We have had a great week. The weather has been fair, cold at night and OK during the day with little rain and a good amount of sunshine. Moving south from Niort we had envisaged rolling plains of wheat and maize fields until we reached Dordogne, we were in the main mistaken and the land has been a delight and surprise. I am sitting writing this on stone bench in Bergerac with the Dordogne in front of me.
Back to the north of Niort where I closed last week. We left the charming chambres d'hotes and via a few tourist hours in Niort moved to a campsite to the west of the town at small place called Magne in the Marais, the former wetlands that run from Niort to the sea. As we cycled we became very glad that we had cut short the previous days ride as we travelled a further 40k - we did get a little lost but still it would have been hard the evening before. We spent our rest day here. Apart from me blogging, there was the usual bike, clothes and body maintenance to attend to. In the afternoon we took a small tourist boat, 4 of us plus a punter and spent an hour slipping through the maze of large and very small canals that have for a few hundred years drained the land. If you are ever in the area do it, it is not to be missed - you are very much at peace with the world.
Off the next morning, cold and windy, across rolling countryside with wheat and maize fields - just as we thought. The rolling bit was very rolling but tolerable but the landscape a little dull. The night was at St Jean Angely and then on to the Cognac region and the valley of the Charentes. The countryside changed for the better and for the second part of the day was generally downhill!. At Cognac we moved up the river to Jarnac (home of Courvoisier) for the night. France is just full of rivers, so diverse the lazy Loire and here the charming Charentes.
On Thursday 21st - just to put a date into my rambles - we headed east doing a slight loop below Angouleme. We followed many small and often numberless roads, although now through a mixture of woods and small fields the rolling nature of the land continued with a steady gain in height. There were several climbs of 5 or 6k, not very steep but energy sapping nonetheless, of course there was also the joy of the downhill. I was suffering a little, more accurately my bike was. I had already come off my bike once when I was unable to extract my foot cleats from the pedal in time and gear changing was becoming increasingly problematic. Eventually I realised that one of the screws holding the cleats to the shoe had gone so I was having to use the reverse side of the pedals. Sorry a little technical there, suffice to say that cycling was not as efficient as it could have been. Longish day of 84k to boot. We spent the night at an english campsite at a little place called Vieux Mareuil. Owned and run by an english couple and filled with english campers, some of whom seemed to spend months of the year based at the site. The owner's had a 13 year old boy - they took over the site 13 years ago - I thought what a life for the lad. it turned he was one of 4 children, 2 of whom were in GB squads for judo and gymnastics respectively. Dad, an ex City commuter and rugby player, firmly believed that in England the opportunities would not have been there for them. Very interesting place with a mixture of Do'ers and those who appeared to do little.
The next day was very happily more of the same down to campsite at Pont St Marnet south of Perigueux - although here it was dutch owned and occupied by dutch. Great site though and certainly gained our rating of the best so far, lovely view across a gentle wooded valley and with a good ambiance. Then another great ride, on the main downhill, to the Dordogne and Bergerac.
I have great new boy's toy, a new odometer. Apart from speed, distance, time etc this one does height as well, not only the height you are at - a bit vague with climatic pressure changes - but also the height you have climbed each day. The danger is you spend too long looking at the read outs and not enough seeing where you are going - very important. Ask Sue as I crashed into her a couple of days ago. Sue had stopped to suggest a photo and I as Nav for the was looking at the map, not my new toy, checking on a side road. I noticed too late and we banged, tangled and ended up across the, thankfully, very empty road. Sue had a few cuts and I had a banged wrist and elbow. Sue is ok now (says I) and I am still a little constrained in my movements (arm wise that is). I cannot blame the bike as I had had that fixed at an intersport, the gear system was out of alignment probably from my earlier fall. Apart from myself I can only blame my new prescription sunglasses that have rather thick rim, with my head down I reckon I loose 10 - 15% of my vision, something to think about on our return.
If any of the above is bit burbley blame the wonderful 4-course meal Sue and I just had in lovely Bergerac. Must get on the internet now to get this away and to see how the Saints have done.