Holiday thoughts from Quarantine

In many ways the pandemic year of 2020 will be remembered for being quite unlike any other with there being no living memory now of the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’.

We started the year with the collapse of Flybe putting paid to a planned week away in Amsterdam with our German twin town friends, although the instigation of ‘lock down’ would have scuppered it as well. From then on like most of our friends we cancelled or postponed for a year other holiday plans and bookings. Ironically in a fit of ‘do it before we are too old’ we had booked more holidays for 2020 than in any other year this century!

Our remaining planned holiday was to combine going to the International Tandem Rally in Salviac, France with some cycle touring. This was to be at the end of August and early September. Perhaps Covid19 will be contained by then? We were obviously a bit slow in grasping the enormity of this pandemic

We got down to locked down life, but used our permitted one hour per day outdoor exercise time to cycle the recumbent tandem trike around some local lanes so that our cycling legs did not completely atrophy.

The Salviac Rally was cancelled, but we know the area and are friends of Bob and Mary, the rally organisers. We could ride the routes, so we thought we would wait and see, and keep our ferry bookings along with the hotel and B&B bookings we had made. The end of August seemed quite a long time off.

Life with Covid19 continued and friends asked if we were still going to France. We honestly replied that “we don’t know”. Uncertainty continued, but we kept in touch with the people at Correze Cycling where we intended to spend a week before going on to Salviac, with Mary and Bob, our friends in Salviac, and with Patrick and Marc at the B&B there. Under French Covid19 rules Mary and Bob were only allowed to cycle up to 1km and later 5kms from home, and had to complete and carry with them the appropriate form to be shown to the gendarmerie on demand. Certainly short distance cycling.

The weeks went on and as our departure date drew nearer outbreaks of Coronavirus flared up in some British cities and other hotspots in Europe. The British government became increasingly committed to getting the economy going again, even at some increased infection risk and continued to give confused and inconsistent advice. Relaxing movement led to some people rushing off to cause crazy overcrowding on beaches and flocking to Cornwall and some National Parks (including the New Forest) for holidays or uncontrolled ‘days out’. It didn’t look good and any overseas tourism stalled when the Foreign Office issued notices restricting non-essential travel and thousands of panicked holiday makers tried to get home ahead of the commencement of quarantine restrictions for people coming from Spain and then Belgium.

The days in August before our intended departure date were ticking down. We decided to check over the tandem trike, service it and order some new tyres. We re-assembled the trike and took it for a test run to make sure all was well.

One week to go before departure. We had a few heaps of clothes and cycle stuff as a half-hearted start on thinking of packing. Phone calls to and from France continued and we re-assured James at Correze that we still intended to come – If we could.

A few days to departure – time for a ‘family discussion’ on the changing picture of Covid19 across France and our best information on the areas we intended to visit. Friends and John’s sister were still asking us if we were going. We decided, Yes (Unless the Foreign Office stops us).

John put the bicycle carrying floor into the car. This takes some time to do involving lots of bolts to put it together and make it secure and is not something to be done at the last minute. The Times Newspaper ran with the story that quarantine for people returning from France was imminent together with Foreign Office advice to limit all but ‘essential’ travel to France.

Providing we left before any Government declaration was made our travel insurance should be valid. We sought to check this but were aware that in general by now the insurance industry had added Covid19 exclusion clauses to most policies. In an attempt to keep their tourism industry afloat the French Government was underwriting accommodation cancellations made up to 24 hours in advance. We could ‘self insure’ other losses not covered. Our health insurance should be OK if we were already in France before a travel ‘ban’ was declared; and despite the UK’s absurd decision to ‘self-isolate’ Britain from the rest of the European Union, we still have valid EU Health Insurance cards until we all ‘crash out’ in January 2021.

We listened to the news each day expecting some Government announcement, bolted down the parts of the trike inside the car, packed our bags and provisioned the car with food and drink. We were also kitted out with lots of bottles of hand sanitiser, anti virus wipes, disposable gloves and plenty of washable face masks.

Departure day. No Government announcement. We reassured James in Correze that we were still coming. There was an English couple due in Correze a day before us, but some other English people who had being going at the same time as us had cancelled. Similarly a couple of English tandems intending to go to Salviac had cancelled. We turned off our phones and left to drive to Portsmouth for the overnight ferry crossing to St Malo. We had eaten a cooked lunch and took a picnic tea to be eaten in the ferry car park before boarding, plus ingredients for breakfast.

Brittany Ferries were very well organised. We were given colour codes so that when on board we could be taken from our cars in separated groups to avoid congestion on stairs. We were asked to wear face masks, maintain a social distance, make straight to our cabins and to stay there for the duration of the crossing. The ferry was running well below capacity with cars parked three vehicles to four lanes with lots of space in front and behind each car.

In our cabin we had no Wifi or phone signal, so we only discovered the following morning that we actually left the UK one hour and fortyfive minutes before the Government issued a non-essential travel to France and quarantine policy statement. We may or may not have been out of UK territorial waters at the time (not sure) but we had no influence on any decision to turn the boat around or not!

As we left the ferry port in St Malo in the early morning we noticed that there were lots of cars waiting to board and the queue extended from the port onto the road outside. It was only later that we realised that these must have been people who had driven overnight in a desperate rush to get home before the quarantine rule came into force. Did they all managed to get places on a ferry during the day?

Our plan was to make a stop in Vitré, Brittany for a socially distanced coffee with our town twinning friends Guy and Marie-Annick before continuing south for our overnight hotel stop. We were self contained for food and drink on the road all the way to Correze. Our hotel for the night was on the edge of Saint-Jean-de-Thouars, Poitou-Charentes. Compulsory face masks and hand sanitising was in place.

We had used the anti-viral wipes on the ferry and on door handles and keys at this hotel, but soon realised this was pointless because it is impossible to sterilise the environment, and the only practical approach is to ‘decontaminate’ yourself with hand sanitiser after touching door handles, handrails, lift buttons, credit card machines etc. We maintained this for three weeks, remembering that sequence is everything – hand sanitise, take paper bag with pain au raisin (PAR) out of pannier, eat PAR = WRONG. Take paper bag with PAR out of pannier, tear it open, hand sanitise, take out and eat PAR = RIGHT.

We ate dinner outdoors on the terrace with well spaced apart tables. After this all of our lunch picnics and evening meals (except three) were eaten in the fresh air outdoors. One exception was because when we booked a table we forgot to say, in the garden please, and when we arrived all the garden tables were gone. The other two were in Angoulême where we were just indoors beside the open door to the garden and well on our own.

Continuing in our sealed ‘car bubble’ we drove on to Correze. Sam (Samantha) and James were well organised. Strict rules about hand sanitising on coming in and going out, and face masks on at all times unless eating. There were also two rules about not wearing shoes with cycle cleats indoors and not allowing Noodles (the dog) on the sofa. But these were probably not Covid19 precautions. We could eat dinner and be spoilt with cake and afternoon tea on return from cycling outdoors. There was also an exception allowing face masks to be removed in the swimming pool, even when one’s head was above water for breathing purposes. The fact that IT and smart phones are now an everyday exception was demonstrated by the arrangements for breakfast. Sam had it set up so that the evening before you zapped a QR code to bring up a Google form with breakfast options as a tick list to complete. Then in the morning your breakfast was all ready for you at your socially distanced table. Even the breakfast cereal was in a personal portion sized paper bag. She was part of a tourism network that shared ideas on how to manage a hotel or B&B in Covid19 circumstances, exchanging tips and ideas.

Correze is a very empty part of France, so cycling through countryside without other human contact was the norm. And it was easy to picnic or have café coffee stops well socially distanced outdoors.

From Correze we drove to Salviac. Our guesthouse there was less strict about mask wearing, although we continued to wear them except when eating. Breakfasts were generally on our table with a few things collected. We ate dinner at a table on our own in the garden. Shopping at the boulangerie was on a strict one out, one in basis. Salviac had lost its weekly market for a few years and with an active mayor is pleased to have one again. Spread over several parts of the village there was a strict one-way system for moving through the market from stall to stall with people well spaced out.

Cycling in the parts of Lot and the Dordogne near us again meant we were largely on our own outdoors. The only crowded large town we went to was Argentat, but we avoided the busy main street, ate our PARs in a quiet part of the market square (not market day) and moved on. Although places like Domm are popular tourist destinations we easily avoided crowds or busy places and could keep plenty of space around us. one day we cycled with Bob and Mary and another American (living in France) tandem couple, and again it was easy to maintain a good social distance when we stopped.

On a non-cycling (our only rainy day) we went by car to a hypermarket for some shopping. Masks and spacing, but a bit closer at the checkouts was much like it is back home.

The final part of our holiday was a weeks touring. Transferring by car we stopped for a picnic lunch on our own in Brantône, Aquitaine. We had pre-booked accommodation. In Angoulême our hotel was on the edge of town. I should have mentioned tongs before. The plastic tongs industry has had a boom time. Anywhere that you might have to pick something up you were given a personal set of tongs. As well as tongs, dinner was served complete – all courses on a tray, and the main meal was in its own closed pot. The glass jar with sealed lids business must also be doing well. Similarly, at breakfast orange juice, fruit, etc were available in personal containers or bottles.

The only real tourist place we stayed was in Coulon, Poitou-Charentes in the Marais, but this is quite a small town. The town was well organised with strict rules about masks on outdoors and several streets had been temporarily pedestrianised with walk this way on this side of the street markings. On the riverside plenty of paint had been used on the ground to set up one-way spaced systems for the riverside kiosks selling tickets for small boat trips, including painted out areas to prevent passers by getting too close. Unfortunately it was the one place where we saw tourists (of various nationalities) ignoring the rules. Perhaps it was too much for them if they had not been brought up in a 1950s British queuing culture. On the boats it was in the fresh air, masks on and seating arranged so that no-one faced each other.

It was much the same at other places we stayed except that in La Rochelle, Vanessa, our host, and her children had all had Coronavirus and she did not insist on a mask wearing regime except when serving yourself with food.

We had modified our itinerary so that we cut out sightseeing in La Rochelle and did not have to go into the town, other than to cycle through on our way out. And we had also cut out an intended day on the Île de Ré, because we thought these might be busier, more crowded tourist spots (a bit like Cornwall). Otherwise we were out in the countryside alone.

What about Masks
Mask wearing was generally the norm including outdoors, but we saw the full range you might also meet in Britain:
Properly covering nose and mouth.
Properly covering nose and mouth, but pulled down to speak face to face to someone – Well intentioned but just a complete non-understanding of the purpose of wearing a mask.
Covering mouth but just tucked up to nose – could be a misunderstanding of where one’s nose really begins, or ‘I don’t like it, can’t breathe’, or ‘My specs keep fogging up’.
Over mouth and no attempt at nose – ‘I’ve got it on, don’t complain’.
Over the chin – OK I’ve got a mask I’ll pull it up if I have to and it keeps my beard warm’ (note: this one is a male thing).
Hanging over one ear – ‘It is at the ready and I can flick it on if the gendarmes appear and this way I don’t set fire to it when smoking’.
In the pocket with one ear loop hanging out – ‘I remembered to take it out, I’ll wear it in the shop but not out here’.
On the arm held by the ear loops – this one was favoured by cyclists who did not want to wear a mask while pedalling, while also to avoid dropping it.

We only saw one blatant transgression (there is always one). This was a slightly too fat (they always are this shape) man (it is always a man) with no sign of a mask anywhere and wearing a black T shirt with a white letters slogan – “I Dare To Breathe”. He did not have the complementary slogan on the back of his shirt saying “and I don’t care how many die through my social irresponsibility”.

Women were generally better than men at mask wearing. Occasionally one would see a couple walking along together, one with a mask and one without. It was always the ‘macho man’ who was without.

And finally a lovely cameo we saw in Coulon.
A young couple came out of a restaurant side by side wearing masks.
They stopped.
They turned to each other.
One with left hand and one with right they removed their masks to one ear.
They kissed.
They reversed the take off move to put their masks back on.
They turned side by side.
They walked on.
What made you wish you had turned on the camera video was that this sequence was carried out with the precision and faultless timing of a military parade ground. Did they practise at home first?

Just like in Britain and probably everywhere except Switzerland, there were some discarded masks lying around as litter.

We filled in our compulsory on-line Foreign Office Covid19 forms that had to be submitted before leaving France, but not more than 48 hours before. Sent them in and then saved the acknowledgement with a unique QR code that we had to show when we disembarked. Lots of personal questions and detail required including name of ship we were on, arrival time (and if it had been a plane, number of your seat). I suppose that without a smart phone you get taken away to fill up forms on arrival or to be interrogated?

We returned home on a daytime sailing by Brittany Ferries from Ouistreham. We intended to come this way, but the St Malo crossing had closed down for lack of passengers. There were plenty of large trucks with freight including some with medical supplies from Spain, but few cars. We sat in the reclining seat lounge at the front of the boat, with about 10 other people, spaced about 20 or more seats from each other (extra, extra social distancing). It was quite weird walking down a corridor to the toilets and seeing no one. Neither crew nor passengers.

We we were not too closely scrutinised at customs. They seemed to be on a one in five car stopping system. At immigration we lowered our masks to allow our faces to be compared with passport photos and offered our QR code forms on the phone. The immigration official had no interest in seeing these, but I suppose all the stuff we had submitted was on the screen in front of him.

We got home (very late) and metaphorically “took our masks off”

Sheila with great perseverance had managed to book a Tesco food delivery order while we were away. This was delivered at 10.00 am the next day. And kind friends also have offered to shop for essential food if we need them to do this.

Conclusion – we are glad we went.
Because we had been very isolated, only leaving home for exercise and shopping, staying in hotels and eating out was an increased risk. But no more so in France than if we had taken a similar holiday in Britain. Behaviour in France was no worse than that which we see here and probably there was more care and compliance with rules for social distancing and mask wearing than there is in Britain. Of course we avoided cities and potential hot spots. We also modified our holiday behaviour by cutting out ‘indoors’ – no visits to exhibitions, museums, tourist information centres or similar places. Communication or confusion was interesting. If one is not a fully fluent French speaker or has a poor accent it is usually possible to get by. Add the muffling effect of talking through a mask and there were times of complete incomprehension! It was a different holiday just as everything about 2020 is different.

We are in QUARANTINE. Other times of isolation have included being in Covid19 ‘lock down’ at home, a prison, a church, a hospital, a mountain hut, kept off school with measles and isolated on a remote island in the Atlantic, but this is a first for official compulsory quarantine.

Back home complete with new (quarantine) flag on the trike
Turbo trainers set up for Quarantine cycling. It looks as though however hard John cycles Sheila will always cross the finish line about one third of a wheel ahead, just scooping up a stage win.
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Following the River Charente

Sunny and hot all day reaching heat stroke temperatures in the afternoon. Today’s route will be broadly following the River Charente from Cognac to Angoulème, although we only get to actually see it a few times. Based on the FlowVelo cycle route, again adapted by Sheila to leave out particularly difficult tracks.

There is a boulangerie on the corner of the road from our roulotte so PARs purchasing should be easy.

Actually, getting started it was easy to find our way out of Cognac because there really was only one way for the first 5km to reach our road. Unfortunately it was likely to be rather busy. We crossed the bridge over the river and cycled right across Cognac to the other side and then out through the usual rather tatty shed-land found on the edge of French cities. Lots of traffic and quite a few roundabouts. The road surface was appalling – patched and bumpy with lots of drains and other ironmongery stuck everywhere – and being busy with traffic it was hard to steer out around the worst bits. We rattled and bumped along and at one point managed to bounce the front chain right off. Finally we came to a large roundabout. Exit two was a major N Road dual carriageway and we could sense the drivers of the vehicle we were holding up hoping we were not going to continue. We carried on around the roundabout and exit four delivered us onto a small road out into countryside. Great relief.

In fact from now on it was a real rural ride through countryside and small villages for the whole day. No shops, cafés or other facilities, wayside picnic stops and hoping our plentiful water supplies were plentiful enough.

The first half (or a bit more) was through countryside with lots of vineyards. This is the heart of the wine making area that provides the basic ingredient for cognac. There were plenty of ‘étape de vignerons de cognac’ signposted for sightseeing brandy connoisseurs and our route followed some of these lanes. The whole area exuded historic prosperity. Not occasional vast chateaux but lots of large solid and grand stone houses with slate roofs. There were also signs for establishments making pineau cognac.

We skirted Jarnac and crossed from the north to the south side of La Charente and continued to Graves-St-Amant, where pausing we spotted a picnic bench in the shade between the Mairie and church. Perfect for a mid-morning PARs stop. Beside the Mairie was a large fossilised dinosaur bone. There was lots of information on the walls of the Mairie about dinosaurs in the area and to judge by the smiles on the faces of some of the cartoon like drawings they must have been happy chaps.

Reaching Angeac-Charente we saw a memorial to Claude Bonnier, a famous WW2 French Resistance leader, and two Lysander pilots, and then crossed the various parts of the river over several narrow stone bridges. We paused beside a weir with two swans, who then paddled over to us. I suspect people often stop at this picturesque spot and they are used to being fed. Unfortunately we had thrown away a piece of old dry bread in a handy poubelle at Graves-St-Amant thinking we had no further use for it.

Beside Chateauneuf-sur-Charente we crossed the river again and once more near St Simeux leaving the vineyards behind and entering much more hilly countryside. Near nowhere in particular, but close to Champmillon, on a little tump beside the road there was a picnic bench with some shade. Ideal for a rural picnic lunch.

Refreshed we pressed on but were glad of any moments of shade from the fierce afternoon sun, particularly when toiling up one of the many hills that we crossed as our road went away from the river.

We could see the large town of Angoulême in the distance on higher land above La Charente and a few kms of increasingly built up semi-suburban roads brought us to its outskirts at a large bridge over the river. We decided that we were not going to take the route that ended in the barriered footbridge we had checked out when we first arrived in Angoulême. Trying to lift the trike over the awkward arrangement of the iron barriers (even with all luggage taken off) was just too risky and could lead to accident and injury to the trike, us, or both.

Climbing up into Angoulême and finding our way across town as an alternative was not too attractive after our experience escaping from Cognac earlier in the day. The third option was to follow a cyclepath track on a long meander of about 6km around Angoulême, finishing nearer to our hotel. The downside would be having to cross the river and come into town on a short (but not that short) busy main road dual carriageway. The other unknown was the cyclepath. How trikeable was it? Would we get stuck at a barrier? If we got most of the way and could not continue a 12km or so round trip was quite a way.

We set off on the track getting around the first barrier with ease. We were cycling right beside La Charente and there were trees giving shade. The track started rather rough, but got better. It was all trikeable and on the next bits we got up to 12kph!!

It was not too busy, we passed a few walkers and just a few bikes going the other way. Probably much busier at weekends. We came to various barriers but with ingenuity managed to get around them, or by removing our flagpole under them. We went by one lock and about two-thirds of the way along we came to another lock beside which was a café. Was it a mirage brought on by heat stroke? No it was the real thing. We stopped. We went in. We sat down. We had cold drinks. The perfectly timed and much appreciated final café stop of the holiday.

Feeling refreshed and happy we continued to reach the end of the track and came out into a large slightly derelict looking car park. It must be disused because the way out had been blocked by large boulders. They were too close together to get the trike through. We tried at two spots but failed. So near, yet so……. There was a bridge from the road we could not reach onto an island in the river. Sheila walked up onto the bridge to look around and John with the trike drifted back to the river by the bridge. The far side of the road from us was also fringed by boulders but Sheila thought that two might be just a bit further apart. John checked out the path beside the river under the bridge. It looked to be a fraction wider than the trike. We approached very slowly and squeezed through, mindful of the offside front trike wheel being just a few centimetres from plunging over the edge into the river. And the boulders on the far side were further apart than the trike front wheels. Free from the final obstacle.

Just a short ride to the roundabout and dual carriageway. Just before the roundabout there was a slip road that turned into a cyclepath. The dual carriageway and long bridge had been reconfigured to have two car lanes and then a wide cyclepath and then a pedestrian path each separated by barriers from each other. Brilliant! Just had to merge at the roundabout at the end, take second exit and almost immediately turn right into our hotel car park. Arrived and pleased to see our car still where we had left it. Bit of a chore in the heat, but we decided to take the trike apart and pack it away before going inside to showers and the end of today’s stage of TdF on TV,.

Swans expecting to be fed at Angeac-Charente
Bridge at Angeac-Charente
One of the best bits of the cycle path beside River Charente at Angoulême
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Salt and Brandewijn

Another hot sunny day and getting hotter. The afternoon into evening sun was piercingly hot if the trike was not moving to create some draft, albeit warm air. Occasional shade was good.

The plan, a bit like yesterday. Was to follow a cycle route – the Flow Velo – broadly following the River Charente upstream as far as Cognac, but to use Sheila’s variations to avoid parts that would be untrikeable. For the most part this worked.

We left via the bridge we had reconnoitred yesterday and then turned left onto the Flow Velo saying goodbye to EuroVelo 1 that went straight on towards Spain and from what we could see immediately became more of a grass greenway than a track. Quite pleased to say goodbye.

Mostly today was to be a series of small villages, not large enough for cafés or shops, all the way. We saw more cycle tourists than we have anywhere else so far.

We made steady progress through countryside that was by no means flat. Not fierce hills but we had to get used to proper uphill pedalling again. About elevenses time we reached Crazannes and found lots of shady picnic benches by the church. In fact it looked like an old large garden to a big house, which had been done up as a public area with boulodromes, table tennis table, second hand book exchange box and new toilets. A good stop for a PAR and some water.

At one point we returned to the official route, which immediately went steeply up hill. Whoever had designed this route had obviously read to Sustrans guide to the inclusion of unnecessary and pointless hills to nowhere in particularly – not even a good view. Having toiled up we were faced with a very steep drop on a track with lots of loose stones and grass to get back to the same road we had left several kms ago. We stuck to the Sheila alternative lanes for a bit after this.

We went into Saintes using the simple navigation system of follow signs for ‘Centre Ville’ and then aim at the cathedral dome whenever you can spot it above rooftops. This took us at slow speed through several pedestrian areas. Everyone seemed to be wearing masks in the streets so we thought we ought to as well. Leaving Saintes was easy. Aim for the river and turn right when you get to it. This put us on a one-way road with a bicycle contra-flow that we followed for a long way until well out of the town.

Our picnic lunch was in another village on a bench beside a primary school. When we left there were several small boys to watch us go by. The girls had better things to do.

Somewhere about here Sheila did a recalculation of our prospective journey length and found it had increased by about 20km from the distance expected. We used more slightly larger D roads to increase the pace of our progress. In fact they were almost devoid of vehicles and were good to cycle along. Sensible people were probably eating lunch in the shade or having an afternoon siesta.

Our destination for tonight was an island in the River Charente beside Cognac. After a bit of consideration of the map we decided to cross the river and continue on the north bank rather than reaching Cognac on the south bank. We used the phone Satnav for the last couple of kms to make sure we turned at the correct road to take us across the first part of the river onto our island.

We are spending the night in a sort of parkland with large ornamental trees, possibly a former large garden? We checked in and were directed to our Roulotte, which is ‘parked’ in a shady spot. A roulotte is a shepherds hut that can be wheeled from place to place, or later towed by a traction engine to house agricultural contractors. Fairly basic ‘caravan’ accommodation. Ours had a few extras including full plumbing, shower, coffee making facilities, air conditioning, comfy double bed, TV and Wi-Fi. Sheila’s idea of ‘camping’.

After a bit of a collapse, we showered and adjourned to seats outside the bar for cold drinks. Cognac, as you no doubt know, is famous for cognac. Apart from all the big names there are dozens of large ‘Cognac Houses”, very posh and with huge warehouses. All offering extensive tours and tastings. A quick bit of history. Cognac’s early wealth was based on the salt trade. King Francis 1st granted a charter for this. Later Dutch traders trying to find a cheap way to export wine reduced it (to brandewijn – brandy wine, as in ‘burnt’ wine) and later added water to make it back into wine. But this process did not work and thus ‘Brandy’ was invented and the industry was founded in Cognac. We took a very leisurely stroll into the old town.

Sheila had booked us a riverside table at a restaurant on the island very close our roulotte, so the walk back was not too strenuous for tired legs!

This bridge should be wide enough for the trike
Interesting roadside sculpture in Crazannes
Saintes cathedral from trike level
Our roulotte
Riverside dinner
Riverside dinner (2) – might even be Aperol
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Some days are more inspiring than others

The Auguries were not well aligned.

Through our open bedroom window at 2am we heard a cat Miaow twice loudly as a portent of an inauspicious day dawning.

Breakfast was at 8:30am and was a good but quite complicated affair. Vanessa was in attendance and very chatty. We now know about her sea captain husband, the children’s education, renovating the house and her father in the USA and much more.

Consequently, we made a later start than usual, but nomatter we had plenty of time to cover today’s distance. A few hundred metres down a main street through Centre Ville a piece of white plastic appeared to be stuck to one of the front tyres and rubbing the mudguard at each wheel revolution. John pulled it off – this was not any piece of plastic – this was the head of a hat pin that had stabbed straight through the sidewall of the tyre, delivering a mortal wound. We pulled up and being alongside one of La Rochelle’s many arcaded streets we lifted the trike onto the back of the pavement. Not too many pedestrians. We set to the task of replacing the inner tube. No need to search for the place or cause of the puncture,

Once more on the road we continued through the town to reach the vast and sprawling port area where we became completely lost. Tried following some bike signs. Tried to work out why the sea was to our left and not to our right as it should be. Stopped and consulted the map on John’s phone. We followed road signs to Les Minimes, which was on our route, but when we got there we seemed to be in the wrong part and going the wrong way. Somehow we found the EuroVelo 1 cycle route that we were to follow (can’t remember how!). It was rather rough and had boulders and barriers. We gave up and turned left.

Using John’s phone Satnav App we chose a place we should be going through, set it to ‘cycle’ and with Sheila holding the phone set off. This worked after a fashion.

We had planned to use the cycle route except for some stretches not suitable for the trike, but in the end we spent most of the day making up alternative on road sections. We got lost several times and retraced or used the Satnav App to get back on route. The stretches beside the sea through resorts confirmed that seaside holiday placed with cafés, fish and chip smells and tat have nothing to be said for them other than that they capture lots of people who might otherwise be elsewhere.

What did we see? The Tour de France goes through Charente Maritime. We are not sure exactly where, but there were hundreds and hundreds of TdF banners lining the roadside quite often. Railways – did not see a train all day but we crossed dozens of level crossings. So many we lost count.

Approaching Rochefort we had a decision to take. The official EuroVelo 1 route skirted around Rochefort keeping to the coast. If we committed to this and it was not trikeable there would be no way out. The alternative would be to head inland towards Tonnay-Charente. We chose the latter. A bit busy at first but then there was a very good surfaced cyclepath beside the main road for a long way. Boring ride through suburbia and Rochefort fringes but easy cycling.

We arrived at the quay in Tonnay-Charente beside the river lined with fine historic houses and a view of the old suspension bridge flying over the river and house tops. There was a bar. We stopped for drinks.

From here Sheila had detailed route notes. We overshot by a few kms to investigate a former railway bridge over the River Charente we are due to use tomorrow. Don’t want to start another day thwarted by a river crossing. It is wide and perfect. The approach to it by cyclepath along the old railway was narrower than the trike, but with wheels on the grass each side was manageable – much better than some we have been on.

Retraced and continued to our hotel for tonight.

Arcades at La Rochelle – temporary bike workshop
Le Tour is coming here
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A Bridge Not Too Far But Too Narrow

Another sunny day. The plan was to spend most of the day cycling along beside the river to reach La Rochelle. Quite a lot of the route is on the Velo Francette cycle route. Breakfast was well organised, after which we took the very short stroll to the boulangerie to buy our PARs for the day.

We successfully navigated Coulom’s one-way system to leave town beside the river. In a short time we left the river for a while then headed down a small road to cross over a bridge and continue beside the river on the far bank. There was a clue to possible difficulties in that the road we turned into was marked as a no through road. But there was also a clear cycle route sign. We pressed on for some time and eventually came to the river and a bridge for pedestrians and cycles to cross over. The drawback was that it was designed for a cycle route, not a tricycle route. Our trike = 1m wide. Bridge = 0.8m wife. Result = impasse. We retraced passing the same woman walking who we had passed some time ago going the other way. If she was local I wonder if she knew we would be back? The expression on her face gave nothing away.

We set off on a different non-riverside route, but in a few kms our road came close to the river and John spotted a lock and weir with a trike wide way over enabling us to cross the river and get back on the Velo Francette route. We stayed with for nearly all of the rest of the day. It was all rideable on the trike, but varied considerably along its length. Good surfaces to make steady progress; rougher but still tarred road; chausée deformée varying from all over the place to a road in two bits with a positive cliff edge between the left and right sides; holes and depressions and some crater like holes; some but not too much gravillon. These could appear in any order and sometimes several at once. There was also one unsurfaced stretch, a bit like an Italian ‘white road’ but this was OK.

Almost car free all the way. Cyclists out day riding, with ebikes well evident and a few tourers, but it was generally quiet. A few fishermen at intervals on the river bank, but no boats. On the way near to Damvix we saw lots of ‘scarecrow’ figures in various garbs on the riverside bank and in gardens over quite a long stretch of the river. After Damvix in open countryside a glance at the watch showed it was one minute to eleven, and a glance to our left showed a cut grass area with two bike stands and two picnic benches put there for the convenience of travellers on the Velo Francette route, PARs time. The best Sheila could come up with for a Tuesday B’ stop was B for Bench.

Refreshed we carried on with steady easy cycling but paying attention to the road for the next pothole or deformée hazard. We crossed the river on a pedestrian bridge that much to our relief was just a critical bit wider than the trike and the route now joined a straight canalised section of waterway while the river meandered away. Closer to Marans we recrossed the river where the canalised section ended, again on a bridge just wide enough. We entered Marans on the quay side, fairly slowly over the uneven cobbled surface, looking for a café. Reaching a pedestrians only barrier before three cafés Sheila hopped off to investigate and chose a suitable table in shade. She temporarily removed the barrier and wheeled the trike in and parked it alongside the café. We decided to settle down for lunch as our main meal of the day (see Culinary Comments below). Time to switch from water to a glass of beer as well.

Fully refreshed and knowing that the recumbent seats were perfectly designed for a post-lunch riverside snooze if required, we gathered ourselves together. Between us and our way forward along the quay was a large bridge carrying a busy main road through the town. John did a bit of exploratory investigation on foot and found that there was a pedestrian walkway slung under the bridge arch that should just about be wide enough for the trike if we could just manoeuvre it through various bollards in order to get down a ramp and onto the walkway in the first place. With a bit of lifting and shuffling we managed. John then slowly pedalled the trike while Sheila walked. Half way along she went ahead to dissuade anyone from setting off from the other end because of un grande engine that was coming through occupying the whole space. In fact we did not meet anyone. We continued through a more industrialised part of the quays, then beside larger boats to leave town on another canalised section.

Sheila had not been able to check this section, but it was quite trikeable including the long unmade ‘white road’ section. Nearing the end of the canal the route left the road for a rather narrow pathway intended to save us crossing other roads. This required negotiating narrow ways under bridges, but with care and mindful of the proximity of the water we got through. It was on one enclosed narrow piece that we met a snake about 1m long coming towards us. We managed not to run it over but as it slid under the rear of the trike Sheila’s pressure on her pedals and desire to speed up increased.

We now left the Velo Francette and took to an intricately plotted route on small roads through villages and then the suburbs of La Rochelle devised by Sheila to take us to our chambres d’hôte.

Her instructions included ‘turn right through bollards just after the hairdressers’! The traffic got busier as we reached the town centre and we did not fit well on the designated painted cycle lanes. Finally we went through a no entry to follow a cycle contraflow lane while looking for a red door on the right. We spotted the door and stopped just after, causing an immediate bicycle traffic jam with cars on one side and lots of pedestrians on the pavement on the other. We managed to lift the trike onto the pavement and Sheila walked back to ring the door bell.

Vanessa was in. This was an historic street with a terrace of large houses. The garage was straight off the street beside the front door. We walked the trike back and caused another jam while we lifted around at right angles to the street and backed into to the garage.

Very welcoming reception, super bedroom, happy for us to sit in their garden to eat our evening snack AND offered to do our washing!!

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

We had decided to try to have our main meal at lunchtime to avoid eating in a busy restaurant in La Rochelle tonight. I had tried to check restaurants in Marans online but unsuccessfully, as Covid19 was in full swing at the time. Anyway when we got there the first restaurant we came to looked okay so we parked the trike by a table and settled down. John was as a bit overwhelmed at his starter of salad chèvre chaud, which looked huge so I asked for a plate to help him out. Then we both had cod in a lemon sauce, resisting the moules frites that most customers were having – though we did indulge in frites. Finally we had crème brulée, another holiday staple*

We then cancelled our booking for dinner tonight in La Rochelle and got our waitress to sort out two enormous filled bagettes for us to take away to eat in the garden of our B&B tonight – if I can find any appetite!

The inescapable food when cycle touring in France includes: chèvre chaud, frites, moules frites and crème brulée. And in some parts for non meat eaters truite can become the everyday dinner. So far on this holiday we had scored precisely 0 points. Now in one go we have scored 3 on the tick list.

This is not going to work
We met some other cyclists on the Velo Francette
This is more like our sort of bridge
Coming along the quay into Marans
Walkway slung under bridge in Marans
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Easy cycling – mostly

Sunny day, it had rained overnight and we borrowed a cloth to dry the trike seats.

The plan was a half day cycle ride to Coulon followed by a boat trip on the Marais waterways. We knew there was no chance of buying a PAR in Aulnay despite there being four boulangeries. We checked them yesterday. One permanently closed, one closed on Monday and two gone on holiday.

After a slight pause to check which way was our direction out of town, we set off. To avoid a busy main road the first part of Sheila’s Route was on very small lanes. Quite rough in parts, gravel and grass in the centre was also frequent. We picked our way along and managed to achieve an average speed of 8kph over the first hour. After this the roads improved and we bowled along often in trees.

The countryside opened up. Not a hill in sight. The road went slightly uphill, flat, or slightly downhill. We spent most of the morning in the big ring and the kms ticked by remarkably quickly. It certainly showed how no white knuckle fast descents ever offset the time lost slogging up steep hills first. In Chizé we were pedalling slowly to see if we could spot a boulangerie when Sheila noticed a man walking up a side street carrying bread. She leapt off the trike and ran to ask him where he had made the purchase. “Out of town past the cemetery”. Luckily this was our direction. It seemed a long way but we sighted another person walking along with bread and kept going. Finally, out of town we went by the cemetery and there was a boulangerie also advertising sandwiches. It was obviously patronised from several villages around. PARs and sandwiches for lunch were bought. While Sheila was shopping John was looking at a vintage tractor pulled up outside with the tiniest ever caravan attached. Looking in one window it was obviously quaintly fitted out and there was a gnome looking out of the rear window. An elderly gent came out of the shop and started the tractor with a very satisfactory and explosive sound and set off put, putting along. Must be on tour.

We continued to speed along until we reached Marigny where we paused to look for a suitable place to stop. There was a very attractive 11th century church – Saint Jean l’Evangéliste. We sat on a low wall in the sunshine. The church clock struck eleven. We ate our PARs.

We sped on looking forward to going through Frontenay Rohan Rohan. Sounded very aristocratic and we thought we might find a coffee stop opportunity. Unfortunately it didn’t live up to its name and was a bit of a disappointment.

We drew closer to the Marais and the scenery changed abruptly. From being wide open there were now hedges, ditches and trees beside the roads. We turned into a road with lots of limit signs the gist of which was nothing tall, wide or heavy. Crossing a small bridge we reached Le Gué and had a shock. In front of us was a hill, as in road going up. Our legs seemed to be taken by surprise as well. From here it was more choppy countryside, but it did not take us too long to reach Coulon, the self proclaimed capitale de la Venise Verte.

Sheila’s precise navigation took us off the main road into small side roads and out onto the riverside at the front door of l’Hôtel Au Marais where we are staying. Sheila had previously arranged for us to arrive early. The trike was stowed in a small garage and our room with a waterfront view was ready for us.

We sat on the terrace to eat our lunch sandwiches and then took a reconnoiter stroll. Unlike the rather shabby appearance of Aulnay, Coulon is smart, well kept and quite a tourist town. The Tour de France comes through here on 9th September and the town will be en fête with a large screen also. We located the restaurant Sheila had booked for her post-birthday dinner and checked our reservation time, then strolled along the waterfront and back into the centre to settle in a café for our first holiday glacées.

In the afternoon we took a guided boat trip around the waterways of the Marais. Very tranquil and very green. No effort required at all as our youthful student guide, doing the job as vacation employment, poled the boat along.

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

As our hotel here doesn’t have a restaurant, I pre-booked dinner at L’Atelier Gourmand, a busy bistro close to the centre and a very short walk from the hotel. (Should mention our hotel room with river view is meant for people with disabilities so is very spacious.)
John began with ‘Rillettes de saumon’ while I had ‘Farci poitevin’ which was mentioned during our boat trip and is a kind of vegetarian paté though it was said to have some pork in it. John followed this with cod and a variety of vegetables and I had ‘sandre’ = perch, also with lots of vegetables. We were intrigued to have cooked melon, kiwi and cucumber among other things. Too full for pud!

Tractor and caravan at Chizé
Sheila beside church in Marigny
Boating around the Marais Venise Verte
l’Hôtel Au Marais
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Back on the road again

As well as being the first day of our mini-tour, today is Sheila’s birthday. Trés bon anniversaire. Her birthday present ….. censored ….. a white one.

Up early to have breakfast, retrieve the tandem from seminar room and do a final sort out of stuff to leave in Angoulême. While John was sorting out the trike and panniers Sheila made a successful trip to a Petit Casino just up the road to buy PARs. Tried to lift the back end of trike to turn it around and found it had become stuck to the ground in car park. How could two panniers be so heavy?

We were off, touring à vélo once more. A cooler day – good cycling temperature and sunny / cloudy, but mostly sun. Strong wind. Rolling countryside, hilly enough to require low gears (but not very low small chainring gears) with the weight of loaded panniers added, but rounded tops, not the steep up and rush down of Salviac. Mind you not all the hills were unavoidable, some on Sheila’s route seemed to be included to “add interest”. Though Sheila maintains it was the “least bumps” route.

For the first part of the day we were close to the braided stream of the Charente River. Arriving in Genac at 10,30 am we decided it was near enough to 11.00 am to make a coffee stop at the tiny village shop and bar open on Sunday. We saved our PARs for a stop in the countryside later in the morning with a wide view across the landscape.

Onwards on almost traffic free small roads through small villages we reached Cresse and turned into the green with lots of benches in front of its 14th century church. Picnic lunch time and not a soul about. Just started to eat when a woman and dog appeared. She stopped to talk and the dog (called Andorra) decided to give us more attention than we needed. She was friendly, but obviously in for a long chat. We discovered about her local parents and her work as a peripatetic carer for the elderly. She disappeared home because it was time for Andorra’s siesta, only to reappear without the dog bringing two Mars bars and four sweets because she thought we needed more sugar for our onward exertions. We finally thanked her, said goodbye and departed.

We rolled into Aulnay an hour before our hotel was due to open for us to check in. There were two bars in the square, both noisy from much drink taken and crowded so we decided against filling in time with coffee and sat in the square instead.

Later we checked in to the Hôtel du Donjon, parked the trike in its garden and settled in to our room to watch the end of stage 2 of TdF on the TV.

Sheila’s Culinary (and other) Comments Column

I don’t usually mention breakfast, but our hotel in Angoulême really was very organised. Each person had their own pair of plastic tongs to pick up food from the breakfast buffet like bread and pastries, butter, jams etc. There were individual refillable bottles of orange juice, ditto of cereal, and of fruit salad.
This was our first evening of the daily touring clothes washing routine: have showers , wash our cycling clothes, devise a way of hanging them using the washing line we always carry, keep squeezing the water out, then before dinner roll them up in any available towels and tread on them to squeeze the remaining water out. Hang them up again and hope that they dry by morning! The task is made more tricky if like today the hangers are the sort that fix into a device on the rail in the wardrobe and don’t have their own hook. But there is a method. And today’s routine was not helped by the fact that the sink plug did not work properly so did not keep the water in the basin!
We knew that supper this evening was going to be simple as the hotel does not do Sunday evening meals and the only bistro here is closed on Sundays. However the hotel did offer to lay on a cold platter. I explained John’s food preferences, i.e. no charcuterie. In the event we were not the only guests, and supper was half a hot pizza (with strips of ham and slices of sausage) plus a nice crispy salad, tomatoes and cucumber. I swapped my olives and mushroom slices for John’s meaty bits and both of us were content. An apple tart finished the meal, not real birthday stuff but perfectly acceptable. 50cl of rosé probably helped!

Our first proper Route Barrée today – but we got through
PARs stop
Lunch stop in Cresse
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Two non-tandem days

Wot – no cycling, what’s been happening?

Friday was an all day rainy day, so we had planned to do other stuff.

Drove into Gourdon to visit Intermarché for shopping, mostly wine.

Back in Salviac we took the first moment that the rain eased to take the floor out of the car and stow away our booty. Only one heavy shower and the Berlingo’s tailgate is quite a roomy cover.

Picnic lunch in our room – not quite the same as sunshine on the banks of River Lot, but practical. The boulangerie was having a ‘No PARs Friday’, so it was chaussons de pommes instead.

Went for a drive in the afternoon to see some of the cause, but the non-stop rain was not much incentive to get out and wander. The next short dry spell in Salviac saw us taking apart and putting the trike into the car as quickly as we could. Back inside we packed our large panniers ready for touring.

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

Last dinner at La Maison de Fortitude Friday. Patrick’s home-made lentil soup (large bowl of) followed by pumpkin risotto with roast duck for Sheila and veggieburger for John. Finally two crepes each which longed for the lemon juice with which we drown our pancakes at home.


Saturday was a no PARs and no pizza Saturday at Salviac boulangerie so we deferred purchasing lunch. Had breakfast, did a final bit of packing and then we said goodbye to Marc and Patrick and set off for Angoulême.

It is interesting to drive along roads you have just cycled. We went towards Domme, then followed the Rivet Dordogne through La Roque Gageac where the houses are cut into the cliffs beside the river, and also Beynac, which we visited on a previous Salviac Rally, leaving our tandems for a boat trip.

Coffee stop in Le Bugue at a busy newsagents and bar. We sat outside a bit apart from others. For the rest there was a lot of unsocial closeness, with some masks being worn in the one-ear and dangling mode. And even a bit of ‘bisousing’ and hand shaking. Madame cleared the tables around us sans masque but went inside and put one on to serve us our coffees.

We got lost in Perigueux. The Satnav said right, John said right, Sheila said right and Sheila turned left. Why? Directional brain wiring malfunction. The Satnav took us through some interesting small roads, but eventually brought us back on route.

Our picnic lunch stop was in Brantôme, which is set on a very attractive sweep of the River Dronne. We have previously spent the night here. We settled on a bench for our picnic with a commanding view of the river and weir. A family in two canoes (Parents in one and two teenage children in the other) arrived. The parents approached the weir at a bit of an angle and got stuck on the weir top. There was not a lot of water going over. A bit of rocking had no effect. Father got out to give the canoe a push, but standing on the weir’s sloping slippery surface he simply slid down to the bottom. With difficulty he climbed back and repeated the performance getting more wet. Several more iterations followed including falling over to complete his soaking. As a scripted comedy sketch it was priceless. Several passing people stopped to video the scene with their cameras. It must have gone viral on YouTube later in the day. Eventually with father hanging onto the canoe and mother hanging one leg out, the whole combination slid to the bottom and both occupants got in.

Meanwhile, son and daughter had been holding back observing. They now tackled the weir. Good line, straight at it. Good speed, paddle power at maximum. And then straight over. Well no. They didn’t – almost, but stuck poised with half of the canoe over balanced on the top. Now, to paraphrase Hoffnung telling the barrel and bricks story (don’t know it – look it up), “Father must have lost all sense of reason”, because he got out of his canoe and waded back to the weir and attempted to climb up and give assistance. By now you know how it goes, but eventually with the aid of the children holding a paddle out from the stranded canoe for him to hold he made it. He then pushed the canoe off and all was fine. Well no! At the critical moment father lost his balance and ended up back at the bottom. Son and daughter finally did what they should have done straight away. They shifted and leant forward tipping the canoe until it slid gracefully to the bottom

Arriving in Angoulême we paused at Leclerc to top the car up with petrol then found our hotel and parking. The young man at reception was very helpful. He seemed to be a one-man team doing everything. We assembled the trike and wheeled it around to go into the seminar room for the night (Covid has stopped seminars). After dinner we took a short walk along the river to reconnoiter a pedestrian bridge that Sheila has planned to use on our return route. The bridge is fine, but unfortunately it has barriers at each end that we could not negotiate. If we took the panniers off would we be able to lift it over? Maybe, not sure.

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

This edge of city hotel, which is kindly allowing us to leave our car for a week in their not very large car park, and our trike overnight in their seminar room, mainly has commercial visitors, I guess, and tourists stopping on their way south. Their supper solution is neat and very inexpensive at 14 Euros: no starter, main courses either come in a little sealed glass casserole or as a choice of salads. John chose a ‘marmite ocean’ with fish and a little seafood while I had a pot of boeuf bouguinon. Everything arrived on a tray each, with our choice of cheese (goats), some bread and butter, and our choice of a simple dessert, in our case blackcurrant yoghurt. The drink was included and we chose Sauvignon, enough each for a couple of glasses. A simple but tasty meal.

Rainy day in Salviac
View from our Bedroom window in Salviac
John in Brantôme
Seminar room with no seminars
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Guided Sightseeing

Another hot, sunny day in the south of France.

The weather forecast for Friday is quite bad – rain and storms, so our plan is: To have a half day cycle ride this morning, returning to Salviac for a late picnic lunch, followed by getting the trike ready for moving on, doing some washing and being ready to go out by 5pm. Then tomorrow, if it is as wet as forecast, we will go out by car, including driving to Gourdon to do our holiday shopping, including wine.

Bob and Mary also have things to do this afternoon, but have said that they will come out with us for a half day ride. We met outside La Maison de Fortitude. And also with the other two tandems, not by design, but because they were meeting outside the boulangerie. Sanna and Chuck were cycling to the River Lot and Richard and Robin were starting with them before turning off on a shorter circuit. Bob took a photo of us all together.

We set off to Daglan, with Bob leading us on a rural ride of small lanes following the meandering valley of the River Céou for part of the way passing through Bouzic, where we paused and took a short walk to see the river. It was pleasant fairly level easy cycling. We arrived in Daglan at coffee time and the boulangerie with two tables and four chairs outside was open. Perfect. Bob organised the purchase of Chocolatines (previously known to us as Pain au Chocolat) and café normal all round. Actually, before coffee we did keep up the tourism, visiting the displays about historic stone buildings in the Office de Tourisme.

From Daglan we cycled up a gently rising side stream to St Pompon. We walked with our tandems into the heart of the old village and visited the church and an exhibition of water colours, mostly of local scenes.

Our journey home was to be the reverse of the first part of of our trip to Belvès, which we did on Monday. We knew that the 12km would be an uphill stretch of 7km that we had previously downhilled at speed, followed by 5km of hilly cross country cycling. As it turned out, most of the first 7km was just a steady climb although it steepened considerably at the end. The hilly section turned out to be a lot more down than up, with some really steep downhill drops. No wonder we had found it a bit of a struggle going the other way on Monday.

Back in Salviac we arrived ten minutes too late to buy food for lunch, but we had the PARs bought earlier and still uneaten, and the ingredients for a picnic.

Our priority tasks on return were showers for us and clothes washing to get our laundry out to dry. Next was a picnic lunch in the garden, followed by Sheila reading her book and John adjusting various things on the trike and getting it ready to be dismantled and packed.

Then it was swimming pool time!!

We had all been invited by Chuck and Sanna to visit them in their gîte for pre-dinner drinks. Bob and Mary collected us and we were glad we were not driving ourselves to find the gîte hidden in a very rural spot. Aperols, cheese, olives and lots of tandem and cycling chat.

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

Another excellent dinner in the garden with a fine sunset to go with it. There is a new Belgian couple staying now. He spotted John’s Friends of the New Forest car window sticker and told us that his sister has 15 New Forest ponies and is head of the Belgian New Forest ponies group. Small world!

Dinner began with gazpacho and a refreshing green salad garnished with slices of boiled egg. This was followed by a piping hot dish of vegetarian lasagne, and strawberries and ice cream finished off the meal. Rosé wine went well with all this.

St Pompon
Garden and swimming pool at La Maison de Fortitude. John with ‘sensible’ heatstroke protective headgear
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Changing Rivers

Although Salviac is in the Lot Department most of our cycling has be in the neighbouring Dordogne Department heading towards the River Dordogne. Today’s plan is to stay in the Lot and visit the River Lot itself.

However, the day dawned rather dull and a bit damp. Just very slightly drizzly as though the cloud had come down. We went the boulangerie to buy PARs before breakfast and after breakfast looked at various weather forecast websites. Looked like being a damp start getting better. We wandered around the market, which was spread between sites and well organised with a pedestrian one-way system. Then dithered. Pertex or rainproofs? Shall we go or shall we stay?

Pertex tops on we set off. In no time we were too hot and stopped to take them off. From then on the clouds became less, the sky cleared and we were back into full on sunshine.

The first 20km were on a fairly main road. Not too busy but some large trucks and by no means flat, so not perfect cycling. It was mostly climbing until we dropped down steeply to Cazals, a bastide down in this instance not on a hilltop, but in the River Masse valley. Between here and Frayssinet there was a 280m spot height on the road and viewpoints marked on maps should also make one wary. We knew there would be a significant lump to get over. There was.

A few kms after Frayssinet we turned off onto a minor road towards Cassanges, which was good, but Sheila had spotted that the Michelin map showed the road with an up arrow. Not too bad in a low gear. What Sheila had not spotted was that the road out of Cassanges was shown with a double up arrow. This time our low gear really did not seem low enough. After a while John fixed on a spot not far ahead thinking that we’ll stop and have a rest there. How can it take so long to reach somewhere so near? Pushing on (not a good way to put it – should have said pedalling on) we reached the top.

From here it was mostly down, some steep, towards the River Lot. We slightly changed our approach in favour of a road with a better looking surface and came into Puy l’Evèque at river level. The town is spread up the very steep valley side with buildings piled on top off each other. We turned towards the historic centre and clambered up narrow cobbled streets in search of a café. Failing to find one we returned slowly and gingerly down narrow cobbled streets and crossed the bridge to the other side of the River Lot. A sharp turn and short drop took us to the riverside. Sheila selected a suitable bench on which to sit looking at the river while eating our PARs.

From here we pedalled along the Véloroute de la Vallée du Lot. We have cycled on a part of this previously further down the river. It was easy cycling, flat or slightly up and slightly down. At times we were close to the river and at others further away as it meandered in sweeping cingles. Lots and lots (pun intended) of vignoble de Cahor vineyards.

Finally we recrossed the river into Castelfranc where we found a grassy spot by the river for our picnic lunch. Turning for home after lunch the only way had to involve climbing back out of the River Lot valley. Our chosen road followed the valley of the River Masse all the way back to Cazals. Although we had height to gain following this tributary upstream away from the River Lot, it was a steady climb with some moderate downhill sections thrown in. We pedalled along steadily in the sunshine without undue effort, pausing to drink water and to let our toes get over some rather coarse aggregate surfaced stretches of road. At this point we were out of water apart from a couple of centimetres in Sheila’s bottle kept back for an unspecified emergency.

Approaching Cazals the road was fringed with a couple of fine stretches of avenues planted with fairly young plane trees. We stopped to take a photo. In Cazals we found a café with no trouble at all. Time to park the trike and order cold drinks. Orangina for S (first of trip) and sirop de menthe with Perrier water for J.

If you have been paying attention you will remember a steep downhill drop into Cazals was mentioned previously. Going home this became a steep uphill climb given a 2-Grunt rating by Sheila. The café patron saw us out of the tricky corner onto our road and we selected a low gear to wind our way up. Over the top it was nearly all downhill to Salviac and on the not too steep rises John was on a mission to keep the power on so we bowled along speedily to reach Salviac. Familiar routine of stowing the trike, having showers, Twix chocolate, doing washing and writing blog.

Sheila’s Culinary Comments Column

Bob and Mary kindly booked a table for the four of us at Le Petit Paris restaurant in the village of Daglan. It was very busy and the food was very good. John had a very prettily arranged home-smoked salmon starter while I had little spring rolls of shredded duck. We both had mains of bream with purple potato, and orange and purple carrots. And we both had a pavlova dessert with strawberries.

Salviac market
Salviac market
Salviac market
River Lot at Puy-l’Evéque
On the Véloroute Vallée du Lot
Could be any of zillions of vines in the River Lot valley
Picnic lunch spot on river bank
Avenue on road approaching Cazals
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