Roscoff to La Rochelle





Day 1   Roscoff  to Gouarec  88 miles  9 hrs 5 mins average 9.2 mph


The overnight ferry from Plymouth arrived at 05.30 am (BST).  It was fairly cold and had been raining heavily overnight judging by the wet roads and puddles everywhere.  Setting off  I was thinking that this cycle ride might not be such a good idea after all.  Would I be able to manage 50 to 60 miles a day for the 2000 mile trip?  Had I brought the right things?  Would I find camp sites in convenient places each day?  Was there too much weight for my old bike to last the distance?  It seemed to bend alarmingly under the weight of the front and back panniers plus tent, mattress and sleeping bag and wobbled downhill if I exceeded about 18 mph. The problem was I did not have any lightweight gear and what with my old three man tent, sleeping bag and other (probably unnecessary!) bits and pieces I was carrying about 50lbs.


The ride south from Roscoff to Sizun was cold and it was almost raining.  My feet were getting cold in sandals, which were the only footwear I had brought, so I stopped and put on an extra pair of socks and also the padded underpants (the only cycling specific gear I had) to see if they helped with the cold feet and sore bum feeling that was beginning to become apparent.  Both measures seemed to work OK although the padded underpants would become more of a hindrance than a help after a couple of days and were later discarded. I tried the new  mobile phone to see if it  worked  in France with no luck, so I set off  towards the intended next stop of Chateaulin.  I could find no signs  directing me to Chateaulin so I changed my plans and headed for Carhaix Plouguer instead.  The weather started to warm up as the road got more hilly so off with the raincoat and socks and on with shorts.  This was more like it (the weather not the hills).


I climbed up to a radio station on top of a hill, the highest place in Brittany I was later told, then down towards Carhaix Plouguer.  On the way I saw a sign to Poullaouen so I diverted to see if Sylvia Gazzard, a friend of my parents who moved to France some time ago still  lived there.  After a look around the town, which seemed rather a pleasant little place, I finally found the street and what looked like Sylvia leaning out of a window.  “Hello” I say “Je ne parle pas francais, je suis anglaise“ was the reply.  We sorted it out and I was invited in for tea and cakes and reminiscences of Goongumpas and more cakes.  It is eleven years since she left apparently.  Sylvia told me the phone code for the UK is 0044 not 044 as I had been trying, so I had another go at phoning home and this time it worked.  After an hour and a half or so I finally escaped, having been given even more cakes to take with me despite my protests.


I soon arrived at the typically French small town of Carhaix Plouguer and wandered around for an hour or so before setting off east towards R and L’s (more friends who have moved to Brittany recently). On the way, at Paule, I saw a sign to the Brest Nantes canal so I investigated and found a delightful canal.  It was mostly restored but few of the locks were working so it was not navigable.  The towpath was a fairly smooth gravel path.  Walkers and cyclists are allowed to use it so I could forget the road and cycle down the towpath towards R & L's place at Brehan and thus avoid the traffic and for that matter the hills.


Brest - Nantes canal at Paule near Carhaix Plouguer


I saw very few people, perhaps about 10 other cyclists in the 3 hours it took to cover about 30 miles.  Sometimes near a road bridge there were a few picnickers or kids swimming.  The trouble was it was perhaps too peaceful.  There were no shops or cafes and I was running out of water and food.  I then remembered the Gazzard cakes, handy after all.  With no map and no signposts, it was a gamble as to whether there was a town or village nearby but when the water ran out at about 7 pm I thought it best to try and turned off the towpath at the next bridge.  Yes, there was a small village nearby (Plelauff?) with just the one shop, a boulangerie, and one bar.  I bought some bread and a large packet of sweet biscuits at the shop and, at the bar, I bought a bottle of water (and a couple of beers of course).  I set off down the towpath again and arrived at Gouarec at about 8.00pm.  A camp site! the first I had seen since Roscoff 88 miles back.  I put up the tent, had a shower, phoned Kath and, refreshed, set off to town for a meal.  The restaurant I had seen on the way in is shut on Saturdays so I had to go back to the campsite to ask the owner if there are any others.  “Yes” he said “down the road towards Rostrennen there is a good one and also there is one in a hotel in town”.  I tried to find the good one but gave up after about 4 miles, perhaps he said at Rostrennen.  I headed back to town and the hotel.  I found it and yes, they were serving a meal.  This was great as I was very hungry by now but it was too late.  They apparently shut 10 minutes ago at what I thought was 9.30 as my watch was still set to BST but of course this is France and it is 10.30 according to them, damn.  I went back to the tent for dry bread and sweet biscuits washed down with water.  Yes, you can eat in France for very little money .



Day 2  Gouarec to Brehan   44 miles  5 hrs at 8.6 mph


I set off at about 10 as I was under the impression (false!) that I was only about 20 miles from R and L’s home at Brehan near Rohan. The camp site owner gave me a map and suggested I took the old railway track cycle path route to Loudeac and then the road to Brehan via Rohan.  His map only went halfway and mine was very vague.  Still off I went, down the towpath for about 5 miles and then up a very steep hill to the disused railway track.  I followed it for about 25 miles through mainly open countryside to Loudeac. It was O.K. but not so interesting as the towpath had been. I came up behind a group of Romany travellers in a convoy of about six horse drawn caravans each towing one or two trailers laden with everything including goats. They were moving slowly and It was difficult to overtake them as they took up the full width of the cycle path and there were few places where one could ride a bike on the verge however after about half an hour the problem was solved when the convoy came to an abrupt halt as their way was blocked by a very solid looking wall with 4ft wide gate across the path. Shame! but it did allow me to get past. The old railway stations are now private houses, some still with the station clock, toilets and fire bucket, French railway enthusiasts perhaps?  From Loudeac to R and L’s was about 15 miles on the road and it was raining by then, still it was mainly downhill and quite warm.


I arrived at Brehan at about 3pm  and tried to ring R & L to find out how to get to their cottage, but no luck.  It sounded like an engaged tone and there was no answer and every time I tried it was the same so I assumed I was doing


Brest - Nantes canal near Gouarec


something wrong.  I attempted to ask if anybody knew where R & L’s cottage was.  One person seemed to think it was down the next turning left, so I tried that but it seemed to lead nowhere except to open countryside.  By now it had stopped raining and was sunny and hot. I decided to head back to town and ask someone else.  On the way a dog in a farmyard rushed out and started barking loudly (un chien mechant?).  I barked back and it hid, well it was a very small dog.  Perhaps this was a sign.  I took the small road by the farmhouse instead of going back to town and at the top of the hill saw a small signpost to R & L's Cottage. That was lucky!


R & L were out. I hung my wet clothes out to dry in the sun and sat in the garden.  I tried the phone again and inside I could hear a ring so I now knew a French ring sounds the same as an English engaged tone.  After an hour sunbathing and talking to the ducks I found the house was not locked (well the door was not yet fitted!) so I let myself in and seeing an address book by the phone, I used it to phone L’s parent's place as they might have been there.  They were, and R was most surprised to hear I am phoning him from his own phone!  They were just about to come back anyway.  L’s parents only live a short distance away so they arrived in a few minutes.  The house / cottage is not finished yet but is nearly comfortable, just a few more days and hot water will be coming from the taps.  R took me to look at their new cottage.  This one is mostly renovated already and could be moved into as it is but the upstairs is still original that is a barn! even down to old ox yokes and farming implements.  R intends to convert the loft to bedrooms as he has done with the current place.  We tried to go out for a meal but could not get a reservation.  This could be because  that night was the football final,


"R"  (Bertie in the background)


and France were in it.  L cooked up something which was great especially as it was the first real meal I had had since the ferry crossing two days ago.  I slept on the floor as the second bedroom has not, as yet, got a bed. The next morning was warm with a mist blocking out the sun.  L said it would be a beautiful day when the mist lifted, she was wrong.  L and Bert (their dog) accompanied me down the towpath for the first mile or so.  On the way we stopped to talk to one of the lockkeepers and Bert stopped to talk to the lockkeeper’s dog.  The lockkeeper said that although it looked like it would be a nice day he thought storms might be a possibility later on, he was right!  I said goodbye at that point as Bert seemed reluctant to end his conversation and continue any further.



Day 3 Brehan to Pontchateau   78 miles  8 hrs 17 mins at 9.3 mph


The canal from R and L’s was much busier than previously as this section from Rohan to Nantes is navigable but the towpath was great with just the odd cyclist or person walking a dog.  After about 12 miles I arrived at Josselin, a beautiful old town with a large and fantastic chateau on the canal banks.  I stopped to look around the town for an hour or so.  Perhaps it was a bit touristy but well worth a longer visit sometime.  Indeed I should have visited it for longer this time as 20 minutes after leaving the first storm hit.  By the time I had found my "waterproof"  I was soaked.  The downpour only lasted ten minutes and I set off again.  After a while a strange feeling rather like wearing a rucksack came over me.  The back wheel was throwing mud up my back, despite the new  mud guards, and for that matter throwing it almost everywhere else, the bike and I were covered in it.  By putting a polythene bag around the tent bag and fastening it fore and aft on the




back carrier a mud guard extension of sorts was made, which worked well for the rest of the trip.


I continued in the rain to Malestroit, another fine old town where I borrowed the lockkeepers hose to hose me and the bike down.  With wet sandals I slopped into town for lunch.  The only places open seemed to be a pizza place and one cafe serving omelette as its “plat de jour” neither of which feature very highly in my favourites list.  After a visit to the supermarche I had a tomato sandwich and ham and potato salad thing for lunch in the local park.  The weather had changed to hot and sunny and things were looking up.


I carried on down the towpath towards Redon.  At one point at Saint Perreux the towpath, which was mostly a well defined 6 foot wide gravel track, turned into a grass track and finally, after a couple of miles, stopped altogether under a bridge.  I didn’t want to go back to Saint Perreux (on a bike going back is always a hard decision) so I tried to find a way onto the road above by following a path into the undergrowth to see if there was a way to get up the embankment to the road further along.  After a few hundred yards I heard a loud thundering noise as something came down the still not visible road.  It was a train.  Drat ... back to Saint Perreux after all.


Brest - Nantes canal between Malestroit and Redon


At Redon it was my intention to continue on the canal towards Nantes for a while but Redon is a large town with canals going in all directions, a harbour, and a town map that made no sense to me at all.  After an hour of fruitless searching for the right canal I gave up and joined the D733 road towards St Nazaire.  Horrors! hills, traffic, fumes, heat, I am not used to this after 150 miles of peaceful towpath.  Furthermore I have very little water left and all the towns I stop at have no shops.  One Fegreac, had a bar but water? “Non” not even tap water to fill my bottle but I was welcome to buy a beer and that was that -  thank you  barman.  As it was now about seven o’clock I thought I might as well stop at the next restaurant I saw for a meal (and hopefully some water).  The next restaurant was a bit of a dive but I went in anyway as by now I was hungry and thirsty.  Inside were three cyclists from England, ( well Manchester ), eating a “meal”.  They were dressed for the part in full lycra gear with very expensive looking bikes.  It turned out they had cycled from St Malo that day and were on their way to St Nazaire to watch the Tour de France the next day.  I could tell they were somewhat bemused by my ancient bike and me in  my shorts, shirt and sandals and I expect they could tell that I was equally bemused by them (Martians meet train spotter sort of encounter). Their meal looked awful so I decided to give that a miss, but I did get some tap water from the barman this time.


At Pontchateau I saw the first sign to a camp site of the day,  so Pontchateau would be it for the night.  The trouble is seeing a campsite sign and finding the actual campsite in France (and later Spain as it turned out) are two different things.  After an hour or so I found a second camp site.  The first choice, despite getting to a sign that said it was just 200 m  down the road, could not be found.  Anyway the second site seemed fine, I had a good shower and then went to the restaurant just up the road.  It was fully booked and the only one for miles around.  It was beginning to look like eating out in France was not going to be possible.



Day 4 Pontchateau to Pornic 42 miles 4 hrs 23 mins at 9.5 mph


I stayed in the tent all morning at Pontchateau as it was raining and set off about 12 towards St.Nazaire into a strong headwind.  Headwinds are a pain, it is like riding uphill but without the pleasure of a downhill afterwards.  Furthermore the scenery, being basically flat countryside, was rather uninteresting compared to the canals. I arrived at St Nazaire at about 2 o’clock to learn that the bridge, which was the only way south, was shut for the Tour de France until about 6 o’clock.  Oh well I will have to watch the Tour de France then.  This turned out to be a rather odd affair whereby a group of cyclists rode past in a bunch, the crowd cheered and as each group wore the same colours and had the same bikes it implied they were a team.  10 minutes go by then another team/group appeared, the crowd cheered, etc, etc.  Sometimes after the group had gone by a cyclist in the same colours rode past on his own rather like a wounded bird who can’t keep up with the flock, the crowd cheered anyway (and then turned aside with a knowing look)


At about 6 PM the Tour De France seemed to stop so I made my way towards the bridge.  The trouble was the only road to it seemed to be a motorway and the only way onto the motorway is out of town and anyway cyclists are not allowed on


 Bridge over the Loire at St.Nazaire


motorways, this was looking like a problem.  I looked around a bit for a way onto the motorway in town and having not found one, clambered 50 feet up the embankment and over the crash barrier with the bike, this was not at all easy due to the weight! There was a very long queue of vehicles waiting to cross the bridge that stretched to the horizon.  I made my way to the head of it and found that the police were still not letting anyone across the bridge until some straw bales and other cyclisty bits had been removed. After a few minutes I asked the police if it was OK for me to ride over the bridge before the traffic was allowed to and very much to my surprise they said OK. As you can see in the photo I am probably the first person to have the bridge to myself for years.


The bridge is a huge suspension thing rising perhaps 150 feet above the Loire river mouth.  Riding across was scary due to the very strong side wind.  Each time I rode past a support wire I was sucked towards it and then blown across the road afterwards.  On the other side I rode down the normally busy D213 but it was an hour before any traffic appeared as the bridge still had not been opened.  When the traffic started it was continuous so I stopped just before Pornic at Camping du Golf for the night.  Again there were no restaurants nearby so no meal again.  I phoned Kath and said I am losing weight .  She assumes it is the exercise, she is wrong.



Day 5 Pornic to Bretignoles sur Mer  64 miles 6 hrs 12 mins at 10.3 mph


There was a French owl at Camping du Golf last night.  All night long it was going “le mange tout, le mange tout”.  When I set off in the warm sun there was a strong south westerly head / side wind blowing.  The countryside was completely flat with drainage ditches usually on both sides of the road and really rather uninteresting apart from the occasional small town.  At Bourgneuf en Retz I took a wrong turning at a roundabout and headed inland towards Machecoul for an hour.  I should have realised my mistake as the headwind had become a following wind but I didn’t and was almost at Machecoul by the time I found out.  There was no alternative other than continue into town and then head back to the coast towards Beauvoir sur Mer.  This turned out to be a  hard ride into the wind.  Slowly the church spire on the horizon would become a small village that had no bar, shop or anything much to break the monotony except for another church spire on the horizon that held the same hope of food and drink but resulted, after 30 mins riding, in the same disappointment.  Perhaps the only slightly interesting thing about this area of France was the road kills which consisted of otters, snakes and moorhens. Headwinds really are a pain even on flat roads they cut my normal speed of about 13 mph down to 7 mph or so.


Once back on the coast the road was not much more interesting, flat countryside, the occasional river or inlet, usually with dozens of strange "fishing machines" on each bank (how do any fish survive?)   Although if you like oysters and moules perhaps this is your ideal area as there were lots of roadside / inletside emporiums that sold nothing else.  I, not having managed to eat out once in France yet, was looking  for more normal eating places.  I stopped at a camp site just outside Bretignoles sur Mer, put the tent up, had a shower, and rode into town determined to find a restaurant.  Finally I found one open, a fairly ordinary little cafe place that served up a fairly, well, very, ordinary steak and chips, still it was a start. Perhaps I should have gone for the only other thing on their menu - moules et frites. Do they eat anything else in this part of France?



Day 6 Bretignoles Sur Mer to La Rochelle  78 miles  8 hrs 25 mins at 9.1 mph


A long days ride made hard work by very hot sunny weather and yet another headwind.  The countryside remained flat and uninteresting which also did not help. The only maps I had brought with me were AutoRoute express prints on an inkjet printer and after Les Sables d’Olonne they were proving inadequate partly because they didn’t show the small towns (my fault, chose a too small scale) and partly because the ink had run when the rain got them back at Josselin.  At Avrille I noticed a tourist office open and tried to get a more detailed map of the area, something they didn’t have.  It was hardly surprising as why anyone would want to holiday in this part of France and why Avrille even had a tourist office was beyond me.  They did have a map of the whole of  France showing Logis de France hotels and restaurants and that was just fine to show the towns and roads to La Rochelle - onward.


I came across an old car museum and paid a quick visit. It was full of French cars, some very nice ones, and worth a look around for an hour or so, I was the only customer for most of the time. I headed inland to Lucon, a small town notable perhaps only for its tree lined street. I had hoped to find a camp site


 La Rochelle harbour


before La Rochelle but, perhaps reflecting the somewhat uninteresting scenery, I found none.  I wandered around La Rochelle’s old port area in the evening sun and had my first reasonable meal at a restaurant on the quay, after which it was time to continue and find a camp site, or hotel, for the night.  Surprisingly it appeared there are no camp sites in La Rochelle itself, most are on the Ile de Re, an island just offshore to the north but one person I asked thought there was another one about 10km south of town. It was a bit of a risk heading out of town as it was almost dark by now but luckily he was right there was a camp site on the coast by a railway line.


Next stage of the route       La Rochelle to Biarritz