The eagle-eyed among you will notice that this blog starts back in 1997. Back then, blogging wasn’t really a thing, and there certainly wasn’t any kind of readily available blogging platform, like WordPress for example. So, everything I wrote was stored as text files, and I bodged together some cgi-bin scripts to insert the formatting and linking. However, I’d actually been keeping diaries for much longer that that. And just at the weekend I was recovering an old hard drive that I found in the corner of my shed, and came across a few of them. Most of them will never be published – but I thought that this one was interesting.
It was 1994. I had my first ZXR750, and my mate Lee was riding a GSX-R750 at the time. We would often potter up to the Lake District for the odd few days, and then we had the idea of a trip to France with our girlfriends. The planning was, well minimal, and from memory it consisted of buying a map, pointing at the crinkly bits around the Italian border (I didn’t even know that this was The Alps at the time) and hoping to get there.
We never made it to The Alps. But it was still a brilliant holiday, and I have very fond memories. This lot was originally typed up and printed, and then scanned and OCRd. So there’s going to be some odd spellings and weird autocorrections in there. I may go through and correct them at some point. There are no photos that I know of from this trip – I didn’t own a camera at the time, I kept diaries instead.
So, without further ado – a trip around France. July, 1994:
Saturday. 15th July
5am. Urrrgh, why did I have that last can of Fosters last night? It seemed like a good idea at the time, but this morning I was suffering the consequences. I was pondering this as I lay on the bed stark naked scratching my bum when Lee came strolling into the room and was either too polite to say anything or too blind to notice. We completed final packing, and sat around for a quick breakfast of toast & honey. At 6:45 we hit the road for Portsmouth. Why had we chosen the early morning ferry? Normally I’m not even conscious at this time, let alone capable of piloting a barely controlled missile around the M25. It was cold & fairly miserable, and was just starting to rain as we hit the A3. Just south of Guildford I found a nice straight bit of road, and decided that this would be the best time to test the stability of my recently acquired luggage at high speed. The run up to high speed was OK, but as we decelerated through the high 140s the bike went unstable, flapping the front in quite an alarming manner. I later discovered that this was due to me packing all the heavy stuff in the rear throwovers, and leaving the front end dangerously light. Whatever, it made for an exciting few seconds as I wobbled my way down the road.
We got to Portsmouth around 8: 15, and were waved straight onto the boat. That’s one of the major advantages of a bike – You’re always guaranteed a good seat on the ferry as bikes are always loaded before cars. After carefully chocking the bikes front & back and roping them to a bulkhead, we headed off up to the lounge and found a table with four chairs suitably arranged nearby. Once the requisite amount of coffee and croissants had been consumed, Lee went for a wander, and came back 5 minutes later proclaiming that he’d found some far more comfortable seats. We all got up, wandered to the comfy seats, and found that they’d already been taken. So, we all wandered back to our original seats, and found that they’d been taken too. Not one of Lee’s brighter ideas really. We spent the next hour or so wandering around aimlessly before deciding to go for some breakfast in the ships ‘restaurant’. The food itself was OK. The service was terrible. I couldn’t even get a knife to manipulate my Curnberland sausage with.
After food, Vicky went to get some sleep, and Faye and I went on our circumnavigation of the ferry. That lasted about 10 minutes. So we did it again. Still nothing exciting, so we tried again. This got a little bit tedious, so we sat down on the aft deck, and fiarted around for a bit. After we had finished farting around, we noticed that we still had 3.5 hours of this to go, and so we tried walking round the boat again. It’s amazing how tedious a ferry can become within such a short space of time. Eventually, after what seemed like a lifetime, the port of Cherbourg loomed through the gloom. We went back down to the bikes, and waited for the loading ramp to drop. Straight through customs (they didn’t oven check our passports) and we were in France at last! We got the map out, found a campsite just down the coast a bit, and headed off. it took a bit of time getting used to French roundabouts, but at least I now had an opportunity to wear out my left boot to match my right one. Obviously, we got lost, and ended up in this charming little village where we found a charming little boulangerielpatisserie. I put my somewhat rusty French into action:
“Bonjour madame, je voudrais quatre pain au chocolat et un brioche grande s’il vous plait”
“Cinquante-cinq francs monsieur”
Blimey! Seven quid for a lump of brioche and four chocolate rolls. We decided this was obviously the tourist price, as nobody in the real world can afford those prices. Tasted heavenly though. At that point a wedding procession decided to blast down the main street. It appeared to the untrained eye that the sole purpose of a wedding procession in France was to make as much noise as physically possible.
The rest of the journey to St. Germain sur Ay was very pleasant indeed. The sun was high in the cloudless French sky, the roads were nice, and we were all in a very happy state of mind. We bundled on to the campsite, got our pitch number for the next two nights, and promptly got lost on the campsite, After a bit of enthusiastic arm waving with a delightful French couple we found our way to the pitch, and started the great erection race. I was fully erect a good 10 minutes before Lee, as could only be expected as his tent was far bigger than mine. After this was complete, we toddled back to the campsite reception, and asked for directions to the nearest supermarket. With a great deal of enthusiastic arm waving and map drawing we finally knew which way to head, so off we went. We picked up all the essentials, burgers, sausages, beer, wine, charcoal and orange juice. Strapping a crate of beer on the back of the bike turned out to be a test of ingenuity and advanced bungee cord technique, but we managed it in the end, so we headed back to the campsite. First project was the construction of a beer fridge using some ice purchased from the campsite shop and a bin liner. This was duly accomplished, and we left the beer to cool while we started preparations for the barbic. We needed an implement to dig a barbie pit, so out came the Kawasaki toolkit, and within a matter of seconds Lee and myself had dug such a pit using a 22mm and 27mm ring spanner respectively. I’m sure Mr. Kawasaki didn’t have that in mind when he designed the toolkit, but it coped admirably well. Faye and Vicky were rather skeptical that it was possible to cook food using nothing more than a hole, some charcoal and a grill, but they were soon proved wrong. In fact, the food was some of the best I’ve had in a long time, but that was probably due in no small part to the beer and the location rather than any cooking skills on my part. After food we sat around drinking under the French moonlight. We were here at last, and had a tremendous feeling of expectancy about what the next two weeks were going to bring. All in all, a very long day, but a highly successful one. Life was looking good.
Sunday, 16th July
Pitter patter pitter patter… Sounded like rain to me. I cautiously poked my nose outside the tent and had my suspicions confirmed. I hate camping in the rain. It’s impossible to get anything dry, and a general sense of miserable dampness permeates everything. Only one thing for it. I turned over and went to sleep again. I awoke the second time to glorious blue skies and sunshine. My mood lifted instantly, and it looked like being a good day. We all slowly came to life, accompanied by a good deal of yawning, stretching and farting. Lee & Vicky wandered to the campsite shop and returned with croissants and pain au chocolat while I got the coffee on the go. A good continental breakfast if ever there was one. After a leisurely breakfast had been completed we sauntered along to the campsite shop and asked if the supermarket was open on a Sunday. Yes, it was, but it closed at 12:00. Vicky looked at her watch. 11:40. Could it be done? We ran back to the bikes, pulled our leathers on and went for it. We got about half way there at a reasonable pace, when we rounded a corner and were greeted by the sight of a car in a ditch. Time to slow down a bit… At precisely 11:55 we screeched to a halt outside the supermarket, and all ran inside. On the way in we couldn’t help but notice that in fact the supermarket closed at 12:30. Oh well. It was a fun ride, and nobody had landed on their ear, so that was alright. Once again we loaded up with beer, wine and barbie provisions, and headed back to the campsite rather more slowly than we headed out. I was so conscious of getting lost and riding on the wrong side of the road that I shot straight through a red light without even realising it. Good job nothing was coming the other way. Lee, being the sensible fellow that he is, obligingly stopped at the red light,
In the afternoon we wandered into the village of St. Germain sur Ay, but it was boring, so we sat in a bar. Eight quid for four glasses of Kronenbourg. But it was cold and nice, so money well spent. Next stop was a quick game of crazy golf on the campsite. This seemed like a good idea at the time, but after we had all taken 12 shots at the third, our enthusiasm started to dwindle in the afternoon heat. By the time we got to the tenth, we were all starting to get slightly fed up with the whole affair. However, Lee rescued the situation with a mighty drive that almost clobbered a German. That livened proceedings up a bit, and things picked up from that point. After finishing the crazy golf challenge, Lee decided that he might quite like to go for a swim. Vicky pointed out to him that his shorts were still packed up, and that in fact he’d have to jump in the pool stark naked.
“Nah, couldn’t do that. The kids in there would think there was a wild conger eel on the loose”
We picked up the barbie stuff and headed for the beach. We found a suitably sheltered spot, and set about digging the pit. Once this had been done and the charcoal had been lit we sat back and got on with the business of drinking the beer and wine. There was a bunch of kids nearby attempting to fly their kites with remarkably little success. Whoosh. Thud. Whoosh. Thud. Whoosh. Thud. This sound was to repeat itself with painfully monotonous regularity over the next few hours. Lee wandered off to find a shrimp that he could throw on the barbie, but predictably failed in this task. In all honesty he probably would have had more success had he been hunting kangaroos. After a few hours lazing around eating French sausages and drinking beer, we wandered back to the tent. Just as we got there it started raining, so Lee’s tent was converted into a party room, and we carried on the evenings festivities. The rain looked pretty well set in for the night, so we just hoped that it would clear up before tomorrow, as we were due to travel to our next port of call, wherever that was to be.
Monday, 17th July
Pitter patter pitter patter… Rain again. I tried yesterdays tactic of turning over and failing asleep again. It didn’t work this time. Packing up was a pain, as we had to leave everything in the tents to keep it dry, and only pull the tents down at the last moment. Fortunately I had remembered to bring some bin liners that we could use to waterproof the sleeping bags with. We paid our bill (21 FF) and headed down the road. It was now raining heavily, and this looked like being a fairly miserable journey. One thing we hadn’t counted on was that the French road markings appeared to have been freshly greased for us overnight. After about an hours travelling and some fairly horrific slides from both ends of the bike I pulled over at Granville to stop for a eiggic to calm my nerves a bit. We got the maps out, and agreed to stick to the main roads and head for Pontorson, then decide where to go from there. We trudged back to the bikes, and headed off again. This time we were both a bit more cautious of the road surface and probably averaged no more that 40 mph for the next couple of hours. We got to Pontorson, and as if by magic the clouds broke, and we had bright sunshine. To celebrate this we stopped of at a little cafd for food & coffee. Lee volunteered to pay, and probably wished he hadn’t when he was charged about a flyer for four Lion bars. Ho ho. I never realised the French ritual for making coffee involved so much banging & clattering about. We sat at a table, and ordered four cofrees. The guy at the counter disappeared, and all sorts of noises started emanating from the vicinity of the coffee machine. Mainly mechanical thumping noises, but punctuated by the odd grunt and puff of breath from the guy wrestling with the machine. After about I 0 minutes he reappeared, red in the face, out of breath and looking for all the world like he’d just gone 7 rounds with Mike Tyson. God knows what he’d been doing, but the coffee was delicious, so we were prepared to forget about the finer points of how it was made.
We wandered outside, picked up a map and decided to head towards Cherrieux, a few miles down the coast. The sky was looking ominously heavy again, so we packed up quickly and hit the road. 5 minutes later I rode through the storm of my life. The rain was so heavy that it was painful, even through my leather trousers, Every now and then a raindrop would find it’s way to my soft unprotected neck, making me wince in pain. Great gusts of wind were coming in from my right, threatening to whip my aquaplaning front wheel away from underneath me causing an unplanned sky/ground/hospital situation. Then, as suddenly as it had started, we were out the other side of it, and riding through glorious sunshine. We found Cherrieux, found the campsite, and stopped. It was appalling. No other word for it, so we carried on up the road, and found the beautiful little fishing town of Cancale, and decided to stop there for a couple of days. The campsite was ideal. Nice showers, swimming pool, and reasonably priced. We pitched up, then headed off to the supermarket for yet more barbic supplies, a map, and a new headlight bulb. The barbie was a good one. (Most of them are when accompanied by a crate of beer).
After the food, we went for a walk down to the beach. The town itself was beautiful. Definitely the nicest place I’d seen in France so far. (But then again, we’d only been there two days). On the way down to the beach we wandered past numerous creperies and other such things, and one very posh restaurant. (36OF for one main course. That’s about fifty quid by my reckoning.) We did debate wandering in and upsetting a few people, but thought better of it- Lee took it upon himself to strip down to his undies and go for a swim when we got to the beach. (Well, he could hardly do it beforehand). He’d got a good 50 yards out from the shore when a local girl came running up to us and warned us of the jellyfish in the bay. Knowing Lee’s pathological hatred ofjellyfish we decided to keep quiet until he got back on dry land rather than have him panic and attempt to swim back to dry land at warp factor 3. After that little episode, we all wandered back to the campsite, and got some sleep.
Tuesday, 18th July
Woke up to the deafening silence of no rain whatsoever. Our first sunny morning, and it looked like being a nice one. I wandered over to the shop for croissants while Lee got the coffee going. Yet another typical continental breakfast was consumed at great speed, and we jumped on the bikes and headed into the town of Cancale. Wandered around for a while, but it was all a bit hot for that sort of thing, so we pottered back to the campsite and had a rest. The afternoons project was a trip to St. Malo. The ride there was one of the best rides I have ever had. The coast road hugs the coastline (not surprisingly) as it winds its way along cliff tops and vast expanses of golden sand in a succession of sweeping curves and short straights. I was feeling confident, the bike was handling well, and the sun was in the sky. Time to go for it. This was one of those rare times when everything was perfect. It’s really hard to explain what a perfect ride on a road like this actually feels like. All I can think of at the moment is phrases like “My hands and feet danced over the controls as the bike flew through the hot salty air. Scarcely upright for a few seconds at a time, we peeled into the corners in one fluid movement, man and machine in perfect harmony. My brain absorbing information and my body reacting to it quickly and precisely enough to create something beautiful” or some such pretentious bollocks, All too soon though, it was over, and we reached the town of St. Mato and promptly got lost. This was the worst part of the holiday so far. 1 hate riding through towns. After about half an hour my temper got the better of me. 1 pulled over and shouted at Lee:
“You fucking lead for a while, I’m pissed off with this”
Lee led, and promptly got us lost again. Eventually, we conceded defeat, and followed a sign for Cancale. Lo and behold, 50 yards down the road was the supermarket. As we parked up, a grotty little girl wiped some dirty water over my headlight and demanded 10F.
“Fuck off” said I, still in a bad mood. But she was not about to do so. This was going to turn into a battle of wills. Lee, Vicky and Faye went inside, while we stayed outside staring at each other. She wouldn’t leave, I wouldn’t pay. Had I spoken French it may have been a lot easier. We continued staring at each other. She made a menacing advance towards Lee’s bike. I could see that this was going to be very expensive indeed when she pushed someone’s bike over, so I gave her SF, which was all the change I had. She wouldn’t go, so I turned out my pocket to show I had no more change. Still she wouldn’t go. I was now very, very angry so I thought now might be the right time to give her a good twatting. She must has sensed my mood change, as she ran off pretty damn quickly at this point.
The others emerged from the shop at this point, and we headed back to the campsite. Lee & Vicky went swimming, whilst Faye and I wandered in to town to try and get some ineths for the burners. We were singularly unsuccessful in that respect, but did manage to get some jolly nice ice cream. We slowly ambled our way back to the campsite. It was really too hot to do any serious rushing around. We set up the beer fridge ready for the evenings festivities, and Lee jumped on his bike to try and get some rneths. 10 minutes later he was back. Still no meths, but due to a bit of seriously overactive arm waving he had found somewhere that sold some stuff that might work. All he had to do was take the burner down there. Obviously riding without a passenger for the first time in a few days was too much to resist – We heard him hurtle down the road at what must have been an insanely illegal speed. 5 minutes later he was back complete with a bottle of cooking alcohol. Perfect.
We started work on the great campsite chilli experience. Rarely has so much ingenuity gone into the cooking of such a simple meal, but armed with only a hole in the ground, two Trangias and some charcoal we had to improvise somewhat. Lee & I hit the beer, whilst Faye & Vicky started on the wine. We all just sat around in the heavy evening air chatting, while the chilli bubbled away on the barbie behind us. It was another of my personal “isn’t life wonderful” times. After an hour or so, the chilli was demolished with the aid of a couple of handy baguettes- I have to say, the food was marvellous. The night carried on the way it had started. Beer and wine. After a couple of hours we were all in a fairly advanced state of drunkenness, when Lee went for a wander round the campsite without any clothes on. Luckily it was pretty late by now, so there was nobody around to comment on his wild conger eel. I don’t really remember much more about the evening. Not surprising really…
Wednesday, 19th July
24 empty beer bottles, 5 empty wine bottles and the paraphernalia associated with cooking chilli. That was the sight that greeted me as I staggered out of the tent. The dull throbbing in my left temple served to remind me that maybe we had gone a little over the top last night. I cleared up as best I could, and went for a shower to try and make myself feel better. Miraculously, it worked. I wandered to the shop for croissants etc., and Faye got the coffee going. Lee emerged from his tent blinking in the early morning sunlight, and I suddenly remembered how I had felt an hour or so earlier. He then wandered offto the bogs, and shoved his fingers down his throat in an effort to make himself feel a little better. Breakfast was consumed at a leisurely pace this morning, and lots of coffee and Andrews liver salts were consumed to clear the worst of the collective hangover. We cleared the tents, packed up, and headed South.
The plan was to hit St. Nazaire, via Rennes and Redon. A pretty straightforward journey by anyone’s standards. The road to Rennes was easy – it was all fast A roads. As soon as we got to Rennes, I got us lost. This wasn’t a major problem however, as in doing so I found a petrol station which was desperately needed by both of us. Once we had located the relevant ring road, we sped off in the direction of Redon. After a few miles, for some reason that now escapes me I pulled off the motorway onto a little B road. We sat around for a few minutes in the heat, then tried to get back onto the motorway. Sadly the junction I had chosen was a limited access junction. Once ofi`the motorway, there was no way back on to it. I carried on down the B road for a few miles, in the vain hope of picking up a signpost. It was no good. I was lost. Hopelessly so. I pulled over again and got the maps out. At that moment a local chappie who had been working on his garden sauntered over, and we managed to communicate in very basic French that I was to go back a mile, turn right, turn left, through the village, and turn left by the church- I shook the nice mans hand, and ofF we went. Right, left, through village, left by church, and we were back on the road to St. Nazaire. Perfect. All in all it had been a rather pleasant little interlude in the otherwise tedious motorway journey. We carried on heading South. It was getting uncomfortably warm in full leathers, but there was no way I was going to ride down a motorway alongside psychopathic French drivers without them. A little later we hit Redon, our second port of call. Stopped off at a little general store for bread, ham, cheese and water. Another typically French snack, but seeing as we were in France it was rather fitting. Lee led the rest of the way down to St. Nazaire. It must have been somewhere around 4pm, and the temperature was around 34C. Too hot. We found the tourist information place, and located a campsite at St. Mare sur Mer. Back on the bikes and we headed West up the coast, and before we knew it, we’d located the campsite. We found our pitch, and before we got the tents up, all four of us stripped each others leathers offin the middle of a field- We got some rather strange looks while we were doing this, but we were all so damned sweaty by this time that it was a physical impossibility to remove ones own leathers. The tents went up in record time, and we all then fell asleep. Obviously the days travelling and heat had taken its toll.
At about 6pm we wandered into the town of St. Mare sur Mer. It was still uncomfortably hot to walk, but at least we were not roasting in our leathers any more. We found the supermarket, and stocked up on food. Strangely enough, nobody fancied a beer or barbic tonight. Probably something to do with this mornings hangovers. A varied selection of melons, nectarines, bread, pate, cheese, fish and ham was on the menu tonight, and jolly nice it was too. We wandered back to the campsite, and began our meal. The heat was still there, but it was now bearable to sit in the sun without feeling ill. I was still wearing my factor 15 sun block everywhere though, just to make sure. I really could think of nothing worse than trying to ride a bike in full leathers with burnt arms. After the food had been demolished, I went to find the showers. They were pretty dismal really. A button on the wall said ‘push’ so I did exactly that and was rewarded with a I 5 second blast of reasonably hot water. I pushed it again, and received the same treatment. I then worked out that if I leant backwards against the button I’d get a constant supply of water. This was all well and good in theory. In practice I did get a constant supply of water but it was now missing my head by about a foot. I leant forwards, stuck my bum out and decided that this was the best position to actually get wet. Not amazingly elegant or comfortable though. After about 2 minutes, I was treated to a blast of ice cold water, which I think aff@oted everyone else in the shower block too, judging by the sudden noise of approximately 30 Europeans of varied age & sex simultaneously inhaling sharply. It sounded very slightly like a whale inhaling.
After the showers had been completed, we wandered down to the beach to watch the sunset. There were some seriously large waves pounding at the shore, and 1, for one, was glad to be sitting 30 feet away on the beach- Some kids were playing in the waves, something that seemed remarkably stupid to me at the time, but also looked to be strangely good fun. I guess the average wave must have been five or six feet, as most of them towered over the kids. The noise of the waves was thunderous, yet at the same time remarkably soothing and calming. I like the sea. It gives you a good sense of insignificance on a global scale. I guess we sat there for a couple of hours, in complete silence, staring at the sea. Faye & I then wandered back to the tent, and left Vicky & Lee on the beach.
Thursday, 20th July
We all woke early due to the heat. I tried laying in my tent for a bit, but it was no good. The early morning sun was serving to turn my tent into a rather effective sauna. Faye & I crawled out of the tent, and wandered of to the shop for breakfast. The campsite shop had a fine selection of top shelf magazines for sale, something I’m not sure exactly why I noticed. Probably titles like ‘Euro-sex-bonk-fest’ or some other such nonsense caught my attention. Breakfast itself was the normal routine of coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat, Normally after eating something for more than two days I tend to get rather bored of it and demand something else. Not so with the continental breakfast. The heat was starting to become rather unpleasant by about 10 in the morning, when the old lady with the cigar in the campsite next to ours came to the rescue with a bucket load of ice. Jolly decent of her. But, rather than plonk the ice in my orange juice I simply lobbed it down the back of my neck. Much nicer that way. I plastered myself with factor 15 sunblock, and we headed to the beach.
I cannot swim. Well, I can just about paddle to save my life, but in no way can I be considered a strong swimmer. For some strange reason this small but important fact didn’t bother me as I stripped down to my undies and waded into the six foot waves that were pounding the beach. The water was cold enough to take my breath away, but I soon got used to it. Lee, being the strong swimmer that me is, swam off into the nearest wave, only to gracefully bob up over the top of it. Me, being the complete pillock that I am, and with no thought for my own safety, followed suit. The next thing I really coherently remember was crawling up out of the surf coughing my intestine up. Not to be beaten by something as trivial and insubstantial as the Atlantic Ocean, I waded my way back in. After a couple of minutes floundering, I got the hang of it: When you spot a big wave on it’s way in, get your head down, and swim like hell straight at the bottom of it. The hot sun and salt were stinging my shoulders as I serenely bobbed up & down over the waves. I really thought I had it sussed at this point, when I noticed a F. Big wave heading in. “No problem” I thought, as I headed straight at it. I must have got about 10 feet away from it, when I suddenly realised I was in big, big trouble- There in front of me was a sheer wall of water, seven or eight feet high, and it was just starting to break. I cannot explain the feeling of complete terror that engulfed me. I had approximately I second of complete, total and absolute panic before the wave hit me, in much the same way as a rabbit sees a car headlight one second before it is splattered all over the road. It went dark, and strangely silent as the wave picked me up, and smashed me against the sea bed with shattering violence. All sense of orientation had vanished, I couldn’t tell up from down from left from right as I hit something else solid with another forceful blow. My left temple exploded with pain. I was still underwater, I couldn’t breathe and my terror stricken brain was just managing to hold on to reality. “Just relax – You’ll be washed up on the shore in a few more seconds”. It was still dark, but now I could hear the deafening roar of the wave crashing onto the beach – We were nearly there now. Those few seconds took an age to pass, but eventually I found the sea bed, put my hands and feet down, and got my head into air. I breathed deeply, and opened my eyes. Washed up on the beach next to me was Faye. It was her that I had hit on my journey back to the shore. I couldn’t speak for a few seconds as I gulped down great lungfuls of fresh air.
“Think so. I’ve lost my hat though”
Great. I’d nearly died, and all Faye was worried about was her hat. I just laughed, and promptly got poked in the ribs for my sins. We both walked back up the beach. I now had an awful lot more respect for the ocean than I had before. The sheer overwhelming power that had picked me up could quite easily have shattered my body against the sea bed. I was just grateful it was soft sand. I lay on the beach pondering this when suddenly I felt very, very happy to be alive.
I’d had enough of the sea now, so Faye and myself decided to wander into town to get some food for a beach picnic. It really was very, very hot. I’ve no idea what the temperature was, but it felt substantially hotter than the 34 degrees of yesterday – I pulled on a shirt to cover my arms & shoulders and we began the leisurely walk into the town of St. Marc sur Mer. All of the shops were closed for lunch when we got there, with the continental lunch ‘hour’ lasting until 3:30pm. It was now 1:15 pm, and I couldn’t be bothered to wait that long. We found a bench near the sea, and sat down for a few minutes. I rested my head on Fayes shoulder, and promptly dozed off. I’m not sure how long had passed, as Faye had dozed off too when we were awoken by what sounded like a nest of hornets on acid – In fact it was three French kids on their dubiously silenced mopeds, but it served as a timely alarm call. I was starting to feel weak and dizzy as the effects of dehydration started to set in. We wandered to the nearest shop that was open, and gulped down over two litres of water between us. The walk back to the campsite shop was not really particularly enjoyable, but it had to be done. Afler picking up food, we sauntered back to the beach to meet Vicky & Lee. We sat down to eat, and I broke the habit of a lifetime and started eating some nectarines. They tasted awful, but at least I felt a lot better for eating them. With no warning Whatsoever, Lee suddenly rushed off, dived into the sea, and promptly returned with Fayes hat.
“Blimey. How did you find that?”
“There were some kids over there screaming that they’d found a jellyfish. Then one of them mentioned that it was actually a hat”
It was now too hot to be enjoyable, and everyone was feeling the effects of the sun. A plan was hatched… We jumped on to the bikes, and headed for the nearest supermarket. Once there, we ran inside and stood in the ftozen food section for a good half hour in order to cool down a bit. Food & beer were also picked up for the evenings barbie. It was now 6pm, so we wandered outside and sat in the car park for a quick snack. A few passers by wandered over, had a good look at the bikes and wished us Bon Appetit. Back borne we’d probably have been moved on by the supermarket security guard.
The evenings barbie was a good one. We found a secluded spot on the beach, and dug a large pit for the beer fridge, and a small pit for the barbie. We had melon to start with, followed by kebabs, followed by steak. All washed down with lots of very cold beer. The sun was setting over the Atlantic, and everything was perfect.
Friday, 21st July
We decided to go for an early start this morning, so we could get the bulk of the travelling done before the blistering afternoon heat made things too uncomfortable. So, by 8arn we were all up and packing the tents away. We blasted off the campsite at about half past or so, and headed through St. Nazaire towards the Pont St. Nazaire. I’m always impressed by bridges for some strange reason, and this one was no different. As we approached the bridge from the North, all I could see was the road climbing off into the distance. I couldn’t even see the other side of it. Just as we got over the bridge, Lee suddenly pulled off the road. Vicky had managed to collect a wasp in her jacket, and just to show it’s displeasure at having its day ruined, it promptly stung her on the neck. Out with the wasp-eze… We took this opportunity to have a quick drink as well. (With yesterdays heat in mind we’d stocked up on water before starting the journey. We each had three litres strapped to the sides of the already overloaded bikes). We carried on the journey for a couple of hours, and then came across a sign informing us that La Rochelle was still 99km away. We were all simultaneously demoralised by this, and so pulled over at the nearest supermarket at Les Sables D’Orlonne for lunch, petrol, cold drinks and to give our buttocks a rest. We lazed around for a good couple of hours, while I brought some maps and planned phase 11 of the journey. The idea was to stick to the coast road as it would be cooler, and prettier. Bad move… It was now getting on for the hottest part of the day, and I had seriously underestimated the length of the journey. After another three hours of farty little country lanes, we reached the outskirts of La Rochelle, and I was suffering from a devastating attack of complete and utter buttock overload. I found a tobacconist, and pulled over for a 15 minute break and tab stop. Faye promptly attempted to push my bike over, and Lee and myself managed to rescue the situation with a desperate lunge to grab hold of the thing. Lee then led the way to the Ile de Re, which mercifully was only another 5 miles away, but meant crossing another bridge.
After managing to get hopelessly lost on an island seven miles by three with only two major roads, we eventually located our chosen five star camp site, and jolly nice it looked as well- We all trooped in, demanded a pitch, and were informed that it would be 302F. Per night. Ho ho. So, we duly gave up on that idea, and attempted to find another campsite. Another 30 minutes of travelling, and we were on the islands only I star campsite. By this time, I was just ready to put the tent up and sleep, but the other three wanted something more luxuriously equipped. The heat, and the days travelling had taken their toll on me, and conspired to put me in a terminally bad mood, so I shot off down the road at warp factor 9, quite probably scaring the crap out of Faye, and promptly shot the wrong way down a one way road. Serves me right for losing my temper, and I was rightly ridiculed by everyone else for being so childish. Eventually, we got to another campsite at Les Grenettes, and I had decided that we would stay here no matter what it was like. Luckily it was a nice one. The guy on reception seemed incredibly impressed that we had ridden all the way from England, but that’s probably because nobody mentioned that we had taken 5 days over the journey so far. My temper was just starting to abate somewhat now, and this was helped no end by Lee buying a case of beer. We sat around drinking it before even putting the tents up, which may have been a bad move. After the days tribulations, knowing that we had somewhere to sleep and didn’t have to ride anymore was a wonderful sense of relief Lee & myself walked back to the reception to inform them which pitch number we had taken, and were handed the official campsite rulebook. Bloody hell, this place was more like Colditz that a campsite. The worst rule of the lot was no barbies, so we picked up some ravioli and a few other bits & bobs from the campsite shop. Miraculously, it tasted OK. Particularly after a few beers. The remainder of the evening was spent just lazing around chatting.
Saturday, 22nd July
After a really bad nights sleep I woke early. Faye & I went to the shop, wandered to the beach, then went back to bed again having achieved remarkably little, A couple of hours later, and fortified by the now standard breakfast of coffee, croissants and pain au chocolat, we headed across the bridge and back into La Rochelle. Riding in jeans & T-shirt felt wonderfidly rebellious, until we were passed by two French policemen on their bikes wearing T-shirts too. We were aiming to find a castle of sorts that Lee remembered from his youth, but got completely lost and ended up in the market place. So, in the absence of anything better to do we parked up and went for a wander around the town of La Rochelle. We spent a good couple of hours wandering around in the heat of the day, before deciding to hit a little boulangerie for a birthday sticky bun & coffee.
Ah yes, the coffee… I hate coffee. Never ever got a taste for the stuff. But, French coffee is different. Strong enough to stand a spoon up in and with enough caffeine to transform the most ardent narcoleptic into a hyperactive whirl of activity- I now have a taste for French coffee.
Back to the plot – After the caffeine hit we wandered around the town for a couple more hours before heading back to the bikes. Lee was determined to find his castle, and so we shot through the streets of La Rochelle in ever increasing circles until eventually we found it. We parked up, and paid our three quid or whatever to get in. The first thing that hit us was the coolness – After the heat-blast outside it was very welcome indeed. We wandered around, up a series of increasingly narrow spiral staircases until we emerged on the top of the main tower. It really was very, very high indeed. Vicky & myself kept well away from the edges while Faye & Lee had a good look. The view, even from where I was standing was pretty spectacular. After a photo session it was back down some even narrower spiral staircases, and out into the heat of the day again. Drink was the next thing on the agenda, so we wandered around the harbour, and sat down in the shade outside a small backstreet cafe. We were served with tourist priced Cokes at two quid a throw, and just lazed around for half an hour or so. The journey back to the campsite was fun – We followed signposts to Ile de Re and they took us straight onto the motorway. I don’t think I’ve ever done 80mph in a T-shirt before, and it felt more than a little bit dangerous. Still, it was better than trying to wear leathers in the intense heat of the day. We blasted over the bridge, and straight into the supermarket in St. Martin de Re. Once again, we stocked up with barbie provisions and beer, and began the 10 minute ride back to the campsite. Well, it would have been 10 minutes had it not been for the Ile de Re half marathon cutting straight across our chosen road. What is it about French people that causes them to the strangest things in the heat of day? We were all suffering from sporadic bouts of dehydration just bumming around doing nothing, whilst you average Frenchman was running a half marathon with typical Gallic stoicism. After sitting at a police roadblock for about half an hour we were eventually waved through by the smiling Gendarme, so we pottered back to the campsite, and from there wandered to the beach.
When we got to the beach Lee went shrimp hunting again, while I got the barbie on the go. Lee actually managed to find two shrimps this time, but we decided against cooking them as they would have just fallen through the grill. Large was not a word that immediately sprang to mind when looking at these particular shrimps. We just started eating as the sun was setting over the Atlantic to our fight. In the next ten minutes the sky went from blue to orange to crimson to purple and finally black. One of the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen, and accompanied by beer and steak it became even better. Suddenly a large burst of light to our left alerted us to the fact that there was a major firework display in progress over the town of La Rochelle, ten miles away or so. I’m not sure exactly what the celebration was, but I like to think it had something to do with my birthday. The fireworks continued on for a good hour or so, as behind us in the sand dunes some kids got a bonfire going and started singing Bob Dylan songs to the accompaniment of a very out of tune guitar. Once again, creepy crawlies stopped play after a few hours, and so we wandered back to the campsite past the Ile de Ms only nightclub. We could see into the building from the path outside, and were slightly amused at noticing the sum total of three people in there. We weren’t really that tempted to go inside, and so we wandered back to our tents to try and get some sleep. Bad move. Kids on mopeds were hacking past our tent all night, and at one point a chap suffering the worst coughing fit it has ever been my misfortune to hear strolled past, waking me up yet again. This was one campsite I was going to be glad to see the back of
Sunday, 23rd July
Another early start had been planned so we could avoid the heat of the day. Surprisingly enough, that is exactly what happened too. Woke up, packed up, and we were on the road by 10am. After the hammering our buttocks had received on the trek down from St. Nazaire we plumped to stick to the motorways this time, and simply blast down to St. Emilion as quick as possible. French motorways are a giggle. The speed limit (130km/h) seems to be there purely for the exceeding, something which most traffic seems to have very little trouble in doing. I was cruising between 100 and 110 mph (160 – 180km/h) and was being passed very swiftly indeed by everything ranging from top of the range Mercedes down to rusty old Peugeot 205s. At least I wasn’t passed by a 2CV. After about 80 miles were covered in considerably less that one hour, we stopped for petrol. 10 litres went in (under 2/3 of a tankful) and I was charged over 50F for the honour. That’s about seven quid in real money. Bloody hell, Another short blast saw us reach Bordeaux, at which point we tumed sharply left off of the motorway, and onto some back roads to Libourne and fin0y to St. Emilion. Our plan to blast down quickly had worked perfectly. We arrived at our campsite somewhere around Ipm, just before the real heat of day set in, and we all felt a whole lot better for a reasonably short journey. The toll for using the motorways was a measly 22F. Money well spent it was agreed by all.
The next problem was trying to find a pitch that offered any shade whatsoever, a task we were singularly unsuccessful in achieving. All the decent pitches had already been taken, leaving us with about 20 feet square of baked earth. Putting in tent pegs was no fun at all. I could only get 4 pegs into the scorched earth to secure my tent. I prayed for light winds for the next few days… After the tents had gone up we jumped onto the bikes, and headed to a little food store we had noticed on the way down for lunch. Melons, bread, ham and cheese were purchased, and we sat outside the little shop in the only available shade to eat our food, We were chatting to the shop owner in a curious mixture of broken French and English, when suddenly a massive commotion ftom our right was swiftly followed by a bicycle race. Suddenly, the real meaning of France was unveiled. Here we were sitting in the middle of a vineyard on a blisteringly hot day, eating melons, idly chatting with the shop owner whilst watching a bicycle race hurtle by. France is about appreciating the simple things in life, and enjoying the pleasures that those simple things bring.
The town of Libourne appeared to be closed when we got there. Certainly we could not find any shops open to get food. We rode round in circles about 50 times, and ended up back where we started at the little food store we’d stopped at for lunch. All we could find was an onion, tin of tomatoes, pasta, garlic and a small bottle of bright orange bolognese sauce. I can’t honestly say that I was looking forward to eating this lot, but before we could even try we had a major hurdle to overcome. Digging a barbie pit in earth the consistency of cast iron was not much fun. Lee and myself hacked at it for a while with sparmers, screwdrivers and hiking boots, and finally, after much grunting and cursing, we agreed that we had a big enough pit. We got the barbie going, mixed up the various ingredients in the relevant proportions, and ate the resultant creation- Somewhat surprisingly, it turned out to be bloody nice.
Monday, 24th July
Very lazy start to the day. Up late, and bummed around the campsite for a couple of hours achieving remarkably little. Managed to find the campsite washing machine, and erected a washing line involving three luggage straps, two guy lines, and a couple of spare tent poles we had lurking around. Another triumph of campsite ingenuity. I took the opportunity to clear up last nights mess, and found that the bolognese sauce we had created was a mightily effective ant-killer. There were thousands of the little buggers dead in the mess. After successfully clearing them up, we took a quick hack into Libourne and picked up supplies for a chicken curry that was to be the evenings meal. In the afternoon, we took a ride into St. Emilion. Vicky & Lee walked, as they wanted to get on with the serious business of wine tasting. Faye & I, being lazy, decided to ride there.
We started off walking around the town of St. Emilion. It really is very, very beautiful. The gothic architecture of the place is breathtaking, and the fact that it remains largely unspoiled by tourism, motor vehicles or MacDonalds is a blessing. The town itself is situated in a small hollow, with all streets leading steeply down to the centrally located market place. After wandering around for a couple of hours, the heat was getting to us a bit, so I looked for sonic shade. The first thing we found was an abandoned wine cellar, and it was a good 20 degrees cooler inside than out. We sat there for half hour or so in the damp darkness, enjoying the silence and the refrain from the fierce Bordeaux sun. We then wandered down to the very picturesque market square, and ordered two small bottles of Perrier water. Or, to be more precise,
“Bonjour monsieur, je voudrais deux boutteille de Perrier s’il vous plait” said I in my best French.
“Do you want ice and lemon with that mate?” replied the English speaking waiter…
After being charged five quid for two small bottles of water, we decided to drink them very slowly indeed. Vicky & Lee turned up about now, and sat with us and ordered a bottle of wine. We sat for a couple of hours, just chatting and enjoying life to the full. Another one of my personal “Isn’t life wonderful” times.
By about 7:00pm, we had to start heading back to the campsite to start on the evenings meal. As I was the only one with transport, I agreed to run taxi service- I started off running Faye back to the campsite. I turned round, and headed back to town to get Vicky. It was the first time in two weeks I had ridden the bike with no passenger. It was hot. It was a nice country road. It was too much to resist. The journey to the town was completely irresponsible, illegal, insane, dangerous, and bloody good fun. The bike was going ballistic off some of the bumps in the road, and the fourth gear 110mph wheelie off of the last bump was exhilarating in the extreme. Had I been wearing leathers, it would have been dangerous. Without them it was plain suicidal. I got back to town, out of breath, relieved, and with a bloody great smile on my face. There is no way I would ever ride like that again. I think. But, I got away with it, and enjoyed it immensely. I picked up Vicky, and rode back slowly, then did the same with Lee, It really would have been tempting fate to try any warp factor 9 heroics again, and the thought of sliding up the road with no leathers on was really too nasty to contemplate- After we had all got back safely, the chicken curry was started on. Once again, another test of ingenuity and imagination, but we succeeded, and thoroughly nice it was too. Vicky had been pining for a curry ever since we left England, and now she was happy.
England seemed a very, very long way away at this particular point in time. Even though we had only been away just over a week it already felt like I never wanted to return. I don’t mind admitting I was falling in love with France and the French people. Particularly in Bordeaux. Suddenly, Hayes seemed to offer very little in the way of enticements to return there. If I lived in Cumbria it might have been different, but I doubt it somehow. At this particular point in time I was laying in a field, looking up at a crystal clear night sky, having just had one of the best days of my life. I didn’t want it to end.
Tuesday, 25th July
in the morning we rode into the nearby village of Castillon, but it was a horrible little place that smelt of stale urine so we turned round, and went back to the campsite. We spent the rest of the day just looking for shade and sleeping. It really was too hot to move, and we were in constant danger of dehydration, so regular trips to the campsite shop for ice-cream and bottles of water were the only activity we could bear, Since being down in Bordeaux we had each been drinking 4 or 5 litres of water a day just to replace the fluid we were losing through sweat.
Late in the afternoon we took a ride into town to pick up a few bottles of wine to take back home. We fell into the first wine cellar we found, and were treated with courtesy as we poked our way around the cavernous cellars. I dread to think how much wine was down there. Thousands upon thousands of bottles dating back to 1967 were stacked up as far as we could see. Certain areas of the cellars were closed off to the public, but looking through the rusty iron gates revealed even more bottles caked in dust stacked up to the ceiling. Presumably theses were the really old ones, as the thick layer of dust precluded us from actually seeing what year they were. After we had finished looking, we were all sat down at a large table, and invited to try a glass of whatever years we fancied. I declined, but the general consensus of opinion was that the 1989 was particularly splendid, so we brought four bottles between us before riding back to the campsite.
At about six or so, when the worst of the heat was over, we all walked into St. Emilion for a meal. We had been saving our pennies for the past few days in order to afford one good meal out, and as this was to be our last night in St. Emilion we decided that it would be the best time to do it. The walk into town was a leisurely affair that took the best part of an hour or so. The countryside around was spectacularly beautiu, with mile after mile of rolling vineyard punctuated occasionally with rambling farm houses and associated outbuildings containing a variety of very old and rusty farmyard machinery, most of which looked like it would be better placed in a museum. We reached St. Emilion, and sat at one of the tables in the market square, and proceeded to eat and drink. I cannot remember exactly what was eaten, but it was (quite obviously) the best thing to be eaten since arriving in France. The meal was very unhurried and sociable, and after we had finished, we just sat in the market square eating and drinking as the sky darkened above us. It was about midnight before we began the walk back, accompanied by the rumblings and occasional flashes on the horizon of a distant thunderstorm. A perfect end to a perfect day.
Wednesday, 26th July
We had to leave St. Emilion today, even though none of us actually wanted to. The chosen route was to blast up to Nantes today, then tomorrow up to Rennes, then Friday to Cherbourg. Todays leg of the journey was the longest, and looked quite daunting. We packed up the tents slowly, and hit the road. It was sad to leave St. Emilion, as this meant the holiday was effectively over. The rest of it now revolved around us getting to Cherbourg in time to get home, and having a deadline sitting over your head makes it much harder to relax and enjoy yourself.
The ride was very, very tedious and trying. Mile after mile of motorway punctuated by occasional petrol stops. My idea was to simply blast to Nantes as fast as possible, and so there were no long stops for food or sightseeing. The wind made the journey extremely tiring and more hazardous by a factor of about 10. Several times massive gusts from both sides threatened to whip my front wheel away from underneath me. Simply hanging on to the bike and maintaining concentration were the biggest problems of the day. At 7pm we hit the outskirts of Nantes. The original plan had been to find a cheap B&B, but nobody was in the mood for quartering the streets of Nantes looking for such a place. We stopped at a petrol station, and asked the attendant where the nearest hotel was, Luckily, it was close. We found it OK, and sent Faye & Vicky off to see if it looked OK. The smiles on their faces when they returned said it all. The rooms were clean, well equipped, and came complete with a bath. But, before we could settle down for the night, we needed food. Miraculously, there was still a shop open, and so we stocked up with biscuits, bread, pate, crisps and beer. This was duly smuggled into our room, and we sat around eating in almost complete silence. The days travelling had taken its toll, and we all just wanted to sleep- After an hour or so, Vicky & Lee went to their room, and I simply collapsed on the bed. I was asleep before Faye could finish brushing her teeth.
Slowly open one eye? Where am I? It seemed very strange waking up in a bed after the previous two weeks of sleeping bags and hard floor. I was just starting to enjoy lazing around when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the clock, 11:30. Shiti We had to be out of our rooms by 12! I pulled scwic trousers on and rushed across the hallway to wake up Lee. Half way there, we bumped into each other, as Lee had just woken up too. We packed quickly and paid our bill, and hit the road. Todays plan was to Et Rennes, and stop there for the night. The journey was far, far shorter than yesterdays and spirits were a bit higher following a good nights sleep in a hotel, We left Nantes on the ring road, and once again I succeeded in getting us lost. No problem though, as a couple of quick stops to check the map soon had us on the right track. After a couple of miles on the Nantes ring road I noticed Lee stop behind us, so I pulled over and waited for him. Aller a few minutes he started off again, so I prepared to do the same. We had about a five yard run up to enter a nose to tail 70mph rush. I warned Faye to hang on hard, and dumped the clutch. We were just going into fourth at about 90 or so when the firont wheel touched down again, giving a little chirp as it landed like a small airciaft. After an hour or so, We stopped for petrol, and Lee explained the reason for the stop. He had lost one of his strapped on bottles ofCoke at high speed, and the idiot car driver 3 inches behind had. collected it on his windscreen. This obviously didn’t appeal too well to his Gallic temperament, and so he started flashing his lights and waving his fist at Lee who decided that stopping was the safest option before the driver started playing dodgerns with him.
We got to Rennes at about two, and were suddenly thrown into a dilemma, Do we head the rest of the way to Cherbourg tonight for the I I pm ferry, or stop, and get up early to catch the morning ferry? It was unanimously decided that paying for another hotel only to get up early would be stupid, so we decided to head straight to Cherbourg. We had to up the pace a bit to get there in time, and so I set off in the lead, probably averaging 95 – 100 mph or so on the reasonably straight roads. After a few miles we were passed (!) by a psychopath in a Peugeot 205. I have never, ever witnessed such a display ofaggressively dangerous driving, We stayed with him for a few miles, purely for the entertainment factor as he overtook another lorry on a blind corner only to nearly be wiped out by the oncoming tractor. Eventually, it got too dangerous to follow, and we let him go. I freely admit that this was time first time I’ve tried to stay with a car and failed. At Granville we stopped for food and goodies to take back. Lee managed to turn his bike into a mobile off license by somehow cramming 5 bottles of wine into the luggage, whereas I simply picked up a packet of French sausages.
At 8pm, we reached Cherbourg, and all sat around feeling rather miserable really. Just to make things worse, the only available food was the local MacDonalds, which was as crap as ever. We got to the ferry port at 8:30 or so, and were waved straight to the front of the queue again. After sitting there for a couple of hours, we were waved onto the ferry, tied our bikes up, and wandered to the lounge for a beer.