Bar sur Seine to St.Seine L’Abbaye

Breakfast was Spartan. On offer was cereal…and a small croissant, but with no ham or cheese. And no eggs. We are beginning to dream of a full English.

The weather was looking a little overcast and by the time we were ready to set off the castness had moved on from ‘over’ to damp. This merited the use of the waterproof jackets. This as it turned out was a wise move as in just a few yards the dampness of the overcastness had increased to drizzly. This made the first few miles dreary and dull as well as hard work. The roads surface became rough, making headway difficult. This was still champagne country and it seems they spend their money on wine producing rather than on public utilities. We passed through a village called Les Rinceys and through the gathering gloom I noticed they were producing Rose and Pinot Noir. These do not require the baking sunshine of the strong reds produced further south. We were about to leave Champagne-Ardennes for the next red wine region of the Cote D’Or of Bourgogne.

The miles slowly ground onwards and we cursed the lack of attention given by the good Burghers of Champagne to Mr MacAdam’s road surface application. Fortunately by this point the CI was down to a 1 or a 2. The flatlands had given way to more varied countryside and I even saw a small herd of grey looking jersey cows. I think that’s what they were, but cows are not my strong point. I can eat one, but I can’t identify what I have eaten.

We stopped in a little village ironically called Villedieu (God’s Town) as it was neither a town and I did not see God. However, having propped the bikes up against a wall by an open window I could hear a family preparing ‘proper’ breakfast. There was children’s laughter, a father’s chuckle of anticipation, a mother’s carefree humming as eggs and, I swear to god, bacon was cooking. Eggs! If you go tomorrow to your local shop, any shop, you will find shelves stacked with any variety of egg you care to mention. You probably have not given this a second thought as you gaily go about your morning’s business after a hearty breakfast which indeed may have featured an egg or two. You probably take the availability of eggs so for granted that you may even have foregone that option and had porridge instead. You may have boiled them, or fried them on toast, scrambled or even an omelette. You lucky bastards. When I get home I am going to eat eggs until I am sick. The French do not do eggs for breakfast. I am going to write to Msr Le President Hollande and ask that it becomes law for eggs to be offered for breakfast, and I don’t care if that crashes the Euro. So taken was I with the the thought of what I might call ‘oeufs a la anglais’ (boiled eggs), that I nearly set off without my cycling glasses.

The first stop for coffee also allowed for Kirsten to visit the boulangerie and buy some pastry stuffed with dog (remember we are in France). It was bloody delicious, especially the sweetmeat. I always love it when physical activity makes you so hungry you will eat anything and be proud of it. That is why the lower classes are so fat. They often can do no other work except for the manual sort and so work up an appetite that can only be assuaged by eating anything that quickly comes to hand, such as dogs, horses and chrysanthemums. The inclemency of the weather began to change from grey and a bit drizzly to drizzly. The sun tried to shine, but it was a weak effort. One could see a yellowish ball trying to poke through the clouds but the clouds won.

So we battled onwards. I often think that during a challenge that there is always a point when it seems difficult and morale can be sapped. If it was all easy then it would not be a challenge. Today was one of those days when I thought that we were in for a bit of a slog and it would be a case of just getting through to the end. The road surfaces, the weather, the cool temperature and the incipient challenges of ‘Chalfont alerts’ would keep minds occupied. However, we are British and empires are not won by being a big girl’s blouse.

France is big, France is very rural. Well, the countryside bit of France is rural anyway. We were also in the bit of France where large agricultural lorries, tractors and things I can’t name, trundled along the roads. I say trundled, but some of the wagons thundered along like the charge of the light brigade with no fear for their own safety or anyone else’s. I wonder where the nearest hospital is and how one gets ones various bits there?

Afternoon ‘tea’ was blagged from a very helpful shopkeeper who obliged with the necessaries even though the cafe was closed. We were in a place called Baigneux les Juifs which I think translates as something like ‘Washing the Jews’. Kirsten also noted a small shop calling itself ‘8 a huite’, which suggests it is open from 8 in the morning to 8 in the evening. We were there at about 4 ish. It was closed.

Today is Sunday.

Having paid Madame for the coffee we then set off to complete the last 14 miles to St Seine L’ Abbaye. It was raining lightly as we left the square. This would be the last easy stretch to our destination. Kirsten left to organise the rooms at the hotel.

However, soon the rain turned to be quite heavy. So heavy in fact that we had to stop at a layby to sit it out. The rain decided it would be a cloudburst that lasted for a couple of hours. We stood and got wet, very very wet. Then cold. Then wet and cold. The spray from passing cars and lorries, the water collecting on the surface, and the reduced visibility made it dangerous to continue and so we had to call Kirsten to pick us up for the last few miles. The earlier prediction about this being a tough day was verified. Clocked up another 57 miles.

Dinner: Rognons for Kirsten, lamb for the chaps. A wonderful ‘amuse bouche’ of red wine marinated onions, and of course escargots de Bourgogne all accompanied by a vin rouge de Bourgogne. Grant asked our waiter if there would be eggs available for breakfast, suitably assured we retired for the night in eager anticipation.

Vertus to Bar Sur Seine

Today promises to be a challenge. Over 70 miles on legs that have already done 230 miles. We must remember this is a marathon not a sprint, each day has to have something left in the tank for the next. Hopefully the short day yesterday to Vertus has helped. The sky is slightly overcast but the clouds are high so it is not starting as a scorcher. Good thing really as the heat saps energy. I’ll not bother with sunscreen first thing, but it will be close at hand. As it turned out, although warm and sunny, the sunscreen was not used. I am getting a cyclist’s tan. We have done this sort of mileage before but not after 4 days of cycling. Today may be a mental battle and a key indicator will be the wind (meteorological, not anatomical).

There was gentle climb out of Vertus, and on through what remained of the slopes of champagne. Soon we were crossing the flatlands. The roads stretch on for miles across rural agricultural France. This is land for growing crops, mainly wheat and barley as far we could tell. Very few large herds of cattle, no sheep and no pigs. Is this what is called Arable land?

Some grey clouds hovered keeping the temperature down to 16 for a few hours but we soon warmed up and had to remove our yellow wind tops. We passed many wind turbines, which seemed higher than the Eiffel tower, their gentle swoosh could be heard as we passed and their turbines giving a clue as to wind direction. For quite a few miles it was a cross wind, do-able if slowing things down a little. However at one point we faced straight into wind and dropped to 6-7 mph on flat roads that should see speeds of up to 15-20 miles an hour. It was energy sapping and morale sapping, head down legs pumping and creeping forward inch by bloody inch. Kirsten sailed by in the BMW at quite some speed. She would not be the first one with a German sounding name in a German machine made of heavy metal going at speed across the north European flatlands. Grant’s Italian machine was so light it nearly went backwards (true to type), while my sturdy British steel was, functional rather than beautiful. See? National stereotypes are such fun. And true.

At a place called Courcemain, which was a church, a house, a dog and a bit of gravel, we stopped to check the map for the next stop for coffee with Kirsten at Boulage (which is a cross roads, a church, two houses, a dog and some gravel). As we pondered the map the window from a nearby house opened and an old lady asked if we were lost. She kindly gave directions to Boulage and offered us coffee. We declined saying we must be on our way. Emboldened by this little bit of repartee she then asked if we were Belgian. I took heart from that thinking that my French is good enough so as not to show me up as barn door English. She giggled at the reply, as if to say ‘silly me, mistaking and Englishman for a Belgian’. Easy mistake I’d say, it happens to me all the time in Praze-an-Beeble.

We found Kirsten in the bar/tabac in Boulage a short while later. Again this cafe had only old men as patrons. I have found this in cafes all over the world. Only the men go to talk bollocks, smoke, and drink beer/coffee/retsina/ouzo/pastis…. Where are the women, apart from serving the men who talk bollocks…… ? There was a banjo up against the wall at the back of the cafe. I swear it is true. Famished, I looked in the shop that was attached to the bar for something that resembled food. Now this being France you would have thought there would have been a choice to make King Louis the XIVth blush with anticipation. Three other ‘customers ‘ joined me but the lady who should be taking our money was in the bar ignoring the bells that kept going off telling her that a customer was in the shop. She, rather than serve paying customers that will keep the French economy from dropping with the Euro, continued to gabble on her mobile phone while mumbling the French equivalent of ‘I’ll be there dreckly’. I gave up and Kirsten salvaged a brown skinned banana from the car which I shovelled down instead.

From that point onwards we made reasonable progress on reasonable roads. Today the sunflowers made their appearance in abundance. There were fields and fields of them, their yellow heads dancing and swaying slowly like a Gospel choir in the stalls singing ‘amazing grace’. Cycling past them was like being in your own French film, except without the shrugging and the sex.

Each day another French stereotype impresses itself upon the senses. I am glad of that, it would be so disappointing to expect it and then to be let down. It would be like a free ride when you’ve already paid, or good advice that you just don’t take, or rain on your wedding day. Ironic, don’t you think? I love France for being so bloody French, even the surly waitress this evening (for whom to give a smile would hurt as much as losing her virginity to a drink sodden docker – or so you would think) was a joy to behold. And yet tonight our host in the hotel could not have been more friendly, even replacing Grant’s pinot noir soaked dessert. Why was Grant’s dessert soaked with Pinot noir? Ask him.

Along with the sunflowers, we passed poppies which had now gone to seed for, well poppy seeds I guess. These were the cultivated kind not the wild poppies which continue to fringe the fields wherever we go. Then after cycling hard on, for once, very rough Tarmac we made a detour. Grant’s decision to go off piste was rewarded in spades. We met Kirsten purely by chance and came across a ‘voie vert’, a ‘green way’ (or cycle path) which ran alongside a canal towards Troyes. It was flat and smooth. We gained 200 feet in about 10 kms, so yes it felt flat. The attempt on this path was made after a hearty baguette, meats and cheeses. Heaven. Kirsten had bought the fresh baguette from a mobile baker’s van in a village we had passed through. Sheer joy.

The last few miles took us through the centre of Troyes, but we could not linger in this city. We would like to, but ‘tempus fugit’ or ‘time flies’ as my old Latin teacher used to say. Instead we followed the Seine to our destination – Bar-sur-Seine. It is a an old medieval town with many old timber framed buildings that surely would not pass building regulations today. I think the technical term for a wall that is less than straight is ‘pissed’. These buildings were trolleyed. I saw some horrendous scaffolding, so bad even I could see it was unsafe. So a picture for Aaron and Zion Scaffolding Ltd back hone in England. There is work in France for you boys. On the way I saw a proper train with an locomotive and everything! And we have seen the TGV! Does life get any better?

Dinner: cod again for me, steak for Kirsten and Grant had something not soaked in Pinot Noir, which makes it tasty. Nearly 3,800 calories today on the bikes so hungry, really hungry. Tomorrow is another 65 miles. Kirsten’s efforts at support is a marvel to behold. The efficiency and attention to detail is almost Teutonic in its execution. Although ‘Teutonic’ and ‘execution’ are two words that should not be often put together.

We were tragically reminded of teutonic ‘efficiency’ in Bar sur Seine. There is a plaque on the wall commemorating the martyrs and the heroes of the town who were massacred by ‘Les Brutes Hitlerien’ in August 1944.

Earlier in the day we passed a renovated American half track troop carrier from WW2 displayed in someone’s garden. Nuff said. There is a suggestion that this was used by General Patton during WW2.

Tinquiex to Vertus

A very bright morning that bodes well for the rest of the day. A short day today to rest our legs a little, should be about 45 miles although I did note on the map that we go through a national park which in English translates as ‘Reims Mountain’ national park. Sure enough my topocycle app indicates a bit of a climb for several miles. The upside is the downhill that takes us even deeper into champagne country through Epernay.

Breakfast is getting a bit too similar everywhere we go. I am going to need ‘eggs, two, boiled, with soldiers, cyclist for the provision of’, very soon or I will crack and Grant will commit bloody murder.

Started slowly. With a little irritation, of which more later. Just outside of Reims is the white slopes of champagne territory. The first stop for coffee was in a small village called Sermiers. Only Grant and I turned up. The place was quiet (it being Sunday here). Then a chap arrives and engaged the owner in conversation for a while, and then after a few minutes fetched his hammer to bang on the pool table in the cafe. Turns out he was ‘working’, he gave the table a hefty bang and then went back to the serious business of drinking coffee with the owner. We left before he did. That was probably the mornings work sorted, maybe he needed a rest before moving to the next village to bang their pool table with a hammer, or perhaps do something more sophisticated with a spanner.

There was a bit of a climb out of the village to top out at the ‘Montaigne de Reims’. So far so good. Chalfonts irritating but manageable.

The road to Epernay was about 16 kilometres and through a forest. It was an N road so a bit busier. About 7 kms out of Epernay I could feel a slight wobble in the crank and some funny noises so I pulled over to check. The bottom bracket bearings upon inspection were about to fall out and onto the road. This may have been the cause of the chain failings the previous day. I had no choice but to hand tighten the ‘thing that keeps the bearings in place’ and then slowly limp to Epernay. Well I say slowly, there was a cracking 3k descent so at about 33 mph I flashed into the town to seek a mechanic. Luckily it was not Sunday in Epernay nor was it lunchtime and we soon found a bike shop.

The negotiations started well enough, I indicated that the bike was in need of some attention, but was momentarily dismayed to see the ‘you’re stuffed me old mate’ shrug of the shoulders. He said something technical in French, muttered ‘après midi’ and asked for a phone number. I took heart thinking that what I witnessed was a Gallic shrug which actually means ‘no worries, it’ll be fixed in a jiffy’, or so I hoped. It was now lunch time and so an enforced two hour break for all French people would begin (it is the law, only waiters and bar staff work lunchtime). So, that would be that, no bike for a while. We contacted Kirsten, tried to contact Ann in UK so that we could talk to Ashley in the bike shop in Hayle for his advice. Ann, being Cornish does not take lunch breaks, nor do any of the staff in Truro, so they were working on something else and so could ignore calls from France.

Forced to sit in the shade of a tree at a cafe, Kirsten joined us and we had lunch. A nice steak since you ask, and we then pondered options if the bike was ‘Fubar-ed’. However, and against stereotypes, our heroic Gallic mechanic wheeled the mended machine out to our table. He had worked on it during lunch! Twenty euros later we were back in business. After this adjustment the chain never again came loose. So, a lesson learned: repeated chain failures may indicate more serious issues.

There are hundred of small independent champagne producers, I did hear once that there are over 3,000 ‘vignerons’ here and I can believe it. Most of the produce stays in France. Maybe we should swap pasties for champagne, we would all be winners. We passed vineyard after vineyard worked by the local peasantry (who no doubt earn more than I do after selling their crop). One chap was busy ‘trimming his bush’ (that’s one for the boys) by hand. Armed only with trimming shears he had many, many vines to tend to. The scenery is stunning. We cycled up into the hills and along the sides of vineyards and through many small villages which should be known to champagne lovers: Avize, Cuis, Grauves, Misnel-sur-Oger, Oger, Cramant and of course Vertus. They call these places ‘villages de côtes blanc’ because of the chalky soil. They are also very pretty and very quiet, unencumbered as they are with any signs of life. The road we cycled was the ‘Route Touristique de Champagne’, very aptly named. At one point we had the slopes going up to our left and then the flat plains to our right stretching out for miles to the horizon. As we climbed out of Epernay and looked back we could see the city in its valley surrounded on all sides by vineyards. It shimmered in the summer’s heat far below us.

The road to Vertus from Epernay was some of the most scenic, but the road surfaces were poor and we faced a hammer of a head wind. We should have been skittering along at 20 mph, instead we were down to 6 or 7. Let’s hope the wind drops for tomorrow’s 71 miler or else we will be out for 10 hours!

The temperature also reached 31 degrees and so today was all about taking on water and applying sunscreen, yes, sunscreen! Fancy that! Following a short coffer stop just few kms from our destination, we phoned home and I was able to speak to Ann, who was still not at lunch. The cycling would not be her cup of tea but the sunshine overlooking champagne vineyards would be. I miss her.

The last few Ks done, and then at last after finding the the hotel in Vertus, it was time for an aperitif. Pastis time! The taste of summer! The first since we arrived. Back at home in Falmouth lives a friend, Clive, who has more than a passing interest in cycling (putting it mildly) and is following the blog. He has not yet heard a mention of pastis.

Villequier Aumont to Tinquiex (Reims)

As both Grant and I have brought our iPads we now ‘FaceTime’ instead of old fashioned phone calls, or heaven forbid, knock on each other’s doors and speak in real face to face time. And so it is at 0656 the FaceTime chimes alert me to Grant’s wake up call.

Breakfast was coffee and croissants, maybe some cereal but that was about it. No boiled eggs and no ham or cheese. Disappointing really; as stocking up on the protein for the day is a good idea.

The day started with lowish clouds and grey, grey, grey. Will the sun ever come out? At least it was not cold. Not warm but no cold. And no rain, which is always a bonus. Not the sort of day to send one off cheerily, in fact it was the sort of grey day to make you want to stay in bed. The Chalfonts had cheekily made their presence felt first thing which gave rise to a little trepidation. Funny how physical activity makes you much more aware of what your body is telling you. Mine needs a little coaxing, like a recalcitrant schoolboy, in the morning to get going. I resorted to assorted pharmaceuticals to ease myself into the day. The usual omeprazole for acid reflux (entirely necessary given the abuse the stomach gets), then ibuprofen for the residual inflammations around joints, then sun lotion on the arms (more in hope than expectation), then chamois butter for lubrication as a prophylaxis for chafing, then deep heat for the leg muscles….however I draw the line at Chalfont cream. Let just see how they play up before I begin that sorry business.

So, variously lubed, creamed, drugged and oiled we set off on delightfully empty roads. Where is everyone?

The first few miles ticked along nicely. I am finding that it takes about 20 minutes or more to get into a rhythm. The Body at first protests at the amount of physical energy being expended as this is not what it is used to. It seems to fight against being on a bike, and finding the optimum riding position to keep Chalfonts happy is a running battle. Just when you think you have it cracked (no pun intended) one has to slightly change position. However there comes a point where the body gives up and everything settles down nicely. It even becomes enjoyable and as the day goes on things just improve. There is always a little protest just after lunch but the battle has already been won.

The road wound its way through woods, the surface here under the trees just goes to pieces. My chain comes off three times, not sure why and I get black oily hands even though I have packed gloves for just such an occasion. I thought there was something seriously wrong at first with the cables but all seems fine now. Little did I know that this was a warning of issues to come.

The first stop for coffee was in Prémontre, which has a fantastic chateau and which now is a hospital. The important thing however was that the cafe had pain au chocolat which Grant devoured before I had put my plate on the table. I think he was hungry. He needs eggs in the morning.

The countryside was undulating (hilly) And quite different from the flat plains of Pas de Calais. We were now in Picardy and on the way to Champagne! One thing I have noted is the relative absence of swifts in the villages. Usually they scream down around the rooftops but all is strangely silent.

There are plenty of swallows and martins but my old friend, the real harbinger of summer, the swift seems to be on holiday elsewhere. Do they know something we don’t?

It is still Sunday in France.

Just before lunch we hit a road called the Chemin de Dames, which runs along a high ridge. The views are stunning either side. We pass a German soldiers’ cemetery, here the crosses are all black. Nice touch. Even in death they are the evil ones it seems. Kirsten drives by and we aim to meet up in a place called Bourg et Comin. We descend to it down the hill sides, the road has proper hairpin bends and is a belter! Then the road follows a canal for several miles. Lovely. Bourg has a church but, as we find out, not much else. It is Sunday in Bourg. However we find an auberge and gladly stuffed our faces with cod for me and chicken for Grant. Kirsten had been on a wild goose chase trying to find shops that open (on a Sunday? At lunch time?).

After lunch we set off in what promised to be warmer weather. The promise was delivered and we cycled towards champagne country in sunshine, yes, you read it here first, sunshine. The roads were dry and often the surface resembled silk. There were one or two little ‘testers’, hills to make you work up a sweat. The best however was just before a village called Hermonville. We were very high up and upon cresting the apex the views stretched out below for miles. The road descended quickly twisting and turning but with no hedges so one could see far ahead and take the near hair pin corners on the wrong side of the road. The slopes down to our right were vineyards! Champagne!

Hermonville was pretty, built of stone and not unlike the Cotswolds. It was Sunday in Hermonville, so no coffee. Or tea. Or anything. Just as well that Reims was only 8 miles away (the other side of a bloody big hill as it turned out). As we left the square to ascend we met and chatted to 3 people on bikes who live in Reims. Two men and a woman all in their fifties/sixties. Lean. Tall. Long legs. Saying our au revoirs in the village square we set off up the hill. Half way up I hear voices behind and sure enough two of them were catching up. I let them past, after all they had not cycled 54 miles today. I saw them moving on towards Grant however, who upon hearing a chase, his competitive streak kicked in and he paced them to the top. Did I say they were also on mountain bikes? He was not caught. The final few miles was through glorious sun soaked champagne vineyards. Heaven. Proper France with sunshine. Did I say the sun was shining? It feels warm, remember that feeling?

I think a beer calls, it is now 1732 hrs. 64 miles today I think. So, we have done 71 + 61 + 64. Tomorrow is a rest day (45 miles ish). We are staying in a Tinqiuex which is suburb (industrial estate) only a couple of miles out of Reims. The hotel is actually fine with very good facilities populated by traveling business, sales men/persons/women, tradesmen (etc) and families (both genders represented) on tour.

Tonight we visited Reims. The cathedral is without doubt one of the finest gothic structures in Europe. I say this having been to Cologne, Paris, Chartres and Scunthorpe. Without a single cloud in the sky the light shone directly onto the facade bathing the stone with an orange glow. Inside the stained glass windows shone with brilliant illuminescence. The vaulted clients and marble colonnades were breathtaking. During the first war the Germans stormed Reims and the cathedral caught fire. How a stone building catches fire is beyond me. The French retook the city and chased ‘Les Allemands’ from the cathedral. Outside the stone work bears the scars of battle. “If you look closely you can still see the bullet holes”. We just do not get this in the same way in the UK, we have bombed cities but the repair is such as it passes us by. Here the signs of skirmishes are everywhere. They are too small to bother repairing and so remain to this day.

Dinner in Reims: We found what turns out to be a very good Italian restaurant. So, carbonara for Kirsten and I, while Grant had linguini with clams. A small pichet of vin rouge to accompany. Bloody marvluss. I learned from previous nights and missed out the starter. Just as well, because the carbonara was enough. Tomorrow we go deeper into champagne country through Epernay and onto Vertus. Bed calls, it is only 21:47 and I am tired.

Bonsoir mes enfants. Did I mention the sun is shining and it is warm enough to sit outside at this time of night with a cold beer? Well, it is.

Arras to Villequier-Aumont

The day opens brightly, dry. Oh joy. Now are the body’s necessary working bits in order? I slept well, no muscle aches and wake up feeling just fine. 61 miles? Piece of cake. Now the only fly in this ointment may be the Chalfonts, so far though they are behaving themselves. In Nepal many years ago I learned a valuable lesson for travellers away from home comforts and an ambulance: “If you look after your ring, you’re ring will look after you”. Sound advice. It is the smallest things that at times can upset the biggest endeavours. Weak links in chains come to mind. Remove lynch pins and the machinery stops. Chalfonts are a kind of human lynch pin, fine when in place and fulfilling their proper function of not being a pain in the arse. However, out of place they are a wart on the nose of the May Queen, a stain on the character of the virtuous and Satans’ secret weapon for felling the mighty.

So full of cheer we set off. Monday morning in Arras looked like Sunday, and as we cycled through many small villages I thought Monday had been cancelled and Sunday started all over again. Every day is like Sunday, so sang Morrissey, well it is here in France. No one around, no sign of any work being done, nothing. If I was a born again Christian I would think the rapture had happened without me (don’t worry, it has not, and is not likely to).

Speaking of which, Christians I mean, they do like their christ’s over here, preferably on a huge cross. The bigger the better. It’s as if each village is in competition with the others to see who has the biggest, “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine…but bigger”. I get the point, this is a catholic country and, wow, does the church let you know. Peasants out in the fields can look for kilometres across to their village and see God watching them from a local crucifix. Brittany does not do this to the same extent. Maybe it’s because this part of France is close to Germany and thus they have more to look to God for? Mind you, where was Jesus in 1914 and 1939?

Having left Arras behind we got to about 5 miles out when I remembered that I had left cycling shorts and a top in the hotel room. Kirsten was still there thankfully and so a text message alerted her to my f’wittery and the items were duly salvaged.

A few miles on we came across another war cemetery. This time we stopped to pay respects. Among a few named headstones were many which simply said ‘a soldier of the great war’. Tragic. Not enough left of them to identify the regiment even. Later we crossed the Somme river. At the bridge the tarmac had been stripped to leave the cobbles on view. There were tank tracks clearly cut into the cobbles. Another reminder of this area’s tortured past.

Earlier we had descended into a small valley shrouded by woods either side of the road. Just as we got to the bottom, a deer ran across at some speed just a few feet in front of Grant. If it had hit him, he would have been thrown off his bike with some force. That easily could have been game over. He would have been roadkill, of which there is a great deal here. Surprising, as there is very little traffic. Maybe the rabbits, hedgehogs, voles and birds get complacent, maybe they think the road is theirs given the lack of cars hurtling along. They do however get killed in surprising numbers. We had rabbit tonight as an hors d’oeuvre. This is France so you never know where they source their comestibles.

The weather was kind today, no rain but a bit of a cross wind which made life a little harder. This evening is brighter, the grey clouds have gone but still not wall to wall sunshine just yet. The poppies and cornflowers continue to fringe the cornfields all the way, they really are a wonderful sight.

Villequier-Aumont is rural, very rural. The road wound and sneaked towards the village but without going into the centre. This is unusual as small roads invariably go straight through the villages. The Auberge sits up upon a big hill on the other side of the village, so it was a good tester at the end of the day. The cabins are very clean and a welcome sight after the days cycle. We quickly showered and secured the bikes and then headed for the bar. Madame kept us fed with an assortment of nibbles and beer until dinner and I tried to engage her in conversation but beyond establishing that the clock on the bar wall was ‘cassé, il ne marche pas’ we smiled and gestured in mutual incomprehension.

Dinner tonight was a foi gras starter for Grant, while Kirsten and I had a ‘Picardy Special’ involving crepes, ham, mushrooms cheese and cream. Then fish for Grant, bavette steak for Kirsten and I settled for a ‘packet of crisps’ (chicken), followed by a nice little Beaujolais. I had promised myself that tonight I would have only the main as the starter last night in Arras was huge. I, of course, failed. I shall try harder tomorrow. Mind you, the cycling had used up 3,200 calories today, 3,500 yesterday.

It is a hard seeing a fourth chair at table without my partner Ann sitting on it (makes sad face).

In the dining room we got talking to a couple from Cumbria on their way home in a Triumph TR3 sportscar which was 53 years old. They had been to the Dolomites via Germany and Switzerland. They report glorious temperatures down south. Hurrah!

Day’s end ‘Chalfonts’ report: so far so good, but keeping a wary eye on them just in case. The chamois cream works. We just might do this!

Tomorrow is another 63 miles to Tinqiuex in Reims (pronounced ‘Rance’, so there). Forecast is sunny intervals and 20 degrees. We will see.

Grant: “Dark skies mean putting on the rain coats and keeping warm is a must. Seem to have recovered from last night’s aches and pains. Wonderful scenery flowed by and after a well needed coffee stop we crossed the Somme, the bridge still scarred from the tank tracks that rolled across it nearly 100 years ago…. At the end of a good day, with only two category 1 hills (yep, tough) and detours that add to the journey we find ourselves in a valley believing this is the end point, not a good idea as your legs switch off. A quick call to Kirsten confirms that the Auberge is at the top of a steep hill…however with the promise of a warm shower and food we power up the hill with a laugh and reach a basic but delightful “motel”. A few beers and great food mean a good sleep in preparation for day 3“.

Guines to Arras

The morning dawns bright. The cooing of wood pigeons across the farmyard remind us of our country location, as silence is all one can hear. I can see blue sky which must be a bonus. Is it cold?

Did Grant’s snoring keep Kirsten awake? What’s for breakfast? 

Well it was not bacon and eggs. The usual continental suspects: croissants, cereal, bread etc etc. Grant was missing his eggs. No, it was not cold, and Kirsten got a good nights sleep. Breakfast in France turns out be be the same in wherever you are, there appears to be little in the way of Regional differences, despite the very different country you find between in North and the South.

I hope the French never give into any latent demand for the English breakfast (not that they would) as part of the joy of return to the UK is English bacon and eggs. And a proper cup of tea. For now we are in France and so the continental breakfast it is. 

We set off in decent weather at about 9.15 ish. That changed. I counted at least 4 downpours during the day which we luckily managed to miss. The first deluge we saw ahead of us, moving right to left and when we arrived at where it had been the evidence was all around us. Two we missed through having stopped for coffee, and then lunch. 

The fourth deluge saw us sheltering in a bus stop until it blew over. The evening in Arras  however was very pleasant indeed, we even sat out in the sunshine with a well earned beer.

Earlier during the day I heard ‘Alors velos!’ as a pelaton of about 10 ‘proper’ club cyclists zoomed past leaving us for dead. Cycling as you know is a popular sport here and it is very often the ‘not so young’ who are out there.

We are not the only middle aged men on bikes and it is good to see. What it would take for the UK to become more bike friendly so that we get out more?

The paradox is that while team GB is winning many medals in cycling the infrastructural encouragement at the local level is lacking.

We decided to stop at a village called Bomy, a one road village with only one bar/tabac. We ate something with frites, I care not to know what was in the piece of ‘meat’ calling itself a ‘staeke’ Mexicanos’. The name should have put us off. Kirsten found us and joined in the frivolity. Several locals kept the bar from falling over, but were friendly enough to ask us what we were up to and where we were going. I tried my best (crap) french and they seemed satisfied with my answers. We sat and ate lunch and we watched rain as experienced in England. I swear I could hear banjos playing as we set off.

As for a sit rep on ‘wounds and injuries’ we have started well I think. The ‘sit bones’ do not feel sore today. Tomorrow evening will be the big test after a long cycle. Wrists are just a little sore, but they will do. Right shoulder aches a little. However, the Chalfonts may be the unexpected problem. I just keep moving in the saddle and that should do it. 
The countryside is very ‘French’,  wonderfully so and as one expects. We criss crossed using at times what are only country lanes.

Fabulously traffic free. The fields are full of ripening corn, fringed with poppies and cornflowers and other ‘stuff’ I can’t name but they look lovely. There are lots of cows. 
We missed a turn at the end of the day and got too far south. It turned into a blessing as we hit a main road going straight to Arras.

Despite the traffic (there was plenty of space at the side making it feel safe) we were able to get some speed up and arrived in Arras at about 5.30. So that’s an 8 hour day including stops. I think we cycled about 74 miles. 

Grant : “Lumpy and rain as expected, some fantastic roads which make you grin ear to ear.    Kirsten had some fun getting through the one way streets of Arras and narrow lanes.  Afterwards a beer was needed to calm the nerves. Into Arras on time, the Chalfonts are behaving, however the leg warmer has created a pressure point on the back of my left knee.  I am hoping i can make it into day two without further injury. Still getting used to the new handlebar position, meaning my palms are tender. Not a good start”.

Le deux fous ont arrive!

We arrive in France at 1930 (french time, an hour ahead). We drove off the train and on towards the outskirts of Guines, and just about 5 kms from the Eurotunnel, sits this wonderful Auberge. It is a converted farm with the outbuildings serving as accommodation, bar, restaurant and cafe. The farm house is actually grander than a ‘house’, it is more chateau in appearance than farmhouse. The rest of the auberge consists of high pitched red tiled roofs, stone walls and of course shutters. In the middle of the car park is a tower like structure built of grey stone with a pitched roof, which looks like it could have been an old windmill. We also had a bat, this evening, for company.

On arrival, we had to find the hotel reception. No signs were obvious so a visit to the restaurant for help was in order. The receptionist, having endured my french, engaged us with her sweet english accompanied by a little arm waving to aid comprehension. Les deux fous ont arrivé! The restaurant was in full swing (this being France) and of course a priority agenda item for us will be food.

However, about two hours ago back in England we mistakenly ate from Burgerking in a room as soulless as well, a Burgerking. I would rather drill nails into the souls of my feet than again experience that purgatory. The queue was long and slow and was accompanied by the low moan and whines of bored and hungry children. One can feel the disdain of the designers and owners of the ‘Eurotunnel Shopping Experience’, who only care for your money and not for your sensibilities. That’s capitalism for you. However, what can one expect?

I am glad to have left the grey skies and the rain in England. Here we do have cloud, except it is a little higher, high enough for it to be quite dry for once. The ‘summer’ of 2012 in England being so far a complete wash out and daily confirms the wisdom of abandoning JOGLE for France.

The crossing was quick. That is as exciting as one can say for it, but here we are in France at last and we have had preview of the sorts of roads in store for us. Hedgeless, car less and straight, with views for miles. I have even spotted my first poplar lined road. Glad to see the French landscape living up to its stereotype. However, as the days progressed the plane tree is a far more common site lining the roads and avenues than the poplar. It has a variegated, brown and grey scaly bark not unlike eucalyptus and provides a good deal of often welcome shade.

So, after a litre carafe of vin rouge, a rather ordinary vin de maison of the Gamay grape variety, a carafe which each one of managed to spill when pouring, and a simple repast, we are off for sleep before the exertions of tomorrow. We look forward to about 75 miles to our next destination in Arras. Will our arses to Arras hold up?

Au revoir et bons nuits, mes enfants.