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!!!

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Journée 17: Saulieu - Buxy

D'après le plan, l'étape devait finir à Châlons-sur-Saône, mais en regardant la carte aujourd'hui, nous avons décidé de changer un peu notre itinéraire. Cela nous permettra d'éviter les villes importantes, et d'équilibrer un peu les étapes. Nous voilà donc à Buxy, où avec l'aide de Julian, nous avons une chambre d'hôte dans une maison du XVIIIème, pleine de charme et décorée d'objets anciens.  La propriétaire, bien sympatique tient aussi une brocante. Passionnée d'histoire et de vielles choses, elle nous a fait une petite visite guidée de la ville et de l'église dont elle a la clef.

 Mais, revenons en arrière! L'étape d'aujourd'hui était plaisante et plutôt facile. 97 km environ, mais avec beaucoup de descentes et une longue partie sur la voie verte. Les paysages étaient pittoresques, beaucoup de vignobles, bien entendu, des châteaux que nous n'avions pas le temps de visiter, et des belles églises. Nous avons pris notre repas de midi à Nolay, une jolie cité médiévale. Bref, il est clair que la région a une histoire très riche.
Day 17  ( or Stage if you prefer - just ringing the changes). Saulieu - Buxy ( should be Chalons-sur-Soane!). Yes we have gone off piste, so to speak. Today was billed as an easy day; as is tomorrow with a really long haul involving Lyon in 2 days time. This now seemed silly, so rather than going into Chalons ( the thought of trying to negotiate another French town was offputting), we decided it would be better to push on a little further than Chalons, thus shortening the journey to Cluny where we hope to linger a little. And also allowing us to go beyond Macon. Our stay in Saulieu was pleasant. The Hotel de la Poste must have been the staging in the past. Behind the main building an arcaded walkway that made one think of The Globe; inside narrow corridors (now a brilliant orange) with wooden beams. But the room was comfortable, the meal excellent, the service friendly. We set off in rain - as forecast. Luckily at first it was quite light, but gradually became much fiercer as we climbed the next range of Burgundian hills. Around us heavily wooded rolling countryside. Though not the same, it did make me think that this is the sort of landscape one might once have found in Scotland before the disappearance of the Caledonian Forest. We left most if the spreading arable fields and we're now surrounded by vineyards while the road was lined with placards announcing the next domaine. This is the country of les Grands Vins. Though we didn't stop we also saw signs to chateaux  - Rully and Germolles. Both are medieval. Rully XII century, Germolles dating 1364 when Philippe the  bold (Philippe le Hardi) became Duke of Burgundy. It was then developed and decorated by his energetic (and wealthy wife) Margaret of Flanders. Wirth a visit one day? The best part of rage journey was a lovely long glide down the Voie Verte which is down the converted railway, but even when we left it it, the road wasn't too bad though once again up and down ( but not quite so much). By now the rain had gone just a bit of wind. There were sparrow hawks, a kite, and I think, a buzzard all on the hunt. The roadsides crowded with flowers as were the roads in the IK - yarrow, birds foot trefoil, vetches, red campion, comfrey...and now here dog roses. We rolled into Buxy in very good time. I had I not had great expectations but it is a lovely town of medieval origen. Our hotel is eccentric to say the least - as is our hostess. She runs an antique/bric-à-brac shop attached and the building which is XVIII century is full of objects of all kinds, higgeldy-pigeldy. I am not sure if they are part of her stock, or part of her life - the effect is extraordinary. Just like the amazing house in Arbonne - a homage to the past.  She, herself, has been very kind giving us a guided tour of the village and the church of which she seems to be the chatelaine. We then set off to look for food. I may say looking for food in France is proving as difficult as looking for water in the Sahara. The two restaurants in Buxy were either closed or full - we have coincided with a First Communion tomorrow and the families of the communicants have descended or will descent on Buxy. So we ended up in the local pizzeria with a group of VERY noisy Belgians. The pizzas were the best ever, the service super - and Italian ice cream.
Tomorrow we go to Cluny - then a leap into the unknown. Julian has created a new route!!!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Journée 16: Auxerre - Saulieu

Contentes d'être arrivées! La journée n'a pas été des plus faciles! 97 km, avec beaucoup de dénivelé. Nous avons quitté Auxerre assez tard après avoir visité la cathédrale qui vaut franchement le coup d'oeil! Les premiers 20 km étaient extrêmement agréable, le long de l'Yonne ou du canal du Nivernais. Nous avons vu une loutre, il y avait des cygnes et des canards... Puis, après manger (un snack sympa sur les bords de l'Yonne) le Garmin nous a dirigé sur une "route non pavée" qui est devenue de plus en plus difficile, jusqu'à devenir totalement impraticable après 2 km - et infestée de moustiques - demi-tour donc...peu après, nous avons rejoint la D606, beaucoup de montées et peu d'intérêt. Il y avait quelques petits villages sympas mais on a eu du mal à trouver un café ouvert! Près de Saulieu, il a commencé à pleuvoir... Heureusement, nous avons trouvé un hôtel sympa qui fait bien à manger!
Stage 16 Auxerre - Saulieu. We are stting in a cosy nook of the bar in the Hotel de la Poste, Saulieu as gentle canned music plays,a medley including Beethoven Moonlight ! We have had a very enjoyable meal and are rounding off with (another) glass of wine. We feel we deserve this. Today has not been completely easy. No, no major disasters or even dire weather though the rain arrived as we arrived at the hotel. Rather it has been another long slog with the final 20k going on forever. We started well in gentle sunshine and managed to see the inside of Auxerre Cathedaral. Admittedly it was touched go. Despite a notice saying the Cathedral doors would open at 7.30, they were very closed at 8.30. We were just about to leave disappointed when the Verger arrived. And so we were in and able to see the glory that is the medieval glass in the triforioum and the choir. Then we set off. Our entry into Auxerre had been through the awfulness of their Zone Industrielle. We expected to exit the same way. But no. In fact we left Auxerre without seeing anything of the town and found ourselves cycling along the towpath of the Canal du Nivernais. This was wonderful. Almost completely deserted, smooth and gently winding as the canal wound through wooded country. Every so often we would meet the river, still very much in spate. We saw an otter, fish jumping, ducks and swans. Ratty and Mole would have felt at home. After leaving the canal we were directed up an unmade road which quickly became very unmade then a quagmire. It was damp and humid, and you could hear the mosquitoes shout"Hey guys, dinner has arrived!) We abandoned this route very quickly. Then the long ride really started. It was picture postcard country - Burgundy - rolling wooded hills - but rolling  hills we had to cycle up and then down, then up again .....on and on. Now we were on a busier road with the usual camions and cars rushing past. This was fine when dual carriageway, less comfortable when not. A dearth of roadside cafes added to the strain...but we made it. Now recovering nicely we can look forward to the next bit - Chalons- sur - Soane ...but the forecast is not good. Rain! Let us hope it passes in the night.
 En avant la musique

Journée 15: Arbonne La Forêt - Auxerre

Notre étape la plus longue - 125km - malheureusement pas la plus intéressante! Une fois avoir passé la Forêt de Fontainebleau et trouvé la sortie de la ville, il a juste fallu suivre les instructions détaillées données par Julian. Nous étions principalement sur des grandes routes (à cause de la distance à parcourir) et le paysage n'était pas particulièrement intéressant non plus. Les sequelles des inondations récente etaient très visibles.

 Nous avons juste pédalé... et nous sommes arrivées à Auxerre à 5h30. Auxerre est une très belle ville et nous sommes d'abord allées voir la cathédrale avant de manger, nous avons parcouru ses rues étroites et pavées à la recherche d'un restaurant. Finalement, on nous a indiqué "Au rendez-vous", pas particulièrement bon marché mais très bon! A la table derrière nous, il y avait un groupe qui s' est révélé être un groupe d'oenologues de plusieurs pays; avec eux, un des plus importants producteurs de Chablis qui nous a fait goûté son Chablis de 1947 - excellent!

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stage 15 Auxerre. I last visited Auxerre about 50 years ago and remember driving up narrow cobbled street. The street are still narrow and cobbled but cars go round the outside. Our journey from Fontsinbleus to Auxerre was a marathon - 125 km - but a relatively smooth one. We were on major roads almost the whole way, a smooth but terrifying ride. Lorries roared past, card whooshed by but we held steady to our course thanks to the brilliantly clear route devised byJulian. Apart from a short break for lunch we just cycled, and cycled and it paid off; we arrived 3hours!! ahead  of our admittedly conservative estimate. Only 8 hours on the saddle. The countryside was green and relatively flat but I was gripping my handlebars so tightly, I did not notice too much. Some evidence of flooding certainly - crops under water and a shortcut we had hoped to take impossible because waterlogged. Rather more of the time was spent negotiating the outskirts of towns. French towns are like nuts; a hard, difficult exterior - ugly industrial buildings ( as opposed to the ribbon development of houses seen in the UK). This goes on for ever,but perseverance often leads to a lovely kernel - an attractive town centre, as is the case of Auxerre. However, we cracked it and are at the Hotel Cygne. The evening was spent wandering around old Auxerre - narrow, steep roads many cobbled to find the cathedral. We hope to return tomorrow when it opens. Then a search for food. Unfortunately Thursday evening almost all the restaurants close! Starvation! But no, thanks to the help of a local party enjoying wine outside a bar, we were directed to an excellent restaurant - possibly one we would not have otherwise patronised (price). But it was what was needed and we very much enjoyed it - including being offered a sip of a 1947 Chablis by a wine tasting party that was there as well. The high life, indeed.
Tomorrow we continue south to Saulieu. Let us hope it will be as trouble free.


Jour14: Montreuil - Arbonne la Forêt

A cause des inondations à Nemours, il a fallu revoir nos plans. Anne-Solange a un oncle à Arbonne la Forêt qui a accepté de nous héberger!
Après in long petit-déjeuner avec Dale, nous avons quitté Montreuil avec Dale en tête a travers le bois de Vincennes, il nous a quitté après la Marne et nous avons continué le long de la N6 jusqu'à la forêt de Sénard. Après in passage court mais très agréable en forêt, nous avons pris un sandwich à petit village calme.. puis tout est devenu plus difficile. Détours, fausses route et tous les efforts vain pour passer Melun sans trop d'encombrements! Mais enfin nous sommes arrivées près de la forêt de Fontainebleau. Nous avons traversé le joli village de Barbizon, connu pour son école de peinture.
Arrivées à Arbonne, Christian, l'oncle de Anne-Solange, nous a reçues royalement dans sa maison magnifique et pleine d'histoire. Nous avons dormi dans le studio,avec tableaux,  pinceaux, objets d'art et paraphernalia, y compris, une armure décomposée!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Stage 14 Montreuil - Arbonne la Foret ( Fontainbleu) two weeks on the road.; and what fun it has bee despite the frustrations of  finding our way through the anonymity of modern towns. Today has been a real case in point. As mentioned , we have had to revise our route as a result of the recent floods. During dinner, Agnes  friend, Solange, mentioned that she had an uncle who lived near Fontainbleu who might be prepared to put us up for the night - as indeed he was. So that was arranged and it looked as if it should have been a very easy day. It started well. Dale guided us through the first part across the Bois de Vincennes, then we were on the direct - if rather unpleasant road out of Paris to the Forest of Sanart. Here we were able to ride across on a route Verte away from " the madding crowd". It came to an end all too soon, but with the sun shining we decided to stop for lunch in Soisy sur Seine, a very ordinary baguette eaten to the accompaniment of the Grand National of Trot - the big trotting races being held that day; the cafe was also the betting shop. We then continued - and as we might have expected things didn't quite go to plan. First a rather lengthy detour round the forest routes of Cresson (unplanned), then a struggle to get through Melun without going through Melun (impossible); the result a 5 hour ride instead of 3. Never mind we rode through Barbizon, thinking of Millet, Theodore Rousseau et al - what an attractive little,e place (St Ives ?) then to Arbonne where we have been wined and dined royally. Another fantastic house that belongs to the pages of a novel, not ssure by whom, but definitely fictional. - it seems to have been untouched since the beginning of the 20th century and is full of the most wonderful and extraordinary things -  we are up in the attic studio surrounded by paintbrushes, maquettes, a deconstructed suit of armour not to mention a lady wearing the most fetching gold cloche hat.  Sweet dreams! Tomorrow is goi g to be a looooong day as we cycle to Auxerre. Once again no map but very detailed directions. Keep your fingers crossed, I want photo of the cathedral before it is too dark.

Jour 13:Cergy - Montreuil

Ça devait être notre jour "repos"... L'idée était de retrouver notre ami Dale à la Basilique de Saint Denis de prendre notre repas de midi dans un café sympa en face de la Basilique et d'aller à Montreuil chez Gilles et Dale (1 heure de vélo) pour y passer  une après midi tranquille. En fait, on a mis très longtemps pour sortir de Cergy, puis la route prévue par les bords de l'Oise était inondée donc il a fallu trouver notre chemin en demandant... puis avec Dale au téléphone. Résultat, nous sommes arrivées à la Basilique après 3h. Nous avons visité la Basilique qui est magnifique et il y avait une répétition pour un concert qui aura lieu en fin de semaine - le Requiem de Donizetti. Magique!

Une fois chez Gilles et Dale, nous avons pu visiter la nouvelle librairie jeunesse de Marion, puis Anne-Solange, une copine de l' université que je n'avais pas vu depuis des lustres, nous a rejoint et nous avons passé une excellente soirée. Merci encore!

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Stage 13 Cergy - Montreuil. We slept in..yes we really did arriving after! The petit dejeuner had closed. Well we probably needed the sleep. Seeing our crestfallen faces the young man clearing the tables etc.. took pity on us and set out croissants and coffee. So we set off on good heart. Unfortunately things turned difficult quite quickly. Neither the Garmin nor Google maps were starting from the same point so finding the starting point was not easy. Then at the crucial point when we should have joined the Velo Route, we discovered it was still under water. Consternation, the Garmin was no longer viable and the smart phone was not able to use the French network. We had to go by guess and a lot of asking directions, some more helpful than others. We also had Dale on the end of the 'phone, but what had been planned as a nice short ride 2 - 3 hours max. Turned into a bit of a marathon and we did not reach St Denis until mid afternoon. Riding past the Oise and the Seine it was clear both rivers were still very high. After a short rest and a visit to the Basilica we felt better. At present there is a music festival in St Denis, with concerts in the Basilica. We were able to visit the Tombs of the kings but not through the main door. It was perfect, not only did we have the visual splendour of Abbé Suger's creation, the history of the kings of France presented through their effigies and an interesting exhibition of robes inspired by the queens, we also had the rehearsal for a performance of a very little performed Requiem by Donnizetti. It was wonderful. Then back on the bikes for a hair raising ride across Paris to Montreuil. Over cobbles, down towpaths, across main roads, weaving through traffic - in France it is permissible to cross some red lights! following our guide, Dale, who had kindly ridden over to meet us at St Denis. And so to this dream house in the centre of Montreuil. An old agricultural building - 18th century - now rescued a revived with love and care. Great wooden beams, tiny spiralling stairs, stone floors - a well in the courtyard and a garden full of green and frogs. We were introduced to Gertrude, Guinevere, and Genevieve! What wonderful welcomes we have had along our journey; here in Paris, thank you Gilles and Dale,
Now we have to rethink. Nemours is not a possible destination since the town had to be completely evacuated last week because of the floods. So today we go the Fontainbleu, a relatively short ride - tomorrow e will have a long day as we head for Auxerre.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Jour 12: Forges Les Eaux - Cergy

Longue journée! La première partie jusqu'à Gisors était vraiment sympa et la ville vaut le détour! On a visité l'église St Gervais-St Protais qui réuni plusieurs styles, du Gothique Flamboyant style Renaissance. J'ai beaucoup aimé le vitrail représentant le martyre de saint Crépin réalisé par l'artiste de Beauvais Nicolas le Prince en 1530, mais il y avait beaucoup de choses à voir. 

L'après midi était plus difficile. Un chemin indiqué par le Garmin n'existe plus et il a fallu improviser rajoutant plusieurs kilomètres et une bonne montées. Après le village de Serant (magnifique!) ça a commencé à être long! Nous avions toutes les deux, des coups de soleil (malgré la crème solaire) et j'avais un peu mal à la hanche après une petite chute (rien de grave), L'approche de Cergy était franchement pénible, mais nous avons trouvé un hôtel confortable, pris un bon repas et un verre de vin..
Stage 12 - Forges-les-Eaux - Cergy-Pontoise. Hotel St Denis despite a somewhat unprepossessing appearance, came up trumps; comfortable rooms - yes rooms - and then an unexpected breakfast - warm croissant and fantastically fresh bread. So we set off. We decided to follow the Garmin with the planned route. This took us through the countryside of Normandy and Picardy. A rolling route that was surprisingly easy to ride changing from a heavily wooded landscape to wide fields. The villages we passed through were traditional some well warn and dilapidated, others much more prosperous with well preserved grand houses. Yesterday we stopped briefly outside Mesnieres -en - Bray to admire the 15th century Chateau...lovely. Today our stop off was Gisors. This was a lovely town - a delicious Croque Monsieur followed by a wander round the church. This is dedicated to St Gervais and Saint Proteus, twins martyred by Nero ( according to the Golden Legend). The church was founded in the 12th century 1119 (I think) or there about. It was burnt down and rebuilt in the 13th courtesy of Blanche of Castille. It was then added to in the 15th and the architecture is a glorious mixture of the Gothic and Renaissance. It was - as might be expected - bombed during World War II, but has been well restored. There are fascinating little details that have survived - a stained glass window by Nicholas Le Prince from Beauvais (XV) detailing the extraordinary lives and death of St Crispin and St Crispinian who seem to have been rather difficult to kill. There was the trace of a mural portraying the members of the local confraternity, an extraordinary sculpture of a corpse with accompanying verse telling the viewer this was the fate of all. Definitely worth seeing. The journey then continued to Cergy. Unfortunately the planned route did not work, and though it meant we saw much more of traditional France it became a much longer, more drawn out ride than expected and became a real slog as we approached Cergy - not because the riding was difficult - but we had no idea of how many km/miles we still had to go and though not actually on the major road were riding alongside to the constant sound of traffic ( it was also very difficult to find the side roads - les routes Agricole). My legs were well burnt and gently frying while poor Agnes had a fall( wheels on gravel) and her back was hurting. Cergy is definitely not the place to go. Luckily neither the Premiere Classe(!!)  nor the Formula1 had rooms for which I am grateful ( I know they have merit - budget but...) so here we are in the Hotel Campanile, just as modern but at least with a restaurant, a comfortable room and no problem with housing La Naranja and Mrs Armitage. Thank goodness for that glass of wine. Tomorrow St Denis and  Montreuil.

Jour 11: Lewes - Newhaven et Dieppe - Forges les Eaux

Ça y est, on est en France! Encore une longue journée mais seulement parce qu'il a fallu partir de Lewes à 7h, pour être sûres d'être à l'heure pour le Ferry. Trop tôt pour dire au revoir à Rachel et Becky. Les 12 km de Lewes à Newhaven étaient rapides et nous sommes arrivées avec de la marge!

Il faisait un temps superbe en Angleterre mais Dieppe était dans le brouillard! Après un sandwich à Dieppe, nous avons rejoint la superbe Avenue Verte en route pour Forges les Eaux, une ancienne voie ferrée très agréable. Nous avons passé le Château de Mesnière-en-Bray du XV - historique à rechercher - et nous sommes arrivées à Forges les Eaux vers 6h.

L'hôtel est sympa mais la ville est plutôt morte le dimanche et le seul restaurant ouvert était un chinois, pas très typique mais très bon!

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Jour 10: Ealing - Lewes

Nous voilà à mi-chemin et la dernière étape avant la traversée de la Manche et je dois dire que je n'ai pas vraiment vu le temps passer, malgré la fatigue et les douleurs musculaires (bien supportables heureusement)!

Nous avons quitté Ealing vers 1h. Nos bicyclettes n'étaient pas prêtes avant 11h30, il fallu les récupérer et tout prend plus de temps à Londres. Ceci dit, mieux vaut etre sûr de son materiel Heureusement, Francis, le frère de Ferelith nous a accompagné  (en vélo bien sûr) pour les 30 premiers kilomètres,  jusqu'à la sortie de Londres. C'était non seulement plus rapide parce qu'il connaissait la route mais beaucoup plus sécuritaire et plus agréable, à travers Richmond Park et les pistes cyclables. Le reste de l'étape était assez physique, mais très jolie, nous avons emprunté des petites routes très calmes, (mais jamais plates), un paysage très vert et vallonné. Nous sommes arrivées à Lewes à 8 du soir après 7 heures quasiment non-stop sur la selle, trop tard pour voir la ville, qui m'a l'air intéressante. Petite soirée au pub local avec Rachel et Becky qui nous hébergent  un grand merci à elles - et dodo!

Stage 11 - Lewes - Newhaven - Dieppe - Forges Les Eaux. It was up so early we were not even able to say goodbye to our hosts, Rachel and Becky. But we were refreshed - another wonderful welcome and warm hospitality.. Thank you both very, very much. So onto the bikes and onto the road to Newhaven, swooping between the green hedgerows and through densely wooded areas towards the sea. The road was almost deserted..and even arriving at the Ferry Port was not crowded, though there was both a convoy of Belgian motorbikes, and a number of cyclists like ourselves setting off on a tour of France, some with almost no luggage, others with laden with camping gear and tents. I would not have liked to have attempted Carter Bar so equipped. We rolled onto the ferry and quickly found a place to call our own. The weather was glorious - almostt perfect for cycling. Then to sea. I am afraid we both took the opportunity to catch up on lost sleep. The weather changed. We arrived in Dieppe in cloud but not as cold as the previous week. Fortified with baguette and croquet chèvre, eaten surrounded by the bustle of the Dieppois Sunday market, we set off down the Avenue Vertte. Dieppe is an attractive port completely different from the modern sprawl of Calais which I was expecting. It remains a very traditional French town with character - rather like the swaggering statue of Abraham Duquesnes 1610 - 1688' Lieutenant General, standing in the main square. Leaving busy Dieppe behind we cycled the next 30 miles down this wonderful route converted from the old railway - no cars - families out enjoying a stroll, cyclists ( a few) the occasional rider and horse, almost the whole way to Forges les Eaux. The landscape very similar to the south of England , but definitely French as were the villages with their churches, the cross with a strong central tower. Gardens were plots often boasting a cow or two - and many had chickens. We cycled past a country fair with livestock and enormous agricultural machines, the traditional and the new, just packing up. So we arrived in Forges les Eaux on a Sunday evening. We found the hotel...but food? All cafes/ restaurants closed dimanche soir- except the Chinese restaurant,. Fear not, it was excellent, friendly with an attractive menu served piping hot. The next stage will take us to the outskirts of Paris - 50 miles or so...onward.

Stage 10. Ealing - Lewes. 10 days - I can scarcely believe that we have been cycling for 10 days. It just doesn't seem that long. It is proving a wonderful experience . The which I am greatly enjoying - despite the aches and pains.
Today's journey has been long.  We arrived rather late in Ealing with just time to deliver La Naranja and Mrs A ro their bicycle hotel for a bit of tlc. However, we were told this would take time - we would not be able to collect them until 11.30am. Our hearts sank a little but in fact it was probably a good thing. We were able to do a quick shop and then have a lunch after retrieving les bicyclettes.
We were much encouraged because Francis led us across London, through glories of Richmond Park, down the leafy rides (very bumpy) of Wimbledon, through the maze of South London - Rayne's Park and on out to Banstead then Coulsdon where he said goodbye. Thank you so much - it was such a support. Then we headed south - and it was one of the most pleasant rides that we have experience. Almost all was off any main road, down tiny bye ways between high hedges, through  shaded lanes with the growl of the M23 in the distance but overlaid by the shouting of the birds. As always it was fascinating watching the landscape unfold. Gone are the wide open spaces of the north. Now everything is en more lush and green and crowds a Mind you it wasn't "easy" - plenty of hills some steep where the descent was more terrifying that the ascent. We took the decision it would be good to just push on, and we did...7 hours on the saddle! It was not the legs that were tired by the end. But we reached Lewes pretty much at the time we hoped to be welcomed by the orange door of no.89. We were then able to experience some of the attractive little lanes - twitchels or wynds-  as we walked to the Lewes Arms. Yes, pubs exist where you can actually talk to each other!
I am afraid this has been written on Day 11....

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Jour 9: Milton Keynes - Ealing

Nous voilà donc à Ealing où l'hospitalité sans faute de Francis (le frère de Ferelith) a largement compensé les difficultés de la journée.
Nous avons quitté Milton Keynes tôt par un dédale de pistes cyclables difficiles à naviguer (donc plusieurs retours en arrière etc...) puis nous nous sommes retrouvées sur le chemin de halage de L'Union Canal qui va jusqu'à Londres - un chemin très plaisant, avec des péniches de toutes sortes, certaines étant clairement habitées. Il y en avait une avec non seulement un jardin sur le toit mais un nain de jardin!
Malheureusement, le chemin est vite devenu étroit et boueux et franchement impraticable il a donc fallu abandoner et retourner sur la route. A ce point là, 3 heures après notre départ, nous avions seulement fait un quart du chemin! Le reste était plus rapide, mais sans les instructions du Garmin, nous avon's dû trouver notre route grâce à des notes prises la veille, une carte très peu précise et mon téléphone portable. Ceci dit, nous nous sommes vite trouvées dans le brouhaha et la circulation de la banlieue de Londres et sommes arrivées chez Francis à l'heure prévue. Nous avons pu emmener nos vélos pour une révision et récupérer nos tickets de retour à St Pancra.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Stage 9 Milton Keynes - Ealing. Another cold day. We left early after a very comfortable night, thank you, Kristine and Jimmy. However, leaving Milton Keynes proved something of a challenge. The cycle routes were splendid but the directions labyrinthine. Eventually we found ourselves on the towpath of the Grand Union Canal. The plan was to follow the towpath to London. Sadly this did not happen. Though it started well, the path soon deteriorated to a muddy narrow track that defeated us. So we had to rethink. Naturally, the Garmin was not happy but with a combination of Google maps on the smart phone and keywords recorded on card( well, we are librarians) we managed to chart  a course, that if not running true at least kept us going in ft he right direction. Every so often we found ourselves back with the Union Canal, cycling past canal boats, some smartly turned out one imagines for hire, others very liver de in sporting bicycles, tin pails, wooden logs and gardens (with garden gnomes!); clearly a home. Towns were no longer easy to navigate, surrounded by major roads teaming with traffic. But green hedges full of scented blossom were never too far away. Badgers for half a mile said one notice. Sadly we didn't see any. Despite the delays A it too 3 hours to properly leave Milton Keynes behind we reached Ealing not too far off our hoped- for arrival time. La Naranja and Mrs Armitage are being looked over and looked after;we are enjoying family hospitality. Tomorrow a really long day. Then France.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Jour 8: Corby - Milton Keynes.

Après une excellente soirée, une bonne nuit et un petit-dej copieux, grâce à l'hospitalité d'Amy et Christina, il a fallu reprendre la route. L'étape d'aujourd'hui était courte (64km) et beaucoup plus agréable que je ne l'avait anticipé! Nous avons traversé de jolis petits villages historiques, notamment celui de Geddington, avec ses toits de chaume, son église et sa Croix D'Éléonore.  Les croix d'Eléonore sont une série de douze croix érigées à la fin du XIII siècle par le roi d'Angleterre Édouard I en mémoire de sa femme, Éléonore de Castille. Elles marquent les emplacements où son cortège funéraire s'est arrêté pour la nuit lors du transport de sa dépouille à Londres.

Nous avons ensuite traversé la vallée de la Nene avec tout un ensemble d'étangs.

Finalement, nous sommes arrivées à Milton Keynes en fin d'après -midi ou Kristine et Jimmy nous ont accueillies.

What a lovely evening we had in Corby. It really set us up for the next day - Stage 8. I cannot believe we have already been on the road for eight days...yes, eight, because we are now in Milton Keynes, grateful for the hospitality of Kristine and Jimmy.
The ride had not been planned to be very long..a mere 42.3 miles - so we didn't leave very early. It has still been rather chilly,though we welcomed a blink of sunshine around  midday. It is amazing what a difference feeling warm makes. Nor was it a difficult ride in terms of hills; rolling countryside certainly so not flat but nothing too challenging. However, our route planner took us by the Cycle ways. This was fine - when the way was firm or tarmac. However, for a short space we found ourselves on a footpath and ended caked in mud. Luckily we arrived at the Stanwick Adventure Park and were able to make use of a hosepipe. Mrs Armitage has developed a bit of a sqeak. Then cycling the Nene valley surrounded by lakes, the Garmin became very confused and was convinced we were in the water, so a remedial detour through Higham Ferrers including toasted sandwiches (for us) was necessary. We were soon back en route and made good - if by now slightly painful - progress to Milton Keynes where again we were able to use attractive cycle tracks without the terrors of traffic.
We have travelled through some lovely villages; Geddington where there is the best preserved Eleanor Cross and an interesting church - also thatched cottages which are now much more of a feature. We rode past Boughton House... Wow, what a vista. Eat your heart out Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Now the villages are rather more sprawling with modern suburbs swamping the older centres. Tomorrow will be a bit more of a challenge  another long ride to Ealing. No room for error! En avant!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Jour 7: Grantham -Corby

Encore une journée froide et pluvieuse. Heureusement, c'était une étape courte! Après avoir récupéré nos vélos à Halfords - où mon pneu a dû être réparé à nouveau parce qu'il était de nouveau à plat! - nous avons quitté Grantham vers 11h. Nous avons pu éviter les grandes routes pour la plupart du temps et nous nous sommes vite retrouvée à Uppingham - une petite ville charmante avec plusieurs librairies et un pub traditionnel où nous avons partagé un sandwich et une portion de frites.
Corby est très proche de Uppingham mais il pleuvait des cordes et nous avions rejoint la route principale où nous étions éclaboussées par les camions qui nous dépassaient à grande vitesse. Nous sommes arrivées chez Amy trempées jusqu'aux os.. Amy avait invité deux autres collègues  pour un festin arrosé de Champagne, cocktails etc... Heureusement, l'étape de demain est courte!

Stage 7, Well fortified by the renowned Premier Inn Breakfast, we left Grantham in depressingly grey, damp weather. We first had to walk into the town to collect La Naranja and Mrs Armitage from Halfords where puncture repairs were taking place. Top marks to Halfords for the welcome, the "yes we can do that" and the phone call for the taxi the night before. Cycling back up the hill to the hotel to collect the bags was a dream; what a difference having no panniers makes! Then on through the countryside. Our hearts sunk briefly as the journey began on the A607 with cars and lorries thundering past. However, our clever route finders quickly directed us away from the major thoroughfare to cycle through blissfully quiet roads. Oh that there had been a little bit of sunshine. The terrain once again has changed. Yesterday we cycled across a level plain; today it was once more up and down, up and down - and sometimes quite steeply. Once again lovely little villages - ending up in Uppingham just north of Corby. Here tragedy struck - taking advantage of the local facilities, Agnes cycling glove disappeared with the flush! Consoled by excellent chips in The Crown, we set off once more on the final leg - and down came the rain. What a relief to reach Corby and the wonderful hospitality of Amy and Christina. Glasses of wine and a cocktail on, life is good. Hang on, tomorrow we are back in the saddle and on to Milton Keynes.