Week 1

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The Blog

Weymouth to Maubuisson

Days 1 and 2, 29 and 30 August 2015
Weymouth to Bidart

The first bit went amazingly well. Putting the tandem on the train is a game of smoke and mirrors. The scheming stoker works out when the train arrives on its incoming journey. We arrived at Weymouth station at about that time and the management hung about around the back of the bike shed.

Once the train crew went off for coffee we quickly put the tandem on. There is actually room for it in the bike space but the rules are unclear so better not to tempt providence. We then moved away from it and attempted to look like ordinary passengers, hiding helmets etc. Janet came to see us off which was very nice and caused a good diversion.

The journey across London from Waterloo to St Pancras we did almost entirely on bike routes. The stoker is happier doing this on the tandem and even happier when, like today, there is not much traffic and the sun is shining.

Checking into Eurostar was surprisingly painless. We took the tandem to the hole in the wall by the coach park, took the front off and checked in the back as they can’t manage a whole tandem.

Here we had a piece of luck. Lurking in the trolley stand trying to avoid being used was the Eurostar trolley. They only have one in London and we got it. And we kept it all the way to the train. And the stoker got her Euro back, if you watch the pennies …..

When the train arrived in Paris we had done two thirds of a journey which many would have thought impossible. The front of the tandem had survived security and the stoker collected the back off the hanging baggage trolley. And we had had a nice lunch on the train which, despite being on its last legs, was only five minutes late.

Paris was hot, very hot, and by the time we had put the tandem together and loaded the stoker was glowing and the management covered in sweat. We got away from the seedy area around Gare de Nord as quickly as we could. After that it was a pleasant evening ride to Gare de Austerlitz. We took in some sights and entertained the odd Parisian, they really enjoy looking at our bike.

The real shock came when we took an evening meander near the left bank of the Seine near the station. We found ourselves cycling through a migrants’ camp. There were at least a couple of hundred festival tents along the embankment, pitched so close together that there was not an inch between them. The only sanitation was the odd tap and don’t ask about toilets.

Surprisingly, the encampments are mingled with bars, night spots and fitness clubs used by the locals. All this focuses the mind. On the one hand we are off on our little adventure but theirs involve risks and hardships we cannot comprehend. And now they are finding it almost impossible to live normally in France and most of Europe don’t want them. But they are human beings in great need. We wish we knew the answer, but we do know that Farage and other racists don’t have it.

We boarded the sleeper train for Hendaye and the barrier staff didn’t turn a hair at the loaded tandem. Outside coach 15 the management took the front off and bagged both halves in an old tent brought for the purpose. We had reserved a 4 berth couchette. The tandem occupied the top two berths and we the bottom ones.

Eleven hours later we arrived at Hendaye station and jostled with other passengers to get the tandem off along the narrow corridor and down the steps. These trains must be almost forty years old. They are rudimentary but they still work.

So it was only 25 hours after leaving home and we were cycling beside the sea, waves crashing on sandy beaches. We had enjoyed the journey and best of all the bike had not been smashed by baggage handlers.

If you believe the management, which most of us don’t, this is the hilliest part of the whole journey but it was not as hilly as Dorset. The scenery is not unlike Brittany with rocky headlands and sandy bays. But here the similarity ends. It was hot, very hot and there are a huge number of tourists.

We soon stopped for coffee and croissants at a beach side café. As we went on the route is a bit like the curate’s egg, good in parts. This is a very busy area at this time of the year and the coast is quite built up. The views were great everywhere but the nice bits were away from the road. It was fun cycling through the very French towns and along the proms but best when traffic had to go another way.

We soon arrived at our seaside hotel. It was only 1pm but we were pleased that we had decided on a short ride. It gave us time to get organised but more importantly we stayed out of the sun during the heat of the day. And as we write this we can still smell the garden below our window, a lovely smell we have had with us all day.

Day 3, 31 August 2015
Bidart to Hossegor

After yesterday’s short ride in 35 degrees even the management was happy to plan a shortish ride today. Mind you in the past he is the one who has got heat stroke while the stoker has not only toiled on but also looked after him.

We left the very nice hotel and climbed up through the village on minor roads. We were soon into the southern outskirts of Biarritz when of course the signing stopped. Mind you that’s not a bad thing as, you may be surprised to hear, we can cycle on road. In fact we often prefer to do so in towns rather than the health and safety routes designed by non-cycling engineers.

After Biarritz we had more or less continuous beside the road cycle routes to Bayonne. The twin spires of the church beckoned us into the town centre. The management had other ideas and crossed the river before we got there. Maybe he was right to do so because we were soon on dedicated tarmac cycle tracks through the forest.

We began to realise that it was a long time since we had climbed a hill. In fact, with the exception of the odd tree root, it was absolutely flat. The management said this was what he had expected and the stoker thought “one swallow doesn’t make a summer”.

We cycled beside the canal and passed a good number of camp sites in the woods. Perhaps the regulars value shade over being on the seafront. Some of the sites had ready pitched tents and several were very large indeed.

Day 4, 1 September 2015
Hossegor to Contis Plage

Last night we had thunder and lightning. We managed to dodge the rain when we went out to eat. This morning it was raining when we had breakfast but had cleared up by the time we were ready to leave.

Once back on the route we were on wide tarmac cycle paths. The hotel was beside a large lake but on the other side. As we made our way towards Leon we found ourselves out in the forest and well away from roads.

For most of the ride we were within a couple of km of the sea. We could hear the surf but not see it. It felt quite remote. We seldom got above 10m in height but it was not flat. The ocean had piled up sand dunes which the forest had colonised. Going off the cycle path involved sinking into the sand so even the management did not give it serious consideration.

When lunch time came, then went, we were deep in the forest. We knew from our experience in Germany that stopping in the forest shade involved serious insect attacks. And we could find nowhere to sit in the sun.

Finally the path was crossed by a road going to Homy beach. It was wonderful sitting high on the dune beside the sea with the beach stretching off in both directions.

We had our picnic watching the surfers and even saw a rescue. We now had only 10km to go and soon arrived in Contis Plage, surf city, a large settlement in the dunes. It reminded the management of a low budget ski resort and it probably empties in the winter when all the surfers go snowboarding. There was a lovely sunset over the ocean which they won’t get in the mountains.

Day 5, 2 September 2015
Contis Plage to Biscarrosse

During the last couple of days we have done around 110km, almost all of it on high quality cycle tracks. In fact it was of a similar standard to the Rodwell Trail. We have seldom been higher than 20m but is has been amazingly varied.

Much of it was through forests. But we have been through lovely French towns complete with colourful markets. And of course we have never been far from the sea.

Today we had our picnic lunch beside a huge shallow lake near Biscarrosse. Here, though not everywhere, the holiday season is over and we had it almost to ourselves. We both managed a nap after lunch, it was warm, about 22 degrees, so ideal for napping and cycling.

The management never finds it easy to get going in the afternoon. But things are seldom dull on a cycle ride and we came into Biscarrosse the interesting way. First the bits most holiday makers don’t see - the sewage works and heavy industry. Then the retail parks before getting to the centre with free range children and adults playing boules.

Tonight we are staying in a modest hotel beside yet another lake. It is near a huge campsite and must have been heaving a couple of weeks ago. We went to eat in one of the few places now open.

Day 6, 3 September 2015
Biscarrosse to Arcachon

A short ride today with lots of interest. We left the hotel and rode beside the lake which is so large it was easy to mistake for the sea. When we turned away from the lake towards the sea we had some surprisingly hard climbs and climbed about 420m today. The management says he quite enjoyed the change even if it cut our average speed.

That nice but nosey Mr Google, having poked about in all our stuff, said we were passing the Dune du Pilat. He thinks that it is the biggest sand dune in Europe. If the Danes are prepared to accept that they are in Europe they might have something to say about that.

The Dune is magnificent. It is also a heaving tourist attraction which was good fun. We rode as far as the tat shops and cafés. Then we climbed up 129 glass fibre steps to the top at 94m if you can believe the GPS.

From the top the forest stretched along the coast as far as we could see. To the east was the entrance to the Gulf of Arcachon with its many sand bars and the odd yacht anchorage. Across the entrance was the long sand spit which makes up Cap Ferret.

Days 7 and 8, 4 and 5 September 2015
Arcachon to Maubuisson

It was sad but we had to set the alarm today. We caught the 10am ferry to Cap Ferret with much time to spare but the stoker likes to be in good time for public transport. There were a large number of cyclists waiting to cross and many foot passengers. They laid on three boats and the tandem, which had its own ticket, went on the roof.

We cycled around Cap Ferret to find the local Casino as we needed supplies for lunch and for the rest day tomorrow. Cap Ferret felt like an up market Hayling Island, low lying and fairly remote with expensive looking houses in the pine trees.

The cycle route starts in the centre of town and once on it we did not leave it all day. We are getting used to this now and roads with cars come as something of a shock. Although we were right beside the ocean we seldom saw it as there are sand dunes in the way. We had the odd section labelled surface derangement with a 10kph speed limit. As these sections were smoother than many Dorset lanes we ignored this speed limit. Obviously health and safety exists even in parts of France.

We cycled past a nudist colony. We know it is politically incorrect to call them that now. But that is what the management and his friends called them when as free range children they tried to see through holes in the fence of one near Headley in Hampshire.

Here, far from hiding, they came out. Those on bikes looked decidedly uncomfortable. It also looks strange for them to wander along part clothed but exposing their bits. The management reckons that if he wanted to keep the sun from his chest he would also want to protect his willy.

We arrived at the holiday park in the woods which we had booked for two nights. We need at least one day off and would have stayed for three nights but their already flaky internet was down.