Friday 25 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Racou to Roses

Portbou from the border
El Port de la Selva
Eigenbau and  Al
From Racou to Roses is 77 kilometres, and as good as any Kilometres I've done over the whole fortnight. The coastal scenery on this section is superb. The Cote Vermeille is a series of rocky headlands and sheltered coves. Quite "lumpy" on here though, the signs "Cote de le Cols" should have given me a clue. The towns of Collioure, Port Vendres, Banyuls-sur-Mer each required a climb followed by a cooling descent. The sun was at its warmest today, with little breeze. Cerbere is the old frontier town before the climb up through the redundant border post takes you over the border into Spain. Another great descent on a beautiful road surface led me down into Portbou, where lunch was taken. The first climb in Spain uses a couple of tunnels rather than over the top, which I was grateful for. More captivating rocky coastline, then Llanca and a final stiff climb over the Cap de Creus peninsular. A superb downhill led me all the way into Roses, which perhaps wasn't what I was expecting, but a pleasant enough place on the whole. Hey, its Spain and the seaside, what did I expect? I found a really good campsite, I was the only tent, but certainly not crowded. It was heavily occupied by the camper vans of the "grey wave" from Germany and The Netherlands. So today I completed my tour from Valence to Roses, although I had changed my route to suit the weather. I have enjoyed the trip immensely, and wouldn't hesitate to do it all again. Well except for the wet sunday! I will blog at a later date on the gear I used and more thoughts.

Thursday 24 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Port-la-Nouvelle to Racou

Port Leucate
Really feel like I'm on holiday now, I've followed the coast as close as possible today. A profile of todays ride would be a flatline, but non the worse for that. Lots of sun and a tailwind, what more can you ask for on a pushbike? Much of the coast has been sacrificed to tourism development, but I've seen worse and there are long stretches which have been saved, thank goodness. I finally got to see the Med. proper at Port Leucate Onwards with the Med over my left shoulder, past some wonderful beaches, lunch was taken at Canet-Plage. A few campsites were rejected as being to big/busy before I found a great site at Racou

Wednesday 23 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Capestang to Port-la Nouvelle

The coastal plain
Canal du midi
Lock on the Canal du Midi
Mythos at Port-la-Nouvelle
Pangs of conscience this morning, strange really I felt like I was wimping out by heading for the coast. I gave myself a good talking to, the coast would be all new to me, unlike the Pyrenees! I was on holiday after all. I used the Canal du Midi to pass through Narbonne, all very attractive. Then another Voie Verte, rather rougher than yesterdays took me out beside the Etang de Bages et de Sigean. It was very windy across here, forcing me to stop twice. The saltpans were all flooded, wasting for the sun to do its work. Port-la-Nouvelle is a working port, with lots going on. It had only been a short day 60.05 kilometres, but there was a good site and the sun was shining, chillout time.

Tuesday 22 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: St-Pons-de-Thomieres to Capestang

Canal du Midi
Well it was raining again, so plan B has been put into action. My original plan was to cross the Pyrenees somewhere near Puigcerda, but without knowing how the weather would turnout my plan B was to head for the Mediterranean round-a-bout Narbonne. So suitably fortified with a good breakfast, I rode the Voie Verte(Cyclepath) to Olargues and S-Martin-sur-Orb. The rain didn't seem to matter on here, it was flat so no sweating, and the wind was behind me, great. The town of Olargues in particular looked very attractive, from the the end of the Voie Verte I followed the L'Orb river. This would have been a beautiful ride in different conditions, I shall have to go back! By the time I reached Roquebrun the sky was definitely brightening to the south, spurring me on. Finally at Cessenon-sur-Orb the rain stopped, and I could take my waterproofs off. It was no coincidence I had reached the coastal plain. Still windy though. My target for today was to cross the Canal du Midi, I did this at Capestang, and with a really good Municipal campsite I pitched my tent. After sorting stuff out and a shower I had a look round the town, the unusual church, and a walk beside the Canal du Midi. Things were looking a lot better compared to two nights ago. The site warden says" Soleil Domain", we'll see!

Monday 21 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Near St Crepin to St-Pons-de- Thomieres

A rather wet Col de Sie
What a bloody night, I was so tired I forgot to shut the vents on the tent. The wind had blown rain in through the vents then through the mesh of the inner tent onto my buff which was "Drying" thiss then made a steady drip onto my down sleeping bag. A schoolboy error, and something I've never been caught out by in over 40 years camping. Kinda shows how tired I must have been. As soon as daylight arrived I got the packed up, the tent down and on my way. A short descent then over the Col de Sie, and a wet descent towards Lacaune. At a junction outside the town I made an easy desicion to take a less hilly route in the general direction of the original plan. It was still raining and continued for most of the rest of the day. From Nages I rode beside Lac du Labuzas then on to La- Salvetat sur-Agout, then up another climb over the Col de la Baraque and Col du Cabaretou
Still wet!
There then followed a fantastic descent of 12 kilometres right in to St-Pons-de-Thomieres. The rain stopped very briefly and I attempted to dry a bit of gear out. It was only noon and had ridden 65.63 kilometres (all in a mornings work!)
Trying to dry a bit of gear out
Feeling a bit better for being surrounded by civilisation I found a hotel and booked in for the night. At the very least I would get everything dry and a good nights sleep after last nights debacle. I would think of a foul weather option for tomorrow in case it was raining for a third day, surely not?
Teddy supervising more drying of gear

Sunday 20 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: St-Rome-de-Tarn to Near St-Crepin

The River Tarn changing colour before my eyes
A hell of a day, non stop rain. Cycle touring nightmare, the public holiday probably compounded things. There was lots more up and down than I had anticipated, and together with full waterproofs meant a cycle of boil-in-the-bag and chilled to the bone. I was not a happy bunny! The river tarn normally runs a pale turquoise, but today it was turning a rusty red with the copious run off. I followed the Tarn as close as possible as far as Trebas were in theory there were two campsites. One was closed and the other I couldn't find. It was 2.30ish so my plan was to continue on my planned route thinking some form, indeed any form of of accommodation would turn up. However nothing did and I found myself at 8pm having climbed continuously for 5.5 hours in driving rain, in low cloud at approx 950 metres. This were starting to look a bit desperate. A wild camp was the only option, but even at this altitude all the surrounding land was cultivated, I spotted a track leading into some woodland and about 100 metres from the road there was a rather damp clearing. Far from ideal but beggars can't be choosers so I got the tent up and basically crashed out.

Saturday 19 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Saint Enimie to St-Rome-de-Tarn

Typical Tarn view
I was away early in an effort to get to Millau by lunchtime to get food before all the shops shut. The awesome scenery soon put paid to that idea. Really magnificent.
Chateau Haute Rive (no road to this hamlet) People and goods have to
cross on a winched tryolean traverse
This section is actually one way now
I was fortunate to find a village sop in Les Vignes, this took the pressure off and I was able to just pedal along taking it all in
Downstream from Les Vignes
One of many tunnels on the D907b
Millau came and went, the British designed viaduct towers over the Tarn valley and in my mind was a milestone that I had reached I felt like i really was making progress across france.
Millau Viaduct
Millau Viaduct
The terrain changed slightly after Millau softening as the valley widened, the village of Le Peyre very picturesque, and a car free zone!
Le Peyre
Continuing to follow the river I arrived at St-Rome-de Tarn having ridden 78 kilometres, the site is above the river in what once would have been a vineyard. The loo's etc are the best I have ever seen anywhere.

Friday 18 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Le Pont de-Montvert to Sainte Enimie

Le Pont at Le Pont de-Montvert
Today turned out to be the rest day that yesterday should have been, only 50.44 kilometres. I was woken by a another thunderstorm at 6am together with heavy rain, it eased off by 10ish though so after a bat of leisurely packing I left Le Pont de-Montvert. It was basically downhill all the way to Florac as I followed the Tarn river. The Tarn would now be followed for another two days. The top of the hills were obscured by mist, as I descended the twisting road surrounded by deciduous woodland. This weekend is a public holiday in France, and they take their holidays seriously. I only just made the shop in Florac before it shut at 1pm, so was able to restock with food for the next 24 hours. Once into the tarn Gorge proper the scenery changed, and the sun came out!
Empty roads in the Gorges du Tarn
Round every corner a different view, I seemed to have the road to myself amazingly quiet. Until I got to Ste-Enimie that is, which was very busy.
Only a few Kilometres further and I am camped on another great site occupying an idyllic spot beside the river, plenty of time to do the evening clothes wash and chill

Thursday 17 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Les Vans to Le Pont de-Montvert

Les Vans
So today was supposed to be an easy day, even with a late 9.45am start and frequent stops to chill and take photos things have conspired to mean I've done 73.47 kilometres and climbed for much of the day. I am however ahead of schedule as I didn't expect to get to St Pont de-Montvert. I arrived at the municipal site here at 5.45, it was a bargain 5.17 euros! The original plan was to stop in Genolhac, but no site, this was abit of a blow as I had already climbed two cols and was looking forward to an early finish.
So it was onwards and upwards as I set off up the Col de la Croix de Berthel, a bit of a monster this. Approx 8 kilometres along this road a sign indicated that a bridge was down and the road was closed to all traffic. Now in any form of motorised transport that would be an inconvenience, but on a laden pushbike its a disaster. The diversion was out of the question, so I pushed on believing that I could get through one way or another. In fact the bridge was over a small ravine, but was passable after taking the panniers off and taking first bike, then a couple of trips with luggage. The hardest/steepest part of the climb was near the end, but eventually the summit appeared (as always!)
Typical Cevannes Woodland
Eigenbau at the Col......................
As evening approached a hazyness had appeared and true enough a thunderstorm broke out, got the tent up in time though so no worries.

Wednesday 16 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Pont St Esprit to Les Vans

St Martin D'Ardeche
I left Pont St Esprit with an easier day in mind. The headwind up the Ardeche was unbelievable, no need for brakes on any downhill bits! The views more than compensated, just superb. Lots of purpose built viewpoints meant lots of stops, but I'm on holiday so....
The Ardeche Gorge
Maladrerie des Templiers
After the high point of the Corniche d'Ardeche the road plummets to the riverside in the gorge and presents you with its party piece, the "Pont d'Arc" great to see it out of season without the throngs of folk the pictures usually show.
Pont d'Arc
As I left the Ardeche river behind I had the wind behind me for a short while, lots of "D" roads beautifully quiet took me to Castlejau. The fields are full of vines and fruit trees, then as I climbed the terrain changed and from Chassagnes the narrow road threaded between limestone towers and low crags. So I am camped at Les Vans after 75.66 kilometres, back on time and the sun continues to shine.
Camp at Les vans

Tuesday 15 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: Sault to Pont St-Esprit

Poppy's near Monieux
I knew today would be a long day, kind of a transition day. But before the flatlands of the Rhone, I had the much anticipated Gorges de le Nesque to cycle, the D942 follows the rim of the gorge, amazing views and therefore lots of stops for pictures meant almost 3hours to cover 27 kilometres almost all downhill. The road has to use tunnels at some of the steeper parts.
Tunnels on the descent of the Gorges de le Nesque

Gorges de le Nesque
There were lots of day cyclists climbing to the viewpoint near the top, I'm sure it must be a popular local testpiece. Once down in the valley the wind swung round to be a westerly, right on my nose. The temperature soared towns and villages came and went as I headed for the hydro barrages near Caderousse. There are limited opportunity's to cross the Rhone, it is a huge river. Caderousse was lovely little village surrounded by a defensive wall, not to keep humans out, but the River Rhone (tamed now by hydro and locks)
Town Hall Caderousse
It was a bit of a slog as I followed the Rhone northwards on its wet bank. I saw a site next to the Ardeche river and although a little short of my target I'd had enough, 110.49 kilometres, much of it into a headwind. The site is great and like all the others very quiet.

Monday 14 May 2012

France Cycle Tour: St Ferreol Trente-Pas to Sault

Pollarded trees near Condorcet
A good nights rest and the knowledge that I was ahead of schedule meant any pressure was well and truly lifted. The sun shone all day and the wind nice and light. The first habitation of any size was Nyons, with its old bridge. I had a good mooch around, eventually finding somewhere open to get some grub for the rest of the day (got to keep the tank topped up!).
Cutting across country on minor roads I climbed over the Col de Fontaube and dropped into the Toulourenc valley which was delightful. Mont Ventoux was towering over me, hemming the valley in to the south.
Mont Ventoux and the Toulourenc valley
My destination of Sault of course lies at over 800m so a mediocre climb was undertaken to the village, only for me to realise the campsite was above the village! More climbing! The site is a "Municipal" and the pitches are in the trees, very nice. Todays trip 77.82 kilometres.
Municipal site at Sault