Normandy – To the Loire

July 1st, 2019. We left home with out fully loaded Pino and trailer and set off. It didn’t take long to encounter our first problem. A loud grating noise, the source of which eluded us for a few miles, was finally found to be a sheared weld on our Lowrider pannier rack. A couple of zip ties made a temporary fix until we reached our campsite, where the farmer gave us some heavy duty ones to do the job…they lasted the entire trip fine. Hampshire is pretty hilly and the further south you go, the bigger the hills get, culminating in the necessity to cross the South Downs. Our campsite was just north of East Meon, inevitably up a hill, but places to camp were few along our route, so ‘Cedar Valley’ it was. We’ve stayed there before and therefore knew our approach from the north was a lot easier than the southern climb up to it.

Our first night’s camp site – Cedar Valley, near East Meon. Very quiet with basic facilities. The nearest pub either way is downhill, which means a climb back afterwards.

After setting up camp, we headed off to the ‘West Meon’ pub, about four miles away. We’d only had a coffee stop quite early on, so were both ready for food. Just as we were leaving to cycle back, our friends Geoff and Pauline turned up to give us a good send-off! So it was back into the pub for another drink and quick chat before we ‘left’ for a second time. Pauline took a snap of us on the unloaded Pino as we were about to set off back to the campsite

Fed and watered, ready for our first night in the tent – after the four mile climb back to the campsite.

Next morning we failed miserably at cooking eggs and bacon – it all stuck to our camping pan, and we realised it would be impossible to keep bacon without it being affected by the heat, so we abandoned the idea of cooked breakfasts. Also, it takes time, along with breaking camp. Better to have a tea/coffee and snack on a biscuit, then stop for food when we spotted a café. The climb over the south downs was hard, and we only just managed to keep the bike going but we made it, and stopped for a breather and to take a photo of the way we had come.

On top of the South Downs, looking back towards East Meon and the way we had come.

Fortunately there weren’t too many more climbs as we made our way into Portsmouth, though the route was a bit convoluted, trying to avoid the busier roads. We arrived in town in plenty of time – our ferry wasn’t due to board until about 10:15pm so we wandered the town centre then headed along the coast a little till we found a nice(ish) pub to have some food and while away the time.

Neither of us slept that well on the crossing. We were in a lounge and it wasn’t too crowded, so Karon stretched out on the floor – some passengers had camp beds – and I laid across some seats. We docked early at about 6:30 and I gave Karon the option of finding a camp site to catch up on some sleep, or head for Falaise, about 30 miles away. We decided on the latter. Leaving the ferry terminal was easy as the cycle path runs right past the entrance and continues towards Caen alongside the canal that runs from the sea to the town. At Pegasus Bridge we stopped to take a look at the memorial before climbing away from the canal and in the next village stopped for a large bottle of water from a small supermarket.

Pegasus Bridge, and we left the nice, flat canal path for six days of rolling hills and hot, parched agricultural plateaus.

The ride to Falaise was relatively easy going, but the heat was a shock. Northern France had already had one heat wave and this was the start of the next. After a long, gentle climb, we topped out under some trees, but were soon crossing open, agricultural land with no shade whatsoever. The landscape undulates gently, so we didn’t encounter any hard climbs. We passed through villages that seemed absolutely deserted, with no shops or cafés that we could see and took our lunch in the shade of a bus stop shelter. This would be the pattern for most days, but on a couple heading across Normandy, we were lucky to spot a restaurant open at lunchtime and bagged a ‘Menu de Jour’.

Open fields both sides, very hot sunshine and no shade, but at least we had a tailwind, which stayed with us for the first half of our tour.

As we approached Falaise along deserted farm roads, we passed through a wind farm, then had a nice, long, gentle descent towards the town. Our joy was cut short though as we entered the town, with the first of only two punctures on the whole trip. Of course, it had to be the rear wheel, which meant unhitching the trailer and unloading the bike. Falaise is dominated by a large castle – where William the Conquerer was born, and like most castles, it’s perched on the highest ground around, so this meant another push up through narrow streets. The Municipal campsite took some finding, and when we did, the reception was closed. Like many campsites, receptions are usually only open for a few hours in the morning then closed for the afternoon and open again in the evening. We found a nice, shaded pitch and set about putting up the tent, showering in the lovely brand new washrooms, then rinsed our day’s cycling clothes out and hung them to dry over the bike.

Falaise Municipal Campsite was a perfect start, with a shady pitch, brand new facilities, and a short walk into town, even if it was a steep climb.
Wandering back to Falaise Municipal campsite. It’s a nice town, dominated by the castle William the Conquerer was born in.

We stayed in Falaise for the next day, to rest up, take a look at the castle and even make a little sketch of it. I had tied plenty of spare days into our plan, so there was no rush. Next day we broke camp and rode the long way round to get into the town rather than take the very steep short way. We managed to find some breakfast then headed out of town – easier said than done. Shortly after we had to get off and push for the first time as we climbed up onto a ridge. It started at 10%, which was ok, but 13% wasn’t. We had found our limit. Karon walked and I cycled the bike without her, which was ‘doable’.

The next few days were all through similar terrain – gently rolling hills and long flats with no shade and the days just got hotter.

One thing you’ll notice cycling in France – there’s much less traffic, even on larger roads.

Our next night was Sées. Places for food were limited but we found a small hotel restaurant that would serve us. On the way to Bellême we had our second push, into the village of La Perrière. Fortunately there was a bar/restaurant open and we grabbed a nice, cold beer before pressing on. The landlord suggested we ride to Bellême through the forest on the ridge rather than drop off it and face a string of small hills along the way. The climb into the forest was ok and once there, the road ran straight a pretty level until we dropped into the town. Once again no-one was on site to take our money so we found a pitch and set up then walked into town to find food. There was nothing open we could find except a bar that served very basic fast food, which was dire.

The forest road above Bellême.

At La Bazoche Gouet we had a feeling we would again struggle to find a food outlet, so stopped off at a supermarket and bought food for a meal on the campsite. The campsite at Cloyes our le Loir was a complete opposite. Big site, big pool, bar and restaurant. We grabbed breakfast in the town on our way out next morning and headed for our first ‘milestone’ of the trip… reaching the Loire at Beaugency.

We like Beaugency and have stayed here before. Unfortunately the hotel overlooking the river we wanted was full, so we had two nights in one a little further from the river. We rested and spent a day wandering the town.
The Loire. We would be beside the river for another six nights as we followed it upstream.