St. Malo to Nice 2015

Here is the blog written during the 2015 Famous Five Cycle tour across France from St. Malo to Nice.


Day 1. St. Malo to La Pontorson

The five had a fitful sleep in their couchettes and at breakfast in the ferry's canteen the next morning there were literally dozens of people all not saying 'my, what a wonderful nights sleep I've had.' Couchettes are a cross between an arm chair, and an arm chair with a broken back - just because it can recline doesn't mean it's in any way fit for purpose as a bed. In much the same way as being able to talk and look vaguely orange doesn't mean Seb Blatter is in any way fit for purpose as FIFA president. Anyway, breakfast was enjoyed although the coffee was Nescafé - what is going on, this is a French ship sailing to France! Disembarked amid the lorry and car fumes and through passport control successfully. We then followed the 'Toute Direction' school of navigation - very similar to Dirk Gently's tried, trusted and utterly useless approach. Realising we were headed the wrong way, we dismounted and crossed the road at a zebra crossing. With the other four safely on the other side, Glenn followed only to be beeped at and very nearly run over by a British car driver. Glenn thanked him with the customary gesture and wished him a pleasant holiday and a full and happy life. Or maybe not. Anyway, retracing our tyres we at last found the official starting point of the route and had photos beneath heavily fortified castle walls of the old town. Clearly the inhabitants of old didn't want any one arriving unannounced. Following the guide book instruction, we pushed our bikes over the sand and  dipped our wheels in la  Manche before cycling out of the town and through beautiful tree lined suburbs - which reminded Dave of Brookside apparently. On through lovely countryside to Cancale where we stopped for coffee (decent cup this time, non of your Nescafé rubbish) and water. Then followed wonderful cycling along the ancient Route de la Baie - a quite and perfectly Tarmac'd road running along the coast and parallel to the tracks that Charles and Corey began the French leg of their amazing Walk to Africa nearly four months age. Then, with Mont Saint Michelle getting ever closer into view, we stopped in Pontorson for a wonderful Al fresco lunch before the last few miles of the day brought us to our stop for the night - the clean and modern Auberge de la Baie in La Rive with wonderful views of MSM in the distance. Dinner booked for 8:00, breakfast booked for tomorrow and wonderful wifi so Glenn can be re-connected to the outside world. A wonderful first day to the famous five's cycle to Nice. 

Day 2 Pontorson to Vitre 42 miles. 67km. 

After the welcome relief of being able to sleep horizontally, the five tucked into the full French breakfast. This morning's poem was The Night of Claire - see below. Dave having forgot his reading glasses pressed the wrong button on the coffee machine and enjoyed a cup of hot milk instead.  When we had stopped laughing we all watched Barry aka 'Lance' take his drugs for the day. Leaving the hotel we were almost immediately stopped by a huge heard of sheep bring shepherded down the road on route to grazing the marshes around Mont Saint Michelle. We then cycled back to Pontorson to buy provisions at the thankfully open Carrefour supermarket - this is France on a Sunday remember. Cycling away from the town it was time to leave the Route de la Baie which we have been following since coffee time yesterday in Cancale. More info at

Cycling along quiet country roads through lovely scenery we covered over 35km and only saw four cars and two people - where is everyone!! Why is no one in France spending their Sunday morning washing their car? Can't think. Meanwhile the rain had set in and we donned waterproofs. This provided an opportunity to assess the famous five's  colour co-ordination attempts. In reverse order of co-ordinatedness comes Rob the brown -handlebar tape and saddle; next, Dave the grey - bike frame and hair; then Roger the yellow - waterproof, water bottle and (I kid you not) waterproof helmet cover!; then comes Barry the red - cycle decals, water bottle, pannier bags and cycling gloves; and finally Glenn the blue - tyre rims, watch strap, cycling gloves, helmet, waterproof, bike decals, socks, t shirt, eyes and language. A clear winner there I would have thought!  By late morning we were following Roger which would have been a good idea if his map hadn't blown away. As it was we were just a tad off route but in a nice town called St Brice en Cogles. The trouble was there were lots of 'en Cogles' in the area - presumably named by the same dimwit who decided on having every road in Hollinswood begin with a 'D'. Brilliant. In this particular 'en Cogles' we stopped for a coffee. Then we had our sandwiches sheltering under the entrance to a school. When everyone was ready to go and freezing cold  from standing around, Glenn's front tyre thought this would be a splendid time to have a puncture. This was eventually sorted by the bicycle repair team - i.e. everybody except Glenn, and we headed off. By now the morning's rain had been replaced by a full on head wind as we made our way to Fourges. From there we took a road to Vitre, our stop for the night. Yes I know it was the wrong road but it got us there didn't it! The road was the long, straight undulating sort that reminded Dave of the A30 in Cornwall apparently, but without the caravans and litter. But it was a case of what goes up must go up again. As Rob commented, due to the headwind, even the downhills felt like up. The rain put in another appearance and turned into something like hail for a while. Much appreciated by all. How we laughed. Finally, at the top of another hill we saw the town of Vitre below us. An amazing chateau dominated the town as we cycled into the centre. Stopping in the directions to find the hotel, we asked the help of a couple of local people who were very helpful. The gentleman was carrying a bunch of flowers and Dave asked in his fluent French if he was giving them to his wife - why he wanted to know was left unclear. Maybe Dave hadn't heard of such a thing before. Two sets of unwelcome traffic lights on hills  later, we arrived and checked in. In total we'd done 92km today - a little more than planned but never mind. In due course bikes were locked up, showers were had and - you may find this hard to believe - we met up in the bar. 

After a couple of beers we headed into the desolate territory known as 'Restaurants in France on a Sunday Evening'. There are over thirty restaurants in Vitre and guess what - they are all closed!! Market forces working really well then. But hang on - there is a boulangerie open selling the dregs of the day's baguettes and tartes where Roger, Dave and Glenn made their purchases. Rob and Barry on the other hand headed for the blasphemy that is McDonalds which was not only open but had a huge queue and twenty staff trying their best to serve the eating requirements of half of Brittany . Go figure.  We had already decided to do a daily scores on the doors for evening meals. And last night's set the bar pretty high - an average of 7.85. But tonight? McDonalds scored 3.5 but the boulangerie was way out in front with 7.25. Most of these points were of course justified by just being open! 

Day 3 Vitre to Denee 76 miles 124km 

The day began with buffet breakfast in the Ibis hotel.  Lots of 'help yourself' trips to the buffet to fuel us up for the day ahead. The poem of the day was reverently read - link to follow. One interesting item of equipment in the breakfast room was a 'Toast o matic' toaster with five different manual settings. On leaving the hotel we encountered a different form of hold up from yesterday's sheep.  Today's was a herd of college students and one or two comments were made by some of your heroes which had better remain unstated.  After leaving Vitre we cycled on quite lanes through woods which unfortunately shaded us from the weak sun trying to break through. But as the day warmed up we carried on through rolling farmland , the roads undulating but quiet. Stopping for coffee in Craon, there was a market in full swing including a galette and crepe catering van which we took full advantage of. Rob, Dave and Barry had sausage based galettes, Glenn had egg, cheese and mushrooms and Roger a lemon and sucre crepe. Wonderful second breakfast. 

Cycling on we came across a 'Route Barre' sign in a village and Dave in an unusual spirit of rule following cycled a little way on to see if there was a way round. The rest of us were clear the barrier didn't apply to us and it would be fine to go on so called Dave back. Whether he was concentrating on calling his Dad or for some other reason, Rob fell off his bike at this point. Only Glenn saw the incident and strangely Rob declined to repeat the performance so everyone else could see it. Cycling on we had covered 65 km before stopping for lunch at a pizza restaurant in Segre. Here, Dave, Rob and Baz indulged in yet more sausages - on a pizza! Gross I know. The afternoon continued the morning's pattern of undulating roads but now busier and with varying degrees of surface quality ranging from the perfectly smooth to the crumbling and uneven - nothing in even remote comparison to the inadequately patched patches on previous inadequate patches that constitute the Forton road in Newport. On leaving one small village,  Roger who is normally our beacon of rule following virtue cycled 

through a set of traffic lights on red - clearly he and Dave doing some role reversal today. On a roll, we covered the next  few km to cross the Loire stopping in Challon sur Loire for afternoon coffee sitting in the sunshine. Dave and a Roger went off in search of a bike shop to buy chain oil and drugs - "Punch Power biO, gout citron verte. Boisson de l'effort" to be precise. After a quick spray of all the chains - with the oil, not the drugs - we headed off for the last 12km of the day along the Loire cycle trail and on to our stop for the night at Denne. 152 miles 252km completed so far in our journey. Our stop for the night was at a delightful Chambre de hote and vineyard which was finally located on the outskirts of Denee - thanks to the help of a local man whose English was better than Dave's, and who warned us to enjoy excellent house wine. Clearly for mere academic purposes only, we duly sat out side in the lovely garden sampling the wonderful Cabernet Franc. Our hostess promised us a 'simple meal' which consisted of rice, pork, cepe mushrooms in cream, green salad in an amazing dressing followed by what can only be described as a strawberry, cream and homemade biscuit sculpture - marks out of ten, 9.5! 

Day 4 Denee to Parthanay 100 miles 160km. 

We had all had a good night's sleep and woke ready for breakfast at 7:30. The poem of the day was very short - the only thing short about today!! It was about Lycra cycling shorts and their ability or otherwise to conceal certain aspects of male physiology. Not something we can repeat on a family show! Afterwards we said our fond farewells to the very kind lady who ran the hotel and had looked after us so well. We quickly got sorted and started at 8:30. The first12 km clicked along really well through quiet lanes past lakes and across the various branches and tributaries of the Loire.  Then we  reached the banks of the Loire proper and hugged its banks for a while. After a complicated bit of navigation in le Ponts de Ce, Roger cycled through yet another red traffic light and as we climbed up through open countryside we encountered our first view of vines, lovely poppies in the fields and also our loyal companion for the day - endless, interminable headwind. Cycling on we crossed the Loire at St Mathurin. After a quick 5k combination of smooth tarmac and constant headwind we stopped in la Rosiere sur Loire for coffee, chocolate eclaires and biscuits. So far 47km today. Onwards with a long slog along straight road to re-cross the Loire and into Saumor. Cycling through the beautiful town and out along the river for a couple of km we grouped at the bottom of a short sharp hill to leave the Loire behind. Various comments were made - 'Looks the right way' (Roger), 'There's no choice, it is right', (Glenn) 'Are you sure?' (Barry), 'Are you really sure?' (Rob), 'It's as steep as fuck!!' (Dave). Reaching the top we continued to climb steadily out from the river valley all feeling the pressure. We stopped in lovely small town of Fontevraud l'abbey. Great choice of restaurants but plumped for one where we could sit in the shade and the menu was in English! Ate lots of non sausage based salads and bantered with the waiter who called Rob 'French boy' for reasons unexplained. We cycled off from the town square along the abbey wall. What follows ought to pass into the stuff of legend. Heat, hills and headwind. All the way. Constantly. All the time. Mile after mile. Did I mention the headwind? Consistently. Or the hills?  Just thought I'd better make a point of emphasising the headwind. Constantly. Don't want our loyal readers to get the wrong idea. As the day wore on we were stopping more taking on more fluids and in Barry's case, struggling with the pain in his shoulder. Bravely he battled on and even survived Rob's terribly jokes. We saw a sign for our destination of Parthanay.  20km to go. But not long after came another sign '11km to go' Guess which one was correct!!! Eventually dropping down onto Parthanay we were happy to be led by Google maps to our hotel for the night. 100 miles covered. Relief. Excessive and heartfelt relief. What a day. 

Day 5 Pathenay to Confolense 138km. 

Last nights meal was another astounding 9.5 out of 10.  Gamba based starters (shrimps) and then steak for Rob,  'the best steak I have ever eaten' (Dave), duck for Baz and Roger and smoked salmon pasta for Glenn. Then desserts and coffee - but not for Glenn who felt he would explode! The night was then spent on the world's most comfortable beds. 

Breakfast was the customary French style buffet presided over by our landlady who was English and could probably fuss for her country. There was a running commentary on everything available for breakfast, why this, why not that, where this came from, how that was baked etc. all lovely and well meaning but a bit too much for your sleepy head heroes first thing in the morning. (Not quite as bad as the godawful waiter/radio dj phenomenon - try Pizza Express in Telford for a good example. Or rather, don't.) The poem for the day was 'Tour de France'  by Paul MacCann, see After saying our farewells we rode over cobbled streets and up a hill - only 0.4 on the saf scale (see Dave's comment yesterday for an introduction to the new way of measuring the steepness of a hill) but made worse by being first thing in the morning. We cycled through the market stalls setting up and then a car park witnessing the typically French habit of trying to park where they want to as opposed to where there actually is a space. Cycling out of the town and through a typical

retail park we noticed a certain Roy Yoric plied his trade as an electrical supplier. It looked an interesting shop but unfortunately we didn't have time to stop and look. Alas. A busy road led us onwards but after a while we turned off onto quite lanes. The most immediately noticeable feature of the day was that it was loads less windy than yesterday. That and the cool, cloudy conditions made for perfect cycling weather and the first 40 km 

passed quite easily given the toll that yesterday's epic had taken. We stopped for coffee in Jazeneuil and then had a second cup just so Baz could have two biscuits, this being a non practicing day. Various discussions were had about ways of learning things in childhood like the

number of days in each month  - apparently it can be done with knuckles and dips between them. Well I never. We cycled on and stopped at an Aldi to buy provisions for lunch. Strange place - no one was wearing shell suits and you didn't have to speed pack at the till. On we flew looking forward to lunch and in a few km stopped in Chateau Larcher where we found a nice spot to have our picnic by a castle. No one was in much of a rush to set off again and a quiet half hour passed taking photos and lying on the grass. All good things must come to an end and with 60km done but 60 more to go we eventually headed off. 

We were all feeling the strain from yesterday but that was balanced by our various desires to get to our next stop. For Roger this was so he could get some washing done. Baz just wanted to get there before the drugs wore off. By now it was getting warmer although whenever we had a 'pit stop' - yes dear reader, you do know what we mean, and if not, try spelling 'pit' with two s's - it felt quite chilly to get going again. 

We passed through a village called St Secondin. Apparently in the early days of their 10k road races you got a sainthood for coming in the first three. We just give a bottle of wine and an ultraport voucher. By mid afternoon the sun had come out and it was getting pretty hot. We passed a statue of the Virgin Nary with her arm outstretched and face etched in pain - apparently she'd had the same cycling injury as Baz. We stopped at L'Isle Jourdain - an  amazing viaduct over the valley but they were definitely missing a trick as just one petite cafe by the river would have gone down a treat. As it was we had a real slog of a climb (0.6 saf's) to pleasant town for oranginas and coffee. 27km to go. More hill out the town with much of the road 'surface dressed' with lots of tiny bits of gravel, some it actually stuck to the road! The workers clearly had forgotten to bring a brush or had forgotten how to use one. Perhaps they had a relative in the windscreen replacement trade. Eventually we swung off onto quieter roads with sweeping descents to a lovely lake and then a long persistent climb - fortunately the roadside trees shielding us from the sun. Finally we arrived in Confolense and easily found our hotel got the night - the 

Hotel de la mere Michelete. At dinner we ordered salad starters and Dave's habit of auto condimentation was roundly and justifiably condemned. Scores on the doors for the meal was 6/10. Functional food but the house red was very good. An early night beckons. Bon nuit to all our readers. 

Day 6 Confolense to Brantome 122 km 

The Hotel de la mere Michelete was a tired old establishment full of 79's charm such as blue tiles in the bathroom, polystyrene ceiling tiles and a rotating fridge in the dining room with desserts on it. Local commercial radio playing. Come the revolution that sort of thing will be unequivocally banned. All much in need of Baz the Builder's careful ministrations and a bloody big skip. The house wifi password was as long as the bible and didn't work. Brilliant. It's as bad as having to ask for the key to the privy. Compared to the full French breakfasts we've been enjoying so far, today's affair was more of the demi demi variety. The waiter came over on a couple of occasions to ask 'es good, no?' to which Glenn responded 'well I wouldn't go that far'. Delusions of adequacy. But all in all it had done the trick. The poem of the day was 'Shovelling Coal' by Tony Pransis. 

Having packed and returned to the wooden shed where our bikes had been stored overnight we set about delaying our start for as long as possible by checking bikes. Unfortunately this revealed a crack in the rear wheel rim of Rob's bike which needed urgent attention. The nearest bike shop according to Google was where we were headed but the wheel probably wouldn't survive that long. Enquiring at the hotel if she could phone to see if a taxi could take Rob and bike to the bike shop at Brantome. She gave us the phone number but refused to phone for us. The most unhelpful act in the history of unhelpfulness within the hospitality trade. The trip advisor feedback is going to be really fun to write, as is the complaint letter to Logis. With limited options available we walked to the local tourist office where a very nice young lady showed how it should be done by phoning bike shops and taxi firms with efficiency, charm and sympathy for our predicament. Whilst Rob, Dave and Glenn had been at the tourist office, Roger and Baz had been giving the rest of the bikes the once over. So well oiled and greased - the bikes, not our bodies, we headed out to the bike shop about 10km away. put  Meanwhile Rob's crack in his rear rim was getting worse - the bike not the body. Stopping of at the intermarche we stacked up on supplies for lunch and then headed of to Alloue where the bike shop owner was due to be back by 2:00. We coffee'd and orangina'd at the local cafe then lay on the grass for an hour or so and had our lunch at a convenient picnic table. The guy at the bike shop took one look at the offending wheel rim and surprised us all by not giving the customery 'that'll cost you' grimace while rubbing his chin. Instead he quietly and efficiently changed the wheel, refitted it and within 20 minutes we were on our way. With all our day's cycling to be done in half the day, we pressed on but by now the sun was fully out and the temperature had reached 33 degrees. The main incident if note was a four foot long snake that crossed the road on front of Roger who though his front inner tube had fallen out. We stopped for water and oranginas in Exideuil. We stopped for coffee, oranginas and ice cream in Rochechouaer. We then purred along a 7km climb on a wide well made road through wooded hills - I say 'purred' but there was some growing going on as well. Onwards and upwards we arrived at Veyres which is probably French for 'town you thought was at the top of the hill but isnt' and so we slogged on the another two or three km before a lovely long decent, yet more hills into St Mathieu. Stopping only for more water we pedalled on to Nontron where we stopped for beers and burgers (Glenn had a pasta salad) and with the light fading headed for the final 20km to our beds for the night at Logos Hostellerie du Perigord Vert in Brantome to be greeted by some bloke doing extremely well in the Logis in house  'how to be as unfriendly as possible' competition. The sort of bloke who thinks that three grunts constitutes a sentence and wears flip flops around town in an attempt to show how cool / hard he is as the same time. After reciprocated grunts we headed to our rooms for showers and a very welcome bed. 

Day 7 Brantome to Les Eyzies de Taya Sireuil. 

The day started with the famous five in a really difficult situation - what to wear. The answer - whatever is dry and least smelly. Between us we had three items of clean and dry clothes - two cycling shirts and a sock.  The usual 'undergarment reversal' trick oft quoted in such circumstances was unfortunately inappropriate - no one is going to where cycling shorts inside out! Having made our dubious decisions, we made our way to breakfast. Since our journey began, breakfasts had been pretty good except on the ferry when they had served sausages that non of us could eat. But by now, Full French had degenerated into Demi Dordogne - not really enough of anything! This line of deranged thinking obviously leads to a condition known as Alliterative Breakfast Syndrome. Full English is nearly alliterative and full Welsh doesn't really work does it - they're the same breakfast though just served with a different accent. Full French is wonderfully alliterative but hard to define.  But this morning Glenn ate three pain au chocolate to make up for it. Having packed and got bikes sorted, we left at 9:15 to begin the day's cycling with a 10 km hill. There was also a return of our old friend Henrietta Headwind. Hermione Heat was beating down and Henri the Hill just kept on going - apparently a little like Thiery Henri's attempts at football punditry - going on and on and not really getting anywhere. Unexpectedly, the road decided it was ready for some downtime - a whole couple of km and then it turned flat!  Unheard of!! Onwards we cycled into Perigueux for coffee. This is a fairly large town with fountains and lovely squares ringed with coppiced plane trees - all used as car parks. Great. Eventually we headed up a short pseudo pedestrianised street to a wonderful cathedral with a choice of cafes to choose from. We chose one to sit outside and were served by another graduate from the 'couldn't give a stuff' school of friendly customer service. Other horrors of city life presented such as loud car stereos, people smoking, uphill  traffic lights and sushi restaurants. On the decent out of town a car towing a caravan decided that the gap between the central reservation and the right hand bend was easily wide enough to squeeze through, never mind that pesky cyclist in the way. The pesky cyclist (Glenn) for some reason took exception to cycling with a 5 cm, ever decreasing gap between the caravan and his handlebars. Miraculously there was no contact. Full of calm and composure, Glenn tried to overtake the car/caravan combination wildly gesticulating that he had suspicions about the ENGLISH car driver's parentage. Unfortunately the car pulled away and for the first time ever, he wished there was a traffic light on red so he could explain to the nice Englishman the necessity of treating fellow road users with care and attention. Or something like that. He would be added to the long list of people Glenn wants to have a word with Darwin about. Slogging in the heat up long, hilly, busy roads, we stopped on the shade of an Aire just north of La Douze. We had a lengthy discussion about Barry's newly acquired padded saddle cover and the possible anatomical explanations as to why it always shifts to one side!  In the village we stopped for lunch at a nice restaurant with a shaded terrace - much appreciated as we were all suffering from the heat by now. Rob especially was suffering from the heat as he thought the waitress fancied him. Dinner was the plate du jour - goats cheese and sundries tomato paste, followed by green beans, roast potatoes and for the carnivores, huge saucisses in onions. Les dessert was apricot tart followed by coffee. Wonderful. We sorted the money out and were already to leave but Rob wanted a little more time to let his thick sausage go down. Leaving the village, the only way was up, obviously. We passed a small field where an old tractor was turning the hay whilst a woman with straw hat and lavender floral dress hefted a long heavy looking wooden rake collecting bits missed by tractor. Incredibly moving sight.  

With only 4km to go we had our second puncture of the journey. A loud blow out on Dave's rear wheel, fortunately not at too much speed or in too much traffic. Not only was the inner tube wrecked but also there  was a significant tear in the tyre which we bodged sufficiently well to continue to our destination. Yes, yet again Dave's rear end blew out. 

Pot hole angel by Tony Peter Lang was the poem of the day read rather late in the day over beers on the terrace of a bar in the lovely town. Then over more beers on the terrace we ordered our evening meal which scored 7.5. Great evening, great company, privileged to share the stories of each other's extraordinary lives. You only live once so do it.  Bon nuit.

Day 8  Les Eyzies de Taya Sireuil to Gramat 95km. 

Breakfast was served in an orange painted dining room and we sat on the second most uncomfortable chairs of the trip - the first bring in the Ibis hotel on Vitre. On the TV was a 'Good Morning' type show made interesting by the two ladies presenting and demonstrating a piece on Pilates - we all tried to copy the shoulder exercises which would have been good if our shoulders could actually move! There was also an advert for'Le Chat' washing liquid which probably wouldn't survive without translation for the UK market. The poem for the day was 'Team Pursuits'   Breakfast was in the Demi Dordigne+ category ,  the + being merited as there was some cheese! After the usual goodbyes, thank you's and packing we were all set to go but we found Baz had a puncture which proved a bit of a problem to resolve - something to do with a twisted tube not inflating all the way round. But eventually we set off stopping briefly at the Pharmacy so Baz - or 'Lance' as we have come to know him - could stock up on his drugs. Only hay fever tablets in this case. The morning was cool and grey and Henrietta Headwind had decided to go play elsewhere. Unfortunately Henri the Hill was still with us, not taking the hint that we might have had a little too much of his company so far. But then we turned downhill for a couple of km into Sarlat Le Caneda,  the cold morning air bringing tears to our eyes - as did the thought that at the other side of the town there would be an equally steep hill up. Dave was wary of the decent as split in tyre getting wider. Cycling through the bustling town we stopped at the Le Clerc hypermarket on outskirts where Dave bought a new tyre - one with a very fetching red rim. We fitted the new tyre whilst Roger oiled all our bikes. Obviously maintenance and reliable tyres are a necessity on a trip like this and Dave was as pleased as punch with his red rimmed rear.  Before we set off again we headed into the cafe for coffee and cakes. Cycling on, we had a lovely 20km of flat roads along the limestone valley and passed into the Lot. And on to the medieval village of Gourdan which in French means 'lovely medieval village at the top of a stupidly steep hill'. By now Hermione Heat had returned egged on by Sebastian Sun. Stopped at the first restaurant we came to run by really friendly lady. As we were in the heart of foie gras country, we all had galettes and salads as the restaurant owner came from Brittany. On the road outside we saw our first 2CV of the journey but we also had our mini siesta interrupted by the local youth riding past on some form of vesta / moped - something else that will be banned come the revolution.  

After lunch we were treated to a lovely 4 km downhill followed by the inevitable payback. As the road twisted and turned up hill cries of 'what a lot of interestingly disguised false summits there are!' Or words to that effect. Then there were downs and then there were ups and then there were downs and then there were stinking great loads of ups. Down into limestone valleys and out again - parts like Provence without the vines and olives, parts like Derbyshire without the traffic and sheep. And finally at what seemed like the top of the world we reached Rocamadour which gave us fantastic views of castles and monastery perched on cliff tops towering over the valleys we had climbed out from. We stopped for oranginas at a Logis hotel to be served in the manner we had become accustomed to by Logis staff. Worse still, the Muzak playing was soft jazz - how low can you get? Setting off for the last 10km of the day we headed up an incredibly long straight hill non of us dared look at. But soon we were in Gramat and Google Earth found us the hotel although the roadworks and one way streets added a little extra challenge to the end of the day. After showers and stretches we convened in the bar for aperitifs before heading out to find our evening meal. But even as early as 8:00pm, most restaurants were either shut or closing. Eventually we found one bucking the trend and had a very pleasant meal on a terrace. Bon appetite if you are still eating. Bon nuit if, like us you're headed up the wooden hill to bed.

Day 9 Gramat to Esparion 137km

We awoke expecting a short-ish day ahead but at breakfast Dave realised that our stop tonight was not at the normal end of stage at Entraygues but 25km further on. Delighted we were entertained over our 'not a Lot' breakfast to more banal TV and the unedifying site of the waitress cleaning the loo. The poem of the day was called 'cycling to nowhere', a rather reflective and somber affair which somehow caught our mood. At the hotel we were staying there were clearly two classes of guests - the 'cyclist' class who were served breakfast in the bar cum betting shop, and everyone else, who had their breakfast in the dining room. Not only that, we had come to realise on our journey that there are two classes of wifi provision - the 'occasionally adequate' and the 'completely bloody useless' and this hotels offering was clearly in the latter class making you re-sign in every five minutes. What is it with hotels and wifi. Why do they make it as difficult as possible for a slow and intermittent service? As previously commented, it's like having to ask for the key to the privy and then finding you have to ask for the paper one sheet at a time. Anyway, I digress. Having failed to get on line at breakfast because the passcode was back in the room, the wonders of technology finally revealed that there was a supermarket in the town actually open - this being a Sunday. The small Carrefour obliged by having sandwiches and other provisions for our lunch, including s packet of Gerbil biscuits - another product whose name not likely to survive translation to the UK market. Leaving Gramat we realised the towns name in French meant 'place with more one way streets than you could shake a French stick at' and only by ignoring the signs and pedalling the wrong way down at least three of them and then slogging up a 0.7 saf hill we reached the outskirts. Cycling along long flat quiet roads we made good progress. 

Glenn was concerned that the cycle short  tan line was becoming too prominent so he had pulled the legs of his shorts up to get a more even tan. This Rob thought was the single most disturbing thing he had ever seen, and this from a man who had stayed in an Amsterdam hotel hosting a Gimp convention - yes dear reader, I had to look that up as well. Cycling on into Assier, we arrived just as the bells tolled to welcome us. Or maybe it was calling the faithful. We shared 

Gerbil biscuits and took Glenn's photo to be face tubed later. Not far on Glenn had another puncture and the tyre had a pretty bad tear in it Dave effected a good repair and on we went to meet an old art teaching friend.  Warby used to teach art at Madeley Court but retired to live near  Fijac eleven years ago. After nice chats over orangina we began a huge climb out of the town getting ever hotter. Monstrous climbs were followed by  a descent into the Lot valley and followed the river upstream. Cooling wind appreciated. At the top of another lengthy climb we stopped for water at a very welcome picnic area but not long later we stopped for yet another orangina by the river as storm clouds were gathering. After ice creams and coffee we set off again, the air cooled but not much. Steam was coming up from the roads. We shot along for the next ten or so km with Roger and Glenn (the mudguard men) forcing the pace. At the beautiful town of Entraygeus sur Treyere we turned away from the Lot and up its tributary  - a hilly road up through the gorge. The headwind was a real bastard and then the rain came. Dripping wet we stop in Estaing as it looked as if there were restaurants open and we were far from uncertain that would be the case at our final destination. Despite being soaked and smelly we were welcomed into a lovely restaurant where owners couldn't be more friendly. The meal easily scored a 10/10 and there was a raspberry in red wine dessert to die for. Afterwards, the rain had abated and we covered the last ten k of the day into Espalion where our beds awaited and yet again the wifi fell into the completely bloody useless category!!

Day 10 Espalion to Mende. 

What to say about today!! 'The hardest days cycling I've ever done' was pretty much the unanimous opinion. The day started with another not a lot Lot Breakfast - no cheese, no meats and no pan au chocolate!! There was a coffee machine with a label 'cafe Lange' which referred to how long you had to wait. The 

Poem of the day was called 'A ride through time' from 'Bicycling Life' 

A ride through time.

I ride through time,
Stretching it out with surreal distortion,
I ride for freedom,
I am immortal, freedom from the fear of death,
I push myself to the limit of my mortal frame,
then transcend that human pain,
enter into that fourth dimension.

My wheels no longer touch the ground,
they’re floating on passionate effort,
a whole hearted singleminded effort,
the rhythm of a perfect circle,
a pulsing rhythm that rises above the worlds woes.

Movement brings freedom.

Unfettered yet fitting in perfectly,
unconventionally conventional,
an independent form of movement.

I know exactly how far I have traveled,
I can feel how far I have moved.

Allow the spirit of your surroundings feed your movement,
the harder I push the more I merge with my surroundings,
my aim is to reach that point of effortless movement,
turbo boosted blood pumping round my muscles,
my spirit is one with my body,
brain, muscles and spirit in total harmony,
producing a pure singleminded effort,
human body, trees, mountains rivers,spirits and bike.

Carlo Castelvecchi. May 2002 


Payment at the hotel proved to be a taxing affair. First the girl forgot the breakfasts, then the local tax, then couldn't get the card machine to work. Incompetence might be too high a position for her to aspire to. Or maybe she was having a really bad day. Leaving the hotel we set off looking the local bike shop - we needed to sort out Barry's gears and get a tyre for Glenn. Fortunately it was easy to find. Unfortunately it was closed. We decided to go back on yesterday's route for  a couple of k to a Big Supermarket which sold steering wheel covers but no bike tyres. In the event we decided to swap the front and rear tyres on Glenn's  bike and hope it would hold. We headed of and for a leisurely three km followed the road by the Lot. But then came 12.5km of constant climb. The road clearly had had enough of this river valley whimpy stuff. The clouds were hugging the shoulders of the valley and cycling onwards and upwards we got to see what they looked one from the inside! Then out the other side to a welcome coffee at Lassouts where we bought biscuits from the local shop. Dave arrived rather later than the rest of us because 'he'd been taking photographs' and asked when we had got the biscuits. 'Yesterday' we said. Afterwards there was a long long down hill carefully done due to the tear in Glenn's tyre which was getting worse, so we stopped  halfway down to glue sections of old tyre to lend some support. More rubber solution and gaffer tape than had ever been see on a tyre. Stopped in St Geniez d'Olt for lunch.  Everywhere seemed to be closed or closing - as Baz commented, it felt more like a Sunday than a Monday. Like Sunday and a half. More cycling the wrong way down the one way street to get to a pizza/pasta place which couldn't serve us cos the till was broken! Instead we walked up the road and had the menu du jour at a pleasant enough bar which was good value, loads of calories and most welcome. We chatted to an English couple who had retired here some 12 years ago. When we told him where we were headed we should have taken his facial expression rather more seriously than we did - a small clue to the horrors ahead. Only 30km done so far and nearly 70 to go. After lunch another 7km up and 6lm down. An easy ish 20km following the Lot river and railway up the valley. Good going, a nice breeze and not too steep or too hot. Stopped for oranginas in La Monestiere with 30km to go, all feeling the strain of the morning's efforts catching up with us. After a couple more flat km, it then rained for another 2 km then stopped. Cycling on we were far too hot so waterproofs were removed. Then came two killer uphill sections  at least  0.85 saf and 400m of climb made worse by the presence of swarms of cyclist eating killer flies - they wait all day for a cyclist and then five come along at once. After a longish decent on not so good surfaces we waited at a junction for Rob who found the steepness just a bit of s problem. No matter, he did it and we all set off again to sudden hit a very unexpected three km climb, really steep and the last thing we needed at the end of the day.  From the summit we had a four km decent into Mende where we checked in, had quick showers and ate a welcome dinner to replace all the calories burnt today. Retiring to the lounge we set about checking out journey for tomorrow when we pass into the Ardeche. It does not look like an easy day!!!

Day 11 Mende to Ales 113km

Thank you thank you thank you to the delivery driver who woke us up at 5:00 am this morning delivering fruit and vegetable to the hotel restaurant. Why so early - they were still stacked up outside when we left at 9:00 - and why make such a bloody noise. Muppet. Breakfast was back up to the full French level thankfully. Then it was time to pack up and be on our way. This morning, this took Dave rather less time than usual because he had decided to jettison half his gear to make any climbs easier. So out went a singed Barry Holbon book, a French dictionary, the plastic container for his triathlon towel, a pair of cycling gloves, three pairs of pants, one small tune of toothpaste, various miscellaneous hotel information and the insoles for his shoes. Later in the day he revealed that a this made not one sodding not of difference. So off we went to the bike shop which was a)where Google said it was, b) open and c) managed to fix Barry's gears and supply various parts and spares included two new tyres for Glenn - blue ones to match his bike! All fitted and fixed we booked accommodation for our destination tonight and set off. Discussions last night had led to  change of plan. Instead of heading over four Tour de France climbs through the Ardeche, we have decided to take an easier route heading slightly further south and a making a more direct and slightly less hilly route to Sault in Provence on day 12. By 'easier' we mean there is only one 8km 300m climb - or so we thought. The climb which started about 10km after leaving Mende. At the tops we found a cafe for orangina and coffee and Dave swore if he ever came back here it would be without his bike and he was going to take up fly fishing. Then came a huge swooping decent lasting 12km during which Glenn overtook rather more motorised transport than he probably should have done.  Then there was another 300m climb and a gradual decent. We stopped for lunch in Florac which in French means 'long thin town'. Eventually we found the square which contained a number of cafes and had lunch of salads avec frites. As we were finishing the skies darkened and it got a lot colder. By the time we were ready to leave the rain started and after just a few minutes it was chucking it down. With thunder and lightening and a fierce headwind we cycled on uphill on a road that became a river. After a while the rain eased but at the top of the 130m climb it was still raining. We stopped for a coffee and changed into warmer, drier but inevitably smellier tops whilst waiting for Dave who had probably stopped to take some more photos. But no,by his own admission Dave was having trouble keeping up with his own front wheel. By now it was getting pretty cold so Barry had an ice cream - but only for religious reasons, he belonging to the church of later day non-conformist diabetics. Non of us really wanted to leave and so the was a fair amount of faffing. More faffing than on faff day in faff land. On the end we headed off into the rain. The long decent chilled us even more but as the km's passed and we got further down the valley the temperature increased, the rain stopped and the sun broke through. We stopped to take off layers and let the sun do its job. Taking turns to lead the last 20km into Ales, all was well until stopping to check our direction to the hotel we realised Dave wasn't with us. Rob, ever the dutiful sun went back to investigate and subsequently help Dave who had a puncture. Not long after we regrouped and braved the evening traffic to find the hotel. After checking in and locking bikes the rain came again, so no congratulatory beers on the patio in the evening sun. Not tonight anyway. Had a reasonable meal in the motel but the wine was good - a passable Cote du Ventoux where we are headed tomorrow. A little late in the day we had the poem of the day whose title I've already forgotten!!! Must be the vin rouge! Bon nuit to all our readers. 

Day 12 Ales to Crillon de Brave 114km 

The promised rain predicted with certainty by yesterday's weather horoscope proved to be completely absent as we tucked into our breakfast. We are in the Gard region and breakfast was of 'le Gard Grenade' variety as the bread and burnt croissant could have been used as weapons. Having parked our bikes outside for the night we are amazed and somewhat disappointed to find them still here in the morning. After packing up we realise Dave has a puncture. Things happen during the day and then Dave has another puncture. The things that happened in the day between punctures include: we headed to the local decathlon like kids in a sweet shop. In French 'decathlon' means 'nowhere to park your bike'. Unfortunately no amount of retail therapy could detract from the fact that we still had 100km to cycle. Various purchases were made including new cleats for Dave. Sorting out cleats and brakes with Roger doing his customary lubricating job on all our bikes. At 10:15 we set of heading east across the Rhone to Provence.  The road was busy but well maintained and - most importantly  - mostly flat or downhill.  We swooped down through the Cevennes eating up the km's. The Cevennes is a bit of a desolate area and the word means 'no chance of anywhere we can get a coffee then'. Pressing onwards we reached Bagnol sur Cez and had lunch in a busy cafe where the waitress had - according to Dave - legs like bottles of stout. And one or two other attributes that merited attention. Onwards after lunch we googled our way out of the town onto a really busy road with loads of lorries. Turning off as soon as we could we passed through the lovely narrow streets of Chusclan and then on on quite roads to cross the Rhone. An amazingly wide and majestic  river - we stopped to take photos and gaze in awe. Not long after the skies darkened, the thunder rolled and the rain started. Donning waterproofs just in time we cycled on through rain like stair rods, the roads streaming with water. We stopped for a few minutes to shelter under a bridge but realised it wasn't going to stop anytime soon so continued on. Cycling through the vineyards of chateau nuef du pap (translation: expensive and over-sold vin rouge) and later, cote du Rhone in a thunderstorm was pretty surreal. But soon we reached the top of a short climb and opening up in front of us was the geant Provençal - Mont Ventoux, towering above us on the horizon. Pressing on, the rain deceased and the heat returned. We passed through Sarrians and Aubignan steadily uphill before reaching the lovely village of Caromb, home to the Saint Marc AOC. From there we had a little route finding difficulty as the printed map, google map and the apple map app all conflicted. In the end we headed the few uphill km to Crillon Le Brave following Apple which eventually led us up a steep, narrow lane to reach the homestead known as La Sidoine, our stop for the next two nights. As there was no evening meal available, we quickly showered and planned to walk back down to Crillon when the skies blackened and it rained like a rainy thing on rain day. Masses of water bounced of the patio outside our rooms and shot like torrents from the drainpipes. And kept on going. In desperation we sent Baz to the small kitchen to see what was available - apart from more beer there was yogurts and loads of asparagus. Just as we're getting used to the idea that this would be our meal for the evening, the electricity failed and so raw asparagus and yogurt it would be. Fortunately our landlady took pity on us and phoned through a pizza order and then went to fetch it for us!! Not only that, she provided fruit salad and biscuits for dessert.  One very big bunch of flowers to be bought tomorrow to show our gratitude.

Day 13 Gite to Bedion to Gite 10.2km

On the original plan for the famous five today was to be an opportunity to leave the route to ride without panniers up Mont Ventoux, a famous Tour de France climb of around 22km and 1400m. Sadly two factors dictated a change of plan - one, the state of our bikes, and two, the state of our bodies!  On the bike front, Rob needed both tyres replaced, Barry needed a new gear change cable, Roger needed a new front wheel and Glenn needed his rear wheel spokes adjusted. And Dave just looked smug. Our bikes had taken a hammering. So far we have had to have

Four tyres

Two wheels

One gear cable

One chain

Two sets of brake pads

Seven inner tubes

Twelve gas bottles

Two cans spray lubricant 

One saddle cover

One bottle cage

Two pairs of cleats

One wheel spokes re-aligned. 

As far as our bodies are concerned, we are knackered. Twelve days of cycling and about 700 miles had taken its toll and a rest was urgently called for. Consequently we had a leisurely and late breakfast and then cycled unencumbered by panniers and in normal, non Lycra clothing into the lovely, bustling village not far from our gite. Taking the bikes into the bike shop, the atelier looked at each in turn, nodded his head and said "je comprende" with absolutely no room for doubt and we left to explore the village and drink coffee. Another task of the morning was to shop for ingredients for this evening's meal. Mooching around the supermarche we thought that pasta and a jar of tomato sauce would be a good idea. But Rob went apoplectic and complained in pained tones that there was absolutely no way he was going to cook with anything out of a jar and rushed round buying about half a metric tonne of raw ingredients. He's from Kings Heath you know. After more coffee we returned to pick up our bikes - all very pleased with jobs well done. Then it was lunch in a lovely courtyard restaurant and a short bike ride back to the gite. There we engaged in a lazy afternoon dozing on the sun and eventually summoning up the strength to wash and re lubricate our bikes. We sat round discussing the route for the next two days making some changes to make the last sections of our journey more manageable. Supper provided by Rob, our personal traveling chef was wonderful and fully lived up to our expectations of South Birmingham cuisine. The poem of the day was by Pablo Narooda and called ' Ode to bicycles'. Then we sat around into the late evening  reminiscing on the journey so far. St Malo seems ages ago. Somehow unreal. Only three days to go and we'll be in Nice. Somehow unbelievable and somehow quite a scary thought - it all will come to an end all too soon.

Day 14 Crillon le Brave to Monesque 118km

As has been mentioned, finding our way along the route has been a bit of a challenge at times. Thanks to google maps, we know where we are. Thanks to Apple maps we know where we are but not where we are facing. Thanks to the paper maps and Dave's skill with a pink highlighter, we know where we need to go. Thanks to Roger's patented plastic map protection device, we can see our route and not have the map turned to mush due to the incessant rain. And thanks to the various road signs along the way, we know which road is which even if it's not the one we want! Putting all of those bits of information together has been a team effort and we've not gone stupidly wrong so far. But although the direction of travel and the km to cover can be ascertained, the lie of the land can be a bit of a mystery till we actually get there. So whether the route is up, down or flat can't always be predicted.  Which is probably a good thing. As we found out later on the day. The morning rain predicted by last night's weather horoscope unfortunately decided to turn up at 2:00am and stay. Emerging for an early breakfast non of us were looking forward to another soaking on the bikes. We said our goodbyes at the Gite and thanked our hosts for looking after us so well. The bikes felt a little unwieldy at first and our slightly rested bodies groaned into the familiar pattern of bums on seats and clicking through the gears. The rain wasn't at heavy as we had feared and we had a pleasant enough ride through Bedoin, Monmoiron and the rows upon rows of Cote du Ventoux vines we arrived at Ville sur Auzon and the start of the climb through the wonderful Gorge de la Nesque - 20km and 430m of climb through amazing limestone cliffs and ravines. As the road zig zagged up and up

the wind howled around us and on each turn into the wind it was sometimes hard to keep moving. And then the rain came down much heavier than before - a hilly road, howling wind and driving rain, our happiness was complete. As we climbed on the rain eased and by the time we got to the look out platform at the top it stopped for all of five minutes. Just enough time to get changed out of wet tops and then get dry ones for them to get wet as well! But what a view. An amazing vision of millions of years of the constant erosion of water on rock. Cycling on we stop at a pretty posh restaurant in Monieux for coffee where the waitress thoughtfully brought us all towels. We cycled on for a few km and then up the monstrously steep hill into Sault - probably a 0.7 saf but ridiculous as this was the main route into the town. From here we cycled past the last of the vines and into field upon field of lavender, still in the rain. Ahead of us was a tantalising patch of clear blue sky that seemed never to get any nearer. No, not 'seemed' - it actually never did get any nearer! Eventually the rain eased and we stopped for lunch in the small village of Rivest du Bion which for some reason seemed to need a restaurant the size of Wales. After lunch the cycling was quick and easy - mainly downhill and slowly warming up. At a junction Glenn stopped to consult google maps for directions but instead of letting him look at a map of where we actually were, it directed attention instead to an inadvertently 'dropped pin' referring to a small field of cabbages 45km away. 'Where oh where is the button to remove the dropped pin?' Glenn asked to no one in particular and not in those exact words. Of course he was ridiculously challenging the higher logic that is google maps - why would you want to look at the portion of map where you actually are when you've been invited to be the 'first to review' an insignificant patch of brassicas located by an accidentally dropped pin not even remotely near to where you currently are. Others present will call to mind that Glenn had an itsy bitsy tissy fit at this moment. Bless. Having ascertained the correct direction - and forgive me emphasising this point - with absolutely no help from bloody useless Google - we made good progress.   But then in the village of Dauphin we came upon a bit of a shock - the Col de la Mort!! In the event, this was only a 3km fairly gradual slog but not in all honesty what we all needed towards the end of the day. But we all survived!! At the top we took photos and headed off downhill - unfortunately on a road surface with loads of loose chippings which rather spoilt the decent. Arriving in Manosque we were caught up in the friday evening rush hour traffic but finally made it to the hotel to find it locked. Fortunately we didn't have to wait long and the receptionist/cook/waiter/car park attendant/part time comedian let us in. Having showered we had time for a quick rest and recuperation. Barry and Glenn both commented upon a sensation we have all shared to varying degrees so far - the feeling that your cycling helmet is still on even though it's not. This is a disturbing and worrying experience. One supposed cure is to hold the helmet in front of you and undertake advanced zen visualisation techniques to convince yourself the helmet is not in fact on your head. If that fails there are therapy session you can attend. Similarly, Rob said on a number of occasions that when dismounting and sitting in a cafe, he experienced the sensation of his legs still going round. Non of us could bring ourselves to offer any reassuring explanation. This was because in fact, his legs still were going round. Ready for our evening meal we met at the appointed hour and walked across the car park expecting nothing more than omelette and chips judging by the feel of the place. However, we were surprised by two things - an expensive and fairly adventurous menu, and the fact that we were the only ones there - very weird. There ought to be a sign - you'll never leave. Having ordered, the waiter came back to inform us of the various 

menu items he hadn't already eaten and our choices were amended. Gradually we were joined by a few couples of a certain age who had come out to enjoy their Friday evening here because the newly emulsion ex wall at home had already dried. The atmosphere was like god's waiting room. The most exciting things was watching the lightening and the incessant rain pouring down outside. We are all hoping it clears by the morning. Running across the now flooded car park we laughed and joked about how clothes so wonderfully laundered and dry this morning were now soaking wet. As were our shoes. Oh well. This is southern France in June. What do you expect!!

Day 15 Monesque to Carellane 95km

We woke to glorious sunshine! Where did that come from? Last night it was raining so hard people were building boats. This morning's breakfast was 'Limited Limoge' - the Limoge hills being our present location. In contrast to the uninspiring breakfast the wifi in the hotel has been exceptional - no registration, no log in code, automatic reconnection. Other hotels bloody well take note. Some of us are living in the future. The poem of the day was postponed due to lack of poem. We left at 8:45 heading out across the motorway and the Durance river and into the Verdon national park. Cycling  past acres of fruit trees and on up a very long hill like the iron bridge bypass only twenty times longer and without the proximity to an earth shattering technological heritage. 

Finally at the top of plateau we were once again in Lavender land - something else you don't get in Telford. Rows and rows stretching into the distance, the flowers just coming into bloom. Signs indicated that the lavender was under threat  for some reason - unexplained. Down hill we shot into Valensole aiming to stop for coffee. Cycling through the narrow street we were beginning to loose hope when all of a sudden a square opened up and a dozen cafes loomed into view.  We chose one on the basis of it having comfy chairs and sat in the sun. Thereafter there was good cycling on to Riez which looked an interesting market town with Roman remains. From there there was a long, long climb along an optically illusional road - it looked like it was going down but most definitely felt like it was going up! After that a long lovely decent into the Verdon gorge and a short but fierce climb (0.6 saf) into the lovely village of Moustiere Sainte Marie perched under towering limestone cliffs where we stopped to take photos and one by one reject the ridiculously expensive tourist restaurants. A short distance away from the centre of the village we found a friendly cafe with cyclist friendly food. We sat outside watching people trying to park cars and buses. All around us there were French people smoking, German motorcyclists smoking, Korean tourists smoking, Taiwanese students smoking.  A sort of international slow suicide convention. 

The morning's exertions had left their mark and we were all a little lethargic about our departure. But only 45km to go. And it's going to be reasonably flat isn't it!  Actually no. After a relaxing three km down we started a climb 15.5km up to the col d' Ayen at 1031m. There were many points on the way up that looked near to top but unless there is is a little black sign with white italic writing saying Col d' Something or Other, you're not at the top. Descending down we were assailed with a flotilla of ancient Bugatti motor cars hurling themselves uphill driven by what we imagined to be s pile of rich freeloading bastards. At least that is the opinion Baz formed as he was nearly wiped out by one of them who hD decided to overtake Ruth absolutely no though for who or what might also be in the road. Unfortunately, Barry's Wolverhampton accent was undecipherable to said Bugatti driver but you can guess the gist of what Baz tried to get across. Halfway down the decent we stopped for oranginas at LA Palud sur Verdon and Dave contemplated on how wonderful his legs were. Or rather, legs in general - how amazing that they could power the pedals round and round thousands of times powered only by cheese, meat, beer and ice cream. From here we were rather hoping for a continuous decent into Castellane but as you know, one good col deserves another and we headed up high above the rapids and torrents of the river in the gorge. But not such a long climb this time before descending back into the gorge and following the river into Catellane. Rob and Dave had foolishly decided on a push to the finish 10km out and were cruelly disappointed when Glenn caught up to regain pole position. What were you thinking. Nice try fellas but need to do better next time. In the end Rob and Glenn arrived first and waited for the others for quiet a long time. Obviously our initial thoughts were that our comrades had been delayed 'taking photographs' but when they finally arrived the prosaic truth was out - Dave had had a puncture! How unusual! After that we found the hotel - not where Google maps said it was - but in a lovely square filed with plane trees, restaurants and in its centre, a small stage with a band playing medieval folk music to welcome us. Possibly. Quite entertaining and relaxing - but you know what, it is possible to overdo these things! The hotel rooms were quirky and old fashioned but did the trick. Showered and refreshed we convened in the bar for a well deserved drink. Over a wonderful dinner we had the postponed poem for the day - Bicycle to nowhere by Jacqueline Jarvis. Dear reader, you will easily recall that yesterday we described one of our disturbing experiences en route - the 'I'm feel like I've still got my helmet on' syndrome. Here are a few other phenomenon we have had to deal with. 

One. The nagging feeling about five minutes after the start in the morning that you've left something in the hotel room. This can easily be explained. It's because you have left something in the hotel room. 

Two. Early morning we get a bruised and raw sensation getting back into the saddle. This is repetitive abrasion injury or RAI. More colloquially it is referred to as PITA and in contradiction to popular opinion is not weakness leaving the body. This tends to wear off later in the day as the endorphins, numbness and possibly drugs kick in. 

Three. A repeated observation on our trip across France has been that France has no top. We have had plenty of experience of going up and quite a few coming down but never experienced actually being at anything like the top. Also, the ups seem to have out numbered the downs by some good measure which can only mean that the sea level in the Med is higher than it was in St Malo. 

Four. Going downhill but it feels like you're peddling up. This has happened so often. And even on occasions there has been the opposite - feeling like you're pedalling downhill when you know the road is going up. Again this can be easily explained. According to the Shimano theory of general synchronicity, everything is relative - as Einstein said. 

Five. Feeling that there is something wrong with your helmet - that it no longer fits, that someone has changed all the straps. This is because you've picked up someone else's helmet. 

Six. Road signs that say 6 km to Pointless sur Slog swiftly followed by one saying 7km to the same place. This is possibly due to the effect of Robs steel framed Ridgeback distorting space time in specific localities. Or it could be to do with the people who plan road signs not checking where they left off when returning from their two hour wine fuelled lunch break. 


We hope you have enjoyed these humbly offered observations of our cycling life. Thank you so much for following our progress so far.  We are in Castellane. We have cycled nearly 1400km. If I press the wrong button now I get presented with a bowl of fruit. Jesus, what is the world coming to. We have 98km and one day to go. This is both joyful and scary and really quite sad. So for the penultimate time on the famous five's cycling journey, Bon Nuit to all our readers.


Day 16 Castellane to Nice 98km; 1079 miles, 1736km completed from St Malo. An average of 77 miles a day including one day off. Or 83 miles a day actual cycling. All ok but we have run out of chamois cream. 

We slept fitfully and awoke to heavy leaden skies, peels of thunder and down pouring rain. Just the thing for our last day's cycling. The hotel had a medieval feel as if they ought to be serving frothing tankards of mead and roasting ox over open fire. Three flights of uneven polished slippery steps was just the thing to test aching muscles as we trudged down to breakfast which was of the petit déjeuner variety - the clue is in the first word. Fantasising about breakfast when we are back in England, there was a lot of talk about sausage, bacon and potato based products but  Glenn wanted anything that didn't rip open the top of your mouth and anything you don't have to butter yourself! After the by now clockwork procedure of packing and checking the bikes, the rain had thankful eased and we were on our way - our last day. We are in the Reserve Naturale de Haute Provence and thought we must have made the wrong turn from the village because we were going downhill. This is unheard of. But then on a long straight heading towards a circle of mountains our only thought was that there was no way a road was going to find a way through them with out going uphill. How right we were. A 4km 0.65saf climb commenced to village of La Garde. Because of the rain we where wearing waterproofs and we all 'ended' the climb as sweaty as a bucket of sweaty things on sweat day. But clearly the term 'ended' was premature. Onwards and upwards we climbed another three km but made the mistake of thinking we were at the top. Unless it says you're at the top your not at the top. And. We weren't. The top was even further on - the Col de Luens at 1054 m. Then followed a small downhill section and then yet more up. 1 and a half hours into the day and we had covered 15km.  A little further on we stopped for coffee at somewhere in France open on a Sunday. Nice coffee and lemon patisserie. Clearly Barry was not observing today. The calendar of his quasi religious observance is getting more and more difficult to fathom. St Diab the Betic is going to have some explaining to do. Then the sun came out. Starting off again we climbed up onto an alpine meadow, all grassy pastures and cowbells.  At 1150m from sea level and 50km to go why are we still going up!!! We passed a patch of Tarmac 'repaired' by someone who used strips of tar like Jackson Pollock. Then we came up across a line of parked cars that looked at first like a traffic light queue. In fact it was a row of Porsche cars. Their drivers - all members of the rich bastards owners club - were chatting to each other, blocking the road and leaving their engines running. Can they even spell the word 'environment'? A little later on we met a group of Australian cyclists who were doing the same route as us but - and we want to make this point absolutely clear - they had a support vehicle, carried no pannier bags, had walked up some of the cols, and were doing it in 24 days compared to our 14!!! Feeling hugely smug we cycled on and then finally at 1181m with 50km to go, the road condescended to descend. Sweeping down wonderful switchbacks and hairpins we soon left the plateau behind us and suddenly we were in yet another amazing limestone gorge. We stopped for lunch in Greoliere in a lovely shaded square and were served by a very helpful restaurant owner who bore a passing resemblance to Liberace. Why I should notice this is probably quite worrying but there you go. We ate our lunch in quiet and reflective mood. We are nearly there. Thirteen days of cycling nearly over. And one other nagging thought - are there any more hills?!? Thankfully, the answer to this question turned out to be no. We saw our first Nice signpost - 45km to go and we enjoyed about 20km of wonderful downhill through the Gorge de Loup. Then we hit the outskirts of the sprawl that is greater Nice and after a little while got our first view of the sea. Not long after we were on the cycle path running along the promenade dodging the skateboarders, in line skaters and pedestrians not all of whom seemed to know the rules about which bit of the path they should be on. Glenn cycled in front shouting 'fait attention' as if he was a local and knew what it meant. Passing the airport we got our first view of Nice proper and at the old port buildings cross the promenade and beach and dipped our front wheels into the Med - a stupidly symbolic gesture mirroring the other stupidly symbolic gesture of dipping rear wheels into La Manche at St Malo. After obligatory photos - see Glenn's face tube page we decided to avoid the nightmare of the Nice traffic by cycling along a tramway - but no one seemed that bothered. And soon we were at the hotel where we sat in our rooms contemplating our achievement. Meanwhile, just to make us feel more at home, the thunder and lightning started and it persisted it down! But thankfully not for long showered and Demi refreshed we headed out to find Nice's Veille Ville and found a restaurant in the Place du Carret where we ate our fill and drank too much. Then it was time to navigate our way back to a bar near the hotel where more beer was consumed, wisdoms exchanged and experiences recounted. Writing this now it is not an easy task to summarise our emotions or our achievements. You probably had to be here. One parting thought to share - last time I was here was in 2012 with my much loved and much missed Helen. I hope she would have been proud. Her spirit lives on.  You only live once.

Day 17 rest day in Nice

The day started bright and late. Gradually awaking to the realisation - no cycling today! - we breakfasted to orange juice in plastic cups and the worst coffee this side of Starbucks. The main requirement of the day was to procure bubble wrap, pipe foam and duck tape so that tomorrow, we could wrap our bikes safely for the flight home. After a number of false starts including waiting for 40 minutes for a bus that didn't turn up, Roger and Glenn took a taxi to an out of town French version of B&Q and purchased all that was required. The taxi driver was very helpful and waited whilst we rushed round the store which was so big they gave you a map to show how to get to the correct section. Carrying five rolls of bubble wrap and ten lengths of pipe foam into the hotel, we received one or two strange looks but the concierge looked as if this sort of thing happens every day. 

The next highlight on the itinerary was a visit to the gallery of modern art which - this bring France on a monday - was closed. So instead we drank coffee and then had lunch in the old town before heading to the beach. To say that the beach in Nice is stoney is like saying that Barry likes the occasional coffee, or that Dave has on the odd occasion been known to swear. That said, we found ourselves a more or less comfortable spot to watch the rather large waves crashing in and then to fall asleep in. Rob's tolerance for lying around on a beach is not great and so he was soon off for a proper kip back at the hotel. Meanwhile Dave and Glenn braved the rolling breakers and were promptly knocked off their feet. The only way to get back out of the water was to crawl! Whilst this was going on, Baz went up to sit on the promenade to have a look at one or two things. After more time dozing in the sun, legs unaccustomed to not moving up and down, we decided it was Orangina O'clock and went to a shaded bar to partake of what has become the tours official soft drink of choice. We're thinking of sorting out a sponsorship deal. Back at the hotel there was more dozing and sorting ready for our early start to the airport in the morning. Meanwhile, the traditional thunder and lightning returned -  sudden gust of wind slamming the bathroom door shut and Dave woke with a start thinking his front tyre has exploded!! By the time we were ready to go out though, the rain had thankfully stopped and we walked down to the old town for our last evening meal of the tour. As has been habit on the trip, we read the poem of the day if it hadn't been done at breakfast. Today's is called The (English) Cycle Path. 


The (English) Cycle Path

The dual carriageway has room 

on either side they found some space 

a narrow strip of tarmac makes

a lane of blessings mixed for us 

a cycle haven in run down state


The rushing cars out windows throw 

unwanted waste our lives demand 

the Tubourg and the Carling cans

the deritritus as they go 

the wrappings from Mcdonald land


Flattened rabbits in the gutter

the tubes and hoses, planks and plastic 

unheeded calls on Marlborough  packets

butts and filters as if not litter

the broken inner bits of gadgets


Stones and chippings sharp as shrapnel

all of this hard not to hit

the cats eyes and the metal bits

the bike track haven counter factual

the crumbled bits of rumble strips


At traffic islands, filtered lanes 

your dirty often unkempt hosts

will disappear like transient ghosts

and leave you to your own sad fate

at just the point you need them most

by GMJ


Also, it had become our habit of reading the days blog to check for accuracy and, more importantly, to check for any libellous content! 

And at the end of our journey and the end of this blog, let us do the credits on the famous five characters whose antics have hopefully kept you entertained for the past couple of weeks. 

Baz - coffee addict, occasional adherent to the teachings of St  Diab the Betic, the only one of us sensible enough to have waterproof pannier bags, occasional drug user. 

Glenn - digital stuff, blog writer, wine critic, token vegetarian. 

Dave - hotel, ferry and flight booker, official hill gradient assessor, language consultant (not French). 

Rob - chef, chief 'car up!' warning shouter, French cycling correspondent for the Kings Heath Herald, token 'young' person. 

Roger - navigator, Orangina addict, bike lubricator, captain sensible, occasional shower cap wearer and on a quest for a  ju d' pamplemouse. 


How can we sum up our trip and our achievement? In numbers it's easy - 

1079 Miles

1736 Km

347200 Pedal turns each 

248000 Wheel turns each

13 days cycling

1 rest day

1 or 2 slightly steep hills 

1 or 2 slightly wet days

1 or 2 slightly tired legs. 


But in other ways? We've had a really good time, got on well together, worked as a well oiled team, had plenty of laughs and jokes and made one or two rather questionable comments about, amongst other things, English caravan drivers, noisy  mopeds, Logis hotel staff training, smokers, American accents and Australian cyclists. Thank you our loyal readers for your tenacity and interest. And so for the last time, merci and Bon nuit.