Saturday, 22 July 2017

Manche to Med cycling trip

I have finally written up my adventure cycling trip from Caen on the English Channel, its only in draft form and I need to add the photos, but it is rather long so I may move it to another part of the blog when I add the photos. 
I have just returned from another two weeks in France, this time in the camper van with my wife, this time down the bottom end of Brittany La Foret Fouesnant and Carnac and lovely it was too, so I now need to write that up for my Blog!!! weather has been rubbish since getting back home on Wednesday night, ironically it was beautiful right up until we drove off the Ferry at 10 pm at Poole, the rain then started and the temperatures were no longer in the 20s!!!
Anyway below is my M2M trip, holiday in campervan still to be written. Cycling and running???? did a little folding bike cycling and a few runs along the coast [24 miles in total] but will try to get back into it this week, weather permitting!!

My apologies for the length of it, you cant write up a trip like this in a few words!

Manche to Med trip June 2017 - 14 days cycling from Caen on the English channel to Montpelier on the Mediterranean.

After much deliberation about what to take and what to take it in I decided on a travel bag rather than panniers! And my travel arrangements had sorted themselves out in the week as my son living in Wimborne was able to drive me down to Portsmouth to meet up with the other members of the CTC group and the leaders. The weather was cloudy, windy and not that warm.

We met at the pub just outside the gates of the ferry terminal. Our ferry due to depart at 2:45. We were soon chatting and getting to know each other, checking each other’s bikes etc, all nervous at what was ahead. My roommate for the two weeks Peter arrived after cycling a few miles from the train station, Peter was replacing Dave P who sadly passed away at the New Year, part of my plan was to leave a tribute to Dave at the top of the Puy Mary, a peak which Dave was looking forward to climbing.
We soon had bags packed and we were cycling down through the docks, ahead of the traffic to present our passports etc. My first experience of cycling onto the ferry, it felt very good, bikes were stashed in areas off the main car decks, tied unceremoniously together for the voyage, no thought given to damage to paintwork etc. two of the riders had newly sprayed paint work on their ‘Roberts’ frames!!!

We were soon sailing off to Caen leaving the naval dockyards of Portsmouth behind. The voyage was uneventful, I managed to get a veggie pasta meal, and was able to sit outside in the pleasant evening sun.
The coast of France came into view and we were shortly disembarking, cycling out ahead of traffic, and pushing in at the passport controls. We were very lucky we didn’t encounter angry motorists!! The hotel for the night was literally outside the gates of the docks, an IBIS. We settled in and me and my new roommate went for a stroll  up the road before meeting up with the rest of the group and the leaders to find out the plans for the next day.

Breakfast was typically French, except being English, we all emptied the cereal bowls very quickly and then topped up with croissants and panne au chocolate etc., we all hunted for tea! But I had to manage with coffee, all very nice.
Van loaded we were gathered for our first day of Cycling in France, the weather was fair, bit windy, we set off in a large group [there were 18 of us, including three leaders+ Nick who was driving a support van with our luggage, very team carish!!!]

The group were made up of:

Leaders: Nic [drove the van and sorted out coffee, lunch and hotel registration!!] and Julie [rode with us all the way] and Mark and Fiona[ both rode with us the whole time]
Husband and wife teams of 
Ann and James [Milton Keynes]
Harry and Liz [Helston]
Ian and Doreen [Dundee]
David and Carol [Basingstoke]

And the rest of the group were
Ray from Australia
Peter [room mate][Bristol]
David [Haying Island]
David [Cambridge]
Chris [Northampton]

Apparently our average age was 63!!!! But I must admit a very fit group of 63 year olds, who were very good bike riders! With lots of experience, most already completed the LeJog!

The text in italics is from the leaders details given before the trip

Day 1, Quistreham to Falaise, 70.7 km
From the hotel, we take a little time to ride west along the sea front.  This was the beach code named “Sword” the furthest east of the D-Day Landing Beaches in June 1944 and was assigned to the British and Canadian Forces.  After retracing our steps to the ferry terminal, we join the Canal De Caen a la Mer.  At 14.2 km we reach Benouville and Pegasus Bridge, so named after the cap badge of the 6th Airborne Division who flew in on gliders to liberate the strategically important point behind enemy lines. At 24 km, we reach the city of Caen and 2 km later our route leaves the River Orne and takes us up our first hill into May-sur-Orne, following the River Laize into Bretteville sur Aize at 45 km, noted for its Canadian War Cemetery. We continue onto Fontaine-le-Pin, then Ussy, then finally to our hotel, The Ibis on the northern outskirts of Falaise. Falaise, meaning “cliff” in English is worth a visit to see William The Conqueror's castle and the gothic Eglise de la Trinity, though we will cycle through Falaise tomorrow morning.

It was great to be cycling, after photos etc. of our departure from the Manche it was a lovely ride down the side of the canal to Pegasus Bridge, it was Sunday so there were many people out enjoying the now lovely sunshine. After leaving the canal we cycled through the busy town of Caen, there was a Sunday market meaning negotiating lots of people using our Garmins!!! We were walking at one point as we seemed to be right in the middle of the market.
We were soon on open roads heading for Falaise, road surfaces were excellent and away from the town the roads were really quiet. We were soon knitting together as a group, chatting as we went along, the 70 km passing very quickly, tonight was another IBIS, but very nice, clean and welcoming.

Day 2 Falaise to Mele-sur-Sarthe, 73 km
From the hotel, we take a short detour through Falaise before rejoining our route where at 15 km we leave the Calvados Region.  We pass through Tournay-sur-Dive and onto Chambois at 30 km with it's lovely castle and memorial to the closure of the Falaise Gap.  At 35 km, 500 m before Le Bourg St Leonard, there is a good photo opportunity of its classic 18th century chateau set in 400 hectares of woodland. Onto Almeneches at 43.5 km, then Sees, 55 km, well worth a stop to stroll around its 13th century cathedral, the episcopal palace and the medieval old town. Our last 18 km of the day takes us through a forested area between the national parks of Parc Normandy-Maine and  Parc Regional du Perche to Hotel De La Poste.

Day 2 dawned a lovey day with clear blue skies and temperatures rising to a comfortable 29 degrees. We visited William the Conqueror’s castle, virtual rebuilt after  WW2 as Falaise played a major part in the D day Invasion.  The countryside was very rolling with lots of poppies, large landscapes of cereal fields, no real hills. 

The cathedral made an ideal lunch stop, before a visit around inside, impressive. We had to wait for the owner of the hotel to arrive before checking in, but was a lovely spot in the middle of Mele-sur-Sarthe a quiet French town, I took the opportunity to visit the local Spar shop to top up on snacks, I was glad to do so as shops etc. were few and far between over the next few days.

Day 3 Mele-sur-Sarthe to Vendome, 120 km
The route south takes us to Bleves at 6 km, onto Mamers at 21 km and Saint-Cosme-enVairais at 32 km.  Into Nogent and Le Luart at 60 km. We reach the river Loir (note not the Loire!) and into Vendome.  Tonight's Hotel St Georges is located on the island in the Loir which was where the original Roman settlement was founded.  The ruins of the feudal castle can be seen, along with the impressive Abbaye de la Trinite where a tear shed by Jesus is said to be preserved .

A longer day with 120 km covered but! It was rolling countryside, no serious hills, very wide open countryside. The hotel was in the middle of the busy town, Peter decided to seek out and buy a kettle as he was suffering withdrawal symptoms for ‘tea’ he was successful and we enjoyed morning tea for the rest of the trip as well as a well-earned cuppa at the end of the ride each day. The evening meal was interesting, being Veggie in France is not the easiest of things to be and it certainly provided a challenge for many of the hotels we stayed at, tonight’s offering included as a main course,  rice, 10 small tomatoes, cheese and potato pie, sweet potato fries, carrots, tomato juice smoothie, this was preceded by a salad starter of tomatoes and lettuce, but the dessert was good as I remember, the French are particularly good at those!!

I did visit the castle before the meal and had a good view across the town even though it made my legs ache walking up to the top.

Day 4 Vendome to Amboise, 79 km
At this point the tour changes character as we enter the Touraine area of the 'Middle Loire' valley.  Wine dominates, the favourable micro-climate makes the Loire Valley  a centre for fine wines. The Loire is equally known for its chateaux and today's route takes us past quite a few. 
We pass the impressive Chateau de Blois before crossing the Loire. The route sweeps west along the Loire and joins a cycle path .  Chaumont castle at 58 km is up on a high promontory to the left.  2 km before our hotel in Amboise, The Chateau de Clos Luce is not to be missed, it was home to Leonardo de Vinci for 3 years until his death in 1519. There may be an opportunity to visit the chateau tomorrow, which will be discussed.

A lovely days cycling today, the views crossing the Loire were stunning, the weather, was wonderful 32 degrees, and as we hit the cycle path it really felt as though I was ‘living the dream’ great weather, quiet roads, good flat cycling through beautiful countryside, the Loire was really wide, and as we stopped for coffee in Blois near a chateau and next to the magic house, where on the half hour big monsters came out of the windows, really weird!!! Lovely coffee stop though under the brollys in front of the cafe, it really felt as though it would go on forever as we still had 10 days to go of this wonderful trip. Tonight’s hotel was a best western and I have to say they did a great veggie lasagne which I shared with 3 others as it was so large! Nice hotel.

Day 5 Amboise to Loches 47 km
After a potential visit to Chateau de Clos Luce this morning, we have a relatively flat days riding. We pass Chenonceau Castle, the most visited chateau after Versailles.  We cycle through Luzille at 27 km and Chedigny then follow the Indre river almost into Loches.  Our hotel for the night, the 15th century Hotel George Sand  is perfectly located between the castle, the river Indre and the park. The medieval town of Loches is a wonderful place, best explored on foot.

The hotel was only a couple of KM from the Leonardo Chateau so we cycled there early to miss the queues of people; we left the bikes with the van in the carpark.
It was a good visit; we were the first through the doors so were able to complete the first bit of the tour through the workshops and displays before the school children piled in! well worth a visit, many of the inventions of Leonardo  Da Vinci are still in use today. The models were well made and the gardens were really pleasant to walk through. By the time we met up again at 11.00 the place as heaving with school visits, so we had timed it right!
By the time we got to Loches it was 34 degrees, the hotel was old, and overlooked the river, where a family of ducks kept us entertained whist we ate dinner in the conservatory overlooking the river. A nice town and an interesting walk around the old town, with its old chateau, I didn’t venture up to it this time as it was so hot, but sat in the park for a while in the cool of the trees, a relatively short cycle day, easy riding with very few hills of note.

 Day 6 Loches to Argenton-sur-Creuse 84 km
 Navigation and terrain are fairly easy today, following the river Indre for the first 30 km.  We pass through Le Tranger at 30 km, Clion at 32 km and at 41 km we enter the Brenne natural park.  This sparsely populated area is bisected by the Creuse river and is comparable to the Somerset levels in that it is a flat, watery area created by monks in the early Middle Ages, as well home to a range of wildlife, much of it of the birdy variety. We continue onto Sainte Gemme at 45 km and Meobecq at 60 km.  We cross the river Creuse at 73 km, then onto the last 11 km of the day to Hotel Le Prieure on the outskirts of Argenton-sur-Creuse.   This town boasts a shirt museum! Some lovely medieval houses along the waterfront and a Roman settlement aptly named Argentomagus because it was a centre for silver mining at the time.

It was a stunning start to the day, and just right for a cycle ride. A longer day at 84 km, but through rolling countryside. Poppies in cornfields in abundance again, well surfaced roads, very quiet with little traffic, we did average 15 mph today, so this shows how good the riding conditions were.

 The group get on well and has divided itself into a less fast group  group and a slightly faster group so riding you always seem to be with someone different, occasionally its pleasant to cycle on my own and get the feel of riding in a foreign country, the car drivers so far have been very courteous,  we are getting to know each other quite well now and the banter in the group is good fun. Although when we got to Argenton, it was a climb up to the Hotel on the outskirts of the town.

 Day 7  Argenton-sur-Creuse to Peyrat le Chateau 108 km
A tougher day in terms of length and terrain, with the reward of a lake at the end.  We continue to follow the river Creuse for the first 30 km passing through Eguzon-Chantome to reach Dun-le Palastel at 41 km. The route undulates through a scattering of villages including St Dizier-Leyrenne at 76.5 km and Bourganeuf at 87 km.  At St Martin Chateau, 101 km we climb up into the national park of Millevaches en Limousin, then passing through La Seauve and L'Agathe 105 km.  Here cross into the Haute Vienne region and shortly arrive at the Hotel le Bellerive in Peyrat le Chateau.  This sleepy lakeside village, hides its role as a haven for the Maquis, the rural French Resistance during WW2 and its local hero Georges Guingouin.  A museum 2 minutes walk from our hotel is open until 5.30 pm.

This was the hardest day so far with 108 km and 1600metres to climb. Poor weather was forcast and it did arrive after 60km after lunch! And poured down for the next 48 km the region had lots of hills and wooded areas, the roads were running very wet, fortunately again, very light traffic, but some of the descents were challenging in the wet, and the climbs were quite long. 

We  were pleased to see the hotel in the pretty village of Peyrat le Chateau, the hotel overlooking the lake was run by an English man, and we dripped our way in! a nice evening meal, with just enough time for a walk through the village before bedtime, a nice little spot, seemingly lots of potential, we didt get time to visit the museum but I am sure would be worth it. We dried out, my room mate using the hair dryer to dry the insides of his shoes!

Day 8 Peyrat le Chateau to Mauriac 109 km Today's ride and navigation are quite challenging although rewarding for lovers of wild and varied scenery.  At 7 km we enter Auphelle on the Lac de Vassiviere.  Then onto Faux-laMontagne at 21 km and to Peyrelevade at 35 km and Meymac at 59 km.  We proceed to Neuvic at 83 km and slowly descend to the Dordogne river, crossing it on the same bridge as used on the 2016 Tour De France.  We then commence our final climb to Mauriac and our hotel  l'Ecu de France.

Today was definitely the hardest day with 109 km and 1900 metres of climbing, fortunately the poor weather of the previous day had cleared and we were back to the usual great weather, but starting at a cool 18 degrees and rising to 32 degrees by the time we reached the hotel.

There were long climbs but equally great descents, the main one being the 8 km descent to the bridge crossing the Dordogne, lots of hairpins, narrow in places, fast, but always safe, lots of TDF history on the road. The hardest part of the day came at the end when it was 5.7 km up to the hotel at Mauriac, a hard end to the day in the heat, we climbed it very slowly as it was 10% + in places. We were pleased to see the hotel.
Mauriac was a strange town and little did we know it but everywhere was shut due to the Whitsun holiday and the ‘pentanque’ competition in the town, so even though we located the supermarkets, they were shut, so no topping up of snacks

Rest day Today you have the choice of either:
 Follow in the footsteps of many Tour De France riders by climbing the nearby Pas de Peyrol – Puy Mary elevation 1589 metres
 Cycle a more leisurely loop to have lunch at the beautiful town of Salers a designated Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  It stands at an altitude of 950 m in the "Parc Naturel Régional des Volcans d’Auvergne" Nature Park.  It has unique 16th century architecture and its old houses are made of dark lavastone and topped with turrets which give the village an austere charm.

The rest day was anything but! It was looking excellent weather wise for a ride up Puy Mary at 1589 metres. It was also the day I intended to pay a tribute to my mate Dave who sadly didn’t make it on the trip as he passed away at New Year, it was a climb that Dave was looking forward to and one I am sure he would have enjoyed. 70 km with a 20+km climb from the hotel.

We went up the beautiful valley of the ‘Vallee du Mars’  the valley we passed through fields, woodland, lovely ancient villages, deserted, with lovely buildings all the time overshadowed each side by rocky peaks/edges and Puy Mary and the Pas De Peyrol  sitting high up at the end of the valley, ascending by a really nice gentle climb at 4-6% on the D12, as we passed through La Chaze the road steepened as we hit the D680, as we left the junction and went round the corner over a stream it the road suddenly went up! My Garmin recorded 12 then 15% it seemed to go on a long time, so much so that I had to get off and walk, my lowest gear not quite low enough to keep up the momentum, I noticed one of my colleague’s in front also walking but Dave a spritely 72 year old still kept going, as did several others, Mark his MTB gears really coming into their own now.

 I walked several hundred yards to the next hairpin, time to take a breather; this was a stage on last year’s TDF, many of last year’s names still painted on the road, Bardet, Froome etc. I could see the top of the col, both sides of the road now a car park, I thought it looked about 6-9% so decided to get back on and ride, it turned out to be 14% + for several hundred yards! I didn’t like to get off again as there were now people parking up, and I would have embarrassed myself buy walking [ in my head anyway!]

I saw Nick on the line at the summit, and struggled over that line taking big breaths to regain my composer! It was a great climb. After the summit photos, I found a quiet spot with a nice view and a small circle of violet coloured flowers, with a fantastic view over the valley, secluded and quiet, I placed a small piece of ribbon[two inches]  from last year’s Eroica, it had red, white and blue and a cyclist on it, I placed it next to the flowers and had a few thoughts about Dave, shed a few tears, before burying the ribbon and returning red eyed to my friends, a hug from the group leader Nick was appreciated. Dave would have loved the climb, I am missing his company.

We had a coffee, and a good look around, the views were stunning, there was still snow on the north side of the Puy Mary.Before beginning the descent – and what a fantastic descent it was, I switched on the video camera to record my descent, we gathered speed on the first 14% section before the first hairpin corner, the others had stopped here, as I went passed, I gathered more speed, Nick raced passed me, so did Dave and Peter, I struggled to keep the speed off enough to feel in control. At the next hairpin the angle eased from the 14-15% to a more manageable one, I felt now I could speed up, carefully I noticed the Garmin 38mph increasing to 40+ as we raced down the mountain, it was thrilling!! I finally overtook Peter and Mark before re-joining Nick and Dave just after the D680 junction and the end of the steepest part of the took just under 9 minutes to get down, it took us a lot longer to get up to the top. We gathered together again before starting the final descent to meet up with the rest of the group for Lunch in Salers. 

The descent continued at a lesser angle down to Salers , I stopped part way down to take photos. I then continued as the others had passed me by, only to come across Peter, being helped from the floor by Dave and Chris, with a French motor home driver stopped, Peters bike was in the road!!! We sat Peter down, the Motor home drove off, clearly not intending to help.

It transpired that Peter had hit a water gully, whilst on a narrow bit of road, giving a bit of space to the motor home. He was complaining that his shoulder hurt, I repaired his tyre and tube, and we comforted Peter the best we could, everything seemed ok, but Peter then noticed a lump on his collar bone, we called Nick and the others to let them know what happened, Nick cycled back up to us and then we set off carefully for the 5 km down to the village, I went on ahead to get the other leader to call for an ambulance, Peter in the meantime seemed to be getting worse, shock was setting in, by the time he reached the village, he was very white, the ‘Pompiers’ soon arrived and very carefully dealt with Peter, ascertaining he had a broken collar bone! He was taken off to Hospital. I had no stomach for any lunch, the rest of the group were  just finishing theirs.

 We then continued back to the hotel in Mauriac, me to a room that I no longer shared as my roommate was now in hospital!!! An exciting and unforgettable day, fantastic weather, a great climb, a great descent, a lovely tribute to Dave and finally the unfortunate accident on the final descent putting Peter in Hospital with as it turned out, a broken collarbone, 2 broken ribs and a punctured lung, his holiday was over!!!

Day 9 Mauriac to Lacapelle-Viescamp 60 km
After a day's rest, today's ride on empty roads should be a more relaxed affair despite 3 notable climbs.  After leaving Mauriac, we have a long bracing descent.  At 5 km we cross the river Aude and start a steady 5 km ascent.  At 11 km we enter the village of Ally.  At 19 km we reach Pleaux and head south and enjoy a twisty descent to Lac du Barrage d'Enchanet.  After crossing the river Maronne at 31 km, the road rises up for the second main climb of the day  followed by a descent, losing much of the height gained.  At 49.3 km just before Laroquebrou we turn left to follow the rivers Cere and Authre all the way to  Hotel  Du Lac and its rather inviting pool.

After the hard climbing yesterday, a shorter distance today only 70km, after the 5km descent from the hotel in torrential rain, including a couple of hairpin bends there was a 5km climb at 9% !! there were two further climbs before the end of the day, it was only 12 degrees, freezing after the previous days of 30degrees + the heavy rain continued till Pleaux at 19 km where we all agreed we needed a coffee stop so raided the local Sports Bar, locals looking on as 18 wet and bedraggled English cyclists politely queueing for coffee, one of the leaders nipped to the local shop and came back with cake for us all. 

We warmed up, and felt a little dryer by the time we left. It had stopped raining, a twisty descent on wet pine needled roads to Lac du Barrage before the second climb, this was nearer 8km at 8%. We lunched near Laroquebroe before the final 12 km mostly uphill but an easier 4-6% to the beautiful Hotel Du Lac a cracking hotel, beautiful location and a pool, but the lack of sunshine today meant we didn’t brave the pool! We had a fantastic meal by the Australian proprietor. The next couple of days were 90 km as we started to approach the Med .

Overall a lovely day that would have had some great views on lovely roads, if!! It hadn’t poured with rain and the temperatures down to 8 degrees at one time. It was lovely to get to the hotel and dry out, a hard day, lots of climbing, in poor weather and very slippery roads!

Day 10 Lacapelle-Viescamp to Estaing 86 kms
A day of two rides today, with the last half almost flat in contrast to the lumpy first half.  We pass through St Mamet and Marcoles.  At  38 km, Cassaniouze the road starts to descend.  At 47 km we hit the river Lot, take your time cycling this beautiful stretch whilst we follow it all the way to our hotel.  We change departments from the Cantal to the Aveyron, crossing the river at 68.4 km at Entraygues-sur-Truyeres.  The final 18 km along the river takes us through Entraygues and into the beautiful town of Estaing and our hotel L'Auberge Saint Fleuret. This lovely little town is a delight to explore, with the intriguing  hickledy-pickledy Sci du Chateau d'Estaing perched on the hill behind, plus the obvious attractions of the old streets and the river front.  Interestingly, Estaing is on the Le Puy (St James) sections of the Santiago de Compostella pilgrimage route and there is still evidence of this in local churches and the occasional backpacking modern day pilgrim passing through.

It was a hard start with 3386 ft climbed in the first 38 km, but! It was a great descent of 12km down to the Lot Gorge. We started the morning in cold and wet, with temperatures down to 8 degrees, so coffee was very welcome at Marcoles, a pretty village, very peaceful and quiet. 

After this we started to descend down to the Lot, sweeping bends and high speeds on quiet roads, by the time we got to the river the sun had come out and the temperature was rising, 24 degrees by the time we had finished lunch. It was then a steady ride down along the river to Estaing the gorge cliffs rising high above us on both sides, the stunning bridge at Entraygues particularly pleasing, we stopped to look at the views in the now hot sunshine, the cold morning temperatures now forgotten. Estaing was wonderful and out hotel was opposite the town hall, a particularly lovely old building, the streets were narrow and there were quite a few ‘pilgrims’ with rucsacs walking the Santiago pilgrim [Camino] route. 

The hotel was very French and we were able to have diner out on the patio in the dying rays of the evening sunshine. This was the second night without my roommate who was now in Hospital back in Mauriac, a strange feeling!!! It was nice to have use of his kettle and make myself some tea! [ I did toast a cup to him] I joined a couple of the group to look around the town and the Chateau, a fantastic place; the Chateau was weird with bits added on, difficult to imagine it as a castle!!!

 Day 11 Estaing – Meyrueis 99 km
Todays route is very rural, passing through few villages.  We have a flat start for the first 9.5 km until Espalion. At 15 km, we climb up to the village of Lassouts and at 52 km we reach Severac-le-Chateau.  At km 69 we start our 6.5 km descent to the river Tarn which we follow until Le Rozier.  Don't forget to take in the views and stop for some great photo opportunities.  We now follow the river Jonte and the gorge which forms the border of the  Lozere and Aveyron departments all the way to hotel Mont Aigoual in Meyrueis.  

A long hard day with 100 km and 1600metres [4800 ft] of climbing . There was an easy start on flatish roads before starting to climb, there were several of these, getting harder with the heat of the day at 33 degrees the final one 8km!  we were pleased to start our 6.5 km descent down to the River Tarn, a cracking descent once again, several hairpin bends making it exciting, we crossed the River at Le Rozier and we started to follow the River Jonte and the Jonte Gorge with its stunning rock architecture and at the same time a steady climb, only 4-5% but in the heat at the end of the day was hard work, I cycled this section with Ian from Dundee, the rest of the group were either in front or behind us, although people did keep stopping to take in the views, it truly is a stunning Gorge. Meyruise was quite alpine like with its hotels laid out along the river, a nice place to overnight , tonight I was in a separate hotel from the main group, a very French hotel, very full!
We had covered over 1000km so far so the scenery was starting to look Mediterranean, clearly the weather was changing! To be consistently hot!

Day 12 Meyrueis to Le Vigan 56 km or 64 km
Today we have 2 options dependent upon weather and peoples choice.  Option 1: This is the original route and takes us from the hotel up the climb to the Col de Montjardin at a 1016m and at km 13 we reach the car park for the Abime de Bramabiau, a chasm with underground rivers and caves.  Well worth a visit for those interested.  At 24 km we reach the summit of the climb with an option to turn left to ascend the 7 km to Mont Aigoual.  If you do not want to make the climb we descend 2 km into L'Esperou.  After a few undulations, we are rewarded with a fantastic descent all the way to Le Vigan and our hotel Mas de la Prairie. Option 2: This circular route  takes us via the Col de Perjuret at 1057m to climb up to the summit of Mont Aigoual from the north side.  Mont Aigoual at 1567 m  has incredible 360 degree views and is the highest point of the Gard département. On a clear day it is possible to see the Mediterranean, the Pyrenees and the Alps. We descend to re-join option 1 at its 24 km point. 

I settled for option 2 as did the rest of the group. The day started with a rolling countryside for the first 7km before the 25 km climb to Mont Aigoual at 1567 metres, but we stopped for coffee at the roadside at the Col de Perjurat 1057 metres. it was a superb climb that I did mostly on my own, followed closely by Chris it was 5-8% with occasional 12%, fortunately, the day was still heating up, there was very little traffic on the road and I made steady progress to reach the summit, Chris and I met at the top, and were the first ones into the café at the summit for a well-earned coffee, the summit has a meteo station and provided us with a good 360 degree view. I thought Mont Aigoul was a really good climb and descent.

It was soon time to leave the summit and look forward to the 20km descent on good roads and sweeping hairpins to our hotel . This was a great days cycling and really was ‘living the dream’ good quiet roads, lovely warm weather and a sweeping descent. Le Vigan was a run down town, I did walk into the middle but was disappointed, it was very hot and busy. The hotel was nice though even though I was in a roof room I did have air conditioning!! And we were able to eat dinner outside again as the weather was so good.

Day 13 Le Vigan to Aniane – 69 km
It would be safe to say that of all the rides, today's is one of the more spectacular ones.  After passing through Aveze, we start climbing up to Montardier at 8 km. At Blandas, 18 km, the road gets twisty and the descent marks the approach of the Cirque de Navacelles. This amazing rock formation was created by a meander in the river Vis that became an oxbow lake which eventually dried up.  At 23 km, the route crosses the river Vis which marks the boundary with the Herault Department. Where the road levels out at 27.5 km don't forget to stop at La Baume Auriol Auberge both for the viewpoint but also a well earned coffee break.  Continuing on the road tops out at the Col du Vent, 703 m.  From here, it's almost all downhill to Aniane and our hotel the Hostellerie St Benoit with its tempting swimming pool.

The day was again a beautiful start, and the group set off a little earlier as it was another tough day with a lot of climbing in very hot weather. And after a few KM the road started to climb up to Montardier and continued climbing for another 18 km to Blandas, across very open countryside, scrubland like in places, and rolling greenery in others. At Blandas we had no idea what we would be seeing in the next few KM and nothing could have prepared us on the trip so far.

We started to descend, on twisty roads, then all of a sudden the whole area in front of us was like a very large hole, several KM across! And several KM deep. We stopped at the top of the steep descent into the valley to take in the view of the Cirque de Navacelles a stunning valley with only one exit and that was up the zig zag climb we could see from our current position.  We also witnessed a world record, unbeknown to us, there was a slack line stretched across the valley and there was a man walking very carefully across it!!! Several hundred meters above the valley floor, for a distance of several KM in seering hot sunshine, they were attempting the worlds  longest slack line walk, and apparently they did manage it!!!

Anyway, after the entertainment, we continued to descend down the very steep and twisty road to the bottom where we had a welcome coffee from the van. What comes down must go up! And what an up it was the temperature was now 35 degrees and the climb out of the Cirque was several KM and at a gradient approaching 14% at times, I took off my helmet and replaced it with my cycling cap, deciding it would be a little cooler, the road went up, round hairpin bends and I just turned the pedals over, sweat dripping on to my bars, standing occasionally to relive the pressure on my calves. It was the hardest climb of the trip.

 I was pleased to see the Auberge La Baume Auriol where it took me several minutes to cool off in the shade and a whole 750 ml of water to slake my thirst. The rest of the group finally arrived and all went in for a refreshment, I decided to take in the view and sit in the shade. It was a stunning view across the Cirque, the countryside now more Mediterranean than before, we continued climbing until the Col Du Vent. We stopped at the lovely village of St Maurice a sleepy village where a pentanque competition was about to start, the bar in the village was full of locals as it was the weekend, a great atmosphere, it was very hot!

As we got near Mont St Baudille the road peaked out and we started to descend, what a descent, twisty wide well surfaced roads, quiet, with stunning views across the valley,  I had to keep stopping to take in the views.
The heat was increasing and at times it felt like riding in front of a fan oven. I stopped at one point and noticed a peach tree in a local garden, at St Jean the bridge crossed the Herault, and created a small beach, this was full of locals enjoying the good weather, whilst daring youngsters leapt from the bridge into the river to cool off, quite spectacular we stood for sometime watching them before continuing on through wine vines to our Hotel at Aniane.

I really enjoyed the day, really good cycling again even given the very hot steep climb out of the Cirque. I think everyone was tired after today. It was a fitting next to last day of the trip particularly the descent . The hotel was nice, but we were apprehensive as there were a load of ‘Bikers’ who informed us they had been told not to party tonight as there were a load of cyclists needing a good rest!! Apparently they partyed hard the evening before!!!

Before dinner we met as a group to discuss the arrangements for the following day, our last day and Bike bus day!! We had a surprise when we were presented with a Manche to Med pin badge, but we had to promise to complete the next day otherwise we have to give it back.

Day 14 – Part 1  Aniane – The Med – 42 km
This mornings departure time will be dependent on the bike bus timings and the weather. Please take care, this area may have more traffic than we have encountered over the last 2 weeks, especially if it is a hot, sunny day.  Heading south east, we pass through La Boissiere, Montarnaud and Cournonterral at 28 km. After crossing over the motorway at 33 km, we soon start our final descent towards The Mediterranean. 

It was a sad breakfast as we were on our last day of the trip, only a total of 60km today, before catching the bike bus home L  it dawned once again hot, sunny and a beautiful day 34 degrees at 8:30 am .
 As we set off we met quite a few groups of other cyclists coming in the other direction, the road surfaces were particularly good, a couple of easy climbs through La Boissiere and Montarnaud and finally Cournonterral descending down a lovely but very busy road to meet the cycle track and along to I think Les Aresquiers overlooking a lagoon with Flamingos happily wading around, where we were able to paddle in Med  except Fiona who actually swam in the med!

We had made it, all a bit of an anti climax really, I think we were all very sad we had finally arrived. After our celebrations, photos etc. it was time to look towards getting to St Jean le Sec to catch the bus, but not before we cycled along the causeway to Maguelone, sea on oneside.Lagoon and canal on the other.

 I was cycling near the back as the track was just a dirt track, sadly Ian Punctured so I waited and helped him change his tube, giving me extra time to absorb the atmosphere and saviour my achievement of cycling the length of France over the two weeks. We met up again at the end of the causeway and had our last lunch of trip, French stick, cheese, tomato, crisps etc. we made our way back in land to St Jean, the leaders had arranged for usto use a hotel to shower and  change before boarding the bus for the overnight journey home.

Day 14 – Part 2 The Med to The Bike Bus – 18 km Weather permitting we will follow the causeway along the coast towards the Cathedrale de Maguelone. From here we head back inland to St Jean de Vedas and our rendevouz with the Bike Bus. Before departure, you will have time to have a shower and get changed at the Premiere Classe Montpellier Ouest which is 300 m from the Bike Bus pick up point.

After showering and changing we sat waiting for the bus to come, it wasn’t too long before we were loading our bikes onto the trailer and finding our seat, saying our goodbyes and thankyous to Nick and Julie he leaders.  Had been a wonderful trip and one I will treasure, the views, roads, people, the cycling, the weather………
We were soon gunning up the motorways towards Lyon and Paris and finally Calais, I did sleep a little, but was very hot on the coach, we got to Calais just intime to catch the ferry back to Dover, where it was time once again for some goodbyes to the rest of those continuing on up to the North of England.
I picked up my hire car to drive back home, my thoughts and memories of the trip, keeping me on a high for the journey home, but!! I had to keep stopping for coffee etc as I was tired and hadn’t slept much on the coach. I was glad the M25 and A303 were too bad and I got home in good time, glad to be home after a fantastic adventure .
14 days cycling
1118km[698 miles]
13558 m[44482 ft] of climbing
62 hours moving time
Rest day
Puy Mary 88.7 km [55.4m] 1556m[5105ft] climbed 4hrs 18 mins

Average age of group 63years!! 

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