Routes and stats for the 29 and 30 June below:
The last two days of June saw me finish off the Atlantic coast of France, and head inland to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I haven’t had chance to write a blog post since then, but will hopefully catch-up over the next couple of days. I’m currently in Santo Domingo dela Calzada having a day off and meeting my parents for my birthday.
–> 29 June
After an average night’s sleep, jam sandwiches for breakfast, and a clamber on the campsite climbing wall to warm up I was on the road by 09.00, keen to make some good progress down the coast towards Spain.
As I pedalled out of the campsite I bid ‘au revoir’ to Ken, who I’d met the night before, and who is cycling down the coast as well. I had a quick stop at the beach to watch the waves roll in; doesn’t matter how often you see it, always a relaxing sight and soothing sound.
The Velodyssey cycle route took me through the forest down to Contis-Les-Bains, where I had a croissant stop, then on to Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains where I bought a chicken baguette for lunch, pausing in the forest to eat it and to get out of the sun for a bit. There was a big market in Vieux-Boucau-Les-Bains, selling all sorts of foodstuffs including a hundred different types of salami, olives and wine; all the sorts of things you’d expect at a French market.
The forest path is lovely, but you have to watch out for where tree roots have grown under the tarmac, pushing it into sometimes vicious ridges that can ambush you from the shadows. I have cycled over a few of these not realising they were there, and things have nearly gone badly awry, with panniers coming unhooked and the bike veering towards the bushes.
I passed a lot of other cyclists today, and I can see why, as the path is generally really well maintained and a delight to cycle down, with lots of shade and breaks next to the sea when you reach a town. I passed several resorts with great beaches, and lots of people out surfing, or just enjoying the sunshine and a swim; Seignosse and Hossegor were good examples of these, followed by Capbreton which had a nice marina. I also finally saw a Green Woodpecker today; I’ve been hearing them for ages, and they seem abundant, however I’ve not been able to spot one until now. I also had to take care to not run over any lizards!
After negotiating my way past a few skateboarder posses, and two large groups of schoolchildren out on bikes with their teachers, I made it to Ondres. The kids on bikes were having a great time, and were all really young; maybe 5 or 6. I was impressed to see them out cycling, accompanied by their teachers, on what must have been an end of term excursion.
I was pretty hot by the time I reached Ondres, having pedalled 96km, however the Camping-du -Lac campsite at the end of the today’s road was great, with a swimming pool and plenty of shade for pitching my tent. There was even wi-fi that worked for a bit, but then randomly stopped; not had great experience of wi-fi at French campsites. The hottest part of the day appears to be around 15.00 to 16.00, so I’ll need to start earlier in the morning as the temperatures go up even further in Spain.
After checking in and chatting with the very helpful owner, who I think originates from Belgium, I had a great evening. First on the agenda was a swim, followed by a meal out at the campsite restaurant. I got chatting to Antoine, who runs the bar and is also into his cycle touring. Antoine is planning on taking a couple of weeks post the holiday season to do some touring of his own, down to Carcassonne or thereabouts; somewhere I intend to pass through in about a month.
It was great being able to practice my French for an evening, and even better after a few glasses of Sangria; I was practically fluent after that! I joined both Antoine and Max, who also works in the restaurant, for a drink at the end of their shift post the bar closing. They passed on some tips on Morocco suggesting a place called Ceuta would be good to visit, it being a Spanish enclave and less hectic than Tangiers; sounds like a good plan and a base to set off from at the very least. Max also gave me a large map of Spain which fills in some of the gaps I have in my map collection, very handy. Thanks for a great evening guys!
–> 30 June
Blimey, today was hot; it was still over 20 degrees Celsius post 23.00. My plan to start earlier didn’t really work after the Sangria from last night, however I was still up and away in semi reasonable time, bidding goodbye to Max and Antoine and pedalling off towards the Pyrenees. I’d definitely recommend Camping du Lac if you’re in the area; slightly more pricey than some campsites I’ve stayed at but worth it.
From Camping du Lac I cycled down to the coast in Ondres, to say goodbye to the Atlantic, my companion for the last few days; next sea on the agenda is the Mediterranean! I took a short cut from the campsite, advised by the owner I could cut out two big hills by going around the fishing lake, a good start to the day.
It was a beautiful morning, and lovely watching the waves roll in, with a few early morning surfers out enjoying them. I could see Biarritz further down the coast, with the Pyrenees looming in the distance.
A slightly longer ride than anticipated took me to Bayonne; the cycle route wound about a lot, and when I got close the road was shut and I had to loop all the way back around to get into the city. This left me slightly irritated as I had a long way to go today (85km up hills), however the cool city streets calmed me down. I had a quick look around before pedalling on inland, following the Nive River.
Bayonne is an old city, with origins as far back as Roman times (3rd century AD). The Vikings turned up and took over at some point, as did the English, before it went back to the French, however it’s always been in Basque country; area straddling Spain and France.
The route along the Nive River was really pleasant. I passed through various towns as the Pyrenees got larger, and the road started to ascend. I must have drunk litres and litres of water today, due the heat and the climbs, and topped up at a supermarket with two 2 litres of yoghurt to get some energy back.
Things got interesting after Itxassou, where I opted to take the side road over the Pas de Roland. It was a beautiful route, but very hard going in the heat with some fierce climbs to contend with. At one point I passed a group of over 20 birds of prey, probably black kites and buzzards, circling in a thermal to gain height; I think they may have been waiting for cycle tourers to expire! A bit later on I spotted a huge eagle soaring along the mountainside, a majestic sight.
By the time I arrived in Bidarray I was feeling a bit spent, and still had quite a way to go. Two walkers had also stopped in the shade, suffering a little bit as I was; tell-tale symptoms of slight nausea and faintness. I took half an hour to rest, drank lots of water, and had my first dip of the day in the river; felt a lot better after that! The two walkers followed my lead on the bathing front, and also felt a lot better, but decided to get a bus to Bayonne after that.
Feeling refreshed I pushed onwards and upwards, still alongside the Nive, passing lots of kids canyoning and rafting on the river. There are lots of great activities to try around here, and it would be yet another good place for a holiday; jumping off rocks into the river looked like a brilliant idea. I had to stop again before St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, for another swim, as it was just too hot; temperatures must have been in the high thirties.
I finally arrived in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, a big start point for the Camino de Santiago on the French side, at about 17.30. I stopped at a Lidyl on the way into town, as much to stand in the cold isle as to buy a drink. I nipped to the tourist info and located the campsite, right next to the river and ringed by part of the old town walls. Once I was set up it was time for dip number 3 of the day.
St-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a few miles from the Spanish border, and the starting point of the Camino Frances, the most popular option for people walking the Camino de Santiago. The town lies at the foot of a pass that goes over the Pyrenees to Roncevaux on the Spanish side. It was packed with pilgrims preparing to start the Camino, and there are loads of auberges that cater for them. Pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes, including cycle tourers like me, people walking the Camino for an adventure, or to take in the culture along the route, and some for religious reasons. I had a walk around the town and explored its narrow streets and the route up to the citadel; think the town has been fiercely contested over the years.
I met a lot of people at the campsite, and in the town, all of whom were friendly and said hello, and from all over the place; France, Spain, Germany, Austria, the UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, Belgium – to name but a few. I camped next to Jules from the UK, who is walking the route, and was a bit worried about his rucksack breaking; he set off very early the next to avoid the worst of the heat, and I hope he made it over the pass alright! I also bumped into Richard, a fellow cycle tourer from Hunstanton which is just down the road from Norwich, where I live. He is touring for a year, and set off at the beginning of May too. We agreed to join up tomorrow to tackle the pass, and maybe cycle some of the rest of the Camino together.
My big surprise was running into River again, who now has a bike! I last saw River who is from Seoul in Korea, in Grimbergen, next to Brussels, where he’d just flown in from South America. He flew off to Barcelona the next day, but not before Eugene, a cycle tourer from Taiwan, and I had talked to him about touring by bike. It seems he was enthused by this as he bought a bike when he got to Barcelona, took at train to Toulouse, and then cycled to St-Jean-Pied-de-Port. I’m not quite sure how he made it but full credit to him; it’s weird, but I just had a feeling I’d run into him again.
As night fell there was a brief thunderstorm, which freshened things up a bit in time for bed and good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s endeavours over the pass to Spain; a big climb awaited.