Tintinburgh | France | French coast
Cycling alongside west coast in France
About a month ago I have decided to go on a longer cycling trip. I have not done longer cycling before so it was all very new to me. Anyway after I managed to buy all the equipment for the bike I went on a road - from London to Bordeaux I managed to make around 1130km!
During the trip I had one broken chain and about 5 flat tires. You can see the rough map here - or you can have a look at the photo of the cyclists map I have used below, I have also marked my sleeping locations there. I have tried to follow Eurovelo routes and I have done large parts of EV1 - La Vélodyssée.
Day 1: London to Portsmouth (71km)
I have made all neccessary preparation - went to Decathlon day before and bought some Merino shirt and some bike equipment... I weighted the bike it was around 36.4 with all bags. (This has probably increased throughout the journey as I have started carrying more water..)
Started in London, my back rack broke after 30m in London on a roundabout - it simply fell with all the bags to the back of the rear wheel so I had to drag it behind me to get out of the road. This was relatively easy fix - just apply some tape!
I have tried to follow Kamoot / Google maps to get to Portsmouth, if largely followed cyclepath alongside main highway to Southampton and as such it was one of the most disgusting cycling experiences I had...
The original plan was to make it 130km to Portsmouth for the 22:00 ferry. Around 18' I have realised that there is no way I am going to make it - I had only done around 70km and with the bags I was way slower than usual. So I took a train from Aldershort to Portshmouth (the train was delayed because police had to chase off some junkies.. classic Aldershot!). I booked the ferry while I was on the train - before I was not quite sure if I am going to make it to Portsmouth on time so I avoided booking it as long as possible. But the price was same so this did not matter.
I arrived to Portsmouth and made my way to the terminal. I have never taken a ferry so the procedure to board was quite new to me, the nice thing was tho that all cyclists were placed together in one car lane so I talked to people with quite similar plans. Anyway once aboard I was very surprised by the size of the ship, there were cinemas, large cafeteria and a bar... I have included a map of the ship at the bottom. I had some dinner and after an hour or so the ship started to move. The ship is quite huge so I had a good view on naval ships in Portsmouth. I have never seen an aircraft carrier before so it was nice surprise to see both of UK Queen Elisabeth class. Anyway after we made it out of harbor I went to sleep - I did not book a cabin so I slept in a sleeping bag on carpet in a cinema room - it was the only one that was properly dark...
Day 2: Caen to Carentan les Marais (81km)
I woke up after about 4 hours of sleep while the ship was still making its way to the Caen harbour. I made it through border checks and started cycling west alongside the beaches. Most of the beaches here were used during D-Day so there are memorials everywhere.
I started on EV4 cycle route but there was a very headwind so I have decided I want to make it to western coast as fast as possible. Google maps routed me through farms and small villages which was quite a nice route. I made it to Carentan les Marais when I started to look for camps to sleep in. All were fully booked so I had a dinner and when it was getting dark I followed cycle path to farm-fields to find a place to sleep.
I found a very nice secluded place that was covered by trees from the cyclepath so I would not be disturbed... I did not have a tent so I just slept on a mat with sleeping bag.. It was quite beatiful and I have managed to fall asleep quickly... At around midnight I got woken up by the ground trembling. I looked up and about 5m away I saw a wild boar. We kept staring at each other and then it turned around and run away while making the weirdest most devilish noises... I have decided to abandon this campsite immiedietely and went closer to the town. The spot I have found was quite bad as it was very wet in the morning and there was some broken industrial door that lept making noises during the day...
Day 3: Carentan les Marais to Jullouville (80km)
I woke up in wet grass and started cycling alongside canal in the morning. Alongside I have discovered that there has been a good camping spot with water and fireplace about 300m from where I slept.. Unfortunetely my powerbank discharged completely throughout the night and my phone started to charge it... So I had a very little power on both.
I have decided to cycle le Mont-St-Michel but around 6' I realised I wont make it in time so I booked Airbnb in Jullouville. I thought that would be easy ride - according to Google maps it was barely an hour. But the actual ride was very hard - the road was full of hills that were way to steep for my fully loaded bike. After I made it there I had trouble finding the place but then a dalmatin started chasing me on the road and it turned out he lived at the Airbnb place. He became quite friendly once inside. The Airbnb was quite nice - had a wine with the owner and her friends... It was hard to talk but they were trying.
Day 4: Jullouville to Dol-De-Bretagne (73km)
In the morning I went to the beach looking at Mont St Michel from the other side and I thought it would be relatively easy cycle to get there.. It turned out to be way longer because there is a lot of farmfields with no access. Anyway I made it to St-Michel, its one of the most beatiful places I have ever visited. But the inside is a bit boring and over-touristic.
After that I have booked a hostel in Dol-De-Bretagne, made it there, finally took a shower and went to see the town. There was a pub with live music so I enjoyed belgium beer and french take on american folk music...
Day 5: Dol-De-Bretagne to Rennes (69km)
Woke up with hangover (Belgium beer...) and went to super-market, I bought a super cheap tent for 15 eur, not realizing that the 200cm was actually not enough for me.. I have also bought a new cable lock (much lighter) and left my good lock in the hostel because I realised I wont be leaving the bike anywhere for more than 20 minutes.
After lunch I cycled to Rennes following strictly routes South. It was decent ride through farms and small towns. I almost made it to Renne but I had a flat about 2km from the city. I had a spare but I found a bike shop nearby so I went there and my tire and tube replaced. This caused problems later because they gave me very strange tire that is meant for tubeless setup so it was very hard to replace the tube...
I made it to Rennes, had a dinner in the center (it is awesome) and followed cycle path alongside the canal to get out of the city. The cycle path had a gravel surface and I have felt on my knee while getting around some obstruction... I have made my campsite with the super cheap tent and discovered I dont fully fit.. but it was managable apart from the frog sounds.. There were so many frogs I had trouble falling asleep! Also I could not bend my knee anymore but that went away in the morning..
Day 6: Rennes to Blain (95km)
I followed the cannal in the morning but had another incident with the rack - same problem like in London. This time I have used a strap to counter the weight of the bags... I did not have this problem after.
I found the canal a bit too boring so I followed Google maps to get to Nantes faster. I made it in the middle but then my chain broke in two halves. I used my chain tool to remove two links and shorten the chain. Then I went to the nearest cycle shop that was open to buy a new chain. This was in Blain - about 30km away and they replaced it quite quickly and then even properly adjusted my derailer. The cycle shop was sharing a building with a pub so I went for a couple pints - they had Veltins Pilsners which I found quite amusing. There was a nice camp just nearby so I went there... Blain also has a nice castle and overall I liked the city...
Day 7: Blain to La Bernerie-en-Retz (102km)
I followed the cyclepath alongside the canal (part of EV1) to Nantes. I nearly melted getting inside Nantes. I spent around 2 hours in Nantes and I have to say I did not like this - Rennes was so much more prettier! When I mentioned this to French people they were all surprised as Nantes is apparently the hipster city... So I have decided to go to coastline as quickly as possible.
I made it to La Bernerie-en-Retz when I had a front flat tire. The front flat feels very different to rear flat - I was able to continue cycling for a while but my bike has become essentially uncontrollable - any turns and I almost fell of. I managed to fix it but then my pump did not work... I was in middle of nowhere on a farm field and I have been trying to pump the front wheel for about 20m when a guy in a pickup truck showed up, he did not speak almost any English but asked me if I need to get to a campsite or something. I randomly showed him a campsite next to the beach and in about 10m we were there. A second we turned out at the campsite a dutch man showed up with a working pump and everything was fixed... I chatted for a bit with the dutch cyclist - he was following EV1 south with two small kids and wife which must have been quite intense...
Day 8: La Bernerie-en-Retz to Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie (91km)
I got a new (40 year old) pump that actually worked and followed the EV1 through Salines - small salty lakes used to grow sea food. The day was super warm - around 36 degrees so I went to the beach the first chance I got.
I had another front flat tire in Saint-Jean-de-Monts - replaced it on the main promenade which was quite funny because I get to hear all the people feeling sorry for me :D.
Anyway it was around 8pm and I started looking for campsites - but but all of them were incretibly full and commercial - the campsites I slept before were mostly for cyclists / camp vans, but here the campsites included pools, water slides and roller coasters... So I cycled to Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie and slept in the dunes without a tent just next to the city.
Day 9: Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie to Port de Bourgenay (50km)
Spent most of the day on the beaches, made it to Decathlon in Les Sables-d'Olonne - finally got a new merino tshirt...
Day 10: Port de Bourgenay to La Rochelle (105km)
It was very hot day but I wanted to go far given that I had extremely lazy day before so I made to La rochelle. I went to a garden pub for a beer and then booked Airbnb just 300m away. That was very nice - there were three groups there and mostly we ended just chatting on the garden. I met Arnaud there who was going Santender - it was his 1st day and he already did 150km so far.. He had much better setup, light road bike and no panniers - just couple of small bags on the frame.
Day 11: La Rochelle to Saint-Sornin (76.1km)
I spent the morning in La Rochelle - the city is awesome, I want to return one day! It was also the first time there was a bit of a rain - but not enough...
I had a rear flat after an hour of cycling. I started to fix it but I had a problem taking out the tire - they had replaced it in Rennes and now it seems one side is glued or something. I was struggling with it until Arnaud showed up out of nowhere and together we managed to fix it... I continued down with the intention of getting to Royan to take a ferry to Gironde. I did not follow the EV1 and instead went with Google maps - but the path was quite horrible - it was the main car road to Bordeaux so instead I plotted my own path through smaller cities.. Anyway I had a 2nd rear flat that day near Saint-Sornin about 20km North of Royan. I again quite struggled to get under the tire, managed to replace the tube and everything but I had trouble putting the wheel back on. I was struggling with this for about 20 minutes when 16 year old dude showed up on motorcycle and tried to help me - he could not so he went home and sent me his father who lives nearby... His father somehow managed to put it on (the wrong way as I was to discover the next day)...
I went to camp nearby - which had a pony wondering around the campsite - photos included!
Day 12: Saint-Sornin to Carcans plage (88.58km)
After cycling about 10km my rear wheel started to giving a lot of resistence, I inspected it and discovered that the wheel was not properly sitting in the enclosure. I tried fixing it - but it seems some part of the bike has been bended at some point and now it is hard to insert the wheel...
I finally made it to Royan, took the ferry to Gironde, cycled alongside the coast and beaches. I tried surfing at a non-surveilled beach but the waves were very bad that day so it was not good, but at least the price was very cheap - around 15 eur for suit and the board.
I cycled mostly through forest roads without anyone at all. There were a lot of fire clearances and closed of roads... I saw a wild boar with child just next to the road.
I made it to Carnans plage, the camping was full so I put my tent into the forest next to the parking - about 30m from the road... I went to the beach which was pitch black at midnight, this whole area felt like an isolated island - even though we were just an hour away from Bordeaux! A guy on a road bike started talking to me - he was an aerspace engineer who used to work fighter jets. He was cycling quite fast and it was almost impossible for me to keep up with all the bags.. He was a bit surprised to hear that I made most of my journey in sandals... He recommened bycicle clip-on shoes. I told him I am doing it for adventure, not effiency to which he replied that I will have 20% more adventure... So maybe next time I will get the clips...
Anyway I went to sleep and around 2am the pigs woke me up, this time of the Sus Policius specimen. They told me that I was not allowed to camp there - I asked them where I am supposed to go when the only camp around is closed... They have considered this and then told me I can stay as long as I leave in the morning. I think they were OK with me because they saw my bike and realised I am not a beach goer trying to save money. This whole area felt very hostile towards cycling...
Day 13: Carcans plage to Arachon (80.6km)
In the morning I went to Lacanau Océan and pretty much slept for couple of hours in a beach bar. The waves in the area were quite amazing and now I regret not trying to surf there... I also had a free wine tasting of Bordeaux wines.. Anyway I went south to swim in the ocean then I had oysters in Cabane Réveleau, made it to Cap Ferret and took a ferry to Arcachon. This time the ferry was very small and my bike had to go on the front side of the boat..
I started looking for campsites in Arachon but could not find anything so I went to Dune du Pyla where there were supposed to be campsites.. Unfortunately the road was blocked, apparently the campsites and the whole area experienced a wild fire about a week before (and apparently its on fire now again). I made a campsite near the road and thought where to go next..
Day 14: Arachon to Bordeaux (69.3km)
I have decided that I dont want to go more south - the wild fires make it impossible to do wild camping and legal campings are all full.. So I cycled to Bordeaux, booked a hostel for 2 days and enjoyed the city!
I took TGV to Paris (Had to pay 10eur extra for cycle). On board I was seated next to phd student in fluid dynamics who was just starting cycle trip going from Strasbourg to Amsterdam so we chatted about that.. Anyway the TGV took 2 hours to 600km and it was quite awesome. Then I took train to Caen, cycled to the port and took another overnight ferry back to Portsmouth.
Next morning I took a train from Portsmouth to London - but it broke down in Haslemere - well the whole rail had some unspecified issue. So I tried cycling 20km to Guildford but almost fainted in the middle so I went to Milford instead and just waited for the next train which took me to Waterloo. I felt super feverish in the train and overall I did not felt safe to cycle through the centre of London.. But somehow I managed and got home eventually. I had temperature of 38.5 but it got down quite quickly...
Anyway now I am back home and already thinking about the next trip!