1 day getting there, 5 days cycling, 1 day doing very little…

I can’t quite believe it is nearly a week ago since I waved goodbye to the shores of ol’ Blighty for the last time (over the next two years).

As I stood on the deck of the ferry headed for St. Malo in France, looking out over Poole port on a particularly grey Monday afternoon, a blustery wind picked up and in no time at all, I’d taken on a wind-swept, disheveled appearance that I suspect will be a look to be regularly repeated once cycling south. With a smug grin on my face (and plenty of loose hair, freed by the gusts, with it) reality dawned; while many of you will be reading this sat at the office desk, as a distraction from a hundred emails from a room without a view; my view for the next two years would be the world outside, a different view with a new perspective every day. Looking around, I could see no-one to celebrate with – it’s school holidays and the ferry was filled with happy families; children running amok and parents quietly sitting – no-one who I thought would quite understand why I could possibly want to cycle across Africa.

St Malo LighthouseOn arrival in St. Malo, the wind had brought with it a fine mist which shrouded the town and a light rain that persisted until I was not only wind-swept and disheveled but distinctly damp with beads of water dripping from the peak of my baseball cap (which I’d put on in a futile attempt to keep my head dry!). Despite the wet start to the ‘holiday’, I was pretty upbeat and about to set off in search of a place to camp when I met Paul. Paul was a Brit on a short break, staying at a campsite in St. Malo… perfect. So off I went with Paul to find a spot to pitch my tent. The thing about campsites in France is that a pitch is big enough for a family with car, caravan and tent with room to play. So that meant space on Paul’s pitch for me too. With the little mission of finding somewhere to camp easily completed, I moved on to dinner. Pizza and beer sorted that one out nicely too.

The following day was slow to start – I was rather snug and dry inside my tent and had no great desire to emerge from my cosy ‘home’. It also took me the better part of two hours to pack everything away again! Not a slick operation, but I’ve plenty of time to work on that. A boat ride across the bay to Dinard and with a short cycle through the town, I picked up the ‘voie verte’ south to Dinan.

Inside Dinan Cathedrale
Inside Dinan Cathedrale

Voie vertes are traffic-free paths running throughout France and make for pleasant, quiet cycling it must be said. I got a little carried away and what with stopping to take photographs, look round the little villages and towns I passed through, it was early evening before I thought I should probably find somewhere to camp. My first attempt at French with another passing cyclist revealed there was a campsite near Rennes, so that’s where I went. It took some time to find and by the time I pedalled onto the campground, it was nearly dark and I’d notched up my first 70miles cycling in France.

From Rennes, I initially decided to head south-east to the Loire valley. However, after a continuous drenching, I changed my mind and thought that perhaps the coast would offer better weather. Probably because my early childhood memories of summer holidays are of  hot, sunny, summer days camping on the coast of France.

By the time I arrived at the next campsite, I was wet-through and tired. I decided an early night was in order, but there were other plans for me. The campsite had organised activities for the families and a four hour karaoke session ensued, with blatantly out-of-tune songs being blurted out by blatantly not-caring-but-having-a-great-time children and resounding round the thin walls of my tent. The following morning I was rudely awoken by workmen on the road with an industrial-scale pneumatic drill. Clearly I wasn’t going to get any rest here – so time to move on.

More drizzle on the third day, but with good roads, first through forest north of Blain and then more open country towards the Loire, west of Nantes, which I crossed by ‘bacs’, a free boat service to ‘get to the other side’ and on to St. Philbert de Grand Lieu.

Now I shan’t bore you with the details of every day’s riding. Somehow I’ve managed to stumble upon many ‘pistes cyclables’ and  have therefore passed many hours on pleasant country roads and paths taking a meandering route between towns. So although I’ve cycled a fair few miles, I’ve not gone anywhere near as far south as the crow flies in the same distance. There’s also the fact I’ve gone the wrong way or had to back-track a couple of times, but that’s another story!

Could this be the fens?
Could this be the fens?

The last couple of days, the sun has shone, I’ve passed through some lovely countryside – some of it decidedly similar to the flat terrain of the fens back in England, which I’m well acquainted with. The occasional field of vivid yellow sunflowers reminds me that I’m in France however.

I stopped for the afternoon in La Rochelle yesterday and wandered around town. Now I’m in Rochefort, for a day off the bike… a day which has gone by all too quickly, taken up with the mundane chores I’m exceptional at avoiding, but cannot be put off forever (washing clothes being one of them!).

It’s now time for an open air concert in town, but I’ll be back soon to post some photos.

Until the next update…..