Day 11: Vitré to St Malo

I feel like I’ve missed a day somewhere and it should be eleven days. I’ll cross check the details. (Edit: Belle spotted their were two day 8s) It’s indicative of how time and space has slipped by and merged into a flow of movement with no discernible parameters, bar time on or time off the bike. I felt a vague sense of melancholy yesterday, that underlying feeling of slight indefinable sadness that the adventure was finite. Today I felt excited and keen to smash through the last few miles, get sight of the sea and mark the completion.

Light at the end of the tunnel

Rather than hitting up the road by 8am I had to dilly dally for a while in Vitré. There are worst things to do. It was all to avoid one possible outcome; standing around at the ferry port trying to avoid the slightly scary and sinister lorry drivers. Sometimes when standing around in Lycra I feel like a pervert magnet. It’s not grounded in reality, just self consciousness, stood there in skin tight Lycra with a massive sweaty gusset. Some people like that sort of thing. I’ve heard. It didn’t help that the metal chair in the terminal have me a grid pattern on my ass, all it needed was a bingo board corresponding to the grid and a set of darts and they could have raffled it off like a cowpat funday. Or not.


I headed out at 11am after slowly and deliberately packing all my stuff. I had a few extra things to squeak in, some treats for the rotters, that sort of thing. It absolutely threw it down moments before leaving and I had a bad feeling about it. The weather forecast gave it to rain, it gave it a lot to rain. I had to suck it up, it was the last day of the tour, and a few encouraging words from belle on the watzap were enough to get me rolling. I paid a final solemn visit to La Mie en Caline and was off.

Today was somewhat fortuitously the biggest tailwind of the day. I fought a few battles with my Garmin and then with the Google lady over what constituted an acceptable road surface.

Not a road
Not a road. Maybe once for les paysans sales cXII siècle
Don’t know if this is a road or not. Best avoided. Might be something to do with Rue Ornery de Ball-Sack.

I went back to manual and rolled along the main road, thoroughly enjoying the hefty tailwind. Brittany was sombre and a bit grey, square buildings of grey stone, with lots of dilapidated ruins. Away from the coast it is heavily agricultural and isn’t awash with money. It reminded me of growing up in North Devon, where the idyllic beaches and full occupancy in summer disguise a bleak and desolate winter.

I stopped for lunch in Combourg. It was a strategic decision, I had some bread and cheese and there was a dry porch providing shelter ahead of the encroaching clouds and spots of rain.


It left around 25 miles to go. The rain abated, on cue. I was moving quickly, too quickly in one sense, but arriving early was preferable to being caught in the rain. I figured I could find somewhere quiet at St Malo and nurse a café crême for a while, which is exactly what happened. There was a road side sign which I had intended to photograph, but it was really dirty and by the side of a big trunk route so I left it.


I ate what I think is my tenth eclair of the trip. I’m proud of this fact. I’ve really got a liking for the tasty choux buns and chocolate ganache. Today’s was one of the best ones.

The riding is done, just the vagaries of transport to go. I’ve ridden 741 miles since Monday, averaging 75 miles per day, with a longest ride of 89 miles and one outlier at 36 miles when I felt awful and it was cold and wet. It rained once in that respect, which is incredible really and hard to believe. As Dion Smith said to me on the very first evening; “you make your own luck”.


Day 10: Angers to Vitré

I don’t even know if it’s been 9 days or not. It has been a journey into the depths of France and out the other side. It’s hard to remember where I was, where I’ve been and what day of the week it is. La Vajol and Girona seem like a very different universe entirely and as a pinpoint on the map it seems scarcely believable that I’m in Brittany and a day from the northern coast.

Yesterday’s long ride went fairly well. I use several strategies, like a gimlet-eyed fly-half with his funny sideways moonwalk, all a part of eating the chimp or whatever they do. In my case, I break the longer rides down into manageable chunks, like four 25 mile rides. Or, I remember a terrible joke from school about leaping out of a plane without a parachute. There’s a lengthy exposition with questionable science then the punchline involves getting to six feet off the ground then everything being ok because you can jump from there. That’s sort of just what it’s like. Get to 82 miles and and it’s a 5 mile commute.

I had planned on going to Rennes, but all accommodation, even the budget stuff, was hideously expensive or simply unavailable, which was strange. I thought maybe there was a Breton hoedown occurring so did a quick Google. It was some kind of global accountancy happening. Either way, something didn’t add up. So I opted for Vitré instead, slightly further east, and I’m glad I did.

Touring cyclists are conspicuous by their absence at this time of year. It’s unsurprising. Generally the weather has been really good, but I forget it’s early March, which is on the early side for proper touring, certainly camping stuff, outside of the hardcore. It’s cold in the mornings even if it does seem to warm up, and the weather can be really fickle. I have seen quite a few French roadies though. They have a certain ageless uniform difference, all in lurid club kit with local sponsors, lots of fade going on. It’s great. There doesn’t seem to be any of the johnny-come-lately bollocks, characterised by a thousand interlocking dodecahedrons pulsing in a wave across a jersey with just-so sleeve length and some complicated socks, aligned to some sense of entitlement that whilst they didn’t invent cycling they were damn well gonna make it better and monetise it and put those old guys in a hole marked “prelapsarian fogeys”. Like I said, ageless uniformity, great fades.

I had a tailwind all the way today. It was perfect. I faffed around trying to escape the flooded river out of Angers. I now know the factual accuracy of “inondation” signs.

Hmm. Can’t be that bad.
Hmm. Actually it can be.

I then fell into a trap of trusting Google maps cycling directives once too often before going full Luke Skywalker and turning all the tech off. I stuck to the long straight quiet roads and fast tarmac, following the road signs.

This is not a road
This is neither road not track
I don’t even know what this is. Shithole Alley de Ball-Sack for all the use it is.

The scenery was less pronounced, somehow less surprising. The architecture and geography through the Mayenne seemed more austere, lacking in the ages old stuff that littered the Dordogne, or the bourgeois houses sulking ominously on the banks of the Loire. It was relatively flat. I tried and failed to find a sandwich without meat or fish and managed to walk into a door despite being told not to by a kindly boulanger lady. I realised afterwards that she was telling me to use the other door. It was a complicated new build boulangerie with over engineered doors. I was saved again by a quiche and La Mie en Caline, my new favourite French chain. They also do takeaway coffee which seems really modern for France, but doesn’t stop you feeling like a complete philistine when doing any street drinking or eating.

Nice welcome to Vitré
Lots of these. None have tyres like this though.

Vitré is very pretty. It’s also got a very medieval bit in the middle, including one free standing house called “the island”. I enjoyed the additional time afforded by a slightly shorter route by walking around the ramparts and drinking a pression.


Tomorrow is the last day. I’m sad about it. You get into a strange rhythm of the road that’s really hard to articulate. It’s about being everywhere and nowhere, having all the time to roll along, and yet have no sense of time as it moves past as one more element of the flow of things. I’ll write more about this and why I did this (not that I need a reason, or that it’s complicated, but there is always a reason, otherwise we’d do nothing) in the forthcoming days and weeks. I’ll also include a kit list and some tips and tricks for super c touring, because the internet is really lacking in this sort of detail. (It isn’t).



Day 9: Poitiers to Angers

Yesterday was really hard. It rained and rained but I also felt rubbish, tired and was all aches. I was nervous about today, it was a long day according to the ASO road book, with nearly 90 miles ahead. After a good night’s sleep (the eternal panacea) and lots of food, I felt vaguely ok. The emerging sunshine was the definitive factor though. That’s all you need, anything that isn’t a block headwind (preferably a block tailwind) and copious amounts of sun. Everything is better.

Poitiers is nice. I wasn’t sad to leave, but like everywhere I’ve visited, my time has been brief and my experience of the city or town a superficial scratch at best, a photo taken of something old, a trip to Mie En Caline and a desperate search for acceptable food. It’s luck rather than judgement when I stumble across something unusual. At the same time, I’m immersed in the entirety of France (well, a 2 metre wide strip running across it like a surgical incision) feeling the cultural, demographic and topographic change around me as I move through in a liminal way. Like I said, living the dream.

Yesterday’s ride
Utterly gratuitous French touring baguette strap action

Pre-loading maps as a breadcrumb trail has been useful, but it’s also not always necessary. You don’t do anything different with or without a Garmin. I’ve frequently opted for place to place navigation, working out where I need to go and the towns en route then going there. It’s worked out more reliable in terms of keeping me on a metalled road, rather than a French track with a hooning great dog and old Leatherface and his Stihl. There are still dogs everywhere.

The dogs that live here respect the cyclists they have eaten by adding their leftover and inedible bike bits to this elaborate sculpture. I took immense risks to take this photo.

I went for the main road out of Poitiers. It was the straightest road I’ve ever been on. It was straight as an arrow pointing toward to horizon like a very precise and photorealist version of a child’s first perspective drawing in CDT. After yesterday’s tribulations it was perfect, it meant steady progress, tap tap tap. It was what I needed. I made a brief pause at Leudon for coffee then headed straight for the Loire at Saumur. There was a minor detour.

I like adventure but not those involving tir de guerre. Maybe that makes me old fashioned. I dunno.

I had a brief pause for lunch. It was inventive. An Emmental and chips baguette by the sunny, tapering banks of the McDonald’s car park.


The Loire is way bigger than any of our rivers. Well, the ones I’ve seen, and I mean inland, away from the sea. It’s a huge swirling brown mass with islands in the middle. I found it hard to work out where the water comes from. I mean, I know the answer, but it still seemed like a ridiculous volume. I rode along the levée from Saumur to Angers, some 32 miles. There was an alleged cycle path but it was a mess of gravel and dog shit so I left the loose gravel and the decomposing dog shit to their strange relationship and went back to the road.


Exciting animal spot of the day… I saw what looked like a slimy brown bag in a field. I assumed it was dead sanglier, until it moved and unfurled a cricket bat tail. It was a beaver. It slipped into the murky pond and disappeared. I saw another one a while back, this time he hurtled into his beaver house. My mum said they might be Coypu. She always has to piss on the strawberries. It’s because she once saw a coypu somewhere in France. Anyway, I soon put her right, “No mum, it was 100% beaver. It was massive, glistening and wet.” There was an awkward silence. I wished her a happy birthday. Her present is some free advice on cleat position.

By the time I got to Angers I was all but 90 miles up and ready for a rest. Two shorter days to go and the weather looks ok. On y va!



Day 8: Angôuleme to Ruffec (grim grim grim)

IMG_20180312_164036282.jpgIt was raining when I woke up. It eased slightly on the way out of town. It then threw it down violently, on and off, for the morning and I got very cold and wet. I sheltered in a strange series of hovels and hermitages in order to escape the worst, with varying degrees of success. I went for the bail-out option, ride to Ruffec then get the train to Poitiers. I was so wet I got changed in the station toilet, otherwise I’d have frozen to death. I had the right kit, just about, although my gore path is no longer as weatherproof as it once was. Even the daffodils were reduced to cowering in a ditch. I had several arguments with Google after I started mapping on my phone. I left it in my pocket and it told me where to turn, which was mostly really helpful because it meant not taking gloves off to check or breaking the phone, but occasionally it gave me duff gen. It became a one-sided conversion:

Google: Turn right in 200 metres

Me: Yes I will, provided it’s a real road and not two medieval French cart tracks…. Oh quel surprise, it’s a quagmire with duckboards. I’ll pass.

Daffodils arguing with each other about the absence of spring: “Ta geul Gustave, c’est PAS printemps, idiot”.
Google roads, not rooted in fundamental reality of what roads are when not digitised
My “j’en ai marre” face
Everyone in France has an umbrella.
Early signs were good though.

Poitiers is very civilised and I’ve been ambling round the chic boulevards and eating eclairs. I helped a blind man in monoprix with his shopping. I’m fairly sure I gave him the wrong fromage blanc yoghurts. I think he was quite disappointed that his helper was someone with minimal knowledge of the meaning of highly specific French culinary words, including variations of chicken. He wanted a type of chicken I’d never heard of so instead he said ‘small chicken’, I took him to the tiny chickens or ortolans or whatever chasse-meat was tiny and chickeny. He actually wanted a packet of the French equivalent to fridge raiders. The goat’s cheese search got a bit stressful. I think hindrance rather than help is probably more accurate. I’m worried when he gets home all excited he’ll find a bag full of weird approximations.

The weather is set fair for tomorrow. Or as they say in Cheltenham (home to an additional two readers, or so I’ve heard) “it gives it to sun”.





Day 7: Périgueux to Angôuleme

There was one thing I forgot about yesterday. Occasionally I’m led down a strange road which looks suspect and I start to fret. I’ve begun to recognise when my Garmin thinks I’m on a mountain bike, and therefore do a bit of studious cross checking on the phone. Thus far it’s an approach that has served me well.

Somewhere in the Dordogne, two roads diverged in a yellow wood. One was resolutely mainstream, whereas the other was more rebellious. It had tarmac, but it was pitted and battle scarred. It had been a good day so I opted for the lane. It rose up slowly and a far off dim and stuttered humming noise gradually separated into two constituent parts: the thrum and grrr of a chainsaw and the addled bark of a big dog. Suffice to say, the combination of the two sounds, aligned with a distinctly low-budget woodland post-brexitcore mise-en-scene, had me on edge. I carried on, believing that both these things must be far from the road. I rode up around a corner and sure enough there stood a man with a chainsaw and his massive dog. They had been waiting all this time. He stopped chainsawing, looked up and uttered one word in the time it takes most people to utter a complex sentence.


Not knowing the French for lost, or at least whether my idea for the French for lost (je suis perdu) was correct, I said simply:

“Rien Monsieur. Je vais retourner à la route principale.”

The man and the dog stared at me. I think he said “bon”.

I did this steadily. Once out of sight I stamped on the pedals. I avoided the road less travelled after that.

Today’s ride was a short 50 mile hop to Angôuleme. The sun accompanied the first half and it was joyous, lots of gentle climbs through woodland then endless undulations over an expanse of farmland, punctuated by very old castles. I was super organised and bought both my lunch and dinner in Périgueux before leaving. This is on account of France being closed on a Sunday. However, I found a PMU open and had a coffee surrounded by local French men drinking beer and pastis and watching the lottery numbers. Angôuleme is very nice. It’s another fortified medieval city with both old and new. France is full of them.

Cathedral at Angôuleme
Ceci n’est pas une grenouille
Lunch views
I don’t know what this is for other than it was full of sweet corn


First climb of the day
Du soleil

Tomorrow is a schlep to Poitiers.


Day 6: Agen to Périgueux

I left late, as you do when you’ve got further to go than normal. In its own way this was good, it meant I reconciled myself to the rhythm of the tour and the insignificance of external temporal reality. Or more succinctly, you get there when you get there.

I hatched a plan to stop after 20 miles to get provisions for a roadside lunch. I found an Aldi and the security guard got testy but then agreed to watch my bike for five minutes. I didn’t buy anything. He got really suspicious then and checked my bag. I told him I was vegetarian and he let me go. I tried LeClerc instead. It was one of those massive ones with a shopping concourse. I wheeled the bike through and got accosted by two really burly French securité men. They were very helpful. Firstly, they tried to put my bike into a trolley locker. It wouldn’t fit. Then one of them disappeared and came back with a plastic chain and suggested I lock it outside next to some bored-looking, culturally and ethnically disenfranchised youths. I politely declined but thanked him for his help, wished him and the youths un bon journée and went across the road to a bio place and bought plastic fake meat and grated carrot and bread. Truly, the lunch of champions.

I stuck to the route and duly discovered beautiful things I didn’t expect to see, in this case a string of fortified hill top towns. They’re called “bastide”. They’re really old and have lovely names like Monpazier, Monflanquin and Villereal. I stopped at Villereal for coffee and it was a market day. Apparently the market had happened on every Saturday since 1288. Some of the inhabitants have been to every single one. The central Halles is an incredible building of oak and wattle and the town was vibrant. The charming scene was improved by the addition of an English group drinking pints of Guinness and shouting at the waiter for a “cup wiv a handul mate”. I don’t know why they wanted a cup wiv a handul or why they were there, apart from to support the case for brexit to sceptical frenchies. They were doing an exceptionally good job.


The countryside was undulating and heavily agricultural. It made for good riding, gentle climbs with lovely and fast descents. It was also full of birds of prey. I saw several more Black Kites and two Hen Harriers, a visually arresting sight, white with black wingtips. At first glance it looks like a gull, but is shaped like a raptor. I also saw a field full of egrets.


My legs felt ok, I had good sensations. Generally, I’ve felt better on the bike than off it, fingers crossed it will continue.

The second half of the ride consisted of rain. I stopped in a bus shelter to eat my haute cuisine lunch. It all got very audax and I felt a bit dirty. I crossed the Dordogne, a huge and sultry brown mass of movement, and rolled through a tributary valley alongside troglodiste houses, some of them enormous bunkers hewn from the rock. Dordogne has lots of stuff to see before you even get to the cave art. One day I’d like to return for a more measured visit rather than pass through.


For about an hour I resisted getting the rain jacket out, it was really warm, about 20 degrees, and it was only when it threw it down on the run in to Périgueux (perrygoo not perryshoo) that I stopped. I made one last visit to a supermarket, walked straight in accompanied by a trailing River of filth, besmirched the floor with black wet wheelgunk and responded to the stares with “il pleut un peu” and just brazened it out. Success: 89 miles and 5000 feet ticked off, supermarket strategy mapped out, wet shoes ready for tomorrow.


Day 5: Toulouse to Agen

I changed my mind on the proposed route. It was a choice of either 4,000 feet or 236 feet of climbing. I opted for the latter. I’m coming to realise that a degree of self preservation makes the adventure more enjoyable.

It involved the Canal du Garonne. I had a feeling it went all the way to Bordeaux, via Agen, but found this hard to believe. In fact, it runs from Atlantic to Med.

I left my budget accommodation and bl crossed the road, joining the path straightaway. It ran out of Toulouse alongside a huge motorway, with industrial and commercial zones on the other side. It was a corridor of noise on both sides, one the steady zoom and murmur of traffic, the other the syncopated sounds of work. In the middle, the crunch of asphalt was barely discernible.

Gradually the noise diminished, the road veered away and the warehouses became gaps, and then countryside. There was a glorious tailwind and the surface was glassy, none of this compacted gravel mullarkey, a shiny sheen of dark matter and a zip in the tyres. It meant quick ridings. I felt elated, not a car in sight, barely another person, just tiered rows of plane trees.


I stopped at Dieupentale for a coffee, averaging around 16mph. It was a constant effort, big ring, steady pace, on and on and on. And it went on. More tarmac, more canal, more plane trees, the occasional train in the near or not so near distance.


I stopped at Moissac to buy lunch. I had been there in a past life, 18 years ago on my first ever trip to France (I was a late developer). They have repaved the square and there are more men lurking about with nothing to do than I remember. I bought some quiche and high tailed it out of there, onwards for a canalside picnic. After a couple of days of really stringing it out I was suddenly way ahead of schedule.

I find it hard to comprehend that I rode from city centre to city centre for seventy miles on a bike path with no contact with cars. It’s quite an experience. It’s also really quite dull after a while, and I guess in the absence of anything different to alleviate the monotony i felt for the first time the absence of a touring partner. I mentioned to Belle that it would make an ideal family tour. She wholeheartedly agreed that I should take both of the rotters away for a full tour on the canal and she would stay at home and mind the fort.

There were moments of utter joy. I saw several Black Kites, but also a kingfisher. It was a super fast flash of luminescent blue, a dart of lightning. It was only the second one I’ve ever seen, the last one was a glimpse a lifetime ago, this was a prolonged and awe inspiring sighting.

I got to Agen early with time to wait. I found a salon de thé. I had one of those hot chocolates like they give old people when they’re dying and refuse to eat. A full three course meal in a jug, dense and layered. It set me up nicely for a multi layered evening meal and wine, all good prep for tomorrow and the longest day, 84 miles with a job lot of climbing through the Dordogne.