Note: Video clips included today! Click on the link beneath the map, then the link to ‘all pictures and videos’ beneath the map on the following page to find them.
How to describe today? I’m not sure I have sufficient command of the English language to describe it. Raptures of pleasure perhaps? Let me explain. We both had some difficulty rousing ourselves today, after yesterday’s hangover laden day I was very happy to get a good nights sleep, Jones was also hoping for a good nights sleep but apparently it didn’t work out that way, so it was after 9am before we got down to breakfast. I was starving and polished off 3 bowls of cereal, 2 yoghurts, and stashed away a few bits of fruit and some strange pulped apple in squidgy packets that looked like they would be good for snacks. A quick trip to the supermarket to round out the provisions, and a little navigational error getting out of Bourbon-Lancy, and we were finally making progress by 11am.
A couple of miles on lanes, then we joined a cycle track, another of the French Voies Vertes. This was perfectly smooth Tarmac on an old railway bed, so pretty flat apart for a couple of slight inclines. The weather had started off grey, and as we got going there were a few spots of rain, so the coats had come out. But once we were on this track and getting some speed on, it was all too hot and so the layers quickly started coming off. At one point, I’d stripped down to shorts only even though it was still spotting with rain, the sun now starting to come through. Quickly the weather improved, and even with quite a few dark and puffy clouds in the sky, there was plenty of sunshine to warm things up. It all got a bit hot and humid, especially in the shorts (not that you needed to know that, but in the interest of full disclosure). As we were well away from roads and other hazards, I even ventured to stow the helmet and glasses and just enjoy the sunshine as we bowled along.
After a few miles the cycle track came to an end and we had a choice. The official route deviated away from the canal and river to follow some small roads through the surrounding hills, but also marked was a provisional route along the canal bank. We’ve seen some of these before on the route, and more often than not they are still works in progress, just rough tracks or grassed tow paths, which are not good for touring on. But this time, we took a look and were pleased with what we found – smooth Tarmac, wide and flat along the canal (the Canal Lateral sur le Loire runs alongside the river, which is not deep enough to be navigable). This took us through some stunning countryside, locks every now and again so a very slight incline over the course of the route, but the cycle path just about flat for mile after mile. When we did finally run out of canal path, we had covered 32 miles. Just perfect cycling. If you ever thought to riding a bike somewhere idyllic, come and give this stretch a go (Diou to Digoin). No effort at all, you’ll love it.
We stopped in Digoin for a beer nestled amongst a lively street market, although the goods on offer were not very good quality. Not an issue as we are not about to start adding to the weight by buying souvenirs.
A short stretch out of Digoin, and the end of the cycling path, so again we had a choice, over the hills or follow a D-road alongside the canal. As we were enjoying the flat, we decided to go with the road, which was fun for being flat and alongside the canal, but the surface not so good (coarser chippings adding to the vibration on the hands) but again it meant we covered some ground. After a stretch we stopped for a beer, for the first time with other people around, although they appeared to all be unemployed (mid-afternoon on a Monday) and betting on the horse racing being shown on TV in the bar.
Choices, choices, again, and this time we chose the hills for 8 miles, which was a great contrast to the morning ride. The scenery changes once you get away from the river, so rolling hills, woods and fields. Most of the fields are occupied by those Charolais cows, more so than ever as we were only about 5 miles from Charolles whilst enjoying that beer, the source of the breed. I decided that it fitting to start menacing the cows as I passed as I thought about what I might eat this evening. A bit like the old ‘mint sauce’ taunt you might make to sheep, but this time ‘Sauce au Poivre’ and the like. They didn’t seem bothered. The Charolais seem like the most placid of breeds. Most of the time they are laying down watching the world go by.
Finally we rolled into Montceau-les-Mines, the skyline of which is dominated by it’s power station cooling tower and what I took to be the reactor building. Then the most bizarre feel of a place yet. It comes across like a seaside town, only lacking a beach. It’s a bit run down, but there is a nice quayside area in which we found our resting place for the night. A quick tour through the town, and it seems like Skegness on a wet day (even though this evening the sun was shining). Oh well, you can’t polish a turd as they say, but you can get an interesting glint in the sunshine.
It being a Monday, you can’t eat out in France, at least not apparently in a quality establishment, and so we plumped for the Buffalo Grill, an American chain specialising in, you guess it, grilled Buffalo. They nod towards the local fare with Charolais steaks, but we decided that would be sacrilege and opted for the roast chicken, on the basis you can’t really get that wrong. Except they couldn’t get it wrong because it wasn’t available. So we had Tapas for starters which was about as far away from anything called Tapas that I’ve ever had in Spain (everything deep fried in batter so it all looked like McNuggets), Jones had the BBQ ribs (acceptable apparently) and I had Chicken Fajitas, forgetting that they came in Tortillas made with wheat. I’d given in by then and just got on with it. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Over dinner we started pondering how we might get home. There was always a plan to cycle a bit of the Rhine back towards Blighty, or even most of it, depending on the daily progress. We have 5-6 more days at the current pace to get to Basel, which leaves a couple of days spare before Jones would like to be home. I can stretch a few more if I fancy it, and had been thinking of cycling back from Dover. We decided that one option was just to continue going east from Basel, on the basis that eventually you get home anyway. The deciding point will be when we get to Mulhouse. Turn right to Basel and the east, or left and up the Rhone towards home. Choices eh?
Jones summed it all up by letting rip at the end of the meal. Confused by the seaside feel of the place, I thought the QEII had just pulled up alongside. I had my back to the rest of the customers in the outside seating area, so was spared the embarrassment of having to apologise to those who weren’t so mistaken as to it’s provenance, and just sat there and wet myself.
Miles Covered Today: 53
Executive Summary: Every cloud has a silver lining, and some turds have a shiny surface, but they still stink.