Brittany, France – hills and campsites (or not)
The train and ferry journeys to France were thankfully quite uneventful but did highlight just how much stuff we have and how heavy it is … and/or just how feeble I am having spent two years behind a desk. It was a very long day of hauling panniers and bikes on and off trains, across platforms and up and down steps. There was a brief interlude where we got lost in Portsmouth but we still arrived in plenty of time to be first in the bicycle queue at the ferry. Slowly cyclists lined up behind us … all men, all looking more like ‘proper cyclists’ than us. At last we were waved on and I had the unenviable task of leading all the men onto the boat, which was miles away! Off we went like a mother duck and her chicks. At one point I lost sight of the next fluorescent-clad person directing us to the ferry and headed off in the wrong direction. Realising my error, I slowly looped around to correct the mistake as if nothing had happened … thankfully I didn’t fall off my bike even though I felt totally incompetent and silently judged by my cavalcade! Then more steps hauling panniers up to the 8th level, then wine 🙂
The morning broke bathed in glorious sunshine and after disembarking we enjoyed our first baguette and jam on the ramparts of St-Malo – thoroughly delicious in all respects 🙂 We caught the ferry over to Dinard and after a little potter around the town we took the voie verte to Dinan. It was a beautiful ride and it was good to be back on the bikes. Unfortunately, it all went a bit pear-shaped at the end of the day as the Husband took the wrong road to the campsite and we ended up cycling up the steep hill to the ‘HILL TOP’ town of Dinan and then down the other side to the campsite … which turned out to be closed … so we then had to go back up to the ‘HILL TOP’ town of Dinan and back to Taden which was apparently the nearest open campsite. The campsite was of course at the top of another hill … I was pushing at this stage.
The first pitching of camp went well but took quite a lot of time while we figured out where to put everything. At last it was time to shower, eat and relax. Unfortunately, my shower was cold … c’est la vie … but the evening picked up with a delicious dinner at the campsite restaurant and a pichet de vin rouge.
The first day had highlighted a few problems on my bike – my toes hit the back of the front panniers when I turned and my shoulders hurt. So in the morning I spent a bit of time moving the clips on the back of the panniers so the panniers sat further forwards and lowering my handle bars so my arms were more extended. These tweaks seemed to fix the problems. I also rigged up a cord on my handlebar bag to hold our solar Luci lantern in the sun. I had it on the back rack the day before but it wasn’t the best for light exposure.
We then hit the road and seemed to spend the whole day struggling up big hills. Even though mentally we knew the first couple of weeks would be hard, the reality was still exhausting and wearing. Then again that night we had problems with camping. The first campsite we went to (at the top of a hill – of course) was hosting a Harley Davidson meet and was closed. The bikers were very impressed with our set up and we caused quite a sensation but we had to move on to find another campsite as time was getting on. We peddled on for another 10kms to the next campsite but found that it was also closed. In the end we just wild camped as we had really had enough, it was going dark and there was no guarantee the next campsite (8kms away) was open either. We are carrying the 2017 ‘Le Guide Official de la FFCC Camping Caravaning’ with 9226 French campsites listed but, the French being French, not every campsite is operating as listed! The next day we found a tourist information office and identified all of the campsites in the area that were actually open. That day was still hilly but at least we turned up to the campsite that night and it was open – not very good and very expensive – but open.
The original plan was to cycle to Vannes and then head down the coast to Nantes but with our new information on campsites and the reality of the upcoming terrain versus our current physical ability, we changed the plan. Instead we headed off to a voie verte that connected with the Nantes – Brest canal. Things were looking up – we came across a market on the way and bought some lovely things for dinner and then we came across a lovely campsite on the waters edge so stopped early that day. After pitching, we strolled around the village and stopped for a beer in the local bar. The Husband created a fabulous meal that night and I’m now trying to persuade him to do campsite cooking recipe posts so fingers crossed.
Unfortunately, the next day we ran out of gas, which really surprised us as our gas lasted much longer last time we travelled. We had been very impressed with the efficiency of our new camp stove as it boiled water quicker than an electric kettle! However, it also was very difficult to simmer with … and was also apparently very heavy on the gas. We spent a good proportion of the day trying to find more. I stood outside a supermarket with all of the panniers for several hours while the Husband pedalled furiously around all the suggested outlets. Nope. Zip. Nada. The next day was Sunday and no shops are open in France so the situation was pretty dire. The solution in the end was to buy a French camping cooker (HUGE) that took the French gas available at the supermarket.
I had to strap the beast to my back rack and there it remained until we reached Nantes and could get the type of gas we need. We are now thinking that a wind shield might improve the situation, and of course to carry more gas!
Our trip was beginning to feel like a comedy of errors – we were making all the rookie mistakes possible! The next day we were back to closed campsites at the top of hills followed by wild camping at a closed municipal campsite but at least we had the company of a couple of other cyclists. I also fell off my bike again that day as my front pannier hit a rock and I landed with my face in a bunch of nettles – not my finest hour! The next day we cycled off the route to a little village called La Gacilly, which is home to a range of artisan crafts people, for a (much needed) rest day. We were both looking fabulous at this point as the Husband had broken out in the worlds largest cold sore ever which had become infected and I was covered in bruises and nettle stings … so the first stop was the pharmacy. We followed that up with some heavy duty clothes washing by hand as we hadn’t encountered a washing machine for some time. However, we then strolled around the photo exhibition, had lunch at a creperie, and finished the day with a nice bottle of vin rosé … it was a Monday so all in all as Mondays go, not bad.
After that we continued along the canal and then popped over to the Loire Eurovelo 6 for the last day into Nantes. We have met some really nice people along the way and had a particularly pleasant evening chatting to a cyclist called Peter in Ancenis who was cycling the EV6 to the Black Sea. It’s always really interesting to find out what others are doing and to compare gear. The weather’s been all over the place (as expected) – we’ve had sunny days of 27 degrees, torrential downpours, days of persistent drizzle and 12 degrees and some very chilly nights. And the final day provided a strong headwind plus an unexpected 10km hilly detour in place of 1km of flat river path. All in a days work for cyclopolitans on tour 🙂
We are now in Nantes and spending some very precious time with Daughter No.1 who has flown down from Berlin where she now lives. We are staying in a lovely Airbnb with an idyllic courtyard surrounded by ivy covered stone walls where we have done lots of eating and chatting. Perfect 🙂
The next leg is still somewhat of a mystery as yet but looking more and more like we will head over to Poitier and then head south for a while to meet up with some friends.
Glad it’s all going to plan 😊🤔 At least you aren’t at the museum or behind a desk…….hope you had a lovely time with Ella. Take care both of you and hopefully catch up next year Jo&Paul x
Thanks Jo. Yes we had a brilliant time with ella. Really sad to see her go back today but already planning the route to Berlin 😁
Good post as always.
I have one request, Campsite Cooking with Mark :)!
I’m working on it Alex 😁
Love hearing about your travels. Looking forward to hearing the full Brompton/Bike Friday comparisons x
Thanks Barbara. Definitely more to come on that front 😁