26th July, Crêches sur Saône

Well sure enough, last night’s accommodation lived up to expectations. It was ridiculously hot and humid in the tent but the mozzies were out in force by the time I retired at 10pm. This was pretty much the same time that the French family next door started their evening meal and from the number of voices, shouts and raucous laughter, I think it was more of a clan gathering. Their meal lasted until gone midnight and although I found the noise irritating, I focussed on my deep breathing exercises and reminded myself they’re on holiday so, quite reasonably, they are entitled to let their hair down. While they were bonding, elsewhere on the camp music was pounding with the delicate and subtle rhythm of eurotrash. My deep breathing failed miserably when YMCA came on and I found myself lying in my tent with my arms forming a ‘Y’ above my head.

Six am came around and after at least five hours sleep I burst out of my tent eager to face another day. I headed north and because today’s destination was only 45km away I felt I could poodle in the cool early morning air, so poodle I did.

The ride was very enjoyable and relatively uneventful apart from a short life-threatening episode. By 10am I had covered a large part of the journey so I decided to treat myself to a mid-morning coffee sitting outside in a quiet village bar. I came across a tiny village called Mogneneins (no, I can’t say it either) and found a bar. It had no chairs outside but hey ho, in we go, and inside it was obvious that they were not generally catering for a tourist audience. It’s always hard to describe the feeling of a room but think bric-a-brac with a Del Trotter makeover and you’re on the way.

The lady behind the bar gave me a somewhat sceptical once-over and offered me a mug when I asked for a large coffee. Now I’m not a brave man but when the mug arrived with a fin de siècle ring of previous contents around the rim, I knew my time had come to stand up and be counted. The people were very down-to-earth friendly so I didn’t have the heart to whimper when I saw the horror confronting me, instead, I distracted them by feeding their interest in my bike outside whilst at the same time making the best job of a surreptitious but serious wipe to remove the worst of the crust.

Despite flirting with e-coli, salmonella and the Black Death all in one mug of coffee I spent a lovely half-hour with them and when it was time to leave they came out of the bar to take my photo and give me a grand send-off. Their country scepticism had been replaced with warm smiles which I took to being due to their interest in my tour but there’s always the possibility that they were having a good laugh at the Anglais who drank coffee from ‘The Mug of Death’.

Despite all of this excitement the best part of the day was yet to come. Continuing the theme of ‘The Face that invites Pity’, Eric had arranged a bed for the night with a friend of a friend. Fred and Didine were kind enough to welcome me in with a relaxing afternoon by the pool in their garden as well as a wonderful meal. It’s very hard to express one’s gratitude at such warm hospitality but Fred put me at my ease by saying with a wicked glint in his eye that they were happy to make the huge effort to make me welcome.

Even with all this hospitality, Fred and Didine had one more treat up their sleeve. Although I generally know nothing about wine I have always wanted to explore Burgundy, largely based on its reputation rather than personal taste. Over 30 years ago one of my old bosses took me out to lunch during which we had a bottle of Pouilly Fuissé which was delicious and the memory has stayed with me. When Didine asked me if I would like to go with them to a wine tasting evening I felt it would have been rude to refuse but I was not prepared for the drive to the Domaine through the most beautiful countryside in, of all places, Pouilly and Fuissé. The wine cellar was wonderful and the selection of wines we tasted were delicious. With practice I’m getting better at swirling the wine in the glass and having a good sniff. I’m not up to making any intelligent comments on a wine’s Nose but with Fred’s encouragement I did try a bit of a Hannibal Lector slurp but there was no chance of me spitting out such lovely wine.

It was getting late by the time we finished and a 6am alarm was getting too close for comfort so when Fred invited me to ignore the alarm and stay for another day I felt it would be rude to refuse.

27th July, Crêches sur Saône

I’m pleased, relieved and grateful to say that the Dunford luck is holding up nicely. Fred and Didine have been wonderfully generous hosts and despite the fact that only 48 hours ago they didn’t know me from Adam, they have welcomed me into their home.

I went for a little poodle around the neighbourhood this morning which in this case means through the Burgundy vineyards of Pouilly to take some pictures. Apart from enjoying the beautiful countryside it was wonderful to ride my bike without lugging all my gear around. Almost like being on holiday!

After my ride came lunch followed by a very lazy afternoon. It was just as well that I did very little because this evening I had to rise to the challenge of an evening at a friend’s house for lots of chatting, more top quality Burgundy wine and a stunning meal. I was made to feel completely welcome and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It transpires that one of the couples is due to get married this coming Wednesday and in the course of the conversation asked me if I would stay and take some photos for them. Despite the fact that I would have to stay for a few days longer in the lap of luxury rather than slogging along on my bike, I agreed as I felt it would be rude to refuse. Quite reasonably, Fred teased me rotten that he couldn’t get rid of me but I assured him that I would almost certainly be gone by the middle of October.

28th July, Crêches sur Saône

What a day! It rained les chats et les chiens all day long but aside from being bored I was quite happy as I was indoors not trapped in a tent. It was inevitable that during my two month adventure there were going to be slow days, well today was one of them.

We had a ferocious wind yesterday and rain today but there is a band of foul weather running from north to south and had I moved on I would have been in the thick of it, so I’m very thankful for small mercies. Merci. In Normandy thousands are without electricity as the power lines are down and the wind has been so strong that 16(!!) people have drowned in the Med. Thank goodness I’m not in the tent.