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.