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Big Bird on a Bike
No Photos 10th Jul 2012 - 25th Jul 2012 - My First Trip
It's all about the bikes!

Well, France in July is just bike crazy. Every town and village I passed through was decorated to the hilt with cycling paraphernalia. On my second night in France I stayed in the unassuming village of Sanmatan, which was due to host the start of one of the legs of the Tour a week later. The whole village was a riot of red and white spots, green and yellow jerseys and every form of bicycle imaginable. Funnily enough, as the Tour progressed and the Brits began to dominate the scene, the French became a little more subdued over the matter.

I watched on TV as the multi-coloured peleton flew through small French towns like a rainbow-coloured flock of tropical birds. As they skirted the annoyingly over-enthusiastic supporters, who were forever jumping in their path I watched agog as they achieved faster speeds going UPhill than I can muster going DOWNhill! The Tour boys average 40km/hr, while I manage a paltry 15km/hr, but I suspect this has something to do with Bradley Wiggins not having to dry a week's worth of laundry off his handlebars. You also rarely see the Tour boys carrying a bottle of wine in case of emergencies. Maybe they could learn a trick or two from me ;-)

Well, as I headed north through France I emerged from the foggy Pyrenees into the flat, but sunny countryside around Toulouse and was reunited with my friends Aurelien and Heloise, whom I had first met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. They have recently finished their own 2 year cycle tour, so could understand exactly how I was feeling. After a lovely evening eating homemade jams and pates I met my friend Lucy off the plane from Bristol. This flight is rarely graced with a single bicycle, but on that particular day there were dozens of lycra clad luvvies flying out to compete in a stage of the Tour, so the place was packed with bike boxes and shaven-legged men.

That afternoon, having not seen each other for more than 2 years, Lucy and I pedalled out into the French countryside talking nineteen to the dozen. Two punctures and a beer later we found a lovely campsite and took the opportunity to catch up on lots of gossip. Over the next two days I made her cycle more than 260km along the Canal du Midi so that I could see the Bastille Day fireworks in Bordeaux. Lucy is a seriously fit sportswoman and easily outcycled me speed wise, but even she was a little tired by the time we found a hotel in the centre of Bordeaux. Still, the fireworks were worth it!

As Lucy flew back to the UK I pedalled north-westwards through some of the Bordeaux region's most prestigious vineyards. After a quick hop on the ferry I was in Royan and pedalling northwards towards La Rochelle. My biggest problems in France were remembering to put the toilet paper in the toilet bowl rather than the bin and not asking whether the hotel rooms came with an en-suite bathroom (locals were offended by the suggestions that they might not!).

France is bad for the waistline, but manna for the soul! I cycled from boulangerie to Bar/Tabac to lovely little seaside restaurants for moules frites or the freshest oysters known to man. You've gotta love the French. I still think it is the only country in the world where you can order a cognac to go with your coffee at 9am and they don't even bat an eyelid! I remember when I first set out with my group of girl friends from Caen at 6am one May morning two long years ago and we stopped at a cafe for a coffee only to find the locals drinking beer. Hurrah for the French!!

The other thing I love about France is the municipal planting. In England we get a few geraniums and a begonia or two. In France, a bed outside a village toilet is awash with salvias, verbena, scabious, lambs' ears and elegantly wafting swathes of grasses, all in glorious shades of pinks, purples and silver-greys. They could teach us a thing or two.

The disappointing thing about France is how expensive it has become. When I was a child we used to visit France on holiday every summer as it was cheaper than going to the Mainland (i.e.the UK). Nowadays you pay more than 3 € for 25cl of beer, a single boule of icecream can cost the same and a night at a campsite can cost as much as 19 €!

After two weeks of following a little green man, who led me a merry dance, but kept me off France's main roads, I arrived back in St Malo. As a child I remember sailing over to St Malo on the family's cargo ship and always being infinitely relieved at the sight of the city's walls as it meant the end to my seasickness. Even arriving bike I was glad to pedal through the smelly arches and into the cobbled streets of the centre as it meant that my journey was almost at an end.

I spent a frustrating night camping in Saint Servan watching 3 ferries depart for Guernsey, knowing that my family were assembled just a few km away across the Channel. The fact that my journey was almost at an end brought mixed feelings, but I was so keen to see eveyone again that sadness at ending my trip was pushed to one side.

Eventually, at 1.45pm on Wednesday 25th July the Condor ferry pulled into St Peter Port harbour. The sun was shining and Guernsey had never looked so good. As I stood on the car deck beside two other cyclists I expected to see one or two of my family waiting to greet me and maybe a banner made by my 7 yr old niece. As the ramp dropped I saw a clutch of people decked out in flourescent vests and a huge banner spanning the Off-ramp declaring "Welcome Back Judi! 44,000km around the world. On Yer bike!" My Dad doesn't know the meaning of the word "understatement"!

It was so good to be back. I'm not quite home, but I have spent the most fabulous week amongst all my family being spoilt rotten. Over the weekend we had a party to celebrate what would have been my grandfather's 100th birthday (had he not died 23 years ago!), so all 40 members of the immediate family were together for the first time ever. I got to meet the new children of my cousins, but most importantly I was reuinted with my nieces Ella (who at 13 was almost unrecogniseable from the 11 yr old I left behind), Rosa (a blossoming 7yr old) and Poppy, who wasn't even a twinkle in her mother's eye when I left!

I have made them all a promise that I shan't go away for quite so long again....at least not for the forseeable future!

So, all that remains is for me to catch the ferry back to Poole tomorrow and cycle the last few kilometres back to Culmstock by Sunday. If anyone is around and fancies joining me in the Duke of York in Churchinford around 1pm I'd love a bit of company to cycle the last few miles into the Culm Valley Inn in Culmstock for 2pm. It might help to stop me blubbing quite so much!

I shall write one more blog entry to round off the trip, but after that you'll have to wait for the book...... Thank you all for your fantastic support. Look forward to seeing you all (well, almost all) in person very soon.

P.S. GO WIGGINS!!!!!



Next: The End
Previous: Heading for Home



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