Monday, 20 June 2011


Brittany is renowned for its cycling. It also rivals our West Country for cider offering some good local brews. Unless visiting the coast, it has pleasant rolling hills, artichoke fields, good restaurants for lunches and there is a timeless feel about the area. Cyclists we met ranged from a manic enthusiast who cycles 250km a day to groups out on their mountain bikes. At Vannes, we stayed in a former nunnery still run by the church and the pictures below show a Gite d'Etaps, a local hostel that provides food and has a bar.

We travelled three days sadly in the rain and one day it was windy so the area did not look at its best. Mostly buildings are traditional but the new house below in the shape of a dome was inspired with its woodland location.

We discover that lots of English people have made their homes in the rural centre of Brittany. They do not seem to be wealthy Brits with second homes but are less well off people who have moved to the area permanently.

Brittany shares a common language with the Cornish, Welsh, Irish and Scots who speak Gaelic. The Bretagne language is near enough the same. We spend a pleasant evening at the Gite discussing cider, Bretagne language, cycling and fishing.

There is a timeless feel about this holiday group encountered on a long distance cycleway.

We reached Roscoff at 07.30 this morning to catch our ferry back to Plymouth. I have calculated that our distance was 754 miles and we had 13 cycling days. We had two afternoons off.

My best bits were the wildlife areas in the coastal plains and the Vendee forests. I did not like the traffic in Bilbao and on the French/Spanish border.

Friday, 17 June 2011


We have arrived at St Brevin-Les-Pins and were stuck. There is a new huge bridge over the River Loire and we cannot get over it. It is true that it has a cycle lane but the locals are adament that it is too dangerous. The lane is narrow, the traffic is always heavy and the wind blows.

We search around. We spend a night here as we must catch the bike bus but this needs 24 hours notice and space must be booked. I am really surprised that a cycle friendly country does not provide a facility on this bridge.

The locals here go fishing in the Loire with nets and these can be seen from the bridge. Previously we saw more low level wildlife areas and had a fascinating ride on a cycle trail into St Brevin.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


It is not just me that cycles to appreciate wildlife, there are signposted routes all over this part of France to show the delights of seeing wildlife on a bike. I am now in Longville-Sur-Mer, 58 bike miles north west of Rochefort.

We have now finished forest trails, albeit there was a final flourish for a few miles from Soulac to the ferry terminal at Pointe de Grave.

If I could describe the last two days, much of it was spent cycling with wildlife intersperced with rich farmland. It was all low lying much like the Somerset Levels in England. There were drainage ditches, called canals here everywhere. Where the ground was higher, it was crops and vegetables. Where lower, it was wild flower grassland grazed by charolais cattle. There are so many birds here. I am embarrased to only know a few names. Egrets are everywhere. Old nog, the heron, is almost as numerous. Swallows appear from nowhere in vast numbers. They enjoy the mudflats and natural landscape that exists.

Many people are out on their bikes. This gentleman is cycling around France. We spoke to a couple on a tandem who work for a company manufacturing wind and kite surfing equipment. Others are touring or shopping. Racing cyclists go past us as we are snails.

We had a happy evening exploring Rochefort, apparantly the first city in the world with a modern grid system. Although planned in 1671, or thereabouts, it happily accepts cars with its wide streets. It was the model for all american cities, the template having been taken there by Lafaytte, the intrepid French sailor who played a key role in developing North America.

Some other things that we found fascinating included the transporter bridge built in 1900 that now takes cyclists into Rochefort. I now know three transporter bridges. The others are in Middlesbrough, England and Hamburg, Germany.

An important industry here is mussel and oyster farming. It is quite atmospheric looking at the preserved wooden oyster shacks. Tomorrow we head north towards St Naziare.

Monday, 13 June 2011


We have now completed half of our cycle journey from Santander in Spain to Roscoff in Brittany. Our distance so far is 375 miles. From Biarritz going north we followed cycle paths through forests some of which were easy going and some where the trail dissappeared into sand and bad ground.

The coastline away from the towns is stunning with long sandy beaches, a surfer's paradise. I think that it will amazingly busy here during high summer but now it is quiet and easy going.

The sunset last night was outstanding at Soulac Sur Mer.

This part of France is ideal for cycling but further south, there was much heavy traffic. We spent a night in Biarritz and this came as a surprise. I imagined the faded glory from 40 years ago when it was a popular destination. Today, it has a bustling old town centre and excellent beaches. I was impressed.

We now head north towards La Rochelle.

Thursday, 9 June 2011


We have arrived at Donastia. This is the Basque name for St Sebastian. It also means that we have almost completed Spain's northern coast. Yesterday was a long day's ride and we knew that we had pushed ourselves hard. We had seen a fascinating array of steep sided hills, lush river valleys and coastline. We started the hills in Cantabria and followed them to Euskad, the home of the Basque people.

Our first day took us past some coastal mudflats and our first sighting was a buzzard curiously out of place away from its native trees. We were able to see lots of fish swimming in the shallows scavanging for food, then disturbe an egret looking out for a fish dinner.

The hills followed in dramatic form. Our roads were not too steep, just long pulls that seemed to go for ever. Then, incredulously, we found the first sign that gave a speed restriction on cyclists, 60kph. Even Sir Chris Hoy, king of cycling athletes, would have struggled to exceed this limit on these hills.

Our first night was at Castro Urdiales, a medium size town on the coast and we found accommodation in its old part. This was very pretty with quaint narrow streets and houses with balconies leaving into one another.

We went to a fish restaurant where each dish was served one after the other so nothing was cold.

Breakfast the next day was tortilla. This was scrumptiously delicious and ideal food for cycling. Mine looked as if it had just been taken out of the oven by someone's mum. Potatoes, egg in the form of an omelette, bacon, peppers are fried slowly then put into the oven to finish. The result was mouthwateringly succulant.

Much of this day was spent in Bilbao, where we went to the Guggenheim Museum. This is a masterpiece of modern architecture filled with art forms by aclaimed artists like Damien Hirst.

It was a long ride to Donastia. Bilbao has no cycling policy and there was only one route out on a very busy main road. It was a case of heads down, peddle fast and anticipating other drivers. So this morning, we have completed our third night and will be heading for France.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


I had the most amazing night's sleep in my cabin on Pont Avon, Brittany Ferry's enormous ferry that was taking Jaana and me from Plymouth to Santander. I woke up to find a cat in my cabin. I did not own a cat but somehow it was mine. The cat desparately wanted to get out so I quickly got up, opened the door and let it out. Then I woke up properly and found that there was no cat. It was just a dream.

I had become something of a ferry expert last year with my bike ride around the North Sea coast. I had caught 23 ferries in all and my favourite was Stena Line who not only gave me a free meal in their luxury restaurant but also let me off their ferry first at Harwich. My current ship looked good with its cinema, pool, restaurants and amiable French crew.

We met three other cyclists, two who were doing the same journey as us to Roscoff and a third who looked scarily fit. He was off to do a month in the Pyrannes.

I had packed only tee shirts and my suncream bought in Germany last year that was so strong I could not get a suntan. I imaged Spain to be 40C heat so my surprise was total when we arrived at Santander in a Scottish mist. Luckily I had also bought a jumper and waterproofs. Because Brittany Ferries did not let cyclists off first and the loo in the cabin did not work too well, I confided in Jaana that Stena Line is still my favourite. Scarily fit cyclist overheard me and said that Stena Line is favourite ferry as well.

After a brief pedal up and down, Santander's waterfront, Jaana and I jumped on another ferry to take us over the estuary to the start of our next cycling adventure

Friday, 3 June 2011


On Sunday, I leave for my next adventure on my trusty Trek bike. I shall load my panniers, head for Plymouth's ferry port and set sail for Santander in Spain

My friend, Jaana will be with me and we will be cycling close to the coast up to Roscoff in Brittany, a distance of 750 miles. We start our ride in Basque country where we head east to the French border and onwards to Biarritz. To our south, we will see the Pyrenees Mountains while to the north lies a rugged coastline and several towns of which I know little. I want to know what this proud part of Spain is like.
Once over the border, we hope to sample the French rural way of life, see the coast, experience the wildlife, eat the food and drink the wine.
My previous visit to France was laid back and enjoyable. I have high hopes. We plan to take 2.5 weeks and will be reporting what I see