Marilyn and Roger's French Tour
Tour Report: May and June 2008, Marilyn and Roger Spurr
Marilyn retired at Easter and remembering that 'He who rests, rusts', we decided on an extended trip to France. We would take up to 2 months riding a loop south of Cherbourg, east to magnificent Chartres & Fontainebleau, then south-east to lovely Auxerre and the wine country around Dijon. Our escape would be west to the Loire, and easy run to the Atlantic (well, it's downhill all the way) and back to Roscoff mostly along the Nantes-Brest Canal.
It didn't start easily when the planned 4 day ride to Poole turned into nearly a week of headwind and rain. It bucked up a bit on the other side and the grim blockhouses and graveyards of 1944 were an education all the way to Arromanches. The famous Mulberry harbour was constructed here and much remains to be seen in the bay and in the good museum.
Trouble followed us all the way to Chartres with a return of bad weather, disappeared campsites and a series of broken spokes, but we were helped by some charming French with a bench vice and a bed for the night. When the wheel was finally judged to be beyond repair, we found 'Decathlon', who provided a new one with a smile, a C'est rien and a bargain price. If you ever need any sports/camping equipment in France, look for the name.
The weather didn't improve much so we rode every day just to stay warm and were in Auxerre before I dug out the photocopies of a cycle tour of the Parc de Morvan. It's just a section of the Lonely Planet guide to Cycling in France and recommended by a friend just days before we left. Don't go searching – it's out of print. And don't go to Amazon either unless you are prepared to pay more than £50 for a thumbed copy with a cover price of £12. Mad? Only perhaps. It opened up an area for us where, looking at the contours, we might not have gone. It’s a French national park full of trees, hills, lakes and history, fabulous villages, (Noyers especially) religious sites (Verzelay especially) and so quiet in places we wondered if the world had stopped. Even better, the sun put his hat on (for the only time, but we were not to know) and we had the company of a group of Swedes doing the tour and towing their small children in 'chariots'. Tough people.
At Beaune, we had reached out as far as we could. The days to the Loire were dull by comparison, and the strong northerly wind when we reached it dissuaded us from following it all the way. Instead, we cut off the big loop and rejoined it near Amboise. It's a lovely town and, because Leonardo da Vinci popped his clogs here, it has a good museum full of working models from his sketch books. From here they really provide for cyclists. Not only is it (quite often) downhill but there is a cycle track which is well surfaced and well signposted, often keeping company with the river and always in lovely country. Of special interest around here were the cave houses. Simply cut a front door into a soft rock cliff and keep digging until you have enough rooms. Apparently 10% of France lived in cave houses in 1900. Many are still occupied, but now some have satellite dishes.
Another corner cut before we reached Nantes got us to the canal which runs up through Brittany. It's not your usual canal, more of a link between the major rivers. There is river scenery and wildlife galore. There is often quite a flow in the water and it goes, rather disturbingly, sometimes in the direction of our travel, sometimes against. 273 locks over two major climbs and all built with shovels and Napoleonic muscle to keep trade running when the British navy was lurking to pick off any boat which put out to sea. There’s a good 'Red Dog' guide, which Amazon has.
We arrive in Carhaix tired and cold. The forecast wasn’t good and we discovered a voie verte – (French for 'old railway, beautifully surfaced and a pleasantly dull ride on a sunny day') – running direct to Morlaix. Two days got us there. It rained on and off. Roscoff is just round the corner and there was a ferry waiting. Hurrah!
Given the state of the weather pretty much all over Europe, the old saying might be modified to 'He who rides, rusts!' It might also be said that we went too far, too fast, but it's France. How else to see, eat and drink what it has to offer? So knowing what we know now, would we still do it? Of course.