Pyrenees 2007

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It had been a long time since my last leally long cycling holiday. I decided on the Pyrenees. The plan was to start on the Atlantic end, then to follow the Pyrenees, crossing the border at every possible place until I reached the Mediterranean. I packed in a bit of a hurry, but all that is really needed is a passport and some credit cards. Oh - and some nicotine patches. One of the plans was to give up smoking. I had all of these, so I left.

The data for each day's travel is provided by my VDO 1.0+ cycle computer which sits on my handlebar and watches what I do. The numbers represent the following data:

Total Time on road Total Distance
Ride Time (in saddle) Altitude climbed


Link to Photo

Photo of the


for the night

Sat 30 June

Every summer the Cardiff Chess Club has a booze-up and a curry. I loaded the bike, took the train from Maesteg to Cardiff, cycled to the office, dumped my luggage, and then went on to the Earnest Willows. The booze-up went as planned, and I cycled back to the office where I slept it off.

Sun 1 July

I woke up eventually, repacked the luggage, and cycled back to Cardiff Central. There was a train to Portsmouth Harbour every hour and I got on one of them. My train was going, I think, to Brighton but following pretty much the same route. When I asked the train official where I should change trains there was some confusion: Some other train was meant to join us and, after the join, the front four carriages were going to Portsmouth and the others to Brighton but the other train didn't turn up. I finally discovered that I should change trains at Fareham and I duly did so, and arrived in the railway station at Portsmouth Harbour from which there were no signs to any of the actual harbours. I cycled to one of them - the port for the Isle of Wight - and asked one of the workers. He directed me to the Brittany Ferries port which, following his instructions, I eventually found with no problem. I bought my ticket and got on the boat.

Mon 2 July

After I'd smoked the last of my tobacco as we sailed into port, the ferry dropped me off in Saint Malo at 07:15. A bit earlier than I am used to starting work but there's not much else to do except start pedalling. I soon began to suspect that following the "toutes directions" sings is not the best plan: too many cars and, worse still, lorries in a hurry. I managed to find the Rance Barrage after which cycling south took me along quieter roads. After stopping briefly at a picnic area, where I changed into my cycling shorts and put on my first nicotine patch, I continued through Dinan and Bécherel to Belmont. I must have ignored a sign here because I missed the direct route to Plélan-le-Grand and soon realised that I was following the D125 towards Saint Méen. Trying to correct my mistake, I turned left towards a town called Iffendic. The AA glove-box atlas of France is totally useless on small country roads, and so are the road sings. They all point to places that the Atlas doesn't mention. I asked a lady on horseback how to get to a town called Gaël but I'm pretty sure that she sent me in the wrong direction. Fortunately I passed a tourist road map, in Saint Maugan, which showed me how to get through Saint Malon towards Plélan-le-Grand. I also discovered at this tourist map that I'd made a mistake in following the "Toutes Directions" sign back in Iffendic rather than the "Centre Ville" sign. Just following the river had been the best plan. The map also indicated that there was a campsite at Plélan but at 19:00 I'd had enough for the day so, about 5k short of the town I just turned into the forest and put up my tent. The roads today hadn't been too flat but, even so, I was surprised to find that I'd climbed over 1000 metres during the day.

11:40 103.4k
08:27 1010m



Tue 3 July

It had rained heavily during the night but it was dry, if cloudy, in the morning. I continued cycling south through Plélan-le-Grand and Guer, where I stopped for lunch. Again the roads are generally straight but none too flat. On through La Gacilly to Redon where, in spite of confusion arising from road-works and a diversion, I managed to find the road to Nantes. According to the AA map there were no towns on this road, and this seems quite accurate, so I took a slight detour towards a town called Blain which looked like it might be big enough to have a hotel. When I arrived there I was pleased to find signs to the two hotels in town but the first hotel was closed and the second was full. Fortunately one of the locals in the bar in the second one pointed me towards the campsite in the town. So I stayed at "Camping la Chateau" and had a meal, and a couple of coca-colas, in the restaurant 50 metres away. It's a bit early in the no-smoking plan to risk any alcohol! Some good weather would be a nice change, but the TV weather forecast showed France completely covered in black clouds.

08:30 87.3k
06:02 700m



Wed 4 July

I'd had a good look at a local map in the restaurant the previous evening so finding the road into Nantes, avoiding any busy roads, was no problem. I stopped, for lunch, at Orvault which is twinned with Tredegar. I can't remember ever being in Tredegar but I would imagine that it's much like any other "top end of the valley" town in South Wales and I couldn't help thinking that Tredegar might be a bit lucky to be twinned with this place! The route through Nantes was no problem, with cycle lanes through the city, but without paying attention it's very easy to end up on the motorway out of town! Cycling on the motorway is no problem - the hard shoulder is smooth and wide - but I felt I should turn off before the toll-booths. The D178, on which cycling is legal, is far more dangerous - the road is just wide enough for two lorries and the "hard shoulder" varies in width and quality - and the constant hiss of air-brakes behind is worrying. A search for quieter roads means no more help from the AA map as all of the road signs are to places not mentioned in it. Nevertheless I found a town called Legé from which I headed for Belleville-sur-Vie. The AA map recommends the D39, which according to Autoroute doesn't exist, but the D78 appeared at about the right distance from Legé so I followed this instead. I arrived at a small village, whose name I forget, with more road signs to meaningless places. I have to resort to solar navigation: It's 20:00 so the sun is in the west. I want to go south-east, which is that way but, from my T-junction, it's the only direction in which there's no road! I turned left and, fortunately, soon found a sign to Belleville. Finding it was then no problem but the only hotel in town was full. They told me that the nearest hotel was 15k away but there was a campsite in a place called Mouilleron-le-Captif and they told me how to get there on a cycle track. I found the town OK and, in the town centre, a signpost to the campsite L'Amboise which I followed, for some time, as these signposts didn't mention how far away it was! I eventually reached it at 21:45. A sign in reception indicated that they were open until 22:00 but ringing the bell, and shouting, achieved nothing. I gave up, and continued up the road. After half a mile a side turning disappeared into trees after 20 metres. Brilliant! In the fading light I put up my tent.

11:25 111.0k
08:35 728m



Thu 5 July

While packing my tent, I found that I'd damaged one of the tent-poles. Each pole can be pulled apart, for easy packing, and the one which supports the "front porch" of the tent is in five sections. The centre section had split, lengthwise, so it was now two "half-pipes". I packed it carefully and started wondering what to do about it as I cycled around the ring-road in La Roche-sur-Yon. Further on, in a small town called Moutiers, I spotted a Patisserie - a good place for an apple tart for breakfast - but it was shut. There were two Scottish cyclists sitting outside. They had left Saint Malo a day before me, on what looked like much lighter road-bikes, but they were both carrying far more luggage than I was. They were heading, I think, for Monpellier from where they were flying back to Stansted, then taking a train for Portsmouth where they had left their car. They, too, had accidentally used the same motorway in Nantes. I continued South to Angles and going east from here, along flat roads with a strong tailwind, was really easy. When I turned south again, along the coast road not mentioned by the AA map, towards La Rochelle, this wind was a real pain. The second hotel that I tried had a room free. I found, while taking a bath, that my forearms were a little sun-burned. Ouch! Meanwhile I had been deciding, over the day, how to fix my tent. My cycle helmet has holes in it, for ventilation on hot days, but the holes bring other problems. In heavy rain the water gets in through these holes, and runs down over my eyes. To cure this I had covered the holes at the front with sticky tape, one piece of which I now removed. I used it to tape up the broken tent-pole. After a pizza, and a single beer, in town I went to bed.

09:05 91.7k
06:47 415m



Fri 6 July

Before I left the hotel I asked to use the telephone. "There are phones in the square" she said "and they accept phone-cards and credit-cards. No problem!" so I went to one and tried to telephone the office. French phone-booths are obviously built by the same people who build their petrol stations - British cards just don't work in them. I continued through the town centre and south to Rochefort along a dual carriageway with a very poor hard shoulder - too much gravel which makes cycling very hard work. I had been looking at a smaller road, running alongside mine, which was much more attractive but there was no way to get to it - there was a crash barrier, and a ditch, and a hedge in the way. Eventually, fed up with the gravel, I turned off towards a place called Yves and, immediately, found a road sign indicating a cycle track to Rochefort which I followed. The cycle track disappeared again, half way around the Rochfort ring-road, but it was nice while it lasted.


Just south of Rochefort a huge bridge, over the river Charente, appeared in front of me. Fortunately the cycle track reappeared too. Once I'd crossed the bridge it disappeared, into a field, but fortunately after only about 20 meters. I continued along the dual carriageway as far as Saint Agnant, cycled through this easily forgettable village, and along quieter roads through Cadeuil to the Ferry port of Royan. A half hour trip on the boat took me to Le Verdon. After half an hour, there was a sudden change in road surface: from rough tarmac (good for cars: lots of grip, and not much spray in the wet) to smooth tarmac (less grip, and more spray) which is so much better on a bicycle! Pedalling is suddenly so much easier and my backside complains a lot less The roads here are very flat too so I can go much further in a day. I stopped just north of Hourtin, in the Camping "des Grands Chênes" which is basically a field.

11:00 124.6k
08:06 343m



Sat 7 July

Up in the morning and south into Hourtin. This town is twinned with Pontarddulais and, unlike half of the people in Wales, they can spell it correctly! I continued south along straight flat roads - easy cycling - where the bike seems to change gear by itself. The legs send a message directly to the right hand, which takes the necessary action. Automatic transmission. The brain is not involved in this process. The kilometers pass easily. This part of the country is full of cycle tracks but, unfortunately, there are no signs indicating where they go to.


I cruised down the road through Carcans and Lacanau to Ares where there is a sign showing a cycle track to Biganos. Unfortunately there is no indication as to where Biganos is. The AA road-map doesn't mention it either. In Andernos-les-Bains, this cycle track came close to the road so I decided to follow it. It was a good track, probably along a disused railway line, and there were a few maps on the way showing me where I was. The AA seem to think that Biganos is called Facture. The only sign that Facture exists was a road sign saying it was 0.2k away, so it's probably not very big. It's a bit like replacing "Cardiff" with the word "Canton" on a road map of Wales. The cycle track continued. I was a bit worried when it turned right for no apparent reason, maybe heading for Arcachon, but the diversion was only as far as a bridge over the A63 motorway. I left the track in Mios, mainly to find a road-sign, and continued by road to Sanguinet. This area is covered in forest so wild camping is not a problem. I turned off the road about 10k north of Parentis-en-Born and, 0.5k into the forest, put my tent up.

11:55 118.9k
07:39 143m



Sun 8 July

I cannot remember much about this Sunday except that it rained. Not heavily but, on and off, for most of the day. I just followed the main road through Parentis, Mimizan, Bias, Lit-et-Mixe, Saint Girons, and Leon. I spent an hour or so at a beach at Moliets but, like most places on a pretty dismal day, it didn't look too attractive. The one thing that I do remember is cycling along a cycle track, past the usual signs (no horses, no smoking, no litter, etc) when ... Whoa! Stop! Was that real? A U-turn and ... No. I didn't imagine it. I've discovered what is possibly the world's first non-smoking cycle track! I can imagine future health warnings on French cigarette packets: "Cyclists who smoke are ten times more likely to get splattered by a heavy lorry." Because bastards like you have to use the main road! I was passing the "Les Chevreuils" campsite, near Soustons-Plage, and intending to cycle a little further, when the bike decided to turn in to the campsite by itself! My backside was aching, and my brain wasn't involved in this decision! I had two large beers in the bar, but still no cigarette.

09:35 102.5k
06:50 224m



Mon 9 July

With Hendaye within easy reach, I continued into the Basque country. The hills have reappeared. The long straight flat roads have been left behind but, at last, the weather had improved. The Pyrenees were, for the first time, visible.


I bought a French phone-card and phoned the office. No real problems while I've been away. A fairly easy day, through Labenne, Bayonne, Biarritz, St Jean de Luz, and then the coast road, the "Basque riviera" to Hendaye. The last 10k on this coast road, when you think that Hendaye is always just around the next corner, was very hilly - it seemed that I'd never actually get to Hendaye! Every bend just brought more road and more hills, but I got there. The first hotel was full but the "Alturan" campsite, just up the road, was OK. With a rest day planned for tomorrow, I had a few beers. After two of them I asked myself "Do I want to spend the rest of my life having just two beers?" No I didn't. I fetched my tobacco. I managed to borrow a laptop from a Dutchman in the bar so I could copy all of my photographs from my camera to my "USB-stick" memory, so my camera is empty again, and ready for more photographs.

07:20 64.5k
05:24 651m



Tue 10 July

A rest day, as planned, before I start on the mountains. Cycling around Hendaye, with the 14kg of luggage removed from the bike, was so easy! The repair to the tent-pole had survived. Considering that the tent, plus two sleeping bags and two sleeping mats, cost only 50 quid in Halfords it is doing well. The luggage carrier, on the back of the bike, has broken and, with nothing to hook the elastic strap to, the luggage is now more prone to jump off when I cycle over a bump. This problem has been partly solved by filling the spare space in the panniers with empty coca-cola bottles. They have bulk, but weigh virtually nothing, and there is now more "down-force" from the tent which is strapped on top of them. It rained a bit during the day but nothing serious. The weather has to improve sometime and, according to the forecast, it will do so soon. Strange but, even after 800 kilometers in 8 days, I couldn't wait to get back into action. First: a few more beers, and a few more cigarettes, in the campsite bar.

Wed 11 July

A late start, due to a slight hangover, but I packed my tent, and headed for the hills. The first step was to find Spain but, amazingly, it took a lot of searching through Hendaye centre to even find a signpost to it! I found the crossing eventually and I ended up on the N-1: the right road, but pointing in the wrong direction. With slow-moving traffic jams in both directions, crossing the road took quite a while. Once I'd gone under the main motorway, following the N-121-A to Pamplona, the traffic eased considerably but, further up the road, the road narrowed and the cycle track disappeared. This was the main road from the Atlantic coast to Pamplona and, with the number of heavy lorries using it, I was quite relieved to turn off it at Vera-de-Bidasoa, where the first climb started. It started raining, gently, at the start of the climb. The Col d'Ibardin, at 317 metres, is not one of the biggest and it didn't take me long. The road on the descent, on the French side, was a bit rough but the weather improved for the 12k ride to Sare for the start of the second climb, to the Col de Lizuniaga at 250 metres, which was even easier than the first.


The descent took me back to Vera-de-Bidasoa, through which I'd been earlier in the day. The weather had improved, and there were fewer lorries, for the short trip up the same main road to the Hotel Etxalar. No cigarettes today: I'm back on the patches, but I'm not totally convinced that I want to give up.

09:10 63.1k
06:02 893m



Thu 12 July

The third climb, to the Col de Lizarrieta, at 441 metres and only 12k from the hotel, didn't take long. Nor did the descent into Sare, where I'd been yesterday, and where I stopped for lunch. The weather, at last, was warming up. The next climb was unusual in that the border crossing, at Dancharia, back into Spain, was some way from the top of the climb. On the ascent I met Roger from Worcester. The company that he'd worked for had given him, and everybody else over 50, the elbow a few years earlier and now he was spending much more time cycling. He seemed quite happy with his new lifestyle but his legs were having a bad day - a bad case of cramp. When I met him he had stopped, a few feet from the crash barrier, and he just couldn't move. A French cyclist had stopped to help him but, when I arrived, the Frenchman continued his ride. Roger slowly walked his bike the last 3k to the top and I cycled with him, holding his bike now and again as he limped to the crash barrier. I didn't mind - I'm on holiday and there's no hurry.


Roger re-examined his options when we reached the top, the Puerto de Otxondo at 570 metres. He'd planned to go on to Pamplona but, until we examined our maps, he probably hadn't realised how much climbing was involved. We descended to Erratzu where there was a "Camping 1.0k" sign so he decided to stop there and see how his legs felt in the morning. Meanwhile I had a meal, and I found some coca-cola ready for the next climb. I cycled past Roger's campsite, which was well over 1k from the sign, and climbed to the Col d'Ispeguy (672 metres) late in the evening. A pleasant climb, not too steep, through a forest giving lots of shade from the heat of the sun.


The view, into France from the top, showed an isolated and disused building on the only flat ground for miles. An ideal place to put a tent up although it was a bit windy in such an exposed position.

11:15 65.1k
07:24 1400m



Fri 13 July

The very scenic descent into St. Etienne-de-Baigorry went simply enough. I tried a cafe for breakfast, but they were closed: the bread hadn't arrived yet. Next door, in the supermarket, was all of the bread you could eat! I restricted myself to a few Mars bars and a big bottle of coca-cola. The fuel consumption of my bike, measured in kilometres per litre of coca-cola, obviously varies with the weather which was now warming up. Also, on the next climb, my maps didn't show a lot of big towns so I didn't expect too many supermarkets. The 15k road to Aldudes, where the climbing really starts, is nowhere near flat. Although Aldudes is only 150 metres higher that St. Etienne, there's a lot more climbing involved than that! Most of my coca-cola had gone by the time I reached Aldudes. The climb from here is one of the steepest on my planned route, and is marked on my Michelin road-map of the area with 13%, just in case there's any doubt as to what a triple chevron means. Fortunately, with very little traffic, it's possible to zig-zag across the whole width of the road, which reduces the effective gradient considerably. I was still relieved to find the restaurant at the Collada de Urkiaga, height 890 metres, where I stopped for a meal.


The descent, again very scenic, took me to a road-junction at Zubiri. Fortunately there was a petrol station there, where I could replenish my stock of coca-cola before starting the return to France. The return is over several passes but fortunately, after the first ascent, there's not too much height loss between them. I climbed up to the Puerto de Erro, at 801 metres, and a few kilometres past it, before putting my tent up in somebody's field.

11:45 69.7k
07:12 1234m



Sat 14 July

More climbing to start the day, but that's OK. I discovered nine years ago that it's best to do any serious climbing in the early morning or in the late evening, and to spend the hottest part of the day either having lunch or on a long descent. The climbs to the last high point, the Puerto de Ibaneta at 1057 metres, was relatively easy and were followed by a long, and again scenic, descent to St Jean-Pied-de-Port where I stopped for lunch. The weather was now getting seriously hot, probably in the low 30s.


I had been wondering how to get from here to Larrau, and there are various options. One option was staying close to the border: very scenic, according to my map, but with lots of high passes and steep roads. Maybe some time in the future but, today, the weather was too hot for that! I chose the road over the Col d'Osquich as being not too boring but not too difficult either. I headed, from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port, to Larceveau-Arros-Cibits whose name is larger than the place itself. No coca-cola shops. There was a petrol station here, where I bought their last can of coca-cola, then I headed for the pass. The road was not too long but, in the heat of the afternoon, it was hard work. I could feel that I was getting dehydrated but, in the absence of any shops, the only option was to keep going. It felt like cycling in a microwave oven. Eventually I reached the hotel at the Col d'Osquich, which looked a bit up-market for me: not the sort of place that would welcome a scruffy, sweaty, cyclist so I continued. Amazingly, the road carried on going uphill. I stopped and checked my Michelin map. Although the col itself, at 392 metres, was marked as a real pass (chevrons in both directions, pointing to the "pass") there was an insignificant dot in the middle of the road, altitude 500 metres, a kilometer further on. The last 100 metres of ascent was too just much. Mercifully, the setting sun, like my legs, had lost most of its power but the road continued upwards. I passed a small hotel, with a milestone saying "altitude 509 metres" outside it and, with the road still going uphill, I stopped. I walked into the bar but "y a-t-il un chambre?" just wouldn't come out. Hand-signals revealed that there was a room, and hand-signals got me a coca-cola at the bar. And another. After a shower I returned to the bar for a couple of beers. And a couple of cigarettes. It's been a hard day. I've given up trying to give up the weed. An amazing view from my bedroom window!

11:45 70.5k
06:35 1059m



Sun 15 July

The road continued upwards for about 0.3k and then, as was inevitable sooner or later, it went downhill. A long descent brought me to the town of Mauleon-Licharre where I stopped for an early lunch, and also to replenish my supplies of coca-cola. It was Sunday and shops which were open, on the next climb, might be rare. The trip up the valley seemed easy. Not flat, but not too extreme either. I stopped again, for another meal, at the Logibar cafe after which the hard work really started. Two kilometres, and 200 metres of ascent, in increasingly warm weather, brought me to Larrau. There was a shop open! They had no coca-cola but a bottle of lemonade would do. No calories but liquid is liquid. After Larrau, the climb continued: a steady 10% climb that just went on and on. The road was cut into a hillside of thick forest - the ground was too steep for any turn-offs or any sensible chance of wild camping on ground this steep. Near the top there were a few clearings but several camper-vans had beaten me to the best spots. Eventually, about 100 metres below the Col d'Erroymendi, I broke out of the forest and saw lots of open ground but nowhere really flat. The wind, while I'd been climbing, had been increasing in strength and now, out of the forest, it was a bit worrying. I thought that the ground on the inside of a hairpin bend offered the best chance so, very carefully, I put up my tent. Everything had to be placed carefully on the ground to make sure that it didn't blow away. I pegged down guy-lines for my tent that I'd never used before. I went to bed. Although the wind was occasionally blowing the canvas of my tent down over my face, I'd make it to morning!

13:00 54.8k
06:20 1400m



Mon 16 July

It had been a hard night. It had been difficult to sleep, especially on sloping ground and with the wind trying to destroy my tent. Also there seems to be a law requiring every sheep and cow in this area to wear a bell around its neck. In the early hours every sheep on the hill decided to migrate past my tent. Daylight eventually arrived and, again very carefully, I packed my tent and continued upwards. The top of this climb, altitude 1362 metres, was only 100 metres above, and one kilometre on the road, from where I'd camped but, overnight, the wind had increased in strength again. It wasn't too hot by any means, quite the opposite in fact, but I felt that I was cycling into Hell. It took me an hour and a half to reach the Col d'Erroymendi and, with the wind strength increasing all of the way up, I stopped to think. I am a motorcyclist so I know what a 70mph wind feels like. The wind on the top was stronger than this, far stronger, and this wasn't even the top of the hill: the road climbs another 200 metres, in four kilometers, with absolutely no protection from the wind before the Port de Larrau on the border. In retrospect I should have tried it: coming back down would always be easy. Maybe I should have retreated to Larrau for a day. Nevertheless, at the highest point of my journey so far, I just gave up. I took a couple of photographs, and even holding the camera steady was difficult in this wind!


I thought "Get me out of here!". I just cycled downhill, and the further I went the more difficult it became to change plan. I went all of the way down to Mauleon-Licharre where I stopped for lunch again. After this I continued downhill again. The trip was over, and all I had to do was to get back home. Just when some hot weather would have been nice, the rain returned. I continued North through Sauveterre-de-Bearn and Peyrehorade in increasingly worse weather. Strangely my backside, after my cycling shorts had been thoroughly soaked, had never been more comfortable! I stopped in St. Vincent-de-Tyrosse, where the rain started to clear, to inquire as to the nearest campsite. I was directed to a place in Tosse but I was warned here about loud music, at the bar, until midnight. I continued to Souston where the campsite reception was just closing. I left them my passport with a promise to sort it out in the morning. There was a karaoke evening, mainly in French, at the bar. I sat as far away from it as I could.

11:30 121.9k
07:05 252m



Tue 17 July

The weather is still cloudy but it's not raining much and, basically, it's just a case of reversing my route south. I kept to the main road, fairly flat and quiet, through Vieux-Boucau, Leon, St. Girons, and Bias, towards Mimizan. There was a good cycle track from Mimizan to a place called Pontenx-les-Forges. Unfortunately it split, just before reaching Pontenx, with two signs: "Centre Ville 1.2k" or "Maison du Pin 0.5k" for guidance. I chose the town centre route but came to a T-junction with no road signs. I guessed, turned right, and arrived at the Maison du Pin. There was a map outside it with a "Vous etes ici" arrow clearly pointing to the wrong place. Fortunately, just up the road, there was a road-sign "D46 Escource 9" from which I could work out where I really was on the map. After this my route became clear: Just follow the D626 and, after 600 metres, there's a slight left curve. Turn left here and follow the road through the forest until it joins up with the D46, the road that I really want. Unfortunately my short cut was on forestry roads, made of sand and maintained by pouring building rubble into the holes, but they got me there.


After going through Parentis, I found the same site that I used to camp wild on the way down. When I stopped, there was time for a quick experiment: I took off my cycling shorts and cycled around virtually naked for a few hundred metres. The idea was to find out whether my sore backside was actually caused by my cycling shorts. I'm still not sure. During the night a large vehicle trundled down the forestry road past my field, shone its headlights at me for a minute, decided I wasn't a problem, and trundled on.

12:00 96.3k
06:35 264m



Wed 18 July

Again just a case of reversing my route south, going back north via Sanguinet and Mios, then the cycle track to Biganos where I got confused by a couple of road-signs and spent some time on the Biganos ring-road. This brought me onto the main road through Facture, which I recognised from my trip south, and where I knew that the cycle track from Lège-Cap-Ferret finished. Of course, now I'm looking for it, I can't find it. Not a sign in sight. I followed the road to Lège for a while, then turned right. The cycle track must be here somewhere! Eventually I asked two ladies who pointed me towards it. Once I was on it, I followed it to Lège where I arrived at a cycle-track T-junction. No signs except for the three road numbers (yes: cycle-tracks around here have road numbers although the AA Glove-box atlas of France is not interested in them), three signs indicating that I was at kilometer zero on each of the three roads, and three more welcoming me to the Lège-Biganos, the Lège-Claouey, and the Lège-Le Porge cycle tracks. Of course the AA map is no help in finding out where these places are. Although it looks like I'm in a field, with a big road going over a bridge nearby, I assume I'm in Lège. I know where Biganos is because I've just come from there, but which of the other two tracks should I take for Lacanau? I was sitting there, with a confused look on my face, when a French cyclist arrived. He took a map of the local cycle tracks out of his pocket, waved his finger vaguely around where he thought we were, and said that I should go back about a kilometer, then turn left. I wasn't convinced. I wanted a closer look at his map, but he was putting it away. "Is that road the D3?" I asked, pointing to the bridge. "Yes it is" he said. So my plan is obvious. I take the forestry road to the next road junction so I can get on the D3. The D3 is the road I want for Lacanau. My forestry road is, of course, made of sand. When I reach the big road I find it's the D106, not the D3. No problem: at least I know now where I am. Nowhere near where the Frenchman said we were. I take this road back back over the cycle-track junction and then over another bridge.


This second bridge is over the D3, the road I really want, but now there's no way down to it. In a break in the traffic I managed to cross the road and cycle down the access ramp. I followed the D3 through Le Porge (which I should have remembered: I stopped there for a meal on my way down), Lacanau, and Carcans where I stopped at a campsite. The bar was full of kids being entertained by a man with a microphone so, again, I sat as far away as possible. My first beer cost 2.20 which I paid for. For my second beer I had to change a 50 Euro note but I also gave a 20 centime coin to make the change easier. My change was about 6 Euros short. I waited at the bar, while he served three other people, and pointed this out. He claimed that he had charged me for two beers, forgetting that I'd already paid for the first, then he got some money from the till and added it to my change. He returned to his mates, explaining in French that I didn't speak the language too well. "Le mathematique est le même dans toutes les langues!" I said loudly. "J'ai donnerai vous cinquante Euros et vingt centimes. Une biere est deux Euros et vingt centimes. Vous donnerez moi quarante-huit Euros". I was looking under the small coins in my change for more large coins. I didn't find any. He examined my change, took the small coins away, and returned with two 2-Euro coins. "Merci" I said. "It's my pleasure!" he said, now in English. On the plus side, I now have enough coins to give him exactly the right money for my next four beers.

10:45 106.3k
06:55 92m
No Photo
Sorry, I forgot to take a photograph. It's just a fairly normal campsite

Thu 19 July

The first thing I did was to measure the distance from the campsite to the main road. It was one kilometer. The sign on the main road says 300 metres. That's pretty much what I thought last night. My legs, today, are just not interested in any hard work and I keep stopping for half-hour rests. I got through Hourtin and stopped for lunch at a town called Vendays-Montalivet. The waitress was very pleasant and she had the rare gift of speaking French slowly, clearly, and keeping just to the basics. Maybe she was foreign too. After my meal, I continued north. I was soon tempted by a cycle track. As usual, it had no signposts saying where it went but, after crossing my road, it clearly went parallel to it as far as the eye could see. I followed it but, after a kilometre, it turned right, into the trees, and then right again. Travelling south-east was not what I had planned but, obviously, many people before me had made the same mistake. There was a well worn path from the first bend back to the main road. I reached the car ferry at Le Verdon and took the boat to Royan. Continuing north, I was tempted to stop at L'Éguille but it was a bit early to stop so I went on. My legs were not pleased. A sign advertised a hotel in Le Gua but, in Le Gua, there was no hotel. Fortunately in Cadeuil, the hotel had a room. My legs were grateful for the rest, and for the long soak in the bath.

11:25 89.4k
06:31 180m



Fri 20 July

My legs are having another bad day, and it was hard work getting to Rochefort. Finding the cycle-track to La Rochelle was fairly easy, as I remembered it from the trip down. It's not really a cycle track: just a collection of country lanes which were there long before the big new road was built, and is now joined up with bits of cycle track. I was not too surprised, after seeing "La Rochelle 25km" on the main road, to see a sign "La Rochelle 34km" on the quieter roads. The quieter roads are, at least, more relaxing and I followed the signs to a roundabout in Les Boucholeurs, where the "cycle track" signposts stopped. I guessed, and obviously guessed wrongly, as I found no more of them. After visiting a supermarket, near the big new road, I decided to follow the same big new road to La Rochelle which, at 17:00, was shut. At the three restaurants that I tried, my "puis-je manger?" was met with a shake of the head, so I just kept pedalling along the coast road to Luçon, a quiet and pleasant town, where I stopped at a hotel. 

11:20 104.2k
07:15 343m



Sat 21 July

My legs complained a lot less on the road to La Roch-sur-Yon, which sounds like it's on a river. I had learned that the best way through most towns is to ignore the "Toutes Directions" signs, and the ring-roads, and to head directly for the centre which, in this case, was on top of a hill. It was a very pleasant square, full of restaurants, and ideal for a lunch stop. The town obviously has some history as every business seemed to be named after Napoleon, including my café. My legs were also happier on the road to Nantes although my backside had started to complain again. I managed to avoid the motorway, which I'd accidentally used on the way south, on the entry to Nantes. Most of the bus shelters in this area have maps on them which makes navigation to and through the city centre much easier. Nantes has some nice parks in its centre, ideal for the weary cyclist to sit down for a cigarette! I found the road to Rennes with no problem but, as I crossed the ring-road, I passed a sign, a white car on a blue background, indicating that cyclists were no longer welcome but, as the only options were the ring-road or to reverse my route on the wrong side of the road, I continued along the motorway.

The first exit was to some industrial estate so I ignored it, but the next exit was some way up the road. The road junction at this exit had absolutely no road signs so I just went back on the motorway. The hard shoulder was wide and smooth, and my backside had now stopped complaining. The hills were long but gentle and cycling was easy. Eventually I found an exit with a road-sign. It wasn't a particularly useful road-sign, it mentioned no town and the main roads were not mentioned by my AA map. Nevertheless it did suggest how I could reach a normal road going west, so I found the D37 and followed it - to the next exit from the motorway! At least there was a signpost here to Blain where I had camped on the way down and, hopefully, I could make it there before the sun disappeared. There were signs, which didn't mention distance, to a nearer campsite so I followed these to the very nice "Camping des Pindieres" near a town called Héric.

11:50 132.3k
08:07 722m



Sun 22 July

I was woken up at 08:30 by some heavy rain so I went back to sleep. The next time I woke, it was almost eleven so I packed up, paid up, and left. As the sun was hidden by heavy cloud, using it for navigational purposes was difficult and it was mainly by luck that I found Blain. Of course it's Sunday and nowhere is open. I headed for Redon but via Plessé, a town I'd missed on the way down, where I was lucky to find a restaurant open. Having been fed I changed my plan and headed north through Guémené-Penfao and Beslé-sur-Vilaine towards Pipriac where I could pick up the D177 to Rennes. The roads around here are very hilly, and cycling is hard work. I was tired, and ready to stop, when I reached Rennes but I didn't pass a single hotel! Following the signs for St. Malo brought me on to another road where cyclists are not welcome so, at the first exit, I found myself in St. Gregoire. The first hotel, one of the "B+B" chain, was unmanned. It had an "insert your credit card here" machine but no sign of a bar. I headed for the town, which is one of the most depressing dumps I've ever had the misfortune to visit. The cycle tracks must be among the worst in the world but, fortunately, traffic was light so I could use the roads. The hotel "Brittania" is much like the town. It's clean and new but completely bland, boring, and featureless. But I was tired, it was getting dark, and it had a bar.

10:35 115.3k
07:30 768m



Mon 23 July

With St. Malo within reach, I headed north through Combourg to Dol-de-Bretagne. Road works, and a diversion, here confused me a bit and I ended up on the coast road rather than the road that I'd planned, but it was sunny, and the coast road was flat, so I didn't mind too much. Eventually, the road turned back inland. In front of me was a 200 metre stretch of road, going slightly uphill. It was sunny. Half way up the hill the heavens opened. At the top of the hill there was a bus shelter, into which I rode. I had to share the shelter with a guy who had beaten me to it, on his moped, by a few seconds but he didn't seem to mind. We watched the rain, and hail, bouncing off the road.


The storm lasted only five minutes. The rain stopped as suddenly as it started so I continued towards the port. After ten minutes there was another storm but, this time, in open countryside, there was no bus shelter. I had to stop because I couldn't see where I was going. This storm also lasted only five minutes but, this time, I was totally soaked. The rain stopped and I continued to the port, arriving at 17:45.

08:30 89.2k
05:50 531m
No Photo
Sorry, I forgot to take a photograph. It's just a fairly normal ferry port

There was a boat at 10:15 so I prepared for a four hour wait, wondering how soon my clothes would dry out. I bought a British Sunday newspaper and the photograph of Tewksbury on the front page told me that things could have been a lot worse. It dawned on me, suddenly, that the next ferry at 10:15 was next morning, not later that evening. I checked at the Brittany Ferries desk. "No ferry this evening". Condor Ferries had a boat leaving at 20:00 so I bought a ticket for that. It was going to Poole, and it was delayed by half an hour, but that was near enough. I was just returning from a cigarette break when I heard "Last call for Condor Ferries" on the tannoy. What happened to the first call? I rushed back outside, unlocked the bike, and headed for Gate One. "Fermé!" said the man, but he took me back to the Condor desk. A quick phone call, and "follow me - you might just make it!" so I followed her and just made it to the ferry. I was expecting an overnight crossing but, unfortunately, this was a fast boat and it arrived in Poole at 00:30, and I had nowhere to go.

Tue 24 July

I cycled through Poole. Why are there no hotels in Poole? I was following road-signs to Bournemouth, looking for anywhere that I might put up a tent for the night, when I passed a pub. It was obviously closed but there were lights on downstairs, a sign outside saying "accommodation", and it had a doorbell. At 01:15 I rang it. After a minute I was just about to continue pedalling when a man appeared. "Sorry to bother you" I said "but is there a room available?". "Come in" he said "and I'll check" I went in. They were still serving beer and, more important, they had a spare room. After ordering a beer, the next obvious question was "Is there an outside smoking area?". "No" he said. There was a pause, then he reached under the bar and got me an ashtray. What a civilised place England is!

In the morning it was just a matter of finding a cash machine, a railway station, and eventually ... I'm back home!

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