By Eddy Smyth
Day 5: 179 miles
Hours in the saddle: 7
Another clear morning despite last night’s rain. We had planned several stops today. Keeping ahead of gathering clouds was part of the plan; heading ever southward might achieve that aim. Amongst all the other nice memories and sights we’d taken in at Huelgoat we added one more in the way of the tiny serving spoons that hung at the side of the preserves. They had a kink half way down the stem which allowed for hanging them daintily off the side of the pot. Another Christmas gift in the offing methinks.
Cast, Port Launay and Locronin
After strapping all our wares to the bikes we were soon off and following more empty roads to the small but well-advertised village of Port Launay just 20 miles away. It takes a better photograph than actually witnessing the real thing.
Everywhere, which was only a couple of boulangeries and a café was shut, though it was only 09:30 and the boats that lined the lovely curve of the riverbank all had seen better days. The colours of the forest that surrounded us on all sides were amazing however. A wonderful setting but not the ‘Wessex’ that one writer had described: More Devon and the river Dart perhaps. The multi-coloured cottages along the roadside were due a bit of Dulux which might have been the reason it disappointed somewhat.
As we ventured onwards through Chataulin, following the river, the town there looked ever so slightly more attractive if busier than we were searching for. We did not stop however, but headed out again towards Cast and then Locronin.
Oh, my goodness, as we rode gently and as quietly as our after-market exhausts could manage, into the centre of this haven it was just like being transported back 500 years at least, in time. I was expecting to see my Bulldog transform into a dashing white Arab horse below me and me in chain mail instead of black textile clothing. The surface turned cobbled, including the pavement and the buildings were as medieval as King John’s favourite ale house. We parked the bikes next to a well, which instead of lifting water for thirsty travellers blossomed flowers from the soil filled orifice. Not many people here as we removed our crash helmets but by the time we left the throngs were building up towards a tourist insurgency. No wonder, it is as authentic as Irn Bru. Not a stone was pre-fabricated and all the tiny shops had small, discreet and un-flourished signs above the doors. There’s no ‘Ye Olde Starbucks’ here. No twin golden arches of Babylon. Stratford upon Avon, shame on you.
We wandered all over. Every quirk that time slowly impresses on such places was photographed and discussed. Odd doorways that were half way up a wall and wide enough for anorexics only, entrances to some places that would cause a dwarf to duck, and everywhere as clean as a film set.
In one store, which has to be seen to be appreciated, over 100 different beers were displayed with meticulous care. Stacks of oval tins; tuna, sardines and probably gruel were also piled up in sequence like an art form. The stone floor flags about as original as I would conjecture made this such an eye pleaser. The proprietor stood proud as we complimented him on the effort. It looked amazing. The building is recorded as the oldest of all in this village. 14th century. To think this one building at least has been here right through the ages from King Louis X (The headstrong) and his horse to Eddy (The Explorer) and the revving of my Yamaha Bulldog? I hope it was worth the wait.
I could have stayed here all day. From certain parts of the village you could see the Atlantic ocean in the distance. A remarkable place indeed.
We tore ourselves away and headed for Douarnenez and then cut left before entering this interesting looking port and headed for the more reclusive port of Penhors. The boats bobbing in the well protected harbour numbered three. The beach stretched along for a mile or two and surfers paddled about in the novice sized waves that hit the shore almost apologetically.
The landscape was more spread out now and fields of lowland replaced the forests and hills of the previous 100 miles from yesterday’s foray from the pink granite coast.
Slicing through Plovan we hoped to find a decent café for lunch in Plonéour-Lanvern but it was a bit grubby in the town centre so we ventured onwards to Pointe-De-Penmarc’h. I led the way and spotted the lighthouse behind the town and set off for that. The road ended at a port which was unpleasant to say the least and after discussing the situation we headed back into the town of Penmarc’h and decided that too was a dead end. It was Pont-le-Abbe before we caught a glimpse of anywhere suitable to stop. Parking the bikes in a dodgy area we walked around the corner and back to a café and had a couple of baguettes and coffee for about half the cost of what we’d expect to pay in most places. OK it was a bit of a dive but it was clean, the food fresh and staff were very friendly. We could have parked our bikes out the front after all and I was worried my roll bag which I had left on my bike might well be gone by the time we got back but my concern was misplaced.
Surprisingly, the weather had remained good all day. A few spots but they came to nothing. We set off, tummies full and eyes eager to take in the next stage of our tour. Fouesnant, Concarneau, Tregunc, Pont Aven and Quimperle was all despatched with the nonchalant twist of the throttle. We avoided the major roads and enjoyed the reasonably quiet lesser roads. However, with this being Saturday the weekend traffic had increased considerably as French families took to the roads to make the most of the sunny weather.
Quimperle disappointed. It was once a lovely place, you could see that from the original architecture if tired architecture, but road works, noise and full car parks forced our hand and we made for the exit. Gareth said he was almost out of fuel and felt he was running on fumes. We’d filled up that morning as we always did and my bike seemed OK. Of course, when you need a fuel station they are never there. We ghosted along for about 15 miles until we reached a sign that said ‘Supermarket fuel straight ahead’. I’ve seen these before. Joy and I chased these elusive dragons in the car several times. They never appear.
Hannebont did save the day with a fuel stop somewhere before the supermarket promise was fulfilled. We both filled up and paid dearly at 14 cents a litre more than anywhere else we’d bought fuel from. Perhaps this garage erected those ‘Supermarket fuel ahead’ signs. A clever ruse.
We now had to decide where we would bed for the night. The road was getting longer than we’d anticipated and a couple of B&B places were fully booked due to it being the weekend. Oops, we might struggle here.
A drop down to a tiny portside village was folly since it only sported a row of old men sitting on a wall and a bistro. Another false turn took us to a cottage that unfortunately, was fully booked. The pleasant man spoke fluent French to me for ages. I guess he was offering advice. He may have been warning me to get my noisy bike off his drive. He did mention ‘Gare’, ‘Voyage’, chambre’ and waved left and right a couple of times and I nodded in full appreciation and understanding of his comments.
Gareth was waiting at the bottom of the drive. He said I must have understood every word because of my own reactions, nodding head and thumbs up replies. I had no idea.
We stopped a little farther on to photograph some standing stones that were right next to the road, which was the main reason for coming to this area anyway, which will be revealed later. Then as we approached Plouharnel I copped a railway station ‘Gare’ and a bar called Les Voyage which was also a hotel.
Result and proof that I did indeed understand every word that lovely man said back at the cottage. They even had a room available; not above the bar but in a separate cottage in private grounds behind the main building. It was as French as Pastis inside and as comfortable as a chaise longue.
We parked our bikes close to a willow tree and settled for dinner in a local restaurant. It looked more like a community hall and from my observations may not have been opened for very long. The boss woman kept standing proud and unemployed behind a shiny bar and cash till while she barked orders to her two young waitresses. One looked like her daughter by appearances. Both young girls were very nervous and out of sync. However, the pizzas we were served were enormous and very filling. Mine had everything on the top including sliced potatoes. Families arrived and we left satisfied that our euros were once more well spent.
Gareth was keen to return to the hotel bar and grab a beer but it was locked up completely when we arrived. The station too was closed but I think that has been the case for that place since Dr Beaching got shot of half of the UK railways. Weeds grew between the tracks and the interior looked like a refuse dump.
We idled what was left of the evening in the garden, listening to the countryside. The sun had been kind to us today, and indeed it had for the most part so far. Let’s keep that going.
To be continued…