Cycling The Atlantic coast to Bordeaux
With some much needed rest in Nantes and having now seen a giant mechanical walking elephant, I set off two days later, and made my way south in the direction of St John-de-Monts. I first however wanted to see the island of Noirmoutier just off the coast as my friend Anais had advised me to visit it. It was now Friday morning and she wouldn’t be back from work until almost eleven pm and so it made more sense to make a small detour here before returning south again and heading to her place.
Knowing the the sun rose in the east, and being already past midday, I knew that, if I wanted to head south east, then the only thing I needed to do was to make sure the sun stayed on my right hand side. In a strange way, I felt both relieved and shocked that this actually worked out well. In this day and age, using the sun or indeed a map and a compass have become so obsolete that we sometimes forget just how useful these basic skills. Of course I could have just asked someone but this way gave me more joy.
As I approached the coast, I could taste the salt in the air, really I could, and it felt like another little milestone had been reached. Things were hotting up indeed.
I was a little dismayed to find a dual carriageway crossing the bridge that connected the island from the mainland. It didn’t look good. Why would such a small island need a duel carriageway? I concluded therefore that it was obviously going to be a hot spot for tourism in all its money driven caravan fuelled glory. I pushed on however as you simply don’t know what you’ll find until you arrive.
I wasn’t so sure I was allowed to cycle over the bridge, but upon seeing another smaller road on my map that crossed to the island, this didn’t now matter so much. After 10km’s, and upon reaching the sea however, I found that the road wasn’t a road in the normal sense of the word. It was indeed a road, but it only came into being when the tide was at its lowest, thus appearing as if out of nowhere. For this though, I had to wait three hours in which time I saw another guy on a touring bicycle. For the life of me, I can’t remember his name now but he was from Australia and was heading vaguely in the same direction as me.
The following morning, I cycled back to the mainland and when I arrived, I surveyed the surrounding landscape, the only thing I could really see was forest creeping off into the distance as far as my eyes would allow me. This was what I wanted!
I then picked up the cycle path that led all along the coast to Spain which I had read so much about, and found myself snaking through beautiful forest for the remainder of the day. I couldn’t believe my luck!
The address Anais had given me wasn’t entirely correct though. After arriving in the centre, I found a bar and plugged in my laptop in order to see exactly where I needed to go. Luckily, she was on skype and, having told her where I was now, we both realised I was, yes you got it, in the wrong town. I actually needed to go to Notre Damn-de-Monts, some 10km’s back and where I had actually passed through an hour before. Man alive. Maybe the saying about women and directions does have some truth in it after all. Anyway, she hadn’t been there long herself so this I shall forgive.
With my usual hand drawn map, I found her house fairly easily a little later. It was so very nice to see her after such a long time and I even enjoyed my first crepes in the country of their origin. Later that evening, many more people arrived too. I believe their were eleven or twelve in total and I must confess I don’t think I have ever kissed so many people in a single night. The French do indeed do things a little differently than back home.
After spending some time at the beach the next day, we said goodbye and I made my way back to St John-de-Monts, a road I knew very well by this point. I continued south, hugging the coast as much as possible, and making my way through the buoyant see side towns that line the coast. The weather was again beautiful, the houses almost always whitewashed now and the sea was beginning to turn a more picture perfect blue/green colour. It really started to feel like I was heading towards the Mediterranean and things were looking good.
I was determined to camp by the beach tonight and so continued until the towns faltered and the forest prospered in their wake. As I came to a large forest park, I saw a path, 1km long that led discretely to the sea and so decided it was as good a place as any to look.
Waking up almost always seems to make me happy. I’m not entirely sure of the exact reasons; maybe it’s the thought I don’t have to go to work now or indeed in the not too distant future, maybe it’s the fact that I'm really not sure what the day will bring or indeed where I will go or whom I will meet. I think that the most appropriate explanation would be the complete freedom I have at the moment. This, I suspect may be the source of my contentedness.
As I was nearing La Rochelle, I took the decision to head into the villages that lie in between the main road and the coast and to try and see if there were any opportunities to camp by the beach.
I found my tent, the next morning to be dripping in water; the lack of tent pegs now proving a concern. With not enough in which to properly attach the outer sheet to the ground, the wind pushes it against the inner side and, voile, you have a wet tent. I'll need to sort this out soon.
I followed a cycle path into the outskirts of La Rochelle and headed over a bridge to a large Peninsula called Ile De Re which. From looking at my map, it seemed to be connected to the mainland. Once I was halfway over this enormous bridge, I realised it was of course an island and not connected to the mainland at all. Back I went, against the wind as it always is. Coming to a huge industrial estate and a roundabout where I had just come from, the only other road lead to a motorway. I continued on, all the way back another 2 or 3km’s, and after wandering around a little managed to find a cycle path to lead me into the city. Ahh the joys of using only maps! And what a beautiful little city it was.
I didn’t stay in Roquefort too long as I wanted to push on to Bordeaux, the city that many people kept on telling me I should visit.
Reaching Marennes and thus the coast, I stopped to look which bridge would take me south. Looking closely at my map, I saw the bridge to my right went to an island thus I knew I had to take the one on my left towards La Tremblade. It was at this point that a car pulled over and a man asked if I needed help with directions. He then confirmed what I thought and went on to tell me about great places to camp on the peninsula that I was now headed towards. He told me which fish to buy from the fishmonger and how to cook them on my stove. A very nice guy whose name was Archie and whom also looked a little eccentric. You can see this by the photo I took of him.
The route he told me to take, once I had crossed the bridge, went around the entire peninsula and thus was a much longer road than I originally thought. The thought of sleeping on the beach surrounded and isolated by forest, was just too good for me to pass up on and so off I went in search of my own beach.
After an hour I found my paradise and it reminded me a little of New Zealand actually with the road winding its way through the dense forest on either side. That made me quite happy.
Once in Royan, I saw there was a boat leaving at 14:00 that could take me over the inlet and from where I would have less km’s to cover to Bordeaux. Being impatient though, I decided to take small D roads that led along the other side of the inlet and which brought me south through the wine growing region north of Bordeaux. I was mightily happy I chose this route. The scenery was simply stunning. Picture perfect vineyards lined the road on either side, and although there were some insanely steep climbs, the views at the top over the surrounding country side and the coast were superb. I could see the little villages that dotted the landscape, each with their own small and ancient church and all covered in those Spanish style red slate tiles.
I visited a Roman villa too but the four euro entrance fee proved too steep for my meagre budget and so I just looked at the ruins from the outside, my face pressed against the fence for increased visibility. I could of course afford four Euro’s but I reminded myself that one has to be strict and resist temptation from time to time.
The entire day was a joy to remember with everything going amazingly well. When I needed water, a village cemetery appeared as if it knew I was thirsty. When it became too hot and my stomach a little empty, out popped a row of tree’s which offered me shade and under which I could make lunch. Everything was going perfectly, almost too perfectly I thought. Something was bound to go wrong, and as was usually the case, it did. This is what makes for an interesting story I guess.
I made my way along the coast before following the road on my map inland and towards the town of Saint-Ciers-du-Taillon. Having reached it, I had a choice of three different directions to take, two of them indicating towns that, from looking at my map, headed east and north east. The other indicated a town or village that wasn’t even on my map. Knowing that I had just come from the north, I thought that this road and indeed the town it went through must head south towards Bordeaux. I could just look at the sun or use my compass, but the thing with these small roads is that they can head sharply in the 'wrong' direction, but after a few km's, turn quite abruptly towards the 'correct' direction. Following a compass/sun sometimes doesn’t really help. Instead I went with my gut instinct and took it anyways thinking this might be the case.
After 1 hour, with the wind continuing to press against me, and with the sun in the ‘wrong’ place, I knew all was not going according to plan. I stopped in a village, feeling that its name sounded disturbingly familiar and asked in a pub about where this road led to. They told me it was in fact heading north! I couldn’t believe how wrong I was. I was gob smacked. Of course it was only 20km’s that I had come but, I was tired, hungry, sweaty and dirty. I was in no mood to be confused and disorientated.
The guys in the pub then showed me on the managers laptop where in fact I was, and wrote down the names of all the small villages that I need to pass through on my way to Bordeaux. I thanked them for their kind help.
It was now half seven and I had been cycling since 8 this morning. I still had a long way to go before I could camp as I wanted the following day to be an easy one in order to give me plenty of time in the city.
With this in mind, I pressed on as hard and as fast as I could, making my way to the first village they had written down for me. Passing through it, I realised I had been through here earlier on in the day, and when the next village came I knew I was now cycling back through the exact same places I had cycled through three hours earlier. I was going round in a huge circle! Man alive, I was cursing out loud. I tried to remind myself where I was and how beautiful it was but I also couldn’t get out of my head the absolute demon hills that lay ahead, hills I had already climbed up. The whole situation was diabolical and if I had any more words that could describe my frustration I would insert them here.
Having finally reached the last of the villages that I had already gone through, I began to feel a little better, knowing now that I was heading in a direction and through places I had not yet been to.
By half nine, exhausted and starving, I decided to call it a day and found a place to camp just outside a town called Etauliers. Potatoes, bacon and vegetables never tasted so good.
The following day, I arrived in Bordeaux and mightily pleased to have made it.