Route Inondée

No way through!
No way through!

After a shopping expedition to Decathlon for various bike and camping related bits and pieces we ventured into the centre of Chalon to see what there was to see. Not a huge amount in all honesty although Place Saint Vincent, with a good looking church and some pretty old buildings, went some way to redeeming the town (or is it a city?)

We then set off up the Saône, initially on a busy road but then veering off onto quiet lanes heading towards a path along the river bank. But it was not to be! The flooding of the immediate area by the river was not restricted to Chalon as long sections of the path were underwater. We returned to the lanes and later to the main road which had, by then, thankfully quietened down.

It was clear that the sections of riverbank path on the map were going to be similarly inundated and so we ad libbed our way along more lanes that went in the general direction of the river.

As we were finishing lunch a German couple on an unusual looking tandem (a Hase if you’re interested – Google the name) with their 3 year old son and 9 month old daughter in a trailer went past stopping briefly to say Hi. We had met them a few days earlier on the campsite at Decize. The wife is on parental leave and the husband, nearing the end of 7 years studying medicine, has taken a “sabbatical” to spend 4 months cycling from Biarritz to home in Leipzig. That’s an unusual way of using maternity leave!

We arrived at our destination in Seurre mid afternoon and were a little nervous that the campsite, given its name “A La Plage”, might be closed because of the floods
However, all was fine although the water is only just below the level of the ground and there is a sizeable puddle right by the children’s playground.

After several campsites where motorhomes and caravans have occupied almost all of the pitches, this one is strangely without either with only cycling campers including the German family. It does, however, have other residents as we have encountered the first mosquitoes of the trip! We’re sure they won’t be the last ones we see before we get home!

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We Like Burgundy! (Both the Region and the Wine.)

Today (Tuesday) was a good day and, as we soon discovered, an exciting one!

Why was it a good day? (a) We had a tailwind most of the way. (b) It was mainly downhill. (c) It didn’t rain.

Why was it an exciting day? As we followed the Canal du Centre the day before we noticed the locks were numbered Ocean 24, Ocean 23, etc. By the time we got to last night’s stop at Montceau we were at Ocean 7. This suggested that we were nearing the top which the map seemed to confirm as it looked as though we would go down to the River Saône but what was the significance of the word “Ocean”? Well, after a longish stretch at the top we approached the first ” downhill ” lock and it was numbered Med 1. At that point we twigged that the Saône flows into the Rhône, which heads south to Avignon and the Camargue so we had crossed the watershed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean! See! We knew you would be as fascinated by this factoid as we two nerds were!

As you will have surmised from the comments about it being a “good day”, it was also an easy one. Nearly 70 km completed very quickly (by our standards, that is, but not by most keen cyclists’ terms!)

We continue to be impressed by the Burgundy countryside – it really does look very English (apart from the buildings which are unmistakably French albeit a little different to those in the Loire Valley).

We have finished the day at the campsite in Chalon sur Saône – a relatively large city by the standards of what we have passed through so far. It does benefit from the presence of an Intertek office but Stephen will not be visiting! The river is swollen by the recent rains and has burst its immediate banks. If there is much more of rain the campsite may have to close as one end is under water and the rest is only a foot or so above water level. It makes for an impressive sight, especially given how far we are from the Med! And while we have been sat having an ice cream as dessert an absolutely huge cruise ship (of the river cruising variety) has docked just opposite. The picture on the photos page doesn’t really do it justice. (Incidentally, the photos page is periodically updated so do have a gander every now and then.)

Finally, just to lower the tone of the conversation somewhat (not that it was ever very high in the first place!) we are in the Eutopia of campsites- there are both loo seats and toilet paper!! And the showers have taps that do not require you to press the button every 2 seconds to keep the water running.

Au Revoir to the Loire

We left the Loire today having north east along the Canal du Centre to Montceau les Mines from our rest day stop in Digoin. It was a steady but very gentle climb, initially along the towpath and then on a quiet country road, the D974. The latter part was “off piste” as the official route took even more minor roads but, crucially, strayed into the surrounding hills with a couple of arrows on the map signifying steeper climbs. Thanks but no thanks!

The countryside changed as we moved away from the river with smaller fields separated by hedges giving it a much more English feel. In addition the towns and villages became more “industrial” than the agricultural centres we had been passing through as we entered a former coal mining region. There was some interesting sights of disused industrial buildings – see photos page when updated.

After a brief lunch stop Christine started to develop one of her occasional migraines – only a relatively mild one thank goodness. She took a pill but the best cure is a lie down in the quiet so, with no campsite within reasonable cycling distance, we headed for the nearest hotel in Montceau.

The town is obviously making an effort to move on from its coal mining past (which came to an end in 1992 according to that invaluable source of reference known as Wikipedia) and looked far more presentable than some English towns of similar heritage.

Christine’s couple of hours sleep did her the power of good and we treated ourselves to a dinner in the restaurant attached to the hotel. As we are near Charolle where the Charolais cows originated from we both thought it would be remiss of us to not have some of the local beef – and very tasty it was too!

Into Burgundy

The rain continued for most of Friday so we had a relaxing day wandering around the town of Decize and a chance to catch up on admin chores and reading.

Saturday saw us following the Loire valley for the last time as we crossed from the Centre region into Bourgogne. We only saw the river occasionally as we followed a quiet country road initially before getting onto another Voie Verte on a disused railway line and then the Canal Lateral towpath again.

The rain stayed away for most of the day but then started to get more serious as we approached Digoin. We managed to get the tent up before the heavens opened but with the forecast for Sunday looking pretty dire it was not a difficult decision to take another rest day, particularly with the only local church service that Christine could find being at 11 o’clock. In addition the campsite has a washing machine and drier which will make a pleasant change from using the Scrubba (a small but significant step up from hand washing – do a Google to see what we are talking about) and draping wet clothes over panniers!

Some Thoughts After Two Weeks on the Road

  • Gosh! The worries of the last few weeks seem to have just evaporated. Concerns now centre around “Where are we going to sleep tonight?” And “What are we going to eat?”
  • Plus, over the last few days, “Is it going to rain tomorrow?”
  • Living in a tent (most of the time) is going OK.
  • But getting up to go to the loo in the middle of the night when it is p!$$ing down with rain is not much fun!
  • It takes a surprising amount of time to set up camp each night and take it down and stow everything away in the morning!
  • Riding with fully loaded bikes slows you down much more than we had anticipated!
  • Averaging 80km per day with these loads is looking to be ambitious. But hey, what’s the hurry?
  • We’re in the 21st century and WiFi is wonderful! Who would have imagined, a few years ago, that you could lay in a tent in a field in France updating a blog?
  • Some of the equipment available these days is brilliant! Thermorest mattresses are really comfortable (but not very wide), our tent is so easy to erect and light to carry,  drybags are wonderful, our micro backpacks are SO useful,…as is Christine’s micro handbag!
  • The bikes are going well. Thanks Roberts Cycles!
  • We’ve chosen a brilliant route (so far) – barely a hill encountered. Canal towpaths, converted old railway tracks, and quiet roads in river valleys make for great cycling.
  • France is very big compared to England!
  • There is a department called Allier. Who knew? Not Christine and she used to live in France!
  • France is beautiful in the spring – but especially when the sun shines.
  • BUT French loos can leave something to be desired! No paper, no toilet seat, “barbaric” holes in the ground – yuk! But there is probably worse to come outside Europe! But then, they wouldn’t consider themselves one of the most civilised countries in the world!
  • We’re still “together” despite Stephen leaving the tent door unzipped and letting an 8 legged critter in! (But that was a close run thing!). And Christine’s ‘slow’, some might even say ‘tortoise speed’ cycling!

Avoiding the Rain!

The rain arrived late yesterday (Thursday). There were a few spots as we neared the end of the ride alongside the Canal Lateral de la Loire so Stephen”rushed” ahead to the campsite in Decize to get the tent up before the heavy stuff started – and just about succeeded! But it then set in for the night. Looking out at the grey skies and the growing puddles this morning we both reached the conclusion that a judicious rest day was in order.

Decize campsite in the rain.
Decize campsite in the rain.

The following shows the progress that we have made with overnight stops indicated.

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We will shortly be leaving the Loire and heading more east towards the Rhine and Germany and Switzerland.

Along the Loire

We’re back in 2015 as this campsite has WiFi after two days in the Dark Ages! So you are being subjected to another update.

In the past 3 days we have covered about 100 miles heading upstream from Orleans to La Charité sur Loire. We have now joined the Eurovelo 6 cycle route which we will be following all the way to the Black Sea. We did the first part, from the Atlantic to Orleans, a couple of summers ago with Eleri, our daughter, so it feels good to be back with an “old friend”.

It has been fairly flat and along wonderful cycle paths almost the whole way – generally away from roads but if not then the roads were very quiet. Christine survived the fall in temperature to 10C on Monday by wearing full-fingered gloves, a beanie hat under her helmet and 5 layers of clothing! It has warmed up a bit, and best of all we have been spared rain!

Since Orleans we have been camping and making inroads into the  overspend against budget following the “blow out” at the wonderful hotel in St Pierre du Vauvray with associated meal. (Well we are both accountants so we hope you’ll forgive the reversion to type!) And, wonder of wonders, the campsites since Orleans have all had toilet paper in the loos – none if those before did. But still no loo seats!! (Why is that?)

The cooking is going well – or at least as well as can be expected  on a little gas stove with just one burner.  Here is tonight’s feast:-

A veritable feast!
A veritable feast!

It’s a couscous/bulgar wheat concoction from a packet with added ham and a tomato and some of the local vino, Pouilly Fume, in case you were wondering! Hardly cordon bleu but it’s fuel! It was followed by a slice of cake and a banana.

We are realising just how big France is, as we are still only about half way across it!

A big thank you to everyone who has sent us messages. We love getting them! We will update again when we next have wifi.

The Loire Reached!

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First sight of the Loire!

Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 April.
We have reached Eurovelo 6, the long distance cycle path that we hope to follow all the way to the Black Sea! It was a long hard day from Chartres to Orleans on Saturday. The pretty river valley was swapped for prairie style fields. Much less picturesque, but it did mean most of the day we cycled to the sounds of skylarks! Highlight of the day was a car slowing down and inviting us in for coffee at the next village. We chatted to the delightful Yves-Marie who spent 9 months last year cycling from Kyrgyzstan home to France! When we left he presented us with a jar of the honey from his and his brother’s honey business. We also felt we were cycling in the footsteps of the Romans, as most of the roads were straight! We were delighted when we finally saw the Loire, but less pleased to discover that of the 2 campsites in Orleans, one only accepted motorhomes, and the other was closed! As Stephen was feeling unwell we splashed out on a cheap hotel!
Decided in light of Stephen feeling under par, Christine’s wish to go to church on Sunday morning and the forecast of very heavy rain in the afternoon, to take a rest day in Orleans. A wise decision. And a chance to catch up on washing, sorting photos etc. back on the bikes tomorrow!