Month: September 2016

Through the Cevennes and the Ardeche to Orange

From Pont Montvert is 85 miles to Orange, so 3 short days.  We didn’t hurry to get up, bought bread at the tiny boulangerie at 8 and then cheese and fruit in the little market which had sprung up along the river.

Then on up the dwindling Tarn the valley becoming gentler and very quiet as we reached the top at Col de la Croix de Berthel, 1088 metres.


Then a lovely descent into the Cevennes and then contoured along the top of a steep valley before dropping down to the Cèze river where we spent the night at the Camping Municipal at Bessège. The campsite is on the river and we spent the afternoon on the beach with lots of local people, children canoeing and swimming,  people fishing, chatting sunbathing and just enjoying the lovely place. Quick swim in the clear water before supper.


Bessège is a long town strung along the valley.  A good market in the morning where we foraged for lunch, then pedalled first along a moderately busy road to St Ambroix but then along a quiet lane to Barjac and over the top through Organic en Avens to St Martin en Ardeche. Vineyards and forests. They are just starting the vendanges and the cooperatives are starting to weigh in trailers full of grapes, the variety chalked on the side. In Orgnac stopped to look at the museum of prehistory. So many sites here in the Ardêche area.


Posh private campsite at St Martin,  went out for a nice salad in a restaurant overlooking the river and watched the sunset. Good starry sky.


23rd was our last cycling day. Visited Aiguèze, the little medieval village perched on the ridge above St Martin and then headed for Orange,  down to the Rhóne and the flat flood plain into the town


Lovely night in hotel in Orange: sheets on a real bed. What luxury.  Now on the bike bus home: no sheets or beds but a whole busload of cyclists full of sun and fresh air.

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From Arpajon to the Tarn

16th September we camped at Arpajon sur Cere in the rain and it poured in the night so we set off damp with a soaking tent. Cycled over rolling terrain and then a marvellous descent to ther valley of the Lot river at a lovely little town called Entraygues sur Truyères. Lunch by the river admiring their medieval bridge and also their modern hydro schemes, the Truyères river supports several dams and produces electricity for half a million people.

The bridge at Entraygues,  built by Henry 2nd,  a busy man.

The bridge at Entraygues, built by Henry 2nd, a busy man.

Then up the Lot which should have been an easy cycle but the road was firmly barrée while they consolidated the cliff, the deviation wasn’t very far but involved a big climb and felt tough at the end of the day and we arrived quite late at Comb d‘olt where we had booked a Chambre d’hôte.
The room was lovely with a man who had retired back to the village where he had grown up,  buying an old house, the one where he used to come to buy milk as a child. It had been neglected and he has done a lot of work really valuing the old fabric of the house but also making it very comfortable. He cooked us dinner, a delicious 5 course meal and we were able to dry the tent and ourselves and wash some clothes and generally feel more human

Estaing one of the pretty medieval villages on the Lot

Estaing one of the pretty medieval villages on the Lot

Comb d’Olt is a beautiful medieval village with a church with a crooked spire but unlike Chesterfield it seems to have been deliberately built crooked to look like a flame.
Next day was dry and cold. A long steady climb out of the Lot valley over a plateau which changed from igneous rock to limestone and camped at Severac Le Chateau. Very cold.

Next day was gorgeous: a short climb from Severac then an amazing descent down a steep valley into the Tarn gorge. The rest of the day was cycling up the Tarn through the dramatic and spectacular rock formations of the Gorges. The road is a real feat of engineering as it goes through tunnels under overhangs and along ledges. The river is green and silver in the valley bottom. The rocks and cliffs are white and gold and form pinnacles and huge cirques. Castles perch on rock pinnacles and tiny little villages cling to the steep hillsides, often with their only connection with the road being a cable across the gorge or many kilometers of footpath.

Cycling through the Tarn gorges

Cycling through the Tarn gorges


We camped by the river by the tiny village of Castelbouc in a campsite which was officially closed but the owner said we could stay as he hadn’t yet turned the water off.

In the medieval village of Castelbouc

In the medieval village of Castelbouc

Idyllic spot by the river

Today we pedalled on up the Gorges to Pont de Montvert, well above the popular parts of the gorge, high at almost 900 metres and feeling really quite remote. The Tarn is small up here, the town not at all touristy. Young people running the shop and the cafes. We are camped on the Camping Municipal. Legs quite tired. 3 more days to Orange.

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Through the Limousin and the Auvergne

Through the Limousin Park and the Auvergne


Tuesday 13th we managed to leave early, getting up into dark at 6.30 and taking the tent down by torchlight.  Bought breakfast and lunch food at the tiny epicerie in St Hilaire Le Chateau.  A long climb up the to the Limousin plateau along a tiny Road through mature forests and golden fields.  Very hot once the sun had been up for a bit. There was a market in Royère de Vassivière small, local produce and we sat and enjoyed goat’s cheese and apricots and people watching.  A French cycle tourist arrived bravely cycling a very battered bike with makeshift saddle bags…  made us feel a bit wimpish.


Then on over the Limousin plateau.  There are similar plants to Scotland: rowan. silver birch,  pine, heathery and gorse but very dry, no moss or ferns.  Lovely golden brown cattle and big lakes, we had lunch by one.


At 900 metres we reached the top of the plateau and the watershed between the Loire and the Dordogne ad plunged down to Sardon, a small town with a nice campsite which was unfortunately closed. The forecast wad for rain and with no alternative campsites nearby we resorted to a Chambre d’hôte with a couple who had retired here from the Champagne region in the North and were finding it hard to integrate. They were very kind to us but it was clear that we needed to avoid talking politics..


The next day was pouring and rained all day. We pottered down a pretty valley to Ussel and then along a road which was busier than we liked to Bort les Orgues, on a lake and getting it’s name from the basalt columns like organ pipes.  We were soaked and spent the night in a small village called Champ sur Tarentaine in Chambers d’hôte with a really lovely family, he was a farmer with 38 cows and househusband living on an old family farmhouse and making ends meet by the B&B and her job as an agricultural reporter.  We joined him for a beer and heard all about the difficulties for small farmers using traditional methods trying to compete with large farms.  He clearly loves living in the Auvergne and told us about local dishes and traditions.

We went for an amazing meal in a small auberge 2km up the valley,  offered us the use of his car but we opted to cycle,  luckily avoiding the deluge that followed shortly after

The auberge had a very rustic feel but clearly took food very seriously,  all the dishes were local recipes,  including a starter called pounti with prunes,  delicious. Locally sourced meat from Limousin cows and a selection of very local cheeses followed. Overall it was the best restaurant meal we had had in many years.  


Afterwards we cycled back up the steep hill feeling very replete


Slept in the next day and chatted to Emmanuel over breakfast and then pottered off for a shortish day up the Gorges de la Rhue and through Rioms es Montagnes to Le Claux, w tiny hamlet at 1100 metres on the Auvergne plateau.


 Camped at the Camping Municipal,  wonderful rainbow and then rain overnight. Noisy night with dogs Barking and some large animal running around the campsite…  hopefully just deer.


This morning, Friday we did a getting up by torchlight start. Lovely sunny morning and we pedalled up Puy Mary,  an iconic Auvergne mountain with a beautiful dramatic shape and a lovely approach along la Route des Crêtes. We stopped on top and climbed the last 200 metres to the top. Wonderful views along the ridges and crags made more dramatic by rapidly approaching weather.  Swifts in large numbers and crows.

Then a swooping descent and Le menu proved very tempting in the Hotel des Genets in the small village of Mandailles…  more pounti and truffade.

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From the Loire to the Parc naturel Limousin

From the campsite on the Loire on Saturday morning we set off along the Loire to Amboise…  rather bafflingly couldn’t find the town for a while.. As the roadsigns were taking us to the new Town, we eventually found the old town with the chateau (when I listened to Martin who was looking at the map). Very beautiful chateau with impressive gargoyles.  Then past Clos Lucy where Leonardo da Vinci died and then down little roads out of the Loire valley and into the Indre where we had lunch by a Ford and the skeleton of an old medieval bridge.


Camped at Chatillon sur Indre which has a castle built by our Henry II Plantagenet who was also duc of Anjou. The guy running the campsite was quite merry propping up the campsite bar when we arrived and skipped the usual formalities…. we rather suspect the 10 euros may not arrive into the Municipal coffers

Next day was a lovely ride out of the Indre valley, through the Parc de la Brenne which is a wild expanse of ponds and scrub. Most of the ponds were inaccessible from the road…  lots of waterbirds and it looked as if it is an area people come to for shooting and fishing


Lunch by the Creuse river where we spied a pair of kingfishers.


Then into the valley of the Creuse river where we camped at Crozant, a tiny village on a lovely deep river valley and ridiculously picturesque castle ruins. Apparently romantic and later Impressionist painters came here a lot and established a painting school.  We could see why,  it was really beautiful.  Lovely quiet campsite, owls and bats at night,  woodpeckers in the morning.

























It is all very dry, the smaller trees are suffering and have turned brown,  especially on slopes, Madame at the campsite says  “la sécheresse cette année, c’est le désastre”


Today is very hot, too hot for the distance we had planned as we are now starting to climb up into the Massif Central so we are using one of our spare days to take 3 days over the next section instead of 2.


Rode along tiny roads, lovely little villages but they do seem a bit depopulated and not as alive as rural France was, many of them had no shop and even no bar! However we did manage oranginas and ice creams and a midday sleep in the shade.


Camped at St Hilaire du Chateau in a tiny Municipal site by a river and an old church, the shop runs to cans of beer and the crickets are creaking away

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Through the Parc du Perche to the Loire

Sunflowers ready for harvest

Sunflowers ready for harvest

The campsite on the 7th, in Abrias du Perche was quiet, wooded and with an amazing night sky with such bright stars and the Milky Way very clear. Another English couple in an old 2CV awaiting 40 other 2CV drivers coming for a rally.


We left about 9.  The cycle was across a regional nature reserve :Parc du Perche, gently rolling,  deeply rural, woods and fields. Very quiet lovely roads. Lunch in Nugent de Rotrou from the boulangerie.  Beautiful buildings, ancient half timbered and mud with stones embedded.  Sometimes in good repair, sometimes crumbling.  Massive church towers.

Side door of a church

Side door of a church


Dropped out of the South of the parc and into the valley of the Braye river which was very quiet the only sounds cows   water and the odd squawk of a bird, the only person an odd mam in his immaculate potager.  Very hot, all bars closed.

Camped in Vibraye, a prosperous small town where the Camping Municipal is part of a big sports complex.  Madame who looks after the Camping and sports hall told me proudly that they are the most sporting town on the region with successive mayors, all local teachers having built up really good facilities and participation.  

Next day over high ground. Sunny and hot and dipping at times into river valleys and down to camp near the Loire.


Lunch in the shade

Lunch in the shade

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Through Normandy

Portsmouth yesterday was a bit of a reminder of how unequal Britain has become  around the port tatty and people begging and then through an underpass into an area of very smart shops and restaurants for the haves.

Anyway the ferry delivered us to Le Havre this morning. Trains to Rouen  but the next to Serquigny was late due to cow on track. However in Serquigny they kept the next train waiting for us…  Very kind of them and all the passengers delayed on our behalf


The cycle South from Conches en Ouche to Ferte Vidame where we ate camped was lovely, warm, big skies mature forests old timbered houses and cornfields. Cassoulet for supper.

Snack time

Barn, restoration project anyone?

Barn, restoration project anyone?

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Along the South coast to Portsmouth

We took the train to Southampton and then a leisurely cycle to Portsmouth with two little ferries en route. Sitting now in Portsmouth.

Ferry to Le Havre leaves 11.15pm



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