05 to 11 August 2015 – back to France and seeing old friends

Wow. Been a little while since I’ve managed to get a blog post written; warning, this is a long one and probably best consumed in chunks. This is partly due to having been a bit poorly, but also some long days riding on the way out of Spain, and latterly meeting up with old friends from when I lived in Marseille many years ago. I’m in Salavas now, a little town next to the Ardeche, staying with Chris et Carole on their farm for a few days; it’s very tranquil, although I might have to go and collect the eggs in a bit.

Here are my routes and stats for the last week. My Garmin crashed a few times, or turned itself off randomly, so some days have multiple entries, sorry!

If all the above links are a bit too much (they are for me), the summary is I’ve pedalled around 5,700 miles since Nordkapp and the beginning of May, over 9,000km, completed phase 1 which was the northernmost point of Europe to the southernmost point, and am now en-route to Istanbul, before returning to England. Still got around 4,000 miles to go, and it’ll be different again in Eastern Europe and Turkey, so lots of adventures to come.

–> 05 Aug – a long day to Pals
I covered nearly 172km today, one of my longest days to date, and the sort of distance I should really split over two days. It wasn’t entirely intentional; my carefully planned route had to be ditched due to encountering roads which I wasn’t allowed to cycle on, despite my Garmin planner telling me that I could. This meant I had to head back down to the coast after pedalling inland, then back inland, then wriggle around and over some hills; all pretty tiring!

I was happy to leave the hostel after another broken night’s sleep; I prefer my tent, despite the lack of bed. It was a simple exercise to extricate myself from Barcelona, along the coast and seafront using a cycle path. I rode past countless beaches and coastal towns, packed with holidaymakers enjoying the sea and sun; lots of nudist beaches too, seems very popular down here.

I made it to Malgret de Mar as planned, on the N11, then turned inland intending to head to Girona. It was all going well as far as Vidreres, up a few big climbs which woke me up a bit, however then I encountered a sign that informed me I was no longer allowed to cycle on the N11. This was a bit of an issue as I couldn’t see how else to easily get to Girona, and a campsite I’d found about 20km away. I saw one road cyclist just ignore the sign and carry on, however I didn’t know how far he was going and don’t want to get arrested, so turned off and had to head back down towards the coast. Needless to say I was somewhat miffed by the whole experience, with my plans in tatters, however after shouting at the wind a bit I made it over the hills and down to Lloret de Mar via the GI680. Oh, and my Garmin Edge crashed too, which didn’t help matters.

I followed the coast to Tossa de Mar, then on to Saint Feliu de Guixols. The change of route proved a mixed blessing, doubling the distance for the day, and with some fierce climbs, however the scenery was fantastic and on reflection I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it. The coastal route is absolutely fantastic, even if I did have to climb over 1,600 metres as I pedalled from cove to cove; my legs felt pretty strong though, which was a blessing.

I passed a cycle tourer going the same way, struggling slightly with a trailer on his bike. It was well over 30 degrees and we were both exceedingly sweaty, so it was good to pause and offer mutual encouragement.  A bit later on I encountered a couple of Recumbents going the other way, then another cycle tourer with the same set up as me, so the number of tourers is definitely increasing.

After a garage break to refill water bottles I made it to Palamos, but then had to turn inland due to lack of cyclable roads…again; I’d hoped to join the C31 to Pals. There didn’t seem to be an obvious way to cycle up the coast, which left me feeling a bit hot and bothered, however swallowing my frustration I headed back inland and up into the hills, dealing with a long climb through a verdant forest, accompanied by the sound of nearby shotguns, and being passed by a couple of cycling clubs.

After climbing 600 feet it was a lovely long descent down to La Bisbal d’Emporda, however by that time I was feeling pretty tired and thought I’d better find a campsite. The nearest one looked to be next to Pals, rather than back towards Girona, and by the time I got there I wasn’t in a fit state to pedal any further, despite it costing over €45 to stay the night; most expensive campsite ever and not one I’ll go back to, ridiculous for a small patch of earth of a few hours.

My expensive small patch of earth - campsite near Pals

My expensive small patch of earth – campsite near Pals

At least they had a supermarket, and free wifi, albeit only for 5 minutes. Unfortunately I started to feel pretty queasy, and thought I had a migraine coming on, so after a yoghurt and some fruit I settled down for the evening; I hadn’t finished cycling until 19.00 anyway. On to France tomorrow, touch wood.

–> 06 August 2015 – vive la France, Argeles-sur-Mer
Despite the exorbitant price paid for a spot to pitch my tent I didn’t sleep too well, due to a migraine and upset stomach. Consequently I didn’t really feel like eating very much in the morning either, but decided to carry on and felt better once on my bike with a breeze in my face.

I was keen to get back to France after being in Spain for over a month, so set off from Pals across a large plain, before reaching the mountains once again.

It was definitely a ‘significant’ climb over to El Port de la Selva, then on to Llanca, ascending over 1,300 feet whilst still feeling below par. The scenery was great and I made sure I kept drinking lots of water.

After a few more ups and downs I reached Portbou, with one final climb to go before France.

It felt great to cycle across the border into France, especially after a fierce last climb during which lots of passing car drivers gave me shouts of encouragement; ‘bon courage’ etc. Looking at a map of the Southern coast of Spain again I realise just how long it is, so I’m pretty chuffed to have made it up from Tarifa and back into France in under 2 weeks, and am now well on my way to Istanbul.

It was only a short ride to Ceberes then on to Banyuls-sur-mer where I’d hoped to stay the night, however unfortunately the campsite was ‘complet’ (full), the first time that’s happened to me whilst cycle touring, ever. Banyuls-sur-mer looks like  a very nice town, with a small harbour and aquarium, and had been recommended by my friend Tom who stayed there a few years ago, however with no campsite I was forced to move on.

I continued pedalling up the coast, past Port Vendres, then Couliere, all lovely looking coastal towns with old harbours, beaches and castles. Then I finally made it out of the hills and down to Argeles-sur-mer, a massive tourist spot with loads of campsites; I’d already passed several others than were ‘complet’.  It was extremely busy in Argeles however after visiting the Tourist Information Office I managed to find a campsite on the outskirts; an island of calm in an otherwise hectic town. It was very much a relief to find somewhere to stay, as I was feeling pretty wiped out due to the migraine, and not in small part due to the hills.

After re-taping my handlebars I relaxed for the evening, eating some bread, cheese and salad, and chatting to an Italian cycle tourer who turned up just after me, having also had trouble finding a campsite. I think I’m going to have to avoid the coast for a bit as it’s just too busy, however I’ll have to check route possibilities.

Good luck to Stefano in tackling the Pyrenees up to San Sebastian!

–> 07 August – to Port La Nouvelle
My journal entries get a bit sketchy for the next couple of days, due to being a bit more poorly than I realised. I still managed to make progress, however felt pretty wiped, and realise I must have picked up some kind of stomach bug, perhaps from bad water somewhere. My appetite was non-existent, and I felt pretty dehydrated despite drinking loads, so was looking forward to some downtime.

I rode around 70km today, and some of it was on Eurovelo 8, a route that goes all along the Mediterranean coast if you can find it. To be fair the route is mapped, it’s just not realised everywhere as yet, however it was good to cycle the bit of it that was signposted. The EV8 signs continued as far as Leucate, with the path avoiding a very busy road which was a relief. There were loads of other cyclists using it, but not as many waves as in Spain; probably because these were mostly tourists out for a bimble and not tourers or roadies.

At Leucate I rode over the bridge and channel between the sea and lake, then on to La Palme. Unfortunately the campsite at La Palme was already full, however after a short ride down the road to Port-la-Nouvelle I found plenty of space at the Camping Municipal, and it was only €10 a night which was a win.

I absolutely had to do some washing, and was feeling a little better, so hand-washed a load of stuff including my sleeping bag, which after a couple of months was sorely in need of a clean! Handily it was hot and everything dried quickly, however my top tip for the day is to not drop your sleeping bag in the sand just after you’ve washed it…d’oh!

Laundry completed I had a cycle around town and then did some planning, arranging to meet up with French friends over the next few days, and hopefully my second cousin and her family tomorrow.

I forced myself to eat something, but still wasn’t really hungry, and think in hindsight that was probably an error; passed a rather uncomfortable night between my tent and the toilet!

–> 08 August – to Laurens
Hopefully you’re still with me; bit of a long blog post however good to catch up, and easier to do it in one. Might have to take a break in a bit to go help on the farm!

I rode 76km today, and thankfully it was a lot cooler and there were clouds in the sky keeping the sun off. I even had a bit if refreshing rain at one point. When I woke up I was in two minds whether to have a rest day or carry on, however in the end I felt sufficiently recovered to continue, which was probably a mistake.

After stopping at a Pharmacie and acquiring 3 sets of pills to help with my various ailments (French Pharmacies really are very helpful), I rode alongside the Canal de la Robin from Port-la-Nouvelle to Narbonne. It was a windy day however at least the path was flat, if a little bumpy.

After Narbonne it was on to Beziers, on some busy but manageable roads. I had thought I might  stop for lunch but still wasn’t feeling very hungry, and frankly had endured a pretty uncomfortable ride all morning due to my stomach aching plus feeling a bit sick.

The ride up to Laurens was accompanied by a bit of rain and a few more hills, riding through vineyards to my second cousin Richard’s house, where his daughter Sarah and her family were staying. I was feeling pretty weak by the time I reached Laurens, but didn’t think much of it until during a pause in the town square the world suddenly went a bit sideways. It felt like a big head-rush, a feeling akin to a massive migraine attack, and the next thing I knew I was lying on the floor next to my bike having briefly passed on. I must have slid down the wall as I tumbled as my helmet has a good scrape down the side. Two passerby helped me to my feet and I spent a few minutes sitting in the bus shelter before doing anything else. A weird and worrying experience but probably not that surprising having been ill and not eaten very much.

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Cycling helmet a bit scraped but all good

Thankfully I was only about 200 yards from my cousin’s house, so it was only a short walk to sanctuary for the night! I felt a lot better once I’d met up with Sarah, and Dom, and their children Indy and Briony, had a long drink of cold water, and later on some food which didn’t react badly with my stomach; good old cottage pie, peas and carrots! It was a good evening to spend indoors, with a big storm hitting and lots of rain. Great to catch up with everyone too, after several years; must stop meeting up with extended family only at funerals! A very relaxed and fun evening was had, and I slept very well.

–> 09 August – to Laroque
What a difference a day can make! After a solid night’s sleep, inside, out of the rain, and in the cool, I awoke refreshed and not feeling sick or with a stomach ache. Indy had been down to the boulangerie and returned with croissants for breakfast, which were most welcome with a bit of marmalade; excellent to have my appetite back.

After bidding goodbye to my excellent hosts, I left Laurens about 10.30, so a bit of a late start. I pedalled over the hill to Roujan, then up to Clermont L’Herault; riding was so much more comfortable today, again making me realise how under the weather I’d been, which I’d not really appreciated. The hills were biggish, but climbing them felt so much easier than yesterday, despite a slight headwind and the occasional ambush from goats or sheep.

I passed one particularly worrying sign, warning of sheep with wings; evolution gone crazy! It’s not a zombie apocalypse you need to worry about, it’ll be the flying sheep that get us for sure. Despite the sheep and their new allies, goats, it was lovely cycling through small French towns today, with the smell of baking bread drifting from boulangeries, and people nattering to neighbours from their balconies, having a lazy Sunday.

After Saint Andre de Sangonis I started up the Gorges de Herault, alongside the river Herault, taking in some great views. The gorge was packed with people relaxing by the river on rocks, canoeing or kayaking, or just swimming in the cool river. I had to deal with a long climb at one point, however it was all a pleasure now I was feeling better. I stopped for a break to watch people diving off rocks, and in one instance a high bridge, into the river.

The road continued on to Ganges, whereupon I turned left to Laroque and Camping Tivoli, to meet up with my friend Jean and his family; I hadn’t seen Jean for at least 17 years! It was great to finally catch up, and meet with his family; Noisette, Camille and Paul. Once I was set up it was down to the river, which runs next to the campsite, for a swim and a bit of Tarzan action on a rope swim; very refreshing after a hot ride.

A fun evening was had catching up, which did wonders for improving my French, even if I keep forgetting the odd word and replacing it with the English version; seems to work alright.

–> 10 August – day off in Laroque
I spent a couple of nights at Camping Tivoli in Laroque, with Jean and his family, so had a relaxing day off for some much-needed rest. We visited the Cirque de Navacelles, by car rather than  bike, and were able to look down upon it from atop a mountain.

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

Panorama of Cirque de Navacelles

The Cirque de Navacelles is an interesting feature, created by the river, and the surrounding area steeped in pre-historic history. People arrived in the area over 5,000 years ago, finding water up on the plateau in limestone caves, and carving out a simple agricultural existence, mostly involving sheep by the sounds of it. In contrast we were also passed by 4 Mirage jets flying down the valley, but at our level, and very close; an amazing sight but too fast to get a photo.

After a morning exploring, including some blackberry foraging, it was back to the campsite for more relaxing next to the river, and a bit more Tarzan action! We were joined by friends of Jean and Noisette in the evening, along with their children, so a bit of a party ensued. French hospitality is, as always, excellent, and I passed a very pleasant evening in great company. Sadly tomorrow it was time to leave, however only as far as Salavas for another break with friends; gonna take me a while to reach Istanbul at this rate.

–> 11 August 2015 – to Salavas
I was sad to leave Jean and his family, however I’ve promised not to leave it another 17 years before I return; Eurostar to Marseille is easy these days, so a visit is on the cards for next year! I was also looking forward to seeing Chris and Carole; haven’t seen Chris for about 17 years either, since our days in Luminy, Marseille; very happy times.

After fixing a puncture on Camille’s bike, packing up, and bidding everyone goodbye it was about 11.00 by the time I pedalled off, feeling relaxed and refreshed; thanks again all 🙂

Today’s ride took me through some lovely countryside, as well as more towns and villages; feels more hospitable than Spain, or at least easier to deal with, cooler too. From Laroque I rode up to Saint Hippolyte du Fort, with a few hills keeping things interesting, and with a few other tourers to say hello to. The road took me to Durfort, then Anduze, Bagard and the city of Ales; I pedalled straight through the latter and then up a valley passing lots of pretty villages.

Bananas and a quick baguette stop at a boulangerie kept me fuelled as I pedalled on to Tharaux; a slight diversion to this small village for another pause.

From Tharaux it was on to Barjac and into Ardeche territory, before arriving in the village of Salavas, prior to the town of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. Salavas sits right next to the Ardeche, and Christophe and Carole’s farm right next to the river. I stopped for a cooling Fanta break before making my way to their farm, finding it next to a campsite (could be handy for the future); only took me one phone call to locate the right gate and avoid an electric fence.

It was amazing to meet up again, and Chris hasn’t really changed very much. It was also great to see what he’s done with the farm; Le Champ de la Riviere, which he and Carole have built from scratch. They have over 1,000 chickens now, as well as a huge pig, fruit trees and loads of vegetables growing. Everything is organic, and very tasty too I might add. I am always slightly in awe of farmers and how hard they have to work, and seeing the effort that they’ve put into building up Le Champ de la Riviere left me feeling the same. I work hard in an office, with I guess different kind of stresses, but a farmer’s life is physically demanding too; although I can’t help feeling it must be more rewarding seeing things grow and being able to put food on people’s plates. I helped collect the eggs , not a small tasks when there are 1,000 chickens, and watched the pig get fed, then it was back to the house for a hearty pork casserole, with all the ingredients coming from the farm.

I also got to taste some particularly smelly local cheese; nice, but perhaps an acquired taste, and I get the impression Chris tries it out on all his guests! Another relaxing evening ensued, with some guitar playing, just like old times, and a glass of rum to finish off the evening. I think I’m going to stay here a few days to restore energy levels, and to get some planning done for Eastern Europe; although when it comes down to it I’ll just end up heading East then down to Istanbul, and see what happens along the way – not worth over planning.

If anyone knows of a good bike shop in Marseille let me know. I’m going to have a look on the Internet anyway, as Smaug could do with a service before going on to Italy; probably not leaving here until the weekend anyway, we’ll see. Time to go and help collect the eggs again now.

As always any donations to the Big C gratefully appreciated, and will help keep me motivated, otherwise might just stay here: http://virginmoneygiving.com/james

3 thoughts on “05 to 11 August 2015 – back to France and seeing old friends

  1. toekneep

    Phew, finally caught up with your blog. Holidays and a family wedding have been getting in the way. Sorry to hear how poorly you have been but it sounds like you have bounced back in fine style. Just a thought, do you ever sterilise you water bottles? Somebody gave us the tip a few years ago and we try and do it when staying with friends or warm showers hosts. Anyway, must go, it seems that you have raced ahead of me again and I am behind with my blog reading. It’s like being back at school; “keep up Pearson”.

    Liked by 1 person


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