By Eddy Smyth
Day six: 70 miles traveled
Hours in the saddle: 3
Isthmus on the Cȏte Sauvage to Quiberon
A relaxed breakfast before setting off in brilliant sunshine to the very tip of the Isthmus on the Cȏte Sauvage to Quiberon. Once we were out in the open the ocean on both sides offer up distraction from the coaches and speed bumps along this dead straight road. To the right a fortress guards the shore before the strip of land bulges like a bull’s testicles to the main port of Quiberon at the bottom.
We had two options open to us from this point. We could turn left and take a route around the coast and back to the town centre via Pointe-du-Conguel or turn right and head back up the western coast which promised a very twisty open road along sand dunes and low cliffs.
I would have taken both but after stopping to photograph a stunning chateau located right on the edge of the rocks facing out to sea we set off back up the west coast road which was a cracking ride. Hairpin bends took you back and forth from land view to sea view at least ten times. I could have ridden around here all day, perfecting the angle of lean and improving judgement on each braking point.
Sadly, it was all too soon before we were back at the fortress for a quick photo shoot and then back up the causeway and onwards to Carnac, the main reason for visiting this corner of Brittany. The standing stones here are famed alongside Stonehenge but are very different in every way except they are also made of stone and are only about 5 feet high. Lined up in rows and columns like badly hewn sculptures they are not quite Terracotta soldiers in fashion but for 3,000 of them to be dragged here like some giant game of chess it is impressive.
With little reason to hang around for much longer, as each field along the road side begins to look repetitive we chose to head inland and aim for Pontivy. Two routes popped up on the map. East and then north, which would be a more back-road experience or North and a bit east before converging on Auray and the road north from the city centre.
Trip to Pontivy
We selected the first option but had hardly ridden more than 300 yards when a familiar yellow “Diversion” sign blocked the way. So it was north first, along the more major roads.
We got lost in Auray. Heading for Centre Ville is not always the most practical route. That is not to say that the centre of town won’t bring you to a crossroads or through road that points to where you intend to go, in fact that’s often the best choice to make. It’s the fact that as you bumble along road signs appear that say Centre Ville with an arrow pointing off to the left or right. I followed just that instruction to the letter as we crested a hill. Unfortunately signs that read Centre Ville can also mean Centre Ville of some poxy housing estate with a cluster of shops and a church. Finding our way back to the main route had us negotiating alleyways and cobbled courtyards.
We ended up exiting Auray heading east and had to do several calculations by map, GPS and the position of the sun to get us back to where we should have found easily in the first place. The GPS, after wobbling its directional arrow several times in the wrong position finally led us safely through the very centre of this complicated layout of narrow alleys, cobbled squares and oddly placed traffic lights. My lasting memory of this town was watching two dogs in the care of a woman defecating at the same time in the middle of a pavement (the dogs, not the woman) whilst she merely walked off once the steaming pile of excrement was forming into hazards for the next 100 people who dare to walk by. My form of punishment for such disgraceful behaviour would be to rub her face in it.
We headed onwards to Pluvigner and a coffee stop. By the time we reached this, wonderfully French in every way oasis the heavens had decided to stop mucking about with the blue skies and pelted us with rain reminiscent of our recent British winter. This onslaught lasted for the rest of the day. Pluvigner’s population was busy queuing up for bread or buying fresh oysters from a single market stall next to the central car park. The purveyor had at least 6 types of shelled offerings available. Oh, the pain I had inside. I could have stayed right there all day partaking in such traditional activities. Sunday: garlic would be under the grinding of the pestle and mortar on tables all around us. Fresh legumes ready for chopping and meats roasting slowly in Aga’s as wine bottles are removed from racks and dusted off for the day’s more serious matters. And a dozen freshly prepared oysters to kick off the proceedings.
Sitting at this roadside café, wrapped up in my waterproof gear, crash helmet visor blurred with rain drops and bug’s innards and my only treat is the jar of honey I bought in Huelgoat, I had every reason to feel depressed right now.
But I wasn’t. I was still on a high. A nice French guy who owned the nice retro Triumph Bonneville parked next to my bike passed the time of day with us and several locals smiled and chatted disjointedly as we dawdled over our coffee and waited for any break in the downpour. It never really came and after an old chap at the next table confirmed our best route to Pontivy was straight up the road and right at the roundabout we had to press on.
Another great road that opened up into a duel carriageway cum motorway after the town of Baud which got us there quicker but much wetter as the spray from other vehicles was like riding through a 20 mile long car wash.
Arriving to Pontivy
Pontivy looked a little sad in the gloomy light of a murky day. We encircled the inner part of the town, noting the canal and a few horrible looking hotels but completely missing the chateau on the right.
Parking in the big main square I lifted my visor to find I was staring at a very nice hotel, right on the corner. The very nice older lady at the desk accepted our pleas for a room and insisted we bring the bikes around the back of the hotel where electric gates would open to lead us to a courtyard and a very grand Victorian conservatory. My bike looked very grand in front of it indeed.
The hotel interior was like a chateau itself. Dark corridors and polished wood with Persian rugs everywhere. Two yapping dogs welcomed us by yapping even more. The room was lovely, very olde worlde yet with electric shutters on the windows and a bathroom big enough to park the bikes in.
We headed across the road for lunch. A tiny café with just 2 tables on the ground floor but a spiral staircase that obviously led to more seating below decks was just right. We ordered crepes from the really nice, if somewhat dishevelled, guy behind the counter. A TV on the wall was showing touring car racing and several pictures around the walls revealed this was perhaps his favourite sport.
Noticing the Yamaha label on the collar of my shirt he motioned to us that very soon he will change the channel to show the MotoGP race which was about to start at Le Mans, just a few hundred kilometres up the road from here. Switching channels was not a problem even though he politely apologised each time he went to check what was happening on each.
With condensation forming on the windows, the crepes disappearing down our throats and the French commentary going into apoplexy each time a touring car, or was it a motorbike? left the track I was as happy as could be.
Before the race finished however, it was felt we should go and see a bit of the town. The rain had eased to an annoying mist rather than a face grimacing day wrecker and we said our thanks and goodbyes to the guy behind the counter. Shaking hands, Gareth asked him if he had a motorbike. He shrugged his shoulders and replied thus “Yes, I ‘ave a motorbike. But, ehm, ‘ow you say? I prefer…….. (patting the tap for the beer)… drunk.
“Non! Per’aps I should say, drink!”
I patted his shoulder and said, he was probably more accurate with his first reply. He said he has chosen to live his lifestyle his way and it is his body. He likes bikes but for him, being drunk was a better state to be in.
If I were to remember only one quote from all discussions whilst in Brittany I hope it is this one. Such a nice guy. I think he would have liked us to have stayed until the end of the race and he certainly enjoyed our company.
Pontivy looks better when it’s not peeing with rain. Lots of small shops and alleyways leading to interesting corners. Like everywhere else in Brittany it was deserted. A few folk were on the streets but not enough to warrant opening up stores and bars for. The chateau was found and demanded several photographs. In one corner of the interior square was the chapel. As we climbed the few steps it looked populated but in fact the small room was filled with mannequins. Some lacking hair, other not even heads but some guy was busy dressing and doing tailoring stuff to one effigy standing like a scarecrow. The costumes were medieval so it was perhaps preparation time for some upcoming festival. If the rain doesn’t stop they will each need a plastic mac at least.
It was not quite late afternoon and the rain resumed its descent in numbers and with unashamed conviction. The only respite was to seek refuge at the hotel and sit on the bed and read. I slept easily for an hour or two before it was time to freshen up and head out to eat. One restaurant that was well signposted was shut, which was a shame because it was in the opposite direction to all the restaurants that might be open. We made our way back into the town centre.
We found a cracking place called Le Matray: Very cosy with a delightful young waitress with a calm and very helpful demeanour. We saw her fuss over other folk like a mother in training. As I dined on fine cuisine of fish soup that came with croutons and tiny pots containing grated cheese and even mustard, followed by chicken with mushrooms with thyme sprinkled tomatoes, dauphin potato and assorted vegetables I watched a stream of hooded youths come and go to a kebab shop opposite. A lass in there was using what looked like a sanding machine to scrape strips of congealed, heated muck from a revolving leg of the stuff and pack it in polystyrene boxes which was then consumed outside on the pavement step whilst others congregated around like youths do all over the western world.
Oh, how grateful I am for having taste buds and the blessing of a few euros so that I can join them but from the comfort of a heated restaurant, covered tables, plate glass windows and twenty feet of pavement.
I felt not a jot of guilt as I ordered what turned out to be a delightful chocolate mousse, emptied my carafe of table wine and finished off the nibbles of coconut morsels before trudging back out into the squalor of the drizzly rain and back to the hotel room.
To be continued…