The black inkiness of the night dampened all sound except the distant lapping of water on the steel hull at sea level far below us on the weather deck. The Armorique was quite still, even the humming of diesel engines was missing. Above us stars twinkled and a half pale moon rose, casting its rippling glow across the water. Plymouth sat behind the stern, its lights waving goodbye. Rame head to the left, Berry head to the right like arms held out in caress but the ship had escaped their embrace. I assume the stillness was all about the timetabling of arrival in Roscoff rather than a mechanical fault, a decision enabled by the calm conditions. Families inside were getting ready for bed, the children on the whole less excitable and noisy than expected. By no means was the ship full.
We were accompanied one board mostly by holiday makers, including motorhomes, some big enough to warrant applying the names of country houses such as Balmoral. I spot two motorcycles only, a small handful of cyclists of all ages, and a Citroen 2CV Special which looked like it should be there in pride of place. Business was represented by huge delivery articulated lorries. The ubiquitous ‘Mesquen’ from St Pol de Leon near Roscoff with its white body and green lettering. I noted a strange list of cities on its side: Cherbourg, Roscoff, Boulonge and Glasgow.
Two West Country fishing companies were with us: Falfish and Dartmouth Crab taking succulent West Country catches or perhaps going also to pick up. It was a reminder of how close the trade links are with France.
The cabins were more than adequate, en suite shower and a gentler bit of guitar music to wake you up at 630.
Disembarkation, slightly held up by fastidious passport checks, and then at about 9, the slow drive to Morlaix to find a cafe for the first stage of the day’s cycling to begin to a very small village called Longourla some distance away across rolling hills and a rural landscape of farms and woodland. It being Tuesday today, of course in France it always feels like a Sunday. In 1936. Each small town and village appears closed for business, they’re not of course but it just feels that way.
Morlaix boasts a fine ‘Cafe du Terrasse’ – a cafe of the Belle Epoque whose opulence has just faded a little bit. Grand mirrors adorn the walls, waiters no longer wear the long aprons but the place looks as if they should. The Railway viaduct straddles the town overlooking the cafe pointing to a time perhaps when wealthy tourists would steam in for their holiday. We were able to park right outside, plenty of space for us, even on the heart of town.
The Ride itself? Well I’ve learned a new word: ‘Vallonais’ which means hilly. Grant knows that better than me because he rode the first 65 miles over the hills. Brittany in the sunshine is exquisite. Rural, green, cornfields and sunflowers. Lazy docile cows lying around literally chewing the cud going nowhere and with nothing in their heads. Huge green and yellow tractors the size of a battleship’s engine trundle by, they should have names such as ‘Leviathan’ or ‘Behemoth’ and must cost as much to purchase as Nigeria. Every village has its squadron of swallows and Martins and a dog that barks at its gate as you pass by. I have yet to ride any distance without a dog barking. The clouds are little white fluffy specks, the sun is warm right down through the bones. The road surfaces range from the smoothest of smooth black tarmac down to a short stretch of rough track that threatens a puncture with every turn of the wheel.
Le Vielle Boulangerie (The Old Bakery) is our night’s stop. It is wonderful old stone building on the edge of the village overlooking fields in which a fine brown thoroughbred stallion stands and displays its masculinity unbeckoned, for no apparent reason. Perhaps like most men it just likes to display its willy at passers by.
We arrive at about 7, just in time for a small glass of red before dinner. The sky was clear blue, oaks stood proud in the field opposite while martins danced twittering above the roof. A table and chairs outside in a shady courtyard with a warm breeze provided just the right degree of ambience for an aperitif. Our hosts are both English having bought the place a year ago, and cooked the dinner of beef bourginon followed by apple crumble. two small carafes of vin rouge stood sentinel on the table. But not for long. We were joined at dinner by Pascal and Isabelle from Cherbourg enabling a conversation in both English and French with enough comprehension on both sides so as not to be too embarrassing.
A pleasant soirée ensued without nudity, vomiting or censure.
Tomorrow is another 150 Km’s to Segre near Angers in the Anjou region.
If there was any morning autumnal mist it would be wisps, gently rising from the fields around the base of oak trees as the lustre of green grass shone in the early morning light. A few cows stood quite still, staring into the middle distance looking like there is absolutely nothing between the eyes except deciding the optimum moment to fart. All is quiet save for the chirping of sparrows, martins and swallows. The village of Longourla is awake and buying bread but you would not know it from the absence of cars. A la Boulangerie, croissants exude their buttery warmth, pain au chocolat promise their sweetness and partnership with hot coffee, and baguettes stack up in line in preparation for cracking open with confiture de framboise. Pretty little tartes and petite gateaux covered in all of the fruits of nature shining in a glacé threaten the most ardent of dieters. All this in the morning, before any work has been done or any pedals turned in calorie burning effort.
Our British hosts have prepared a fine continental breakfast and bid us farewell. They have no intention of returning to the UK. Brittany offers housing at price low enough that we would laugh at, and a climate just a little bit warmer and a little bit more predictable. The British have not always been welcome here. Back in 2005 a small demonstration of locals in a town called Bourbriac ended in the Estate Agent’s brochures being burned. It is a phenomenon wherever locals get priced out of housing and the incomers fail to integrate, or learn the language. In Loungourla many have bought houses but do not stay for long or take the trouble to meet the locals. It might be the case that if only a few do this it does not matter but when a critical mass arrives then spirits and hackles are aroused. For our part we have met only welcome and smiles and hospitality.
Segre en Anjou-Bleu was today’s destination, but most of the day was still Brittany and in increasing heat. Lunch was taken sitting outside of the bar in the town square of Bourbriac of brochure burning fame. One small, very small, cold beer was taken before the off to Segre.
Fields of maize, fields of cows and fields of haystacks and every village is of course stuck in Sunday Mode, i.e. nothing much going on, no one around and just about every shop closed. In Martigne-Ferchaud Kirsten, Ann and I arrived ahead of Grant in search of a bar for afternoon tiffin. We sat in the heat of the day in the square (they all have squares) surrounded by closed bars and shops. In England I am assured it is not Sunday, but here in France although it is officially Mercredi it feels like Dimanche (again). A French couple on holiday turn up and we have a little chat about the bars and cafes being closed. They were expecting more to be open. We conclude that because it is August the French are on holiday as well, even in a tourist region. It is the case that unless you are in a recognised tourist hotspot then all is quiet. It is a bit like Camborne being closed leaving St Ives open.
We arrive at our destination, an old stone built farm dating from 1730 now owned and run by a retired couple. The sun is beginning to really hot up now this far south towards the Loire valley but we don’t care. We are greeted by the old dog who barks as if he owns the place but upon approach only wants to be stroked. A big daft softy of a dog.
Monsieur wished to share with us his appreciation of the local white wine which he said was ‘speciale’, and so it was just as well that we returned from the restaurant in town with a bottle of red ‘Saumur Champigny’. Madame et Monsieur and the four of us sat around the table talking about wine, and then we had a tour of the farmhouse wine cellar downstairs. This was a proper ‘cave’ with a few special bottles of old red. It could not have been more French if it had wrapped itself in the tricoloeur and sang La Marseillaise while simultaneously engaging in extra martial shenanigans with a mistress.
And then…so to bed, for tomorrow we ride to the Loire and follow it’s southern bank to Saumur.