• AndyAsh

La Rochelle and into Brittany

La Rochelle to Les Sables-d’Olonne 95 km

The forecast rain had not arrived this morning as we entertained ourselves watching motorists scraping ice off their cars. After getting way more than our money’s worth of food from the breakfast buffet, we breezed out, feeling slightly sick, on a bright, cold winter’s morning. The first few kilometres were bitter, and with a thimbleful of wind, felt a touch colder.

The going was good, but route finding slow and difficult. The cold had killed my iPhone after just 13 kms, and we found stringing the journey together challenging.

There was a lot of wildlife to be seen and we got our first sight of coypu; a strange sort of mixture of otter and beaver. We also saw a buzzard circling a large group of what looked like moorhens. As they spotted the buzzard, all of the moorhens, maybe 50 or more, started beating the water with their wings. It was not only impressive; it sent the buzzard packing.

It was all an elaborate bluff, and the moorhens could have had no effect on the buzzard at all, in reality; they had just fooled it. It struck me that bluff and bluster is important.

I immediately thought of British politics, where noise and fuss matters. Boris Johnson; a serial liar, a man who appears to have little or no integrity, and whose counting skills don't stretch to how many children he has, is good at making a fuss. By making the biggest fuss, he has persuaded a large number of people that he is the very person they should place their trust in. He can't count his kids, but he should be trusted with the government of UK. Strange but true!

By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn, who comes across to me as a principled, thoughtful, and honest antithesis to the incorrigible Johnson, is deemed not trustworthy. Even more odd, is that Nicola Sturgeon, perhaps the most able politician of all parties, both smart and articulate, seems to be ignored, even though she is First Minister of Scotland. Both of these politicians are not good at bluster. Noise matters!

But this is no place for politics.

By mid morning, we were desperate for a coffee and pulled in to a tabac. The guy behind the counter turned out to have worked in Linlithgow for a few years and had many fond memories of Scotland. We chatted longer than we should have, and got underway again.

Some time later, a guy pulled alongside us in his car and dropped the window. “Hi there” he said, in an English accent. “I believe you're on a long trip, heading to Fort William”. “er…yeah” Annette said, “have a good journey!” he replied, and drove off. Bizarre! I guess news travels fast around there.

We continued turning the pedals, and eventually we came to Les Sables. The trek across the town, in heavy traffic seemed to take an age, but eventually we arrived. It took us a wee while to get the bikes, luggage, and us into a tiny bedroom, but eventually we got in. A quick dash to the shops and done for the day.

I have been craving a dram for quite some time on the trip, and promised myself a small bottle of whisky when we arrive back in Blighty. Imagine my surprise, when I saw a very reasonably priced bottle of my favourite whisky on a shelf in a French supermarket. Straight in the basket it went, along with a water bottle to carry it in. I’m enjoying it right now!

The forecast for tomorrow is rain all day.

La Rochelle

Les Sables-d’Olonne to Pornic 96 km

We were woken in the night by hammering rain. It was still hammering during breakfast. However by the time we had abused the “all you can eat” buffet, and wheeled the loaded bikes from the room, the rain had subsided to a gentle, damp, caress.

The morning developed a pattern; bursts of heavy rain, followed by short, optimistic dry spells. Occasionally we could spot small patches of blue sky; just enough to patch a sailor’s trousers, as the saying goes.

It was just like the rest of life, you need the bad bits to make the good bits good. The miserable beating of the rain, followed by a patch of bright sky, and a rainbow, was enough to turn a dreich morning into very enjoyable riding.

It was difficult however, to stop and eat; I got cold every time I stopped, even for a minute or two. The lack of food hit me hard later in the afternoon.

After lunchtime, the rain became more aggressive and asserted itself on our day. The flooded fields either side of us threatened to swallow the road, which was barely drier. Although the temperature lurked around double figures, it was easy to get chilled, as I was soaked.

Bus shelter lunch

It sort of became very zen after that, as we cycled to an inner beat. I don't remember much of the latter part of the day, as I retreated into my own head. After I'm not sure how long, we arrived at our bed for the night. We spent the first half hour just eating anything and everything we had, before walking to Lidl, to buy more.

The forecast for tomorrow is for more of the same, except with high winds. So far, the star of the show on this trip has been the weather; the heat in Africa, the cold and wet in Europe.

I hope there is going to be more to this trip in the end than just getting beaten up.

Survival is ok for a while, but it needs to not be the only thing a journey is about.

We are hoping to cross the Loire tomorrow, for those of you who don't know France; it’s sort of a watershed, marking out the north and south. We’re quite excited, but a little nervous too.

Pornic to Nantes/Coueron 64 km

Today was a day short in kilometres, but big on attitude. It was good value any way you look at it. It was obvious all wasn't going to go to plan early in the day, when we had to return to the hotel after a few kilometres, as I’d left my Kindle behind. That cost us an hour straight away.

The weather forecast had predicted heavy rain and winds up to 65 kph. We were woken during the night as the hotel was battered. By the time we set off though, it was dry (ish), and bitterly cold with a strong wind. We were happy to take it!

We planned this as a short 45km day, with some time in a hotel in Nantes, planning and sorting out kit…maybe even a badly needed haircut. We also knew we needed to spend some serious time eating, as I have become a bit depleted over the past few days.

What should have been an easy day turned into a bit of a quest, as we had no less than three road closures, and Google maps didn't want to help us to work out how to get to the ferry. Eventually, we managed by wriggling through one road closure on pavement and bits of intact road, and managed to get on the ferry just fine.

The ferry was very similar to the Ardnamurchan ferry in the West Highlands of Scotland. Equally, both ferries have a vital role to play in being a bit of a lifeline for the communities they serve, and importantly, both involve a long detour if the ferry is not running. There was one very important difference though…this ferry was free!

People who live in Ardgour, or Ardnamurchan, pay a lot for the ferry trip (a car £8.50, each way). If you work on either side of the Corran narrows, and live on the other, that’s £17.00 a day to go to work, and wages aren't high in the Highlands. Here in France, The Pays de Loire take responsibility and fund the ferry. Europe eh! Better out than in Brexiteers?

Of course the rain had started by now, and we had a couple of hours of wind and rain, but although we were a bit damp, we’ve had far worse on this trip. The wind was sporting though and did its bit to keep us warm, as there was no soft-pedalling on offer.

Of course the rain had started by now, and we had a couple of hours of wind and rain, but although we were a bit damp, we’ve had far worse on this trip. The wind was sporting though and did its bit to keep us warm, as there was no soft-pedalling on offer.

View from the ferry

This was a day of choices and perceptions. It would be easy to focus on the bitterly cold wind, the equally freezing rain; or perhaps the road closures and navigational problems it caused us. But it is equally easy to remember beautiful rolling countryside, the many kestrels, and herons out hunting, or the watery sun trying hard to break through to warm our minds if not our bodies. We could choose to reflect on the friendly welcome in a random bar tabac as we warmed our hands on a spectacular cafe au lait.

The ferry ride was lovely, and to cap it off, the staff at the hotel were really helpful. We were expecting a different day, but the one we got was just fine.

Nantes/Coueron to Chateaubriant 64 km

This was a day where luck played a big part. We had a touch of bad luck, and a healthy sized ladleful of good luck.

Over breakfast, we watched the weather forecast as usual, with our full concentration. The “weather” has moved south and east, and the French are calling it the “intemperie”.

Every morning, they tell us that this is very unusual for this time of year; nobody seems to be acknowledging that it’s unusual for any time... of any year. Hundreds of thousands without power (no joke when it’s this cold), people missing in the floods, buildings flattened or washed away etc.

Climate seems to be the elephant in the room. We seem to no longer have climate; we just have weather…and the weather’s been pish!

This morning however, was lovely, it was the first time we’ve seen an autumn morning. Prior to this we went straight from summer to winter. Do not pass go – do not collect £200!

This was truly the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. Beautiful colours, frosty sunshine, and most of all dry.

We had a great couple of hours, and stopped for our customary coffee, mid-morning. We had a great conversation with a guy in a bar who was amazed at what we had done so far, but advised us quite strongly that our plans for today were unrealistic…it was just too far! Luckily, we have got away with going a similar amount of "too far" each day for a good while.

Just after our bus shelter lunch appointment, our dose of bad luck happened. It had started raining a wee bit earlier, we were feeling chilly and concentration was drifting. On a major road, somebody had thrown bag of rubbish from their car. Animals had ripped open the bag, but inside it was a beer bottle that had smashed. I ran over two pieces of it. Within metres, my back tyre was squishing around and my back end was fishtailing.

When we looked at my back tyre, there was a hole in it where the matting was exposed, luckily the matting was intact – so no hole in the tube. When we checked further, there was a slit in the tyre sidewall…not pretty.

Luckily I had a tyre boot somewhere in my kit and we cobbled enough of a repair to get us moving. The nearest town was 13 kms away.

At the town, Chateaubriant, I went into Decathlon to get a tyre, and was told that they don't make them in the size I wanted. They thought I was probably wrong about my wheel size, and I should check it out and come back.

Suitably told, we jumped on the bikes to another bike shop. Although they had no tyres in my size; here we got lucky. A guy came running up with our precious multi-tool; he saw it bounce off the back of Annette’s bike. She’d ridden for 15 kms with it sat on her back pannier as she’d forgotten to put it back in the toolkit. It bounced off as she bounced up a kerb.

Piece of luck number two. We found a bike shop with a tyre. I fitted it on the path outside.

Piece of luck number three; it was going dark and we needed someplace to sleep. We drew a few blanks, with many hotels closed, until the woman in tourist information made some phone calls and found us a space. Unfortunately the hotel manager wouldn't be around until ten past six.

Piece of luck number four…with time to kill, we were standing outside a bar. We looked in and the Liverpool Game was on…Liverpool won 2-1, and we saw all of it.

It finished at five past six, at ten past we were in the hotel.

Piece of luck number five…we found a restaurant with a vegetarian dish on the menu!!!

It struck me that we could have been justified in feeling unlucky that we trashed a tyre and tube…in the rain. But if we hadn’t, we wouldn't have watched the football.

All’s well that ends well.

Chateaubriant to Fougeres 87 km

Today was a game of two halves (as they say).

The morning was spectacular. Beautiful autumn colours, a rollercoaster road that never failed to provide interest, rolling through different landscapes, woods and forests, and past spectacular towns and villages with castles and chateaux. The sun was bright in a pale blue sky and we could see each breath as we chugged up each hill.

The afternoon however, was a whole different animal.

We rolled into a huge bank of fog, and the same roads, the same landscapes became tense and nervy, as cars appeared from nowhere behind us, roaring past at reckless speeds. Then in what seemed like an instant, they disappeared into the fog like they had never been there.

Sometimes we could hear traffic but not see it. We felt vulnerable and invisible. We put every effort we could into being seen, lights, high visibility strips etc. but we really just wanted it to be over. The only way to be safe, was to be parked up.

We stayed on the big road, so we could ride on the shoulder, and breathed a sigh of relief when we rolled out of the fog a couple of hours later. It seemed like we didn't really appreciate how far we were going, as our horizon was not much further than the end of our nose. Before we knew it, we trucked into Fougeres and started to look for a bed for the night.

Yeah, a game of two halves, a brilliant first half, a forgettable second half. Sometimes, you gotta win ugly!

Early morning in Chateaubriant

16 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All