Week 2

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The Blog

Maubuisson to La Rochelle

Days 9 and 10, 6 and 7 September 2015
Maubuisson to Soulac-sur-Mer

Yesterday we went down to Carcans for milk and came across a triathlon. The swim in the lake had finished and the bike ride was in progress. It was good fun cheering the competitors and watching the transitions close up. Some chose to leave their cycle shoes clipped in, undoing the Velcro fasteners and running bare foot to put on running shoes. Others unclipped and hobbled to their running shoes.

It was also interesting that those with the best gear were not always the quickest. Most sports seem to be the same. It is a shame that we are missing the Weymouth Challenge while we are away.

We left our apartment in the forest which, except for a complete lack of internet, would have done us for another day. As it was we were a day late posting to the web and we could not listen to the radio.

The ride went on pretty much as usual. The first half was very remote being between the lake and the sea. A lot of it was on closed forest roads. Shame there were no seats or picnic tables.

. It was on this stretch that we were overtaken by a fleet of about 10 vintage Solex mopeds, each loaded down with camping gear. The management thinks he remembers one of his junior school teachers having one in the 1950s. They were unusual and not much use in the UK. The little petrol engine was mounted over the front wheel and drove onto the tyre. This is fine if it does not rain but slips badly when it does. And as Sinclair discovered a generation or two later with his hopeless electric drive, it tends to slip a lot in the UK.

The amazing thing about a teacher at Headley Holme School having a Solex was how? The school was right out of Dickens and the teachers fully armed NCOs from the war with serious violent personality problems. How one of them had sufficient initiative and imagination to find a Solex seems impossible to the management. We shall never know.

Anyway, we went on like the tortoise and ten noisy hares. They overtook us and then stopped. We overtook again and the whole process was repeated several times. The last we saw of them they were deep in the forest trying to fix a technical problem with one of their ancient engines.

We think the management must be getting tetchy in his old age. He kept muttering about sacking the idiot who designed the cycle path. He grumbled about the diversions to cross the most insignificant forest tracks. He grumbled about his loss of rhythm by having to almost stop at many turns and at the plethora of pointless signs and barriers. He is obviously in a bad mood. He reckoned correctly that money could have been saved and a better route built by sacking the “engineer” and employing an Adam Bows. And then the useless one could always get a job with Sustrans.

The stoker put it all down to us having it too easy last week. After all, the route is much better than anything we have in the UK and so much superior to the unmade Cycle West route in Normandy.

Soulac is a lovely seaside town and we have a garden room in a traditional hotel restaurant. We decided to book in for two nights. It is lovely and sunny, we are only a stone’s throw to the centre and five minutes walk to the beach. And it has slow but steady internet.

We also took stock of our speed and decided we were going too fast and to have shorter routes and more detours.

Day11, 8 September 2015
Soulac-sur-Mer to Ronce-les-bains

We left Soulac late after a sumptuous and lazy breakfast. We had about 8km to do before catching the 11h55 car ferry across the Gironde estuary to Royan. We rode so slowly along the forest trails that we were constantly being overtaken by hire bikes and in danger of falling off.

The medium sized roll on roll off ferry arrived, unloaded and reloaded in about 15 minutes. It brings to mind how slow the British ferries are. Not only that but we had our own cycle lane to the ship and we did not dismount until we got to the cycle storage space. It was the same getting off. Condor and Brittany Ferries, armed with health and safety regulations, would be having kittens if we did this in the UK. But then both companies only take bikes on sufferance.

Royan was the first largish town we had come across recently, we had been on good cycle paths since Biarritz and almost forgotten what traffic was like. There were also occasional hills.

We followed the coast around and for much of the time were near to or beside the bright blue sea. The cycle paths in town were variable but once out they were again good and it was a lovely ride.

Still replete from breakfast we did not look for a lunch spot until way after the appropriate hour. When we did we found a very nice seat on the seaward side of a fenced holiday complex. It turned out to be Club Mediterranean and they were having their afternoon entertainment. We don’t think it was bingo but not far off.

After lunch we cycled on at least a couple of km beside their fence until we came to their water sports centre. It was extremely well equipped and the management was quite envious. Then we met a fleet of Club Med cyclists going to the centre. It was sad, they were mainly men and fortyish, hardly the sun, sea, etc image Club Med once had.

The last bit to Ronce was on forest trails, maybe the last for some time. We made good speed to our very imposing hotel. The hotel is rather like the village. It looks grand but once there does not live up to its first impressions.

Anyhow, once established in the hotel we went for a very pleasant swim in their large and well kept pool.

Days 12 and 13, 9 and 10 September 2015
Ronce-les-bains to Rochefort

We suppose it shouldn’t have been a surprise but we were back on ordinary roads with cycle tracks. It did not feel good to start with but that soon changed. Once out of the village we had the climb over a huge high bridge over La Seudre river. As usual the traffic was heavy as we approached mand left but the cycle path was fine.

We were soon on an extremely circuitous route across the marais, which means bog land to us. We had plenty of time to enjoy it. The Velodyssey signs said it was a provisional route and it was slightly different from the one the management had planned.

It was extremely remote and we hardly saw a soul all day. It was also teaming with wild life, mainly birds. The stoker as usual loved the absolute stillness of the herons. It was also good to see what looked like unoccupied storks nests.

The route is good even if it does not look like it at first. It is a long way round but there seem to be few alternatives. Some of the surfaces were down to Sustrans low standard and it was not easy on the tandem.

There were some real highlights which made up for the difficult bits. Finding a herd of highland cattle crowded in the shade of a sparse tree on a day when temperatures reached 25 degrees was one. Their thick coats and wild looking horns seemed out of place and probably to them as well. But then maybe it was an illusion.

We also followed drainage ditches and then a proper canal tow path. The barriers were a pain and, as the sole French cyclist we saw said, “bete” which the management thinks means stupid. This then became a disused railway trail which put us back on cycle paths for the last bit into Rochefort beside the live main railway line.

We checked into an apartment here for two nights. It was in a good situation overlooking the yacht harbour. We spent the next day exploring the ancient naval town. We saw the fine replica of the Hermione, La Fayette’s French fighting ship, just back from a transatlantic voyage. There are also dry docks straight out of Les Mis and a rope making building which looks as long as Rope Street in Bridport. Altogether a very nice stay.

Day 14, 11 September 2015
Rochefort to La Rochelle

We made an essential detour in almost exactly the wrong direction to Le Pont Transbordeur, the transporter bridge. This is essential viewing for us. These beautiful structures were designed to enable river crossings and also the passage of fully rigged ships. They have two slender towers like electricity pylons with a platform joining the tops of the towers. From this is suspended a short platform like a ferry which carries people and vehicles across the river at ground level.

There are only eight transporter bridges in the world and we have now seen three. The other two are in Newport, South Wales and Bilbao in Spain. There are two in Germany and two more in the UK at Middlesbrough and Warrington. There is also one in Buenos Aires which we may never see.

To get to the bridge we followed the river and once we had cycled by the dockyard we were in the countryside. To get back on track we cycled through the old working town which we always enjoy. With rather dubious signing the route took us to the outskirts of town.

For quite a while we followed cycle tracks beside but fortunately separate from the La Rochelle motorway. It was safe but boring and noisy.

The final third of the route was beside the sea. The route was lovely but its implementation is in every respect rubbish. We had our picnic sitting on the prom beside a beautiful sandy beach which we shared with three or four people, gulls and oyster catchers. The management still finds it hard to understand that the summer season is over here but he is very pleased.

It is a shame that they couldn’t have spent a tiny fraction of this money on the heavily used cycle route. Some idiot had put up awkwardly spaced barriers which make it impossible for trikes and trailers. Due to his incompetence and lack of patience the management hit one. The stoker caught her hand and hurt it. A pannier fell off and the mudguard jammed on the wheel.

The air was blue and the management yet again considered carrying a portable angle grinder. We suppose it would do more good to train the engineers properly.

We booked into our bijou apartment in the university area and near the yacht harbour. Rain is forecast and we are well up to schedule so we are staying three nights. More on our stay in La Rochelle in next week’s diary.