Week 3

Pics on Dropbox Our facebook

Download for this route in .GPX formats

The file is in .zip format. This needs to be unzipped and saved to a directory of your choice. You can then load it into the appropriate applications and GPS.

The Blog

La Rochelle to Noirmoutier

Days 15 to 17, 12 to 14 September 2015
La Rochelle to La Faute-sur-mer

We did a couple of days sightseeing in La Rochelle and there are worse places to do this, much overrated, activity. We left the tandem in the garage and wore our feet out walking around the old town. The management particularly liked an unparalleled opportunity to see an infinite variety of yachts.

Despite our normal approach of avoiding all tourist attractions we visited two of them, the aquarium and the museum of models and automata. We really enjoyed both, especially as the weather had suddenly taken a turn for the worse. They were very French and it was fun to watch families out at these places at weekends.

We should mention our hotel here. It was near the university, a short ride on the electric ferry boat to the old town. Our studio was tiny but served us well. The management, keen to leave his mark, melted the kettle on the hot plate and tripped the fuses. The melting plastic gave off a dreadful smell and left a gooey mess which had to be scraped off the hot plate.

Amazingly and to our huge relief the fire alarms did not go off. The management took the remaining bits of kettle to reception. The young woman, maybe a student working to fund her studies, said “kettles don’t taste good even when cooked”. That puts the French at the top of our sense of humour list. Guess which foreign country comes bottom? A new kettle came free of charge and the hotel gets lots of brownie points.

Leaving La Rochelle is, if anything, easier than getting in.  After cycling past the yacht harbour we were soon on the La Rochelle to Marans canal.  It must once have been a major canal.  It is wide and for much of its length in a very deep cutting.  But sadly much of it has little water.

Fortunately for us the cycle path is high up on the embankment and at least to start with the surface was good.  What was not brilliant was the weather.  It had been stormy during the night and was still very windy.

The first half of the ride to Marans was nice and easy.  We had a following wind and avoided the worst of the showers.  Even the surface of the path, which had turned into white mud by the rain, was bearable.

We cycled into Marans to buy bread but also had an unusual experience.  Over our twenty or so years of cycle touring we have rarely met another tandem pair on tour.  In Marans we met a couple from Shropshire of about our age. They had started riding from Nantes and were going south.  They were covered in white mud and gently mentioned the quality of the second half of the ride.

Our ride today is almost right around the Baie de L'Aiguillon.   Imagine a huge Lulworth Cove without the cliffs.  Also we had a SW gale and the countryside is board flat.  We had started going northwest but now had to come back into the wind.

The management was not best pleased.  He had planned the trip expecting a following wind but so far it had been mainly calm.  On the day when we had the expected SW wind we happened to be going against it for half the day.

After Marans we followed the claggy towpath of the Canal Maritime de Marans a la Mer.  We had our picnic lunch at the lock where it joined the estuary, managing to find shelter from the wind and in the sunshine.

We left the canal in good spirits but with gathering storm clouds, pleased to be off the tow path.

It was not long before the first storm hit us and we could not have been in a more exposed place.  We were on the top of a narrow flood prevention embankment with no shelter.

As the storm came in it felt very threatening.  Hail stones and wind hit us with a vengeance.   Even though the management found it hard to stay on course he did not want to stop.  Maybe the stoker had her eyes shut, preferring not to look at the drop from the top of the embankment.

Much of the rest of the ride was an intricate route along drainage ditches and across sluice gates.  Some of this was even single track. 

It would have been a good ride on a nice calm day although not really what we expected on a national cycle route.

Unlike the marais near Rocheforte, the Vendee here is a farming desert.  Fertile fields stretch as far as the eye can see without a fence or hardly any other wind breaks.  The occasional farm buildings look like the factories they are and seeing people or animals is rare.

All in all it was the hardest day so far.  Anyone who says cycling on the flat is good should add "as long as you are going down wind".  A ride in the Dorset hills is much easier than the one we had today. We did enjoy it though, particularly the remoteness and the challenge.

Day 18, 15 September 2015
La Faute-sur-mer to Les Sables d’Olonne

We seldom stay in B and Bs in France, preferring a proper hotel, especially as the hotels often charge less and give us our own table. This time we had no choice and our stay was pleasant enough even though we had to struggle with social French at the breakfast table.

La Faute-sur-mer looks a bit like Cap Ferret on the map and we stayed near the end. All we could hear during the night was the wind in the pine trees and the distant sound of surf. It was absolutely dark being well away from street lights, a pleasure we do not often have.

The weather had quietened down a bit since yesterday and the lighter wind was behind us as we retraced our way back to the route and continued north. The management risked a deviation to stay near the sea which worked fine for a couple of km before the dead end at the beach. Fortunately we did not have go across the beach as there was a way back to the road which avoided the management’s ban on retracing.

Soon after this the cycle route took off into the forest for no reason that we could see. We also took shelter under the trees during a rain shower. This gave us a chance to consider the best approach to the cycle route in the Vendee.

We had hardly been on a decent off road surface since leaving Royan. This was not so bad when the surface was dry and baked hard. Following the rain they had almost deteriorated to Sustrans standard. We had started to refer to them as merde and they were. So rather than offend further by using this common French expletive we will in future abbreviate it to TM. The T stands for ‘the’ as we don’t know the gender in French and anyway both genders are responsible for its production.

So from today the management used the GPS to avoid TM unless there was absolutely no alternative. Soon we took great delight in overtaking a couple of tourists on TM adjacent to the quiet country lane we were on. They did not appear happy and made loud remarks to each other. We didn’t see them again.

The new TM avoidance policy had the advantage of taking us through lovely villages and pleasant suburbs denied to TM users. It felt like proper French cycling in a lovely area. We had lunch in a pleasant shelter in a village square by the marie and used the adjacent public toilets.

In accordance with the new policy we did a short section of TM to go through an area of morais called salinas. The route wound its way between oblong ponds and waterways and over sluice gates.

As the afternoon progressed the clouds became heavier and we increased our pace to reach the hotel before the storm hit. We zoomed along the prom beside a crashing grey sea that could easily have been the English Channel. We just made it before the rain started.

Our traditional hotel was just one building back from the prom. The tandem was soon being wheeled in and put under cover. Our simple uncluttered room had all we needed and first class wifi. The breakfast was bread, jam and croissants just as we expected. It looked as if the hotel was full even though it is low season here and many places are shut. It is good to see that places like this still exist and thrive.

Day 19, 16 September 2015
Les Sables d’Olonne to St Jean de Monts

There was torrential rain all night and thunder. The rain stopped at 10h30 and the sun came out. It was however blowing a full gale from the south west and we are going north so we got that right. Apparently this weather is exceptional for here and they call it a storm.

The road along the prom here is split down the middle. On the left is a two lane cycleway painted and marked as such. On the other half is a single lane one way road for motor vehicles. Cycling in our lane we suddenly had a car coming steadily towards us in the cycle part of the road.

The management held his course but was ready to duck out of the way. The car carried on coming and at the last minute the management ducked out of the way. Seated behind the wheel of the car was a very elderly lady indeed. Not only had she not seen us but clearly had no idea of what she was doing.

Sadly this kind of thing perpetuated by elderly drivers is all too common. In Weymouth they keep killing and injuring themselves and others. We believe that all drivers, but especially those over 70, should be required to retake a driving test regularly.

Getting out of this large town was not easy with or without the elderly. The management had two routes on the GPS for today. One was the Velodyssey off the web site, full of TMs. The other he called ‘bad’. He did it in case of bad weather but any of our grandchildren over the age of five knows what that means.

And they would have been right. It was a great ride and with the following wind and quiet smooth roads we really got some momentum going. We even found a Lidl to buy supplies.

When our route came to the sea front we took to the cycle routes and enjoyed the crashing waves. It is hard to believe that only two nights ago we slept with the windows wide open. Now, according to the weather forecast, it is 19 degrees but feels like 13 in the wind.

When we reached St Hilaire we were on familiar territory. It is a pretty place built on a promontory with a nice harbour. We had cycled here when we stayed with our friends Pam and John who have a holiday house nearby.

We cycled on to St Jean, stopping a couple of times to shelter from heavy showers. When we got to St Jean the severe gale force wind seemed to increase in strength, affected by high rise buildings. The effect on the tandem, which is extremely stable, is the worst we have ever known. Not only that but we were being sandblasted by swirls of sand carried in the wind from the wide, long and normally delightful sandy beach.

At the first opportunity we turned off the sea front and found a back way to our hotel. It is ideally situated for today well away from the prom. The first thing we did was to shake the sand out of our clothes and take a shower. It certainly is a storm but not as we know it.

Days 20 and 21, 17 and 18 September 2015
St Jean de Monts to Noirmoutier

The wind had dropped and we went to have a proper look at the huge sandy beach before starting today’s ride. We then rode as far as we could along the prom before following the route parallel to the shoreline but inland.

Again we decided to avoid as much as we could of TM. It was not until we got to the approach to Noirmoutier that we had to use them. Before that we found our way along the tiny roads fringed with camp sites and holiday parks. Some were still open but with few residents.

We found a vantage point on the beach to view the huge hump of the bridge over to Noirmoutier. It was also fun to watch the kite surfers on what was still a breezy day.

We were soon climbing the bridge, our first proper hill for as long as we can remember. It has a wide dedicated cycle route and we had planned to take pictures when we reached the dizzy height of the highest point.

When we got to the top not only was the wind whistling through the superstructure, making an alarming noise, but also a rain shower was racing through.

We freewheeled down from the top, the management paying scant regard to signs requiring us to moderate our speed, signs which the stoker didn’t even se. Once back down to sea level the change was amazing. We were in warm sunshine with the wind on our backs.

Noirmoutier is special and the only way to enjoy it by bicycle is to use TM. There is only one main road along the spine of this narrow island which is busy and for much of its length has no cycleway.

Our route followed the eastern edge of the island for about 10km. Sometimes we were up on the sea wall with views over the intertidal area which stretched for miles. At other times we were navigating between the many manmade lakes of the interior areas. It is typical but even more spectacular than the many areas called “salinas” along this coast. These seem to depend on a farming, shell fishing and in the past salt making culture.

On the way we crossed the start of the Passage du Gois. More of this when we cross this tidal causeway on Saturday. But we did check the times to ensure that we could cross at low tide.

Our last part was on fine tarmac cycleway beside the main road into the village at the island’s northern tip. This is a big improvement on last time we were here when we had to fight the traffic. Cycling must be important enough for tourism for this to have happened which is great.

We then had a day of doing tasks. These include washing the clothes, putting up this diary on the web and generally getting our act together for next week. The management even had an important job, washing and oiling the tandem. But our biggest challenge was to book a hotel in the right place for tomorrow night.

We also had a long Skype chat with our friend John Surowiec who is on the Hungarian Plains cycling to Istanbul. The plains nearly did for him last time so we wished him luck in temperatures of around 35 degrees.

With everything done we had a chance of sightseeing in the attractive village which has the huge Chateau de Noirmoutier right in the centre.