The 12th to the 17th June, with 1,693 kms in the bag.
I think I have found the perfect way to spend a rest day. The campsite at Aigueze was quiet and peaceful and my pitch was set away from the mobile homes and caravans; and I was able to write the last entry of the blog at a table and chairs that had been left around. Monday was another hot sunny day and although I was joined by a couple of cyclists using a tandem we neither of us could speak each other’s language and so once we had agreed how hot it was and we had shown each other our respective routes we quickly ran out of things to say (sometimes there is an advantage to not being able to converse) and we left each other alone.
For the morning I visited the historic village of Saint-Martin-d’Ardeche. However, I am learning that one medieval village looks very similar to others. This one did have a good view of the Ardeche and there were people swimming in it. That’s where I headed after lunch, I spent over an hour swimming about. Until, that is, I got mauled, well scratched, by an over friendly chocolate laboratory, whose owner had no control of! It is difficult to tell what mood it was in swimming out in deep water. He just wanted to say hello but couldn’t keep his legs still. It didn’t spoil the swim.
I headed off to Chateauneurf du Pape, the home of the only wine Kath and I can recognise and I rushed putting the tent up so Kath, Happs, Hannah and I could share a WhatsApp Chateauneurf du Pape toast.
Chateauneuf du Pape is at the heart of French wine production and is surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see. A real monoculture that didn’t change much until I reached the Rhone river and put me into a French industrial heartland, the Rhone corridor on the way to a delightful village called Ville sur Auzon, which is more than can be said about the campsite, it was both expensive and crummy.
The day started badly: (Wednesday) I had run out of cash, with cash machines all over the world that should not be a problem. It is for me. I pulled up in front of a bank with a cash machine and tapped in my pin number. I had the card returned but no 100 euros! What to do? I went into the bank and waited in a queue to speak to the clerk. Then I remembered I left my phone on the bike and realised that as I had used a Thompson travel card I could check if the money had gone from the account. So I left the queue , for no more than a couple of minutes. Long enough to lose my place apparently. The older women just didn’t remember I had been there. I now had three people to wait for. Neither the cashier or me had a language in common (sometimes there is a real disadvantage to not being able to converse). I eventually established that there was nothing to be done until next Tuesday!
I now understand that that is correct and it wasn’t just that the woman was being unhelpful. I phoned the travel card people who did share a common language and explained I would get it back later. Apparently the bank doesn’t deal with mastercard.
I phoned my Kath who explained that I shouldn’t be using the mastercard for cash in any case. This had been explained to me previously.
So I was still cashless and now my Thompsons travel card was nearly empty. Kath talked me through what to do. So I found a proper bank and shoved the correct card in. The machine closed down on me. I was now 100 euros down, had an empty travel card and had lost my debit card. Thankfully the two charming young men in the bank did share a common language with me, retrieved my card and oversaw me getting cash. Kath arranged for funds to be put on the travel card. I got back on the bike and rode out of there as quickly as I could. It took me a long time to regain composure.
It was at Ville Sur Auzon that I first saw Mont Ventoux.
A, B, C, – the three points of contact between rider and bike: I am having problems with point B and point C. I bought a new saddle the other day, my original saddle was falling apart, it was not coping with the leaning of bike and Bob against trees in campsites and was losing its skin. The new saddle hurts! Kath says it is because I am devoid of natural padding “Je n’ai pas de postérieur”.
I have also managed to hurt my feet, I have four bruised toes and it looks like I might loose both big toenails, they are very purple. Over 5 weeks in and I have only just appreciated that I can adjust my foot straps to stop me squashing my toes! I’ll Je suis un homme très idiot). Hopefully they will start to get better now.
Thursday made up for the frustrations of the previous day. The ride took me up the Gorge de la Nesque, what a treat. It was pretty much an uphill ride all the way but that didn’t matter, the Gorge de la Nesque is stunning. 30 kms and climbing to over 700m above sea level, the road clinging to the rising gorge side twisting and turning in every direction. Made all the more magical by verge side wild thyme, rosemary, marjoram and curry plants filling the enclosed gorge with the smell of “Les herbes de provance”, it just made me hungry!
The Gorge tipped me out into the small town of Sault, gone were the grape vines and in its place were fields of lavender. Sault is full of lavender stalls and shops and the smell was all consuming (and a bit sneeze inducing) . The creperie does a nice dessert of lavender ice-cream and honey.
Sault is also the suggested starting point for an ascent of Mont Ventoux.
Le Mont Ventoux: Perhaps a familiar name with you, especially if you are a follower of the Tour de France. Until the last week or so it meant nothing to me. I have got to know a bit more about it now, and it is fair to say it is a high point of the tour. Le Mont Ventoux is part of the western reaches of the Alps. Its summit is 1,912m above sea level and it dominates the landscape around Provence. It is capped by a limestone scree that makes it look like it is snow covered all year round. The name means windy, and I can confirm that it lives up to its name.
One route, from Bedoin to the summit, is a key stage in the Tour de France that is said to sort out the men from the boys. Infamous for British fans of the race after revered cyclist Tom Simpson died 1km from the summit from a lethal cocktail of heat, alcohol and amphetamines. There is a substantial memorial to Tom at the point he died, I know because I cycled past it. It is also the hill where Chris Froome famously ran a section after his bike was wrecked from a collision with a media motor bike. He went on to win the stage and the whole race last year (for the third time! ). There is a video of the incident through this link.
So this hill is just sitting there and I had to have a go. I cut out the amphetamines completely, limited my alcohol intake to one bottle of Mont Ventoux red wine and set off before the heat of the day. I made it in 2 ½ hours and loved every minute of it. I cheated a bit setting of from Sault, as recommended by our guide book. Sault is higher up the mountain than Bedoin. The guide book also says “the descent is exhilarating but take care to keep left at Chalet Reynard so as not to finish in Bedoin. It’s a long way back up.” I didn’t and yep it is a long way back up. I definitely made up those missing metres of climbing. Back in time for a lunch time beer.
Rumours that the fierce wind at the top blew away my shorts is just fake news. You only have to look at the evidence!
Today has been a very pleasant ride to Forcalquier as I venture further into the alps, and where I have paid for two nights camping. I am not cycling anywhere tomorrow.
Rivers of France: I have been surprised to discover how important rivers have been to this tour. Some that have become an important part of my life and will stay with me for many a year. There is the the Loire, a fleuve, with its three huge channels carrying water from France’s longest river into the Atlantic ocean. The river Dordogne whose banks I followed through lush countryside (and challenging weather). The river Lot, a tributary to the Garonne and therefore known as a riviere as it does not flow into a sea. Each I feel I know intimately now. I have had the pleasure of sleeping with them for two or more nights. Then there is the Ardeche, two nights spent with this one following its spectacular gorge. This river I entered and relaxed in its warm waters for well over an hour at the height of a very hot afternoon.
I spent one night with the river Dronne, it surrounds the pretty town of Brantome where I spoke with Annie on the phone and watched a cool looking fly fisherman in his sunnies perform in front of the town’s people. He looked great but as far as I know, caught nothing except my attention.
I have spent a day in the company of the Rhone, a huge and powerful river that drives the industrial corridor of Provence and South Eastern France. Coming as it does from the Rhone glacier in the Swiss alps heading for the Mediterranean, it had little to offer except a vast girth and is only memorable at all because of it’s reputation.
The stunningly beautiful ride up the Gorge de la Nesque was cut into the rock by a tiny river that packs a big punch! The riveriere la Nesque; only flirted with her for one very memorable day.
It was a difficult relationship, remembered for all the wrong reasons, that l had with the river Clouere at L’Isle-Jourdain with its huge viaduct and very noisy frogs. Those very frogs that tempted Kath and I to climb down to the river to investigate, forcing us to make an extended stay after Kath broke her wrist.
There are those rivers whose names I never got or immediately forgot after nothing more than a brief rendezvous, or a glance of admiration. The Neuf Pont crossing the Oudon river at Craon (pronounced Crochchch); or the Vienne river whose medieval bridge I cycled over on the way to Rochechouart.
There is more to come, like the Verdon at Castellane and which promises to be a challenge. Who knows how many more rivers there are to cross?
For more pics follow this link.