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.