At the beginning of June 2009 we packed up all our possessions, rented our flat to a nice young couple who wanted a garden flat in Ealing while they had their first child and headed off for a 3 month trip to France. We had decided to use our new tandem to pull our cycle trailer complete with canoe and all our camping gear to go to South West France. There we planned to canoe sections of 4 rivers: the Dordogne; the Vézère; the Célé and the Lot. We aimed to follow the procedure that we had used on our Scottish trip – using the tandem and trailer to get us to the rivers then putting everything (bike included!) into the canoe for the descent down the rivers. Our new tandem was a full sized machine from Thorn Cycles in Bridgewater with SS couplings that allowed the frame to be split.
Our new Thorn Tandem
Even so getting the bike into the canoe was quite hard. Below are some photos showing how we did it (taken in our garden well before we set off).
Tandem packed into canoe
Map 1 – overall map of route
London to Portsmouth, Le Havre to the Loire
Map 2 - Le Havre to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
We cycled from London to Guildford then to Chichester staying with relations and friends on route. Then we took the LD Lines ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre.
A pit stop at the Hollist Arms Lodsworth on the way to Chichester
On the ferry
Le Havre to Blois
On the road
Once we started cycling in France we really began to get to grips with our long and cumbersome rig. The whole thing was pretty heavy and this made hills quite arduous. If the road was flat cycling was remarkable easy once one had got underway but as soon as the road started to climb at all our speed fell dramatically while downhill stretches could be really rather too fast for comfort if one was not careful. However, we were lucky with our weather, cycling through Normandy in warm sunshine, enjoying the fields full of wild flowers.
A field of poppies
Le Havre to Brionne 16th June 46 miles
Le Havre is very industrial and not easy to find one’s way out of. We followed the Seine eastwards and eventually managed to take a very small road throught the marshes by the bank of the Le Havre -Tancarville canal. This passed under the bridge at Tancarville and we continued to Port Jerome where we took the ferry to Quillebeuf. From Quillebeuf we dropped down to the very pretty Risle valley cycling past Norman half timbered farmhouses with flowers growing out of the top their thatched roofs. We passed through Corneville sur Risle, Abbaye, Conde sur Risle, then St Philbert sur Risle, Freneuse sur Risle, Authou finally arriving at Brionne where we camped at the camping municipal.
More wild flowers
Brionne to la Ferté-Vidame 17th June 52.4 miles
On our second day we continued on unclassified roads to Beaumont le Roger and then on through tiny villages to la Ferte Vidame where we camped again at the camping municipal. We had managed to buy Le guide officiel de la Federation Francaise de Camping et de Caravaning. This contained information on 10,340 camping sites in France and was absolutely invaluable.
La Ferté-Vidame to Arrou 18th June 43 miles
From Ferte-Vidame we cycled to Senonches. From this point we were starting to get into the wide flat arable plains that stretch down to the Loire valley. We stopped for lunch at la Croix du Perche and as we were sitting eating our bread and cheese in the town square a man came over to chat with us. It turned out that he was the mayor and he told us to have a look in the church which bordered the square. It had a really stunning painted 16th century ceiling.
The ceiling of the church at Croix du Perche
We then continued onto to Arrou where we camped in yet another camping municipal.
Arrou to Blois 19th June 53 miles
Our route from Arrou was via Courtalain, St Pellerin, Ruan sur Egvonne, Fontaine Raoul to Morée where we managed to get a coffee and shopped for lunch. We ate lunch at Oucques in front of an impressive church.
Lunch stop at Oucques
We then cycled down to the Loire, getting rather lost in Blois before crossing the river and cycling along to Vineuil where the camping municipal was. We stopped in Blois for 2 days – recuperating and eating at a restaurant we had eaten in about 20 years ago
Martin examining the menu at "au rendez-vous des pecheurs”
Blois to the Dordogne
On the road again
Blois to Valency 22nd June 49 miles
After a welcome couple of days rest, we left Blois and started heading into more hilly country. We cycled via Cheverny and Contres to St Aignan where we had lunch. Then we continued on to Valencay.
Lunch at St Aignan
Valencay to St Gaultier 23rd June 46.8 miles
We cycled via Pellevoisin and then Buzancais to St Gaultier. The municipal campsite at St Gaultier was right by the River Creuse and was very picturesque (but virtually empty).
Bridge at St Gaultier
Campsite at St Gaultier
Chateau at St Gaultier
St Gaultier to la Souterraine 24th June 39 miles
From St Gaultier we went to Luzeret then St Benoit du Sault, la Chatre Langlin and Azerables, then continued to la Souterraine. After St Gaultier the terrain became much hillier and we found the going increasingly tough.
La Souterraine to St Léonard de Noblat 25th June 40.62 miles
We cycled via St Pierre and St Etienne de Fursac and then Eglise et Chapelle and Lauriere. We continued to la Janchere St Maurice and then St Laurent. There was then a terrific descent to the river but we paid for it with a knee crunching ascent the other side. By the time we reached St Leonard de Noblat we were really tired and so decided to have a day’s break before continuing on to Uzerche.
St Léonard de Noblat to Uzerche 27th June 38.5 miles
The route from St Leonard to Uzerche was pretty testing. We seemed to climb for ever on the ascent out of St Leonard. Then they had re-surfaced the road and it was really loose which made cycling difficult. Fortunately, once we reached Masseret things became easier but we were still glad to arrive at the camping municipal in Uzerche. We spent 2 further days in Uzerche, partly to have a rest but partly to try out the canoe on the Vézère. This worked out OK although we had a slightly stressful time attempting a descent down a canoe chute by a weir (there was not really enough water flowing!)
Tilly with the rig at the campsite beside the Vézère at Uzerche
The old town at Uzerche
Uzerche to Lissac sur Couse 30th June 33.43 miles
We followed the road from Uzerche to Brive la Gaillarde, stopping for an excellent coffee and pastry in Donzanac. We needed to use the internet to check e-mails and also wanted to get some gas cylinders which would fit our screw top stoves. We managed to find an internet café in Brive but totally failed on the gas cylinder front (this was not a disaster since we had a converter with us which allowed us to use the pierceable gas cylinders which were available everywhere). This all took a long time so we decided to camp at Lissac.
Lissac sur Couse to Beaulieu 1st July 28.71 miles
Leaving the campsite at Lissac involved a really steep hard climb – we had to dismount and push for the first time although this was almost as hard as pedalling. As we started to descend there was a loud grating noise and our trailer shot passed us. It veered over the road and overturned!! The spring on the hitch securing pin had broken allowing the trailer to break free. Miraculously there was no damage to the trailer and contents so we replaced the pin and continued on our way. We were glad to finally arrive at Beaulieu and were looking forward to having a break from cycling.
Canoeing the Dordogne from Beaulieu to Limeuil
3rd July to 8th July
We assembled the canoe and then split the tandem and removed its wheels. All the bike bits and the trailer bits were then put in heavy duty plastic bags before going into drybags.
Laying out the components of the canoe before assembling it
The assembled canoe
We canoed for 6 days and covered 130km. The river was quite fast in places with lots of fun rapids. We camped in riverside sites and finally ended up at Limeuil where the Vézère joins the Dordogne. We had pretty good weather and the river was often covered with a beautiful floating flowering plant. We also heard hordes of frogs croaking away really loudly but never managed to see one.
Getting ready to launch
Coffee break on a shingle beach
Map 3 - Canoeing the Dordogne
Our stages were:
Beaulieu to Veyrac; Veyrac to Pinsac; Pinsac to Roufillac; Roufillac to Gaillardou; Gaillardou to St Cyprien and St Cyprien to Limeuil.
A lunch spot
Tilly enjoying the peace and quiet of the Dordogne
Once we reached Limeuil we camped by the side of the river and then re-assembled the tandem and trailer and dismantled and packed up the canoe. The following day we set off to cycle the 27 or so miles to Montignac which was where we were going to start our canoe down the Vezere. The guardian at the campsite who had seen us arrive by canoe was rather bemused to see us depart by bike!
A waterside chateau
A perfect morning
Impressive rock formations
Approaching a bridge
A portage to the campsite
The confluence of the Vézère and the Dordogne at Limeuil
The canoe packed and the tandem re-assembled at Limeuil
Canoeing the Vézère from Montignac to Limeuil
11th July to 13th July
Map 4 - Canoeing the Vézère
Chateau at St Leon-sur-Vézère
The Vézère was smaller than the Dordogne with higher banks so often there was less in the way of views. We canoed for 3 days and covered about 47km in hot sunny weather.
First morning on the Vézère
Chateau at St Leon-sur-Vézère
Again we camped in riverside campsites – the farm campsite at Lespinasse called La Grave was particularly lovely. We had to plan our re-supply quite carefully as often it was difficult to find food shops close to the campsites.
Chateau at St Leon-sur-Vézère
Our stages were Montignac to Lespinasse; Lespinasse to Le Bugue; Le Bugue to Limeuil.
We ended up back in Limeuil camping in the same site we had used at the end of our descent down the Dordogne. It was now much busier with lots and lots of Dutch.
Cycling from Limeuil to Camboulit
14th July to 15th July
We took 2 days to cycle 76 miles from the Dordogne valley to the valley of the Lot. We followed the river valleys as much as we could to minimise the amount of climbing we had to do. The final section was over the Causses de Gramat – a really lovely wild plateau, much drier and stonier than the country we had cycled through previously. We ended up at Camboulit which is a tiny hamlet about 6km outside Figeac. The campsite was attached to a hotel/restaurant called the Belle Epoque and we had the best meal of our trip there.
Canoeing the Célé from Camboulit to Bouziès (on the Lot)
17th July to 20th July
Map 5 - canoeing the Célé
Getting ready to start the descent of the Célé
The Célé was much smaller than any of the other rivers we canoed on this trip. It was often very pretty with picturesque villages and impressive white chalk cliffs.
Unfortunately there had been a lack of rain that Spring and as a result water levels were very low. This gave us problems as we often bottomed out while descending the rapids – which was a bit of a worry as our canoe has a fabric skin. We managed without any major damage occurring but it made the descent a bit stressful.
One of the weirs that needed to be portaged
We took 4 days to reach the Lot and covered about 50km. Our stages were Camboulit to Brengues; Brengues to Marcillac-sur- Célé; Marcilac-sur- Célé to Cabrerets; Cabrerets to Bouziès. We then packed the canoe up again and cycled back up the Lot to Carjac.
Ruined Abbey at Marcillac-sur-Célé
Cooking confit de canard for dinner
Houses built into the rock face
Canoeing the Lot from Carjac to Cahors
23rd July to 26th July
Map 6 - canoeing the Lot
The Lot was a much bigger river with locks which we used to get around the many weirs. Getting onto the river turned out to be much harder than we had anticipated as the river downstream from Carjac is closed to boats because of the hydroelectric plant. We had to cycle to just below Gaillac and then the put in was not at all easy.
We took 4 days to cover the 55km to Cahors. Our stages were Gaillac to Cénevières; Cénevières to St Cirq-Lapopie; St Cirq-Lapopie to Vers; Vers to Cahors. Arriving in Cahors by canoe was quite dramatic and we camped in a site right by the river.
The medieval bridge at Cahors
Cycling from Cahors to Port de Lanne
Map 7 - Cahors to Port de Lanne
After a few days rest in Cahors, we dismantled the canoe for the last time and set off to cycle to our friend’s holiday home in Port de Lanne just outside Bayonne.
Cahors to Castel-Sarrasin 29th July 45.2 miles
The climb out of the Lot valley from Cahors was tough and seemed to go on for ever. Once we reached the top we were on a chalky white and stony plateau. We stopped for an excellent coffee and pastry in the very pretty square at Castelnau. We then followed a small river valley before climbing up again to La Francaise and then descending to the Tarn. At Castel-Sarrasin we camped in the camping municipal – a nice and extraordinarily cheap site (4.90 euros for the night)
Castel-Sarrasin to Mirapoix 30thJuly 43.9 miles
From Castel-Sarrasin we cycled through endless orchards all protected with nets before crossing the Garonne. We then followed a quiet road alongside the Gimone river before stopping in Beaumont for a coffee. Beaumot had beautiful old covered market hall – no walls just a roof supported by huge old beams. Once we got to Mirapoix we found that we had not read the camping guide correctly – the site only did chalets not tent camping. Fortunately Madame took pity on us and let us put our tent up in an adjoining field.
Mirapoix to Aignan 31st July 39.5 miles
We were now crossing the Gers and it was really tough – very hilly and as hot as hell. Stopped for a coffee in Jegun where a friendly Irish guy wanted to know what we were doing and then stopped for lunch in Vic Fezensac and since it was market day ate in a central café/restaurant. People were very friendly and when we left the whole restaurant turned out to wave and clap us off.
Aignan to Mugron 1st August 50.8 miles
We started early getting onto the road by 7.30am hoping to do as many miles as possible before it became really hot. Once we reached Termes d’Armanac with its impressive medieval tower we were able to look down on the Adour valley and we knew the cycling was going to get easier. Once we got to Aire-sur-l’Adour we were able to get on a quiet small road which tracked the river – nice and flat! We followed that all the way to Mugron.
Mugron to Port de Lanne 2nd August 45 miles
We continued to follow the L’Adour to Dax where we stopped for a coffee. We then had an embarrassing little accident. We unknowingly managed to wedge the trailer wheel against the curb so when we tried to cycle off the bike refused to move and just toppled over! There were lots of people all watching which made it worse. What is more we must have loosened the nut holding the skewer which holds the back wheel and trailer on. Later we were cycling on a small quiet road when the trailer detached itself. Once we looked at what had happened we saw the security nut had disappeared and so there was now nothing holding the back wheel skewer in place. Needless to say we did not have a replacement nut and so started searching the road trying to find the missing piece – a hopeless task. A Frenchman and his son who lived just nearby saw us looking and asked what had happened. They then helped us look and then he offered a piece from his bike which sorted out the problem – unbelievably kind. What is more they insisted we have some refreshment with them and a very welcome bottle of rose later we hit the road again. One of the best things about touring by bike is how friendly and helpful the local people are.
3rd August to 16th August
We spent just over 2 weeks seeing our friends in Port de Lanne, then going by train to see our French friends at St Julien du Puy near Graulhet. After that we cycled down to the Pyrenees and camped at St Etienne de Baigorry for a few days walking in the mountains.
Then it was back to Port de Lanne again to get ready for the big cycle back to the UK.
Cycling from Port de Lanne to Le Havre
Map 8 - Port de Lanne to Le Havre
In the Landes
Port de Lanne to Bias 17th August 54.9 miles
We climbed out of the Adour valley and then on into the Landes – endless pines but dead flat which meant we were able to cover a good distance. Camped in the camping municipal at Bias which was really busy.
Bias to Arcachon 18th August 57.61 miles
We tried using the dedicated cycle routes through the forest but they were busy with holiday makers and so it was rather slow so we switched back to the roads which were uncomfortably busy but fast. We reached Arcachon late and made our way to the campsite but were met by a “complet” sign. Tilly went in spoke to the people in the office who took pity on us and found us a tiny sandy spot to pitch our tent.
The sandy and very small camping site at Arcachon
Arcachon to Lacanau 19th August 41.81 miles
We left Arcachon on a small boat to Cap Ferret. It was hard work getting the tandem and trailer onto the boat but we had a good crossing across the bay surrounded by oyster beds. We bought food in a really good market at Cap Ferret before heading off along cycle paths. Again they were very busy and so we switched to roads for a time before taking a cycle path on an old railway track all the way to Lacanau.
Lacanau to Soulac-sur-Mer 20th August 42 miles
We cycled virtually all the way on very straight roads. Unfortunately they were very busy and the over-taking of many of the cars and lorries was really frightening. They just kept on despite traffic coming the other way. At one point a lorry overtaking us almost clipped a car trailing a caravan on the opposite side. Once we reached Soulac we found a campsite and then cooked ourselves a great shellfish pasta for dinner.
Soulac-sur-Mer to St Jean d’Angély 21st August 60.4 miles
From Soulac we cycled down to Pointe de Grave and took the large car ferry across the estuary of the Gironde to Royan. We then cycled on to Tonnay Boutonne where we planned to stay. Unfortunately when we enquired at the tourist office they told us that the camp site had closed. So we had to push on to St Jean d’Angely where there was a campsite open. We did not manage to get to the site until 7.00 and we were both pretty tired by then.
The Gironde estuary
St Jean d’Angély to Coulonges sur l’Autize 23rd August 42.33 miles
We had a rest day at St Jean which was much needed. We then left St Jean and cycled through huge arable fields on quiet straight roads. We hoped to find a boulangerie to buy some food for lunch but none of the villages had any shops. Finally we arrived at Coulon in the Maree Poitevan where there were shops and lots of tourists and so managed to get something. Coulon is very pretty sitting in the centre of a web of green canals. After lunch it was back to the large rather featureless arable fields all the way to Coulonges. Coulonges had a lovely market hall and an impressive chateau.
A lunch stop
Coulonges sur l’Autize to Argenton-les-Vallées 24th August 41.91 miles
The weather which had been very hot and sunny changed becoming much cooler which was better for cycling. The countryside became much more English in character – lots of small fields with hedgerows.
Argenton-les-Vallées to Baugé 25th August 47.37 miles
Quite an easy day’s cycling as we approached the Loire. We were now back in wine country with lots of vines and sign posts for famous wines such as Saumur, Layon and Anjou.
Baugéé to Spey 26th August 38.8 miles
For the first time in ages it was really cool when we started off in the morning – a feel of autumn in the air. It still got pretty hot as the sun got into its stride. We stopped for a mid-morning snack at a boulangerie in Luche Pringe and they were bringing out trays of freshly baked palmiers – warm and completely irresistible. The campsite at Spey was rather open with dry, brown grass. We calculated that we had camped for 61 nights so far on this trip – we were starting to feel a bit camped out!
Tilly's sun protection!
Spey to Mamers 27th August 40 miles
We went through the centre of Le Mans and managed to get horribly lost in the one way system so were glad once we managed to escape to find ourselves on the open road again. We continued on through a countryside of huge fields with a mix of arable and cattle arriving at Mamers quite early in the afternoon.
Mamers to St Evroult Notre Dame du Bois 29th August 36.05 miles
We had a rest day at Mamers and treated ourselves to dinner at a restaurant in one of the hotels in town. We had a great meal and rolled back to the campsite feeling very full indeed! We left Mamers after our rest day on a beautiful clear morning. We were now getting back into Normandy with pretty half timbered houses and lots of apple orchards. At the campsite at St Evroult we met an English couple who were just starting their cycle tour. They were going to go right down to the Med at Perpignan and then take the Bike Express coach back.
Evening at St Evroult Notre Dame du Bois
St Evroult Notre Dame du Bois to Brionne 30th August 39.5 miles
This was quite an easy day’s cycling with no bad hills. From Beaumesnil we dropped down to Beaumont le Roger which we had passed through about two and a half months earlier. We then followed the Risle valley all the way to Brionne where we camped in the same site we had used on our way out.
Brionne to Honfleur 31st August 38.2 miles
We followed the Risle to Pont Audemer where we stopped for coffee and croissants. It was market day so all the streets were crowded with stalls of all descriptions. Then we followed the estuary of the Seine all the way to Honfleur. On the way we had a look at the cycle access to the Pont de Normandie – it looked scarily steep!
The port at Honfleur
Honfleur to Chidham 2nd September 40 miles
We treated ourselves to a B&B in Honfleur and really enjoyed the luxury of a bed! We had a day in hand before our ferry back to the UK so enjoyed spending an extra day in Honfleur which is pretty but very touristy (and pricy). We left Honfleur early the next day somewhat intimidated by the prospect of crossing the Pont de Normandie. We found the access to the bridge OK and started cycling up the cycle lane. However, soon the angle steepened and the cycle lane became very small. There were huge lorries thundering past which created a massive, buffeting slipstream. We decided to switch to the walkway which was physically separated from the road and walk the tandem and trailer over the bridge. We descended from the bridge and then headed off to Le Havre. The outskirts of Le Havre are incredibly unfriendly for cyclists and we managed to get thoroughly lost. After almost joining a motorway, we managed to find a way through and get to the port. We had a very welcome lunch in a little restaurant before heading to the ferry. We arrived in Portsmouth at 10.30pm and then had to cycle the 14 or so miles back to Chidham. Arrived at midnight and fell into bed.
The Pont de Normandie
Chidham to Guildford 3rd September 43 miles
We left the trailer in Chidham and cycled the last leg with just the tandem. The country between Chichester and Guildford is surprisingly hilly and we were pretty tired when we finally arrived at 2.00pm. We had cycled 1,725 miles, canoed about 175 miles and spent 65 nights in our tent.
Golite pole x 2
2 full length inflatable camping mats (Thermarest)
2 camp seats (Thermarest)
1 Minimus sleeping bag
1 Fairydown sleeping bag
2 silk inner sheets
Snow Peak stove
Sigg cooking pot
Camp frying pan
MSR water bag
Nalgene wide mouthed bottle
Collapsible washing up bowl
4 Ortlieb panniers
1 Ortlieb rack pack
1 Ortlieb bar bag
Heavyweight black drybag
1 rear light
Octopus and black elasticated strap
Straps – 5 heavyweight straps
2 spare inner tubes x 26
2 spare inner tubes x 20
Waterproof saddle covers
2 long cables with padlock
1 Ally canoe
Repair kit and mallet
1 canoe trolley
Additional line for painters
1 non-inflatable camping mat cut up to provide extra protection/cushioning for folded tandem. Also 2 kneeling pads
Ortlieb dry bag
Canoe dry bag
Black wheel bags
7 clear plastic bags
5 spare plastic bags