Trip to the Loire September 2016

Having finished my post graduate degree, an MA in digital documentary and having shown my final piece,a film documenting the charity Stay Ip Late and their gig buddies project I am off for a short cycle through Normandy,Brittany and the Loire. I am meeting my friend Alan who has cycled from seaford to Paulliac in order to run in the medic marathon. When we meet a week today he will have done the run and will be on his way home. We are due to meet in Saumur but, and this is a recurrent theme, Alan does not do mobile phones so consequently communications between us is haphazard to say the least.
Ferry crossing fine, almost first of boat got to station and bought ticket always good to get first credit card purchase cleared so know card works. Had two hour wait for train to Rouen.on arrival struggled getting pannier onto bike struggled onto platform to find train then became Caen one so struggled back on.
After a short detour around Caen I got on the right road the’ route de Bretagne . It was one of those very straight roller coaster style road that the French do so well. It was a taster of what was to come. I arrived at my empty airbnb and found the secreted key left by Paule and made the most of the facilities that is ate my peanut butter sandwich brought from home, showered and crashed. This morning I had breakfast with, well more like in front of Paule and we discussed pellet stoves, brexit and the political futures of marine la en and Donald trump, only the pellet stove was a happy subject. At 730 we left the house together she for a half day in the Caen dept of employment and me to ride the roller coaster. The good thing was the road was quiet the bad things were that some of the ups were very long and steep it was into a headwind and most significantly I am very out of shape. I had done a couple of 40 milers but without the panniers and I’d forgotten how heavy they are. I eventually got to Avranches and the only road I could use was very long and very steep. Anyway I got here just as legs were cramping up and self booked in to the formula 1’hotel’ and having smuggled the bike into my room I eased my kit and then myself. I am struggling with French I can only imagine that my brain is like Homer Simpsons and all the new knowledge picked up in the last year has forced out what little French I I write this I am eating Carrefours finest steak hache chips with extra salt,pasta and leeks in white sauce. I have forgone a pichet of vin rouge in order to sleep rather than be ravaged by cramp, I’ll let you know it was worth the sacrifice.
No it wasn’t I had a very sleepless night and what sleep there was was punctured by very intense dreams about drug dealing involving a money man who may or may not have been known to me, another person whose identity is unknown and Simon Blaine my barber of 30 years. No cramp though, although I do have a proem with my right hamstring which is very tight and always feels bruised. Today’s ride,Saturday, took me past Le mont st michel, although it needn’t have, the route planning seems to be set for day trippers not serious cycle tourists! The metro promised rain but there was none probably blown off course by the strong wind which was manageable for the most part however the last five miles or so it was challenging. I arrived at Coursil about 1pm about 5 hours riding. Having looked for my airbnb, which strictly speaking I wasn’t allowed in until 6, I sat in the village square opposite the house and started to eat my half pain de compagne, Camembert cru and tomato when I was approached by a wan who asked if I was English and named Andrew. Having confirmed that I was both of those she introduced herself as Helene the owner. Six o clock was forgotten and I was led to my quarters a sitting/dining room and separate bedroom. There was also an ensure wet room. And cat, what more could I want, we’ll wifi code does not compute but I can manage without that. Have spent afternoon reading and listening to stuff I haven’t heard in ages. Oh and the rain arrived about an hour after hanging out my washing. Hopefully a shorter ride tomorrow and then a day off.
The ride should have been shorter but a route malfunction meant a slight detour although I still get to Jayne and Alan’s by 145. A shower and food and all was well with the world. Monday was a rest day and we visited La Gavilly where there was an outdoor photography exhibition which would appear to be an annual thing. A lot of it was pretentious twaddle especially the dichotomy between nature and science, a paraquete on a telegraph wire!
Planning tomorrows route but at present have no where to stay, a warm shower request has been made, fingers crossed. The route though follows the Nantes-Brest canal so after some initial hills the day should be flat.
It was flat and boring however it was probably good for my legs to get back in the saddle on flat ground. I had regular breaks and got to the town of my warm shower hostQuentin around 4pm. Now the thing is. I stopped writing at this point as I needed to get under cover as it had started to rain. What I was going to write was that Quinten was contacted through warm showers before I left, in fact before we went to the eotr festival and I heard nothing from him. Yesterday when I was panic ing about not having anywhere to stay question popped up out of the blue asking if I still wanted a place to sleep. I replied yes straight away and then heard nothing, eventually leaving a message saying that I was going to bed and would be online only till 8am in the morning. Around 830 there was a message saying ok so I replied where do you live. Another message got to me at 1130 giving address and phone number. So I arrive here at 4 and text him saying what time can I pitch up and here nothing. I eventually phone him after 6 and he says 730. I had identified his house having admired it as I passed it(what are the chances?). So I rumbled back into town and got a slice of pizza and pain au choc because I can’t guarantee that I will be fed. I had just finished that tea when the rain started. As I hunkered down in the porch of the Marie a bloke that had just got a cake from the bakers and was getting into a car with three under 4s shouted at me. He was Quentin and he was taking the children to sing happy birthday at grannies. So in retrospect he to ably has a lot on. However to avoid waiting round tomorrow I have texted and emailed the next place asking for a time.
Quentin and his wife Cecile were great although I didn’t see her till breakfast as she was out with the girls. The children were 1,3and6 and were most amused at my awful French openly laughing at this thickly man who can’t speak properly. All very delightful if a bit chaotic. Up early and away to my next warm showers place. The journey was mostly along busy d roads but I was quite happy except for a cement lorry that nearly ploughed into me. About 6 miles from destination I went with the bike map instructions which proved there usual standard. After a slight wrong way I found Jean Yves and Bridget, newly retired lefties. My introduction was devoid of handshakes as they were getting honey from the inside trays from their hive. We then had a local beer and I think clicked. I was shown around the small holding and then was fed really well with apperatives wine lamb slow cooked and cheese. We seemed to have a lot in common and it was a really nice evening and I was able to introduce them to bike express. The next day to Saumur and a case of pride coming before a fall when confidently cycling along a piste cyclable beside a river I wrongly assumed it was the Loire and it wasn’t I then went angrily round angers before getting back on track only to get lost at Saumur. But a young lad told me to follow him and I eventually found Alan .tent erected we then went foraged for food falling short and getting a take away pizza. The next day it poured down all day stopping only when nicki and Tom arrived. We went out for a pizza having found that there were hundreds of pizza places if you only looked in the right place.
Saturday Alan and I cycled from Saumur to Sarthe sur sable when we got there and were encamped I looked at the route that we were due to follow. Basically we were going to be doing two sides of a box when a diagonal route would be shorter. As well as this there were limited accommodation options and what there were badly positioned. I suggested another route which was accepted with the upshot being home a day early and less miles.
Sunday new route to Alencon very hilly but straight forward. N and T went ahead and found the campsite and we ate a hearty supper that night.
Monday a parting of the ways as t&n return to Caen and home and we cycle again a very hilly route. It is through an area where there were many famous tank battles in ww2 and I looked at a couple of memorials. Found the campsite at lisieux and all set for penultimate day.


Wednesday 18 June

In Brugges

This is just a supplementary piece to follow on from whatever nonsense I wrote last night.

I staggered into brugges and fell into the second hotel that I found. The chap behind the desk offered me a better price than the usual as they were quiet and it had a canal view! Had I been more on the ball I should have said, ‘not when your asleep’ but I didn’t. What was interesting was that despite my obvious distress and deshevelment he continued with his usual patter, offering me trips around the city, complementary 11.5 degree beer if I visit somewhere and free updates direct to my phone of ‘What’s on in Brugges’. I did try and explain that I had cycled a long way and just wanted, a shower,some food and a long sleep. He did his employers proud though with his sales pitch.

He recommended a place to eat, which just happened to be down the road and I was seduced by the description of FOOD, so I went there. And although a bit overpriced the food was ok, however it biggest attraction for me was the music. It was like I was a young teenager again. Everything that was played, with the exception of Roxanne by the Police (1982?) was from the seventies. We had Slade, Carley Simon, America, Kate Bush the list went on. It really was like eating a meal and listening to Tony Blackburn, DLT or Simon Bates.

Something else that I saw in the restaurant I was going to describe as amusing, however disturbing is probably a better word. Across the room from me were a couple in perhaps their late twenties, early thirties. I could see the young woman from side on and only the mans back, but I could see the handle of a pram beside the woman. Every now and then the women would take out her camera and take a shot inside the pram, which I did consider a little odd as it was quite dark and the baby would have been blinded by the flash. I carried on eating but couldn’t help noticing their alcohol consumption. A bottle of wine at least and then Irish coffees and Brandy twice! (For those that don’t know the drinking habits of the Parkinson’s that would be judged a lot). On top of this the pictures kept being taken. It was only when an American couple came in and sat down between us was the truth revealed. The US man could see the pram and its contents which were two dashund type dogs! Again I ask is that weird or am I?

The canal view from room 7

For the first time on the trip it rained today, and it was chilly. In fact the weather became more British almost as soon as I left Germany and entered The Netherlands.

To start with everything went swimmingly, as the route just followed a number of canals. However as I entered my third canal, which was clearly signposted ‘Niewport-Dunquerke’ and I trundled along confident that I would eventually find Dunkirk. However as the miles went by I started to have some doubts. When I arrived at a bridge which had signposts for roads I found out what had gone wrong. Despite the sign this Canal would never in a million years get to Dunkirk. Thankfully I had bought a map, of south west Belgium and eventually got back on track, although it did add some extra miles to the day.

I arrived at the ferry port having endured the only worrying piece of traffic due to the number of lorries also entering the port. I bought my ticket loaded the bike onto the ferry and that was that. 1210 miles in 17 cycling days which averages at 71 miles a day, with yesterday’s maximum of 118. I have surprised myself with my stamina, excepting the first few days in France, I am possibly the cycling Forrest Gump!

I have enjoyed the physical challenge but also really enjoyed meeting all the different people throughout the trip. I can’t speak highly enough about the warm showers organisation it really is a great way to meet locals.

Ready to go Home

Tuesday 17 June

I knew when I planned this trip that the numbers, ie the miles would be increased towards the end. I anticipated at least one day of around 100 miles. Well today was that day. The total when I parked my bike was 118.56 miles not your mamby pamby Kim’s but god old imperial miles. I would not have believed that I was capable of riding so far in one day but needs must.

The day started with breakfast and saying goodbye and thank you to Frans and Evelyn. Once again they were explemplorary hosts, I just hope that I can live up to the standards set on this trip.

                                           Frans and Evelyn

After a Dutch breakfast, bread, cheese, cold meats and green tea, Frans accompanied me to my starting point for the day. As we were saying goodbye he commented that he was surprised that we hadn’t seen Evelyn, who was out on a run, as where we were was on her favourite route. As soon as he said this she appeared with two friends and we posed for pictures and then I was off.

The route was similar to yesterday in that it was through forests and on sand and semed, well actually did go on for ever. This route is fine except that it goes all around the houses. There were a number of times that I noticed that the Millage to a town had increased between signs even though I had been cycling forever. So I would have preferred a route that stuck to the main B roads and was more direct.

The other thing about the day was the wind got up and because my legs have over 1000 miles in them the effect wasn’t as bad as at the beginning of the trip, although I did feel at times like a becycled Marcel Marceau. Eventually I did get to the end of LF13b and here is the proof.

What this means is that I have cycled across the middle of Holland in two days, with before and after bits as well.

The end of LF13 is at a ferry port where you catch a fast ferry to the southernmost part of Holland. After that it is after braving the path beside the windswept North Sea all along canal paths.

By now it was getting late and I had decided that I would find a hotel rather than camp. However, wherever I looked everywhere was closed. This might be explained as Belgium, my latest country, were playing Algeria in the World Cup. I decided to press on to Brugges and found a hotel at about 8.45pm, totally knackered but chuffed with my distance. What I’ll feel like tomorrow I dread to think.

Monday 16 June

My anti-penultimate day and possibly one of the most challenging. The plan was to follow the long distance cycle path which runs from the German border to the North Sea. My task today was to get to a town called Breda which I estimated would be about two thirds of the way across. I started off ok and the signs for the path, LF13 were quite prominent, however at one junction they disappeared never to be found again. I knew that the path ran generally west and passed to the north of Eindhoven. I eventually found a map showing the general area to the east of Eindhoven and wrote down a list of towns or villages that approximated to where I thought the path went. I started on this route and eventually came to a split in the road. Whilst stroking my chin and getting a coin out to make a decision a young women on a recumbent cycle came along. I stopped her and asked her for directions. After putting me on the right track, literally, I showed some interest in her machine. She insisted that I have a go, which I did and very impressive it was to.

I followed my new instructions and eventually came across LF13 again. What was reassuring was that I now went through most of the villages that I had listed. The track itself is, I later found out, not the most direct line of travel but the prettiest. I ended up doing 90 miles, but all very attractive. In the course of this mammoth ride I clocked up 1000 miles

And here is the moment just before. 

One less pleasant incident that I feel I should report concerns a cat and a truck. Conscious of my readership it will spoil the story to say there is a happy ending. As I was cycling towards a farm I was overtaken by a lorry when it was about 50 metres in front of me I was aware of something white flying around underneath it. I assumed it was a large plastic bag. As I  approached the item I could see that it was animate and so I changed my opinion believing it to be a seagull. Once I was within feet of it I saw and heard that it was a cat, a big white and black one. It was sitting in the gutter making a very loud deep, growling/howling noise. I cycled past thinking that there wasn’t much that I could do, but kept looking over my shoulder. The cat stayed where it was and so I turned around intending to knock on the nearest door, however, as I approached the cat it got to its feet and ran at full pelt into the farm. It was ok. So that was good.

I am now at my final warm showers home with Frans and Evelyn. Once again a delightful couple who have really looked after me well. They both speak excellent English and so the conversations have been varied and interesting. They are really keen tourers having done 5 months in Australia and three months in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Next week they are cycling back home from Gdansk in Poland. They were able to answer my question about holland and the Netherlands. They like all citizens live in The Netherlands, but an area of the country around the North Sea, Amsterdam and Utrecht is Holland which means land of woods. And they speak Dutch which is derived from Deutsch because this area used to be part of the German empire. So now we all know.


                                            A Dutch canal bridge in action

Oh and they told me that it’s going to another long one tomorrow about 150km, can’t wait.

Sunday 15 June

A quiet cycling day with forty miles done before I had realised. Most of it was on cycle tracks but there were some on roads as a result of the storms last week. It was actually very interesting to see what a small area was actually affected. As I left Cologne it was perfectly ok but as I approached Dusseldorf about 30 miles away the number of trees down was quite astounding. Once I was another ten miles further on there were no fallen trees at all. It would be interesting to know why it was so localised?

I had set an alarm for midnight, having gone to sleep about 930 to watch the England Italy game and woke up this morning a bit bleary eyed. However coffee, toast and jam got me going. It was great cycling almost alone through Cologne and to be honest there has not been much traffic all day.

A last look at Cologne

I am now in The Netherlands /Holland (are they synonymous or is it like UK and Great Britain?). Once again there was no border the path just changed its number from the German to Dutch.

Although I can speak no German, except for please/thank you, good morning etc and some numbers, I managed to get by as must of the people that I encountered spoke some English. And they were only to happy to use their English to assist me. I think without exception every single German person that I had contact with was polite and helpful. Those that I was able to speak with for a greater time were charming and good company.

The cycle along theRhine was really straight forward especially when compared to my experiences along the Rhone in France. The signposting was generally clear and the paths were well maintained. Also the shops don’t close for the best part of the day so there was never a panic to find food or water because it was approaching midday. So overall the score is Germany 1 :France 0.

It will be interesting to see how the Dutch long distance paths compare. I shall be travelling the entire length of LR 13b from the German border to just north of Bruges. I don’t have a map so I hope it’s idiot proof.

                                     Bit of a cheat as this windmill was in Germany

Saturday 14 June

Cologne is the German New York as in it is a city they never sleeps. I fell asleep at about 1030 pm and all was quiet except for the cheers every time Holland scored against Spain. However within an hour or two I was woken by constant partying which went on until at least 5 when it was replaced by delivery vans with their radios on. I tried closing the window but the heat was unbearable. I did get some sleep and once again had very vivid and realistic dreams although now the details have gone.

Cologne is not just a party town but also a shopping town. I went out this morning and there were lots of shops and lots of shoppers but I did manage to see some sights.

I was very responsible and bought a couple of maps for the final leg of my tour and then I came back and cleaned and oiled my bike. Very responsible and very boring.

Friday 13 June

After two weeks virtual abstention,  3 pints while I watched the Brazil/Croatia game at an Italian cafe, wasn’t my best move. I was ok but woke up with a bit of a muzzy head and  the knowledge that I had 60 odd miles to go. However it soon passed and I cracked on. Before I left I spoke with another couple, a brother and sister, him from New Zealand her from London, who were riding folding Brompton bikes with trailers. He had started at the source of the Rhine and told me it was still snowy and very cold. His sister started the ride at Strassbourg. I’m not sure that I’d fancy the ride on a Brompton it’s hard enough on a proper bike.

Anyway I got off and made good ground until about 15 miles from Cologne and then it all went a bit wrong as the signs seemed to be telling me something different from what my guide book was saying. They appeared to be telling me to go over the river which was something that I didn’t want to do. Eventually i joined up with a Swiss couple who agreed that things were not as they seemed. We worked it out in the end and all three of us cycled together into the city. It was very pleasant to travel with others and chat as we went along.

I found my way to my lodgings but am still having trouble with my phone and the number to dial from an English phone on a uk network to a German phone in Germany. As stood there getting slowly frustrated a voice said “Andrew ” and there was the owner and I was in. There are two cats that I will have to win over as they are shy the washing is on as is radio four.

I am currently listening to last word and the first subject was Rik Mayall. I find it quiet shocking that an apparently fit person the same age as me (almost) has died suddenly. I suppose it gives me some justification for things like this trip, do it while you can.

This does seem a bit ramble but I feel like falling asleep.tomorrow is a rest day I think a day of TV sport in bed is called for.

                                           The view from my tent this morning