img_2854.jpg

Le Neubourg to Rouen

We walked the best part of a kilometre up the road towards the centre of Le Neubourg last night to eat at “La Table de Tom”. Clearly a popular place, it was virtually booked up, but as we were early they squeezed us in. We enjoyed our meal, the most notable part of which was an enormous Tartiflette, which defeated the Captain, a notorious trencherman…

So on to our final half day, just twenty-six miles to Rouen. We negotiated the centre of Le Neubourg and emerged onto a high plateau in predominantly sunny weather. Here we powered along, surrounded by wheat, corn and flax, using our (now seasoned) cycling legs to good effect. We anticipated only a couple of climbs today: one, a short “blip” duly arrived but barely troubled us. After a while though we started to descend into a steep river valley, enjoying the momentum of the tandem, but always cognisant that a valley has two sides.

Sure enough the floor of the valley loomed, and after it, our second serious climb of the day. We set off, accompanied by tooted encouragement from passing cars, on a long steady climb. It was fine – a gradient of perhaps 8 percent, but quite long. The road was quiet though, and the climb was soon achieved before a second long descent towards the boucles of the Seine. Indeed we could see the meanders we negotiated last Saturday on our way out of Rouen towards Jumièges.

By now we were in the land of industrial estates and factories- not Rouen’s most attractive facet, it has to be said. We took advantage of all the cycle lanes we could find in a tortuous entry into the city, finally crossing the Seine onto Rue de la République, commissioned by Napoleon, and providing us with a direct route towards our final stop at the car park where we left our car a week ago.

We dismounted, embraced (as is traditional!) and set about dismantling the tandem into smaller pieces which would fit into the car. This we achieved quite efficiently allowing us plenty of time to check into the Hotel, grab a quick shower and then head for a long leisurely lunch in a sunny square, accompanied by a bottle of Bourgogne Aligoté. We discussed, briefly, whether our morning’s effort was sufficient to allow for the consumption of a final salty caramel ice-cream – you can guess the result.

Just enough time, then, to take the petit train around the streets of Rouen – always the best way to become familiar with a new French destination. It’s a glorious city, chock-full of scenic squares, narrow alleyways, half-timbered buildings and tourists, lots of tourists (including us, of course).

So that’s it. Our journey is done – all that remains is to spend a final evening in Rouen, grab a final croissant for breakfast and head for the Channel Tunnel in the morning.

…on which subject. It has to be said that this has been a bitter-sweet trip. All of the “sweet” part has been down to France and the French. The welcome we’ve received has been as warm as ever. The drivers were accommodating, the hoteliers welcoming, the restaurateurs provided fantastic food and wine. Normandy is spectacularly lovely. The “bitter” part of the equation comes from knowing that we and our countrymen will have to live for decades with the crassly stupid decision we took last week to leave the EU. It has to be said that many of our compatriots (particularly the elderly, sadly) voted with their prejudices instead of their intellects. This was the inevitable product of the demonisation of Europe conducted for years by the British media, in pursuit of their own narrow interests, and of the juvenile infighting between Old Etonians prepared to sell the country down the river in pursuit of the role of Prime Minister. They lied. They all lied, and now we face the consequences. Shame on us.

Nevertheless we shall return. A trip down the Loire, perhaps, or, even sooner than that, a circuit around Les Pays-Bas. Not forgetting, of course, our longer term plan for a “top-to-toe” journey down Italy. Can’t wait!

Click here to see today’s route.

Saint-Loup-de-Fribois to Le Neubourg

A proper day’s cycling

Dinner last night was at ‘La pomme pressée’, a small but friendly restaurant a few hundred metres from our chambres d’hôtes. Burger ‘normande’ was selected by both, and very nice it was too, with a camembert sauce. Some of our fellow diners were drinking local cider, a product of this area as is camembert, but we chose a bottle of red wine, unsurprisingly.

We slept long, having turned in early, and went down to breakfast this morning to be greeted by the husband of our very friendly hostess, who was very impressed by our cycling get-up, and told us he would be expecting to see us on the starting line of the Tour de France tomorrow at Mont St Michel! He insisted on taking a photo of us before we left!

After some minor bike care, a little air in the tyres, we set off on our longest day of the trip, over fifty miles east to Le Neubourg. An early climb, long but not steep, warmed us up fast, and then we stayed up on the plateau for a few miles, views of fields full of crops to the left and right, broken up by the occasional picturesque village. We are firmly back in half-timbering territory now, it had disappeared somewhat as we journeyed west, but as we returned eastwards, it had become more prevalent again, and just as pretty as we remembered.

The riding was not difficult, but certainly more up and down than we’d encountered so far on this trip, we were hardly ever on the flat, always climbing gently or descending easily with the aid of a slight downward slope. The tiny rural roads were lovely, barely a car, a few potholes to avoid, but nothing like at home, frankly! We ate up the kilometres, giggling childishly at ‘Ouilly-le-Vicomte’ (sounds almost exactly like….), crossing from Calvados back into Eure, passing lots of stud farms, another speciality of the area.

At last, Bernay, our lunch destination, and already 56km done. We were very ready for a stop, and had a simple lunch in a roadside brasserie in the centre. After an hour, and a ‘wake-up’ espresso each, we hoisted our tired but somewhat refreshed bodies back on the tandem and set off. We knew it was vital to exit Bernay south of the railway, otherwise we’d have no access to the quiet road onwards which we’d selected. We messed it up the first time, had to do a little loop to correct, but it was well worth the trouble, a little climb, then a lovely quiet road winding through sleepy villages, the birdsong only interrupted from time to time by a train whizzing by on the tracks correctly to our left.

The last 5km were a time trial into Le Neubourg along a long straight road through the crops, flax on one side, wheat on the other. Our hotel is about 1km from town, so we have a little walk to dinner at ‘La table de Tom’, but it is very well reviewed. The hotel looked a little grim from the outside, a bit ‘Travelodge’, but it’s fine, a big quiet room, and a bath! 

And no washing of the cycle gear necessary tonight, as we have a clean set each, and tomorrow’s short run back to Rouen is our last day.

Click here to see today’s route.

Bayeux to Saint-Loup-de-Fribois

A day of quiet roads and gloomy skies.

On arriving at our Chambres d’Hôtes in Bayeux yesterday we researched our restaurant options, as usual, with TripAdvisor. One restaurant stood out: Au Ptit Bistrot, which had received stellar reviews. Like many French restaurants it seemed to have no website or online booking, so we plucked up the courage to ring and book. Inevitably we ended up speaking to an answering machine, and while the start of my message was in reasonably coherent French I had forgotten to anticipate that I would have to leave my mobile number. Cue a long awkward pause and then a stumbling recitation of numbers in schoolboy French! How embarrassing. It seemed to work, though, as we received a call back later on, confirming our reservation.

We strolled through the picturesque streets of Bayeux, past the impressive cathedral, for an aperitif at a road-side bar, then headed for the restaurant. It was small, full, and excellent – only a short menu but all the options were tempting. So we lingered over a very good meal with a bottle of Hautes Côtes de Nuits, following that up with a delicious glass of Calvados. By now we had become embroiled in conversation with a couple at the next table – he a cardiologist, she a JP. They were having an animated conversation about “Brexit”: having been abroad for a month (and having voted “remain” by postal vote) they were unsure of the nature of the country to which they were returning. We too are somewhat dreading a return to the new normality of an isolationist “Little England”. So we put the world (or at least the country) to rights over another glass of Calvados, in a most enjoyable exchange.

We had been anticipating finishing off our meal with an ice-cream – sadly, though, we had lingered too long over Calvados and all the shops had shut. The stoker will have to wait at least another day for another cone of “Caramel au beurre salé”!

We opened the curtains to a gloomy vista this morning – steady rain, which was forecast to continue for much of the day. After a good breakfast we saddled up, put on our rain jackets and set off. It was a sort of “on-off” day, as the rain was intermittent, and it doesn’t do to leave the rain jackets on all the time, as they quickly result in a “boil-in-the-bag” effect, especially where the Captain is concerned. Quite soon the rain stopped, however, and we were able to stow the jackets away for the rest of the day. It remained gloomy, though, with only one small patch of blue sky.

Today we were largely away from scenes of wartime history, though the occasional village had poignant memorials to those involved in the Resistance. We cycled on very quiet roads through a succession of small villages – to be honest it is difficult to recall individual ones, but the overwhelming impression was of a bucolic, scenic area, devoid of the half-timbered villages we encountered to the north, but still very easy on the eye.

Today too was the day that our fitness seemed to kick in, aided perhaps by a light tail-wind. We were motoring along on some very good roads, and so arrived at our planned lunch stop way too early to contemplate eating. In fact by the time we were hungry enough to stop for something to eat we only had nine kilometres left to complete. So we settled for a beer and a sandwich in a roadside café (lovely fresh bread, ham and Emmenthal) before hopping back on the saddle for the remainder of the journey.

Here we are, then, in the tiny village of Saint-Loup-de-Fribois, in an utterly beautiful Chambres d’Hôtes. A few hundred metres away are a couple of restaurants, so all our requirements will be fulfilled!

Tomorrow will be our longest and hilliest day, to Le Neuborg.

Click here to see our track from today.

Arromanches-les-Bains to Bayeux

A day of few kilometres

We wandered back down to the harbour last night for an aperitif, and mulled over all the things we’d seen over the last few days here. The tide was still in, and when we transferred in the light rain which was now falling to the restaurant at the hotel La Marine we had a great view of the beach and the remains of the Mulberry Harbour. We had an excellent meal, marred only by the fact that the icecream shop had closed by the time we came out! No ice-cream for us last night.

We slept well, and awoke to the bells of the nearby church, and breakfast in the kitchen at Chez Mounie. The owner popped in to check everything was OK, which he did by asking us “Is life beautiful?”!

Only about 16km planned for today, and we got underway just before 10, up the hill out of Arromanches, heading for Longues-sur-Mer to see the German gun emplacements. They were incredible, four huge great concrete constructions each housing an enormous gun pointing out to sea. They were sort of brutally beautiful, concentric rings of concrete providing a “cupola” over the gun. We reckoned that they could cover around 120 degrees of the coastline, ranged as they were along the cliffs. Closer to the cliff edge were more bunkers, where it looked like German soldiers would have manned smaller guns to protect the battery. We went right inside, using the torch on a phone to light our way, not something which could have been conceived of in 1944!

After Longues it was just 8km into Bayeux, where we found our hotel, parked up the tandem, changed into civvies, and headed into town to see the cathedral. Smaller than Rouen, but a similar plain style. After lunch in a little bistro we moved on to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum – our main reason for including Bayeux on the trip. It was an amazing thing to see – faded now of course, fully seventy metres in length, and beautifully preserved and presented. It tells the story of William of Normandy’s accession to the English throne, and his battle with Harold who claimed it on the death of Edward I against his wishes that William should be king. We were given little headsets which described each numbered panel and explained how it told the story. It’s not actually a tapestry at all, but embroidery on linen, very fine work. It’s brilliant that it includes a sighting of what we now know to be Halley’s Comet, and the possibly apocryphal story of Harold being hit it the eye by an arrow. Well worth a visit.

And so we wandered back to our hotel, just as the rain started. Hope it gives out before dinner. We may or may not have booked at a very highly recommended local restaurant, depending on whether the owner understands the rather incompetent answerphone message we left, including rather a mental blank on how to do numbers in French!

Click here for today’s track.

Lion-sur-Mer to Arromanches-les-Bains

A short day, allowing time to explore the Sword, Juno and Gold landing beaches.

Lion-sur-Mer is a small town, barely larger than a village, but boasts several restaurants. It being a Monday, however, we knew from previous experience that most of them would be closed, and so it turned out. Only one remained open. Helpfully, as we discovered from TripAdvisor, it was only 48 metres from our hotel. It turned out to be a pizzeria, a very friendly one with excellent pizzas. For the first time in our journey we sampled Normandy cider – a pichet of Brut cider, shared between the two of us. It was deliciously dry and refreshing. We enjoyed our meal very much, and escaped just before the England v Iceland match was shown on their TV.

As so often on this trip we were woken by the church bells at around eight in the morning. After a simple continental breakfast (of the “no plates supplied, just use your napkin” variety peculiar to France) we rescued the tandem from a corridor in the hotel and set off. Today was always planned to be a short day, as we knew we were travelling along key parts of the landing beaches, and suspected that we would stop frequently to investigate. 

The weather was more helpful today. There was no rain, the sun emerged intermittently and we didn’t seem to have much of a headwind. Our route alternated between the main coastal road and some very pleasant dedicated cycle paths next to the sandy beaches.

Our first objective, soon reached, was the Juno beach memorial and museum at Courseulles-sur-Mer. This area of the landing was achieved by Canadian soldiers, and there were many Canadian nationals at the museum. It was well-designed, with two short films topping and tailing the visit, the second of which showed the landings in harrowing detail. Outside, behind the dunes, were German gun emplacements and observation posts, which looked horribly claustrophobic and rather sinister. 

We set off again in the late morning along the main road, with only eight kilometres remaining. Just before Arromanches we tackled our only serious hill of the day – a longish grind up to a viewpoint from which we caught our first site of the remnants of the Mulberry harbour for which Arromanches is famous. At the top of the hill was a viewpoint and small museum. We ate crisps and chocolate bars for lunch (really pushing the boat out on this trip) and gazed out from the viewpoint. To the east we could see the Sword and Juno beaches, and to the west, set in a narrow valley, our destination at Arromanches, an attractive town, bounded at sea by the ruined, ghostly remnants of the once-massive Mulberry harbour.

Nothing left to do, then, but to release the brakes and let the tandem carry us down the hill into the centre of Arromanches and to our lodgings for the night in a very pleasant Chambres d’Hôtes. Changing out of our lycra cycling gear and into shorts and T-Shirts (this always feels strange on a cycling holiday) we strolled into town, partook of beer and wine in the warm sunshine, then headed into the Musée du Débarquement for the afternoon. Our articulate French guide, speaking in English for the benefit of visiting school parties, took us through a series of showcases explaining how the Mulberry harbour was constructed. It was clearly an immense achievement, to the enormous credit of the engineers who worked to satisfy Churchill’s requirements. Again, the museum was extremely well designed, and after our visit we stepped down onto the beach to look at the remains of the harbour, and to stick a token toe in the water as one must do on such journeys.

Tomorrow will be an even shorter day in cycling terms, as we switch our focus to a much earlier conflict and head into Bayeux to see the tapestries.

Click here to see today’s route.

Honfleur to Lion-sur-Mer

A lovely evening in Honfleur last night, an aperitif in one of the bars right on the harbour edge, and then a walk round to the restaurant ‘Les deux ponts’ by the lock for a leisurely dinner. We’d spotted an ice-creamery on our way to the restaurant, so we passed on dessert at the restaurant in favour of an ice-cream on the walk back to the hotel. And they had ‘caramel au beurre salé’, fantastic.

It was raining when we woke up this morning, disappointing but expected, so donning our rain jackets after breakfast we set off west out of Honfleur and up the first gentle climb. It didn’t rain for long, fortunately, and it was still warm. We could see the ever-widening Seine estuary, and remembered that the lady in the hotel had pointed out the beach for us on her town map, but had told us not to swim in it, because “it’s not the sea, it’s the Seine”. The road wound through a series of picturesque and beautifully kept villages, with the sea (the actual sea, not the Seine!) on our right now.

At Trouville we dipped inland briefly to cross an inlet via the bridge, and cycled through the town centre, across a series of paved squares (well, more ‘circulars’, really) and out again on a road right by the beach. There were houses between us and the beach for the most part, but occasionally there would be a break through which we could see sand and waves and sometimes the remains of a World War II bunker, grey concrete up to three feet thick in places. 

At Villers we set off inland again, but this time climbing steadily. Not much to look at, so just heads down grinding upwards until we reached the top and struck off on a delightful tiny road. Which fairly quickly became a gritty track. And then grass! We turned around, retraced our tracks and took the road instead, a long, long descent into Houlgate. We followed a second inlet inland, crossed over the bridge and then headed into Cabourg for lunch. Strange place, it looks like a spider’s web on the map, although it doesn’t feel like that on the ground. The ‘spoke’ we went in on was full of shops and restaurants, so we parked up the tandem and went into a creperie for a delicious lunch. 

The skies cleared whilst we were inside eating, and when we emerged, fortified for the afternoon, it was actually sunny, hurrah! We chose the next ‘spoke’ round the Cabourg wheel to escape and quickly found a good cycle path to take us onward. We were headed to ‘Pegasus Bridge’, famous for the exploits of an enormously brave bunch of British glider pilots and their crews, who flew silently in to the fields right next to this strategically vital bridge under cover of night. This tiny bunch of British forces captured the bridge from the Nazis before they could fire the explosives they had packed it with in case of just such an attack, and held it for the Allies until reinforcements arrived. There was a very well put together museum explaining it all, with a reconstruction of one of the gliders (and a nearly complete hull of one of the actual gliders). There were lots of artefacts, and amazing first-hand accounts from some of the British troops, including pictures of them then and in recent years and information about what they’d done in the rest of their lives. We spent about an hour there, then cycled across the bridge itself, and on towards the first of the Normandy landing beaches. 

At Ouistreham we stopped again at the ‘Museum of the Atlantic Wall’, an enormous concrete bunker five stories high, built by the Nazis as part of their defences in this area. Absolutely extraordinary, and a huge contrast from the Pegasus Bridge museum with its tales of Allied bravery and success. The bunker was full of reconstructions of the various activities carried out by the German soldiers who manned it, with their original equipment still in place, the radios marked with reminders that ‘Feind hört mit’, or ‘the enemy is listening in’. A good view ‘from the other side’, as it were, and an excellent view out to sea from the top level. The bunker was captured by British forces during the D-day invasion.
With just 5km to go we headed off west again, and cycled right along the first of the landing beaches we’ve encountered,  ‘Sword’ beach. A beautiful sandy stretch with clear seas now, this is where some of the British forces landed as part of the D-day invasion on June 6th 1944. Difficult to imagine now, but it must have been terrifying. 

So here we are in sunny Lion-sur-Mer. Tomorrow we’re cycling just as far as Arromanche, where we plan to visit the museum to learn more about the landings.
Click here to see today’s track.

Jumièges to Honfleur

A day of cycling along the Seine to the Normandy Coast

Jumièges was lovely – a ruined Benedictine Abbey set in delightful surroundings, with a handful of restaurants, hotels and bakeries. We enjoyed an aperitif in a local bar (Abbey beer for the Captain, Crémant for the Stoker) before a simple meal of steak frites. On leaving the (very friendly) restaurant they told us there would be fireworks later. Sadly (but inevitably) we were fast asleep by the time they started.

The day dawned, cloudy and slightly wet, and pleasantly cool. Our muscles felt fine after a night of rest, and we enjoyed a quiet breakfast (with excellent bread) before returning to our room to pack the panniers. As always we checked the room at least three times to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything, then we pedalled away.

Straight away we had a short sharp climb out of Jumièges, but we felt strong and it seemed to pass quickly. We passed a group of motorcyclists by the side of the road, preparing for a day out, and waving cheerily in our direction.

Our first port of call was the ferry at Yainville, for our final crossing of the Seine. Everything looked much the same as the previous ferries – flashing red lights and signs warning us not to cycle off the quay. Here, though, as we approached, things began to look a little different. The main difference was the distinct lack of a ferry. It wasn’t on our side of the river, and we certainly couldn’t see it on the opposite bank. Undaunted, the Stoker dismounted to look at the sign. Ouvert Chaque Jours, it proudly announced. We were confused. Perhaps they had detected that we came from “Perfidious Albion” and hidden the ferry? Let’s face it, we couldn’t blame them for feeling rejected at the moment. Reading on, in smaller letters it was revealed that from 2008 onwards chaque jours meant Monday to Saturday only. Today is Sunday. 

Not to worry – a quick look at the map revealed that we could cycle north alongside the river to the Pont de Brotonne, a few kilometres away. It would add perhaps 7km to the journey – not too bad in the circumstances. So we headed off on a fast main road, thankfully quiet. After a while we were passed by the same group of motorcyclists we’d spotted earlier – each one greeted us with a different air horn as he passed – clearly a cheerful bunch!

 We were following one of the boucles of the Seine – wide meanders, bordered by forests, with occasional stark white chalk cliffs – rather beautiful and generally unspoiled. As we neared the bridge we began to wonder how we would climb up to it – the bridge is a high, elegant suspension bridge. It became apparent that we would have to turn “inland” for a kilometre and then around a hairpin bend before a long, steady climb onto the bridge deck. When we’d achieved that we were rewarded with spectacular views in both directions along the Seine. It was really windy up there too, though, so we were relieved to descend to the rive gauche and rejoin our original planned route.
Our route now took us south towards Bourneville (no dark chocolate being manufactured here, as far as we could tell). We passed through the attractive village before climbing steadily onto a plateau, only around 150 metres high, mainly afforested, with some quiet cycle paths and minor roads. We stayed on top of the plateau for some time – the roads were undulating but made for very pleasant riding.

Normandy’s villages, so far, have been strikingly lovely. Houses either half-timbered, or with flints in the walls, often with thatched roofs. Along the top of the roof-line of each thatched roof would be a line of what appeared to be sedums inter-planted with lilies – something we’ve never seen before. Every town and village seemed to be very well kept indeed.

By now our legs were informing us that it was time to stop for lunch, so we duly descended steeply into Pont-Audemer, quite a large town, chosen earlier as a potential lunch spot because it had at least one restaurant which was open on a Sunday. The restaurant was a pizzeria – to be honest we wouldn’t normally choose pizza for lunch, but on this occasion we deserved it, we thought. The captain scanned the menu for a Pizza Savoyarde – France’s finest contribution to Italian cuisine! It wasn’t there, but he spotted a Pizza Tartiflette – perfect!

Only twenty eight or so kilometres remained, and we set off, refreshed, in the direction of Honfleur. We’d left the plateau behind now, but the roads were undulating all afternoon, through quiet bucolic villages, heading down a green valley towards the estuary of the Seine. The sun came out just as we spotted the slow brown waters of the estuary to our right. Soon after that we saw the high suspension bridge at Honfleur and knew that we were approaching our destination. 

The outskirts of Honfleur were uncharacteristically tatty, but we dropped down towards the central harbour area – much more like it. Taking one look at our sweaty, weary faces our host at the hotel joked that she had allocated us a room on the fourth floor!  In reality though, it is on the first, above a bustling street leading towards the harbour.

Tomorrow we head to Lion-sur-Mer, via Pegasus Bridge and parts of the Normandy landing beaches. Our country fought proudly alongside others to oppose fascism on those beaches. Food for thought.

Click here to see today’s route.

Rouen to Jumièges

A day of following the Seine in sunshine and in rain (well, only a tiny bit)

A good breakfast in the hotel in Rouen this morning, and then a frantic twenty minutes of turning the room upside down looking for the car keys. Just when we thought it was hopeless, there they were, in the side of the already twice-searched rucksack. Phew.

Assemblage of the tandem was performed in the shadow of the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen, an imposing if rather grubby church, and then we were off. Straight down to the banks of the Seine, tricky section around the port, then the first of today’s cycle paths. It was very industrial to begin with, lots of silos and conveyor belts, but gradually gave way to greenery and villages of beautiful half-timbered houses. Very, very quiet, hardly any traffic, and only a few people out mowing their lawns or weeding in their gardens.

We tootled along, only 50km to do today, enjoying the sunshine and not even minding the slight headwind. The Seine meanders in great loops in these parts, and we’d plotted a course which largely followed it. Not the most direct route, but piling to the destination wasn’t really the idea. A short rain shower, during which we were unexpectedly pelted with hailstones, was a bit of a surprise. After 20km we hit the first ferry across the river at Sahurs, and it felt very reminiscent of the Highlands and Islands ferries we took two years ago in Scotland. On the other side we landed at La Bouilles, now bathed in sunshine, where we stopped for lunch in a little bistro. Fabulous frites, accompanying omelette and steak respectively for stoker and captain.

After lunch, we followed the Seine just a little further, and it was full of eddies now, the turning of the tide we presumed. We hit the only climb of the day then, barely even deserving of the name. A long slow rise, the captain setting a good pace, but soon done and everything feeling fine, physically and mechanically, so far. We’d struck across country between the loops of the meanders for this section, but we could see the curve of the river’s valley coming back around to meet us. The second ferry of the day took us across the river again, across a strong current now, and then we set off on a beautiful little road right next to the river, past more half-timbered houses, all with lots of land. Some had fruit groves, some were grazed by goats and sheep, and the rest of the residents must have had to spend most of their summer hours mowing their enormous lawns.

Soon enough we were arriving in Jumièges, another lovely village, getting rather blasé about the half-timbered houses by now! A quick turn around the village for orientation purposes, then along to the hotel, and a very welcome dip in the pool. Best not get used to that, though, it’s the only one of the trip!

Click on the link below to see today’s route.

https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/1228179378#.V26Snsxo7u8.google

Coming soon – a trip to Normandy

 

TIme for another tour – this time in Normandy. We’ll be starting in Rouen on Saturday 25th June, then working our way along the Seine and then the coast, past the WWII landing beaches, towards Bayeux. From Bayeux we’ll be taking a southerly route back to Rouen.

Our planned stopping places are:

  • Rouen
  • Jumiéges
  • Honfleur
  • Lion-sur-Mer
  • Arromanches
  • Bayeux
  • Saint-Loup-de-Fribois
  • Le Neuborg
  • Rouen

… And relax

Rothesay to Ardrossan

Distance: 19.31 miles
Average speed: 9.9 mph
Total distance: 585.27 miles
Maximum speed: 28.9 mph

We enjoyed our final evening in Rothesay, we strolled along the waterside down to the ‘Waterfront’ restaurant as recommended by our friendly hosts, feeling much revived after a long bath. It was a great meal, and we even managed whisky, Jura Origin, light and refreshing, lightly peated. Not especially local, but there’s no distillery on Bute.

Lots of rain overnight, and even a thunderstorm, but by the time we surfaced it had all passed over. We had only to cycle nineteen miles today after taking the ferry to Wemyss (pronounced Weems), back down to Ardrossan where we began two weeks ago. So we applied all the usual cycling unguents and creamyss, and stuffed everything into the panniers for the last time. Slightly bursting at the seamyss after a big breakfast, we set off in the direction of the harbour, accompanied by the screamyss of the seagulls. [OK, enough now, you are taking this to extremyss. Ed]

We’d spotted a few back roads we could take to avoid the busy A78 towards Ardrossan, and it was a lovely route, quite up and down, but very quiet and good views of the water. It turned out that our back roads route was known as the Argyll Coastal Path, and was quite well sign-posted. In fact at one point there was a rather wonderful set of signs showing the junction between ‘the High road’ and ‘the Low road’ to Largs – no, really! Of course on a tandem it’s not really possibly that ‘you take the high road while I take the low road’, unless we reduce it to two unicycles, so we opted for the high road and pushed on.

After Largs we found a cycle path, in a wooded area beside the road, and later a fully metalled track for cyclists and pedestrians, and before long we were pulling into the harbour area in Ardrossan. A quick check with the car-park attendant confirmed that we were going to have to nip back to Asda to get some cash, as they didn’t take cards and the Captain had been carefully spending up all his Scottish bank notes. They are perfectly legal tender in England, but it’s surprising how often they will be refused when you try to pay for something with one.

So we cycled back to Asda and got exactly the right amount of Scottish money (!), then back at the car we broke down the tandem into its constituent parts, put it in the boot, paid the man with the Asda cash, and left.

It had been a great trip, lots of incredible scenery, especially Glencoe in the sunshine.

And not a single visit from the puncture fairy. Remarkable.

Click here for today’s track.

One final island

Dunoon to Rothesay

Distance: 30.51 miles
Average speed: 10.2 mph
Total distance: 565.96 miles
Maximum speed: 30.9 mph

After two “high mountain” stages and then our second longest day in the saddle yesterday we were practically falling asleep into our pizzas at the restaurant in Dunoon last night. For the second night running we failed to make it through to the whisky course – apologies, dear reader.

Dunoon seems to be the favoured overnight stop for coach parties. Despite its natural advantages (in particular a spectacular location overlooking the widest part of the Clyde) and the proximity to some remarkably beautiful mountains and lochs, it seems to be a fairly down-at-heel sort of place. Fast vehicle ferries ply their trade over the Clyde to Gourock from two different harbours. Our hotel, too, had seen better days, although the service was friendly and the attached Italian restaurant was very good.

We rescued the tandem from the basement this morning after a leisurely breakfast – no rush this morning as we only had thirty miles to complete today. Clouds were scudding from west to east, with sunshine interspersed with small showers, all of which we managed to avoid. With stiff legs we warmed up gradually around the sea front for three or four miles past Hunter’s Quay and Sandbank before striking inland and turning due west on a beautifully quiet B road onto our first climb of the day. It was stepped and gentle, on newly re-surfaced roads – just what we needed for an easy start to the day.

We have been very impressed by the state of Scotland’s roads. They seem to be thoroughly well maintained and often extremely smooth, and the maintenance is often accompanied by a sign pointing out that the work is the result of strong cooperation between Scotland and the European Union. Methinks someone is making a subtle political point – would that Yorkshire had an equally strong relationship with the EU!

A long and gentle descent towards the head of Loch Striven was the result of our striving. We’d been chatting during the descent and had worked out that we only really had one remaining climb for the rest of our trip, after which the profile of our route would be pretty much flat. What a climb, though! Almost all of the climbing we’ve done in Scotland has been at a gentle 8 to 10 percent. This is rarely the case in our native Yorkshire Dales, where the standard response of a road-builder when presented with a steep hillside is to plot a route straight up! So we launched ourselves into this climb in the expectation that it would be quite easy, only to find ourselves scrambling for the smallest gear we could find. The gradient was reminiscent of that we tackle regularly at home on the twenty percent Laund Oak hill in Strid Wood, Bolton Abbey. We’re not normally carrying panniers up there, though!

Red-faced and thirsty we finally emerged at the top, stopped for a drink and then headed down a fairly steep descent to the head of Loch Riddon. Shortly after joining the main road we dropped onto a tiny loch-side road, barely metalled but otherwise great fun, which took us for most of the six remaining miles towards our ferry. We emerged near the sign for a Sculpture Park, to find some very confused Lancastrians (no obvious comment to be made here) looking for said Sculpture Park. We couldn’t really help, as we hadn’t passed anything remotely resembling a sculpture park, although we may have mentioned in passing that there’s a very good one in Yorkshire.

20140807-160917-58157252.jpg

The ferry was waiting at the quay when we arrived at Colintraive, so we marched the tandem on board and secured it to the railings with stout cord, before looking across to Bute and realising that the journey was going to take all of five minutes, and that the stout cord was probably therefore surplus to requirements.

Bute is relatively low-lying, compared to its neighbours, and the flat loch-side road made for easy cycling, despite a stiff breeze. We soon reached Port Bannatyne, a massive three miles from our ultimate destination today, and stopped for lunch in a water-side café.

20140807-161135-58295375.jpg

After that we cycled through Ardbeg (not the whisky-producing Ardbeg, of course) to Rothesay, a most attractive looking place with some fine stone-built houses, a harbour glinting in the sunlight, and a rather fine-looking castle. As we cycled toward the castle we realised we were inadvertently about to cycle the wrong way down a one-way street, so we dismounted and walked. It was a good job we did, too, as a moment later a police car came the other way down the same road.

We spent about an hour in the castle (a fine one, with a real moat), and learned much about the overthrow of the Norwegian ownership of many of the Western Isles from an informative video.

20140807-160751-58071085.jpg

Then we climbed back on the tandem and cycled the final mile towards the Ardyne Guest House, where we received a very warm welcome and were shown to a room with an outstanding one hundred and eighty degree view over the loch to the north, and, even more importantly, with a bath (showers just don’t cut it when tired muscles are in need of soothing warmth). Rothesay looks to be an excellent place in which to spend our final night of the tour.

20140807-161039-58239885.jpg

Tomorrow we plan to catch an early ferry from Rothesay to Wemyss Bay, north of Largs. This will leave us with an easy eighteen mile coastal cycle to Ardrossan, where we hope our car will still be waiting for us. Assuming it is, we then have a four hour drive back home.

Click here for today’s track.

By Eck

Tyndrum to Dunoon

Distance: 67.62 miles
Average speed: 12.6 mph
Total distance: 535.45 miles
Maximum speed: 35.5 mph

Like Campbeltown early in our trip, Tyndrum could be described as a “funny wee place”. It’s on the West Highland Way long distance walking path, and on one of the two main routes for people doing the Land’s End to John O’Groats trip (or vice versa), so loads of people pass through, but there’s little accommodation and practically nowhere to eat. Since last we passed through, the Real Food Cafe has opened up and gets great reviews for its fish and chips, so we decided to avoid the horrors reported on TripAdvisor for the other establishments in town and give it a try.

It was great! Just a short walk from our B&B, where we’d been welcomed with much needed cups of tea and coffee, and scones. At the Real Food Cafe there were other choices, but we went for the fish and chips and it was really good, very fresh. Along with a bottle of local ale, we were all done by 8:15, and practically asleep already after our long afternoon battling the headwind into Tyndrum. We even forgot to have any whisky!

We headed back to our room and watched a bit of the Scottish Independence debate – a bit shouty, but quite interesting. The audience were mostly worried about the currency issue, even those planning to vote Yes, and it did seem that the SNP didn’t really have a Plan B if they couldn’t achieve a currency union with the remainder of the UK.

After early lights out and a good sleep, we were ready to go early this morning, knowing that we had over 65 miles to Dunoon today. At breakfast we met a lovely Australian lady who was walking the West Highland Way, headed to the King’s House Hotel today, where we had lunch yesterday. We were all a little surprised that it wasn’t already raining, as the forecast had been a bit dire, but dry it was, and we set off out of Tyndrum before 9am onto the much quieter Oban road.

Of course any journey out of the Highlands into the Lowlands is going to be generally downwards, hurrah, and we enjoyed over ten miles of gentle descending, swooping down through the glens with barely a pedal turned. Before Inveraray we had a climb back up to get into the next glen, then another long descent into Inveraray where we heard the unmistakable sound of a piper.

IMG_0201.JPG

We found him in the garden of the coffee shop playing all the Scottish classics, plus Mull of Kintyre, weirdly! He was disconcertingly a dead ringer for Spike Milligan… We had some cake and coffee to fuel us for the next leg, and just as we left the heavens opened.

We could actually see our lunch destination, Creggans, across Loch Fyne from Inveraray, but there is no ferry across, so the only option is to go north to the end of the loch, then head south again, a trip of around twenty miles. It was mostly flat, though, so we were keeping up a good pace, especially now we were full of cake.

Creggans Inn finally came up on the left, and we bundled in for lunch. It was a popular spot, and the food was good. As we sat and ate, rain jackets drying on the wings of the dartboard, the skies cleared and the sun even emerged. Now we could see right back to Inveraray.

IMG_0195.JPG

Under twenty miles to Dunoon now, largely flat, and no need for the rain jackets. After covering 48 miles in the morning it was difficult to get the legs turning again, but we gradually accelerated to race speed and reached the end of Loch Eck. So if you’ve read this far, now you understand the title…!

It was really pretty, not very wide with steep hills on either side, and lovely reflections in the calm water. It was very long though, far longer than our capacity for making ‘by Eck’ jokes, of which, really, there’s only the one if we’re honest…

IMG_0198.JPG

There were lots of lodges alongside the loch, and we spotted various groups of kayakers, mostly groups of young people under instruction, it seemed. One unfortunate young man had got his kayak stuck under a low tree branch and was on the point of being tipped out, to the guffaws of the other paddlers. And of we pedallers too, I’m afraid, as we passed by.

After Eck we passed the top of Holy Loch, and then took the road around the coast to Dunoon. It was really sunny now, and the boats bobbing around in the low tide water looked really attractive. Everywhere we’ve arrived, it has seemed to be low tide!

So we’re settled into the Argyll Hotel now, and looking forward to a later start tomorrow, and a short day onto Bute for our last night. Confusingly, all the hotels everywhere in Argyll are named ‘Argyll Hotel’. All of them. We have passed countless Argyll Hotels in our travels. Before the days of sat-nav, there must have been a terrible risk of booking the Argyll Hotel, then turning up to find that you had actually navigated your way to completely the wrong one.

Maybe all the hotels on Bute are named ‘Bute Hotel’. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Click here for today’s track.

The Great Glen and Glencoe revisited

Spean Bridge to Tyndrum

Distance: 56.92 miles
Average speed: 10.8 mph
Total distance: 467.83 miles
Maximum speed: 29.1 mph

Originally, when booking accommodation for this trip, we’d hoped to stay in Spean Lodge, where we were very well looked after on our Land’s End to John O’Groats trip. It was, however, fully booked, so we booked into the Smiddy House instead. Now we’re really glad we did, everything about our stay was excellent. Robert brought us tea, coffee, home-made shortbread and whisky fruit cake on our arrival (not sure of the provenance of the whisky, sorry!) and made us very welcome. Our evening meal was spectacularly good, definitely the best of the trip so far. We strongly recommend a visit if you are ever passing through Spean Bridge.

Interestingly, on more than one evening of our trip we’ve worked out that the nearest distillery is Ben Nevis, but nobody ever seems to have any. This proved to be true last night as well – we’re beginning to wonder if it is really poor (surely not). On the recommendation of the serving staff we chose instead a Balvenie Doublewood – a Speyside whisky, reminiscent of a Macallan but with a spicy kick to it. It was delicious.

Our good experiences at the Smiddy House continued with an excellent breakfast this morning. We fuelled up, mindful of the twelve hundred foot climb we would be tackling up Glencoe. On stepping outside to load the panniers on to the tandem we noticed an unfamiliar golden orb in the sky – at last, a sunny day. We headed off in a westerly direction towards Fort William, on the busy A82 (in fact we spent the entire day on the busy A82, come to think of it). A few miles before Fort William we found a road-side cycle path, which made for slightly more relaxed cycling while it lasted. It delivered us past the Ben Nevis Distillery (which looked fine!) to Inverlochy and then Fort William. The traffic thinned out for a while thereafter as we kept up a decent pace in the direction of the Ballachulish Bridge. This crossed, we turned south towards Glencoe Village, again taking advantage of a cycle path for a few short miles.

We soon arrived at the foot of Glencoe and started to climb. The last time we were here the weather was dire and we were unable to see anything of our surroundings. Today’s sunshine was much more helpful.

20140805-182253-66173067.jpg

The climb was long but shallow, though we kept having to stop to take photographs of the dramatic scenery. Some temporary traffic lights halfway up meant that for long periods we were cycling on empty roads. This was much quieter and more pleasant; we were able to enjoy looking around as we ascended.

20140805-182145-66105264.jpg

Eventually the gradient slackened off and we were delivered to the edge of Rannoch Moor. Feeling hungry after thirty-five miles of hard pedalling we were glad to reach the King’s House Hotel. As we cycled down the driveway we noticed that the garden of the hotel was full of red deer – seven of them in fact, four adults and three juveniles. They were astonishingly tame and clearly happy to pose for photographs.

20140805-182000-66000206.jpg

Lunch followed, washed down (at least for the Captain) with a couple of pints of refreshing pale ale. Afterwards we cycled past the deer (they ignored us completely) and back onto the main road, to climb the final two hundred feet or so to Rannoch Moor Summit, past the ski chairlift on our right, which was still clearly working in the summer months. Our arrival at the top was marked with the emergence of a strong head-wind, which curtailed our speed for the rest of the day (and made it much harder work). The traffic, too, was heavier now, with coaches and logging lorries making regular appearances.

A long descent (at remarkably slow speed, because of the headwind) brought us down from the top of the moor. Rannoch Moor which, on our previous visit, had looked spooky and moon-like in the mist and rain, looked much more benign in the sunshine. We continued to descend past Bridge of Orchy, knowing that another five hundred foot climb separated us from our destination. This climb was a long, long drag, made longer and draggier by the wind, and it seemed to take a long time before we were on a downward gradient for the last couple of miles into Tyndrum.

We stayed here too on our previous visit to the area, and, if recollections are correct, we don’t expect Michelin quality food this evening – it was something of a culinary desert. We’ve been told however that good fish and chips are obtainable, so here’s hoping.

Tomorrow we continue south through Inverary, finishing in Dunoon on the River Clyde.

Click here for today’s track.

Our first mountain stage

Glenshiel to Spean Bridge

Distance: 49.8 miles
Average speed: 11.1 mph
Total distance: 410.91 miles
Maximum speed: 38.1 mph

Kintail Lodge was really lovely, a spectacular position right on the shore of Loch Duich, and our room looked out over it. We ate in the conservatory dining room, including some excellent langoustine which were enormous and really tasty. Our waitress confirmed that our nearest distillery was still Talisker, so no new tasting notes to report, although we did try it again just to confirm it was still nice. Which it was.

Opening the curtains this morning we found leaden skies again, and a heavy downpour, and we steeled ourselves not to be as lucky as yesterday, when the rain cleared so quickly. The breakfast room was full of enormous hung-over belching Geordies (and that was just the women!) which was rather unpleasant, and might have contributed to our prompt start at 9:15…

When we set off it was spitting only mildly, and we pootled gently along the first five miles, knowing there was a big hill coming. We were also keeping an eye out for the feral goats indicated by a warning sign just as we came in to Kintail last night. They sounded rather terrifying, but nothing came hurtling out of the bracken to head-butt us, which was both a disappointment and a relief!

20140804-172302-62582863.jpg

The big hill came and went, a really gentle ascent to around 900 feet over a number of miles, winding through the craggy highland landscape. Apart from the road the surroundings were wild and natural, and somehow the low cloud and mistiness was exactly right. There was the odd break in the cloud where blue sky and sunbeams were doing their best, and the sky looked generally brighter in the direction we were travelling.

We passed the site of the Battle of Glenshiel of 1715 on the way up, in a tiny bowl. It raged for only three hours before government forces prevailed, having previously captured Eilean Donan castle, where we were yesterday. The terrain looked far too enclosed for battle, with the river on one side and a steep hillside on the other.

After the climbing we rode along the side of Loch Cluanie for many miles, flat or gently descending, before turning due south for the second big hill of the day. This was a proper hill, though, none of this gentle ascent that you don’t really notice. There was even some puffing and panting… Just before the top we stopped to have a look at a weird field of tiny cairns. There was no explanation, although one or two had ‘In memory of’ stones with them, and we speculated that it was some spontaneous thing that had started with one and just grown and grown. They were quite striking, and lots of people had stopped to have a look.

20140804-173141-63101737.jpg

After the cairns there was just a last effort up the the top at 1200 feet, then about eight miles of glorious descending along the side of Loch Garry, to find the Invergarry Hotel for lunch. The people there didn’t know the origin of the tiny cairns either, although they said lots of people had asked. We’d had an almost dry morning, which was a bonus given the early drizzle.

20140804-173047-63047979.jpg

Just fifteen miles remaining now, and little bits of up and down, before we climbed the last hill onto the plateau above Spean Bridge, and passed the Commando Memorial on the hillside just outside the town. We stopped at the memorial in 2008 during our Land’s End to John O’Groats trip, on our way out of Spean Bridge. It was very popular today, lots of visitors, but we rode on past and down the hill into Spean Bridge, to the Smiddy House hotel and restaurant. A warm welcome from Robert, who was very keen to sit on the tandem, just to see what it was like – never been asked that before!

So, another big day in the hills tomorrow – Glencoe beckons!

Click here for today’s track.

I only record the soggy hours…

Portree to Glenshiel

Distance: 49.06 miles
Average speed: 12.4 mph
Total distance: 361.11 miles
Maximum speed: 37.0 mph

Our day off in Portree was relaxing – we enjoyed wandering around the town square and harbour (which featured a few houses coloured in a similar manner to Tobermory). We did some laundry – that was exciting. We had the bike adjusted at the very helpful Island Cycles. Oh, and we ate some very good pizzas and a not very good curry – Lamb Passanda and Butter Chicken arrived with the exact same sauce – very poor…

The featured whisky, of course, was Talisker, Skye’s only single malt, which is strong, rich and peppery, and delicious to boot. It’s curious that Skye, the largest of the islands, boasts only a single distillery yet Islay has eight in a much smaller space.

Our host at the Givendale Guest House, an affable Dutchman named Jurriaan, looked after us well. Last night, on the walk back from the Indian restaurant it started to rain heavily and persistently. We were particularly aware of this as our room had three velux windows, and each time one of us woke up in the night we could hear the rain pounding against them. We awoke to gloomy skies and more rain, and at breakfast were amused to hear Jurrian relate that his father, when he complained about having to cycle in such weather, used to say:

“What is your problem – are you made of sugar?”

As we’re most definitely not made of sugar we too had no good reason to remain indoors, so we put on all our wet weather gear and set off in a southerly direction away from Portree and back to Broadford. All the serious climbs today were in the first twenty miles, and by the time we reached the bottom of the first climb we were drenched. The climb was fairly gentle, though, and the rest day seemed to have given us new strength, as we ascended easily to a plateau for a while before dropping down to the Sligachan Hotel, the departure point for most outdoor activities in Skye.

At this point, encouragingly, the clouds began to clear; there was the odd patch of blue sky visible. The long, steeper, second climb began, and by the time we reached about half-way up we were regretting that we were still wearing our rain jackets – all the effort we were expending resulted in an unfortunate “boil in the bag” effect inside our jackets! Unfortunately there were no lay-bys until the top of the climb, so we had to stop at the very top to release clouds of steam, and to cool off.

This was encouraging, though, as we hadn’t expected anything but rain all day. As we descended again to sea level the weather improved yet further. At the same time the traffic levels diminished, and we were able to enjoy the rolling coast road to Broadford, and then, beyond, to Kyleakin, at the Skye end of the Skye road bridge.

The bridge, sadly, is an ugly concrete construction, though it provided fine views to both north and south.

20140803-174714-64034853.jpg

We were directed onto a cycle path over the bridge – a good idea, except that nobody had bothered to trim the path-side gorse and brambles, making for an uncomfortable transit. Soon, though, we were in Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland side of the bridge where, with thirty-five miles already under our belts, we stopped for a good lunch at Hector’s Bothy.

With only another fourteen miles to go, and most of the afternoon available, we were looking forward to taking a look at Eilean Donan Castle, en-route to our destination of Glenshiel. After a few easy miles along the side of Loch Alsh it suddenly came into view, and we stopped at the roadside to take some photographs.

20140803-174826-64106510.jpg

Simultaneously the heavens decided to open, and we raced to don our jackets. Within a minute or so we were soaked again, by a shower that probably only lasted five minutes or so. It was definitely time to take a break, so we parked the tandem outside the Eilean Donan visitor centre and headed in.

We took hot drinks first, jackets dripping gently onto the café floor. Then, leaving our bags and helmets with the visitor centre receptionist (“Ugh – these are soaking!”) we crossed the bridge to the castle and spent a diverting hour therein. It was completely ruined after the Jacobite rebellion (a spot of English revenge, and possibly another reason for the current drive towards Scottish independence!), and only really restored in the twentieth century by the Macrae family. They did a fine job, and the result was that large numbers of visitors from many nations (chiefly Italy, for some reason) were there enjoying it too. We were particularly amused to hear an exclamation of “Porca Maria!” as one of the female Italian visitors came across a striking room in the castle. Italy has an interesting range of available expletives: this one, curiously, translates to “Pig Mary”!

During our visit the rain, thankfully, had ceased, and we only had half a dozen miles to complete down the side of Loch Duich, with lovely reflections on the water of the hills opposite. Our legs were still strong, and before long we arrived at our loch-side hotel just short of Glenshiel. It’s a lovely spot.

20140803-175009-64209050.jpg

20140803-175008-64208714.jpg

Tomorrow (and the day after) we have some “Hors categorie” hills to climb, the first within four miles of here on the way to tomorrow’s destination of Spean Bridge.

Click here for today’s track.