Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Wednesday 15th June
We are here in Malissard. Yesterday was exciting - and rather emotional. What a welcome from Agnes' friends and family - and indeed members of the local community. Our exploits have been regularly covered in the local newspaper. (I wish I were more photogenic ...but one cannot have everything). It seems very strange not to be leaping onto the bikes and pedalling off down the highways and byways. I think we will want to do a bit of gentle cycling around the neighbour hood - just to keep a bit in trim. And in any case La Naranja and Mrs A will feel left out! They have performed extremely well, and all the disasters I envisaged before we left ( punctures, broken chains.....etc) have not happened. Since I am completely without any technical/mechanical skills, the thought of such eventualities was terrifying. Nor have we suffered awful physical pains. In fact by the end even hills had few terrors - unless very steep, very wet and part of busy motorways!
What have I learnt
a) What a beautiful world we live in. The landscapes we have ridden through have been stunning, from the wide open spaces of the Borders to the forested mountains of the Ardeches. We have gone through villages and towns where you can see the history in the stones, the old mixing with the new. One could have spend days and days just dropping off to look at something - stately homes, medieval chateaux, XII century churches, Roman remains....All this worth celebrating and preserving, not in aspic but as living communities with futures .
b) The kindness and hospitality of people. All our friends and relations who welcomed us into their homes, and treated us royally; the hoteliers who made no demur over being asked to shelter two bicycles. All those who have supported us through Justgiving
c) One should always grab opportunities - even if they seem mad. This has been a real,experience and adventure, and though I know there are other people doing extraordinary things, often they seem to be much earlier in life. For me this was extraordinary. So my message - don't be afraid
d) Friendship is invaluable. I would not have been able to do it without Agnes whose idea it was and who was the driving force behind the whole enterprise ( besides she speaks French!), nor without the amazing support of Julian who devised our routes. While we might not have been able to follow them all - being on the ground so to speak can be rather different to the theory - they were lifelines. It has been a privilege to have been involved.
Ferniehurst Mill Lodge hidden in the Jedburgh valley and Agnes meeting the horses who have always terrified her.
Hexham - all those hills and the welcome from Hugh - not to mention the sherry.
Durham - a lazy afternoon with the donkeys and the hens...and the family
Thirsk - somewhat unmemorable- but good chips en route.
Doncaster - almost best forgotten if it were not for the welcome both at the Restover Lodge ( budget in offer, but **** in friendliness) and the waitress in the Premier Inn restaurant. But there was lunch in York
Grantham - no, I don't want to remember that hill...the rain...the lorries but again friendly and immediate service from the local Halfords.
Corby - our friends, cocktails , lots of laughter... sheltering from the rain in a church porch. It was wet!
Milton Keynes - hospitality - and the nightmare of trying to find a way out.
Ealing - the fun of riding down the canal towpaths (whenever possible ), trying to find our way through Harrow then Ealing, the family....
Lewes - amazing Sussex countryside - a ride almost completely down back roads but terrifying hills! Arriving in Lewes on time after 7 hours. I think we should be congratulated. The Lewes Arms
Dieppe - such an unexpected charming, bustling town. Then our first experience of a Voie Verte...
Cergy - no, Cergy ,a low point, but travelling to Cergy was interesting and we went through some lovely villages. I am glad to have seen Givors and its church. The Campamile chain also went up in my estimation - no problem with the bicycles and though we missed breakfast, they rustled something up.
Montreuil -  the journey to Montreuil the stuff of nightmares but a paradise at the end with the Basilica of St Denis in between.  What a beautiful, unexpected and loved house.
Arbonne - a step into the past? Proust ? I must now read A la recherche du temps perdu - but not in French. And the forests. I could see Louis XIV and his court gathering for la chasse as we rode through Fontainbleau
Auxerre - a long haul down major roads. And where were the cafes? But Auxerre lovely; the cathedral as remembered - and a gourmet meal! 1947 Chablis
Cluny - not an actual stop, a respite  - the Abbey imagining the forest of pillars that would have been the nave, the patisserie - a coffee eclair and a Surprise(mmm the chocolate), the Voie Verte
 Saulieu -   Le hotel de la Poste - welcoming. Orange decor of the labyrinthine passages with old wooden beams
Buxy - Buxy itself lovely, old, and our hostess somewhat eccentric and friendly. The idiosyncracies of the hotel Grainaterie and the delicious pizzas - but no local restaurants! The local Burgundian architecture
Chatillons-sur-Charlaronne - proving we could navigate without the Garmin. Another welcoming Hotel - L'Inattendu - a garden and rain
Vienne - impressions of an interesting town. Terrrifying roads; fantastic landscape if one could appreciate it; rain, rain lowering clouds. Hotel IBIS - value for money? But a base for the night
Malissard - la Via Rhona - then a truly French welcome - warm;, overwhelming, from the heart
Remembering along the whole route birdsong, the scent of flowers and leaves, the colours of the wild flowers, glimpses of wild life (sadly many victims of the road), quietness, a steady pace.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Stage 20 ....The Arrival....WE HAVE MADE IT! We left the IBIS in good order. At least the breakfast was lavish - though lacking the idiosyncracities of some of the others we have enjoyed. The price of an"international" approach. Still it makes for a good send off. Then on to the Via Rhona. This is the most fantastic cycle route from the Leman to the Mediterranean, taking in Vienne to Valence. I imagined it might have been part of an ancient road but I can find no reference to this; I believe it has been especially created for cyclists. Three cheers. It follows the Rhone and is (on the whole) very clearly marked, well paved and delightful. No traffic! What a change from yesterday. The result we made excellent time and met Agnes  sister for a picnic lunch. Yes, the weather was fine! The landscape was wonderful - the Ardeches - if in Burgundy the hills are rolling, here they are like great skirts of pleated taffeta heavily forested with the occasional house or tower appearing precipitously while the vineyards seem to be clinging to the mountainsides. Breathtaking.By the afternoon the sun came out properly. So we continued...then Wow suddenly we were surrounded by cyclists, almost all of whom knew Agnes - cousins and friends and the local cycling club. So we were then escorted to Malissard in a celebratory convoy up hill and down Dale. I am pleased to report I did not let Scotland/UK down by either failing to cycle up hills or by falling off on corners! So we arrived to an amazing welcome. How kind everyone has been. Then, can you believe it ..we were summoned to the Mairie for more celebrations, bouquets AND medallions! Indeed the Mayor, himself was there. I felt very humble - this was for Agnes. But I am also pleased that I managed to keep up..and what an amazing, enjoyable and on occasion challenging experience. Thank you to all those who have supported and encouraged us.
I will hope to reflect a bit more tomorrow. Now to practice my French. Oh la la

Journée 20: Vienne - Malissard. L'arrivée

Quelle journée fantastique, et quel contraste avec la journée d'hier! Il a fait beau temps, le paysage était magnifique, le terrain était facile. Nous avons circulé sur la ViaRhôna  - une voie verte qui va du Lac Léman à la Mediterranée - bien indiquée, bonne surface et surtout aucune circulation!
Ma soeur, Claudine, nous a rejoint vers St Vallier pour un pique-nique, et après ça, nous sommes allées de surprise en surprise! Un peu plus loin, nous avons rencontré un groupe de cyclistes, dont Denis, mon beau-frère. C'était des membres du club de cyclisme de Malissard qui sont venus à notre rencontre! Puis nous avons rencontré plusieurs personnes en route, pour finalement arriver à Malissard où nous étions attendues avec une bannière "Arrivée".
Mais ce n'était pas tout! Nous avons été conviée à la Mairie pour une réception avec discours de m'adjoint au Maire, bouquets de fleurs Médaille de Malissard!!! C'était à la fois émouvant mais aussi très étonnant car je ne me sentais pas particulièrement digne d'un tel intérêt. Cette expérience a été un plaisir pour moi je ne m'attendais pas à ce que tant de personnes s'intéressent à notre aventure!

Grand merci à tous ceux qui nous ont supporté, encouragé et aidé dans ce projet!

Jour 19: Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne - Vienne

On s'attendait à une journée difficile aujourd'hui, particulièrement point de vue navigation, puisqu'il nous fallait contourner Lyon sans l'aide du Garmin. Julian nous avait envoyé des instructions précise mais sur le terrain, les choses sont parfois différentes!! Nous sommes donc partie sous la pluie - après un petit-déj’ somptueux (Ferelith a compté 24 différents pots de confiture!). Et la pluie s'est intensifiée - impossible d’apprécier le paysage, qui pourtant aurait dû être joli avec tous les étangs.
Arrivées à Villars-les-Dombes trempées, impossible de trouver un bar ouvert, ou même le sortie dans la direction qu'il nous fallait, nous avons fait un petit détour..
"Chez Chris" nous a offert un petit répit - et surtout une terrine de fromage de chèvre bien appréciée, suivie du steak traditionnel! Et nous voilà reparties, non sans encombres - détours, demi-tours, arrêts pour demander notre chemin etc.. on a mis beaucoup plus longtemps qu'il aurait fallu. Puis la pluie est devenue vraiment très forte - rajoutons à ça, la conduite des lyonnais (on a entendu plus de klaxon en une demi-journée que pendant tout le reste du trajet), le terrain pas particulièrement plat, nous étions contente d'arriver à Vienne, trempées jusqu'aux os. Malheureusement, à cause du match de foot à Lyon, la seule chambre que nous avons trouvée était une chambre minuscule sans aération dans un hôtel IBIS et coutait la peau des fesses. Il y a des jours avec, et des jours sans...

Monday, 13 June 2016

Stage 19 .....almost....almost.....Chatillons -sur-Chalaronne - Vienne
It wasn't a promising prospect; grey, looming sky...a drizzling rain. But what a breakfast. All beautifully laid out on an enormous table elegantly covered with an attractive brocade motif cloth...and 24 different types of jam I. Little glass Kilner- type pots! Fortified, we set off - taking the opportunity of buying a map of the region that was rather more detailed than the ones we already had. Today we would not have the luxury of the Garmin. And then the rain came down. It was very wet and more than a little chilly. Nor could one appreciate the countryside which was shrouded in lowering clouds.we arrived in Villars-les-Domes pretty soaked and I have to say I do not want to go back. It proved extremely difficult to find a way out and, indeed, we failed to find the carefully worked out route sent by Julian. However, we persevered and in the end succeeded in getting ourselves back on track. Now the weather cheered up a little, and we made some progress eventually stopping for a very traditional French lunch at a bar, Chez Chris..terrine of from age du chèvre, a steak and fruit salad....Then on we went but the way was not without complication ( not exclusive to France, I may say) Road signs all too often don't direct one to the village one thought one wanted and the signs showing the Road numbers are randomly allocated. Sometimes frequent, at other times not at all and rarely on road signs, so working out where one is even with detailed instrucyptio s is a major task. It took ages to work round St Laurent de Mure and then Herieux and then Valencin. Then the rain came down with a vengeance. It poured....and poured - and we slogged on. Nor was the terrain as I expected. After a day of easy flat roads, now we were faced with long climbs up followed by swooping descents. My hands were glued to the handle bars, my eyes fixed resolutely ahead. The road was not ultra busy, but lorries roared past every so often, while cars rushed by. It was sad because the surrounding country was fairly spectacular. By the time we arrived in Vienne, drowned rats would have been no exaggeration. And getting into Vienne was by the almost motorway style road. Terrifying. But here we are IBIS St Louis - the most expensive of our rooms and the least deserving. Yes the water is hot, yes food is served at all hours and they can deal with bikes, but our room on the 5th floor is rather dark and oppressive, no outside window ( a skylight, minimal opening) and a very odd unpleasant smell. This is supposed to be value for money! The Restover was real value for money - kettle etc in room..!
 Ah well, all part  of life's rich tapestry...Tomorrow we head for VALANCE and our goal, Malissard. Let us hope for good weather

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Journée 18: Buxy -Châtillon-sur-Chalaronne via Cluny

Deuxième jour hors piste, donc sans le Garmin. Heureusement nous avions des informations précises de Julian et une carte, moyennement détaillée. 
Après un excellent petit-déjeuner, nous sommes parties sous la pluie avec un vent fort et froid. Les 34 km jusqu'à Cluny, par la voie verte étaient rapides, mais nous sommes arrivées à Cluny trempées et gelée! Un petit café pour nous réchauffer et hop, nous sommes allées visiter l'abbaye. Je ne vais pas détailler l'histoire de l'abbaye, suffit de dire qu'elle est fascinante. Le site est grandiose et démontre le pouvoir qu'avait l'église. 

Nous avons quitté Cluny vers 3h 30. Il ne pleuvait enfin plus et il faisait suffisamment chaud pour pouvoir abandoner les vestes! De Cluny, il y avait encore 20 km sur la voie verte, mais avec beaucoup plus de montées, et il a fallu passer sous le long tunnel du bois clair.
Ensuite, nous avons traversé des jolis paysages de Bourgogne, vignobles des grands crus blancs - Pouilly-Fussé,  St Véran...

Finalement, nous sommes arrivées à L'Inattendu et avons trouvé  un bon resto! Tout va bien!
Stage 18 !! Can you believe it? I can't.
Buxy - Chatillon-sur-Charlaronnes. After a delicious breakfast with our hostess of La Grenetarie chatting to us, we left in rain.. It was not immediately heavy but became increasingly wet as we progressed down the Voie Verte. It was also rather chilly (very) since there was a wind as well. The route was marvellous - smooth and straight following the railway line to Cluny. We arrived in good time and treated ourselves to a proper break, taking time to visit the Abbey. Though destroyed during the Revolution, it has been very imaginatively reconstructed using 3D imagery; what an impressive building it must have been. Not the delicate tracery of the great Gothic Cathedrals in England, but severe Norman( Burgundian) arches and a forest of pillars towering above the visitor.. There had been a music Festival which had just finished - reggae and dub! Must have been quite something.we left Cluny with a hint of sunshine and indeed, this continued. Now the Voie Verte became more interesting - and more strenuous as we climbed up hills a rolled down the other side.we also rode through the a Tunnel du Bois Clair... Dark, cold and dripping. It would have been very welcome on a hot day. I thought I was in the South of France? Perhaps we have got our geography wrong? Still it wasn't raining and there was some sun.  path was littered with bright orange kamikaze slugs - and then I saw a snake quickly sliding into the undergrowth. Our way left the Voie Verte and we had to negotiate the detailed instructions relayed by Julian to reach Chatillon. Success. We arrived soon after 8pm at the Hotel L'Attendu - another unexpected exterior with a lovely garden hidden at the back, and then made our way to a local restaurant for a delicious meal at L'Arboise. I could become quite addicted to Kir. It makes a great start to a meal. And what welcoming service.. Now we are almost on the last leg. A challenging day because off the map.  - so a good night's sleep? Yes - but the mosquito bites are playing up!!!