Wednesday 8th April
We set off from Tours by 9.30AM (no matter how hard we try we can’t seem to manage any earlier). We had a super productive morning of cycling due to a straight road on a very slight decline – we sailed along at an effortless 13mph and had done something like 35 miles by lunchtime – unheard of for us.
The weather was warm and sunny, we spent a pleasant day on quiet roads, passing through countryside and little villages.
Then 6PM rolled round and it was time to find our illicit camping spot. This was it: France had had just under 4 weeks to get warmer since our last ill-fated wild camp, it was time to give it another go.
After 30 minutes of craning our necks at each passing field we spotted a good one: unused and enclosed on all sides by a wood, with just a small access path on one side. It was somewhere just outside of Thouars.
We set up and cooked dinner (vegetables, tinned fish and couscous). Aside from the occasional slug the field was perfect, and the temperature was still warm by 8PM. We were in our sleeping bags reading our books by 9PM, and it was lights out by 10.
The temperature plummeted fast once the sun had set, but this time I was ready, wearing:
- 2 pairs of socks
- A long-sleeved shirt
- A fleece
- A hard shell jacket
- Eric’s fleece
- A buff
- A wooly hat
The masterstroke was putting the inner liner right over my head, creating a warm air bubble.
The result was 8 hours of sleep. Success!
Thursday 9th April
The next morning it was super frosty and there was even ice in the water bottles which we had left outside the tent! This made me feel like a tough hardy cycle tourer, though I had to review this self-assessment when I donned my extremely chilly cycling shorts!
Unlike the glorious straight roads of yesterday, today was an all-you-can-cycle hillathon. We would cycle up in excrutiating slowness, pedalling with the ferocity of somebody forced to sit at the front of a spin class, and then groan as we reached the top and saw the next hill waiting gloatingly in the distance. Then we had the comparatively brief respite of our descent (all the time in my head I was saying “appreciate it appreciate it appreciate it”) before we were on to the next climb and it began all over again.
It almost doesn’t need saying that at the merest “Shall we…?” from one of us we were hopping off the bike to push instead. I am hoping the mega-fitness will be kicking in soon…!
Worth a mention: we reached our top downhill speed today of 35mph (anything to get us partway up the next hill!!). Don’t worry mum, we have no plans to beat this record.
We found our camping spot just outside of the tiny village of Pouille. It was a small enclosed grassy area at the end of a ploughed field which felt very snug and out of the way. This time it was brambles and spiders rather than slugs.
Friday 10th April
Despite another decent night’s sleep we were both feeling rather on the tired and grubby side after two hard days of cycling and camping. It was just a half-day push to reach La Rochelle. The roads had gone back to being flat and straight, but we were so tired that the final 30 miles were a real struggle. Eric described his bottom as feeling like “a massive blister” (thought I would share that – this blog isn’t all “me me me” after all).
After a short eclair break we made the final push and reached La Rochelle for lunch. Here I am feeling very happy with modules et frites:
After that we checked in (another AirBnb apartment) and experienced the amazing modern phenomenon that is a hot shower, followed by sleep in a real bed. Ahhhhh.
Saturday 11th April
La Rochelle is gorgeous. No wonder it’s such a popular tourist destination. Today we did a quick tour of the old town bits and famous buildings and monuments.
The cathedral was nothing that special from the outside, but the windows were amazing. I couldn’t resist taking some pictures:
We visited the La Rochelle’s iconic harbour towers and learnt a bit about the history of the place.
Plus saw some great views from the top.
Checked out a carnival that was going on (during which several children threw confetti at us with a bit too much glee – they went right for the face!).
Then visited the aquarium (to Eric’s delight. He likes fish.)
Sunday 12th April
In the morning we took a boat tour to the one and only Fort Boyarde!
I never actually watched this show, but had some memorable conversations about it with old work colleagues (Tomi!!), so I was very excited to go and see it.
The platform was erected in order to help TV Fort Boyarde-related events.
I also learnt some interesting history about the place. It was originally built to hold cannons and be a defence fortress, but it took so long to build that by the time they finished it, the only cannons it was designed to house were completely outdated. As a result, Napolean decided to just use it as a prison. So this amazing fortress was actually just a bit of a French cock-up!
The people doing the tour played the Fort Boyarde theme tune while we circled it. They knew exactly what we wanted.
Anyway, that’s probably enough pictures of Fort Boyarde.
Here’s a couple more from the boat trip.
That afternoon we went to the Museum of Automata and Small Scale Models (slightly more fun than it sounds!).
They were many creepy moving automatons which were popular in the 1930s-50s.
I don’t understand… Did people at the time not think that these were creepy?
I mean, they’re SO creepy!
Then we also saw many model ships and cars (yawn), though there was a very impressive model railway – I thought of you AC.
That was mostly that. We just sat in the sunshine and had icecream.
Monday 13th April
Miles: still 0!
After a lazy start we took the bus to Saint Martin on the Isle of Re, an island which is connected to the mainland by a 3KM bridge. It was a stunningly hot and beautiful day, I cracked out the shorts and sandals for the first time 🙂
The fortress around Saint Martin is a star fort, which Eric thought was very exciting, as:
a) he’s a boy, I’m pretty sure it’s a boy thing
b) he likes ancient warfare (I think this is connected to point A)
c) he is reading World War Z at the moment, so he is currently evaluating the zombie defence potential of everywhere we go. I mean, I enjoy a good hypothetical conversation as much as the next person, but really, he talks about it ALL THE TIME.
Anyway, glad that’s off my chest.
Here’s some nice pictures of Saint Martin. It’s lovely!
Both the Isle of Re and La Rochelle were packed full of people on hired bikes. There was a certain irony to the fact that we have cycled all this way to a cycle-friendly town, but would not cycle around it if you paid us!
On that note, we are off again tomorrow for an intimidating 7 day stint (we haven’t done more than 3 days in a row so far!) by the end of which we should be in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, at the southernmost tip of France. We’ll be camping along the way (unless it rains) as it is now getting reasonably warm, and we have also been splashing the cash a bit too much on places to stay!
Until the next update… Bye for now!