After ten days and 380 kilometres (300 of them in generally the right direction), we rolled through the marshes of southern Brittany and into Saint-Nazaire on Saturday evening. It’s a bit of a landmark for us; Saint-Nazaire sits on the Atlantic coast, which we’ll be following all the way to Bordeaux, and through much of Africa.
Brittany has been a wonderful reintroduction to the “rigours” of travel. We’ve met brilliant people – from caravan dwelling families and barfly journalists to war veterans and cycle touring campaigners. We’ve slept in campsites, wood-beamed gîtes and farmers’ fields. We’ve pedalled along hills, woodlands, towpaths, hills, farmland, marshes and hills. We’ve eaten, well, anything and everything really.
So, as a tribute to Brittany, here are ten things we’ve learned while we’ve been in the region:
1. France is more user friendly than the UK. It just is, in hundreds of tiny ways. There are picnic benches and bins everywhere, canals and locks are well maintained, campsites are profuse and well signed, and farms actually have welcome signs at the gates.
2. ‘Gîte d’Animaliers‘ doesn’t necessarily mean a gîte with a few friendly goats and dogs. It might mean a kennel. Just in case you’re planning on spending 15 hilly kilometres and your last reserves of energy following signs to one.
3. We have muscles. Huw even has ribs.
4. Bretons love Wales – the seven founding saints of Brittany were from Wales and the Breton language is very close to Welsh. They even seem to like English people (although that bit may be a symptom of Breton politeness).
5. People still travel across the whole country by pack horse. And are catered for.
6. Sarkozy is not well liked (but our audience may have been self-selected).
7. If a campsite manager shows you a string of medals from the French Foreign Legion and then informs you that your communications system is inadequate, it’s best not to argue the point.
8. Cyclists will buy anything edible that comes in lightweight, well sealed containers or tubes. (Therefore our diet mostly consists of chilli, coffee and mayonnaise.)
9. Leathermans don’t have corkscrews.
10. If you’re exhausted, it is possible – even with a good map and a compass – to get lost on a towpath.
That’s all for now – time to pedal off in the general direction of Bordeaux, exploring the Bay of Biscay on the way. From Bordeaux, we’ll turn inland towards Toulouse for some rest and recuperation with friends living nearby. And from Toulouse, we’ll pedal onwards to Sète, and the ferry to Morocco. More soon.