Monday, 1 November 2010

The final thoughts

The three of us between blow outs in Navarrenx - (for more information see entries for Tuesday October 5th)

The Thoughts of Father Vince


Cycling for two weeks and only having one day when heavy rain and high winds disrupted our plans - we are lucky chaps indeed.

The west coast of France was a delight - kilometre after kilometre of smooth roads, glorious scenery and courteous drivers.

The daily cafe stop where Smith would get deliriously excited about coffee in little cups!

The slow thawing of Swans attitude towards France, if not the French.

The "bon aimee" that flowed as generously as the wine.

Winning the sprints! (At least the ones caught on camera).

Having the most surreal but enjoyable meal at the Auberge du Bois in Naveranx - where virtually every patron, including the children, wished us "bon soir" and "bon appetite".

Sleeping in the van in northern Spain with every door and window open because it was so warm - bearing in mind we were two weeks into October and being woken up at various stages by dogs barking, cockerels crowing or pine cones pinging off of the roof.

But without doubt the highlight above all others was riding the Col du Tourmalet - our shortest ride of the trip but the most gruelling and most rewarding. To flog ourselves up one of the most famous Tour climbs was a dream come true. To be riding the same roads that Octave Lapize had first ascended in 1910, the roads that Tour greats such as Coppi, Bobet, Anquetil, Merckx, Hinault, Indurain & Armstrong have all suffered on (to a lesser or greater degree). The joy of reaching the summit, breathless and breath taking. Sharing that overwhelming feeling of elation. The sheer pleasure of looking back down the mountain on that brilliantly clear day in absolute wonder.

It all begs the question - why don't we do more of this more often?

Finally - Andy and Andy - aren't you glad I come up with these trips for you to plan! Despite being outvoted on everything because I'm not called "Andy" thank you both for your company - it was a real pleasure and I hope it's not too long before the next one! To the regiment!



And now Sergeant Smith -

Whilst not a Le Jog type event with less miles to do the whole experience will stay with me forever.
There were some bland days into horrible head winds (Vendée) however whilst grinding out the miles I remembered similar feelings on Le Jog so the memory tends to blot out the bad.

However the good far outweighed the bad with some stunning scenery, beautiful villages and towns and well maintained roads and as usual poor company!

The highlight of the trip must be the ride up Le Tourmalet in brilliant sunshine and warm temperatures- hard work does not come near summing it up the camaraderie at the top between cyclists and supporters was tremendous.

Again I must thank Swanny for all the driving photos and Video clips taken during the whole ride- clear evidence of just how low some people (Kearney) can stoop when the camera is running.

As for my cycling buddy what more can I add apart from my thanks for getting me into cycling albeit by purchasing a "Pink" road bike for £50 I did'nt know how far that purchase would take me (I am speaking figuratively as the bike only lasted a few months well I did go over the bonnet of a 4 WD)

All I can add is where next....... "Demain on roule"


and now me -

All I can add to the musings of the “cyclists” (well they did do some cycling I suppose but I did three times the miles driving) is that the whole experience exceeded my expectations by a mountain.

In truth I was more apprehensive about this trip than our previous journey the length of Britain principally as, apart from the initial mileage in France through the Vendée, this was to be for me completely foreign territory, a substantial portion of which I would be flying solo. Britain was a known quantity with easy to follow maps and places I knew I would like to visit ~ plus we do drive on the "right" side of the road. France on the other hand was......................well French!

But to my horror I actually found I enjoyed the whole experience and was really disappointed to finish the French part and enter Spain. The last few days there were still enjoyable but not in the same ballpark for me.

Sadly the days of drinking red wine by the 5L box (that’s 6 bottles in layman’s terms) and sampling those delicious cheeses are behind us but hopefully the experience will be repeated in 2012 – loved one’s permitting – oh and wives too of course. Although it will be different next time as it was quite possibly the final trip for my California campervan and the next venture, with maybe more participants, will be a whole new adventure. But if this was to be our last trip with her by god the old girl did us proud !!

Oh and how could we have not slept so soundly at night without Constable Dunstable - well actually some made more sound than others!

But strangest of all – none of us can explain this moment on the day they cycled up the Tourmalet.
Picture the scene – they’d slogged up this mountain, achieved the summit, embraced each other (and others), soaked up the atmosphere and yet we didn’t walk the few extra yards to look over the summit and down the other side!! It would have only been where the coach is -


Perhaps we’ll have to go back now and do so but we believe it looks like this -

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


Most campsites tried to accommodate their English visitors but they didn't always get it spot on -

This one on the reception wall at Montalivet-les-Bains on the coast south of Royan.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

More Tourmalet photos

Just back home and I've put a few more of the many I took last Wednesday on the blog ~ if you look carefully you'll find at least one of them in all these.

Don't forget if you double click on the images they'll fill the screen!

As you can see they knew two of us were coming -

The halfway stage -

A side valley -

8k to go -

Now really starting to work -

ever higher

and higher

really hard but only 2k to go

but what a 2k!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Day 13 – Friday 8 October

Deba to Gernika-Lumo – 30 miles

Strangely there was a certain lack of purpose about this final day of cycling in that there was no fixed finish point unlike the John O’Groats fiesta. They were determined to do some cycling in Spain as yesterdays 200 metres whilst technically counting was considered cheating. So having perused the Michelin Espâna map they decided on a ride along the coastal road from Deba, some 12 miles from last night’s camp.

From Deba the road hugged the coast climbing high but then arrived in the town Ondarroa ~ initial views showed a lovely harbour and beach but we then discovered the only way to get to our next stretch of coastal road was right through the middle of the main town. Horrendously busy with high rise apartment blocks and I got stuck behind an old cove in a wheelchair puffing a way on a gigantic cigar. He was barely moving and clearly had no intention to move out of the way so a crawl would have been quicker.

However once pass this horrible mess, the road climbed high to a plateau and then wound its way hugging the cliff edge for many miles. I think I actually went round 20 times the horseshoe bends I had on Tourmalet. Anyway they enjoyed their cycle in Spain although I found the road signs much easier to follow in France.

Now in our final campsite at Mundaka we are getting psyched for our cruise tomorrow across the bay.

When home I will put up more photos, especially of Tourmalet. And there will be a final blog sometime with our thoughts and reiterating our many thanks to all who have provided support whether in cakes, computers or just moral. It’s been a pleasure!

Day 12 Thursday 7 October

Navarrenx to Dancharia (Espâna) -60 miles

The lads original plan for this day was to drive to Bayonne and then cycle into Spain along the coast to our projected camping site at Zarautz. However on the drive over on Tuesday they had been so attracted by the rolling hill nature of the road that the plan was varied to cycle the 60 miles from last nights campsite to the Spanish border.

The revision initially was perfect in that the roads were as anticipated with little traffic apart from occasional heavy grain lorries (it is a massive maize growing area) and they made great time until we ventured onto new territory in the final 25 miles. Then the roads were less well signed and I think the efforts of yesterday were beginning to tell. The last 20 miles took as long as the first portion and they were very glad to reach the border crossing point, which was predictably unmanned. Actually we were a bit miffed with the British Consulate as we looked in vain for her majesties representative waiting to greet us!

For me on the drive there were a couple of very pretty small towns we passed through such as La Bastide-Clairence and Ainhoa just before the border. The architecture seems more Alpine than French.

So they returned to the van for the drive to Zarautz where we had an interesting hour trying to find our base for the night ~ the Spanish signing is even worse than the French but we got here and find ourselves perched on a cliff top overlooking the Golfo De Vizcaya. Oh and there’s a bar on site!!

Mind horror of horrors ~ we’re nearly out of Jenny’s wonderful fruit cakes ~ where’s the nearest Morrisons?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Day 11 - Wednesday 6 October

Col du Tourmalet

They did it.

No words necessary but just a small sample of 144 taken today. I will try to upload more in due course but they are taking for ever today.

It was a glorious day in perfectly clear weather ~ I believe they’d both come up smelling of roses if they fell in a cesspit!!

An evening to remember

And then to the most unusual part of the day. When checking into the campsite, Wendy the English owner had recommended this inn which she claimed was some 800 metres away on one of roads out of town – Auberge du Bois. Here she explained the plate de jour was 10 euros each including wine. With little in way of provisions we thought why not ~ oh what an experience awaited!

We trudged up the road indicated by Wendy and soon left the main town but seemed to be just going along a country lane with odd houses and then a large timber processing yard. To be honest some of us were getting a tad dubious but Smith is the eternal optimist. Rounding a corner a building appeared with dim lighting shining out in the dwindling light – it was about twenty to 8 and if this was not the place we would have to rush back to the local 8 to 8 shop near the site for provisions.

Approaching the building we noted a shallow terrace along the front with a row of tables providing seating some 30 people. The terrace had some timber facing plus a screen of streamers - see the photo below taken from the other side of the road. Stepping inside we found two more long rows with seating for about another 60. It reminded one of a school dinner hall. These tables were set with plate, bowl, cutlery and linen napkin. But not a soul was visible.

Andy yelled “Bon soir” at which point an elderly French lady in pinny and slippers appeared out f the back. With clearly little English she indicated we could sit where we wanted but we chose the terrace as it was still a very mild evening.
She bustled out with the required cutlery for us, and then reappeared with a bottle of red, one of rose and a large one of water. We awaited developments. Before long the door swung out and she brought out a steaming metal bowl of vegetable broth. Fortunately by this time we’d worked out how to open the wine.

After a time her head appeared to check we had finished and she scurried out removing the bowls before reappearing bringing a salver with long strips of some ham and a bowl of chopped tomatoes. By this time a couple of locals had also arrived each wishing us “bon soir” or “bon appetit”. The process was repeated with the next course of some unknown slices of meat on a large plate piled with sauté potatoes and green beans. The meat we concluded was possibly the last to finish at a recent race meeting and whilst I would have no problem with that I do at least like mine to have some form of cooking and not just been shown a candle! The lads gleefully relieved me of that worry ~ where do they put it? The potatoes and beans were delicious so I didn’t go hungry.

Then it was onto a course consisting of a sliver of some local cheese followed by the most surreal part of all – the dessert. She appeared with a large box containing pots of all different yoghurts etc and you just picked one! This was followed by a jug of coffee ~ absolutely delightful. And yes this all for the princely sum of 30 euros. She appeared to do all but I assume there was some one else in the kitchen.

In all just a totally magical experience highlighted by the politeness off the locals arriving who greeted us with a “bon soir” – including all the children and even the local hoodie as we walked back to the site.

The only question I’m now left with ~ with my limited French how do I get a mobile crane with operator to meet us at the base of the Tourmalet to lift these 2 cyclists onto their machines?