I hope other cyclists, and I want to make it clear that the comments that follow are genuine; the welcome was warm (much, much warmer than the weather), accommodation was equally warm, immaculately presented and catered for every need; the food was exceptional – being that rare combination of wholesome, carefully sourced and delicious; the attention to detail did not stop there, as the bikes were seen as an important part of the whole and James was always on hand to assist with maintenance and transport. (Unfortunately an injured back prevented him from riding with us – probably just as well as our pace is somewhat sedentary. It did not, however, prevent him from taking a keen interest in our ventures and transporting us and bikes when necessary.) The cycling in this area caters for all abilities with challenges to suit your ambitions. With quiet roads in beautiful countryside littered with charming villages, many with welcoming bars and cafés, you may be absolutely certain that this is an experience second to none. We much appreciated the company and patience of Sam and James and their family. Thank you all.
It may not have been freezing when we woke but we experienced all of the above with the exception (you have guessed correctly) of the 20 degrees. Nonetheless, it was a day of such weather that we could ride our bikes without snow tyres – perhaps! Optimistically, we selected a route of around 60 kilometres that would take us in a circle – sort of- and return us to our start point at our residence, thus relieving James of any onerous driving. Clad in our now familiar winter clothing which included a set of ski trousers for me and Buffalos for us both, we waved a cheery farewell.
It never ceases to amaze me that a very short climb can transform a slightly damp road surface to one surrounded by snow; amazed I was, therefore, as we found ourselves once more in amongst the white stuff. For the most part the roads were clear enough as long as we stayed out of the gutter so we doggedly stuck to our line and if vehicles had to pull over, so be it. Most of the vehicles anyway belonged to the chasse and were being driven at hectic speed in order to trap some unsuspecting beast. Confident that we were not the quarry and, therefore not likely to catch a bullet, we enjoyed a series of steady climbs in somewhat dubious weather. For a short while our pleasure was marred by the appearance of a particularly heavy fall of sleet but, just as in all good books, relief appeared in the form of a bar/café which served hot coffee and afforded us sufficient respite to recover feeling in feet and hands. (I do sometimes question our definition of pleasure!). It did feel as though we had been climbing for most of the ride so with the cessation of the sleet and a few downhills I questioned a little less. And when we finally arrived at a weeny village called Gimel les Cascades, we were quite bowled over (not literally, thankfully) with its rustic buildings and very steep sided gorge, at the bottom of which could be seen, of course, les cascades! Following a narrow and steep road, we crossed what looked like an old Roman bridge and beheld the falls in all their glory. Fabulous! Our sudden appearance had startled another spectator who gave us a disbelieving stare but then forgot all about these insane cyclists when we were all nearly run down by a motor home. Bear in mind the road width was only marginally wider than the Roman bridge and the Romans, as far as I know, had no motor homes! Leaving the driver to sort out his own dilemma, we stared with at the upcoming climb. Poor old elephant was well chewed.
With the weather threatening to snow, rain or something similar, we made a beeline for home. We had ridden some 60 + kilometres and climbed over 2000 feet. This was to be our last ride of this short but fabulous holiday and we were delighted that, despite being December, we had completed a ride every day.
Today is Alan’s birthday! As usual, my attempts at making the day memorable have hit a small wall! Although toasty warm inside, the rain and sleet outside promised a difficult day; in fact riding looked very unlikely. But, we are, after all ‘British’, so at around ten thirty we climbed aboard the bus for a ride downhill to the valley floor convinced that there, the temperatures would be higher and not freezing. Less than five minutes later we were driving through a blizzard! We are nothing if not perseverant so on four snow tyres we continued downward. The snowflakes got bigger and bigger as I shrank from the accusing comments of the boys. BUT Hoorah and hooray, after a coffee, the thaw had begun. Not in a great rush, you understand, but enough to give us the confidence to unload the bikes, put on a few more layers and set off along the river (well the road alongside it) to Beaulieu. I have to point out that temperatures were just shy of plus 2 degrees and it was raining and thus not the ideal weather for a bike ride. A fabulous road, very little traffic and the cessation of rain nonetheless, made this a pleasurable experience. So good was it, that we decided to make the return trip along the other side of the river after we had found something to eat. Boulangeries all shut (it was past 1 o’clock) but a small supermarket, which was ignoring French tradition, was open for sandwiches and chocolate. What I didn’t know was that it was located on a one way street. Blithely riding the wrong way the only vehicle I encountered belonged to the local gendarme who was not impressed by my transgression. After a ticking off and a subsequent abject apology from me, it was decided that I would not have to spend the night in gaol! How thoughtful! Couldn’t he have found a burglar to pick on?
The weather continued its slight improvement even to the extent of little glimpses of blue sky and even littler glimpses of sunshine. We bowled along enjoying this unexpected largesse and caught up with our chauffeur back in Argentan. Safely aboard, warm and wet, which is much better than cold and wet, we returned ‘home’ where another unexpected treat awaited us. Sam had excelled herself with today’s cake. It was a chocolate birthday cake complete with candle and decorated with chocolate leaves (all the creation of our hostess). It may have looked good but it tasted even better! Thank you Sam.
Will it or will it not be frozen tomorrow; will it snow; will it rain; will the sun shine; we must wait and see. I think we can be fairly certain that temperatures will not be a pleasant 20 degrees!
We have a skylight in our bedroom and this morning it was covered in snow! However, the cover was light, and although everything outside was frozen, the sun shone in defiance of the cold. A truly beautiful day but could we ride? Of course we could! Mmmm. The mountains were going to be beautiful today so the decision made over breakfast, was that we would delay the start in the hope that a thaw might set in or at least a partial one. Mmmm. By 10.30, and resembling a couple of Michelin men, we sought out James and the minibus which was to take us to the start of our ride just on the outskirts of Egleton. It is true that the roads were still very icy but ensconced inside a bus with snow tyres we were sanguine about the tour to come. We were less sanguine after negotiating a set of icy steps to the boulangerie and observing the provision of salt on the pavements. Nonetheless ten minutes later, we were unloading the bikes, having a nervous wee behind a convenient bush and bidding a reluctant farewell to our driver and mentor. Six or seven kilometres later, we must leave the mainish road and take on the less salted variety. James was waiting for us. For a few hundred metres it looked as if conditions were going to defeat us but not so. The ice surrendered to the sun and the road surface was rideable with care. Persistent sunshine allowed for conditions to improve and exhibit the beauty of the countryside when we had enough breath to appreciate it as we were undertaking some fairly serious climbing. In a charming village we partook of the lunch we had purchased in the valley while perusing the architecture (too cold to sit still), admiring the vista and chewing the cud with an elderly local walking his very, very small dog. If he thought we were mad he hid it well but warning us of shocking weather to come on the morrow. We decided to live for today and so, revitalised, we continued with our climb. Armed with his local knowledge, James had driven to a point where he suspected conditions might be too icy for a continuation on two wheels. Sadly, he was right and we had to finish the last few kilometres on four wheels with an engine. Disappointed we might have been, but the views from the top more than compensated for that. Add in James’ valiant attempt at boiling a kettle on a small gas stove, and we were ecstatic. That the kettle took nigh on half an hour to boil mattered not at all as we took photos of everything including the reluctant kettle. Anyway tea is always better for a wait – maybe.
Clearly, the cycling was over for the day but it had been memorable for all the right reasons and endorsed our original desire to visit this area of France. Our grateful thanks to James, without whom none of the cycling would have been possible as conditions were so unreliable and changeable. With a bus and driver monitoring progress it allowed us to maximise the amount of cycling we could do.
Now some people have a birthday bash on their special day; some people take an exotic holiday; many people just carry on as normal especially when the years are something to be counted backwards! And some lucky people can take a biking holiday in December! So we find ourselves in a region of the Correze some two hours from home with two bikes (no trailers!) and lots of hills and valleys. It is also true that temperatures are just on the plus side of zero and the rain and sleet have not been shy in putting in an appearance. Sensibly, we/Alan have selected a base from which to cycle which requires no canvas of any kind and no cooking on a camp stove. All meals provided, log fires to lounge around after a day of cold and wet and a bed of great warmth and comfort! (Much more about this great place later)
This morning, our first, the weather promised not a lot and indeed, delivered exactly that. However, our base has been designed by cyclists for cyclists, so we even had our route and map provided for us. Despite all this first class organisation, decisions on what clothing to don occupied us for a very long time! Inevitably, having wrapped up to combat the cold and wet, we needed to unwrap to use the loo! Eventually, suitably kitted out and with bikes at the ready, our relieved hosts waved us off. Under normal circumstances, we would have been delighted with the long downhill that began our day’s journey. However, what warmth we possessed when we mounted our bikes dissipated in about thirty seconds and we ran out of hands and feet in about forty five! Never has a promised uphill looked so attractive! An additional bonus of uphill riding is the views that appear on route. We are very familiar with trees as those of you who have had the patience to read previous blogs will know. But at this time of the year they possess a different quality; that of being devoid of leaves, thus allowing vast glimpses of villages and mountains which in the spring and summer would be obscured. Even winter has its up-side. The downside of all these leaves departing their parent tree is the accumulation of slippery debris on the road which does require riding with some caution.
If we thought the roads around our home were quiet, we were to reach new height of quiet. Not a car was to be seen until EDF appeared. Not one, but several blue cars careered around corners narrowly missing oncoming cyclists. (After all who in their right mind would be on a bicycle at this time of the year?) The reason for this proliferation of small vehicles soon became apparent when we encountered and crossed a spectacularly huge dam. The continuation of the ride along the river to Argentat passed without incident and we even managed to buy and quaff a snack lunch sitting on benches in the dry. Even without the benefit of the garmin’s record keeping, we knew that as Argentat was in a valley and we were living on a mountain top the return ride was going to be uphill! So, no surprises when we reached the base of a climb which did go on a bit……..and then a bit more. On the whole the weather had been pretty indifferent and a degree of complacency had set in. Always dangerous – just ten minutes from ‘home’ a freezing deluge soaked everything down to underwear. We dripped our way into the bike shed, shook off the surface water and carefully, without too much dripping, made our way to the fire, tea and cake! What more could you ask for? We didn’t actually ask, but there followed drinks, (alcoholic), a delicious five course dinner accompanied by lively conversation before sleep enveloped us. Mountains tomorrow!
Old Bones are back with bones pretty much intact!
It has to be said that after the disappointment of not making it to the Black Sea, writing the blog took a bit of a nose dive. Actually the effort involved in typing with only one functioning wrist reduced my enthusiasm for communication. However, we have not been inactive during this crashing silence. Even at our advanced age, bones do mend, if somewhat reluctantly. So, despite the dire warnings from the surgeon about the foolhardy nature of bike riding, or more accurately, falling off, we resumed normal service by visiting the hills in the Lot valley in August. This had been our training ground prior to our traverse of the Pyrenees, so it seemed like a good idea and a way of gauging how far the mighty had fallen (me). Quite a long way as it turned out. I spent much time staring into the distance, watching Alan swarming up the hills while I tried to persuade my lungs that they really did have sufficient capacity to feed oxygen to my muscles. My coercion had some limited affect, but not enough for us to ride companionably side by side. It seemed that was still some way off. However, beautiful scenery and lots of warm sunshine can work their own magic. Legs firmed up somewhat and lungs began to co-operate. A week later, we were home again and enthusiastically (mm……. not sure about the enthusiasm) whizzing (also debateable) around our training circuit.