Wednesday 28th. September Palmyre – Montalivet (51kms)
I left my hotel with no regrets and having taken on supplies from the local boulangerie, I was enjoying yet another fine day. The nearby coastline was a marked change from the long sandy surf beaches. This coast was a series of rocky bays and smooth sandy inlets. Sadly, the path along the prom took a turning into the urbanisation of Royan. Along with the change of scenery was the change in the topography of the road and it was this latter that endorsed my previous decision to stay in Palmyre overnight. The buildings were generally very beautiful and undoubtedly very expensive, but the roadway was a tad hummocky. For fresh legs this was a challenge easily met but yesterday’s tired legs might have struggled.
Away from the towns there was much evidence of the activities of the last war. Embedded into the dunes and rocks of the coast were the remains of ammunition stores and concrete shelters presumably protecting the mouth of the Gironde. Running alongside the constructions was an old small gauge railway line which would have transported the killing machines and the soldiers. Its present rebirth as a tourist train shows a determination to improve and, for a new generation, to forget.
Back with a sea view, I stopped to admire a memorial constructed to commemorate the ‘Cockleshell Heroes.’ Standing and looking down at the place where they had boarded their canoes and, taking in the vastness of the estuary, it was hard to imagine men so brave. It was an intimidating sight in broad day light in peacetime but to paddle a canoe in complete darkness up the river to wreak havoc among German shipping with the ever present danger of being seen and shot was truly inspiring. That even two survived to return to the submarine seems incredible: that so many died is a tragedy.
My wait for the ferry was around two hours during which time I found the ‘people watching’ quite fascinating. I have remarked during this trip on my own that, as an elderly female, I am all but invisible. The great advantage of this, is that no one views me as any kind of threat. Occasionally my presence is acknowledged with a nod and a curious embarrassment but more usually it is ignored. I find this very liberating as I am able to gaze unhindered at the endless idiosyncrasies of the human. As the waiting continued, I was joined by every sort of motorised transport and a handful of other cyclists. Of the latter, one couple held my particular interest, as the only evidence of their bikes were the wheels, which were just visible, poking out from a multitude of panniers and rucksacks! I have seen many loaded expedition bikes, but these were on a whole new level. Among my other fellow cyclists were a family of two parents and two young children who were sharing a trailer. Dad towed kids and rucksack and mum, the panniers. I cannot help but applaud this type of undertaking.
We did eventually board the boat for a voyage which lasted around thirty minutes. During this time, my flag attracted the attention of a little man who beset me with the usual questions but did, in return, provide me with a nugget of information. He assured me that the track from Pointe de la Grave (the ferry destination) to Montalivet provided an excellent and unbumpy surface – and he was not wrong.
By the time that I reached Montalivet, it was already 15.30. The next town to offer suitable overnight accommodation was still some 30 kilometres further on. Erring on the side of caution, I sought a likely bed for the night. This was a bit of a one horse town and I chose one of the only two hotels still open.
My evening wander took in the nearby beach on which surfers of varying competence were enjoying the waves of the evening high tide. Youngsters were shrieking with delight in safe and shallow waters while the older experienced exponents were taking intrepid rides on the much larger and longer waves further along the shore. Not quite such fun was the story told to me by a couple I met on my return. A lady in a wheel chair and her companion were happy to share her unfortunate story with me. She had been knocked off her bike by a youth driving a car. The result was a broken leg and several weeks of immobility. It served as a reminder to be ever cautious when sharing the highway with motorised traffic.