After my long ride to Vienna in 2000 and a trip up to the Arctic Circle in Norway in 2001 my choice of ride for 2002 was made for me by developments that year.
Having acquired a holiday home in the south of France early in the year, what else but to jump on the bike and ride down there? Since my first few trips down to Provence necessitated car journeys to take all sorts of household stuff down my bike ride was delayed until the end of August.
I got in a spot of training by riding the "Wild Wales Challenge" on August Bank Holiday Sunday and set off two days later for Portsmouth to board the Brittany Ferries service to Caen in Normandy. The plan was that Joan and two friends would leave by car ten days after me and we would meet up about the same time at our "pad". Being unsure of the total distance when taking my chosen route I decided to shorten the time to Portsmouth by using Mr. (Virgin) Branson for part of the journey.
On the 27th August I set off with
all my kit in my very old and trusted mini panniers and took our
well known Cheshire lanes down to Crewe. The roads were extremely
quiet and I thought that perhaps most folk were still on an extended bank holiday.
Arriving at Crewe station to catch the cross country service to Winchester I was surprised to spot three more bikies in touring mode. These turned out to be Roy Lawton, Marjorie Watkiss and another lady. They were heading for Brittany for a two week tour and were also going down to Portsmouth in order to cross to St. Malo, but by a different train to mine.
Wishing them Bon Voyage I headed for my train which arrived on time and which turned out to be one of the new "Voyager" type. Very posh and comfortable, but not room for many bikes! These new trains are capable of high speeds but, since it stopped at many stations en route it was nearly four hours later when I alighted at Winchester.
The last time I rode from Winchester to Portsmouth, some five years earlier it had been early afternoon with the result that the traffic was light, ensuring a peaceful ride. On this occasion, however, it was 4-15 p.m. when I alighted from the train and I copped for the start of the evening rush hour, making the trip a bit unpleasant due to the near continuous traffic and the crazy speed at which the great majority traveled. Is it my imagination? I always feel that motorists in the south of England are even more manic than those in our area.
My discomfort en route to Portsmouth
paled into insignificance compared to the nightmare of negotiating
my way through the outskirts of the city to find the ferry terminal.
As I dropped off the Downs I joined the old A3 at Cosham but
then I made the mistake of following the road signs to the "
Cross Channel Ferry Terminal". This seemed the obvious
thing to do. After about two miles of very busy dual carriageway
I was being fed onto the M275 motorway! Retracing I twice took
the wrong direction and ended up in an I.B.M. headquarters complex, with no
way out! By now, the traffic, at 6-30 p.m. was frightening and it spurred me
on to retrace my route back to the A3, to ignore the "ferry" signs and to plough
through the city by the back streets. Not a pleasant experience and I wondered
what any foreign cyclists must think if they arrive in Britain via Portsmouth.
At the ferry terminal I had about two and a half hours to spare and hoped to find a good restaurant nearby where I could stoke up before boarding the boat that sailed at 11p.m. No such luck! I ended up eating in the rather basic terminal café, and it was fish and chips. Perhaps quite appropriate for my last night in England.
Wednesday 28th August. Through Normandy to Belleme
My arrival in France next morning
(at Ouistreham, the harbour for Caen) was disappointing. Although
it was early, about 7-30a.m., it did not have the makings of a
good day, weatherwise. The heavy cloud layer was so low that
I felt I could reach up and touch it and there was the threat
of rain in the atmosphere all the time.
Little did I know that this sort of weather was to dog me for the next three days!
As I travelled south, intent on avoiding the big city of Caen, I was surprised by the amount of traffic, even on the "D" (Departmental) roads. However, about 11a.m. things quietened down and the roads were as peaceful as I had come to expect in France. The terrain, however, was quite disappointing. Perhaps I expected too much but I could only describe it as "uninspiring". My only previous bike ride through Normandy had been many years earlier when Joan and I rode a London to Paris charity ride. On that occasion we travelled east from Caen and I recall it as being very rural and quite undulating.
I suppose it is the old story of expectations. When one has travelled by bike through so many countries one cannot help but compare. I must learn to be thankful for every day that I can be awheel and not to make comparisons. Perhaps the time of year did not help. Being end of summer, the crops in the vast fields had been harvested and were now bare and drab. I also found that the small towns and villages through which I passed seemed a bit run down and drab, but should I expect everywhere to be like a picture post-card?
I followed my usual practice of avoiding all the major towns and my route took me to the west of Lisieux, with it's impressive basilica, and then to the east of Argenton and Alencon, small towns which lie to the north of Le Mans. With a complete absence of wind and quite flat terrain I made good progress, clocking up 55 miles by lunch-time and another 37 by 4-30p.m.when I decided to call it a day in the small town of Belleme, having put in a total of 92 miles.
One unusual feature which I spotted during the day was the frequent old-fashioned cast iron direction posts, indicating the small villages en route and even giving the distances in one tenth of a kilometre (100 metres!) I have never encountered these on previous journeys through France.
Thursday 29th August Belleme to Rilly sur Loire
Away by 8-10a.m. on another disappointing morning, enveloped in low cloud and dead still. Again, with nothing to inspire me to stop (it certainly was not conducive to photography) I made good progress as I passed through Normandy into the Department of Eure and then into Eure et Loire. At lunch time I arrived at a fairly substantial river called The Loir and had a meal in Montoire sur le Loir. We read so much about the attractions of The Loire Valley and I was a bit puzzled to find how unattractive was my lunch spot.
Later that afternoon the penny dropped as I passed through Chateau Renault, to the northeast of Tours, to arrive at the river LOIRE. I was not aware that just to the north of the well-known river was another one, sounding the same, but without the "e". How confusing!
My overnight was in the small hamlet of Rilly sur Loire and, much to my surprise, I found another 92 miles on my computer.
To be continued next month