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.

Day 2 and North Devon

We arrived at kingscott in North Devon in the evening, just over 90kms travelled from Taunton. Much tougher day once we entered Devon as Devon is hilly, so it was slow climbing much of the way. Weather was also against us, particularly the head wind which was gusting quite strong. We also got rain squalls during which we got soaked but it wasn’t bad as it cooled the legs down nicely.

Typically, it was a monster hill that greeted us just 800m from our destination, but once over the top we were greeted warmly and after a gloriously hot bath we braai’d and ate like kings…

The next days weather was pretty miserable. Aub and I chilled in the house most of the day until the sun came out in the afternoon. George got back from Exeter and we went down to the beach by Northam. Wind was howling and I flaked out on the swim. Did have an ice cream with clotted cream on top…won’t do that again! 😊

The next day I went down to Torrington cycle hire to meet Hutch who was going to show me a few technical bike maintenance skills. Spent the afternoon there and learnt some new skills.

George and Aub arrived in the evening and we rode up the Tarka trail to Barnstaple to see Aub off. Nice ride along the old railway line into town then a tough ride back to Kingscott, hill after hill…

George, Sarah and I then went down to the Royal exchange for some pool and beers.

Next day we went into Barnstaple for new tyres for Georges car and walked about town. Found a saffa butcher and got some droewors, sweet. Also bought some fudge, which was top class delicious 😋

We then went to the beach and the weather was good for swimming so had a great swim in the sea.

We ended the day in Roborough in the village pub with a fantastic meal.

Got back to Kingscott and the sky was full of stars…

And so ended my time in North Devon, magic place and thank you to George and Sarah for having me…