By Eddy Smyth
Day 7: 230 miles traveled
Hours in the saddle: 8
Day 7 – Chateaugiron, Rohan, Josselin, Ploermel and off and away to Plélin-le-Gran
We decided to head east today. Chateaugiron got rave reviews in several reference books so it seemed a good choice for a nice run along more of these great road surfaces. We topped up with fuel at Noyal Pontivy and headed along a perfectly straight, if slightly undulating, road of 10 kilometres to Rohan. Then through to Josselin and Ploermel and off and away along another fabulous road to Plélin-le-Gran where a coffee stop was welcome. The clouds kept to themselves and the roads were dry once more. Sitting outside a café we watched queues form and extend to a dozen or more on the pavement as bread was being grabbed and stuffed into rucksacks, bicycle racks and under arms as moms with toddlers joined the queue all the time we were there. Opposite there was another boulangerie with a more sophisticated and expensive looking sign above the door. Not a soul approached it. That’s because like every other shop, bar the café and the boulangerie next door it was closed. Even the pharmacy was closed. It began to feel surreal as Brittany resembled a region in hibernation still.
The next stage in our journey was completed without a single misfire in direction, despite several quirky junctions and odd road layouts. The only thing that doused the enthusiasm was the rain. Shortly before finding the very centre of Chateaugiron it started again, like an annoying itch that you forget about for a while and then it returns at a time when you can’t reach to scratch it.
The hotel I had my mind on in the town (the only one) was closed. We parked up on a tiny, winding street where only one shop was open, yes, it was a boulangerie. A woman with a few loose teeth and probably several loose marbles passed by and gabbled away at us for ages. Even when we replaced our crash helmets on our heads she was still offering advice, or perhaps recipe tips. I had no idea at all why she wanted to keep our attention. We smiled under our visors and waved as we pulled away and around the corner to be confronted by the Chateau that gives this town its fame. It’s a decent enough looking place and the drop over the wall sank at least 70 feet to the road below. The rains persisted.
It was at this point a seminal decision was made. From a plan of either A, B, C or D we agreed upon D. The first three were not even discussed, they might have included flying to South Africa.
We’d ridden a hundred miles today already. It was a good run but despite me phoning a hotel 2 miles away and in broken English/French establishing we could have a room for the coming night, we chose to ride the 170km back to Caen via the motorway and see if we could get a ferry home, this evening or first thing in the morning. The rains belted down.
A few mistakes with turnings but with no ground lost we took the ‘A’ road to Romagne, near Fougeres and found a café for a coffee. It was a very local place, for locals only. 10 other folk were inside this tiny room when we entered. Silence greeted us as every head turned slowly in our direction. A smile and a gentle hello broke the ice and after ten minutes it melted completely as everyone wanted to know where we’d been and if we could enlighten them about Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
We entered as strangers and left as old friends. I love France.
The next stage was treacherous yet necessary. We joined a busy motorway with spray, speed traps and strained nerves as we raced to get through the jungle of the worst part of driving anywhere so far on this trip. Gareth tagged onto the slip stream of a white van with local signage, considering it to be safe to do what the driver does since he knows the road better. It worked and we made it to the outskirts of Caen in pdq time. Then we got it wrong and took the slip road marked for Paris instead of the marked for ‘Car Ferry’. The rains were in utter spate now. The cars belting along creating more spray than we should safely encounter. However, after several false circuits we made our way through the heart of this surprisingly nice portside city. Cathedral, grand building and decent looking squares suggest it could be a handy stop off point for future sojourns.
At the ferry port we were informed that tonight’s ferry has been cancelled but we changed our tickets to catch the 08:30 sailing the very next morning. Across the road the Ibis hotel had a room, just, available and parking spaces under cover for the bikes.
Cyclists in lycra, under all sorts of rain resistant polythene, appeared shortly after we did and the hotel soon filled up with dismayed tourists keen to get away from the torrential rain of France and back to Britain and probably more torrential rain. We learned that this horrid weather stretched all the way to Florence in Italy. Whilst writing this a few weeks later it transpires that Germany, Switzerland and the Czech Republic as well as parts of France are under swathes of floods and constant downpours.
It was a good idea to come home early…
Day 8 – Returning Home…
Hundreds of French schoolchildren filled the decks. A few more bikes, some returning from Le Mans and a few authentic Austin Seven type cars with authentic nonagenarians behind the wheel joined us on the car decks.
It was raining in Portsmouth too but not as heavily as we had arrived in the week before. I waved goodbye to Gareth as we parted ways at the Andover junction, determined to retrace my tyre tracks from the journey down and enjoy the now warming sunshine as I headed home to Worcestershire and Gareth to South Wales.
Joy greeted me with some shock as I had not informed her of my early return. I did not wish to worry her as she may have feared worse events than rotten weather in the past 2 days.
It was a fantastic trip. I loved every single minute of my first time exposure on foreign soil with my Bulldog. The Blackbird too performed without flaw. Biking in France is amazing. Not just the roads or the friendly people. They are very biker friendly. The towns and villages can be as dismal as any industrial backwater in the UK but when you do find a gem of a place it can blow you away. The coast along the northern stretches of Brittany is breath taking and the inland routes just as smile inducing. The very fact it was all but deserted made it eerily weird in some respects but stunningly intimate in others.
If you’ve want to tour somewhere foreign without risk of terrorist regimes, Visa complications and dodgy food, do Brittany; it’s better than a home from home. The Bulldog and the Blackbird both agree on that.