Skip to content

Leaving France

Our journey into the mountains was not entirely uneventful. Our Garmin friend (GPS) Insisted on taking us on a non existent route round Bayonne, which led to several frustrating false starts getting out of the city. We finally found a riverside route that took us the valley to Cambo.
For me this was familiar territory in that I had hitchhiker through the area and stayed way back in the autumn of 79 and again with a group of Plymouth Uni students in 93. It is Basque Country and all the signs are in two languages.

From Cambo to St Jean Pied a Port, jumping off point for the pass into Spain and the beginning of this stage of the Camino de Santiago. We chose a 'scenic' route, which proved quiet but ver steep in sections and I ended up with a snapped chain and a puncture. After some very greasy dealings with said chain, and many baby wipes, managed to get going again and arrived late and tired in St Jean. Camped in to town and did some shopping for our epic climb. For details of our provisioning see Ken's blog .

So the morning of our pass crossing dawned grey and cloudy, which was was probably a blessing. The first 9kms were fairly straightforward and not too steep, and then the ascent began and we crossed the border quite low down.

First coffee
Fully loaded, heading deeper into Spain

First cafe in Spain, and a quick cup of coffee and carbo loading with some dense cake like provision we had bought. Then up and up and slowly up. Pauses every few kilometres on a steadily rising road until we finally reached the summit, 1057 metres after 27 km of climb.
And the sun was shining on the other side of the mountains and we descended a few hundred metres for our pic in lunch. We'd done it.

Bordeaux to Bayonne and beyond

On a lovely sunny Friday morning we departed the village La Sauve, just east of Bordeaux, rested and extremely well fed and looked after.

We were headed south and west into le Landes, land of pines, flat and far reaching. Long straight roads and little traffic make for good cycling, though there was always the hope that there may be a slight change of view round the next bend.

We overnighted just outside a small town, Lehouyade, in the middle of the Landes. A very nice evening in the sun eating our latest supermarket acquisitions, and beer by a small lake, until the midges arrived and we beat a retreat to our tents.
The morning dawned showery and we managed to pack up in the dry spells, but just as we set off the heavens opened and we found ourselves cycling into lashing rain and a very stiff headwind. It was some 30kms to the next town, but we assumed it would pass quickly. It didn't and we had to make full use of all our waterproofing to attempt to stay dry. After a couple of paused enroute and fortified with another pain au raisin we reached our destination, Mimizan as the clouds parted. We had crossed the whole of the Landes and we're now on the coast. The wind continued but as we turned down the coast the wind veered and became a bit of a tail wind. Now we found a lovely smooth path inland from the beach running through tall pines. Gorgeous.

The little towns by the beach are like ghost towns, wind blown sand everywhere, a few disolate tourists and nothing open. The sea was wild in the wind and we returned to the relative calm of the forest, but the sand on the coast had joined the oil on the chains of our bikes and the sound and sensation of grinding metal was very unsettling.

Also on the coast and now only a couple of hours behind us after our Bordeaux detour was a friend, John, from Totnes and a friend of his also John who were cycling to Santander. We planned to meet up at some point further down the beach. But having realised that the beach towns were inhospitable Ken and I chose a small town inland to rendezvous. Our comms to this point had been SMS but now, John had no signal and so didn't get the change of venue, it was some hours before they found us in the field behind the municipal stadium enjoying a fire and supper.

The next day, Sunday dawned sunny and still and we cycled together in convoy down the coast all the way to Bayonne. Here the two Johns went west into Spain and Ken and I headed for the departure point for our Spanish leg of the trip, St Jean Pied a Port in the low foothills of the Pyrenees which we had seen rising in the distance as we approached Bayonne.

Bridge in Bayonne
Saying good bye to the Johns in Bayonne as they head west and we head into the mountains.

Heading for the hills

Heading for the Gironde

Having said grateful farewells to our Warm Shower hosts Katherine and Lauren, we headed down to Lucon and then off on another cross country oddessy. Navigating the smaller roads still provides challenges. Relating names or numbers on the map to what appears on road signs, and if the Garmin, GPS device is playing, cross checking with that to determine the direction of travel. Also our start point from each town isn't always easy to determine which makes tying up the map to a route difficult. Asking local passers by can be illuminating, especially if their first look is one of incomprehension before enthusiastically telling us to go in a completely different direction..... Our trajectory out of towns and villages often involves a couple circuits of the 'centre ville' before finding to signs that point us on our way.

The landscape for the morning of our ride takes us across very flat plains of the Marais with canals and ditches of water and long straight roads unbending into the far distance.

The Garmin GPS says we should turn right here!The GPS says go right

We picked a small town on the map as our destination, anticipating a campsite, cafe, maybe a restaurant... There was a campsite, by a quiet stretch of river, but the town, Tonnay Boutonne was devoid of almost any signs of life, and the one person we did meet we ended up meeting three times. Maybe there isn't anyone else........

The next morning we head south again aiming for the coast of the Gironde estuary. We circle east of Rochefort and pass through Saintes, a town with a Roman history. The sun shines briefly on us here as we have a picnic lunch in a park, before reverting to the low grey clouds and chilly wind that have been with us all morning.
We stick to minor roads and pass through any number of small villages, often devoid of people and also lacking opportunities for a coffee stop. Around 5pm we reach the coast, find a place of a coffee and then track down a campsite , one of the few that is open, and it has hot showers.

Can we stay here? Could we get them signed up on the Warm Showers website?

A cold night but the sun shines in the morning the sky is clear and the wind has dropped. The route down the estuary towards Bordeaux is flat and the cycling conditions are perfect. The vineyards are just coming in to leaf and there is a real feel of Spring. By late morning it is even warm enough to delayer some of the clothing.

Wine country, I wonder if I can get this on my bike?I wonder if I could get this on my bike.....

For lunch, we spot a 'Rotisserie' van and buy a roast chicken and some bread which we hungrily devour. The GPS does well today and guides us around the built up areas and main roads to get us to our destination. We are heading just east of Boradeaux to stay with friends (Martine and Stephen Batchelor) for a couple of nights, which will include a rest day.

Loire and south

Heading south down the coast in a complete mix of weathers. Cool breezes, often the dreaded headwind makes getting the appropriate clothing layers difficult. Regular stops to dress or undress, check the map etc make for a slow but steady start to the day. The mid morning stop for coffee and pain au raisin are always anticipated keenly as a sort of second breakfast. Keeps the tanks topped up.
Pornic on the coast where we spent Saturday night after crossing the Loire was a welcome opportunity for a hot shower after a previous days of cold cat washes or dips in streams.
Sunday headed south and east following small roads on the map, navigating from town to village to village along small Deparmental roads trying to keep track of road numbers. These change periodically as we cross Departmental boundaries and so keeps us checking the map regularly, also to remind ourselves of the next village we are supposed to be heading for.

Ken had logged on to the cycling site "Warm showers" ( a site for touring cyclists, a bit like couch surfing) early in the day and we were delighted to get an invitation from one of the hosts on the site who was on our route to come and stay. It turned out to be a long 130km day when we finally arrived, but a warm welcome, the warm shower, a meal and a bed all made it very worthwhile and our hosts were equally welcoming.


So we arrived in Roscoff on the Wednesay morning. Cool but dry after an uneventful crossing. First thing to get used to is cycling on the 'other'side of the road. And a headwind into Morlaix to test our mettle after which we rewarded ourselves with coffee and pain au raisin. The first of what will become a daily ritual.

Campsites are largely closed so when we are looking for somewhere to stay, because we are camping, we end up in empty sites that have limited facilities (water, sometimes warm) but are free.

Over the past couple of days we have worked our way across Brittany, along country roads, canal towpaths and through various towns. (Carhaix, Pontivy, Redon) and innumerable villages. Dry days but some rain at night. Acclimatising to cycling fully laden bikes takes a few days, as does packing and unpacking them.

Today, Saturday, we said farewell to Andy who returns to Roscoff with the train and Ken and I crossed the Loire on the huge St Nazaire bridge. A milestone on our journey south.

Tuesday sailing

In the end there was another email to cancel the ferry for the Monday night...... disappointing as I was prepared and almost fully packed and ready to go. So instead we were rebooked on the Tuesay night sailing.

The bike was repacked and final bits added. It now weighs a tonne, well maybe not that much but a lot more than when riding it bare. it always takes a bit of getting used to as there is a different balance when riding with panniers and a slight sense of 'wobble' in the steering.

There are three of us setting off, Ken, Andy and myself. Andy is with us until Nantes in southern Brittany, though he may be persuaded to go a bit further. Ken and I are intending to go all the way to Portugal.

No email to cancel the ferry, so we arrange to meet up for the ride to Plymouth, about 25 miles from Totnes. Ferry leaves at 10pm and we need to be there an hour earlier so we leave in good time and
peddle steadily south on small side roads.

Setting off

ferry getting readySo this is the first post on the day we set off. Ferry from Plymouth to Roscoff (overnight).
Desperately cramming the panniers full ready to cycle down to Plymouth - when there is an email to say that due to technical difficulties, the ferry will be delayed by approx two hours. This gives time for an extra two hours of packing and repacking, adding and discarding. Not sure it is all that useful!