Distance travelled: 1564km
Not keeping up with the daily journal is becoming disastrous as days and kilometres are happily, sometimes gratefully, blurring together forming this one adventure. Writing this from a cosy bedroom in Borrèze, having spent the day with friends, Marie-Christine and Dominique, almost entirely outside underneath a brilliant, clear, blue sky feels somewhat surreal. It is eight years since I was last here and it really does feel good to be back in le coin that welcomed me so warmly and absolutely cemented a passion for the French language, French and Francophone culture that for five years I officially endeavoured to share, but which I will forever unofficially do so.
C’est quasiment impossible de savoir comment remercier tous les gens qui nous ont accueilli, mais quand même, je dis merci beaucoup à MC et Dom : ici à Borrèze avec vous, c’est tellement spécial, ça me donne énormément de plaisir de vous voir ; c’est comme c’était hier et comme ça, pour moi, je pense qu’on sait qu’on est entre de vrais amis. Merci mille fois.
And so it’s now September and we’ve definitely noticed the nights lengthening and the mornings becoming cooler and crisper. It transpires that we haven’t given much thought to what this means in cycle-touring reality, but plenty of people are starting to ask what we’re going to do when the season ends and campsites close and so we’re starting to bat ideas back and forth (‘wear socks’ was Olly’s immediate response).
However, since arriving in the Dordogne the weather has been wonderful and it is set to continue to be so for the coming week as we start to make our way towards the Pyrenees. We’ve been very fortunate with the weather so far, though in Dampierre-sur-Boutonne we experienced a mega storm: strong winds, heavy rain, crazy lightning that our camping neighbours referred to as a ‘spectacular fireworks display’ the next morning and which had lit up our tent like strobe lighting at a concert, and thunder which you could feel through the Thermarest. (The storm was very reminiscent of the one ‘survived’ on our May Duke of Edinburgh expedition, for any colleagues reading! If I hadn’t experienced a similar storm once already this year I’m sure I’d have slept as little as Olly did.) The tent fared very well and so onwards again we went.
|Overjoyed to have arrived in Borreze. NB. Olly working on his 'selfie face'.|
|Selfie face option 2... We'll call this one, 'we've got no crisps'.|
After leaving Corinne’s we headed out to the Atlantic coast and had originally intended to follow it as far as Bordeaux before making our way inland. However, a more direct route was required and so we headed through agricultural France and had two days of what Olly classified as ‘bland cycling’. That said, we saw and visited parts of France that we hadn’t before and perhaps wouldn’t have in the future and by our standards, that’s great. Although beautiful, the coast was also busy and breezy and we both longed for the quieter, countryside roads where our insurance policies weren’t being put to the test quite so frequently (more on insurance for cycle tourists at a later date, but in essence we can’t bump into anyone or anything and live to tell the tale).
Coastal adventures really began as we drew closer to the Pont Saint Nazaire. The Garmin advised of a cycle path across this 3km bridge, but a Google search yielded blog posts from cyclists advising to cycle across it under no circumstances, especially if heavily laden. Without another viable option we headed towards the bridge and at the last minute were fortunate enough to stumble across a poster advising that cyclists could use a free navette service* to cross the Pont Saint Nazaire as our driver said a narrow cycle lane, strong winds, a kilometre and a half of uphill cycling and heavy traffic really do make it an unpleasant ride.
|le Pont de Saint-Nazaire|
Whilst cycling along the coast we were following the Euro Vélo 1 (EV1) cycle path, also called Vélodyssée, a route that stretches from Norway to Portugal. As such, we started to look more into campsites with the Accueil Vélo accreditation as they often offer perks for cycle tourists such as reduced rates, free shower tokens, a table and chairs brought to your pitch.
|A table and chairs!|
For some significant stretches at a time, cycling along the EV1 meant weaving our way through marais – marshes: often mussel farms or oyster farms, sometimes seemingly just pools of water. The marshes were really interesting to look at on the Garmin or Google Maps (swathes of blue) and really fun to cycle along and through, though one wrong move and you’d end up in amongst the marsh life. And the marsh life did provide a feast for our eyes: herons, egrets, storks, even an African Sacred Ibis! Olly is also convinced that we saw a dead mongoose and a short-toed, snake eagle. (But then he’d have you believe that on our trip to the Outer Hebrides last year he saw a killer whale.) We also became quite transfixed with a coypu in one of the marshes, having seen what we excitedly thought was a beaver a few days previous before Eddy kindly told us that we were mistaken! On a scale of guinea-pig to capybara, a coypu is in the middle. Coypu have long rat-like tails and enjoy swimming, but are a pest to the native environment as are African Sacred Ibis which is a bit of a bummer as they look cool!
|Coypu hiding in the middle of the reeds.|
Adventures inland were not all bland. There were so many sunflower fields, some beautiful chateaux, cool graffiti and bibliothèque phone booths. We thought we’d stumbled into a fairytale as we arrived at Dampierre. Little did we know of the intensity of the storm to hit that night which worked to turn our dream into something of a nightmare!
|The Renaissance castle in Dampierre.|
|Le Garage de Papi - the bar/café in Dampierre|
After Dampierre we headed to Montignac-Charente, another unplanned but auspicious stop. When I went to ask for the Wi-Fi code, there was a man chatting to the campsite manager and when he asked where we’d come from on our bikes I told him the full tale. He was very enthusiastic about the trip and asked if he could take a photo the next morning to put on the website. Half an hour later, a man came over wearing a Charente Libre cap and it transpires that the enthusiastic man was in fact the mayor and he’d asked a local journalist to come along in the hope of running a small piece in the local paper!
From Montignac-Charente to Hautefort and Camping Belle Vue: a small, aptly named campsite as the view of the Chateau de Hautefort from Cal and Simon’s friendly site is incredible. We ate our dinner just as a hot air balloon passed by the castle and as the natural light faded, the chateau lit up in a calming gold which looked spectacular against the clear blue/pink-tinged sky.
And now, Borrèze and Souillac. It’s hard to consider leaving, but in a few days’ time, the first mountains call.
*Information about the free, navette service across the Pont de Saint Nazaire. On the Saint Nazaire side, the navette waits at a bus stop just at the entrance of the industrial park; much better sign-posted the other side.