Monday, 17th June
And so the great adventure begins! Surprisingly, I was ready to go with time to spare, and despite a last minute panic trying to find some seasick tablets for the ferry, all went well.
A warm farewell from the neighbours as I left and a minor heart tremble as I got on the bike for the first time with it fully loaded. Thirty five kilos is just a number until you’re trying to get a bike moving. Luckily we live on the flat, otherwise it could have been a memorable departure.
That girl of mine came to the station with me for an almost tearful goodbye on the platform, but she told me to pull myself together. Lifting the bike into the carriage also brought tears to my eyes, and I was surprised by how many people were already on the train ready to see me make a complete ass of myself.
Anyway, an uneventful ride to Portsmouth Harbour and then a short cycle to the port. There were a few queues of cars but I was waved through to join a small group of other cyclists and we all felt a collective smugness as we boarded without delay.
After that a wait of about an hour while the combustion engines boarded, so I went up on deck (nautical term) to take the air, but there was a hurricane blowing so it very nearly took me. Anyway, as we pulled out of port I got some great shots of the historic docks and Victory was in my sights.
Tomorrow, I’ll report on how well I sailed the ocean, but for now, I’ll weigh anchor – it’s been a long day.
Tuesday, 18th June
I think it’s fair to say that every big adventure is made up of lots of little ones, and I certainly feel I had my fair share of little adventures today.
We arrived in St Mâlo on time to an overcast and nondescript sky but disembarking was fuss free. Having cycled on French soil for no time at all I was completely lost and going in the wrong direction. My goal was the Office de Tourisme but not a sign in sight and after some serious zigzagging and finding lots of other lost British cyclists on the way, all was finally revealed.
I had a little jaunt around the old town and then made my way to another little ferry to the neighbouring town of Dinard. This boat had oodles of charm but no boarding ramp – in fact the deck was a good metre below the quay. Yours truly had no chance of wheeling his bike down a narrow little wooden ramp but two crewmen grabbed the bike and before you could say “Splash!”, Robert was votre oncle.
Job done, I thought, but then the skipper told me en route, that although the arrival quay was lower, there was a steep narrow staircase to contend with. However, without further ado he pushed the bike up the stairs from behind, with me guiding the front. Very nearly learned the French for coronary, hernia and air ambulance all before 9am.
Finally started my journey proper when I found the Voie Verte (Green Route) towards Dinan. My previous experience of Green Routes in Normandy is one of well signposted and maintained fuss-free cycling. Today’s experience was a tale of challenging signage and a very challenging route along a canal towpath. With a load of 35 kilos, front wheel slides on muddy paths are not high on my wish list.
By 4 o’clock I’d had enough riding and two tourist office ladies found me a camp site nearby and called the office to reserve me a space. When I finally got there both me and the one other camper were both happy that we’d booked in advance as space was limited to two acres per pitch.
The final adventure of the day was cooking my first ever camp meal. Merguez sausages and pasta using a saucepan and skillet combo. Two hours later, while I write this, I’m still alive with no obvious digestive issues, but who knows what the night has in store?
Wednesday, 19th June
Well today was a tough one! I didn’t sleep very well what with an aching body and hayfever and it took me an age to get my act together to get going.
After yesterday’s trials and tribulations on the canal towpath, I decided to abandon the Green Route and simply follow my nose. Despite being a bit bunged up from hayfever it served me very well, as I stayed on very small lanes and went through any number of pretty little villages and hamlets. Much more my tasse de thė.
The weather has been humid and overcast all day but finished off with a flourish of pouring rain as I set up camp, which means that tomorrow I’ll have to learn how to deal with a lot of wet kit. I know it will all dry eventually, but it just makes everything that much heavier and more awkward to carry.
The body was moaning a bit today as I went up and down any number of hills but it was all worth it as the scenery was fabulous. Towards the end of the ride I slowly made my way up a very long and very straight hill, through the forest of Paimpont. Both the road and the forest seemed endless and what with the very gloomy light and just me on the road, just a bit spooky.
Thursday, 20th June
I distinctly remember booking dry, warm sunny weather for this trip. So much for booking in advance! Last night at Paimpont the heavens opened and I had an express course in getting the tent up, cooking and getting things in to whatever dry I could find.
Woke up to a damp, misty morning but at least the rain had stopped! Not sure quite how this is working, but I also woke up with a pounding headache from hayfever. Maybe raindrops carry pollen as well. So I wasn’t my usual get up and go, all guns blazing self this morning but on the principle that the further south you go, the warmer it gets, I disorganised the bike and at the crack of 11.30, set off.
Having abandoned Green Routes for a while, I have now adopted a head southish via the smallest lanes I can find, kind of approach, and today it worked for me. Sure enough, for a short while, a blue sky threatened, and I went up and down and up and down hill after hill through some fantastic countryside and tiny hamlets.
Lunch was bread and pâté overlooking fields with just the birds to listen to. This was definitely Plan A.
My general approach, bearing in mind my early starts, is to find a small town around 3 o’clock from which to head for a campsite. The key to this is that the town must have an Office de Tourisme and that I must be able to find the campsite on my map. This started going relatively pear-shaped today as there was no tourist info and I had got to the bottom of my current map with the next one buried at the bottom of a pannier.
A lady in the Town Hall saved my bacon as she found a campsite, reserved a place, and pointed me in the right direction.
For the third day running, it’s beyond me why a reservation is necessary. Today’s campsite is lovely, not least because there are only half a dozen other people to share it with. And the booking system is definitely not part of the digital age. A receipt for money paid would be fine, but a proper little slip is filled out and given back to me with my name and nationality, which I already know. Quaint and charming and all, but why bother?
Anyway, another night under the stars protected by a thick, black ugly looking cloud, should they fall.
Friday, 21st June
Today was very much a game of two halves. Woke up to another damp and dreary morning in Guipry and although I slept better I must confess to being completely fed up with the weather.
It didn’t get better unfortunately and although I was cycling through some wonderfully dense forests, the wind and sometimes heavy rain did nothing for my mood. The ride will stay with me for two reasons; first, I went up what seemed a never ending hill at no miles per hour. Luckily it was at the start of the day but had it been later on, I think I’d still be on it now. The second thing I’ll remember were two stoats or weasels crossing the road in front of me. I’ve never seen them in the wild before and it was a real treat.
Had lunch in the rain and cut my thumb with my penknife (don’t tell Basecamp, she’ll worry). I didn’t grizzle but I Wasn’t Happy.
However… bit by bit in the afternoon, the weather started to improve, still loads of hills but the road surface was fantastic and I just rolled along. I finished up in a little town called Blain, which has a fabulous 14th Century castle, and a beautiful canal running through it.
The weather by this stage was proper summer – sun and warmth, both at the same time! The 21st June is traditionally a music festival day in France, so I walked into town to have a beer and to take in le vibe. The music was average but it was just a pleasure to mosey through the streets and then back to camp, with it still light at 10 o’clock.
The only lasting sour note of the day is that I think I’ve mislaid my shower gel somewhere, so I had to both shower and wash my clothes with my Fairy liquid. Look at all the bubbles mummy.
Saturday, 22nd June
I went to bed last night lulled into a false sense of everything in the garden being lovely. But some noisy revelling through the night by locals put paid to a good nights sleep and when I woke up to pouring rain, feeling like death warmed up, I took an executive decision not to move on today.
As I write now at 5pm the rain has at last stopped,but frankly, it’s been a misery all day.
That’s not to say it’s been a bad day though, far from it. I walked into town with legs like concrete after 4 days riding, to find somewhere warm and dry. The local library fitted the bill, so I thought I’d check my emails and sort out a blog post. Unfortunately, they didn’t have le weefee, so I had to use one of their computers which had two disadvantages, one, it was Windows, and two, the keyboard was French orientation which is total gobbledygook to a QWERTY user.
The librarian offered to change the keyboard to QWERTY, by which I thought he meant change the physical keyboard. But Non! He left the keyboard in place and changed it at a software level which meant that I had to remember where the QWERTY keys were on a Reverse Polish Notation keyboard. Très drôle.
Anyway, a fun hour was passed and then I thought I’d treat myself to proper hot food for lunch – so I had a salad followed by ice cream.
With the wind and rain still howling I’d had enough moseying through town so headed back to camp. On the way, looking at the boats on the canal, I started up a standard weather conversation with a French family on a boat “Nom de Dieu!”, I said, “Il pleut des chats et des chiens!”, but despite this, they were very friendly and invited me on board for un petit café, to which I said “Oui, merci”.
High culture it wasn’t, but an extremely pleasant half hour was spent nattering with total strangers about important subjects like how your legs seize up with age and cycling with half a ton of gear on your bike.
By the time I said goodbye, the rain had stopped, just leaving the 100 mph hurricane, so I made a really enjoyable detour to the local 14th Century château, intending just to kill some time, but in fact, learning a lot about local history. I can confirm that the top of a medieval tower is not the place to be when the wind doth blow, ‘cos it doth chill you to the very bone. And thath the truth.
So back to camp and an easy evening and early night ready for tomorrow. I’ve felt very tired today, so a rest was a very good idea.