Tuesday: 27. 09. 2016 Chatelaillon Plage – Palmyre (83kms)
I had left my very gentile hotel by 08.30 having consumed what passes for a normal breakfast of croissants, bread , juice and coffee: all very delicious but this morning, unusually, I would have preferred an English breakfast of bacon, eggs and fried bread! I collected my bike from the laundry room (it does reside in some very inappropriate places) and set off along a sea front no longer populated by seething sun worshippers, but by bins! Just another hazard for the unsuspecting cyclist on bin collection day.
I retained a fairly good recollection of the route to Rochefort having explored it on our previous holiday. Much of it followed alongside a busy and noisy main road which, while unpleasant, serves as a reminder of just how intrusive the motor vehicle really is. Yes. I know we cannot manage without it and it has clear advantages over bike travel (like going a long way in a short time) but it does smell and make a racket. I did eventually leave all the bustle behind and, determined not to take a 20 kilometre detour, took a turning to the right instead of left on the assumption that I could only get lost if I fell in the river. Thus, I followed it (the river) diligently until the only way forward was to cross it. According to my information, there existed a transbourder (transporter) bridge, and indeed I could see it from some three kms away. At a point just short of the bridge, my route veered towards the river! No one had thought to mention that it was under repair and to access the opposite bank via said bridge would require a wait of three years! The temporary alternative was a small ferry presently grounded at low tide! Apparently, already waiting was a French cyclist (a very nice man) who informed me that the tide would rise sufficiently to float the boat, by 11.30. Yipee, that just meant a wait of at least an hour and a half. In between communing with his two ‘phones, my French (very nice) companion chatted about his ride and his intention of reaching Bayonne.( It was during one such conversation that I felt an unwanted lump on the base of my shoe – a fish hook had pierced the sole. How lucky that it had avoided embedding itself into bike or trailer tyre!)
We were joined later, by a large group of Germans on electric bikes who seemed content to enjoy the enforced rest. Not the case for a second group of three. The gentleman of the trio clocked my Welsh flag and came over and proceeded to complain vociferously about this unexpected delay to his journey. “It was vital that they reached their destination on time; their hired bikes were rubbish and they had only two gears!” Phew! I pointed out that our ferry was presently resting on bottom of the river and we would have to allow nature to take its course in the form of a rising tide. Sure enough, at 11.30 the boat was afloat and le capitaine commenced loading. This was far from simply plonking bikes aboard as there had to be a balanced weight. Nonetheless, after much gesticulating and arguing in German, French and English, we floated across. Docking went without a hitch but I eyed the gang plank with alarm. Angle between boat and bank was around 30 percent and I had Sherman to haul up to terra firma! Thank goodness I had foregone the camping gear. My thanks to the diminutive female guide of the German group who gallantly assisted my climb. (No chaps in sight!)
Pedalling along canals is not the most exciting or exhilarating activity but it can be exacerbated by the poor quality of the track. In fact, this particular 650 metres of track was unridable. It was preceded by a notice which apologised for its unsuitablilty as a cycle track promising reparation very soon. The worst yet.
This difficulty was very soon followed by yet another sign indicating a ‘route barre’. In fairness, I was already misplaced in Marennes but a road under serious repair did nothing to help. However, the usual practice of stopping and head scratching produced the usual helpful response from a group of the workmen. I produced my map and explained my predicament. There ensued an animated conversation between colleagues until finally the dilemma was resolved and the onward route explained. My rescuers kindly removed sufficient barriers for me to pass and even lifted and carried my trailer until we both reached the tarmac. A few kilometres later I was on the approach to the Le Pont de Marennes and imposing bridge spanning the river Seudre. Alas, it was impossible to experience the undoubtedly spectacular view as the cycle lane, as is ever the case, was just wide enough to incorporate a bicycle and trailer and /or panniers with less than a hairs breadth separating cyclist from motorised traffic much of which was quite large! Having survived the dice with death or serious injury, the canal path took on a whole new persona and, tranquillity restored, I took a drinks and nibbles stop. Who should come by but my nice Frenchman. How I had transpired to get ahead of him remains a mystery but his assurance that the next thirty kilometres of track was of good surface was indeed, welcome news and true. It also provided my first ever sighting of genuine wild boar, three of which tripped across the road not 20 metres in front of me.
Making the decision that Royan might be a step too far, I finished the day in Palmyre. Not a very beautiful place and the hotel was the most expensive yet and staffed by yet another indifferent concierge but, in its defence, the food both at dinner and breakfast was excellent. A balcony off my room was transformed into a makeshift drying room for the smellier bits of my clothing. Yah boo to indifferent receptionists!
Tomorrow will take in the ferry from Royan across the Gironde estuary tides permitting!