26th to the 30th May – 743 kms completed in total.
I guess we always knew something could happen that would disrupt the whole project, and we talked about what we might expect, mechanical problems with the bikes, long periods of appalling weather, theft, even being knocked off our bikes – but we had not anticipated this one and I am blaming the frogs!
It all started by the mighty river Loire. (we think we saw our first wild otter in the Loire by the way – see ‘more pics’ on the previous page for an unconvincing picture.) Bowling along a cycle path on the bank we passed several colonies of very noisy frogs, which I found fascinating. We stopped and looked and smiled. A bit later we turned a tight corner, over a bridge crossing a small stream and there was that racket again. We have heard frogs several times since.
On Friday morning we set off on a long stage of the tour, 99 kms from Parthenay to a charming little campsite at a little town with a massive and regal railway viaduct (now minus the railway) called L’Isle-Jordain, we are still here. The ride was hard, it was hot and a summer breeze made us work for each metre. However it went well, we were pleased and we were increasingly optimistic about completing and enjoying the tour.
The campsite is under new management and they greeted us with a free beer, we were made very welcome. We had a lentil and quinoa meal cooked with great satisfaction on the trangia, free fuel collected from the hedgerows!
Our after dinner walk took us to the viaduct with stunning views of the river Vienne in the evening sunshine. The frogs were there making an extraordinary noise, whoops, croaks, call return phrases that were amplified by the gorge. I just had to record them. With phone at the ready we made our way to the river, but they are a canny lot and as we approached they shut up. When we retreated they started up again. I never got my audio record of the noisy frogs. On the way back to the campsite Kath stumbled on a step, grazed her knee and broke her wrist.
Our friend the cuckoo: This is the honest truth (as it all is) – one of the things I love about camping is being so close to the dawn chorus, and we have not been disappointed. We have lived through 11 of them since leaving the UK. I hadn’t appreciated how different they can be. All full of frantic birdsong of course, some more soprano, others with a distinct baritone section, depending on who has been roped in to participate. They are all in delightful surround sound. It is the connection to millions of years of earth history that I find so fascinating, our birds being the direct descendents of dinosaurs, packed with an evolution that not only gives us birdsong but also this strange and seemingly pointless phenomenon, the dawn chorus.
We have been looking out for different bird species (from the saddle, not from a hide) and think we have seen one not usual in the UK; the less distinctive European pied wagtail.
There were huge numbers of skylarks while we peddled through Brittany. Our first lunch stop was on the coastal salt flats on the Bretagne northern coast, which was home to what seemed like hundreds of skylarks. They filled the bay with their distinctive song as they made their slow musical descent and ascent to and from their nests; making it seem as though the song is the sound of the very source of power to drive them up and down. We have far fewer skylarks with us now we have moved south.
There are swifts swooping and screeching around each town and village we visit.
On Friday we entered the world of house martins. Two villages packed with the birds, dressed in their smart black and white uniforms, attending their chicks still in their nests and appearing as tiny black and white fluffy balls peeking out from under the eaves. French buildings seemingly designed specifically for the acrobat flying machines.
And then there are the cuckoos. Their call has been with us every day, morning, noon and dawn chorus. A constant source of delight for us both. Either a very healthy population here in France, or one noisy bugger on the same tour as us!
We made our way back to the campsite, Kath in a great deal of pain and a state of shock. It was about 10 and very dark by the time we got to the tent. We were both in denial about the possibility of a break and so we slept.
By morning it was clear something was wrong with Kath’s wrist. We spoke to our hosts Cecile and Didier and they rang their expats friends Carolyn and Steve, who immediately came and took us to the hospital. Both couples have been extremely kind and generous to us as we wait for our repatriation.
Three pins required to hold the wrist together and a plaster protect it. All done and dusted and back at the tent by 5pm. Can’t fault the French ‘Urgencies’ health care in this instance.
However six weeks before Kath can even begin to think about getting on a bike again. Two years of platitudes, planning, preparing and participating all over in an instant, after just twelve days of our once in a lifetime holiday. We are both bitterly disappointed and the last few days in L’Isle-Jordain have been very emotional.
Road surfaces and verges: It is now official, French roads are in much better condition than ours, miles and miles of smooth cycling and very few potholes. They put ours to shame frankly. I am now embarrassed on behalf of French cyclists visiting the UK. Take note Jezza, there is a large and growing minority group of voters, some of whom are young, that are angry about the state of the roads. [Note: dandkonthego turns political at last].
The French score well on roadside wildflowers too. Brittany in particular was full of colour and almost rivaled our very own West and South Wales coast and Devon and Cornwall for its floral display. Pinks, mauve, yellows and whites from foxglove, campion, lupin amongst all the regulars. Fields full of grape vines started and ended at the roadside leaving no room for flowers for much of the Loire. Where we passed the Anglicised scenery of woodlands, hedgrows and enclosed lanes as we left the Loire for Poitou – Charentes, gave us nettles, cow parsley and thistle. After which things have become more barren as we continued South to our current location at L’Isle-Jordain. Plenty of evidence of displays that have come and gone, particularly cowslip. When, around lunchtime on Friday, the roadside suddenly lit up with colour again. This time with poppy, blackberry, dog rose and an impressive display of the rich purples of pyramidal orchid. What a treat!
Tuesday and we are still waiting for our insurance people to get us home, we have been hampered by a bank holiday and power failures in airline computer systems. Hopefully later today or early tomorrow. We have decided to only take one bike home and that I will resume the tour tout serle.
Not sure therefore when the next blog will be, the cliff hanger will be to see if I can get around on my lonesome, or more importantly, if I can bare to be without Kath!
- For more pics use this link