20th to 25th May – 644 kms completed in total
There has been a lot changed in the last five days of cycling. The most significant has been the weather, we are now basking in hot sunshine with temperatures of 30° and more!
Monday. On leaving Pontorson we knuckled down to another push against a relentless and cold headwind, we were dodging showers. We had been accompanied by skylarks, lots and lots of them, untill we reached Cogles when they disappeared to be replaced by the chirrup of crickets, which has been with us ever since. Lunch was in the very pretty town of Fougeres, with its market and beautiful public gardens for our picnic. The bike shop we were looking for was closed for the extended French lunchtime, it even sold vetements, needed after I left my jacket at Noke. That will have to wait. The afternoon was a bit of struggle and wasn’t helped by Google, who led us on a merry song and dance and up a rediculously steep hill while taking us to the campsite at Vitre.
Raptors: One and a bit weeks in and we have been scanning the skyline for a glimpse of the odd raptor or two – and frankly that’s all we have seen since leaving our homeland shores. Perhaps we are spoiled with high numbers of buzzards, kestrels and kites in the UK.
There are no kites here, not that we have seen anyway. Those magnificent flying machines, twisting and turning with tiny perceivable adjustments to their fishy tails. Even in the blustery wind of day one, over the Cotswolds, the Burford kites coped admirably. In contrast the usually majestic buzzard was an embarrassment to himself, flopping all over the place in the wind while being mobbed by six or seven screaming, screeching crows. A day he won’t want to remember! That is a thought, why don’t crows mob kites? Is it because the kite is not a threat or is it because of their long absence from the south west, crows have forgotten they need to drive them away? Do kites sneak in on crow chicks and eggs without them noticing?
We have seen a couple of pairs of buzzards circling on French thermals and two lone kestrels hovering over the roadside looking for a snack. Oh and a chick sat on the grass verge outside Pontorson. Clearly feeling very anxious about making his first flight, I think I would be too. Anyone able to tell us what bird this is.
After Vitre we continued South to Craon, which although was very pretty, it was closed! No shops, no bars and no restaurants. Even the campsite was closed, luckily for us a disabled loo and shower had been left open and so we stayed. We would have paid had there been someone to pay. Actually I exaggerate slightly, after a long walk around town and at the point of giving up, we found a bar, the landlady helped us find a creperie, so all ended well.
Mathematics and cycling: It struck me enroute to Craon that we were on a clearly defined two dimensional mathematical graph (that probably has a proper name). Our vertical plane was a straight line from North to South. However the horizontal plane could be defined as a wave, probably about the frequency of ultra violet light, as we crossed regular peaks and troughs of the undulating hills of this part of France.
Our first gold star day next, from Craon to Chalonne Sur Loire. Out of Brittany and in to the Loire valley. We lost the pungent smell of barley and swopped it for acre after acre of vineyards. The weather has warmed and the wind has dropped.
We brewed coffee on the side of the road to accompany our pain au chocolat. After which we bowelled along, cycling just as we had hoped it would be. We stopped off at Segre to find a bike shop, but it was closed, opens later in May. We did find a Spa and a splendid Boulangerie that made vegetarian baguettes to order, lunch was sorted. We had the most fantastic vegetarian meal at Le Bistro de Quais, on the bank of the Loire. It included an amuse bouche of cucumber ice cream and chantilly cream, a gastronomique delight!
The Google Gamble?: Or is Google Directions so vain she can’t accept she doesn’t know her way? We are a week in and have had a very mixed experience using Google Maps Directions. Today (Tuesday) we used Google to help us find our camp site at Montsereau and she took us off road through a wood, which although a bit alarming, we were given a significant short cut and we spotted two hares making use of the wood – and fine creatures they were too.
Sometimes it works perfectly. Yesterday we arrived at Craon and Google took us straight to the campsite. When we arrived in Vitre however Google took us all over the place, impassable footpaths between houses and up hills so steep we could only just push our bikes to the top. That was tough. In Basingstoke we asked Google to take us to the nearest pub and she took us through a new housing estates to a series of dead ends. After finding our own way to food and beer we asked Google to take us back to our Airbnb and she took us miles out of the way. So much so we had to call a taxi. At no point did Google accept she didn’t know where we wanted to go, even though she clearly didn’t have a clue! It is a lottery using Google.
Next we turned East and headed up the Loire on what should have been an easy flat days ride, until we got lost that is (more of this later when it is less painful). Adding an extra hour we completed 95 kms before finally reaching Montsereau. The campsite here was particularly special, with restaurant, cold beer and a special deal for cyclists which meant we were able to spend the night in a double bed in a Japanese style pavilion, in the loft under a giant umbrella. It made up for the tribulations of the day.
Our journey to Parthenay was another good ride. The morning was on long straight Roman roads enabling us to watch each pretty village getting closer as we rode on, speed up to an average of 18 kms per hour. The afternoon felt like we were back in England as the landscape changed from being wide, open arable farming to little fields with hedgerows and small woods. Beautiful. We have spent our day of rest day today looking around the medival quarter of Parthenay with its splendid rose gardens. Off to town tonight for a couple of beers ready to move on again tomorrow.
Campanology Bretegne Style: We cycled down off a little ridge we had been following for several kilometres, with a delightful 360° view of an open Bretegne agricultural countryside, into the pretty oldy woldy village of Meral. We were chuffed to hear the villagers were ringing the Church bells for us as we whizzed down the hill. I found it reassuring, in a strange nationalistic way, to discover that Brittany bell ringers were as uncoordinated in their campanology as us Brits (I speak as an someone who has given it a go and as a Brit), it was a cacophony of confused sound, using only three bells as far as I can tell. I suppose it is possible the Brittany bell ringers have taken their craft into a different direction – into free form jazz perhaps!
For more pics use this link.