15th to the 19th May – 294 kms completed
We are currently enjoying our second evening at the Haliotis campsite at Pontorson in Normandy, France, very happy to be here we are too. The journey so far has been more challenging than we anticipated, with strong head winds, heavy rain and three punctures to cope with.
We had a good start Monday morning with a breakfast in the company of Harriet and Sarah; and accompanied for a short way by Louise. We made good progress completing 76 kms by 4.15pm, exhausted by having to tackle Ham Hill and cycle into a relentless headwind. Mum and Dad cooked a great meal and had a great send off by Lucy, David, Sylvia, Ewan, Christina and Byron. Thanks again one and all.
The second stage took us on a fabulous route through Oxford and Abingdon, including stretches of the Thames path. We joined the sustrans cycle way for large sections, including an impressive loop around the remaining towers of Didcot power station. We were taken over the Ridgeway on a bridleway, which was very beautiful but slow as it was more footpath than road. We then had a 10 km detour to negotiate as two motorway bridges were closed for maintenance; and then there was the relentless headwind. It was about half 5 by the time we reached our Airbnb. Very good it was too.
Lunch stop on the Ridgeway
Religion and headwinds: Did I mention we struggled against a relentless head wind from Noke to Baisingstoke, which made the ride quite a bit tougher than it might have been, we even had to peddle down the hills. The point is this is not the first time. Our first tour 5 years ago, from Fishguard to Chepstow, with the prevailing wind. Except it wasn’t, all cyclists we met as we struggled against a relentless headwind said they had never known anything like it – and it went on for days. Then there was our tour from Lands End to Taunton, an abiding memory being bent double and barely moving against a relentless headwind and driving rain across a disused airfield, again the wind lasted for most of the trip. We have already mentioned the cold and relentless wind on our Crickhowell trip. It leaves me wondering if somehow I have upset the gods of wind, although Kath suggested that with my constitution I should have a special affinity with any gods of wind…
Baisingstoke. Perhaps we didn’t see it at its best, we walked miles through new housing estates, past industrial units, around hospitals and through souless shopping centres before we got to a pub – and that turned out to be a Wetherspoons! Still it sold beer and chips.
On day three it rained and rained. Kamoot took us on tiny lanes up and down the hills of the South Downs. The roads flooded and earth and stone, mostly flint, was washed onto the roads – causing us to have three punctures. We have spent today digging shards of flint from the tyres and mending punctures. We still managed to complete the 68 kms to the ferry by 4 pm. Plenty of time to get dry and changed for a very comfortable ferry crossing.
Cycling in the rain: It rained from Basingstoke to Portsmouth, creating all sorts of problems. Rain on my glasses and on the rear view mirror refracted the light from my high vis jacket making it seem like there was several or no Katharines following on behind. Then there was the small matter of flint being washed from the Ridgeway and the Southdowns over the road giving us no less than three punctures to repair. Boy were we wet by the time we got to Portsmouth!
We have had a very pleasant ride from St Malo to our first campsite at Pontorson. It was largely flat, there was no rain and the wind was not against us! Hurrah! The roads were wide and smooth and we passed old disused windmills through a wetland coastal strip full of skylarks. Pontorson is very pretty and the campsite is very comfortable.
We arrive at France at last – At Malo under a cloudy but rainfree sky
Off again tomorrow.
Anglo French Relations: Like Brexit negotiations relations with our foreign neighbours have quickly become difficult since our arrival at Haliotis campsite (and this has nothing to do with smelly breath). Things got tricky as soon as I asked the very beautiful, power dressing receptionist “Parlez vous Anglais sil vous plait?”. Her response was a curt “of course” – need I ask! We booked in and were allocated plot 5. We asked about breakfast and I was told to sign up on a list, could I do it? There was a choice of breads to order and a column I hardly saw let alone recognise headed pdj. So I asked. Obviously, with hindsight it meant petit-dejeuner. I conceded this round to it being ‘ the English problem’.
We asked to use the heated swimming pool and sauna, the beautiful receptionist agreed to switch the sauna on and we were told to wait 15 minutes for it to heat up, we did our washing. Once the machine was loaded and working we went for the the swim. Couldn’t open the gate. The power dressing receptionist said it was open in a way that suggested that anyone who was not English would manage fine. I tried again and failed. We won this round after mademoiselle found the gate locked and had to find a key. Round 3 was the sauna and went to us, there was no heat despite it being way over the suggested 15 minutes – the sauna hadn’t been switched on properly. The haughty receptionist had to come across to switch it on properly. For round 4 the French deployed a secret weapon in the shape of a huge wasp entangled in the valcro of my sandel, which stung me as I tried to pick it up. Ouch, it is still swollen. The final round went to us, this morning we were told in no uncertain terms by the petulant receptionist that we had pitched our tent in the wrong place. We were in a very nice bay to be used by expensive motor homes rather than the bit of scrubland we were allocated (grass verge squashed between the sauna and swimming pool. We hadn’t even recognised it as a pitch). We have ended up in a very nice and secluded spot for our two nights here.
Minority Interest Item: Soon after leaving Basingstoke we came across this splended monument to the original use of the cycle path we were on (see pic below). What a great idea. We should do something similar for the nature reserve. I suggest something much bigger and making use of the original architecture, perhaps under a bridge or some such?
What about handlebar extensions? Well, we have learned to use them carefully on canal paths. We have also learned that they improve the quality of the ride. There are three reasons for this, firstly they offer a change in body position which can be of great relief; secondly they provide extra leverage up steep hills; and most importantly they remind me of my childhood. You remember those cow horn bars we used to fit on our bikes, or turning racing handlebars upside down, and how pleased we felt sitting a bit higher on the bike? Well handlebar extensions put the same smile on my face!
For more pics use this link.