The Wheezing Geezers are finally off! After what seems like a year's training (it was!) and after what seemed like thousands of calf-aching pains (there were!), we got dropped off at St Jean de Luz and headed off in the bright, warm sunshine which luckily stayed with us all day. We quickly found the D918 thanks to superb map making and orienting skills (mine!) which took us straight out of St Jean and into the Basque countryside. Beautiful green hills with a backdrop of the Pyrénées mountains.
|Off onto the D918 after having our photos taken on a 'groin' thingy at St Jean.|
|On the bridge over the Gave de Mauleon at St Palais|
Onward on the D11 to Aroue then the D23 towards Charre. The homeward stretch was East on the D343 then the D115 to Castetnau-Camblong then Navarrenx.
Let me just say that I've never been anywhere hiller than the Basque country. Hilly, hilly, hilly. Did I say it was not flat? Even on the trip that Shaun and I made last year all the way from Suffolk to the Béarn, we never encountered so many hills in such a short space of time. Barry began to think we'd hoodwinked him into coming by telling him it was all flat. We never lied to him honest! Because the weather was so good and very warm it made the hills seem even more difficult to get up, but eventually we got near to home-ground and decidedly tired after our first day, we met up later for some pasta and wine to fortify us for Day 2.
|Near to St Palais, the name in French, then in Basque. Although the Basques would prefer it if it wasn't in French at all!|
|This must have been taken early in the day as Barry is smiling|
Day 2: Navarrenx to Marciac
We awake (in our own beds at home because we're at home!) to the sound of dripping water (well, I do because we've got a leak in the back of the house). After yesterday and the constant heat and sun it's very difficult to believe that it's actually raining and a bit cooler. Anyway, we'd planned to meet each other a few kilometres up the road in Lay-Lamidou to head off on the D2 to Monein, a very hilly 20kms away.
|You can smile now, but just you wait till later....!|
|We didn't have to wait long to suffer|
We know this route very well as we've all trained on it but still, the hills are pretty steep and we're soon sweating by the time we get to Monein. We avoid a very steep hill that the Tour de France rode up this year and head out onto the D2 towards Pau, the capital of the Béarn. This is an un-interesting, straightish road that I've always regarded as a very boring road to cycle on and scoffed at other cyclists on it. Now I'm doing the same, but it's much more interesting if you're actually going somewhere with a purpose.
We head straight for the centre of Pau itself and for the Chateau where Henry IV was born.
Below the Boulevard des Pyrénées we catch the tiny funicular train that takes us up to the town and from there we cycle round Pau, looking for the D943 to take us North East out of Pau and towards Morlaàs. It's at Morlaàs that we encounter a very long and steep hill that really saps our strength. Luckily it's still overcast an a bit spitty so we're kept cool and there's plenty of shade. The road is busy and not very pleasant to ride. And so this road goes on with plenty of steep ascents and some very long, welcome descents too. It very soon starts to get a lot sunnier and hotter.
Having looked closely at the maps this morning, we decide to deviate from our original route, avoiding the worst hills by going more South and then cycling North through a valley between the ridges that we've been cycling over. This means we head for Vic-en-Bigorre along the D6, then cut off a corner going through Caixon. Through Caixon were flew down a fabulous, very long descent through a wooded area that seemed to go on forever. By now it had warmed up alot and we were grateful for the shade (and the downhill aspect) and we stopped for a bit in the village of Nouihan.
|'Morts'? I know how they feel|
We joined the big D935 coming up North from Tarbes, crossing the river Adour to Maubourguet, then took the D943 towards Marciac. The reason we were going via Marciac, is that Shaun's friend Eric had offered to put us up for the night which was very generous and very welcome. We arrived at the very pretty village of Marciac around 5pm and had a welcome beer. It was here that we tried to be very '21st Century' and upload some text and photos to this here blog so that everyone could see our progress. Our chosen instrument for this task, Barry's Blackberry had other ideas, however. The Blackberry was just as much use as, well, a blackberry.
|"Hello? Civilisation? Where's my masseuse and smoking jacket?"|
When I first asked Shaun if Eric actually lived in Marciac, he said of course he did. When I asked him again, when we were actually there, the answer was a bit more vague. This was to set the pattern of Shaun's avoidance of the truth, half truths and downright lies when it came to distances expected and gradients of hills. It turns out that Eric lived about 4 kms away (really 14 kms away). When questioned about where on the landscape he lives, he doesn't live on a hill. Not a hill, but a 'ridge'. Which in my book is a hill, just a very wide hill. So, after 14 kms, then an unexplained 3 kms we eventually reach Eric's village. When Shaun said he lived on a ridge, he didn't explain that this ridge was reached by one of the steepest hills in the Gers and definitely the steepest we'd seen so far. We were beginning to doubt anything Shaun said to us after this. Not only was it about a 45% gradient, but it had been newly gravelled. Great! It was like trying to ski vertically up a mountain strewn with peanuts.
|Eric and Marilyn's house. Near-ish, but not very near to Marciac|
Eventually we reached Erics, had showers, changed and went out for dinner. It was a great evening and we ate and drank very well. We all slept like logs. Logs with achey legs.
Distance: 118 kms
Day 3: Marciac to Lombez
After the luxury of Eric and Marilyn's house (having separate en-suite rooms and everything), it was difficult to leave on the Sunday morning. We even had our filthy cycling clobber washed and dried by Marilyn, so were lovely and clean, well rested and eager to get off. Barry, however was just content to take a leisurely breakfast in his 'lounging trousers'. Shaun and I have obviously led sheltered lives, as neither of us had seen, let alone worn such things and they became a special object of ridicule for the whole trip (deservedly). We were amazed at what Barry had brought them with him as, in his words, he was going to 'take the absolute essentials'. In Lord Barry Young's (as he was to be known) world, this meant everything, almost including the kitchen sink. It was all we could do to get him to leave behind his cut-crystal decanter and matching 16 wine glasses. He wondered why his panniers were so heavy as he struggled up the hills!
|The view from Eric's house, almost near but not very near to Marciac|
|Lord Barry Young spoiling the view of the 'High Street' in Tillac|
We turned left onto the D16 on towards St Maur, then on to the N21 North to Mirande. We then took the D104 towards Loubersan, then stopped at Seissan to have lunch. Amazingly for a Sunday there was a bar serving food that was actually open. No ham and floppy, sweaty cheese for us then! It was baking hot by this time too, so we gladly drank beer and sat down to a four course lunch of soup followed by salad, then pork and potatoes and an individual flan for dessert. We couldn't actually manage the flans, so we took them away with us.
|Handy reminders of which road you are on|
|I don't know why we couldn't have turned left here...|
|The 'Val de Save' hotel, Lombez|
Distance: 72 kms
Day 4: Lombez to Montgiscard
After eating a typical (overpriced) french breakfast of tea, coffee, croissants, jam, and some stuff that looked like baby food (which we didn't eat) we bought some more chewy bars and looked for some elusive oil. It was already very warm and sunny, so we sped off on the D632 in the direction of 'Le Mona' which we thought hugely appropriate as he was here with us in the shape of Barry. Unfortunately we didn't get a photo of him alongside the village sign, but here's one of him actually smiling...
He's smiling because, for some strange reason, Shaun had volunteered to swap panniers with him and carry his heavy load for the duration of the day. "My legs are tired" said the blue-blooded one and Shaun, having been promised a knighthood or something, gave in. We insisted on discarding the top-hat, hip-flasks and his ornamental dagger collection and duly set off. Shaun more slowly and Barry noticeably faster.
|"But how am I meant to function adequately without my mini-fridge and decanter?"|
Following the D632 we went through Bragayrac, Ste Foy-de-Peyrolières and then North-East to St Lys. Here we had a coffee/tea next to the imposing church and Lord Young found some bananas and some precious oil.
The flans that we had carefully carried with us went into the bin at this point. Refreshed, we cycled off onto the D12 to Muret. This was originally to be Day 4 stopping point, but as we'd made Day 2 to Marciac quite a bit longer, we chose Montgiscard to be our stop for tonight. At Muret we found a bar to eat lunch - a plate of 'charcuterie' and a not very good steak with pasta. This time however, we did find a river nearby to sit and rest for a bit in the shade.
|Cyclists, bike, horse|
So when we reached Montgiscard, it was quite disappointing to find out that there were no hotels or B&Bs there at all. A huge church and a bar/restaurant, but no lodging. Luckily the bar owner took pity on us and phoned a friend who runs a motel in Donneville, North of there. Shaun had assured us it was 6 kms away, so Barry and I then assumed that, as Shaun was completely unreliable when it came to distances that it would be more like 10. Strangely, it was only 2kms away on the N113, a big bonus when you've already cycled over 70kms in the heat.
Donneville was right on the Canal du Midi, which we'd planned to cycle on to Castelnaudary, Carcassonne and on to Narbonne. The motel was just that - a separate restaurant with 'pavillions' or little chalets in the grounds of it. Our chalet had two beds and a fold out one that we eventually managed to work out how to put up and Shaun volunteered to have that (we made him, as he's the youngest).
The nearest open restaurant was a longish walk up the road, so we walked alongside the canal to it only to find it didn't open for another 30 minutes (it was 7pm). In fact it was a very nice, spacious place, but I can't for the life of me remember the name. We did have a lovely 'soup de poissons' and lamb though. All washed down with a bottle of this...
We managed to walk home in the dark along the busy road without incident and found our 'pavillions' lit up like a brothel in green neon lights! At least people notice it I suppose. Even though the chalet was very small, we had to bring the bikes inside with us over night - not trusting to leave them outside.
Distance: 74 kms
Day 5: Montgiscard to Carcassonne
Day 5 was meant to be Montgiscard to Castelnaudary, but again, as we've got a bit ahead of ourselves we decided to go straight to Carcassonne and have a day off. Hurray! As we are starting off on the Canal du Midi, which obviously will be flat, flat, flat, we will have a relatively easy day and then a day with no cycling. Or that was the idea. Shaun had read a guide to cycling the Canal and it mentioned certain places where the path is less than perfect. Where we began, in Donneville, the surface was great- a proper fine grained gravel, very solid and wide.
|Part of the Canal with a good surface to it|
|Nice croissants, but no hot drink|
We still wanted a hot drink, so decided to turn off from the Canal at the next promising looking village. This was to be a place called Avignonet.
|The village with no-one in it. And no café|
We could see a large church on top of a hill (we couldn't get enough of them!) so headed that way in search of a bar. After trying to scale the hill that led up to the church (easily an 80% climb!) that wound round and on and on, we came to the church. Absolutely no-one around, no bar, no cafe no nothing. We found one human being who told us the nearest bar was, of course, just a few metres on from where we'd turned off. So, down, down, down we went to 'Obelisque's' bar next to the noisiest, dustiest roadworks in Christendom. We were glad to get back to the Canal after that. At Castelnaudary we have a good meal on a moored barge. Steak haché for Barry and me and Shaun had a Toulouse sausage, washed down with a couple of ice-cold beers. It's very warm.
|Our lunch stop|
|He'd already mopped up all the blood before I'd got my camera out|
|Disneyland, I mean Carcassonne|
Distance: 93 kms
Day 6: Rest Day in Carcassonne
A welcome change from getting up early and sitting on a saddle, today we strolled leisurely into town, found a bar and had breakfast. Several croissants, pain au raisins and chocolatines washed down with hot coffee and a tea for me.
|How very civilised|
|We saw this in the back garden of an ordinary street|
|A long mural spelling out the name 'Carcassonne'|
|The Medieval Cité lit up at night|
|Lord Young can't half pick 'em|
Day 7: Carcassonne to Narbonne
A hot day was forecast and they weren't wrong. Initially though, there was quite a thick fog, so we waited until it had started to go before we set off. There was also a 50km wind from the Med forecast too and they weren't wrong about that, either unfortunately. From Carcassonne we got straight onto the D303 East towards Trebes.
|Nearly there Barry, nearly there...|
Then the D610 to Marsellette, going South on the D57 to Argeliers. This was all quite hard going as the wind had picked up and it was also very warm. We'd had a decent breakfast but soon looked forward to lunch. East again on the D6113 through Douzens, then Moux. We came to Fontcouverte and decided to stop at La Faubourg near the river for lunch.
|Lunch. I can see a sausage in there. And beers|
As days go, this was pretty uneventful and we had the feeling that it was all coming to an end which was great (less pain) but sad (we'd had a great laugh). We finished the day by going South on the D106 and then some minor roads to Thezan-des-Corbieres, the East on the D423 to Portel-des-Corbieres, the D3 to Sigean then finishing up at Port-La-Nouvelle.
|Look at those smug buggers!|
A hard but very enjoyable ride, I think even Lord Young would agree and very satisfying that we managed it. We even started talking about next year's trip. Just don't mention snoring. Doh!
|Barry found a sign that eloquently summed up his feelings about the trip|
Distance: 74 kms
Total Distance: 528 kms