On French soil, well, Tarmac

29th July
Ah getting up at 6.15 after not sleeping that well, after dreaming that my cabin was full of people or that I was trying to sleep in forbidden parts of the boat… Mercifully the cafe that sells coffee is within sight of my cabin door, so I sat and watched the bright but cloudy sky go by over the settled sea with a paper cup of passable coffee and the custard tart that H gave me just as I was leaving. That was breakfast number one, another to be had somewhere in a couple of hours on the road. The forecast is for cloudiness with some sun but no rain drops so that is looking good. Thirty minutes till we land, time to squeeze everything back into my bag. I am so pleased not to be travelling with small children as almost everyone is here, the constant focus on discipline and behaviour.

On the massively packed car deck I bumped into Helen and her partner by coincidence on the same crossing and parked close to each other. I will be staying with them in La Rochelle next week, on the two last nights of the trip.

Later… I am at Le Chant de L’oiseaux, a beautiful small site with about ten pitches, run by a British couple who you can tell are really particular about how the place looks and runs. Instead of a supermarket and my stove I am trying out their home made pizza cooked in three shifts, the first for children (he apologised that there were so many children on site at the moment though they all must be out apart from one little boy who his dad proudly sat him on my motorbike seat without his nappy) the second for women and the third at about 8.30 for men (now 9pm I wish I had cooked my own). Nice but a little strange. No free sockets in the bathroom to charge up your gadgets. In fact there are notices everywhere about what you can’t do and must do. Above the recycling bin for glass is the instruction Do not drop glass into the bin. I have a beautiful partly shaded spot in the corner next to a couple ‘without children’. I have ordered pizza. I was shocked to find that this campsite was only 125 miles away from the port. Or was it? Perhaps that is as the crow flies. I haven’t yet worked out how to get all the geeky figures from this GPS.

How did today go? The weather has been perfect: sunny all day from 9am when we left St Malo, cool though, about 18 degrees. The roads were ok to boring and my attempt to avoid the peage failed dismally. Then there was my nervous foreign technophobia first with a pay at pump petrol station (in the middle of the night I realised that I had put in the wrong pin for my card and mercifully didn’t do it three times as my card would have been blocked) and then the dreaded peage which appeared to refuse to issue a ticket. I stopped thankfully at a motorway service and picnic area and got my first glimpse of the French and a meal deal which I had no hesitation in agreeing to, while on the TV screen in the petrol station and also on the ferry and here on site the ‘deepening crisis’ at Calais where refugees appear to be trying to force their way into Britain. David Cameron is outraged. The Brits are having their holidays upset. I sat out in the warming sun then headed off. Once off the main roads I found the local road down to this site, through forests, quite beautiful and an easy pace, shady. I could do with more of that.

It was good to get the old tent out after my flirtation last year with a huge Redverz tent, marketed as being able to accommodate two adults plus their adventure bike. I knew it was a daft idea and should never have succumbed. I was trying to remember when my tent was last used. Someone did not sweep it out after they used it.
The bike seems to have much more room in the luggage and I have been trying to decide what it is I have left at home. The panniers work well, more tricky to open than the old ones but stunningly well made and capacious. The GPS is good apart from finding the most ugly roads to send me down. Cleverly it knows when you are running out of petrol and offers to direct you to the nearest petrol station. I’ve used that twice on this trip, in fact every time I have filled up, already. So far, so good, looking for nice places to stay and good weather are two good ingredients.
Today I rode 166 miles. I’m reading The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane. I’m only up to page 36 but so far I have to agree with the reviewers who find it a pretentious list of name dropping and pseudo poetic erudition. You get three or four lines about Wordsworth, then the same about Nietzsche, and so on. The same reviewers say that the last sections are much better. I may skip to them. I had thought a book about travel would make a good companion for my own trip but not so far.

Les Gets, July 6th

Yesterday I rode the 195 miles over to Les Gets where my friend Geoff owns an apartment. The ride was again through some lovely mountainous terrain though I stuck to the main routes in spite of tolls which a lot of people seem to avoid paying leaving the motorways quite empty. Les Gets is a busy little town dominated by sports and outdoor activities, small groups of cheeky children led by slightly irritated youth leaders, and lots of shops selling such nice looking stuff that it makes you want to take up each of these sports.. There are also lots of restaurants and shops selling regional food. So it feels very thriving and there are some English voices on the street. As you can imagine it was a relief to get here and get really clean and wash my clothes in a washing machine so that they come out smelling nice! I’m really looking forward to going out for a meal. I’ve been eating frugally for a little too long. Even last night we had bread and cheese which is nice at first (the cheeses are lovely) but I am getting sick of.. At Geoff’s invitation and partly to rise to the challenge I parked my bike in the damp underground car park down a steep and twisty ramp. I’m already wondering about how well I will drive it out again.

the right way around a roundabout in France

After a week on my own I hear my voice now in conversation with another human and today there is the negotiation about how we spend the time which I just had not thought about in advance. Last night, in spite of being on a nice firm mattress (i.e. not on the ground) I didn’t sleep that well. One or two things were on my mind. Tomorrow evening is when I have arranged to arrive at Severine and family in Geneva, so for once I have nearly two days to decide how to fill. This is a novel experience and reminds me how the travelling each day and camping means I’ve been able to avoid those kinds of decisions.

I’m still in Severac de L’eglise

Today went so much better than yesterday. Yesterday I covered just over 100 miles but what hot and exhausted by the time I got to Lourdes and in no mood to look around much carting my helmet and heavy jacket. Thats one of the dilemmas of biking around. Is it about actually seeing places or more about the achievement of making the miles? Today I started off at half past eight with a wet load of luggage from the night before into the damp air. I chose fast N roads and motorways to get some distance so I’m now just one night away from Les Gets. My only minor disaster is tthat I left my washing line behind at the first campsite so now am decorating my motorbike with wet socks and underwear. This is a beautiful evening here and a welcoming campsite. I waiting to see which direction the shade was moving before pitching here this afternoon. I ate my delicious Baztan cheeze (the man that sold it to me told me it was beautiful and he was right) and finished my bottle of wine. Rodez I wonder is medieval, perched high up with its large church the highest point. Like many French villages I’ve passed through, this one is completely deserted. There is just one unattended black dog and the muffled sound of people behind shutters. The wind blows through the youthful silver birches planted here by the restaurant and terrace bar. I plan to visit one or other later. Then tomorrow further in a north easterly direction and find a campsite with an attractive description. I think I have cracked the Alan Rogers campsite code with its faint praise which probably means – crap.

After tomorrow I have three nights in civilisation – i.e. in a bed in a house with human company.

A random farm building near the campsite