Well, apologies for the rather long silence – lack of internet cafes and very unseasonable weather have kept us incommunicado for quite a few days! We are now officially “down south” in the Dordogne, or more precisely the Perigord, so geese are being fattened hereabouts and the hills are getting steeper and more wooded.
Our last report was from Mayenne, which we left on a sunny Saturday afternoon after a day of exploring the town. A few hours cycling brought us to Meslay sur Maine, where we had arranged to meet Luke’s parents on the Sunday, as they drove down to Spain for their annual holiday. We ended up in a rather odd out-of-town Aire de Loisirs, which was populated by narked teenagers and grumpy looking fishing fanatics (I suppose fishing loses it’s appeal when it’s teeming down with rain however enthusiastic you are about it).
After two nights in Meslay, during which time we enjoyed a meal in nearby Chateau-Gontier with Luke’s parents, we set off late on Monday, having spent most of the day sheltering in the tent. The rain cleared up in the evening though, and we enjoyed a few rays of sunshine during our fastest 50km of the trip so far down to Morannes. After camping by the river there, we had a quick look round the village while provisioning the following morning, and continued south through fairly uninspiring farmland into a strengthening Atlantic breeze. By lunchtime we had our first sight of the Loire, and later in the afternoon we were speeding along the south bank towards Saumur, passing caves of both the wine variety and the slightly more unusual mushroom-producing ones! (Apparently more mushrooms are grown in subterranean tunnels hereabouts than in the rest of France in total…)
Saumur itself seemed a pleasant town, and we enjoyed a great view of the chateau from our campsite on an island in the middle of the river, but the following morning we were off again, climbing steeply at first through vineyards and crumbling sun-baked villages away from the river. Today was Luke’s birthday, but the weather gods hadn’t taken any notice as we were blasted by strong south-westerly winds while crossing the bleak, prairie-like landscape, our pace reduced to a crawl even on the flat. The 75km that day were among the hardest yet, and by the end of the day we’d only made it as far as Mirebeau, where we camped just outside town in a small, undeveloped camping. The late hour and remote campsite made shopping impossible, so we crawled into our sleeping bags unfed just as the rain started spattering on the tent, only to be replaced by falling walnuts later in the night, as they were dislodged from the tree we had pitched the tent under!
The next morning we struggled up the hill into the town and sheltered from another (!) rainstorm in a bar, where we refuelled on a welcome breakfast of bread and jam, watched by an inquisitive rabbit. The rain got worse as we continued through rolling hills, and became torrential in Champigny-le-Sec, which certainly wasn’t living up to its name, with water coursing down the main street like a frothy cafe creme!
By lunchtime we were soaked, so took refuge in a pizzeria in Vouillé, and the enjoyed a nice run through oak woodland steaming in the afternoon sun, to the campsite just outside Couhé; Although officially full, we were offered a tiny spot by the river at the far end of the site, which was in fact perfect.
Slightly slowed down the following day due to minor damage to Luke’s forks, we only made it as far as Ruffec, 40km south, where we rested up for a few days hoping to get repairs done. As it turned out, the nearest shop with the right tools was another 30km down the road, so it was Tuesday before that was done – in the meantime, we explored the village and surrounding countryside on a VTT ride, and made use of the picnic tables near the campsite for most of our meals.
It was good to be back on the bikes on Tuesday, and after getting the repair done we made it as far as Montbron, although a few stops in bus shelters to escape the rain meant it was a late finish; Nonetheless we got away early on Wednesday, but promptly got soaked again as we crossed into the Perigord. It was pouring with rain as we freewheeled down into Perigeux, even the usually contented cows were looking miserable, and with the campsite flooded we decided to splash out for the first time and enjoyed a proper bed and a restaurant meal. Now fully recovered, and the sun is shining, so must bat on!