We left Roscoff following, for the most part, veloroute 7 and heading south east. After Morlaix this was exclusively on a disused railway path, ie mostly flat, easy navigation, no traffic, and a gentle background of birdsong and the whirr of our tyres on a good hard-packed surface. And (did I mention?), it was predominantly pancake-flat. Lovely. Then to top off a good day back in the saddle we saw another bike like ours – a semi-recumbent Hase Pino tandem. We’d just sat down on the picnic blanket for a lunch of baguette and camembert when to our astonishment a black Pino hove into view coming from the opposite direction. Who’d’ve thought?
That evening we camped near Mael-Carhaix on the grass verge next to the velopath, by a field with a couple of young horses in who were simultaneously intrigued and alarmed by our tent. Wild camping isn’t strictly legal in France, but the couple who owned the horses and adjacent field of cows walked by and were not bothered at all by our camp.
The next day we picked up another veloroute, again on a disused railway, and headed east to Mur de Bretagne before turning south to pick up the trail alongside the Nantes-Brest canal. You’ll notice a theme here for seeking out the flattest routes possible. I don’t think our joints have quite got over the exertions of the Yorkshire Dales.
The canal meandered somewhat between Mur-de-Bretagne and our destination of Josselin, so we’d intended to detour off onto the roads to cut off a considerable corner, but in the end were enjoying the easy canal-side riding so much that we stuck on the canal all the way to Josselin….via Pontivy….and then looping back northeast before dropping southeast to Josselin…making a 120km day. The day was made longer still by the intervention of an enormous oak tree that had fallen over across the path and into the canal just 20 minutes before we arrived. The area round the roots was very overgrown with brambles so we dismantled our rig and lugged our gear over the huge trunk. However, what had turned into an unexpectedly arduous day finished well with an evening of luxury courtesy of the parents of a club-mate, who’d kindly arranged for their neighbour to let us into their home even though they were back over in England….much appreciated!
After our long canal/tree-climbing day we both felt a little weary so the following day started slowly with some laundry and washing the bike. We finally left Josselin around 3pm heading south on, as had become our norm, a mixture of canal path and disused railway. The Pino was much admired wherever we went and one old boy and his wife were particularly taken by it. After as in-depth an explanation as we could manage in Franglais of the pros and cons of the Pino, the old boy wrote down the Hase website details and also the name of a local shop that sells them (info supplied by another cyclist who’d joined the throng). The old guy seemed particularly keen and I think saw the Pino as a way to get his wife riding again. He proudly announced that he was 88 years old. His wife immediately piped up ‘moi aussi’, but I think she might need a little more persuading on the bike. I hope they get one though – the stoker’s freewheel would be easy on her decrepit knees.
Our short afternoon’s ride culminated with extravagant (by our budgetary standard) beers in the pretty town of Malestroit and then a nice wild-camp spot in a stretch of woodland alongside the railway path.
The next day we reached the Atlantic coast. It felt like something of a milestone to see the sea again. We meandered slowly around the convoluted, rocky coastline and approaching Piriac-sur-Mer found a beautiful, albeit windswept place to camp on the clifftops, hidden from the road by dense gorse bushes. A few joggers and dog-walkers came by but no-one was upset by our presence.
The next day, after a stop for some wifi surfing in Piriac, the road headed inland and took us through an extraordinary landscape. For miles we cycled through an immense series of shallow, rectangular ponds, interlinked with water channels. Some were overgrown with weeds but most were barren and simply contained slightly slimy looking water. We stopped a number of times, wondering what the ponds were for, and eventually decided they might be for extracting salt. It turned out we were right, but we’d never have guessed how complex and time-consuming a job it was. In the middle of the salt-lakes we found an exhibition centre that showed how the process worked. Salt workers actively manage their plots year round and using techniques that have barely changed for 1500 years harvest an inconceivable amount of salt each day over the summer months. Guerandais salt is a premium product, valued across France. We couldn’t afford it.
After an educational afternoon we continued along the coast road looking for another suitable camping spot…but nothing was forthcoming and we found ourselves in an increasingly urban and tourist-infested area around Le Croisic. Eventually, we capitulated and decided to look for a paid-for campsite, and in doing so we stumbled by chance upon a small fishing pond with a secluded spot behind some bushes that was perfect for a sneaky camp. With the wine open and the trangia on full gas we enjoyed an evening watching the sky change and listening to the seagulls splashing in the pond. We were interrupted just once by an enthusiastically galumphing Labrador, whose owner walked within a metre of us and never even knew we were there.
Our sixth day on the road since leaving Roscoff saw us finally reach the mouth of the Loire (or rather the bridge over the Loire at St Nazaire that is the start of veloroute 6 – the Atlantic to the Black Sea route).
This area is historically significant as being one of the last areas to be surrendered by the Germans at the close of WW2. We spent the morning nosying around an old German bunker which now contains an excellent museum, before heading along the beachfront at St Nazaire and over the bridge. The bridge itself is around 3.5km long, rising steadily (and very slowly on a loaded Pino) before descending again for an exhilarating run to the start of the Loire cycle route. It took us ten and a half minutes to cross it. Once on the south side of the Loire we followed the route-guide onto a horrible, sandy trail that was barely ride-able. The redeeming feature was that we happened across a film-crew making a short programme about the Loire veloroute who were delighted to have us on set. We smiled for camera and did a couple of takes riding in the opposite direction to a family with very white teeth who we think were there for the filming rather than just passing through as we were. If you find the film on the interweb at any point do let us know.
More on the Loire section of our trip in the next update…