Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 16-20

Where have we been?

Everyone has been asking "why has the blog stopped?" I could say that I have had writers block but, truth be told, I just couldn't be a***d. So, here is a summary of our activites, now that I've got round to doing it.

We decided to to take a day trip to Pontivy once more, so set off at the crack of 9.30. On the way we passed a long distance race along one of the Grand Randonée routes. We have encountered this before so it must be a regular event. Several things characterise these races but the singluar one which stands out is the disproportionate number of Japanese competitors wearing hi-vis vests (of the type you would use when the car breaks down on the motorway) and knee-length compression socks; and that everyone seems to be experiencing a considerable amount of pain. We spotted the first of these unfortunates as we approached Silfiac but quickly distanced them on the long downhill stretch toward Clegurec, but then disaster . . . the first, and only, puncture of the tour befell HEVANS001 . . . "S, we have a problem" I shouted over my shoulder. The roadside repair was relatively straightforward, but as I was faffing around trying to find the tyre piercing culprit, who should amble past but said randonneurs . . . the hare and the tortoise springs to mind. So, we never reached Pontivy, but instead bactracked for le dejeuner of moules at a nice lakeside restaurant in the middle of nowhere where we were the only customers. "Another tough day at the office" I said to S as we tucked into the moules et cidre. . .

On the way back to the gîte we once again attempted to find the menhir, from which we were distracted in our quest by the blackberry largesse, and this time were successful. The informational board held forth various theories for it being there, but I prefer my own: that it was a place of sacrificial worship where unfortunate offerings were brought and lashed to the stone before being summarily despatched, or left for the Gods to devour by proxy of having birds peck away at their flesh; or alternatively that it was a potent fertility symbol representing a giant . . . well, you get the idea. Needless to say, S was unimpressed with any of my suppositions, and demonstrated her definition of fertility with retrospective knowledge of the consequences having two grown up 'children', who will doubtless be cleaning the house, preparing a sumptuous meal, making our bed and plumping the pillows in anticipation of our imminent return . . .

So, the final day arrived, and we had to quit our gîte and make a dash for Morlaix up the voie verte - 25 uphill miles pulling the trailer. I made it . . . just, by unaccountably drafitng behind S's wheel for at least 100 yards . . and we arrived in Morlaix to enjoy a traditional beer at Café d'Europe, and thence to Hotel du Port. S was determined to have a diner traditionnel, so we ended up at Le Marmite . . . well you know what they say, you either love it or hate it! The menu was chalked up on little slates which the waiter presented to us balanced on a miniature easel. Thus placed, and as I was holding forth to S that the poor lad must have been drafted in to cover for the regular help, I knocked it off it's perch wherewith it crashed to the floor and splintered into a thousand fragments, thereby invalidating anything that came out of my mouth for the next hour or so. Luckily we were the first in, so no-one was around to witness my faux pas and laugh loudly. . . other than the waiter . . . and S . . . and billions people who read this blog . . .

The last day saw us make a leisurely progress to Roscoff where we indulged in the tradiaitonal harbourside moules et frites, then onto the ferry . . .

and home . . .

520 miles all told . . . pulling the bloody trailer . . . until the next adventure to see La Vuelta in Northern Spain: the 'Old Gits and Two Girls Tour; will my derailleur hanger play up; will JJ get his patatas bravas; and will the old woman still be knitting socks? All will be revealed from 31st August . . . watch this space . . .

Ca Va



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 15


Today we visited the Roman remains at Locuon. Behind the church in this small Breton village is a Roman quarry where granite blocks were hewn to build the town of Carhaix some considerable miles distant. Apparently, it was worth carting it all the way to Carhaix because, apart from labour costs being considerably lower than they are today with a surfeit of Breton slaves, the granite is high in white mica so resembles marble when in situ. Within the quarry there is the later addition of a chapel with the usual Virgin Mary and accompanying religious paraphenalia set into the quarry walls etc. . .

More interestingly, you can still see the 2000 year old tool marks on the granite blocks that form the wall of the quarry.

Further below, there is what seems to be a baptismal pool - but who knows, maybe it was an ancient Roman sacrificial spot where the unlucky victim would be taken and have her (it is invariably a 'her' in all the Hammer Horror films I have seen so I am prepared to argue this point of historical accuracy . . .) throat slit, thereby allowing warm blood to gush into the trough and thence into the pool below, where naked Romans would cavort in it prior to, or during, the requisite orgy/feast/whatever . . . "STOP, you ar talking complete and utter b*******. . . ." says S at this point.

In addition, there is a Roman road from the village to - I dunno, Paris? - which S was keen to follow . . . so we did until it got a bit too MTB for her ( i.e. grass more than 3 inches), so here she is on the return journey to the main road . . .

Quite apart from that, we have tracked down the pungent odure emanating from the kitchen. It seems that it is not after all S's cycling shoes but the wheel of rustic camambert that we purchased several days ago . . . clearly it is coming to full ripeness, so we shall have to eat it.

Ca va





Monday, 11 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 12-14


And so, we arrive at our usual return stop at Pete & Keith's beautiful chambre d'hote. This year, however, I have booked the gîte for a full week to allow S to recover from nine days of roughing it with only my lentil and bean curry to eat. The weather seems to be on the turn, i.e. raining, so the gîte comes at an opportune moment - all in the plan I say to S . . .

We are having a 'recovery few days' . . . lounging about in the garden and gentle strolls to see the sights. We set off to see the menhir a couple of miles down the road - I was hoping for something onnthenscale of la roche tremblant at Huelgoat so that I could test S's thigh muscle development over the previous two weeks, but in the event we never made it as far as the rock. Why? Well, regular readers will know that I cannot resist a bargain and, as we were making our way down the remote country lane toward the la roche, what do I see but a cornucopia of blackberries, practically falling off the bough such is their abundance. Unfortunately, we were without suitable containers, so legged it back tout suite to the gîte, donned the long-sleeved blackberrying gear, and retuned en velo to lay waste to the crop like the 8th plague of Egypt.


Today we explored the sourrounding countryside en velo by way of Chateaux Launay, Plouërdut and Guémené-sur-Scorff - unfortunately they were all ferme lundi. Nevertheless, it was a day of surprises . . .

Surprise 1: who should we see in Plouërdut but le chat précieux, or a French relative perhaps. As you can see, she knew who her mère was . . .

Surprise 2: we came across this water feature in the middle of nowhere, the kind of thing you might encounter in Yorkshire perhaps, where a retired engineer has exercised his lifetime skills in a more pleasurable pursuit. What is not evident from the photo is that this was an animated scene, the see-saw going up and down, the helicopter rotor trurning, all the machinery rotating away and the various figures going about their business . . . all powered by the flowing stream!

Surprise 3: l'atelier bistrot - what a fantastic restaurant in Langoelan! We had the plat du jour of mussels in gazpacho soup, followed by a main course of poulet with shredded courgette, green beans, roast potato and pea purée, then dessert of apple binet in a mint and raspberry couli, follwed by coffee and half a litre of wine - all for €25! We will return . . .

Ca va








Saturday, 9 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 11 & 12

Il Pleut

Well, it had to happen, our luck couldn't last. On day 10 the heavens opened and hosed it down on our campsite. Consequently, there is very little to relate unless you count squatting in a dripping tent waiting for gaps in the downpour to enable to making of tea/dinner and go to the toilet block. We did get out for a quick walk around the the lac in the alternate direction to last time and came across a holiday chalet village (a French version of Bultins but with better food I would imagine) where I availed myself of their free and unprotected wi-fi access in the communal bar at a cost of 1.5 chocolats for the price of 2 given that my cup was half empty - in this case, as I commented to S, my alleged cynicism being amply demonstrated by embodiment in physical realilty. No matter, I was able to upload the last blog post until we were ushered to one side to make room for the kiddies talent contest.

On day 11 we broke camp for the last time this holiday. Luckily the day dawned dry and S was up with alacrity at the prospect of seven consecuitive nights in a real bed with sheets and a mattress, and a table and chairs to sit on, with cold beer in the fridge, and a washing machine to expurge that 'camping whiff' (aka Eau de Glastonbury) hat hangs about everything when you have to stuff all your clothes into two small bags every day so that the clean and dirty are in such close proximity that eventually one is unable to distinguish between them. Talking of 'camping whiff', as we were packing up it did occur to me to mention something which had been preying on my mind since our arrival, but which I though best not to mentin to S . . . Now, as anyone who has been camping will know, the proximity of the toilet block is in inverse relation to the desireability of a particular pitch. The is also an inviolate law that, on returning to the tent after brushing of teeth and other bedtime ablutions and zipping up the sleeping bag, the urge to go to the toilet instantly comes upon one, even if you've just been. However, the toilet block is a half mile trek away in the dark and (likely) rain, and you are now wearing your favourite jimjams which, while being perfectly comfortable nightime attire, will not attract any admiring glances . . . so you think 'stuff it' and try to get to sleep. Now, one of two things will happen:

1. You fail to nod off and eventually have to give in to nature's call and set off across country;

2. You go to sleep, but awaken at 2 am in thrall to an urgent and all consuming need to empty your bladder. But now it is pitch black and has definitely started to rain, so there ensues an extended period of fumbling with zips and head torch, location of flip-flops and perhaps a waterproof jacket, not forgetting toilet roll if that has also become is necessary because there is never any in these municipal campsites . . . and during these logistical gymnastics, the equivalent of D-day preparations, all the time things are getting more urgent, ampllified by the sprint to the block in the chilly night air . . . well, you get the idea.

My point is that if you are so encamped at the far end of the site, especially with a load of kids in tow, the temptation to short circuit this whole farrago by just going in the hedge round the back of the tent, au naturelle so to speak, is exceedingly great. I can assure readers that we are made of sterner stuff than that, but this might explain the whiffy smell that had emanated from the corner of our pitch since we arrived . . need I say more.

Ca va



Friday, 8 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 9 & 10

We set off from Saint-Brieuc on our way to our next port of call directly South towards Lac de Guarledan. As is usual, in any city of significant size, the hardest part is to negotiate the contra-flow system and avoid ending up on the motorway. Now, usually, this involves reversing and GPS-related swearing in equal measure on my part, and S walking her bike along the pavement at busy intersections, thereby making progress even more strained. However, with my new powers of Zen, it all went rather smoothly . . . and as if the conform this what did we pass on the way . . .

Thereafter, we hammered it down the dual carriageway, with artics skimming our panniers . . . but respite was found for le déjeuner in a picturesque wheat field.

Subsequently, S discovered what the 'Mur' in Mur de Bretagne means: regular readers know that I need say no more about it . . .

Trailer Tales

I have already mentioned the Da Costa trailer, so named because I borrowed it from Mike Da Costa (thanks to Mike) for this trip. Now, it is really useful for carting the camping stuff down low to the ground, which makes the bike handilng much more predictable, and I constantly receive admiring glances from pannier-laden, lady cyclo-tourists following in the wake of their spouses - I like to think that it is my tanned and hardened athletes physique, but S maintains that they are, instead, fantasising about buying such a trailer for their husband's next Xmas present. However, it's crowning glory is that S calls it the 'Great Equaliser' - I can no longer speed away from her as in the carefree days of old, because the extra drag prevents me putting down my power sprint to create a tranquil distance between us when required. And, packed to bursting as it is with objects feminine, camping clobber, food, and dirty laundry, our daily distance is limited to 35-40 miles of 'scenic route'.

However, it seems that I have it easy. Today, shortly after we arrived at Lac de Guarledan on the Nantes-Brest canal, a family arrived en mass, parents and FIVE girls spaced in age between 14 to 4 years old, the older ones fully loaded with panniers on their own bikes, the middle on a pull-along, and the youngest in a kiddie trailer. Then later, another family arrived with a triple-trailer - Dad on his bike with a pull-long attached and a kiddie trailer attached to that, and. . . . wait for it . . . a dog in the front basket! And we thought we had it hard . . .

I have done my good deed for the week though. This evening, another middle aged couple arrived en velo with exactly the same trailer . . . so I gave Mnsr some of my Intermarché washers to prevent possible derailleur misphap.

So, we have gone for a walk around the Lac - well, as far as the dam - and I have treated S to a lentil chilli to scour out all the rich food of the last few days. This, you understand, is my careful forethought designed to ensure that we have to get up at least three times tonight to mitigate the effects of the hard gound after the softening up of two days slumber in comfy hotel beds with real pillows instead of stuff-stacks full of dirty laundry . . . I think of everything.


Day 10 was a trip to Pontivy, outward on the main road and return by way of the bike path along the Blavet. If you are ever in Pontivy I can highly recommend lunch at the Morrocan Restaurant near the church, a splendid feast of poulet and cousous, with legumes cooked in chicken stock and various other little bowls of chick peas, sultanas and chilli paste. Followed by cardamon ice cream, créme bruleé, and mint tea . . . I am thinking of changing the title of these posts to the 'Dejeuner Diaries'.
Ca va






Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 8


I suppose I should tell you something about Saint-Brieuc. First, I must say that the approach did not bode well . . . after passing through numerous picturesque ports, lined with bustling restaurants, we entered S-B via a long hill, from the direction of the container port.

Seeing the ubiquitous graffiti, boarded up shops and a rubber goods emporia, prompts S to say that " . . . this looks like the bad end of town". No sooner are the words out of her mouth than I stop and inform her that we are outside the Hotel which I have booked for the next two nights. I assuaged her concerns by saying that this part of town is 'on the rise' and, several years hence, we will be thinking ourselves lucky to have been able to stay in such a sought after area, and regale our friends at dinner parties about the time we stayed in Saint-Brieuc before it was 'discovered'. It turns out that we are right next to the equivalent of Plymouth's 'Barbican', but Mnsr Hotel informs us thst the place is not buzzing because, as is not unusual in Fance, it is mostly ferme Lundi.

Monsieur Hotel is extremely helpful, and in possession of a very dry sense of humour: having offered to do our washing and being subjected to a 'weapon of mass destruction' he mentioned that there was 'a lot of it.' So last night, on venturing to to the basement laundry room to retrieve our drying kit, I found it festooned nicely from various hangers around the toasty drying room - all of which was our stuff except ONE solitary handkerchief . . . a Gallic laundry sense of humour indeed!

Despite us taking advantage of his lavage goodwill, he has supplied some excellent restaurant suggestions which have rendered us incapable of movement and logical thought as I write this blog. Last night at La Restaraunt du Port contributed to a considerable hardening of the arteries; we followed that up with dejeuner at the seaside port of Binic; and finished it off tonight at L'atelier du Temps where we gorged on yet another three course meal of paté, hake and vegetable cassoulet and ice-creamcumblyfruitydesertthingy, accompanied by another 'second cheapest [relative term] vin du carte'.

I cheered up S by telling her that we would need the calories for tomorrow's leg to Lac Guarledan, where we will enjoy three days of le camping to scour our bodies of the last two days of easy living. I intend to make a lentil chilli to help in this process, followed by morning dips in the Lac and sprints up and down the hill at nearby Mur de Bretagne - S does not yet know the significance of this . . .

Ca va


Monday, 4 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 5-7


I have already alluded to some literary motifs on this trip, namely Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Don Quixote. Now, in one of those curious episodes in which life imitates art, some of it has become manifest. In the spirit if the former I will relate a series of Chautauqua's, with farcical elements of the latter built in . . .

HEVANS and the art of bicycle maintenance

Bright and early we left Locquirec for our next destination at Port Lazo near to Paimpol . . . as far as the entrance to the campsite that is, where my chain refused to stay in gear. Close inspection revelealed a fatal incompatibility in the Da Costa trailer which I failed to notice at the outset, namely that it has completely sh***** my rear derailleur hanger by levering down on the mounting nut every time I went over a bump and bending it inwards to throw all the gears off. Now this is potentially a holiday busting occurence becuase the hanger is an intrinsic part of the bike, so if it breaks . . . cue lots of swearing and expensive car hire. However, by utilising my new powers of Zen (S rolls long suffering eyes) I have bent it back and fashioned a repair by way of a series of Zen-like, unlikely occurences:

1. The supermarché in our destination of Plouezec was open 9-12 le dimanche;

2. They had in stock the very washers which I needed to pack out the skewer nut to provide the requisite clearance.

A proper repair will have to await a return home to the shed and machine vice for alignment but it should be OK for the rest of the trip . . . I hope?

Anyhow, we got to the next campsite at Cap Brehat via many idyllic Breton villages, where the usual dejeuner was partaken of. On arrival it was clear that this was clearly a more middle class campsite, with German, Dutch and English rather than the 20th Arrondissement . . . BUT it did cost twice the price!


Les Toilettes

I'm sure that you have all had experiences with French toilets. Now, I am not one to turn my nose up atablutionary preference, so to speak, but one thing puzzled me at this campsite.The sanitaires were unisex - nothing unusual there - but how often do you think this table and chairs were used for ANY possible intended purpose . . .?

La Restaurant

So we leave Cap Brehat and arrive at Saint-Brieuc via some rather charming cycleways and fishing ports, with S looking rather sporty on her way across the MTB track.

. . . and me looking completely knackered pulling the trailer full of S's makeup, hair straighteners, heels and assorted objects feminine . .

So, when we arrive at Saint-Brieuc where, after six days on the road and sleeping on hard ground with nothing but veggie curry to eat, S insists on a 'posh meal' (translation = expensive meal), so I ask Monsieur Hotel for a recommendation, which he promptly supplies. He also offers to wash our sweaty clothes, which we enthusiastically accept - but unbeknownst to him, I will appear later with an enormous bag of mouldering cycling and camping gear, flies buzzing around it like Beelzebub himself and sealed with biohazard tape . . . oh well, he did offer!

Anyhow, we off to the posh restaraunt, a fish place (excuse the pun) which is actually very excellent and about 10,000 calories per mouthful - even if S did stop me from rendering my impression of the mating call of the oyster while eating the fish soup . . . but I digress . . . because, in one of those curious moments when which time wraps around on itself, I order a bottle of Saumur vin blanc. The the wine menu was written on a blackboard at the end of the room so I couln't read anything but the origin and the fact that it was the second cheapest at €23, so imagine my surprise to dicover that it was Langlois-Chateaux, the very place that we had visited on our first Tour to the Loire - Zen indeed.

Somehow we manage.

Ca va.

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Tour de Manche: Jour 3 & 4

Holiday Reading

Two days to report due to scanty internet connection and waning battery. The problem, or advantage depending on your point of view, with camping is that you are cut off from the normal comforts of home, principally the internet. Which brings me nicely to my current holiday reading - Zen and the Art lf Motorcycle Maintenance, a book which has spooky resonance with the current situation perhaps . .

Anyway, back to the journey in hand. We left Locquirec behind and took the scenic route to our next campsite by the sea. This is fine up to a point but there is a limit to the amount of scenery one can digest before wanting to just get the **** there. One item of note is that S, from her customary position, mentioned my matching (unintentional) colour scheme with jersey and flag. We have to thank Mike D for the flag, a focal point for any passing child if we happen to be parked up for le dejeuner - if you are under the age of ten and have a pirate flag on your bike, then you don't just have a pirate flag, your are a pirate, off on some adventure, like Cap'n Jack. . . maybe S has a point, though I prefer the Flying Pig to the Black Pearl.

So, we arrive at our current camping spot, right on the beach with the sun beating down and the sea winds wafting across the parched grass. I chose a spot right in the far corner of the campsite, sans electricité, for tpeace and quiet . . . but alas, who should we have next door but a family from 'Benefits Street', or at leat the French version of the franchise. Let me paint you a picture: as we return from last night's diner at Le Creperie, the famile de benefits return with some 'friends' and continue their conversation past midnight. At this point S is soundly asleep due to a combination of earplugs and unusual somnobulent skill, but I have to endure until they seemingly all go to bed. . . if only, because thence commences a snogging session amplified as only camping can, accompanied by the creak of shock absorber under repetitive strain. OK, all perfectly natural unless all you want is a good night's kip . . ., but this is the weird thing, about 4 am in the morning when I awake (I would like to say for a run and dip in the sea but, in fact, to go to the toilet), andafter much faffing with the sleeping bag, zip, flip-flops, etc. . ., I emerge to find l'ami de monsieur benefits outside with a lady friend. What to make of it . . . S has censored me from some of my wilder speculations, so lets just say they popped out for a quick gitanes . . .

No matter, when we have such luxuries to hand . . .

Ca Va