Eurovelo 6 – Day 4 – St. Nazaire to Nantes

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Today is in three parts, only two of which were optional, the third created by the mischeavous technology. The first map and pictures was the post-breakfast walking tour. Right next to our hotel was the most impressive concrete construction – something that Blowfeld from James Bond would have been most envious of. The receptionist had described it as ‘The Bunker’, but we’d been curious to know more. It turned out to be a WWII German U-Boat dock, where they were serviced and re-armed before setting out into the Atlantic to knock seven bells out of the Allied convoys and Navy.

It’s a truly impressive feat of engineering, but probably wouldn’t win many prizes for it’s looks. It’s made from nearly 500,000 cubic metres of reinforced concrete, and took just under two years to complete, between 1941 and 1943. Only about 2 months later, the Allied forces sent 85 bombers to try and disable it, but managed to level the entire town leaving the bunker mostly untouched. St. Nazaire was the last town in France and occupied Europe to be liberated, when the Germans who were holding out there surrendered on the last day of the war. The Allies had done enough to disable it’s purpose by then, so just went around it.

Its now used as an entertainment venue, with gigs, bars and cafe’s etc, and a plan to turn the roof into a series of gardens. The roof is 30 feet thick of solid concrete. I think they might need some top soil!

So, after a fascinating stroll around the concrete lump, we did a little supermarket sweep, and set off at nearly noon. Getting beyond Nantes was the objective, as Jones was convinced that it was a concrete hell whole, but only admitted later to only having been to the airport.

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Our first task however was to get out of St. Nazaire which required us to cross the infamous road bridge, something similar to the Severn Crossing between England and Wales. In all the accounts of the Eurovelo 6 route, it had been resoundingly reported as being a bit of a cyclists nightmare, but in fact it turned out to be a doddle. Ok, it’s quite a climb, but to us hardened Exmoor cyclists it’s just a gentle slope, and there is a safety margin which in effect doubles as a cycle lane, so the traffic doesn’t have to cross lanes to pass you. This morning the traffic was moving over the bridge at more or less cycle pace anyway, so really didn’t present a problem. Perhaps don’t try it if it’s pissing with rain, blowing a gale, and the lorries are travelling at 60mph. Also, don’t think that it’s worth cycling down the north shore, as it’s horribly industrial. I think there may be a ferry near to the bridge, but don’t rely on it, as I don’t think I saw any evidence of such.

Once the bridge was crossed, we did a quick right turn to the old fort and found the official starting point of the route, and a modern sign board showing the route name and various important European bodies responsible for it’s creation. There was no one else about, so we attempted some self-portraits to record the start of the route proper. We’ll need to think of something appropriate when we get to Basel, as there will not be a similar marker as it’s not the end of the EV6 route. Another 1800 miles would be needed to find that gem. I’m sure a bar and cold beer will do as a replacement landmark.

Ignore the ridiculously erratic GPS plots on the above map, I’m sure you’ll get the gist of the route. Either metal bridges play havoc with the GPS signal, or the French have some way of skewing GPS to protect their assets from guided missiles. Or Everytrail is a piece of shite and gets it’s knickers in a twist, which I’m beginning to think is a more likely occurrence.

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Anyway, once I had wrangled the technology into working, and we’d taken the 5 mile inland detour to avoid the euphemistically labelled ‘low quality’ route along the river bank, we were following a canal that ran parallel to the river for another 5 miles or so. A pretty start, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was only a canal, and not the river proper.

This part of the route is not particularly remarkable, passing through relatively quiet country lanes alongside the canals and the river, and some non-descript towns that were not in the least bit chic.

It was quite enough that when we heard a twang, we thought the nano people had cone out to play, but on further consideration realised the Jobes had broken a spoke on the rear. Possibly a result of over tightening them on the first day, as we were rolling on a perfectly flat road at the time. Fortunately he had spares, and even more fortunately it was not on the same side as the cassette as without the proper tool, no chance of replacing it. Still took best part of 30 minutes to sort out, but a useful bit of sunbathing time for me.

I had my own little dilemma today also, as we took a dubious looking part of the route through some scrub, then found a steep bank which I tried to climb quickly in bottom gear. The extra pressure on the pedals was enough to push the rear wheel out of line and into the frame, so I came to a grinding halt just at the top. Bags off, bike turned over, pop the wheel and reseat it, job done. We were then at the end of what looked like a travellers camp, lots of caravans and kids running about. As we cycled through, I realised that there was a mixture of nationalities, from Turks to Indians. Exclusively brown skinned though, and these were not travellers but obviously poor people for whom these broken and dilapidated caravans was their only home. The women all sat outside their vans, washing and talking, the kids ran about smiling and laughing, and the blokes all stood guard at the entrance to the camp engrossed in conversation. No-one paid us any notice other than the kids who were happy to say bonjour as we passed. All like something from another world.

We then came across the first of the river ferry crossings, timing our arrival perfectly to roll onto the ferry, which was free for cars, cycles and pedestrians. It was remarkable to note the speed at which the river was running upstream. It was like an express train, swirling around and carrying a huge amount of silt so that it looked like a hot chocolate drink with a whisk in it. A large container ship then trundled upstream, but I doubt it needed it’s engines on as it seemed to be moving at the same speed as the river. Either the river is tidal at this point, or since we’ve started this trip the earth’s polarity has flipped.

The run into Nantes was unremarkable, apart from the industrial, drab nature of the place, but once we got to the city centre things started to look up. We tried a couple of streets back from the riverbank and the first hotel we tried had what we needed at a reasonable price, so here it is we stay. The interior is very chic and boutiquey, but not too pricey. After a quick freshen up, we were out on the town. Being a Saturday night we thought it appropriate to start with a couple of drinks, before moving off to find something to eat. A good meal in a relatively simple restaurant with the obligatory slightly surly service, but we were both happy with what we had.

I do have a bone to pick with Everytrail though. This is the app on the iPhone that I use to record where we have been and capture the images seen on the map. All well and good, but it has a major flaw. If you download the maps and turn off data services, it crashes, freezes, and stops tracking at it’s own whim. As long as there is a data connection, regardless of the map type or if it’s been downloaded already, it works pretty flawlessly. The whole point of the map downloads is to allow you to still navigate when out of mobile service or if roaming charges would be prohibitive, so I don’t get why this aspect of Everytrail works so badly. I’d had experience of this during the South Downs walking weekend just after I’d got the phone, but couldn’t figure it out other than for being buggy software, but now I’ve had to deal with several days of it, it’s become apparent that the key to the errors is lack of data service. Fortunately my 25MB roaming data allowance per day is enough to cover the maps needed for reference throughout the day, as long as I only use it occasionally to double check the route.

Miles covered today: 45

Executive summary: Don’t get up to early, take a stroll and learn something new, and don’t try to do too many miles in a day.

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