Now I’m home I have a PC and a reliable internet connection so I’m going to post all the notes I kept while on the trip. I left for Barcelona on the 9th of March from Glasgow airport. My bike was in a box and my luggage was in a large market bag as hold luggage and I carried one pannier as hand luggage. The flight was comfortable in a Jet2 plane which appeared to be relatively new or at least recently refurbished. I had about two more inches of legroom than the last flight I was on and, on a two and a half hour flight that was appreciated.
DAY 1 Oriol met me at the airport on arrival in Barcelona and, while I unpacked and loaded the bike he was able to help out a family of tourists whose taxi transfer had not arrived. He spoke to their hotel reception on the phone and they were advised to take a regular taxi and the hotel would pay for it. We took a train to the city and although he had to leave the train before me I had very good directions from Mary as to how I would get to her place near the old cathedral. Since she was at work I sat down at the cafe around the corner and had a beer and a sandwich. Then I set about the job of getting the bike and bags into the building. This is a typical old city building consisting of several (six) floors of essentially single rooms linked by a narrow spiral staircase. After several trips up and down I finally had the bike installed at the bottom, with the bars turned parallel to the frame so that people could get past, and the bags in the room where I would be sleeping. Mary arrived home about 7:00 pm and we chatted for a while before going down to the small bar her sister Catherine runs on the ground floor. Once he heard my accent a guy at the bar started a conversation and it turned out that he came from Elderslie, which is adjacent to Paisley where I live. When I told him about my trip he took my card and said he would donate to one of the charities. Everyone in the bar was impressed by my plan. Later Mary and I had home made meatballs in tomato sauce with rice and a couple of glasses of wine before going our separate ways to bed.
DAY 2 Today will be a day to wander around Barcelona on the bike. I have arranged to meet Oriol in a bar at six and Mary will join us, when she finishes work, at eight. With a basic tourist map in hand I cycled around taking a few photos here and there. I stopped in the square next to the famous Sagrada Familia Cathedral where it cost me 2 euros for a 33cl. bottle of water. (tourist prices here !). I later paid the same for a coffee and chocolate croissant in a less well off part of town. I took the bike back to the building and stored it at the back of the cheese shop which Catherine operates next door. I then set off on foot to meet Oriol and Mary for a drink and later Mary and I went back to Catherine’s bar for a glass of wine with her before heading upstairs for pasta and pesto. I then did my final packing for tomorrow when the serious business begins. Today has been a tourist trip. Tomorrow the adventure begins for real.
DAY 3 Catherine made me a couple of nice sandwiches and I headed off fully loaded at about 10:00 am. By 11:00 am I was beside a bench with the bike upside down and the back wheel off mending a pinch puncture after riding over a wee kerb at the end of a section of cycle path. While fitting one of the new tubes I was carrying I managed to puncture it also without realising of course until I had refitted the wheel and inflated it. (much frustration !). I then had to go through the whole procedure again and fit the mended tube. This time it was successful and the tyre stayed up but I was having a bit of hassle refitting the wheel when a mature cyclist stopped and offered help. He was the first to even acknowledge I was there as many cyclists had already passed by without even a “hola” and, in the circumstances, his help was much appreciated. The route at this point was pleasant and easy on a smooth path and promenade for a considerable distance before it petered out and became a dirt track. This was manageable until it came to a “torrent” where I had to push this overweight bike across 50 metres of sand, which was no pleasure at all. A bit further on the track became a narrow dirt path and I decided to take the bike through an underpass (bloody stairs at each end) and take my chances on the main road. After the scary bit of crossing to the right side of the road it wasn’t so bad. There was a solid white line about 1.5 metres from the edge of the carriageway suggesting that this was for cycles. I was passed by several “roadies” so bicycles are obviously not unknown on this stretch of road. With no accommodation planned for today I eventually come to Mataro and decide to take the train to Figueres. Reasonable price but access to the platform and train are difficult. There’s no level access to the train which is about half a metre above the platform. Not easy with a bike and luggage weighing in at over 50 kg. I spent a good hour in Figueres finding the home of my host for the night. Given the way the day had gone so far, I was not surprised to find she was not home. The housekeeper knew nothing and my Spanish is almost non existent but I managed to learn that Carmen was at a judo class and due to return at 6:00 pm. I persuaded the housekeeper to let me leave the bike in the garage and I left intending to return after six. What do you do ? Simple. I headed round the corner to a bar where I wrote up my notes while enjoying a cold beer and hoping the evening would be better than the day so far. She hadn’t returned when I got back but the housekeeper let me in to wait and offered the use of the bathroom. Carmen eventually arrived about 8:00 pm. She’s a G.P. in a local Health Centre, a vegetarian and into spiritual things. After a nice veggie dinner and a bath I had an early night. I phoned and spoke to Marie in Le Boulou, where I will be staying tomorrow night, and they will be expecting me about 7:00 pm. ** I’ve been rewriting these notes in the past tense but I’ve decided now to just copy them as they were written.**
DAY 4 Checked map of Figueres and planned a route out of town. Carmen suggested taking the cycle tourist route to Le Boulou so I set off following the signposts. I think maybe I should forget other people’s suggestions as I struggle to push the bike up a steep rutted farm track indicated by the signs. At this point I decide to get back to the main road and the more direct route. Still a bit of a climb and, in the mid day sun, it saps my strength somewhat. I wish I could hitch a lift with the bike but I know that’s not going to happen so I must push on. As I write I’m having iced tea on a cafe terrace in La Jonquera, which is like an American frontier town; Full of truck stops and outlet stores. It’s nearly two o’clock so I must get going for Le Boulou. I’m on a busy road into the mountains with loads of commercial traffic. Eventually I get to the border thinking this is the peak and it will be downhill from here, but no such luck. Just after the border post (no checks) I get to Le Perthus which is basically a very steep hill of a street lined with shops selling everything from cheap clothes and tat to jewellery and watches. The hill is so steep I have to push the bike and even have to stop a couple of times to have a drink and rest. Once at the top I visit the tourist information office and the news is good. It’s 10 km. downhill to Le Boulou from here with a warning to take care because it’s such a busy road. I freewheel all the way and arrive about 3:30 pm. Unfortunately my host won’t be home until 6:30 pm so I buy a sandwich and a drink from the local SPAR shop and settle on a bench in the square to enjoy them. The young man who works in the shop, whom I have spoken to when I was in there, came out to me and gave me a croissant and a pain au chocolat as a gift. Little things like that restore one’s faith in the human race. I made my way to the tourist office to find a map and locate my hosts’ place. While I was in there an Englishman, who was using their free internet connection, spotted my Saltire on the bike and struck up a conversation. He was living here and walked with me to the caravan site where I believed I would find Jo and Marie. After making a phone call I discovered that they had moved to a house near the square with their baby Rosine so I went back there to wait until 6:30. As I was sitting reading on a bench a young man approached me and introduced himself as Jo. he explained that he was on his way to collect Rosine from the nursery and would be back shortly to take me to the house. The bike went in the garage and we went upstairs where cold beer was offered and accepted. He had spent some time in Edinburgh working with the Cyrenians and his English is very good so we have no problem communicating. We have dinner after he bathes the baby and I have a room with a double bed.
DAY 5 After much discussion with Jo about my route I decide to go with my own plan rather than his suggestion of going via the small villages through the countryside. Maybe it would be different if I had a good map ! I head off and, although I’m following main roads, I manage to get off my route and eventually stop in a park with a lake in it where I look for a map. while I’m stopped a woman on a bike comes along and asks me if I am “John”. It turns out that she is the mother of Marie whose house I stayed in last night ! She is able to direct me on to a cycle path which should take me to Perpignan and beyond. I am now having a big lunch in a cafe near the cycle path in Bompas on the banks of the river La Tet. Only a few kilometres to my destination in Villelonges de la Salanques. When I arrive in town I locate the street and house of my intended host and telephone him when there is no answer to his doorbell. No answer was the loud reply and since it is only 2:45 pm I decide I might make it to Narbonne today so I set off again on the road. Unfortunately the seasonal winds were strong and against me so progress was slow and difficult. Cycling along the promenade at Port Leucate, a man sitting on the wall with his dog said something I didn’t catch and I stopped. We had a brief conversation about where I came from and where I was going. I explained how tired I was cycling against this wind and how I was going to have to find somewhere I could wild camp for the night as Narbonne was now not a possibility today. Introductions followed and it turns out he’s Polish and a former mariner and engineer on drilling rigs. He offers me a bed at his place and I agree to go with him. His place is a small unit in a holiday village where he has been living alone with his dog for the last five months. He explains that he is separated from his third wife who is now living in Russia. He apologises for the state of his place which he put down, in some part to not having a woman to make sure the housework is done. It’s a bit smelly and grubby because he is living alone with the dog and he smokes quite a lot. But he’s a genuine guy and he offers em anything in the fridge. I have tea and we discuss dinner. He has a duck breast which he plans to cook and we agree to go to the supermarket for potatoes. We’ll also buy bread and ham so that I can make a sandwich for tomorrow. He offers his bed and I say I’ll use my sleeping bag to save on the laundry. He gives me a clean towel so that I can have a shower and I settle down to listen to his endless tales of jobs and adventures he has had all over the world. I soon lost track of his wives and children but he has a cousin in Glasgow who seems to have been a gynecologist delivering babies but is probably retired now. Apart from slight paranoia and not wanting to get up for a pee because it would rouse the dog, I had a good rest and a breakfast before setting off next morning.
DAY 6 The weather forecast is predicting 80 km winds today and when I set off into it the going is tough. It cuts my speed to 6-8 mph but at least I have a reasonable pth to follow around and through the villages by the lagoons in this part of the country. I’m writing this in a beach side cafe in Port la Nouvelle while enjoying a croissant and coffee. After this I will be on a canal path by the Canal de la Robine all the way to Narbonne. After about a mile or so from Piotr’s house I realised that I’d left behind my flag and the security cable for my bike. A bit of a bummer but not the end of the world and not worth returning for. When I reached Narbonne the tourist office was shut and after searching around for my host’s address i decide to make a call. Jose comes to meet me on his motorcycle and leads me to his home. Another builder, he has restored his house from a derelict shell into a characterful family home. As I come to write I realise that my good pen has disappeared. It probably fell out of the handlebar bag when I was cycling over that rough canal path. When I’m shown to my room I unpack and sort out some clothes for washing and when the cycle is finished Jose and i hang the stuff on clothes horses in the garage downstairs. Jose and his wife Eveline had arranged go for a meal with friends this evening at a fine fish restaurant and they invite me to join them. A pleasant meal in good company was had. I enjoyed my swordfish steak and with tapas to start and a couple of bottles of wine between five, 30 euros each was a great price for such quality. 5 stars from me !
DAY 7 Jose and Eveline had intended to go for a cycle ride today with a group of friends but we awoke to steady rain and it lasted all day. I walked around the old town with Jose in the morning and he told me some of the history. After some lunch Eveline left for her drama group and Jose took me in the pick up to scout the route to the Canal du Midi for tomorrow. These are the kind of hosts we should all aim to be. They had given me a key the previous evening because, if the weather had been fine, they would have been out all morning on their bikes. The weather forecast for Monday is better but it’s still raining tonight.
DAY 8 I didn’t sleep very well because of the noise of the rain on the Velux window in the bedroom ceiling but now, after breakfast, J & E are off to work. I have to buy some cream to treat athlete’s foot which has flared up and is causing me some pain. i also plan to walk around the old town taking photos before returning to the house and doing a final check on the bags before leaving. I bought some anti fungal cream and applied it (cost 4.50 euros). Then, when I arrive in Olonzac, I discover I’ve left it behind when I was packing. F**k me ! I’ve been leaving a trail of stuff behind me wherever I go. Anyway this is a nice enough wee town so I’ll see if there’s a pharmacy and get some more. I go for a wander to find the pharmacy, somewhere to have a meal later and somewhere to sit with a beer and read to kill some time. This is memory thing is getting out of order ! I’ve come away from the room without my Kindle so there will be no reading after all. I’ll check out my route for tomorrow on the map and prepare some notes. Located the pharmacy and bought new cream for half the price it was in Narbonne. As long as it works it’s worth it and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. I’ll just relax and enjoy a beer or two and watch the world go by. My landlady for the night recommended a restaurant (they don’t all open on Mondays) so I went there and had a good meal of fish soup, confit of duck and creme brulee. I got talking to an old English ‘gent’ who explained he had been living here for seven years in rented accommodation and last year bought a house. He used to work in “the city” for a large insurance broker and had some jolly times with his chums when he was younger. In 1962 eigt of them bought an old ambulance and partied their way around France. That’s when he fell in love with France although I rather suspect he fell in love with French wine.
DAY 9 Had a good sleep and a shower so now it’s downstairs to the shop for breakfast. This establishment is basically an antiques emporium with a couple of rooms to let. Quaint and very interesting. Weather seems settled so looking forward to a good day on the bike. Stopped in Trebes for lunch. Same cafe Basia and I stopped in when we cycled the Canal du Midi the other way a couple of years ago. I had a huge pizza, wine and coffee. I’ve been staying on the road lately because the canal path is quite rough and hard going. I intend to get back on the canal path at Carcasonne where I remember the path being tarmac from there to Toulouse. Weather has stayed dry and bright with the wind mostly behind me. Hooray !! Arrived in Castelnaudary and found the hotel. Bike locked to a radiator at the bottom of the stairs and bags up to the room where I discover that I’ve mislaid my pocket shopping bag. I remember folding it up this morning but I don’t know where I put it. I’ve also realised that, with a couple of camping nights ahead of me, I seem to have left home without my camping towel. I’ll just have to buy one at some point ! Meanwhile I’ve found a little restaurant a bit away from the centre with Cassoulet on their 14.50 euro evening menu.
The path reminds me of another memory failure. The tarmac doesn’t start until I enter the next Department i.e. Haute Garonne so I end up doing several kilometres after Carcasonne cycling on a muddy path by the canal until I reach a bridge, where a road crosses which I can indentify on the map, and am able to escape the hell of slippy clay and flints by the canal side. From then on it was a good road surface all the way to Castelnaudary for the night.Tomorrow I will stay away from the canal path until I get to Port Lauragais where the good surface starts. Making notes for myself during coffee after a good meal.
DAY 10 Slept reasonably well although the noise of the wind in the shutters woke me a couple of times. Took the road route to Port Lauragais as planned but lost my way at one point and had to backtrack about 3-4 km when I came to a dead end. Once at the Port though I quickly found the cycle path and from then on it was a delight with the wind behind me for the most part. the GPS paid for itself when I got to Toulouse and I used it to guide me to the hostel. After securing the bike and stashing my stuff in my room I get myself an all day ticket for the metro and head to the supermarket to buy a towel and socks and something for tomorrow’s sandwich lunch. Now I’m in the city centre trying to find a shop where I can buy a good map or road atlas as I think I might need one later. The GPS has been of limited use on the longer legs as it seems to have truncated the routes I planned at home leaving me to work out where I am and how to reach my destination when the track runs out. Also no answer from my intended warmshowers host so I may be camping tomorrow night ! Bought a towel in case I need it. This is one very busy city with many Arabic looking people in the crowds and beggars everywhere. I’ll try the tourist office to see if they can direct me to a map shop. Just saw an army patrol – three soldiers and a policeman. Reminds me of Belfast in the seventies. The soldiers carrying machine guns at the ready. Security seems to be a big issue here. Managed to get a map of NW France and found a nice wee restaurant, fully booked but they let me have a table for one by the door. Several other couples and small groups were turned away because of not having reservations. Back to the hostel after dinner and in bed by 10:15 pm.
DAY 11 Up at 7:00, showered and breakfast of two cereal bars and some hot chocolate. head off knowing it’s the tent tonight because of no reply from host. 63 km to Moissac. Once I’m on the road I start thinking I may just carry on further. It seems daft to be stopping for the day at 1:00 pm so I carry on another 22 km to Valances d’Agen where I note there is a municipal campsite near the canal. I arrive just after three but the reception doesn’t open ’til 4:00 so time to record a few notes in the book. Must try to get some gas for the stove or it will be cold food. Once I’ve checked in I’ll cycle into town and see if I can get gas and some provisions ’cause I may be in the tent tomorrow again.
Well nobody sells the kind of gas canister I need so I end up buying a new stove with gas, a couple of tins of ravioli and beans, some pate, camembert, a baguette and a pain au chocolat. By the time I stop off for a beer on the way back it’s beginning to get dark so I end up cooking and eating with the head torch for a light. I forgot (there seems to be a lot of that going on !) to mention that I also came away without the wooden spoon, sharp knife and spork for cooking and eating. Never mind. I’m getting used to having to adapt and change plans as I go.
DAY 12 I have to say he night in the tent was not so good. In fact it was cramped and uncomfortable. Although I awoke quite early i didn’t get up until 7:00 and made tea to have with some bread and cheese and my pain au chocolat. I made a sandwich of half a baguette and Camembert for later and began packing everything. Easier said than done and in the end it was 9:30 am before I left Valences d’Agen to join the canal path. I decided, because last night was no fun, that I’d look for accommodation and found a promising chambre d’hote in Damazan, in the leaflet about the canal, and decided that would be today’s destination. However, I missed the road off the canal for Damazan and ended up going about 10 km too far before I realised my mistake. I turned back and had gone about 5 km when I stopped at a house by a lock where i had seen a man working outside when I passed earlier. The door was open and his tools were still outside so, when I said “bonjour”, he appeared and before I could say anything else he asked how could he help me. His English was good and he was happy to hear I was Scottish and invited me to come and meet his wife and have a glass of wine. We had a pleasant chat about this and that and, among other things, he said my visit would be the big event of the day and might even be the big event of the week as it is such a quiet location by the canal. He gave me direction to where I should leave the canal and take the road to Damazan. Once off the canal path I phoned the house and was given more specific directions in French, which I’m pleased to say I understood, and made my way there. It’s a large rambling old house on three floors full of old paintings and furniture. The old lady who spoke to me on the phone earlier and welcomed me has no english and seems to be the grandma, looking after a couple of children. Parents probably working. Dinner will be served at 7:00 pm and I’m looking forward to a better night than last and a hearty breakfast before hitting the road again tomorrow. I have a bit of a rash on my arse cheeks but hope that some moisturiser will take care of it as I notice i have also mislaid my first aid kit. Dinner is traditional home made fare in the company of two other guests. An older man who makes cider in Normandy and travels around the South West with his assistant and a van load of his produce selling it as he goes. After dinner I spend some time reading before heading to bed early as seems to be my habit on this trip.
DAY 13 Up in the morning for breakfast with the cider maker at 7:30 am then set about packing for today’s 65 km ride. I was disappointed yesterday when I called my prospective host for tonight, to be told he would not be available, so I’ll need to find another bed for the night. I tried a different warmshowers host but he wasn’t available either so I’ve decided on another chambre d’hote in Langon. At the end of the canal cycle path next to the lock and marina of Castets en Dorthe a small dog started to run alongside and sometimes in front of me. It was a hassle trying to cycle and avoid it so I started shouting at it to “F” off but it stuck with me. Maybe it would have responded if I’d been able to curse it in French ! I even stopped a couple of times and threw sticks for it, hoping it would run after them and I could get away. It wasn’t playing though and I couldn’t shake it off. The longer it kept running the further it was from home and the more concerned and annoyed I became. Eventually an opportunity arose for me to pick up some speed going down a hill and I left it a bit behind but, a little later, when I had to slow down the little bugger came running up to me again. By now it’s been running for about 7-8 km. Soon another chance to speed up arose and this time I managed to lose it. I soon arrived in Langon and got a map and directions to the chambre d’hote in the tourist office. The woman there also made a call to alert the owner about my arrival. When I got there I was welcomed by the him and shown to my room. He showed me around the kitchen and shower facilities and how things worked. He explained where the supermarket is located and how I could use the kitchen facilities to prepare a meal for myself. When I unpack I discover I’ve left my jacket in the last place. The owner is sympathetic and agrees to make a call for me to the old french lady in the last place to request that she post the jacket home for me and I will reimburse the postage. After some thought I decide it would be better for her to post the jacket to my sister’s in Normandy rather than to Scotland, and probably cheaper also ! She is happy to meet my request but I’m getting a bit fed up with so many things going wrong on a daily basis. I’m also feeling quite tired and just after I arrived here the rain started. It’s hard enough to get going when the weather’s fine so tomorrow could be hard. 45 miles to Bordeaux.
DAY 14 Turned out to be quite nice weather after all. After spending the night feeling miserable about everything which had gone wrong I could hardly keep it together when I phoned Basia this morning. She was very positive and loving as usual and even suggested staying in a nice hotel for a couple of days to cheer myself up. The ride to Bordeaux was O.K. on a fairly quiet road most of the way then a cycle path for the last several kilometres. I crossed the river in to the city about one o’clock. I phoned and spoke to Jean Francois who would be hosting me tonight and he explained that he and Nicole would be out all afternoon and coming home about six o’clock. With dodgy GPS and even dodgier directions from natives, I cycled around trying to find their house. Eventually I found a map point and then a helpful family who used their phones to get me directions to the address. When I arrived I realised that it had taken me longer to find this house from crossing into the city than it had to get to the city from Langon my last stop. But I’ve spoken to Jean Francois and I have a bed for the night so I’m feeling altogether more positive. However, I am still thinking about taking a train from La Rochelle to Normandy. the way I fell at present I don’t think I’d cope well with the hills on that section and, being near the Atlantic coast it may be wet and windy as well.
DAY 15 The weather turns out not too bad. A bit windy but at least not raining until towards the end of the day’s cycle. I arrive in lacanau with no bed booked and no tourist office as such. I go in to the first cafe I see and when asked what I want I say a coffe but add that I’m also in need of a bed for the night. The very helpful woman behind the bar made a phonecall and I soon had a room in a house across the street. It was actually a small chalet in the garden behind the house with it’s own shower. A bit expensive but I don’t exactly have any alternatives since it is still out of season and most places are closed. Also I’m already wet and don’t fancy wandering around a strange town in the rain looking for another place. I asked the cafe woman about coming back for an evening meal but she tells me the cafe is closed in the evening. However, being a good business woman, she offers to bring me something to the chalet at 7:30. I agree to a lasagna with salad and a jug of red wine which means I don’t have to go looking for a restaurant either. Although this place is expensive it is very elegant and well appointed. The landlady has just brought me tea and biscuits on the covered terrace and the crockery is fine bone china from England. I have quite a long ride tomorrow but I’ve identified a hotel in Sulac sur Mer where I have reserved a room so, even if it rains I will have the comfort of a hotel room to look forward to. On thinking further about the train, I did some inquiring at the station in Bordeaux yesterday and found out that I can travel by local trains, where bikes are carried free without reservations, from Nantes to Normandy so the decision is made. It will probably take me another four or five days to get to Carquefou (just outside Nantes), where I have another warmshowers host, but after that Normandy will only be another four and a half hours.
As promised, the woman from the cafe turned up at 7:30 with my lasagna and salad on a tray with a pichet of wine. My hostess produced a glass and cutlery and dinner was had. Later her husband arrived home an we had a relaxed conversation in English (He’s originally from Devon). I’m enjoying the pleasant ambiance in this house despite it being a commercial enterprise.
DAY 16 Paid the bill after breakfast. An eye watering 78 euros but I needed the bed. Set off just before 9:00 am along the cycle track. Good surface and more or less level for the first 10-12 km then into the pine woods and a fair bit of ups and downs. About half way along today’s leg I met a Mancunian, Derek, same age as myself and on his way back to U.K. from Morocco, where he had been more than a dozen times since he started cycle touring many years ago. He’d come up through Spain and was heading for St. Malo to take a ferry to Portsmouth. We cycled together for the next 25 km and stopped at one point for a coffee. I had reserved a hotel room in Sulac sur Mer so we parted there as Derek was determined to carry on to catch the late afternoon ferry to Royan then find a spot for wild camping near Rochefort. This was the end of quite a long day for me at 75 km. so I was glad to have a room. It had been pleasant to have company for a while and some relaxed conversation without having to search for words. The latter emphasised when I find myself dining alone again in a restaurant later in the evening.
DAY 17 I’ve been neglecting the notebook for a couple of days so I need to catch up. From Sulac sur Mer I cycled to Verdon to take the ferry to Royan an the other side of the Gironde estuary. I cycled on to Rochefort where I planned to spend the night. I found my way to the youth hostel which is one of the newer modern ones and after storing the bike I unpacked my bags in the room (lucky me. sole occupancy of a four bed room !). After a brief inquiry of the staff who have limited English, I set off to walk to the local LeClerc supermarket where they have a cafeteria serving meals until 9:00 pm. Self service spag bol and a pichet of red wine. Not gourmet stuff but adequate in the circumstances.
DAY 18 Set off after breakfast which was included in the price (great value). After about 3 km I stopped to take a photo of the Transporter bridge in the distance and realised I’d left my bar bag on the table where I had breakfast. So it was back to the hostel tres vite to get it and start again. It was still where I left it so no problem. I’m following the signs for the Velodyssee and, although it’s mostly flat, I’m being sent along all sorts of obscure tracks and trails, some of which are quite rough and/or muddy. It’s also another wet and windy day so I decide to stop when I get to Marans. The tourist office gives me details for 3-4 chambres d’hote and I end up in the second one on the list after trying a couple of hotels as well. I’m staying with an old couple whose house has had an integral garage which has been converted and extended to provide a self contained apartment with a shower and toilet, a small kitchen diner and a double bedroom. The bedroom theme is pink and red roses. Not what I would have chosen but the bed is comfy and the facilities are ideal. The lady of the house is like an aunt and, when I ask her for a needle and thread to mend my shopping bag, she insists on doing the job for me.
DAY 19 She made a fine breakfast (French style) including her home made brioche, which was very good. I repacked the bags and loaded the bike and headed off for today’s ride. Sometimes the signage for this route is obscure or missing so I end up on the road with the weather against me. It’s bad enough that I decide to pack it in at Longeville sur Mer. The tourist office is closed but there are some addresses in the window of local chambres d’hote. When I went to one of these the lady of the house told me her two rooms were already taken but invited me to have a look at her ‘gite’ which she explained had been her growing children’s accommodation but was not on her licence for letting. I was more than happy to take this and there was secure covered storage for the bike. I also had use of a hose in the back garden to wash down the bike which had picked up a lot of muck on those farm tracks. After a shower and change I headed out and found a bar which had good beer and served food. So beer and pizza for dinner and back to the room as darkness fell.
DAY 20 Had a good sleep and prepare to set off again in the morning after breakfast. This weather is getting me down though. the wind doesn’t seem to be letting up at all. Again, I don’t get as far as I had hoped today and, failing to find information on Chambres d’hote I end up in an Ibis hotel in St. Gilles, Croix de Vie. I’m f’in knackered and feel like chucking the whole thing in but I have a very friendly host waiting for me near Nantes so I have to keep going to there at least. in exchanges he had offered to come and meet me with his bike on the outskirts of Nantes to guide me through the city to his home. Unfortunately, since that offer, he has had to have surgery to implant a stent in a femoral artery and can’t ride his bike for several weeks. Nevertheless he subsequently said he will meet me in his car with the bike rack on the back and drive me the last few miles. This is heartwarming news and I have a can of beer in my room before settling for the night.
DAY 21 When I awake and look out of the window the distant buildings are obscures by the rain which is falling steadily. I’ve had a look at the maps I have and planned a route on the roads, leaving Eurovelo 1 for hardier sorts than I, after the experience of the last few days. Apart from the boredom of the main roads the day works out O.K. There were times when the wind and rain forced me to take refuge in a bus shelter for a few minutes to have a snack and a drink but, as the day progressed, the weather improved slightly. When I saw a sign saying 21 km to where I would meet Andre my spirits rose and I felt much better. I didn’t have a response yet to my last text to him but still felt positive. After arriving in Le Pellerin and taking the ferry across the Loire I went in to a small bar there and ordered a beer to wait for Andre. I was nearly finished the beer and beginning to think what I might do if he didn’t show but I needn’t have worried as he arrived shortly afterwards. We loaded my luggage in the boot and the bike on his rack and headed for his home in Carquefou. It was great to be travelling without having to pedal for a change ! On the way he told me his son and daughter in law were also staying over tonight on their way to Brest from the countryside near Toulouse where they live. Andre made a lovely dinner and we had a pleasant evening at table. I also had the opportunity to fill the washing machine and get some clothes cleaned, since the last time I had access to laundry facilities was in Bordeaux.
DAY 22 A leisurely breakfast today and Andre invited me to accompany him to his English class where I was the star of the show, answering all sorts of questions from the students anxious to improve their language skills. After the class we returned to the flat and had a lunch prepared by my host and then went online to check train times. I will take the 14:28 train to arrive in Coutances at 18:35 and, by phone, Michel has agreed to arrange for Brendan to meet me at the station with his car which is big enough for the bike to fit in the back. Yahoo ! no biking tomorrow ! Once at my sister’s home in Lessay I will rest up ’til after the Easter weekend and decide in the meantime what my next move will be.
DAY 23 Had a good sleep and breakfast. Saw Kathleen off to work and had a BATH ! I can’t remember the last one I had as all the places I’ve stayed have only had showers. Good for getting clean but nothing beats a nice hot bath for laying back and relaxing. Then I took a walk to the centre of town and visited the tourist office in search of a map showing the cycle route along the Normandy coast to Dieppe but it’s the usual story. The office only has information for this Department so the map only shows the route as far as the border with the adjoining Department (La Manche) and I’ll have to wait until I get there before I can find a map of the next section in Calvados and similarly when I get to Seine Maritime ! I took some photos around the old abbey here and I think I’ll try the computer for velo routes to Dieppe. However the computer is French, has a different keyboard layout and is so slow I end up giving in and closing it down. From the large scale map I have of NW France I reckon it will take me about five days to get to Dieppe then a ferry to Newhaven and a couple of days with a friend’s daughter in Brighton before heading to London and a train to Glasgow. I want to be home for the 15th before Basia heads off to Lochrannoch on the 17th.
DAYS 24-28 A few days chez Kathleen et MIchel. Michel was in hospital when i arrived having an operation on his neck to deal with trapped nerves which had been causing continuous pain in his arms for some time and resisting other forms of treatment. He came home on Friday and, apart from having to take it easy and have his dressing changed daily by a visiting nurse, he seems happy with the outcome. I’ve decide to pack and post my tent and sleeping bag home as I have decided I won’t be using them so there’s no point in carrying them further. I got a couple of empty boxes from the supermarket on Friday and made up my package which I took to the post office on Saturday morning and posted home. Tomorrow, Easter Sunday, Brendan and Helene, his girlfriend, are coming for a family dinner and on Monday, which is a public holiday, I shall be packing my gear and preparing to leave on Tuesday morning.
DAY 29 I made myself a couple of sandwiches and was on my way by 9:00 am following the cycle path which would lead to Carentan via La Haye de Puits. It follows an old railway track so is mostly level. There are some long but fairly gentle inclines so pleasant cycling mostly. I’ve had trouble before with these velo route signs and today is no exception. When I get to La Haye de Puits I follow a veloroute sign which takes me away from the old track bed and up a nearby hill on a quiet country road. I follow the tarmac until it runs out and I and end up on a rutted muddy farm track among fields. I’m having to work hard to keep upright on this slippy mud and daren’t put my feet down as I would then end up ankle deep in mud and water. I finally get to the end of this section where it emerges on to another quiet road and stop to check my map. I can hear a busy road off to my left and decide that my best option at this point is to head in that direction and take my chances with the traffic. As luck would have it, when I cycle down the hill toward the main road, the cycle path which I left earlier crosses the road and I turn on to it to find myself once more on a traffic free path with a reasonable surface to Carentan. That sign back there probably cost me about 3 km. and a lot of unnecessary grief in the mud. Still, it adds colour to the journey. I have a coffee in Carentan and find my way to the road I planned to take to Bayeux. It’s about 25-30 km but on reasonably quiet roads. I arrive in Bayeux about 4:30 and, seeing the tower of the cathedral in the distance, I head in that general direction and, purely by chance, I find myself in the very street where the hotel is located. So, it’s registration, stash the bike, shower, change and out onto the streets to find somewhere for a cheap dinner. I stop in the “Irish Pub” only to find that, although they have a Guiness tap on the bar , there is none of the black stuff to be had. So it’s a pint of Leffe and a seat on the pavement while i write this under the gaze of the other patrons. I notice it’s the 7th of April.
DAY 30 It was a long day in the saddle today. I left Bayeux about 9:00 am and it was 5:00 pm when I arrived in Deauville. There are lots of valleys along this Normandy coast so plenty of ups and downs as I pass through the towns en route. I had to get off and push several times coming out of seaside towns to get up to the level of the plateau before I could start pedalling again. I’ve checked the map and it looks like I can expect more of the same tomorrow from Le Havre to Fecamp. I’m in the French equivalent of a Travelodge tonight with a “Buffalo Grill” next door where I am writing this while waiting for my fish and chips. Although I expect tomorrow to be quite hard going, I’m hoping it’s not as far as today.
DAY 31 Well: I was right and wrong. It waas hard going down and up again most of the day with much time spent pushing the bike. I took the main road which was probably easier in the long run but still had many hills. I was on the road for ten hours today and consequently I am very tired in the leg department. I’m in the hotel now at 630 and enjoying a bottle of cider I bought in the Lidl store I passed on the way into town. After a shower and change I’ll head out and have dinner and, after having a look at the map to plan tomorrow’s route, I’ll get an early night. I took the landlady’s recommendation and ate in a restaurant just up the street. I had fish soup, a baked potato with smoked ham and cheese washed down with a half litre of red.
DAY 32 the veloroute from Fecamp to Dieppe isn’t yet complete but the planned route follows quiet roads and avoids steep hills. Most of the last 30 km or so is a joy to ride as it is on a new smooth tarmac until about 4-5 miles out of Dieppe and the port. So it ended up being another 45-50 mile day. I arrived at the port about 4:30 and decided to take the 6:30 ferry and forfeit the hotel charge (40 euros) for not showing up. I spoke to another cyclist in the ferry queue and he reckoned about half an hour from Newhaven to Brighton. I let Lucy know my plan and said I would call when I disembarked to arrange where to meet her in Brighton. I left the ferry at 9:30 in the dark and sorted out my fluorescent vest and some lights. I’m not too sure of the route but the main road parallel to the chore seems the best bet. I call Lucy after climbing the first hill out of Newhaven and she tells me there is a cycle path along the bottom of the cliffs which is level all the way to Brighton from Saltdene and describes an old bandstand where we should meet. I’m looking for signs and decide to stop and ask some young folk how far is it to Saltdene. As it happened access to the under cliff path was just a few yards ahead of where we were. I negotiated the steep path down to shore level and found myself on a relatively smooth concrete path in pitch darkness. Fortunately my front light is good and bright so i could keep up a reasonable pace as I headed for Brighton. I phoned Lucy when I reached the bandstand and she came to meet me and we walked to her flat. It’s only a small studio but she showed me where everything is and then left to catch a bus back to her pal Ollie’s where she was staying so I could have her flat. It was just stating to rain but it didn’t matter as I was going indoors for the night.
DAY 33 When I woke up it looked a bit cloudy and, by the time I left the flat to head for the station to check out train times and fares, the rain had started. Fairly light at first but by the time I had finished in the station it was really quite heavy and a bit windy too. I had left a message on my nephew Richard’s phone earlier asking if I could stay over a couple of nights with his family in Knebworth as Basia didn’t want me home until Wednesday 15th because she had organised a welcoming party. I was on Brighton seafront in the rain when my phone rang and it was Richard calling. What happened next was a bit of good fortune at last. I said I’m on a wet and windy seafront in Brighton and his response was that he also was there. He had come down to Brighton with Liz and the boys to visit friends over the weekend. They offered to take some of my bags back to Knebworth in the car and we arranged to meet at a playpark where they would be having lunch with their friends. So I went back to the flat to sort out and pack some of my stuff in the large rear panniers while they headed to the park. Once that was done I cycled along the front to Hove where we were meeting. We had lunch, played with the kids in the park and took some photos before I put the panniers in the car boot and we said goodbye. By this time the sky had cleared and, although it was windy, the weather was fine. Because Lucy was going to a wedding party later we arranged to meet for a drink after which she would go to the flat to get changed and meet her friend. When I returned she was almost ready and her friend arrived shortly afterwards to wait for the taxi. I made myself a simple pasta meal and drank a couple of bottles of cider before bed while listening to an interesting programme about A. J. Ayer on the radio.
DAY 34 Woke up this morning and did a search for the nearest launderette so I could leave Lucy with clean bed linen. Once the washing was done and dried I returned to the flat and finished packing the remainder of my gear. As I approached the station I noted that there were huge numbers of people streaming out of the station and heading through the town. Apart from those who had come to the seaside for the day there were probably many who had come to spectate at the Brighton Marathon which was being run today. The train was quite quiet and I checked on Google to plan a route from Victoria to King’s Cross. After about 1500 miles through Spain and France I get knocked over by a car near Smithfield market ! I was unhurt (or so I thought at the time) but the bike was unrideable and I had to then push it the 2-3 miles to King’s Cross. I remember thinking I’m going to get hit and the next second I was lying on the road. Somehow I had managed to leap from the bike as it was hit and land and roll on the ground. The driver said I had run a red light and asked if I was O.K. Since I felt fine and was more concerned about the state of the bike I suggested he just carry on his way. A couple of pedestrians had shown concern for me and stayed with me until I was ready to move on. The woman there pointed out my watch which was lying in the roadway, having been wrenched from my wrist. A kind enough gesture but upstaged by the bus driver who stopped his bus and pointed to my phone which was lying on the road in front of his bus. It must have come flying out of my pocket when I came off the bike. I then had a closer look at the bike and noted that the right hand crank and pedal were bent and damaged in such a way that I would not be able to ride the bike. The rear wheel and rear mech were also damaged. The wheel so bad that it would have to be scrapped but the rear mech looked as if it could be realigned with a bit of leverage. I had been approaching a five way junction and saw a cyclist ahead of me proceed through the junction so I just followed on without noticing any lights. One car sped across in front of me and, while I was registering surprise at this, another followed closely behind and knocked the bike from under me. I phoned Richard and explained the situation and he agreed to come and meet me at Knebworth station with the car and get me back to the house. People can be so nice. After a great home made roast chicken dinner I am now catching up with this diary. Richard knows a good reliable bike shop in Stevenage and will take me there tomorrow and hopefully get the bike roadworthy by Wednesday so that I can cycle up Love Street to the hero’s welcome which Basia is arranging with Emily and Tara.
DAY 35 Richard managed to borrow a crank removal tool for me from a friend and we took my busted back wheel and bent crank to Edd’s bike shop in Stevenage. He can supply a new wheel and will look through his boxes of bits for a used crank and pedal to get me back on the road. I’m still amazed that I wasn’t injured in the collision yesterday. We collected the wheel and bits later and I reassembled the bike and tested it on a short run up the road outside the house. There was a bit of and irregularity i the rim of the rear wheel sow e ended up taking it back to be replaced. This was done with no hassle and no additional cost. It seems Edd had picked up the wrong wheel in the workshop and put my cassette and disc on without checking. Spent the rest of the day with the kids at the park and in the garden playing.
DAY 36 I cycled round to Maggie’s, my sister in law, Richard’s mother, and joined her and a group of friends for a short ride round a couple of nearby villages and a pub lunch. A gentle ride and good company. One of Maggie’s friends even made a contribution to one of the charities I am supporting on this big bike ride. Afterwards we sat and chatted for a couple of hours before I returned to Richard’s house for the night.
DAY 37 Liz headed off to London early for work and when it was time for me to go we put my bags into the car and I cycled down to Knebworth station while Richard took the boys in the car. Between us we lugged the bike and bags up the stairs to the platform and eventually on to the train for King’s Cross. I waved goodbye and, once at King’s Cross I cycled round to Euston for the Glasgow train. A fairly uneventful journey and when I reached Glasgow I rode the bike the last few miles to Paisley where Basia, Ruth, Amy, Tara, Emily, Yva and my brother Peter were waiting, with a photographer from our local paper, to greet me. The arrival was written up with the photos and appeared in the paper a few days later with much being made of the fact that I had raised over £2500 for charity and done the trip solo. i have been asked many times, since returning, whether I enjoyed the experience and, to be completely honest, I would have to say that enjoyment was in fairly short supply when I was on the road ( i.e. not many downhill sections !). I had no problem physically but not being able to share the experience with a friend or companion while travelling was definitely a minus for me. I am not averse to the idea of further big bike rides but I reckon I would opt for a group adventure, perhaps with support, rather than setting out on my own.