Tuesday, 29 April 2014


I asked Dagmar what was her most memorable moment today. She said the village of Villeneuve-Minervois. We had just cycled across Montaigne Noire from Mazamet and this involved a 14km long hill and 800m climb into cloud. Villeneuve-M was at the bottom of the mountains on the south side. There was an avenue of statuesque beech trees lining the road in the village centre. The houses each side and pavements were all beautifully kept. Better still the sun came out and we were able to drink coffee outside.
My most memorable moment was a very scary dog. I did not say the memorable moment had to be good. We had just started the climb at Mazamet. On the right side of the road was a wire fence with several dogs behind. All started barking at us but one went beserk. It charged the fence with all the force it had, not once but again and again and all the time barking with full vigour. Now, I like dogs but occasionally a dog can be scary. This was one of those occasions. I am so glad the fence did not break.
We are collecting lots of memorable moments with French cooking. When we stop, we always look for locally owned restaurants and nearly always has the food been outstanding. We arrived at Carcassonne this evening having cycled 76km (47 miles) and 1,052m climbing.

My pictures include the open air market at Mazamet.

Monday, 28 April 2014


Our Gite at La Caze last night was so comfortable that it was hard to get going, especially as it was snug and warm while outside it was raining and there was a hill to climb. Imagine that you are staying in a converted barn on a farm full of old beams and watching the rain pattering on the windows, it is tempting to stay where you are.
The reality is that we are still in our first week of our latest cycling adventure. There is lots to see so we peddled on. We are in dairy country in the hills overlooking the Tarn valley. Our first encounter is with a farmer then a milk tanker. Chickens cackled in the farm yards. We pass ancient farm houses that make me think of traditional west country farms at home. The architecture is different but the lifestyles are similar.
We have a giant downhill to descend, great! It wibble wobbles its way to a medievil village called Brousse where we stop and admire the place. It is warmer now and off comes one layer but not the waterproofs.
What follows is an easy ride beside the Tarn. Coffee is at a restaurant in L'incot where a dog leaps frenetically around us in welcome. The owner catches him but we hear the dog still trying to welcome us behind a fence. The owner is painting some chairs while as the only customers we scrutinise the work carefully.
Waterproofs are removed as the sun seems desparately to try and find a way past the clouds. We reach Ambialet after 25 miles for lunch where we are greeted by two more dogs. Starter is a quail salad while main is duck. This is plat de jour. We feel that this is luxury cycling. However there is a hill to climb. By local standards it is modest being only 3 miles long. We are now down to tee shirts and perspiring. However at the top, the wind that has kept away so far hits us with full force as we are out in the open. Back go on layers of clothes and we need steely determination for this headwind.
After 15 miles we discover a recently built cycle trail on a former railway. It looks like a Sustrans creation. It is now an easy ride to Castre albeit the weather was giving us all four seasons in two hours with sun, wind, rain, hot and cold.
we cycled 62 miles today and Dagmar, my excellent navigator tells me we are ahead of schedule

Sunday, 27 April 2014


I hope the French are proud of the Viaduc de Millau. It is an outstanding achievement. Not only must the construction have tested the builders to their limits but the design sits within the Tarn Gorge as a monument to the designer's creativity. Dagmar and I cycled under it today and to say we were impressed is an understatement. Here is our view as it first came into sight.

The weather has not lived up to early expectations as apart from the first day, it has varied a lot. This morning was cold and overcast while this afternoon it rained. It did not spoil the enjoyment of the trip. We cycled down the Dourbie to Millau then continued beside the Tarn to La Caze just north of Broquies, a distance of 55 miles. Ochre colour cliffs looked down over the Dourbie and occasionally there were precipitous stacks, isolated high rock features much loved by climbers who relish their vertical faces..

Millau was the largest town we have passed through so far. The centre is exemplified by a fountain surrounded by flowers. The Tarn seemed gentle by comparison to previous countryside but we found some hills where our legs said this was just a myth. All this countryside is of a grand scale and we enjoyed savouring every last moment. Accommodation at this time of year is often closed which surprised me but then there is hardly anybody about. We found a comfortable gite at La Caze where the English hosts made us most welcome. These are a few pictures from today.

Saturday, 26 April 2014


Dagmar and I needed crawler gears to make the climb to Mt Aigoual. The route is said to have some very fine scenery. We left the dense forests of the Gard and everything changed as we climbed. Wild flowers came out in abundance such as cowslips, wild daffodils, early purple orchids and marsh marigolds to name but a few. The trees changed too. The higher we climbed, the earlier were the leaf buds until near the top there were no buds, no trees and some remnants of snow. The time in our crawler gears allowed us to take in all this wildness. In the background I heard 5 cuckoos call and a woodpecker was busy hammering at a tree. The slow ride took 4.5 hours for 28km and 1,350m of altitude.

I must tell you about Badger. Badger belongs to no-one but Dagmar and I share caretaker roles. Badger joined me from Devon Wildlife Trust when I cycled 6,000km around the North Sea Cycle Route in 2010. This is where I met Dagmar. She took pity on me thinking I was lost in Wilhemshaven and had just started the same route. Well, we cycled together to Harwich where my journey ended but Badger jumped bikes to join Dagmar to go round the North Sea Cycle Route a second time. Since then Badger has been to 3 more countries and may have travelled as much as 16,000km. Badger looks grey now but still has plenty of energy for rides whoever he is with. After this trip, he returns to Devon Wildlife Trust to take part with me in their Heart Of Dartmoor Cycle Challenge on 17 May.

Here is Badger on Dagmar's bike with my bike lying in the distance.

Friday, 25 April 2014


It was more like English weather today as Dagmar and I cycled alongside the R. Gardon de St Jean. It rained and then it was windy. This is an unspoilt area and I forgave the weather for an otherwise pleasant journey. It was one of contrasts. On the one hand, the vineyards had gone to be replaced by dark brooding woods that overlooked the valley. One could easily be forgiven for thinking wolves roam here but instead dogs barked from isolated farmsteads. However down by the river, the little fields and banks looked ideal for summer camping where children could swim and run free.
I loved an old steam train at St Jean du Gard and lunch was delicious in a nearby cafe where time seemed  to stand still.

We had intended to take a road  through the Col de St Pierre but the wind was strong and we abandoned it favour of the lower route. Even so, the wind was still strong and we stopped early at St Andre de Valborgne. With a population now just over 400, it used to be thriving a hundred years ago being self contained with once farmed interesting terraces on the hillsides.  We took an evening ride into the hills and found the most interesting scenery of the day.

Thursday, 24 April 2014


Avignon at last. The sun was shining with heat and intensity that I had forgotten about when I met Dagmar so used have I been to our winter.
Yesterday, it was a 24 hour train journey from Plymouth. I had become an involuntary train spotter such was the length of the journey. French trains win one count by providing excellent coffee but British trains are far superior for carrying bicycles. Every British train carries bikes and they are easy to book. In France, a TGV goes to Avignon every 30 minutes but only one a day carries bikes and it is very hard to book. I could have saved at least 6 hours if the British run French trains.

Dagmar had fixed up to meet German cyclist, Frank, who lives in Carpentras and regularly cycles up Mont Ventoux. Feeling slightly out of my depth but nevertheless keen to meet him we set off in all this glorious sunshine.

Luckily for me, coffee culture works for everyone here so I did not show my lack of speed up too greatly. Frank rode with us for a couple of hours as we left the Rhone behind us and peddled along quiet lanes surrounded by vineyards. I heard my first cuckoo of the year and saw a few white horses in a paddock. Our next stop was Pont du Gard, an aquaduct built by the Romans and in a remarkable state of repair

We ended our day at Vezenobres, a medievil village south of Ales having completed 50 miles (80km)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


Last year, my friend Dagmar took me on a journey from Bodensee in Southern Germany to Avignon in France. Dagmar plotted the route and all I had to do was to be a cycling companion. We started by heading into the Swiss Jura, a mountainous area with dark woods, beautiful wild flower meadows, granite plateaus and humble villages. We cycled into Geneva, a city that needs a huge leap of faith when on a bike. Grenoble which came next was much friendlier to cyclists. What followed was lot of climbing through the French Alps, some magnificent downhill descents and viewing a back drop of jagged mountains that was simply extraordinary. The lush countryside full of vineyards and sleepy looking villages brought us to our destination of Avignon.

On 23 April, we meet up again in Avignon to resume our trip. This time we cycle to Barcelona and as before Dagmar has planned the journey.  This is the route and I am hoping for lots more stunning scenery.

We start by cycling through more of Provence, an easy ride to get the legs moving. I am hoping not to find bears that live in the Pyrenees but I do want to experience inland Spain and find out what it has to offer.