Brittany to the Loire

Trip Start May 29, 2005
Trip End Dec 17, 2005

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Sunday, June 19, 2005

After waving goodbye to Rachael and James in Roscoff, I pressed on alone in a southeast direction across Brittany until I hit the coast at Lorient. I followed the Atlantic coast past working fishing villages and towns lining the 'Baie de Quiberon' and 'Baie de Morbihan' until reaching the city of Nantes.

Camp chores
12 June, Sunday
Start point: St-Pol-de-Leon
End point: St Pol de Leon
No Cycling

Got up at 7.30 and made Rachael and James a cup of tea. Waved them a farewell as they set off to Roscoff to catch the ferry back home to a normal life. The rest of the day I devoted to camp chores such as finishing off food supplies, washing clothes - which means wearing nothing but waterproofs, putting all my clothes in the washing machine and going back to bed. Showered, did a full bike service, purchased a bottle of wine from the locals beach bar called l'Oasis. Wrote some postcards and updated my diary overlooking 'Rocher Ste. Anne', a promenade that stretches out to a small landscaped park in the bay. The hot sun brought a throng of locals who are walking up and down the promenade or sunning themselves on the beach next to me now.

Morlaix - Town of the Viaduct
13 June, Monday
Start Point: St-Pol-de-Leon
End Pint: Huelgoat, Halfway between Moraix & Carhaix-Ploguer
Via: Morlax
Odom(Km): 60.3
Moving(hrs.mim): 4.14
Ave(Km/h): 14.2
Total Ascent(m): 766
Max Altitude(m) 261
Max Speed(Km/h): 50.5

Ready to leave by 9.00, headed into St Pol-de-Leon to look for the elusive internet. The French don't do internet much. If this was Asia there would be man with computer on every street corner but here it's a hunt. A publication listed an address of internet 'location' which turned out to be a 'Mason des services'. In I walked into what seemed like a 6th form college. Rooms with students standing outside coffee machines etc.. I followed signs to the room with 7 computers, 5 already taken up by students frantically hammering away at the keyboard. I rested myself down and managed to get hotmail up. I do thank all who sent messages of encouragement and support; much needed after going to an island to do some bird watching in the fog! Still, in a trip like this the good points always out way the bad.
The keyboards in France have a different layout, for instance if you want to type a number you have to press shift and some of the most used keys are swapped round. I found it hard work. Checked my shares - very recent 9K investment showing 2K profit. American tech shares have had a horrendous slump in the past 9 months and now they are starting to claw their way up. That cheered me up.
Since the PC was Win98 I couldn't attach my camera or USB drive so I was fairly limited at to what I could do. Emailing this update will have to wait. Anyway, everyone else seemed to be doing proper work and I was just surfing the internet and I felt a bit guilty. A lecturer even came in and started to hand out work sheets. I made for the exit in fear of picking up an unwanted qualification.
I headed towards the post office to use their connection. I was impressed with the setup there. A terminal with Flash card slots. Went outside to lock the bike after purchasing a ticket. On return the door was locked. Post offices close between 12.00 and 14.30 and I wasn't going to hang round. Time to press onto the next destination: Morlax.
The route out of St-Pol was busy until I got to the D73 which follows a river upstream to Morlax.
Halfway to Morlax in a village called Locqu'nol', I saw a sign to an 11th centaury church. Curious at what such a church looked like I detoured to investigate. Indeed it was a Romanesque church with heavy stonework and very little lighting inside. There was what looked like Celtic artwork carved into the pillars sitting along side 17th century baroque additions. The abbey was named after the saint who founded the abbey in Landevennec. It was open unlike everything else at that time of day and all the relics and banners were on display for anyone who has enough room in their panniers for them to fit. Since my panniers are well and truly full the relics stayed where they are. It amazes me the trust many people have in rural France with leaving priceless collections in an empty church. Finished my rest break with a coffee and brioche, which is a sweet bread. Continue to Morlaix, a typical Breton town where all town centre squares and market places are turned into giant car parks. I'm starting to see why those in the south of France turn their noses up at Brittany. Unlike most places in France the Bretons are very car centric. Any ancient square or market place doubles up as a car park or one way gyratory. Taking a picture an historic building or beautiful church is difficult without it looking like an advert for NCP car parks.
Morlaix is a harbour town and has been for centuries. The activity on the dockyard looks as if it will continue to be so for a long time to come. The town is set in a river valley with an enormous railway viaduct towering above all buildings and church spires. Took a picture of St-Mèlaine church and the Grand Rue, a 14th street with many buildings still intact. Climbed out through Castle Park on my way to Huelgoat, a lake side town. It was a steady climb following the course of river through a tunnel of trees. There was little traffic on the roads and my mind wandered along with my steering. On arrival I phoned my folks and went in search of the municipal campsite. As it was shut I made my way to a bench overlooking the lake and village and cooked, wrote today's entry while supping a lovely bottle of Bordeaux called La Chapelle Sant-Martin. Since this diary entry took me all of 1 ½ hours to write, I vow to miss out the boring bits next time. Will head back the campsite to sleep and will be off early tomorrow. I've been lucky with the weather as it has been cloudless, hot in the sun with a cooling gentle breeze. Although now 10.00pm the temperature has dropped to a chilly 8 DegC

Interior of 11C Romanesque Church in Locqu'nol

Exterior 11C Romanesque Church in Locqu'nol

Morlax with viaduct in the background

Timber from houses

View across the lake from where I camped

'The Dance of the Macabre'
14 June, Tuesday
Start point: Huelgoat
End point: Locmiquelic, Lorient
Odom(Km): 117.6
Moving(hrs.mim): 8.40
Ave(Km/h): 13.6
Total Ascent(m): 1249
Max Altitude(m) 275
Max Speed(Km/h): 48.9

On a closed campsite it is wise to getup when you wake up, so at 6.10 I emerged from the tent. The lake before was emitting thick white steam vapours like something out an over dramatised BBC history program. No smoke machines, no Simon Sharma, only two geese that quickly scurried away.
Halfway through packing up I checked the temperature, it registered a cool 4 DegC as the night had been so clear. Once packed and on my way the effects of the cold had set in. I set off wearing only one pair of socks, T-shirt, two jumpers, shorts, trousers and winter gloves. Mistake; Hoping the ride would warm me up, a series of fast descents blew a cold wind through all layers chilling me to the bone. I was too cold to get off and put waterproofs on. I battled on hoping for a hill to warm up on. At the point I was about to expire, the temperature started creeping up and I stopped getting any colder.
When able, I stopped for breakfast. The clock was showing 30Km already. Bowl of porridge & honey, coffee, Pain au Chocolate, 1/2 baguette with pat', some brioche and I felt much better.
Damp green forest and lots of arable farming rolled by as I listened to Michelle Thomas French learning lessons on MP3. Once sufficiently away from the coast the traffic drastically reduces and the more direct 'D roads' carry next to no. Gone were the days of risking life and limb in and around the coastal resorts.
Next stop was the church in Kernasclèden. After some falls of plaster in 1912 glimpsed parts of a 15 century painting, a period restoration reviled a whole series of frescos, depicting amongst other things a theme of painting called 'The Dance of the Macabre'. It was noted for being 'Remarkable for the variety of tortures it depicts'. The painting is intended to scare the congregation into attending church by depicting how the soul will be tormented in hell. Sinners are tossed into boiling vats, flayed, skinned, broken on wheels, hung on spikes with birds eating at your flesh, bottomless pits, etc...
Heading towards Carnac, I stopped for a meal in the grounds of a chapel. Continued through familiar countryside towards the convenient stop off point of Locmiquèlic. Crossed a bridge built next to the skeleton of the old one. What else could I do except light bangers and drop them over the side and watch them explode mid drop. Arrived at the campsite to be greeted by a swarm of mosquitoes that bayed for my blood the moment I pulled up at a suitable camping spot. I consider 3 bites to be a very lucky escape. I was in the process of engaging my camping neighbour in conversation when I felt something prick my leg. Looking down my legs were covered in the little critters. Some delft swatting saw most of them away and I proceeded the leap up and down brushing the newly landed mosquitoes away while tipping the entire contents of my panniers on the floor to locate the repellent. Once found I gave myself a liberal dosing. Once the exposed parts were treated out came the waterproofs as it is the only sure protection. My camping neighbour, obviously not the mosquito magnet that I am, really did look puzzled and looked on as if I was a bit mad.
Camp assembled I leapt in the tent and considered my next move. A shower in these conditions is out of the question, diary instead!

A Very early morning on the campsite

Church at Kernasclèden

'The Dance of the Macabre'

Rose window

Rain stops play
15 June, Wednesday
Start point: Locmiquelic, Lorient
End point: Locmiquelic, Lorient
No cycling

Awoke not to pitter patter of rain drops on the tent, but to sheets of rain and a sustained breeze. Time to do camp chores I thought. Eased off at 10.00 and I ventured out the tent. It gave me some good practice at cooking breakfast while sitting inside the tent without burning the tent to the ground. Paid up and went in search of an elusive internet connection over which to send this journal. Next door to the post office was a 'media-tech', great I thought, like a library but with computers too.. I entered with confidence. How misplaced. I was handed a timetable of when public internet access was allowed. It was like looking at a timetable for a municipal swimming pool. Between these hours we have blar blar blar.. in fact there was a window of 4 hours 3 times a week when the public could use it. Hopes dashed again. I considered a flight to Africa where they are a bit more switched on about these things. Back to camp, food, bike service, route planning, diary, wine and then bed!

A Megalithic day out
16 June, Thursday
Start point: Locmiquelic, Lorient
End point: Locmariaquer
Via: Carnac
Odom(Km): 57.9
Moving(hrs.mim): 3.58
Ave(Km/h): 14.6
Total Ascent(m): 435
Max Altitude(m) 33
Max Speed(Km/h): 38.6

Broke camp by 10.00 and headed out following the coast through some unremarkable towns. Everything had a hint of grey to it which would make sense as it was foggy. Arrived in Carnac following a busy road and came across the first Neolithic monument, The alignments of Kerzerho. They were stones arranged into patterns during the Neolithic period. Nobody knows why but it is my guess it was religious / spiritual reasons. Very soon after I stumbled upon a travellers site selling all sorts of rubbish. Rusty tools, broken lamp fittings, broken bikes. There were some very interesting things mixed in with the collection which could be no means be described as small. The things that stuck out was a London bus - earlier than the current range of Route masters, Wooden skis, sledge, 1930 advertising sign and a collection of magazines that covered the 1900-1970s. You could read about the world events, such as the Mercury space missions, wars, celebrities and the latest in knitwear fashion.
Soon speeded into Carnac and looked round the church which was built in the mid 17 Century to a very simplistic design. The outstanding feature was a completely painted wooden ceiling. Then to the Tumulus St-Michelle, dating from 4500BC, a 125x12 meter mound with 2 burial chambers containing stone chests containing artefacts which are now housed in the local museum. Onwards to the Alignments of Mènec, a very impressive alignment of stones, 1099 menhiers (standing stones) arranged into 11 rows running for 1Km. Hung around different vantage spots taking pictures and soaking up the atmosphere, which has brightened up somewhat. Chatted to two very amiable French blokes standing on a viewing tower with a spiral staircase. They were very interested in the bike and all the attachments. They were positively drooling over the GSP sat nav with street level mapping and auto routing. Purchased provisions and continued to the port town of Locmariaquer where I hoped to get a boat to Port-Navalo, a mere 3Km across a bay. Arrived at the municipal campsite and installed myself next to a friendly French couple who invited me over for a glass (or two) of wine. The retirees worked for France telecom. Chatted till 10.30 and went to bed.

Travellers site, open to the public, and you can buy anything, and I mean anything!

Travellers site

Church at Carnac with its completely painted ceiling

Alignments of Mènec, a very impressive alignment of stones, 1099 menhiers (standing stones) arranged into 11 rows running for 1Km

A connection to the outside world
17 June, Friday
Start point: Locmariaquer
End point: Pointe St Jaques
Via: Port-Navalo and Sarzeau
Odom(Km): 22.36
Moving(hrs.mim): 1.33
Ave(Km/h): 14.46
Total Ascent(m): 39
Max Altitude(m) 243
Max Speed(Km/h): 33.8

I had set off with such great hopes of getting to Nantes. I took the decision to bypass St Nazaire in the interests of actually getting somewhere. Two things conspired to thwart my efforts. Firstly, arriving at the port I found out the next 10 minute crossing was at 14.00 and the previous one was at 10.00. The crossing was to bridge the gap between two peninsulas and I wasn't going to backtrack. Having arrived at 11.00 I had some waiting around to do. I didn't explore the surrounding Neolithic monuments as after Carnac I felt I'd already seen enough standing stones. Instead I did something far more spiritually uplifting. I assembled my stove on the jetty and drank cups of coffee, ate pain au chocolate, munched a lovely baguette made from the nuttiest bread you have ever seen. All this after just having had a large bowl of porridge in the morning. At the time my plans to get to Nantes still stood despite the wait for the ferry. The second thing to thwart my plans was the sudden and unexpected sighting of the rarest of opportunities... an internet connection. Not only was it open now but it remained open until 19.00. I had some jobs to do, such as:
Compile all email addresses into a hotmail distribution list
Send out my itinerary to those who had not received it
Proof read and spell check my journal entries
Find out how to extract pictures from my new camera
Delete unwanted, duplicate, bad, blurred pictures
Upload photos to website in both low and normal resolution
Upload the required maps to my GPS
Download my saved tracks routes from the GPS
It was 15.30 I arrived and at 19.00 I still had work to do. Time to find a campsite near by and come back the next day. The proprietor of the very empty shop informed me of all the sites near by and even supplied me with a handy map showing them all on. He pointed out the one by the coast. "Its very beautiful there, that is why I choose to live there". A recommendation like that is not to be ignored so I made my way there. The town consisted of well kept sizable houses and gardens. The beach, nearly deserted with just the waves lapping gently on the shore, I could have stayed for hours just watching the sun set but I thought I'd write this journal, make plans for tomorrow and drink a bottle of the old vino collapso. A very comfortable 26 DegC warrants sitting in shorts and T-shirt with no mosquitoes to carry out chemical war fare on. This is the life, why must I go tomorrow?

Waiting for the ferry at Locmariaquer

Hot, but not bovvered
18 June, Saturday
Start point: St Jacques, near Sarzeau
End point: Pontchateau
Via: Muzillac, Camoel, Port-Navalo and Sarzeau
Odom(Km): 78.85
Moving(hrs.mim): 5.23
Ave(Km/h): 14.6
Total Ascent(m): 811
Max Altitude(m) 54
Max Speed(Km/h): 36.3

I do remember now someone saying a heat wave was on it's way. By Brittany standards today could be classed as a scorcher. Hitting 31 in the shade it was rather warm between 2 and 4pm.
Left the campsite at 9.10, the reception didn't open for another 20 minutes and I wasn't going to wait around.
When I pulled up into Sarzeau, the market was in full swing. Queues of customers were forming at the stalls to do their weekly shopping. I have always found it difficult to pass a stall selling crepes and gallettes - like a wholemeal crepe. So gallette, filled with butter and egg in hand, I made my way back to the internet / computer shop. I stood outside munching on my Pain au Chocolate that I just happened to acquire when buying my daily bread. I was beckoned inside where I continued the jobs I had to do on the computer. This involved sending out the first journal entry, resizing the photos for those who don't want to view at 1600x1200 resolution. The computers were well configured and fast. The owner certainly knew what he was doing when it can to small office networks. I even downloaded a standalone .exe picture resizer and it came in as WinRAR format. Here we go I thought, but no - WinRAR was already installed. What service.
After completing my tasks I added the friendly proprietor to my distribution list - hello, and continued on my way. I was again hoping to take a tour around Nantes on the 19th (tomorrow) but it struck me halfway there that a Sunday. Since nothing much usually happens on Sunday I decided not to rush. Good job too as it did start to get rather warm. So warm in fact that the road started to melt. I could feel the back tire losing its grip and sinking into the soft road surface and in places molten tar had collected like puddles of treacle. Again a very unusual for Brittany, but like any other mid summers day in the South of France.
I reached a traffic jam, which went on for about 100 cars. Moving all the way to the front I could see what it was - a combined bridge and a lock. Now well thought out if you ask me, while boats were in the lock the bridge had to be lifted up to allow room for the masts. Still I enjoyed watching the boats.
Continued through heavy traffic and unremarkable towns and villages separated by arable and cattle farm land. Slightly less green and looking scorched in places. Less rain here than in Finistere at a guess.
Purchased weekend provisions in the town centre as it is a Sunday tomorrow. Found the campsite at 20.00. Very friendly owner. "Do you want to pay tomorrow?" he asked. "No" I said, "I'll probably forget".
The moment I started pitching my tent a beer was thrust into my hand by my neighbour. "Don't drink wine" he said, "It wont quench you thirst..". Need I write any more?

Nosing around in Nantes
19 June, Sunday
Start point: Pontchateau
End point: Nantes
Via: Savenay, St Etienne-de-Montiuc
Odom(Km): 94.81
Moving(hrs.mim): 7.12
Ave(Km/h): 13.2
Total Ascent(m): 668
Max Altitude(m) 56
Max Speed(Km/h): 38.2

For breakfast I had a large level mess tin of porridge made with 30cl of cream. I didn't struggle to finish it and I think it is a sign of things to come. One thing I was reminded of was how quiet things are on a Sunday. Soon after setting off on roads that were crammed with traffic the day before I was delighted not to have queues forming behind me waiting to overtake. Then I though why not take advantage of this to explore the centre of Nantes. It paid off. Cutting across yet more arable countryside - this time crops were showing a definite brown tinge signalling the harvest is coming near. Couldn't resist stopping at 12.00 for a Flan - or egg custard before the shops shut. Entered Nantes on the west side following the port. Went under the ring road bridge that crosses the Loire. Why did they build it SO tall? What were they expecting to sail under it - a skyscraper?
Onwards into Nantes itself. My first impressions were that the interesting parts were well hidden. After consulting my Green Guide and GPS, I soon located them. Firstly was an enormous domed church called Notre. A vast space inside and the large canvas was beautifully decorated. In comparison with the heat outside it was a good deal cooler. There was one other person sitting in silent contemplation. Next I rode along empty boulevards towards the old quarter. One more church called Cathedral St-Pierre-et-St-Paul, with fan beam ceilings higher than those at Westminster abbey, begun in 1434 it too had a ceiling so high just looking up made me dizzy. It was gleaming white inside, obviously just had a rather severe clean. I found the chateaux in the centre of town which was closed for renovation. Next stop was the 'Garden Of Plants', a one of everything affair arranged in neat rows with a label telling you what it was. Found the Campsite, about 2km from the city centre near the university. Dived back into town to do some last looking around. In a few places the restaurants took over the pedestrianised streets with tables and chairs. The place was positively brimming with an electric atmosphere in comparison to the rest of France on a Sunday evening. Seeing everyone enjoying themselves and chatting away did give me pangs of loneliness so back to camp and bed. Much of what I did could not have been done on a weekday with the city centre traffic. Well planed as it turned out by chance.
Shortage of photos at this point? Read the next chapter to find out why...
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