Saturday 1 October 2011

Second Stage Complete

Well, that’s the second stage (of three) of our cycle trip from London to the Mediterranean completed.  Next year, hopefully we will complete the final leg.

So far, I’ve covered 1354Km in cycling from London to Bordeaux so will all the training runs, I must be close to 2000Km so far. I’ll add it all up sometime and post it here.

This years trip was different from last year.  The terrain was a bit more forgiving (less hilly) but the weather certainly wasn’t.  The rain wasn’t too bad but the strong headwinds gave me the most amount of grief.  The surgery on my head in June took a long time to heal up so I’d effectively done no training at all – maybe that’s why I felt it more even though the distance was a bit less

The beaches and coastline in this part of France are fantastic, clean sand and the Atlantic breakers crashing against the coast.  The cycle routes were fantastic and on some days we hardly saw any cars at all.  If you like cycling on flat ground away from the traffic, this is a great area to visit.

Lunch was a problem again this year – for some bizarre reason a lot of the sandwich bars, pubs etc. actually closed for lunch so despite looking for hours there was nowhere to eat.  No food = no energy which makes the going even tougher.  Next year I’ll bring supplies as we will be off the beaten track a bit as we will be following the canals from Bordeaux to Narbonne.

The GPS didn’t work properly on the first day so I don’t have a track of the route (hence the gap just after the start on the route below).  However it worked fine on the remaining days so I have a reasonable track of the route – screenshot from Google Earth shown below.

Overall Route – Loire to the Gironde


Route Information – Google Earth KML files

Note, depending on the settings of your Browser, you may get a security warning.  KML files are basically text so are not a risk – download and open with Notepad or a text editor if you are not sure.  You will need Google Earth installed to view these files.

Sermaise to Concourson Sur Layon

No GPS data – it didn’t work properly (or maybe operator error)

Concourson Sur Layon to Parthenay

Concourson Sur Layon to Parthenay

Parthenay to Maillezais

Parthenay to Maillezais

Maillezais to Fouras

Maillezais to Fouras

Fouras to Royan

Fouras to Royan

Royan to Hourtin Plage

Royan to Hourtin Plage

Hourtin Plage to Bordeaux

Hourtin Plage to Bordeaux

Since we got back there were a few more pictures from Pierre’s digital camera.  A few below.

On the Road – after climbing another hill


On the beach at Hourtin Plage – after a long day’s cycling.

P9080330    P9080331

Time for me to sign off until next year.  Just like to add my thanks to Penny (aka Joe’s Support Staff) for updating the blog and typing it up late into the evening despite just having started a new job a two days after we left.

You can follow the next stage here which I’ll update nearer the time.

It was a great trip and cycling from London to Bordeaux is I think, a bit of a personal achievement.  Roll on the next stage.

Cheers for now

Joe Willis

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Tuesday 13 September 2011

Day 9 – Bordeaux to London

Very different night last night – actually staying in a hotel rather than a tent.  Being able to stand up while getting changed was a novelty, as was air-conditioning, it was very warm in Bordeaux.  Second novelty, was getting a lie-in, the train didn’t leave Bordeaux until 11:25 and the hotel had an unlimited breakfast until 10:30.

After taking advantage of the breakfast it was over to the station to do a recce and work out how to get the bikes onto the platform and generally sus out the layout of the station.  All successfully sorted out (we would take the bikes into the car park) then back to the hotel for a bit more of the unlimited breakfast.


Sunrise over Bordeaux (from the hotel window)

Then it was time to head for the train.  Getting on the platform was fairly easy apart from a section which said “no pedestrians” – so we just cycled that bit instead.  Getting on the train was slightly confusing until Pierre worked out the seats folded up  and there were belts to hold the bikes in place.


Bikes on the TGV

As we started moving out of Bordeaux I did a trip to the Buffet car and got a half bottle of Baron Rothschild’s Mouton Cadet Bordeaux red and two plastic cups.  As the train moved out of the city and through the vineyards of Bordeaux, we enjoyed a glass of fine wine to see us on our way.

The train was fast to Paris Montparnasse and according to Pierre’s GPS it was travelling at around 300Km per hour.  It certainly looked and felt fast as the cars on the AutoRoute looked like they were going backwards and the stations we passed through were impossible to read.  We arrived 15 mins early in Paris and only had to change platforms for the train to Angers.  The train was the same format as the previous one so the bikes were quickly in place, the train left on time and we arrived in Angers on time.  The French rail system just seems to work.

Then we had a 30km cycle ride back to where the car was parked.  The wind was from the west – and we were heading east – so for the first time we had a tailwind to help us on our way.  What a difference, I was able to cycle between 20km/h and 30km/h and sometimes faster.  Even the hills were easy compared to what we had had before.  Pierre as ever zoomed on ahead and had to wait at junctions for me to catch up.

After approx an hour we arrived back at our starting point – grabbed a cold beer from the fridge and started stripping the bikes down to get them in the car.  Once sorted, we set off for Caen and the 23:00 overnight ferry to Portsmouth.

On the ferry, a quick “steak and chips” (very good) and a few beers in the bar then it was crash out for the night.  Arrival in Portsmouth the following morning was early but got us back to London at 09:00.  Sort the cars out and back home.

Overall we had cycled 550Km in some pretty varied weather – to me – a great trip.

Monday 12 September 2011

Day 8 – Hourtin Plage to Bordeaux Friday 9th September

Sand, rain and wind – it’s a daily challenge! Not much sleep for our intrepid cyclists, yet again as the rain beat down and the wind howled around the tents. The tents were in their usual state when they broke camp – sodden, with the added extra of wet sand! Joe looked at the campsite flags as they were having breakfast and said to Pierre that the wind was from the east. Pierre couldn’t believe it and looked round – yes the wind was from the east and that meant yet another strong headwind! They had obviously seriously upset Mr Murphy.

When they put the tents away they were wet outside but dry-ish inside. Joe’s also contained a number of flies, ants, bugs and spiders! Joe had been bitten in the night – probably by ants looking at the size of the bites. Pierre had also had ants in his tent but claimed not to have been bitten – maybe he’d eaten something they didn’t like?

Leaving Hourtin Plage, it was drizzling but warm so they didn’t bother with their wet weather gear. They went straight up a hill and travelled on a road – both a novelty after the last few days! Riding into a headwind was not however unusual. After Hourtin, it was flat going again, but with oak trees alongside, not pine trees. The route stretched out into the distance and they just had to put their minds into freefall and keep pedalling.

They stopped for a panache just before midday and listened to the church bells peal. That’s a common sound in France – much less so these days in England.

They stopped in St Helene at about 12.45 and set about finding somewhere for lunch. No restaurant or bar serving food but a Salon de The had baguettes and canned drinks to take away. They were due to shut at 13.00 ( for lunch) but had queues of people waiting for sandwiches so finally managed to shut up shop at 13.15!. Joe and Pierre sat with their oranginas and baguettes in the shade – the sun had come out and it was very hot.

They picked up a cycle run which ran for a distance of 30 km direct fro Bordeaux to the coast. Once again they marvelled at the network of good cycle routes in the area. The lizards and grasshoppers seemed to like them too – especially away from towns. It was now very warm as the clouds had disappeared and they were glad of the shade of the trees.

They came off the cycle route slightly early and ended up cycling through the environs of Bordeaux. The centre seemed to be one big traffic jam. Bikes seemed to be the fastest way around Bordeaux – even the police were using them.



At first they headed for the wrong Etap hotel but they were given directions and arrived at the Etap Hotel Gare St Jean, opposite the station. They stripped their bikes and put them in the storage area downstairs, took stuff to their rooms and set the air con to max cold, fan to maximum and climbed into their showers. They were very hot!


After a beer or two in the station bar they headed into town and found a street bar in a pedestrian area and sat and watched the world go by. They went into a restaurant in a buzzing square – all Bordeaux seemed to be in a party mood. Although people were out drinking they were clearly only out to enjoy themselves and there was no sense of threat or menace, as you might get in some city centres in the UK.

Pierre had steak frites and Joe had scallops with an asparagus risotto. Joe then followed up with cheese and Pierre had cafe gourmand. What surprised Joe was that the litre of house red wine that they had was vin de pays d’Oc , not Bordeaux, and the cheese was brebis from the Pyrenees. We speculated whether the chef or owner was from the Languedoc – or whether local produce was too expensive! It was the most expensive meal of the trip but very good, and they felt that they deserved it.


Discussing the trip, they felt that Fouras to Royan had been the best day – the scenery had been the most interesting ( bridge, lighthouses, variety) and the cycling had been really good.

They then headed back to the Gare St Jean to make phone calls and for another beer. The temperature was balmy and it felt like a mediterranean summer evening!

Thursday 8 September 2011

Day 7 – Royan to Hourtin Plage Thursday 8th September



Last night, the rain returned and once again they had little sleep and the tents were wet. Pierre and Joe were both up around 8 am. They were all packed up by 8.50am and decided to skip breakfast and head for an earlier ferry to Le Verdon than planned as it was such a grey wet morning. They cut straight across Royan and got to the ferry port at 9.15, the ferry left at 9.30 and they were at Le Verdon at 10.15.



There was a lot in the local papers about the strong winds over the previous days and they met a couple of Dutch cyclists on the ferry who were on a trip from Holland to Santiago de Compostela. They had only managed 30 km a day over the last couple of days so Joe and Pierre felt better about their own progress. The cyclists passed each other several times during the day but then their routes differed.

Immediately after leaving the ferry Joe and Pierre stopped for a coffee, near the lighthouse.



They then found a cycle path that would take them all the way to their next destination Hourtin Plage. They routed through Soulac Sur Mer for breakfast and then rejoined the cycle paths. The paths were straight, bounded by pine trees and very flat.

There were pine trees everywhere – next to you, in front of you, in the distance and everything tasted and smelt of pine trees. The main hazard on the path was pine cones. Pierre saw a red squirrel and Joe was looking at mushrooms growing in the forest – and pine trees. The scenery was so uniform that a give way sign appeared interesting, and a sighting of a car was rare. Once again they could hear, but not see, the ocean.



They entered Hourtin Plage, passed an enormous campsite, passed another side of it – and then realised that it was where they were heading. They had a choice of pitches and chose one near the entrance. It was very sandy. Their tents were sopping wet when they unloaded them and then when the tents were up, the rain came again, so now the tents were covered in wet sand as well.

After a restorative beer, Joe and Pierre changed and headed for the beach. It was a very sandy beach, with flags to mark where swimming was safe, as there were warnings about strong currents, and there were also lifeguards on duty. Joe went paddling and was very tempted to go swimming, but the undertow was very strong and he didn’t want to get his head wound wet. Joe is not known for paddling in the sea and often declares heated pools to be freezing, so the water must have been warm. The Atlantic – warm! Even Pierre was persuaded to get his feet wet and was soon enjoying the water too.



The campsite. Pierre is trying to hide behind a tree on the right hand side of the photo!


Two other members of the team, who were also on Big Wheel 1, enjoying a gap between showers.

They returned to the campsite and decided to eat in the campsite restaurant. Pierre had a charcuterie salad and moules frites, Joe had carpaccio of beef and a lamb cutlet, and they washed it down with a carafe of red wine and water.

The flat ground was not easy to cycle on as it meant cycling constantly but the wind was normal. The forecast for the next two days is headwinds again, but hopefully not as strong. It’s also forecast to be hot – 31 degrees C – for their cycle to Bordeaux.

It was raining again as Joe turned in for bed but quite warm – about 19 degrees C.

Vital Statistics – 61 Km

Day 6 – Fouras to Royan Wednesday 7th September



All night, the wind and rain hammered on the tent. Joe re-pegged and re-tensioned Pierre’s tent twice during the night and Pierre repaid the favour by re-tensioning Joe’s at about 8 am when he got up. Joe got up shortly afterwards – neither he nor Pierre had much sleep during the night because of the noise of the wind and the rain. They had had to chain their bikes to the hedge rather than the nearest tree as the tree had been swaying and moving too much, and they could hear the movement of the trees within their tents.

A good breakfast was available at the campsite and after a couple of coffees and a pain an chocolat (Joe) and a croissant ( Pierre) , they prepared to take tents down and finish packing up – at which point the heavens opened again. Joe got water inside his tent as the rain ran down the sleeve of his waterproof jacket as he was taking the tent down. Typical! And the wind was blowing hard again…

They headed South East and the wind came strongly from the West as they moved towards Rochfort in their wet weather gear. However, things improved – the French Government have set up some great cycle tracks in the area which they headed for and the wind began to die down. The tracks were sheltered so Joe and Pierre began to get hot and took off their wet weather gear as it was now drizzling rather than raining hard. There was some road work to do, but mostly they were able to use the cycle tracks all the way to the transporter bridge at Rochfort. This transbordeur bridge is not really a bridge but a suspended raft that crosses the Charente river in 4 minutes and 20 seconds. It was built in 1900 and is in use in the summer.




On arriving at the bridge, they asked when it was next operating and they were told “now” – there were a couple of pedestrians already on and so they obviously comprised a load! They slowly went across on the mechanical bridge and then were able to use cycle tracks almost to Soubise.

They carried on along the D3 – it was flat and there was a west wind but it wasn’t a problem, just annoying. They crossed lots of small rivers and streams, and there was still water (maybe salt?).

They stopped at a lovely fortified town – Brouage – for lunch, quite early. They had decided that was a priority after yesterday! After Moules Frites ( Pierre) and a large Ham Salad with eggs, tomatoes etc (Joe), they themselves were fortified and pressed on. Apart from a few km, most of the way was via cycle routes, and even a huge bridge had a cycle lane on it.

They passed through Ronce Les Bains and continued along the cycle routes, parallel to the sea. However, as the area was forested and there were sand dunes they couldn’t actually see the sea as they cycled along. Joe was rained on by acorns at one point – he had stopped to take a photo and was beneath an oak tree when a gust of wind or an animal dislodged a load of acorns.



They arrived at La Coubre and diverted briefly to visit a lighthouse and to climb sand-dunes. They then turned again onto the cycle lanes towards St Palais Sur Mer – and another lighthouse.



Pierre on the sand



Joe happy to be beside the seaside!

At La Palmyre, there were 2 lane cycle ways (1 each way) plus a pedestrian path – amazing! It’s a pity that some of the pedestrians chose to walk in the centre of the cycle lanes, pushing buggies and complaining at being asked to move aside, but the provision of the routes was superb.

Then there was a sign up to say that the cycle route was ahead was difficult - short steep climbs, short steep descents. For our cyclists it was fabulous – like a roller coaster and a welcome change after the last couple of days. And there was no harsh wind, just normal wind levels. After the roaring of the wind, it seemed to be so quiet. It was such a pleasure to be riding in peace and even the sun was peeping out from time to time.

They carried on to Royan and the campsite, which they managed to overshoot – but only by about 1km. The smiling girl at reception offered them a choice of location and they put their tents up, leaving them open and empty to let them dry out. They then headed for the campsite bar which was open and they had a beer before sorting the rest of their stuff out.

They went out for fuel – to a Bar Brasserie called Le Calumet in Royan. From there they could see another lighthouse, bringing the total for the day to 3!

They had a two course meal and two carafes of wine and water. Pierre opted for soft boiled eggs with foie gras and Joe had a goat’s cheese pastry with honey to start. Then Pierre had Paella and Joe took revenge on the French duck population by choosing Confit de Canard. They were offered a small rum each on the house from a selection so Pierre had a caramel rum and Joe a ginger one.

The inside of the tents had almost dried out thankfully. (Sadly the rain returned in the night though).

Joe felt 100% better than the day before and even felt that had it been necessary he could have ridden another 20 km more. Not riding against a constant strong headwind made such a difference!

Vital Statistics – 90 Km. (Lighthouses spotted – 3!)

Tuesday 6 September 2011

Day 5 – Maillezais to Fouras Tues 6th September


At 8.30 am there was a shower of rain so once again they had to pack away soaking tents. The wind was moderate and they hoped that it would stay that way.

They headed off through the Venise Verte – it was flat, green and lush and there were pictures of frogs on most of the hotels and restaurants – Joe didn’t check the menus though!

As they cycled along, the wind speed and strength was picking up. They were heading south-west and the wind was coming from the south west – it was the return of the dreaded headwind. Today they were told that it was running at approx 25 km/h.



As they moved into the Charante Maritime area, the trees were thrashing and the bikes were very unstable. The wind was bordering on gale force but they carried on.

They were unable to find anywhere to get lunch – no cafes, or food shops in any of the villages that they passed through. Hairdressers and florists aplenty, but nowhere to buy food or drink. This was a serious problem as they were using lots of energy cycling against the wind and were tired from the previous day.

They had a problem getting over to Fouras as they were directed towards an autoroute, which of course they couldn’t use ( and wouldn’t want to) . It turned out that their cycle route had a route barred sign across it so they had to work their way around.

At about 5-6 km from their destination, Joe was at the limit of his endurance and had to stop every few minutes. He had run out of energy and it took ages to reach the campsite.

They had made reasonable progress up to a point but the last few kms were dreadful.

Unlike the last campsite, this one was huge and a person on a bike had to show them to their pitch. They dumped their bikes and headed for the campsite bar for something to eat and drink – to find it shut! So they had to walk a kilometre or so into town – there was no way that they were going to get back on their bikes!


They had a couple of panaches and a crepe each and then returned to rig their tents. The wind was still strong and some of the tent pegs came out and had to be re-pegged.

They went for dinner in the campsite restaurant which was now open and after Pierre nearly fell asleep at the table, Joe called me and then headed for bed. The BBC weather site forecast was that the wind speed would halve the next day so we’re all hoping so and that the tents don’t need pegging again during the night.

Vital statistics – 68 km

Day 4 – Parthenay to Maillezais Monday 5th Sept


The previous night, it had been a beautiful clear night when Joe went to have a shower and ring me. Unfortunately, it then began to rain hard. Joe had left his tent unzipped to air it and when he returned he found that water had poured in and soaked the inside of the tent, his sleeping bag, mat etc. Joe swore a lot, Pierre snored a lot, and Joe mopped up with loo roll as best as he could. The tents are great and don’t leak – but they need to be zipped up if it rains! It continued to rain hard through the night.

They were camped close to the river and Joe was woken at 6 am by ducks quacking and squawking – confit de canard was very much on his mind!  This didn’t stop them so Joe finally got up at 8.30 and swore at them and they moved off!

Thankfully the campsite cafe was serving pain au chocolat, croissants and double coffees so after breakfasting, the sun was shining and they packed up their sopping tents and equipment and moved off at about 10.30.

Today there was a very strong headwind – it made the going very very hard. The descents and climbs were longer – about 5km, but because of the dreadful headwind, it seemed more diffficult than Normandy last year. The headwind was truly ferocious and made them grateful for even lorries overtaking as it gave them a brief respite. On the flat, in a low gear pushing hard against the wind, they barely managed 10 km/h – this rose to 20km/h if they were sheltered by a row of trees. A Tour de France peloton would have been useful!  Even going downhill they had to pedal in low gear to avoid being blown backwards ( Joe nearly was blown back in a tunnel passing below an autoroute as the wind was head on in the tunnel). Joe called it the Vampire wind – sucking the life out of you! It was very very hard going.

Like last year, today was a day of Eoliennes as they passed very close to a number of wind farms. They would spot them in the distance on the horizon, think “ hope we’re not going up there” and then 45 mins later pass close to them – and then there was a descent! This happened several times. The arms of the Eoliennes were pointing the way they were going and the headwind was ensuring that both Eoliennes and cyclists were working hard.

The slow speeds meant that they noticed the wildlife more – the lizards were very quick so all they saw of them were disappearing tails, but they saw praying mantises, black shiny beetles and grasshoppers sitting in the road and shorn sheep in the fields.

Today the roads were wet but they escaped the rain themselves.

Finding lunch was hard but they finally managed to get a ham and cheese sandwich at a boulangerie. It was late though – 3pm and they were running out of energy.

They passed into the Vendee at exactly the 200 km cumulative cycling mark.

Joe was really very tired and the backs of his legs have become very sore.

Unlike the previous day, the campsite was well signed and they found it without any difficulty – arriving just after 16.30. They swapped their waterproofs for suncream, as it was 26 degrees on arrival. They put their tents up and with the sun shining, were able to dry everything out. The campsite was €7.50 for both of them – a quarter of the cost of the first campsite.


They headed for a nearby hotel Hotel au Chant des Grenouilles and had a couple of beers outside before heading inside for food. The proprietor allowed them to charge up their phones and served them fabulous faux fillet steak, frites and salad for 8 Euros each. They washed it down with a couple of carafes of wine and water, and two colonels ( sorbet topped with vodka). At 10pm the proprietor asked them if they wanted anything else and said that they sit and finish their drinks at their leisure, no hurry, and just to switch the lights off and close the door when they left. A very welcoming place and welcoming host.


The only downside of the Au Chant des Grenouilles was that the mobile phone signal was very low so they had to return to the campsite to make their calls. It was a nice evening though with clear skies and the wind had dropped.

Vital statistics – approx 65 km – but it had been very difficult with the headwind.