The ferry terminal at Portsmouth had us checked and loaded with speed, courtesy and humour and we settled back in our comfy seats with free papers, coffee and biscuits. It seemed all too easy. Something had to go wrong – but it didn’t. A fast drive south and west from Cherbourg brought us to our site after 10pm but the Eurocamp reps were waiting for us and we were unpacked and settled in within twenty minutes.
We had done little preparation on walks and rides in the area before we left as we were confident we could pick the reps’ brains when we arrived. We sat up late that night poring over the mound of info readily available and made a rough plan for the week. So far, so good and with a small site shop, supplies were no problem.
We had brought our own bikes, so were off to St Cast le Guildo whilst others sauntered to the shop for fresh bread. This attractive little seaside town was bathed in sunshine and the locals – walking, cycling and rollerblading – were free with cheery ‘Bonjours’ all round. We pedalled a few miles along the coast before returning along quiet lanes to do some serious food and drink shopping.
As well as the shop, the site had a bar where we learned that a Breton folk group was playing there later in the evening and went off to eat before returning later. The freedom of self-catering with all mod cons to hand is excellent as you can knock up a meal or eat out as the fancy takes you. We were starving and our al fresco supper was devoured rather than eaten in no time. It’s amazing what a few hours on a bike can do!
Our plan was to spend alternate days walking and cycling, so early again the next day we drove a short distance to tackle a circular route we found in the pack ‘Randonees en Pays de Dinan’; the guide recommended the map Carte IGN 1017 Ouest. With lunch packed and flask filled, we were ready for the off. The grandly named ‘Tour du Lac de Jugon a L’Oree de la Foret’ ran around a reservoir for some 13 miles (with diversions).
Allegedly waymarked throughout, we followed a broad track from the centre but were soon pleased to have the map as the waymarking proved, at best, erratic. Herons were flying and fishing around us, the odd smiling mountain biker zoomed along and long-distance horse riders wished us a cheery ‘Bonne promenade, mes amis!’. This was typical of the unfailing good humour from everybody we met – on foot, horseback, in cars or bikes. Courtesy and consideration are in as plentiful supply in Brittany as elsewhere in France.
In Maniere, there was a riot of colour with flowers galore in ground tubs and hanging baskets and we stopped for a ‘pique-nique’ by the bridge over la Rosette, a stream rather than a river and a welcome break after a slog along tarmac. The route was more level on western side of lake with no switchbacking as on the other side. A few hours or so after setting out we regained the car after a pleasant a pleasant day out with water mostly in sight and loads of birds and butterflies. We even managed a long chat in French about outdoor footwear with an elderly couple in trainers – hope they understood the advice.
In bright sunshine with big fluffy white clouds we were off to Matignon market the next day for the local weekly market. What a sight! The whole centre of town was closed to traffic and there were stalls galore selling anything and everything – a real Breton market. By 11 o’clock, we had exhausted the diverting possibilities and headed off on unclassified road to Pleboulles and on to Port de le Duc where we turned to follow the line of the estuary on the road that doubles as the GR34. GRs or Grand Randonees are the network of waymarked trails that runs all over France.
We pedalled on up through Plevenon to Cap Frehel where we left the bikes to follow the GR34 around the coast to the spectacular Fort La Latte – seemingly perched in the sea like a pink sandstone ship – as featured in the classic hokum film ‘The Vikings’. We walked back past Cap Frehel, as we wanted to stretch our legs for a clifftop picnic at Pointe De la Guette; rich purple gorse flanked the GR34. Cidre fermier ‘La Martinais’, bouteille No 02543, went down very well with our picnic lunch – dry, cold and 5% vol but it was a small bottle!
We were soon back in the saddle for a tour along the coast but on returning to the estuary the heavens opened. We dodged the worst under a tree with our trusty Sportsman’s Blanket – indispensable outdoor gear. Sorry-looking backpackers on the GR34 passed us complete with voluminous capes billowing in the breeze. We reached ‘home’ just before another storm hit with several hours of fresh air and exercise in the bank – a pattern that was repeated with variations for the week.
We took time out from the outdoors to explore other aspects of the area but kept the ground covered pretty tight – this was not a car-touring holiday. One key highlight was Mont Saint-Michel. Others included Dinan – a lovely medieval town with loads of interesting buildings, Dinard – a real surprise with a lovely beach bathed in glorious sunshine and only a touch of kiss me quick – and St Malo. Its network of narrow streets tucked behind the high ramparts resounded to the sound of street entertainers from harpists to a mariachi band.
© John Traynor – from the Journeys Of A Thousand Words series