Update 3 – Tuesday 24th August 2004 – Carcassonne.

Oh dear, oh dear, there I was typing away on the laptop when the battery had an argument with the solar panel or something and powered down!  So you may be relieved to know this will be a short update while we see if we can resurrect the text…. (note to MoLAS people – please notify George I may need to access the technical helpline in reverse if this continues!)

So, here we are in sunny Carcassonne, having had a hard week or so of cycling since we left you in rainy Perigeux.  The landscape has been distinctly more riverine, with thickly wooded hills and wide open vistas towards the appraoching Pyrenees.  Thankfully our fitness is improving at long last, so we are quite looking forward to the challenge of getting up to Andorra la Vella by the end of the month – just as long as this head wind stops blowing so strongly .

The latter part of last week was spent cycling through the rather tourist infested regions along the Vezere and Dordogne valleys, where we spent a night in a wonderful riverside campsite in the rather subdued town of Le Bugue, Luke insisting on taking to the waters, despite the fact that the river was brown, swollen with recent rain and freezing cold!  Bracing apparently…  La Roque Gageac, despite being described as “almost too perfect” by the guidebook, was underwhelming, though it might have had something to do with the colossal thunderstorm that engulfed us as we rode into the town.  We just about had time to take shelter, for once not being caught out in open country, and enjoyed a moment of schadenfreude as the kayak-loads of tourists paddling on the Dordogne got well and truly drenched.  It rained again in the evening and we were grateful to a thoughful fellow camper who offered us some chairs, rather than see us sitting on damp grass to eat our dinner.

By Saturday, we were jostling on the major roads with French holidaymakers returning home, so decided to opt for the minor roads instead.  The D13 is a definite recommendation if you ever have reason to drive/cycle down it – we had a fabulous ride down the Sagne valley, passing the important site of Pech Merle, siginificant if prehistoric cave art is your thing, that is, and through quiet sheer-sided gorges filled with burbling streams and thick stands of elder, oak and ash as well as innumerable unidentifiable little brown birds flitting about in the shadows.  After stopping in Villefranche de Rouerges to explore the magnificent bastide, we had to tackle an an awfully big hill at the end of the day, then whooshed down lovely traffic free roads to a campsite below Najac, a wonderfully situated village overlooked by a fairytale castle.  It was incredibly peaceful and there was nothing much to disturb us that evening, apart perhaps from the owls hooting in the pines and the brightness of the stars.  The next morning was cool and misty, and we made good progress through valleys thickly wooded with lichen-crusted oak trees, crossing the Departement border into Tarn by lunchtime.  We then demolished a huge chunk of brie for lunch – fromage and pain (pronounce/interpret as you will) are becoming regular staples of this trip!  The last flattish kilometres brought us to Graulhet, whiwh was where we camped by a lake.

Monday saw us leave the woods and hills behind and make for the lower regions around Carcassonne, which we reached rather late on after an epic, very hilly 100km day, whiwh included 8km climbs, roads allegedly closed by rockfalls but navigable by bike, Cathar castles, and a stretch of road that had seen the Tour de France pass the other way a few weeks earlier judging by the scrawled messages to Lance Armstrong et al and the hastily patched up asphalt!.  More detail in the next instalment…


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