The evening of Thursday 20th July 2017 saw a gaggle of windswept cyclists watching car after car being loaded onto the Portsmouth to St Malo ferry. The cyclists were last on. Luckily, Nick and Sandra had sneaked on ahead and saved seats in the bar for the 11 Spinners and baggage-carrying, picnic-making Dean.
Next morning, after a rather bumpy crossing, the enthusiastic, if rather bleary-eyed, cyclists were first off the ferry and raring to go. Until, that is, Julian noticed that he wasn’t wearing his riding gear. It was in Dean’s VW van. Eventually, everyone was fitted out with the correct bikes and kit. They set off. Then stopped. A mile or two away, breakfast in St Malo beckoned. The owner became particularly friendly when he saw 11 ravenous Brits turn up. So, it was strong coffee, with ham and cheese gallettes for 11, s’il-vous-plait.
‘Off course!’ became a familiar cry from our leader, JB, but we didn’t mind sight-seeing round St Malo (and the next stop, St James, and Plessix-Balisson), once, twice – how many times? Nor did we mind cycling through a car park, on footpaths in a public park, or even into a farm-yard. We were happy to offer interest to bemused locals. Eyebrows were raised, however, when one shingle track became a feat of avoiding roots, boulders (OK, big stones), ruts and mud. We made the whole trip (2200 miles between us) without a single puncture, although a few chains became dislodged and Claire parted company from her bike as she tested the theory that she could stay upright whilst motionless. JB was bereft without his allen key, until Julian and Rod came to the rescue. Surprisingly, CycleHoniton’s emergency supplies were not needed.
Lunch was planned at Mont St Michel, but, quelle horror: no orange and brown VW van. Nick, Julian and Rod sped off in different directions to find Dean. Claire used her mobile phone. Eventually, the 12 were reunited in the car park and, taking one look at a crowd of cyclists, the people in the parking spot alongside suddenly drove off, leaving us ample space to sit on the grass and enjoy the wonderful picnic provided by Dean. He even remembered the wine! We enjoyed the next picnic at the entrance to the hotel in Erquy on Sunday. Feeling a touch conspicuous, but definitely hungry, we decamped and tucked into another Dean ‘Special’ before checking into what was probably the best hotel of the trip – although Pete’s attempts to explain how tiny his shower cubicle was prompted an inspection party to see for themselves. Pete didn’t demonstrate, however. Jennie was delighted to have an en-suite – with a toilet this time.
Carb-loading was a strong feature of the trip. Although Pete’s desire for Moules was frequently met, he was denied them after a morning cycling along the Sables D’Or and Cap Frehel. Arriving at Matignon, Pete made a beeline for a restaurant with a ‘Moules’ sign. But it was not to be: JB had spotted the patisserie next door. Dilemma. Soon, the cyclists trooped out clutching bags of pies, sandwiches, pizzas and, of course, the delicious Breton cake, earlier tested by JB and Pete in Dinan. JB appeared to be on a mission to taste every sweet delicacy on offer in Brittany. It would, of course, have been rude not to join him. He wasn’t quite so keen on sampling Nick’s impromptu roadside picnic of bread, croissant and jam removed from the breakfast table in Dinan (who’s saying he got up too late to eat it with us?) Sandra’s supply of chocolate biscuits, however, was a different matter.
The most amazing meal of the trip must be the meat-feast of a BBQ in the Yourt Village in Plessix-Balisson. Rod had a disagreement with a chair (again!!) and ended up under the table (though no one’s mentioning the empty wine bottles) and Claire’s encounter with the low doorway of her Yourt was certainly memorable, but sitting in the warm sunshine around the BBQ was pure delight. Thankfully, Nick had organised the one warm, dry day for when we were camping. Camping? Who mentioned bedding and towels? Don’t ask.
The weather wasn’t quite so kind as we approached Dinan in torrential rain, with wheels sliding, brakes squealing and glasses steaming up. Eleven soggy, dripping cyclists left a trail of puddles as they conjured up imaginative ways of hanging up wet clothes and shoes to dry around small bedrooms. Rain, though, didn’t put us off. It was another day, so another dress – and, of course, heels – for Sue, who tackled the steep, wet cobbled streets down to the harbour with elegance.
A cycling holiday it may have been, but Vanessa wanted to run. At dinner in Erquy, enthusiastic plans were made to swim in the sea and go for a run along the beach – all before breakfast. At the appointed hour, enthusiasm seemed to have waned as a motley collection of us, sporting swimming shorts, cycling shoes and cycling shorts set off in the strong wind to run along the beach. Of the swimming party, there was no sign, but the runners were rewarded for their efforts with another delicious breakfast. This breakfast and that in the Kyriad in St Malo contained the greatest choice, but the basket of goodies provided in the campsite was certainly the most interesting. Perhaps, eating outside adds a charm.
Of course, being beside the sea, we had to sail. This opportunity was provided as we caught the little passenger ferry from Dinard to St Malo on Tuesday. The ticket seller went pale, but kept her smile as I explained that, yes, there were 11 of us and, yes, we all had bikes. The sun shone; it was lovely.
A little culture and would-be bird-watching also occupied us, with Nick filling us in on the history of the railways, peering through windows of an abandoned mill and the mystery of the reported sighting of the kingfisher. Now, who is to say whether there was a kingfisher in the bush or not? Certainly, only one person saw it. Rumours of possible sightings followed throughout the trip. Was there a kingfisher, or not? Who knows?
To offset the educational aspects of the trip, we had some drama. As the regular cry of ‘Photo stop!’ was passed along the line, JB and Julian disappeared round a bend in the far distance. We wondered how long it would be before they noticed that they were the Lone Riders. Nick became bored. Suddenly, his bike was on the verge and he was spread-eagled in the middle of the road. Sarah followed his lead. The rest of us just giggled. At that moment, JB reappeared. Now, as JB said afterwards, had it been anyone other than Nick, lying in the road, he would have been alarmed.
We had wondered where everyone was as we cycled along near-deserted roads and through quiet, sleepy villages. We found them in Cancale and St Malo. This was the only time that we were forced to separate for lunch as we divided into two groups in order to find space. We also joined the tourists during our last evening in St Malo, as Google maps replaced the Garmin as route-master for our bus ride and walk into the town. An amble round the old town ended with a drink in a beautiful setting near the sea. It was a perfect way to spend the last evening in France.
The last morning brought rain and a wardrobe dilemma: how to cycle the few miles to the ferry port without getting soaked through, but have clean, dry clothes for the 9 – hour crossing? Unlike the trip out, the ferry was quiet – and so were we: weary perhaps, reflective, perhaps. To provide a fitting end to a truly memorable and enjoyable trip, gifts were presented to Nick for the organisation, to Dean for the transportation and to JB for the navigation. All that’s left is to thank everyone for making it such a good trip, especially the trip photographer, Rod, for his excellent visual record and to Sandra and Claire for their linguistic skills.