Easter tour from Arrasate to Madrid

So, 2 things:

I am living in Arrasate in the Basque Country and with General Elections in South Africa this year I needed to head to the embassy in Madrid to cast my vote. Luckily for me, the government decided to have the out of country vote on the 27th of April this year which meant that it co-incided with the Easter holidays so I had the opportunity to cycle to Madrid from Arrasate, a journey of 500km´s, more or less.

Day 1 – Arrasate to Santa Domingo

Tough, tough day! Firstly woke up late and ended up rushing my departure from Arrasate a bit. As I planned to do 105km´s I felt a little bit under pressure to reach the Albergue before it closed it´s doors for the night, and, I wanted to get there on day 1 as the weather forecast wasn´t great from Thursday. Started easily enough, over the hill into Gastiez, nice, had a short break to have something to eat then pushed on…and encountered a wind so fierce and relentless it made the ride incredibly hard and with my not quite right mental state, it was not fun. I was being blown sideways and almost to a standstill continuously and stopped several times to rest, once to have a short siesta behind a wall out of the wind. I did little filming as I was focused in getting to my destination. Then finally, 10km´s out from Santa Domingo the wind turned in my favour but as the gradient into town was uphill I struggled as I was so beaten…I lay down in the grass every 2km´s feeling quite sick! Finally, I almost drunkenly made it to the Albergue…

There albergue was full of pilgrims on the Camino and it was very busy and noisy, a far cry from when I was here in December with just a handful of us in the winter apartments. I didn´t get much sleep that night – the earth rumbled with my neighbour´s continuous, rolling, echoing, crushing snores.

As with all Albergue´s you get woken at 0700 and kicked out at 0800 and the weather was miserable. I decided to wait around outside the Albergue to see if it would lift and chatted to another group of cyclists for a bit. They decided to go as they were on a schedule. As I had time I decided to go find a coffee and wait it out some more…it only got worse. So I checked back into the Albergue and got another bed and ate and rested. Luckily I got some rest that night.

Day 2 – Santa Domingo to wild camp

Up at 0700, gone by 0800, weather still cold and gloomy but not raining, so all good. Jumped onto the Camino and headed towards Burgos. The Camino was busy, lot´s a walking Pelegrino´s. Just before Burgos I left the Camino and immediately found quiet, empty roads, happy now. Cycled through fields seeing deer and hearing nothing but silence. Had a tea at a beautiful cave with a natural spring and then jumped onto agricultural trails. It was here I found an amazing wild camp site and setup my camp listening to birds and a deer barking, obviously having caught my scent (Old Spice hehe). Cooked dinner and had a good nights rest.

Day 3 – Wild camp to Pinilla Trasmonte

Took my time leaving that morning it was so peaceful there – reminded me so much of Africa, was feeling very homesick just then. Had a little nap in the morning sun then slowly ambled off when I felt it was the time…and it was only now I was getting into the touring mode, where time doesn´t really matter. It´s a good place to be.

The weather was warming up, beautiful blue skies and sun, sun! Sun to warm my bones and soul. Sun to melt worries away, and the riding was amazing – beautiful natural forests, hills, caves, open space, farm land…solitude.

I got to Pinilla Transmorte quite early and as I came over the bridge saw the picnic site with water and decided I would bed down here tonight. It was sometime until someone appeared and I asked them if it would be a problem to camp the night, no, no problem – “tranquilo”. Muy bien, gracias!

I went to the local bar by the church and asked the barman there if it would be problem and he said the same, tranquilo! Very friendly place, several locals came up to me to have a chat – donde es? Where are you from? One guy even said if I need anything, comer, food, anything, to just say…this is why solo travel is so rewarding, the generosity of people comes through.

Day 4 – Pinilla Trasmonte to wild camp

Another good nights rest and after making coffee was off quite early under cool, grey conditions. Landscape was varied, flat topped, rocky hills (which looked exactly like where I would love to camp) and farmand, acres and acres of green winter wheat. You can that in the summer this place is bone dry…

Cycled past an amazing medieval castle which had a pair of storks roosting up on one of the crumbling walls. The castle overlooked the town and plains and I spied a river from up there so went down to have a look and found a potential camping spot on the river but as it was still quite early decided to continue…and I´m so glad I did…

A cold wind had picked up that afternoon and was blowing in my face, making the riding quite hard and tiring. I was cycling between these stone cliffs and I spotted a ledge running along one of them, on the other side of the wind, suggesting it may be sheltered. I leant the bike up on the railing and scrambled up to the ledge and walked from one end to the other, about 200m, perfectly sheltered from the cold wind, and with an overhang, also rain. In the middle I found an open dusty patch that could potentially be the place to sleep…the problem was, how to get the bike and bags up here – impossible to cycle, I would have to unclip and carry the bags up and then the bike up, and without being seen…I sat there pondering, thinking, watching…after some time, not a soul passed by so I decided this was it. Back down the hill, quick check for people, vehicles – nada. Unclip bags, quickly run up the first embankment, dump them in the tall grass, grab bike…and carry it, push it up the side of the cliff! Made it…rest…back down, grab 2 bags, scramble up, dump bags…rest…back down, grab the rest, push back up…dump bags…laugh out loud! Did it, everything up on the ledge…as the tent would be too big and could be seen from the road decided to use the tarp. Pegged the long end on the grass verge and used my bike and the cliff face to tie up the guys lines to, made a sweet little shelter. Had a little walk up on the hills that evening and listened to deer calling from the valley below and up on the hill…cooked dinner and watched the moon rise between the scudding clouds to the sounds of the night birds coming to life. Pretty sweet.

Day 5 – wild camp to Cantalejo

Slept well again and in the morning faced the task of getting everything down to the road…bags first, dump in the grass, then bike came down and job done! Cycled into Burgomollido (just a hotel and a bar in front of a huge dam wall) to replenish my water then went back up the hill as I wanted to see a certain canyon.

And what an amazing place it was – a vast canyon with vultures soaring above it then zooming down to roost on the cliff sides and a church built right up on one of the cliffs…Ermita de San Frutas – https://goo.gl/maps/XABtJS8SqVkDSucYA

I then cycled down the hill and dropped into another Easter surpise, a river through this amazing canyon. Followed the canyon for about 14km and eventually had to come out with another climb to the top, passing the medieval town of Sepulveda.

And on the other side of the hill, farmland, and a huge storm out to the East, me riding on the edge, down the hill, flying…

I rode into Cantalejo, saw a campsite on the edge of town, gates open, nobody there, so setup camp under the pine trees…made some tea, hung my clothes to dry out as there was some fleeting sun…suddenly it went very dark and the wind started gusting and blowing…and my tent went rolling! I went running after it and hung on while it blew…then it started hailing…just stood there and waited it out.

After it passed quickly dismantled the tent and moved everything into one of the empty wooden sheds on-site. Much better…

Ended up staying 3 nights here. The camp site owners came and went but never came to say hello or anything, so I stayed for free…I spent a lot of time in the local bar in town, had a couple of wines and something nice to eat. Very friendly staff and they looked after me a little bit, giving me chopito´s, shots of rum, and pintxo´s with a drink.

Day 6 – Cantalejo to wild camp

But I had to get to Madrid on Friday and I had to leave…the weather forecast was good for Thursday so I thought perfect! Well, the weather forecast was wrong…I set off while it was spitting rain so not too bad…then about 20km´s down the road, it changed, dark grey clouds, head wind, of course and snow swirling down. Jesus Christ I thought, what now? I decided to get to the last town before the mountain I knew was in front of me and decide what to do then…found a nice bar and had a coffee and some delicious pork crackling…my hands and feet were by now numb so I put my gloves on the radiator and changes out of my wet socks, trying to get feeling back in my feet…

Waiting, waiting…and suddenly sunshine…had a peek outside and looking west the weather looked decent, it was looking like the weather was lifting…so I decided no time like the present and set off once more…

And saw the mountain ahead of me covered in snow…so I stopped again and checked the map to see if there was another way around…there was, 45km of national road, not very appealing…very probably with a head wind…stuff it, mountain pass it is!

And it was worth it, despite the steep incline, the snow…it was beautiful up there. And I made it over.

Slow rolled down the other side into beautiful lands, with the sun coming through nicely now…and my last wild camp before Madrid the next day.

Day 7 – wild camp to Madrid

Was up early and after a coffee, packed up and set off and rode through some beautiful countryside, all within 50km of Madrid, which I still couldn´t see. Passed through some pretty towns and stopped to have a pastry en-route. Rode dirt track to within 20km of the city and finally I saw the towers of Madrid…and jumping on the now busy road, rode past the airport into Madrid, and the camp site where I spent 2 nights.

Saturday morning went to cast my vote at the South African embassy, being met by a very friendly embassy staff in a very quiet embassy. Thank you guys!

Then met up with Jason at 3ike.es and went for a ride with the tricycle crew…

Sunday, up early to the train station, bike on train, the journey to Legazpi, then the cycle home…what a journey.

Nantes to Saint-Brevin-le-Pins (with video and pics)

When I woke up that morning I knew that by the end of the day I will have reached the Atlantic coast and it seemed like a real milestone in the journey. A lot of people I’d met on the way were finishing their holiday at the coast and I was eager to get started. I got up earlier than usual and after a quick breakfast and shower had my bags packed and loaded, a baguette strapped on, ready to go. Said my farewells to the lad’s and I was off, back in the direction of Nantes. I decided to take a little side trip through Nantes after the recommendation of the receptionist at the campsite – there was an elephant I wanted to see. And what timing I had! As I got there the elephant started moving off and it was pretty bloody amazing, this mechanical beast, walking, actually walking, the trunk waving about spraying water on the people watching accompanied by loud speakers blaring out the trumpeting of an elephant. Ridiculous ha!

Once this massive mechanical beast had finished its show I headed out of Nantes, heading west, to the next objective, the crossing of the Loire!

The crossing of the Loire is accomplished by ferry and there is one in Indre, not far out of Nantes. Again, got super lucky, there was a huge market in town so I had a look around and grabbed some salami and for lunch, some fresh Asian food – warm dumplings, spring rolls and tempura. Yum!

With lunch in the bag I headed over to the ferry and watched as it crossed from the far side. As it swung round to head across it caught in the current and started curving away but the skipper went full throttle and pushed through to the far side where he docked, the people poured off, the cars rolled off and then the opposite, people piled on and cars pulled up onto the deck. Gates closed, the same process in reverse, gentle throttle to push away from the slip, into the tidal current then full throttle across. Over in a couple of minutes. Story of my life, weyyyyy.

As I was super hungry by then I cycled on for a little bit into the next village stopping at a small square with a bench where I set to on my little Asian treat, damnnnn it was good!

Setting off again after lunch it started turning very grey as I got closer to the Atlantique. The ride itself wasn’t the most scenic, it turned very industrial the closer I got to the coast. The river started to widen very quickly and I soon realised I was at the mouth of the Loire river. The water was fast flowing and a muddy brown. With the grey skies and industrial setting it wasn’t the most scenic or beautiful place to ride – hey ho.

I then started to see these crazy little huts on stilts way out in the mouth with a massive square net hanging suspended in front. As I rolled along the numbers increased where eventually there was one every 50m – on the sand next to the road, the wooden walkway would start, there’d be a little gate, typically with a sign with a name on it, then a walkway on wooden poles about 50m to 100m out into the river mouth…and it was a one such structure I stopped, whereupon a dog appeared with his owner from a cabin at the gate – the dog out for a pee no doubt. It was then I asked in broken French, “what is this place?”. He then gestured to me to follow him, so follow him and the dog I did, all the way along the walkway, to the little cabin at the end with no net in sight.

And I went inside and there were 2 other fella’s, old boys, surprised as I was to see them, with my new friend quickly explaining the situation and we all smiled and introduced ourselves.

I then got the demonstration, my host releasing a brake to a pulley by the window, then winching, drawing the rope up and up, and when suddenly, bursting from the water a few meters below, the suspended net, alas, empty of fish! It was promptly lowered back in and the brake set when short glasses were produced and filled with a strong liquer, “Salute!” and bosh, down the hatch! Next it was my turn, and gently releasing the brake, grinding the winch handle raised the net…and produced a couple of crabs….ahhhh, anti-climax!

Back down it went.

And so this repeated a few times, before the last time, when my host gave the winch a crank and produced a beautiful sole, and shouts of joy from the watching gang. A very long handled net was pushed out the window towards the net and the sole was bagged and brought into the cabin where it ended up the sink, destined for his dinner plate no doubt! Check out the video:

I bid my farewells and by the time I got back on the bike it had started spitting a little bit and was very grey now. I got my rain jacket out and on and proceed along the not so pretty bank of the Loire river mouth…and had my first sighting of the Atlantic!

It wasn’t long before I started raining in earnest. I parked up under a tree to wait for it to subside a bit and it shortly did so. It wasn’t long after that that I found the Atlantique – a somewhat grey, wet and stormy coast greeted me, so I pushed on…and then it really started raining in earnest. I was riding in suburbia then and it was tipping down, I was getting soaked. I stopped under a tree but it did nothing to shelter me. It was on the corner of a road and I’d stopped opposite a house that appeared closed up with a nice patio so I jumped the fence and scoobied up under the patio roof, leaving a muddy mess on the floor, oh well. And I waited, and waited and waited some more for the rain to let up…and while I was waiting I decided to check out warmshowers for a host nearby, stuff camping in this. Would you believe it, a host appeared not 2km’s from my sodden corner, so I whatsapped him, Gile, and he promptly replied with “come on!”, well…okay then!

I cleaned the patio as best I could then ducked back out into the pouring rain and sped off to Gile, my saviour.

I found Gile’s place and it wasn’t long before I was settled in after a hot shower, lovely stuff this warmshowers.

Gile then invited me to his friend’s place for dinner that evening – ok sure. So, us on our bikes with his dog close behind we cycled off.

It was a very French intensive evening that evening! Very difficult as my French is minimal – his friends were super friendly and hospitable. We also played a few games of petanque, a game I’d seen being played by French families all over the show – I still don’t get it but the basics involve a small pink ball being thrown from a point, then with heavy iron balls, two teams try to get as close to the pink ball as possible, knocking aside the other team’s balls in the process, similar to bowls except you’re lobbing these heavy iron balls about…and my team didn´t win, seems beginner´s luck doesn´t apply here 🙂

It was here I learnt about the Passage de Gois.


Nantes (with pics and video)

The following day was a rest day so there was no rush to get up and get ready for anything so with a slow start we all got up and slowly prepared some breakfast and coffee and chatted about bikes, routes and whatever else our limited abilities at each other’s respective languages allowed. As Frank was heading off that day he started packing his stuff away and I realised that I was going to miss this guy…funny how just a few hours before I was thinking the worst and now after getting to know him had grown fond of his company. Totally humble and proper salt of the earth he is and what little he had he shared with me without question or demand for anything in return. As Frank had no phone or address this really was goodbye, bonjour and bon camino. And so, with a man hug we parted ways and it was a bit emotional…see ya Frank.

After Frank had left I got ready for a day in the city and then set off for Nantes after midday, taking it nice and slow along the mighty Loire.

I didn’t really do much in Nantes to be honest, I kind of cycled around, checked out the architecture, tested out the cycling paths in town and had a couple of beers around town. It was while I was having a glass of strong Belgian beer just before heading back to camp that I noticed two big guy’s pull up to the store next door to the pub. They had cyclo-cross style bonies with the kit strapped on, bike packer style. I overheard them speaking English and recognised strong northern English accents. One of the lads disappeared into the shop to buy some cold drinks and I greeted the fella waiting outside and we got to chatting. It turned out to be two brothers and they had lost the Eurovelo 1 track in town and were looking for some directions. The lads joined me for a beer and I explained that I knew of a camp site not far out of town and I could show them if they were interested. Paying a favour back and all that…

The lads were tired of a hot day in the saddle and the talk of a hot shower was too much and they duly accepted the offer so we sank our pints and I showed them the way, all along the Loire, out of town to the campsite.

By the time I got back we had a new set of neighbours – the Dane had departed and on the other side we had a campervan pull in – they were German, a family of Papa, Mama und daughter. I greeted Papa in German and we had a nice conversation, me with my dodgy German, about cycling, where I’m going, where they have been and live in Germany etc.

After that it was time to start preparing some dinner. The lads and I each cooked up something and we shared the results once done. After cleaning up Papa from next door came over and gave us 3 slices of delicious sweet melon for dessert!

The stars were out again that night so I grabbed my camera and rode back out to the river to play some more with my camera. Was a beautiful evening, so quiet and apparently there was a meteor shower due to start that night…and I was lucky to see a couple of shooting stars, when last did I see one of those!

Unfortunately, my camera skills are still very basic so results aren´t great. I´ve posted some of the results but as they say, practice makes perfect!

And so, it was my last night in Nantes.

Enjoy the few pictures I took – check out the video on my YouTube channel

Blain to Nantes (with pic´s and video)

As it wasn’t far to go to Nantes I was in no rush in the morning, I took a ride into Blaine to the boulangerie to get supplies – a baguette, salami, cheese and Viennese croissant…yum. Back at camp I spoilt myself with another hot shower then fixed my sandwiches for the day after breakfast. It was near midday by the time I set off and once again it was straight back onto the canal under blue skies and a hot sun, perfect!

I wasn’t riding for long when I had to stop at a road crossing which bridged over the canal. To my left a beautiful tree lined road dipped gently downhill for about 300m ending with a church and a garden which looked quite interesting and worth a possible look. While I was doing a quick map check to see if there was anything of interest in the little village on my left a cyclist I had last seen a few days ago stopped and we both went “heyyyy” in recognition and had a little chat about each of our journeys. He was on his way to Nantes, so his trip was almost done and he showed me his book which detailed the route I wanted to take – some nice information. After that we wished each other bon journe and bon voyage and he was off as I still pondered whether to turn left…or crack on ahead…and as I was pondering, another rider stopped alongside me, this time someone I’d not seen before…he greeted me in French, I did likewise and it didn’t take him long to guess I was not French so he switched to English and he said “nice bike…ahhh…Rohloff!”, “yeeaaaah, cool”, I replied, to which he said, “someone else with Rohloff, I like you!” – how can you not like someone who greets you in such a manner, and so we got chatting. I explained that I was thinking of going to have a little look at the village down to my left and he said he was just looking for somewhere to eat as he had no food on him…so, I said, “I’ve got a baguette with cheese and salami, you’re welcome to share…”. “ok, yeah, that sounds good, you’re sure??” “yeah, of course!!”…so we decided to find a spot to have lunch and thought we could look at the village while doing so…so freewheeling down into the village I discovered his name was Adrian who is from France and was on an epic journey of his own, having already cycled around the UK and was at that time on route to Spain, then Portugal, back into Spain (southern end) then along the coast heading east – pretty much the exact route I was planning on. There wasn’t anywhere in the village to picnic so we decided to pedal back up to the canal and backtrack 50 yards where there was a picnic spot with tables under the trees and there I got the baguette, salami and cheese out and Adrian in turn added brioche, dates and chocolate (got no food haha!!)…turned into a feast! So, while we were having lunch another cyclist pulls into the picnic area and leans his bike against one of the other tables…and it turns out Adrian knows this guy – they’d met on the trail the day before. He too was French, but unlike Adrian was not able to speak English, but where I didn’t understand, Adrian kindly explained to me, and vice versa for the newcomer – whose name is Frank. Frank got his cooker out and brewed some coffee and produced a jar of jam, which we spread on the brioche and had dessert…you could tell Frank was a veteran the way he talked and the way Adrian treated him with a reverence and respect, so we talked of bicycles, routes all over the world as Frank is a veteran – been cycling for over 7 years and has cycled all over Europe, he was a fountain of knowledge for routes and general advice. Just as interested as we were in his stories and advice he was asking us about our bikes, the rohloff system, how my bike differed from Adrian’s etc…it was just so good to be able to just talk to people with no pressure of time, no pressure of having to be somewhere, you could just be, in the moment…

After we’d drunk and eaten our fill we decided to start making our way to Nantes and as we were all heading in the same direction we did so together…and we weren’t going long when we made another stop!  This time at a house on the side of the canal which had recently been occupied by a young couple that Frank knew who had a little café going selling coffee, tea, drinks etc with some tables on a small deck…very sweet spot. So again, we got talking, where are we going etc and we also talked about their house and their plans – on the other side of the building that had a huge oven for baking bread and they were converting that side of the house into a bakery. It smelt so amazing in there and there were piles of baskets for proofing stacked up along the walls…very cool. The oven was from the previous owner or tenants and the couple hadn’t yet started baking.

Eventually we bid our farewells to them and were off once again…Adrian and I swopped bikes for a bit, totally different ride! As we got closer to Nantes the canal towpath ended so we had to cycle through the countryside again and so I saw my first hill after several days of flat riding, ooofff, it was an effort getting up there! But up there I got and it was cool riding as with uphills come downhills and we had some sweet freewheeling in there too.

As I still hadn’t managed to find a mug I liked I wanted to visit the Decathalon in Nantes and Frank directed us there en-route to the city. While the lads stayed outside I nipped in and scoured the store for a worthy mug…I did find one, not quite what I was after but I got it anyway, still too small, but it was steel, 400ml capacity (yee-hah!) had handles so I could hook it to my bags saving packing space. While I was inside Adrian was checking in with his family and was off to his sister’s place. I wanted to see if there was camping in the city and Adrian translated that to Frank who said no problem he’ll take me there…it was only a couple of km’s down the road anyway…so we bid our farewells to Adrian and Frank and I rolled off into Nantes…it didn’t take very long and we were riding along the beautiful Loire river into Nantes. The infrastructure was also built for cyclists and it was all bike lanes segregated from the traffic – easy riding! Frank showed me a couple of statues and memorials and we continued to ride. We’d been riding for a little while and we seemed to be heading out of town and here I am, with a guy I just met that morning, who lives on his bicycle, who doesn’t speak English (at all), nor I who knows but 2 or 3 words in French, and who I am blindly following as it seems like we’ve passed the site I had marked on my google map. I checked my phone and sure enough, we passed it long ago…and so ingrained fears start to fester and build in my mind…where are we going? Who is this guy I’m following…? I think Frank sensed my unease and he spoke to me to try reassure me, “not far, not far”, he said and we are now leaving the city, still following the Loire, heading east, away from my route south as we enter countryside and pass a gypsy camp stoking further fear…we’ve ridden about 9km’s away from Nantes now and it’s just as I’m about to stop and check my phone out of a fear I’m being led into an unsavoury situation when I see a sign for a campsite…ok, so there is something out here after all…maybe Frank is alright after all…shortly after that we can see the campsite and Frank points it out – this is it!

We ride up to the gate, it appears to be a back gate – just a wide gate latched with a small chain…Frank goes first and rides in to the site, the gate swings wide open so I have to dismount and retrieve the gate to close it. By the time I’m back with my bike, Frank is gone. Assuming he went to reception, I went there…but he wasn’t there…hmmm, ok…so I sign in and pay for 1 night, which included some complimentary cider from a local farm, not a bad welcome! As they were quite full they said there’s only space in the field at the back, no problem. So I’m back on the bike heading to the field and there I find Frank, who’d already set his camp up, had some coffee on the stove and was handing me a slice of bread slathered in jam…I could only laugh at the situation, my fears were totally unfounded…Frank you legend, rolled in like he’d probably done a million times before, a true veteran.

The field wasn’t super busy and we had a sweet spot right at the back in front of a big stand of bamboo with some neighbours. A few meters away was another tourer. We greeted him and walked over and started chatting – he was a Dane who’d just come down the same path as us and as heading east towards Germany. Inevitably we all compared kit and looked at each other’s bikes and compared notes.

Once I’d setup camp it was time to cook so Frank and I put our stuff together and for starters we had a soup, for mains we had pasta with tomato sauce and some meat and dessert, brioche with jam, alriiiiight.

As it was still light after we’d eaten I asked Frank if he drank beer, “oui, oui” he said. I then asked if would like to go drink some beer, “oui, oui!”. So we jumped back on the bikes and rode back up the Loire about a kilometre to an open air riverside bar we’d passed on the way…

We arrived and there was a 3 piece performing and a nice crowd watching and singing along. I got the first round and we sat down as the day was darkening, with families enjoying the evening and with the band playing what must have been French folk songs as they all knew the words and were singing and dancing along.

Frank got the second round as the crowd cried for an encore and the band obliged…

It was dark when the band packed up and we headed back to the camp site…I’d seen a gap on the trail on our way to the bar and said to Frank I was going to check it out…sure, enough, the gap led right down to the river…but, where was no river, despite there being a loud sound of rushing water…I made my way down bank with my bike headlight lighting the way and there I discover it had dropped several meters – the Loire is tidal – and the water was rushing out and rapids and rocks had appeared…I could also see stars in the sky and the water was warm and inspired maybe by the beers I decided to come back with my camera. I explained this to Frank and he was keen so we went back to camp, I grabbed my camera and we headed back to the river bank. I brought my headlamp with me and seeing rocks a few meters in I waded out to them with my kit. The bright light on the water attracted some nice fish and they were jumping against the current as I waded out…the pictures I got were ok, being the novice I was in the use of an SLR and time delayed shutter speeds and different ISO levels…it was an adventure anyway and Frank, the legend, was out wading in the river and helping me take pictures.

After we’d had enough, we rode back to a very quiet camp and to our tents for a kip.

Short highlights clip

Malestroit to Blain (with gallery and video)

In the morning I said my goodbyes to Gwen and Caro and hit the canal again. Pretty flat and straight it was and by lunch I was in Rohan with the skies covered by heavy grey cloud, threatening to rain. As stopped at the bridge to check my route and a fella pulled up alongside me on a fat bike all kitted out as a bike packer. Said my greetings in French and he asked if I par-ley-voo’d in Anglais and why yes of course I do! Luke, from England it was and he was wondering where the Eurovelo 1 was – I pointed in the direction I thought it was and said to him I may not be right and I’d not seen any signs or anything. Off he went and I decided to go to Decathalon as I wanted a proper mug, a stainless steel bad boy of at least 500ml, stuff the little rubbish one I had that held but a sip. While riding there I spotted Luke on the other side of the canal heading in the other direction…ok. I got my mug from Decathalon and then followed the route I had available on my phone and it promptly led me into a weird no-man’s land kind of place…rough single track, bouncing all over the show, slow going and windy too…but I persevered and eventually it looped onto some decent track and I cracked on as the skies got blue.

As I got within a couple of km’s from Blain I spotted Luke and stopped to have a chat – he was looking for a place to sleep. I said I’m heading to Blain as there was a campsite there and he said he might do that too – I never saw him again, but, I did meet 2 English guys in Nantes a few days later who had also met Luke and mentioned he’d pushed on and was en-route to the Pyrenees. Wherever you are Luke – hope you’re well dude.

So I arrived at the campsite in Blain, right by a beautiful Chateau. The receptionist was super friendly and once all was done she jumped on her bike and showed me around. The site was quiet so I picked a nice spot next to a table and got my stuff sorted out. As I was finishing up a couple I had seen in Malestroit arrived – but – they had a tandem, with the front rider being only responsible for pedalling while reclining in the seat and the second rider at the back, doing the steering, braking and pedalling! We got to chatting and they were a French couple just finishing a tour of France. The bike was hired from a shop in Nantes where they lived and were returning it the next day. I got to have a ride in the front seat – so cool, you can pretty much chill while pedalling, even read a book, and the rider at the back does all the work!!

The campsite was lush, it had a gas cooker! I rode around the Château, cooked a dinner and had a good night’s sleep.

Pontivy to Malestroit (with gallery)

 

The next morning I got up a bit earlier, in time to see the French couple packing up almost about to depart, exchanged greetings, pleasantries and chatted a bit about where we were each going – they told me that from Pontivy to Nantes is all canal – just go straight! They showed me their map and plan and told me their next stop and it turns out they were also looking at 75km/80km a day – Malestroit was their next stop.

I think I left a bit earlier at about 1100 that morning and hit the canal immediately. As with all canals, it was pretty flat and the tow path was in very good condition. I started seeing a lot more cyclists – whole families with touring gear, mom, dad, son, daughter, all with racks and packs, impressive! Some cyclists even had trailers with their dogs along for the ride, sometimes kids were in the trailers with a small dog in the front basket! Amazing. Also passed people with horses pulling carriages who appeared to camp along the canal. Summer in France, amazing! Also, everyone was super friendly, all who passed would call out a greeting with a smile, I’ve never said so many “bonjours” in a day! It was amazing riding, despite its flatness, which some said was boring – I found it amazing, beautiful and perfect for warming the legs up for what lay ahead.

Along the path I was one of the quicker riders…I was doing a lot of overtaking and I passed a guy who had a pillow strapped to his saddle! As I passed him I said “Bonjour! I love your seat!” pointing to his saddle and laughing! “Ahhh oui oui” he laughed and I rode on by…

Along the way I was hailed by the French couple who had stopped to have lunch – I stopped and we had a chat and got to know a bit more about each other, where we were riding from and to etc. I topped up my water and set off and shortly after that found a perfect picnic spot – a small island on the canal with a picnic bench that had a little roof for some shade. I boiled up a cup of coffee, put together a baguette with cheese and salami then polished it off with a cup of rooibos. While enjoying my chill time, the French couple rode by and shouted “beautiful place for picnic” with a big smile! J yes it was. Shortly after that, the guy with the pillow for a seat rode by too and he also hailed me and shouted “hallooooo” waving and smiling!

After my picnic, it was my turn to set off and a few miles down the road was a bar, and who should be sitting outside, pillow man with his friends and we all did the shouting and waving and laughing!

It was good riding!

I saw the French couple again later but this time I passed them – I had my music and was in the zone so didn’t stop but hailed them as I cruised by…

 

I made it to Malestroit easily due to the flat riding and as it was 75km I decided to stop instead of pushing through to Rohan. As I was heading to the showers, the French couple pulled in and we arranged to go for a drink in town together.

Once they were ready after setting up camp, we walked in beautiful Malestroit! An old town with preserved buildings from the middle ages, it was fantastic. We strolled about then found a seat outside one of the bars and ordered a few drinks. My new friends were Gille and Caro, a couple from Brittany who lived in a seaside town, were both teachers, and had left the coast to escape the hordes of tourists that descend to the beach in the summer holidays.

We spoke of my future in the Basque country and they both said they loved the area and often went there on holiday. They did mention that they also speak a different language in the Basque countries, not at all like Spanish but something far more difficult! We all agreed a massive learning curve awaited me!

After drinks we went for dinner, they being from Brittany knew the local specialities and we went for gallett – a crepe made from buckwheat flour, which makes the crepe brown, and is typically a savoury meal. It was really good and for dessert I had a crepe with crème anglais and ice cream – to die for…

After that we headed back to camp and slept a good night’s sleep.

Carhaix to Pontivy

 

By the time I woke up and got up, my neighbours had all gone! It was only 0930 or something…French are early risers I thought. Had a brekkie and slowly packed up my gear and left site at about 1130, nice and easy. I had a route preloaded from the previous day so continued on that.

I haven’t said much about the riding, but day 2 was very similar to day 1 – beautiful, traffic free cycle route (which I later found out are called “greenways” by the locals”) which run through mainly field and forest and hardly a soul was to be seen on them. I stopped at a boulanger to pick up some breakfast (or lunch) and got a delicious Suiss croissant thing – magic. I was prepared with water this day having filled all my bottles in the camp site before leaving. At about the 70km mark I again started to think about an overnight and as I entered Pontivy, lo and behold, a sign for municipal camping! (French villages are extremely well sign posted for everything – bakery, doctors, the works). So down to the camping we go and who do I see, the French couple from the previous night, and some others that I recognised. They said they’re off to town to get something to eat and off they went. I setup camp and cooked up another spaghetti and sauce. Afterwards I went into town for a walk which had a canal running through it with a Chateau and old town centre – very pretty. Again, darkness fell and everyone was asleep.

Arriving in France (with gallery)

The cyclists were the last to board to board the ferry and once boarded I found a seat and made myself comfortable – it was just before 11pm afterall. The seating area was quite empty so there was lots of space and I saw people unpacking their sleeping mats and sleeping bags and realising that I’d made a newb mistake by not bringing mine! After a little wander around the ship, and a packed of peanut M&M’s I settled down back into the seat. By this time the lights were off and it was dark onboard and people were kipping out across the floors…and I couldn’t sleep the chair was so damn uncomfortable…eventually I conceded and curled up on the hard floor with my shoe for a pillow, not the best night’s sleep but sleep nonetheless came.

I woke before the lights came on and went for another walk, this time out on deck and the eastern horizon was just going orange. I could just make out the French coastline and could see some fishing vessels with their lights on. It was a beautiful clear morning out on the sea. Not long afterwards the lights came on and we were docking in Roscoff…however, I could not find the way to my bike, wandering around the garage decks like a lost lamb…eventually I find a deckhand and asked him how to find the “bicyclette” and he kindly escorted me to my beloved lol

 

And my beloved was there waiting, as I left her. I could say I mounted her and those of you with dirty minds may have a snigger, well go ahead, I mounted her, and stroked once, twice, and rolled down onto French soil…which didn’t feel much different if I’m honest…it was a port, it was grim, there were cars, traffic and I just joined the queue for passport control. After checking my bags for stowaways (not really) I was given the go ahead, and then, I pushed into France, officially. I hadn’t plotted any route into my GPS so I kind of had no idea where I was going…I just knew I had to get to Morlaix as that’s where the route I had on my phone for the Eurovelo went after Roscoff…the weather was quite grim – cold, grey fog covered everything, I couldn’t see much further than 20 meters ahead. Impatient English we racing by me towing caravans on the way to their holidays…I passed an artichoke field, something I’d not seen before, some of which were flowering, very beautiful…and seeing a sign for Morhaix, I duly went that way, and stumbled into a village, Saint-Pol-de-Leon. I saw a church towering over everything so I aimed for that and found myself in the village square. At first it appeared everything was closed but I spotted a boulanger which had a café attached and I needed a massive number two – so I made a beeline for the café and remembered that I knew almost zero French. I ordered a croissant (imaginative I know) and somehow a coffee – which seemed to have several options – I just said espresso. I bolted both down and did my business and then thought “what now?”…I had no idea where I was or how to get…oh…get where? For the first time since leaving I had no plan for where I would be staying that night…and to be honest, it was a bit unnerving. Firstly, I had no idea of the terrain ahead, how far I could cycle a day (I was guessing about 80km per day) or even what would be available wherever I found myself in the evening. I didn’t even have food in my bags, only a litre of water and I wasn’t really yet fully confident in my ability to find what I needed in my bags or even how to setup camp quickly, if I had to wild camp for example. Luckily – one thing was in my favour, and this I was prepared for – time. I had all the time in the world. What a fucking fantastic feeling. Yes, out of my depth, but this is what it’s about. So I found a bench in the village square in the grey morning gloom and got my laptop out, because that was something I knew how to do – plot a route, and plot a route I did, plugged it into my little Garmin so now I had a route to follow. I can’t remember the end point I had – I think it was La Rochelle, almost 800km away or something ridiculous, but hey, it was something to get me going. The village was starting to come to life by now, cafes were opening, more people were about and the clouds were breaking and the sun was starting to beat warmly. Good time to set off, and away we went, a bit nervous but we were moving and we had a route…got lost once or twice, but generally was smooth going. By the time I got to Morlaix, the sky was clear and blue with the sun beating down, hot! Morlaix has a beautiful centre with the aqauduct as the backdrop. I stopped and saw a kid taking pictures and asked him if he could take one of me with the aqauduct, poor bugger didn’t know what stood before him, this being he see’s before him unintelligible. After an awkward moment he was rescued by his grandfather, who, although spoke a dash of English, at least understood what I was after. I showed him how to do it and bless him, he took some pics but they’re not very good! We had a short, friendly conversation in a limited fashion and they wished me bon voyage very kindly.

That day turned very hot and by mid-afternoon it was scorching and I was parched and out of water. Little did I know that back water France shuts down completely at this time, so much so that villages appear to be ghost towns – shops, houses, the works, all shut up and there was nowhere I could find water, I was looking for taps in gardens, behind buildings, nothing and I didn’t even know the French word for water at that time either! There I was riding through a village, a bit desperate for water, I cycled past a house which had its door open and I could hear people talking, so I stopped at the door and realised I was pretty much in their living room – there were 3 people I could see, the nearest and elderly man eating an ice cream. I sevo-played and he gave me the blank stare and gestured to someone in the house – an elderly woman, who guessed what I was after and duly filled my bottle, and silly me, too shy to ask for more, left my other 2 bottles empty and cycled away…

That 1l didn’t last long, but luckily, I cycled through what appeared to be a stop for motorhomes, which had a tap available and I filled all 3 bottles, one twice after downing a litre of water, and also having a mini-shower on the spot! Lovely stuff. At that point it was getting on in the afternoon and I was about 75km in already so I started to look for camping spots…as I said before, I was guessing I would be looking at doing about 80km per day. As I approached Carhaix I spotted a sign for “municipal camping” and on route there, passed a Lidl! How about that for luck! A quick shop for some dinner, it was up a hill, then down a hill, out the back of town, into the woods and there it was – a camping site. After sorting the paperwork (5 euros!) I found my own camping spot under the tree and setup camp, leaving the flysheet off because it was a clear night and I was feeling clever, having made my first camp and all…

Got to know my neighbours, a French couple (just a hello at this point really) and another French bloke who was there to learn Brittany, a dialect spoken in the region. I had a few hours of light left so cooked a spaghetti with sauce. What was amazing is that as soon as it got dark, the whole site got quiet – everyone had gone to bed! So, a little read on the Kindle and it was sleep tight to me.

Surprise, surprise, it rained in the night and I had to jump out of bed to cover the tent – luckily only a few drops got inside – I was under tree cover luckily so heard it before it got to me.

Day in Plymouth

I think I stayed 2 nights in the campsite just outside Tavistock, which turned out to be a beautiful village with an amazing cathedral and aqueduct, along with cycle paths which made it easy to get around. I also did some exploring and found a river close by where I spent the afternoon swimming and relaxing before riding back to camp feeling very relaxed.

I had also started looking for a warmshowers host in Plymouth in preparation for my ride there and found Steff, who warned me that I would need to camp in the house and she was currently moving house, but this didn’t deter me and I’m so glad I went as I had an amazing day with Steff. I had arrived on Saturday afternoon and after un-clipping my bags I went down into Plymouth, had a bit of calamari, rode around and finally headed back up the hill to Steff’s where she cooked a delicious dinner. Steff offered for me to join her on the trip to her new home, close to Tavistock, as I’d offered to help out with whatever she deemed I could help with. So on Sunday morning we drove up to the house – it was a beautiful blue sky day and after a walk with Pip and Percy (the boys) on the moorland, we had an easy drive through the countryside that took us to her house in the woods on the road that has no name…a beautiful property, what used to be a gatehouse for the manor on the neighbouring property, surrounded by forest on all sides, no neighbours in sight, so peaceful, idyllic. A work in progress, sure, but what a place to call home! So while Steff tended to the toilet I set to work weeding out the veggie patch, a pretty simple task but one that I at least knew how to do! After that I made a simple lunch and we ate out in the back garden under the trees while the wind blew…and also in the backyard, 3 beehives! Steff and Will (I didn’t meet Will who was out at sea working at the time) are bee-keepers, and Steff kindly offered to let me help do some bee keeping! We donned the suits, lit the smoker (which went out! Lol) with a mission to capture one of the queens who was unfortunately only producing drones – which isn’t good if you want a hive that produces honey. I was a bit nervous, kind of expecting the bees to start attacking but they were so calm about us rooting about in their hive, lifting out each frame as we looked for the queen bee…finally, Steff spotted her, all black she was and quick as a dart across the comb…but Steff, with nimble fingers, captured here and we popped her in a little cage for safe keeping. It was within a few seconds that the hive’s mood changed, you could sense that the bee’s were becoming agitated, I had a few flying hard against my face screen and the noise from the hive went up in pitch…they knew their queen was gone! So we quickly layered the neighbouring hive with a layer of newspaper and popped the hive on top – this was to allow the bee’s from whom we’d removed their queen, to integrate into another hive with another queen, and so we left them to get to know each other while we had a cuppa tea. Steff also showed me the other hive’s queen bee, who was a bit bigger and had also been marked with a dab of red paint on her back making her easy to spot. Steff – if you’re reading this, I hope the bee’s have become fast friends and have you potting honey in no time!

So after an amazing day we headed back to Plymouth where I cooked a simple dinner of fried onions and potatoes with some salad (I think), packed my bags, had them back on the bike and it was time to say goodbye…thank you so much Steff for having me! It was only my second warmhowers experience and it was brilliant…

So I had a ferry to catch and as I was in a strange city, in the dark, I thought I’d plug it into Google maps navigation and let it take me there, especially as I found the port dead easy on my own the day before, but nothing like the comfort of having Google maps right…wrong! Lol

It started well, down the hill along the main road…then a turn off the main road into the dark parking lot of Plymouth Argyle stadium, weird…then through a dark park…then down a bleeding cobbled road, bouncing down all the way only to rejoin the main road…what the hell was that for? Again, freewheeling down the main road and the signs point out the harbour to the left, but Google maps, says no, turn right…ok…like a blind mouse I follow, back into a dark park, along the old city walls, ok nice…up to a left turn, which turns out to be a massive flight of steps leading up to god knows where! There’s no way I can carry my bike up these stairs…where does Google maps get this routing from I wonder in curse format! So, I turn around and follow the damned signed, all the while Google maps persists in having me do a u-turn to follow its route…madness! I think it has something built into its code that forces an adventurous route, assuming all cyclists are fit lads with carbon mountain bikes that can ride over everything and anything!

But, finally, I ride into port, present passport, lane 20, bosh…I’m staring up at the ferry…this is it.

The real day 1, setting out on my own, Kingscott to south Devon.

Weyyyy

And so on the 1st day of August, I leant my fully loaded bike up against the wall of the house, said goodbye to George and Sarah and watched them drive off to Cornwall. It was so quiet, the sun was warm on my arms and I was alone, with my bike. It was both a relief and scary at the same time. I’d been feeling both excited and shit scared for this moment. Scared that this choice I was making was doomed to fail and I’d not be able to do this journey…but also excited that this moment had finally arrived and at times it felt like it would never come. So here I was, at last, facing my fears and accepting that this was it, and then I was off…and it was good J

Devon was beautiful to ride, despite the up and down nature of the county, gave me good practise for climbing and I was starting to get a real sense of how the bike operated with a load heading up hills – yes it’s slow, but this is where the Rohloff hub comes into its own – it’s so comfortable climbing and along with the Brookes saddle, this is where this bike belongs, on tour, carrying a load, climbing hills (and mountains one day!).

After the 2 days riding from Bath I repacked my bags, leaving a few items with George, cutting a good few kilo’s of stuff like my 2 spare tyres. I’d also left my D-lock at Nicks (on purpose) and a good bottle of whiskey – enjoy Nick J

The road to Tavistock was pretty good, mostly tarred road with a few km’s of single track across the moorlands.

The campsite was really nice, cheap and I managed to wash clothes and practise setting up camp, cooking and cleaning, packing and unpacking – which was difficult as I couldn’t remember where I put everything lol.