listen to africa

an audio adventure through africa

Geotag Icon Ambling down the Atlantic coast

Blog posted by on Mar 24th, 2009
Port of Les Sables D'Orlonnes

Port of Les Sables D'Orlonnes. © Listen to Africa

Sorry for the lack of updates; finding internet access in France is turning out to be trickier than we expected (and we can’t quite bring ourselves to use McDonalds’ wifi. Yet).

So, where were we? Oh yes, in Saint-Nazaire, and about to cross The Bridge of Terror (I think it’s also known as Pont Saint-Nazaire). It might have been the relief at having survived, but reaching the south side of the Loire felt a bit like reaching a new country. Immediately the sun seemed yellower, the buildings whiter, the sky bigger and bluer. And, within minutes, we stumbled across the Atlantic coast cycle route, which we’ve dipped into and out of ever since. Bliss.

Something strange has started to happen; we’re getting fitter. Not fit, yet, but we can now cover 60 kilometres in the same amount of time and effort it took us to cover 30 a couple of weeks ago. So, with the cycle route doing the map reading for us, we began to emerge from the acute self-absorption of extremely unfit people exercising, and to notice the world around us a little more.

Digging for bait, Atlantic coast, France

Digging for bait, Atlantic coast, France

The Atlantic coast region seems to contain hundreds of tiny microclimates and miniature worlds. One minute you’re pedalling through a mossy, tufted moorland, the next through a working sheep or beef farm, a wildflower meadow, a stretch of mussel beds, a pine forest, a slalom of dunes, a broadleaf woodland, a wetland or a prairie. A thriving fishing port might sit next to an industrial town, followed by a drowsy colonial looking village full of whitewashed houses with faded clay pantiled roofs, or a ghost town of breezeblocked holiday homes, dead until the August onslaught of sea-seekers from the cities.

One day I saw an otter. (It was my first ever sighting; I’ve spent days looking for otters on the Isle of Skye and in other ottery places and finally I saw one, sitting next to an agricultural channel a couple of metres away from the busy route D38.)

Another day, we detoured into the Parc Interregional Du Marais, a bleak swampland reclaimed from the sea by monks centuries ago, and now a wetland haven for waterfowl and other migratory birds. The bleakness reminded me a little of a very compact Patagonia; the only features were fences and telegraph poles, and occasional villages where the buildings huddled together to outwit the brutal winds (headwinds, for us).

Tent on hay bales near St Denis du Payre

Camping in a hay barn, near St Denis du Payre

As Huw wrote, open campsites are hard to find at this time of year so we’ve been experimenting with all sorts of sleeping arrangements. Our best one yet: a gite whose owners set us up in their hay barn, gave us fresh eggs (delicious, despite the resident chicken-torturing goat), and invited us to join them for breakfast. At dusk, we listened to storks flying overhead (if it’s quiet, you can hear their wings beating before you see them) and waited for the stars to appear.

We’ve just had two days off in the port of La Rochelle – not least so we could look at something other than each others’ rear ends for a while. Lovely. Here, we’ve also met our first tourists of the trip: a young English couple driving a Morgan (which, Huw tells me are beautiful cars, works of art, one of the last handmade cars in Britain) down to the South of France. Very carefully.

We didn’t really have a schedule, but I can’t help feeling like we’re behind it already. After a few years of city life and nine to five work, I have to keep reminding myself that there is no time limit, it doesn’t really matter when we get where (apart from the Sahara, to avoid the heat), and that the point of this is to see, to listen, to learn and to enjoy what interests us. Huw is having no problems on this score, so I’m learning fast.

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  1. Hi Bex and Huw

    Following your adventures and living it a bit with you. So very jealous! You seem to have readjusted pretty quickly. It doesn’t seem that long since I saw you and how was Sauven’s beach hut? Love the haybale bed!


  2. Thanks for the latest updates from both of you. It’s beginnng to sound like a trip of a lifetime already. You are making us ‘stay-at-homes’ very envious, although the blogs are helpng us to take vicarious pleasure from your experiences. You are wise to take it easy at this stage, there will be many hot and dusty roads and tracks ahead. We can see a book emerging from all this, so keep writing!

    Take care!

  3. Ooh, la la! La Rochelle has a fab aquarium! It was a wet November day when I was last there but looked like a lovely town from beneath umbrellas as we scampered between the boulangerie and the museums. I have started eyeing my bike and paniers…

    Take your time Bex, Africa isn’t going anywhere!

  4. i really like the hay barn camping and the storks and stars. maybe you could have a campsite gallery for all the different places you pitched your tent.
    happy cycles xx

  5. Hi,

    We met on the ferry to St Malo, I was the biker riding to Spain and back.
    Enjoy your amble. I travelled too far too quickly and found myself racing the clock to cover the distance in the time I’d allowed.

    Have a great journey and keep the updates coming!

    a campsite gallery is a great idea.

  6. Dear Rebecca,

    Just loving the way you describe the trip – your writing is wonderful, as always … and I can actually “see” what you see. I am happy that you and Huw are having such a terrific and unique experience. Once a while I have to rush to the dictionary, with that not-so-good English of mine. Right now I will start looking for the word Otter (have no idea of what this is!!)

    Beijinhos for you and Huw,

    Maria Helena

  7. Salut les deux – j’espere que tous se passe bien. On vous attend. Il fait un peu froid en ce moment. Mais Bonne route et a bientot. BIG bisous – nous trois Boots Jon Amyxxx That’s about it for my french!!

  8. hi there travellers – just sat down here at my desk at gp about to open emails…then read your latest blog – and was transported! – keep on keeping on ! love lou x

  9. Thanks folks – lovely to get your comments as always!

    Sarah: Yep, I loved the haybale bed too… Sauven’s beach hut was great – although I think I crashed before 9pm so no wild parties :)

    David and Val: Thanks, glad you’re enjoying the blog (as opposed to Huw just disappearing for months at a time!). We will indeed keep writing. And yep, the sore knee was an extra lesson in not rushing…

    Cat: We didn’t make the aquarium but it was a lovely place, really enjoyed our time off there. Dust off those panniers! :)

    Daf: Ooh, excellent idea. OK, a campsite gallery is in the making.

    Peter: Cheers, and good to hear from you. Sorry, I just realised you were the first fellow tourist we met, not the English couple I mentioned in the blog! Glad you made it to Spain and back again, even if it was too quick. Any plans for more leisurely tours?

    Maria Helena: Thank you again. And I have no idea what otter is in Portuguese, sorry!

    Boots: Salut les trois! Je vais vous apeller quand nous arriverons en Montauban (demain, j’espere). And that’s definitely it for my French…

    Lou: Cheers – glad to be of help :) Hope all’s well at GP x

  10. The campsite gallery has begun, here (along with another general one of France).

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