I have never done any cycle touring before, but over the months read up a bit and the the help of eBay set up my bike with front and rear panniers and bags. I also had to carry a padded bike bag (for the way back), so this meant the last-minute addition of a rucksack.
Day 0: Paris – St Savouir des Bois (50km)
I left Sheffield, got the train to St Pancreas, then the Eurostar (for the first time – very exciting!) to Paris Gare du Nord. The bike in its bag had to be booked and loaded seperately so after wandering around the station for a while I finally found the little luggage office and was able to collect mon velo. Thankfully he had been looked after well, and after half an hour or so was re-assembled and ready to go.
|Half an hour or so at Gare du Nord...|
I'd planned to get a train south from Paris and set off from somewhere like Fontainbleu, but since I was there it seemed sensible to do a bit of sightseeing so I decided to brave the Paris traffic and ride all the way. It would probably mean a late finish to the first day but nevermind.
Unfortunately, the campsite closed its door at 10pm and despite only being a few minutes after this I couldn't wake anyone up. However, there was a nice little park just next door so I pitched my tent there and saved 15 euros! Food was a bit more tricky – everything in the town was closed, in fact the whole place was very empty. I eventually found a man closing up his restaurant who told me that there was a McDonalds about 5km further up the road... Not ideal but it would have to do! Luckily, on the way there I spotted a Pizza shop instead and enjoyed a tasty takeaway Pizza back in my tent. As I did so two people arrived in my little park and I wondered if they too had missed the campsite. They said not, and quickly disappeared to another bit of the park, so I didn't dwell on what they were actually doing there!
Day 1: St Savouir des Bois – Beaugency (140kms)
My route plan was to go South, then West along the Loire river, so I left St Savouir aiming for Orleans. With my useless map it was hard to find the little roads that I wanted to use, obviously rather than the big national roads (some of which at least I think bikes are technically allowed on, but would certainly be no fun!). I seemed to veer between riding on tiny little rocky farm tracks and ending up on dual carriageways. The tracks were great fun and seemed to be taking me the way I wanted to go, but were slow going and I had to be really careful not to damage my bike... There was still a long way to go and I was riding my normal road bike with 700x23 road tyres!
|Not quite what Mr. Bike had in mind...|
After breakfast in Arpajon, one particularly special little track took me up and over a hill to the town of Entampes. It appeared to be a motocross bike area with jumps and stuff, and the ruts in the track eventually became too deep... it was time to push. At the top of the hill there was a spectacular old quarry with five or six burnt out cars and tyre tracks everywhere, apparently a popular spot for the end of your joy ride. After this experience I did find some more suitably sized roads and had a good ride from Entampes to Orleans, where I joined the “Loire et Velo” route which would theoretically take me the rest of the way to Nantes on minor roads and riverside paths. It was getting late in the day now but I wanted to make a bit more progress after the earlier slowness, so did a few more hours riding. I had planned to stop at a place called Mer, but arriving in Beaugency (maybe 10kms short of Mer) I spotted a nice campsite on the other side of the river and decided to call it a day.
|Big bridge at Beaugency|
Day 2: Beaugency – Montsoreau (170kms)
The morning started well – the campsite restaurant sold crossiants. I was packed up and off by 8ish as I expected today to be the longest day. I wanted to ride at least one hundred mile day, I know that's not really a long way for a normal ride, but with all the bags it would probably take me eight hours of riding. I aimed for an average of 20km per hour, again very slow but with baggage and navigation stops (the route doesn't always stay within sight of the river, so it's not quite as easy as you might imagine!) I wasn't often going much faster than this.
|Somewhere after Beaugency (what zoom function?!)|
After skirting around Tours I came to Berthenay, where the Loire does a bit of a loop and turns back on itself for a while. There's also another river (Le Cher) in this area. It's a beautiful area, just upstream from the chateau at Villandry, but the confluence and meandering rivers confused me and I realised I was heading east. Not good! Still, I was enjoying myself and not feeling particularly tired, so the backtracking and detour to get back to the right side of the right river was not a problem. The time spent working out what I'd done did cause my average speed to drop though, so I made a concerted effort to push on in the last couple of hours and aimed to get to a campsite at Montsoreau by 7pm. This was my favourite area of the trip, and a really great evening of riding. I felt really good, the roads were nice, and the scenery was stunning. There were also even a few little hills which made a nice change! I stopped in Avoine and bought food (salad – still no gas) and a beer to celebrate my 100 mile day, then cruised the last ten miles or so into the village of Montsoreau. The sun was starting to set as I arrived and I stopped for a quick look at the Chateau.
Day 3: Montsoreau – Nantes (160kms)
Consequently I didn't get off to a particularly early start, especially as I went to the market in Montsoreau for breakfast and had a coffee before I set off. It was quite a cold morning till the sun hit you, but sitting outside a cafe with a coffee and crossiant watching the mist rise from the Loire was exactly what I'd had in mind for this trip (and I suppose some cycling), so it was worth the late start.
|Morning on the Loire|
|An old Renault taking on the hillclimb|
|Final riverbank ride into Nantes|
It was only a few days but I really enjoyed the ride, particularly being self-sufficient and camping rather than staying in B&Bs. This does mean I had to carry a bit more gear than I would've and consequently the daily distances were a bit lower, but for me it made it more of an adventure (and cheaper). The rest of my time in Nantes was great too, and as I write this I'm on the train back from St Pancreas to Sheffield. Time to plan another cycle adventure!