A van-man across France, Part 3

Thursday 5th September saw us make an early start – on the road at 8 a.m. from Montluçon to Orcines. Beautiful scenery in the Auvergne as we left Allier and entered Puy-de-Dome. Morning coffee at Pionsat (near Chez Suzanne), lunch at St-Gervais-d’Auvergne, nice hotel under the Puy-de-Dome and overlooking Clermont-Ferrand – the Hotel Relais des Puys.

Straightaway on arrival at the hotel, Mark Waters (formerly Touring Officer with the CTC) suggested that he and I tackle the Col de Chayssat, the highest point you can legally ride a bicycle to the summit of Puy-de-Dome. Job done at 1,078 metres!

Friday was a bit of a rest day for both the riders and the van-man. Beautiful scenery and beautiful weather. Coffee at St Saturnin – where I spotted a bike shop in a house basement, completely unsigned – lunch in the market square of Champeix and an early arrival at the Hotel Paribou in Issoire.

This meant that I could go pedalling – a lovely 40-mile ride up through the forests to St-Catherine-de-Fraisse and a fast sweeping downhill return on the main road. Excellent!

Saturday saw the riders take a hilly, lengthy and very wet ride from Issoire. The rain started well before St-Catherine but I managed to pursuade the village restauranteur to offer the riders hot drinks! The rain cleared for lunch at St-Alyre-d’Arlanc but came back with a vengeance between there and La-Chaisse-Dieu and it reached Old Testament proportions on the road to St-Paulien! This would be my rest-day from my usual evening ride!

Sunday was less wet! A quick descent from St-Paulien to Le-Puy-en-Velay for elevenses; a steady ascent to Le Monastier for lunch; a climb over the boundary between Haut-Loire (Auvergne) and Ardèche (Rhone-Alpes) to Le Beage and the day finished at St-Cirgues-en-Montagne. My evening ride was up to the Atlantic/Mediterranean watershed!




A van-man across France, Part 2

Monday 2nd September was another good day. Good breakfast, then a visit to a Leclrc hypermarket to buy water (and a track pump) for the group. Onto St Calais for elevenses, Montoire-sur-le-Loir for lunch, and Herbault for an afternoon Orangina. Then into Blois for the Tintin-orientated Hotel Le Monarque. Personal ride in the evening out of the city to the southeast towards Chambord.

Tuesday started from Blois, coffee at Milançay. Then one of the cyclists was laid low with a dreadful toothache. So lunches distributed to those with panniers and two of us drove directly to Issoudun. Hotel receptionist rang local dentist, appointment made, teeth examined, prescription written and collected from pharmacist. Then back to Graçay to meet the group. A personal evening ride to Indre-Cher departmental boundary.

Wednesday started with very hot weather. Lignieres, which I’d visited in the rain two years ago, looked very different. Along to Cuban but we didn’t stop at THAT bar. Afternoon break in Domeroy. And then a little shopping as we entered Montluçon. A hilly evening ride towards Marçillat.image


A van-man across France, Part 1

Two years ago, I pedalled across France from Caen to Cannes (C2C), La Manche to La Mediterranėe, on a CTC tour, and enjoyed it so much – and got on with the leader, Bob Norton, so well that I volunteered to drive the support vehicle for this year’s tour. I’d had a week’s van-man experience with The Fridays on LonJoG and knew I’d love it.

So last Thursday saw me packed and prepared. Packed in a rucksack as I was going to take my new Bianchi with me!

After a slow pedal to Northampton station, I caught a punctual train to Euston. Then, after an easy pedal to Victoria, I caught a train to Portsmouth.

I used my new Garmin to navigate from Fratton station to Hilsea Travelodge and met Bob and George (deputy leader) and Georgina ( the boss). After a drink and a meal in the local Italian restaurant (the owner was quite a big Pompey fan), it was early to bed.

Bob, Georgina and I were up early on Friday to catch the early ferry. Breakfast and lunch on the boat. We the cycled to Caen to pick up the van from Europcar. Back to Ouistreham for dinner in the hotel (pigs’ cheeks in ossambuca sauce washed down with cider fermier).

We met the cyclists off the late ferry, beers and bed.

Saturday was first proper van day from Ouistreham to Argentan, with breakfast as Pegasus Bridge, elevenses at Argences, and a picnic lunch at Courcy. Accommodation at Hotel des Voyageurs in Argentan. Dinner was pork à la Normande and tarte framboise.

I then fitted in a personal ride to Sėes an return – 32 miles.

Sunday began with a good breakfast at the hotel. Elevenses followed at Sėes and lunch at Mamers. I drove to the hotel on the outskirts while the cyclists went to a town centre bar. I walked in to join them before going on a short personal ride to Lamnay and back, about 11 miles. Dinner at the hotel: mixed salad, chicken and pasta, and tarte des pommels..




A splendid day riding a Brompton in Herefordshire

Just over a week ago, I had a lovely day out in Herefordshire, attracted by The Folding Society‘s “Origami Ride” for July.

An early start saw me pedal to Northampton railway station for the ticket office to open at 6.00 a.m.  Why not use the ticket machines as I normally do?  I wanted a “West Midlands Day Ranger” – travel anywhere in the West Midlands for a day for £14.50 (Railcard price); I bet you didn’t know that both Northampton and Hereford are in the “West Midlands”!  Anyway, it’s cheaper than buying a Northampton-to-Hereford off-peak day return.

At that time of the morning, the trains were very quiet, both from Northampton to Birmingham New Street and then from New Street to Hereford.

Hereford railway station is just to the north of the city centre – the right direction for Leominster – and a quick climb of Aylestone Hill brings you to lovely country roads.  Quiet again on a Saturday morning and still quite cool during this heatwave, the route I’d planned took me through Sutton St Nicholas and Bodenham.  Two hundred yards on the A49 and then a B road in Leominster.

I’d only cycled once before in Leominster – during my Land’s End to John O’Groats trip in 2010 when I stayed at Leominster Youth Hostel behind the Abbey.  This time I met up with the Folding Society at Savery’s Café on Broad Street.  As ever, FoldSoc members are very socialble indeed and, as we chatted over coffee and cake, we had to be reminded that we were there for a bike ride!

Local riders chatted about cycling in Herefordshire and, not too far away, in The Malverns – with an Elgar cycling route – so that’s been added to my “must do” list.  In Kingsland we missed a turn because the leader and I were deep in conversation but we were soon at Shobden  and its airfield where a converted WWII Nissen hut was to be our lunchtime café.  I enjoyed the draught cider which was nice and cold on the hottest day of the year so far!  Not quite up to Normandy cider though!

After Shobden, it wasn’t far to Eardisland and a quirky village tea room run from the proprietors’ house – we sat under the shade of trees in their back garden.  The shortest leg of the day was back from Eardisland to Leominster.

After quick good-byes to my friends, I pedalled back the way I had come to Hereford.  It was hot but my Brompton moved quickly and it felt great.  I went past the railway station and into the city centre to look at the Cathedral.

At the west door of Hereford Cathedral

At the west door of Hereford Cathedral

The trains were as pleasant on the return journey as they had been in the morning and by the time I pedalled home from Northampton railway station it was just about nine o’clock in the evening.

A splendid day out!  Fifty-five miles pedalled on the Brompton.  A map of the route in Herefordshire here.

The Fridays in Normandy – Sunday Ride Report

To Barfleur (elevenses), St-Vaast-la-Hogue (lunch), and Valognes (aperatif)

There was damp in the air but this made no difference to the Fridays riders on their first full day in Normandy.  And what a way to begin!  Gordon led me to the boulangerie in Brix so that we could obtain breakfast supplies from the legend that is Madame.

But the real business of the day started when he led the gîtists back to the château for the gathering that was to become the ride to Barfleur.

I can do no better than borrow from Martin’s CycleChat thoughts recorded on the day itself: “Great day. A few spots of rain but not enough to get the gear on for. Coffee in Barfleur. Fish and chips in st huge le vaaast (other spellings are available); some had fresh oysters to boot. Others had crêpes. Return was through idyllic lanes. As you do. The Splittist Tendency of The Fridays International Brigade went off in search of Calvados on the return. The Orthodox Front returned direct to Le Chateau.”

Fish & chips, and cider, and oysters in St Vaast

Fish & chips, and cider, and oysters in St Vaast

Yep, I had the fish & chips – accompanied by cider (a first) and preceded by half-a-dozen fresh oysters (another first).  Our fellow gîtists, Andy and Jo, got stranded on the far side of the harbour when the bridge opened; my, how we laughed!

Andy can just be seen, with his back to the camera, starting his long walk around the harbour

Andy can just be seen, with his back to the camera, starting his long walk around the harbour

Jo - none the worse for her adventure

Jo – none the worse for her adventure

And yes, I was a member of The Splittist Tndency – a small select group who  lingered in Valognes for calvados and cider.  Valognes is pretty quiet on a Sunday afternoon and we had difficulty finding a bar.   I resorted to asking people on the pavement.  The first family were Dutch and also looking for a bar – an ice cream bar – to satisfy their young son.  No mistake with the second group; one gentleman looked quite drunk already.  Oh yes, he replied, there are two bars open; the one at the station is always open; but, nearer, you will find La Civette.  I learned that you do not ask for “un calvados” but rather “un calva”!

Le Tendence Splittiste enjoy "un calve"

Le Tendence Splittiste enjoy “un calva”

Back eventually to the gîte and a marvellous chilli pasta, cooked by Jo and Andy.

Andy cooks his chilli special

Andy cooks his chilli special

Route for the day here.  Today’s mileage = 60.  Cumulative mileage = 109.

The Fridays go to Normandy – The Prologue


After the epic that was LonJoG (see the report in “Cycle”, Dec 2012), this year The Fridays expedition was to Normandy.

Prologue Day 1 – Friday 14th June – Northampton to Portsmouth

I felt very organised in the morning.  My Dawes Galaxy touring bike was prepared with four panniers (two front and two rear) and a rack pack.  I knew where every item was and everything was waterproof.  The bike had been very recently serviced and was as sweet as a nut.  Pedalling to Northampton station was easy.

The 1250 train to Euston was very crowded but I got the bike into a good space and found a seat opposite.  London was busy (busier than I’m used to – because I’m normally pedalling in London on Saturdays and Sundays) but the journey from Euston to Victoria was straightforward.

Once in Victoria station I quickly met Gordon and Lonica.  Gordon had been on the recce trip and he and his wife were staying at the same gîte as me.  We got our bikes onto the Portsmouth-bound train and travelled comfortably to Portsmouth & Southsea station.  The three of us were staying at the Travelodge hotel opposite the ferry terminal and, after a short walk through the pedestrianized city centre and then pedalling along some quiet back streets, we were soon there.

We met Pam (Anything But Vanilla) and Dan at the hotel and the five of us went out for an evening meal, pedalling over to the new harbour developments at Gunwharf Quays and a branch of Café Rouge.  Scampi, lamb, and treacle pudding – accompanied by Hoegarten and Merlot.

We returned to our hotel and I was waiting for my room-mate Charlie.  The pub next door – The Sovereigns – had last orders just before eleven o’clock on a Friday evening, which struck me as very old-fashioned.  But Charlie soon arrived and, as I knew he would be, he was good company as a room-mate throughout the entire tour.

Mileage for the day = 16.

Prologue Day 2 – Saturday 15th June – (a) Tour de Portsmouth (b) A high-speed ferry crossing (c) Cherbourg to Brix

(a) After breakfast in The Sovereigns, six of us pedalled to StuAff’s house in Portsmouth for a guided tour.  We went out of the city to an elevated vantage point at Portsdown Hill where we had a view of the whole city.  Stuart pointed out that, properly speaking, Portsmouth is an island.

On Portsdown Hill - (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

On Portsdown Hill – (l to r) Charlie, Gordon, Lonica, Stuart

We then swept down to the historical dockyard where HMS Warrior, one of the first “Ironclads” is moored – accompanied today by a statue commemorating the “mudlarks” – before moving on to elevenses at Southsea Castle.

HMS Warrior

HMS Warrior

We went then back near StuAff’s house to meet up with Claudine, Sonia and the others at The Star & Garter for lunch.

Portsmouth route here.

(b) And so to the ferry terminal for the high-speed catamaran crossing to Cherbourg.  I sat next to (mmm)Martin – who is always good value; met Andy and Jo who had arranged the gîte and managed to get to sleep while almost all the others were seasick.

(c) With that organisation for which he is famed, Simon (DZ) had arranged for luggage to be carried from Cherbourg to Brix and so my bike was relieved of its panniers for the eleven miles or so to the château.  Energetic cooks had already been working and, amongst other, Jim, Steve and Rachel had prepared a meal of pasta, cider and wine – what’s not to like?  And the gîtists were quickly onto our final destination.

Our gîte

Our gîte

Route from ferry terminal to château here.

Mileage for the day = 33.  Cumulative mileage = 49.

Hedge laying – a third update

My friend John Cutler writes:

For progress on hedge see this photo:


To earn one’s living it is necessary to do a chain per day.  Half that has taken me a week.  The beech hedge is much easier as it was laid about twelve years ago.  Now I shall manage it lower and wider and neater than hitherto and probably will never lay it again.  Next season, if I find I have become addicted to this endlessly fascinating and satisfying craft, it is possible that I shall run amok over the countryside laying hedges in all directions!