Thursday, 26 May 2011

England - Cornwall

5th May, 70km, Antony - Truro

As with all countries (and "fresh starts") I attempt to begin the final stage of the trip with a degree of discipline. I wake up at six. Once the blur leaves my eyes I roll out of the tent. A few stinging nettles on bare feet accelerate the waking up process. While eating breakfast I check the map and plan a vague route West.

The South-West of England is well known amongst cyclists for its hilly nature. Aside from the spinal main road down the centre all other routes are Lung Busting Leg Burners – makes for great interval training! My route along the South coast from Plymouth to St Austell (via Looe) is a perfect example of such topography.

A cold wind rolls off the Atlantic – bringing with it bucket loads of rain. The moment I stop all heat is sucked from my body. I gather I've adjusted some since the consistent sub-zeros of Turkey and Iran. I take refuge in a traditional red phone box. I use my last sixty pence to make a phonecall to my girlfriend. The call doesn't connect and I loose my money. Sad face. I muster the motivation to face the cold once more. I plug in some Drum and Bass, turn the pedals, and let my mind wander.

Early evening I'm on the outskirts of Truro (the County town of Cornwall). I stop to fill my water bottles and consider whether to camp or try some last minute Couch Surfing in town. As my mind chews the idea I'm approached by John and Judy. We chat briefly about my trip and where I'm heading. They invite me to stay with them for the night. Random Act of Kindness number one – not bad for my second day in a new country.

We feast on carbalicious cycling fodder for dinner. While eating we chat about cycling, Cornwall and everything in-between. They are planning to ride the JogLe (The length of Britain from John o Groats in Scotland to Lands End in England) later this year. I enjoy the first shower in a while and flick through some cycling books before bed.

Thursday, 19 May 2011


4th May, 35km, Carantec - Roscoff (ferry) Plymouth - Antony

The day starts as usual - porridge followed by coffee and then Richard waits for me to pack up. It's a beautiful morning and neither of us are in any rush. I sense a little procrastination within me. Today I plan to take the ferry back to England - the final nail in the homeward bound coffin.

We spend a few hours exploring the mini peninsular on which we currently reside. There is a tidal causeway and our timing is such that it is just becoming accessible. From the other side we get great views of the surrounding coastline.

The time comes when I can faff no longer and we head to the port at Roscoff. Though not before one last dustbin diving session.

As these things seem to go I arrive just in time for last boarding. With my wallet €73 lighter I am ushered towards the terminal. A quick goodbye to Richard, these things always seem to be rushed, and I'm aboard.

Fairly uninteresting six hours. I'm a little dumbfounded to be surrounded by people speaking in a language I can understand.

Terra firma. England. Home.

I follow several other cyclists off the ferry. We split of fairly quickly. The smell of fish and chips hits me like a freight train and stays with me to the outskirts of Plymouth. I bet that would make good riding food. I take a minute to adjust to riding on the left hand side of the road again. I'm also struck by the number of "young-uns" hanging out - not something I've seen for a long time. Many folks return my smiles and nods. I even get cheered up one particularly steep hill. No sooner am I off the ferry than I'm getting on another one at Torpoint - a short estuary crossing. The staff are very friendly and we quickly get chatting. A guy called Frank Holden (father to Amanda - no joke) leads the way with the questions. "I have to shake the hand of a man that's cycled to Iran and back. Good work". And I have to shake the hand of the farther of Amanda Holden. Equally good work! Frank tips me off about a great camping spot a few miles up the road.

Its almost dark by the time I get there. Up with the tent. Then a moment to reflect on my return to England before sleep. For a long time I have been curious to see if my opinions of my home country will be altered by my post-travel perspective. I guess time will tell - but first impressions are very good.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

France - North for England!

2nd May, 52km, Carnac - Plouay

Lazy start. I rearrange the bike. We eat breakfast together. Richard and I leave to explore more old stones.

On the way out of town we stop at Lidl. There is not so much in the way of food but I help myself to a few flowers to “gay-up” the bike.

At midday we point the handlebars north and start turning the pedals. Not our best day. Great stop in Hennebont for an extended and late lunch. The heavens open in the early evening. We ride on through what looks like the beginnings of a mud slide.

The beginnings of a mudslide in Brittany from James Rathbone on Vimeo.

With visibility vastly reduced we duck into a bus stop and wait for the rain to abate. Richard catches on to my “press-ups to keep you warm” routine. The rain doesn't stop but we decide to push on regardless. We barely get up to speed before I spy a generously porched DIY store.

The DIY Store Motel - Brittany from James Rathbone on Vimeo.

3rd May, 118km, Plouay - Carantec

Easy pack up thanks to our lack or camping. On the road very early as we don't plan to be caught snoozing when the store opens - you snooze you loose dudes!

The idea that I could be back in England tomorrow motivates me to push the pedals a little harder than usual. I'm not sure if my arse hurts to the usual degree and I'm blocking it out better – or my saddle is in fact becoming more comfortable.

We find a nice riverside spot for lunch and indulge in all types of luxury bin food. We do not hang around. With distended guts we join the main road North and continue on.

At a local farm I buy a few bottles of famous Brittany cider. We make the effort to find a camping spot worthy of my last night in France. The ride from the trendy town of Morlaix follows an estuary. As it begins to open out towards the sea the land opens up many camping opportunities.

Monday, 9 May 2011

France - Carnac

29th April, 102km, Genner - Les Touches

The wind rolls off the Loire chilling our bones. Reluctantly we pack our things. Porridge and coffee gives the required energy to get moving, and once we do, the riding is great. Quiet roads with lots of wildlife – I ask for little more.

A fine view to wake up to
We stop to re supply at a supermarket. Somehow considerable time passes. The area selling TV's is playing the royal wedding - it doesn't hold my interest for long.

In the town of Chalonnes we hit the bin jackpot. I know - I said I wouldn't mention it! But Richard pulls out a bag containing more bakery goods than we know what to do with. We load up my bike with €50 worth of fodder and roll out of town. Once we come across a suitable place we take stock of our goods.

Bin Jackpot!!
Some hard riding takes us over the ton for the first time in while. I hadn't realised until now but I'd be slaking for quite some time on the riding front. Riding at a higher rate pushes me into my cardio zone – it feels great to get the lungs pumping once more.

Lunch overlooking the planes of Northern France

For a change our campsite is not so picturesque. A small park on the outskirts of town supplies us with all we need – some reasonably flat ground. We even have the luxury of a picnic bench.

30th April,105km, Les Touches - La Vraie Croix

Pastries make up the majority of our breakfast. For 11'sis we fire up the stove for coffee - and of course more pastries.

Yesterdays revelation of riding harder hasn't faded and I push the pedals harder up each hill working my lungs more each time. The hard work pays off as I pass the 10,000km (6000mile) mark.

The Magic Number.
Thunderstorms in the afternoon. My mood darkens as the rain begins to fall. But as the pattern seems to go - once wet through I'm as happy as a pig in shit. The skies clear and allow us a great sunny evening ride.

We set up camp in a field of grass shoots. Well timed storms roll in just as we jump into the tents. The patter of rain and the flicker of lightning is the perfect send off - natures lullaby.

1st May, 69km, La Vraie Croix - Carnac 

I wake up to a puddle in my tent. Definitely one of my cheaper buys that is not going to stand the test of time. Still £60 for ten months – comes in a long way shy of a mortgage.

Our mornings ride gets off to a fine start and the kilometers begin to tick away. After the customary supermarket bins stops we arrive in the town of Vannes. The town itself is partly set behind castle Walls and very pretty. We a drawn to the dock area where we take a break and enjoy the photo exhibition that is being displayed there - ocean theme.

On the way out of town we bump into Catherine. She gives us some directions but then offers us lunch - Richard and I require little encouragement. As a fellow cycle tourist we talk about our trips etc while munching on homemade quiche. We also sink some local beer and talk about the French political situation.

Eventually we leave after a very enjoyable few hours. Thanks Catherine. I had honestly though I'd seen the last of random acts of hospitality on this trip.

Back on the road the midday showers have eased revealing blue skies. Our destination for the day is Carnac - a town famous for it's Neolithic ruins. While riding I notice my bike behaving strangely - after such and extended period one developes an enhanced sensitivity to such things. Much like a martial artists weapon becomes an extension of himself. Yes - I just compared bike touring to martial arts. Anyway. My trailer has given up - the bottom half completely shearing away. I prey that the two cable ties will hold out until we find a suitable stopping point. Once in Carnac we do find just the place - the beach and my first views of the Atlantic in a long time. As I fix the bike I dig my toes into the sand, look out over the rolling waves, and allow myself a small and secret "yey, I made it" moment.

Bike sorted we go to check out the old stones. And great they are too. While drying my soaked tent I meet Max(germany) and Danny(Spain) - two backpackers touring western France. We get on great and the nights camping duo becomes a four. Great evening of food sharing, whiskey drinking, fires, guitars and laughs.

France - The Final Leg

26th April, 86km, La Cellette - Migne
The beginning of the final leg of France. We spend the morning with our new friends. Between breakfast and cups of tea we pack up our things. With photos and goodbyes done we point our bikes North-West and start pedalling. Midday.

For a change we have no luck with supermarket bins and opt to pay for our lunch. Over the course of the afternoon the road gets progressively flatter. The quiet country lanes make for perfect cycling. My body feels well rested and very well fed. All is well in Jimmy world.

Hardly seems worth a mention!

By evening we make it to an area called the Brenne. Here hundreds of lakes are crammed into a small region. We disappear off down a side road and find a suitable camping spot. We get set up and eat next to an open fire. Frogs make a racket all night.

Camping in the Brenne

27th April, 86km, Migne - Noyant de Touraine

Back on the Vaseline - good times people!

I wake to the sound of frogs. I unzip my door to the world and a greeted by the misty lake. Aside from the frogs there is no other evidence of lastnights multispecies performance – the carp are no longer rising and the water snakes have wriggled away.

Once on the road we enjoy the views of the remainder of the Brenne. We stop for an early lunch and power nap in Preuilly sur Claise. Richard prefers to gorge himself and then nap it off and I take on his routine – in fair it's perhaps preferable to my gorge myself and then feel sick for the first hours riding.


Casualty of the day is my right pedal. I falls off at every opportunity and eventually wears my patience down. We stop in Descartes to get it sorted. While there we take a second lunch and check out the birthplace of the famous philosopher (“I cycletour, therefore I am”) - you know the one....

Our shadows begin to lengthen and so we peel off the main road and begin the camping
hunt. The first exploratory foray down a grassy lane comes up trumps. The last of the light is used to cook dinner. Bed once dark – back to our circadian rhythms.

28th April, 92km, Noyant de Touraine - Gennes

As usual Richard wins the race to get packed up – the old “wild poo” tends to set me back abit. We make our way along the banks of a tributary of the Loire. We take an early lunch on the banks of the river. It's shallow enough to go for a dip – though neither of us can muster the motivation. Our dustbin diving moves up a notch (though you may think 'down') from supermarkets to domestic bins. Thankfully people seem to make speedy exits from holiday homes and sling all remaining food – keep up the good work folks!

It's not long before we reach the Loire. By pure coincidence we join Euro Velo 6 – the long distance cycle route I used to cross Europe East. Begin to follow the signs as I did in Germany/Austria. Begin to get lost. Begin to get angry. I'm reminded of the early days when Mihailo and I would get pissed off at the wiggly routing of the cycle path – at which point one of us would bellow “FUCK THE PATH!!” - and we'd jump back onto the road. Richard and I managed to get ourselves onto restricted military land - smart move.

The road to nowhere - or in our case military property

In fairness if you can put up with the inefficiency you are rewarded with no traffic, better scenery and often very good camping opportunities. We jump back on the route in the evening for this very reason. Once on the banks of the Loire we roll out the gear and spark up a fire.

France - La Forge

16th-25th April, La Cellette

We time our stay very well indeed – arriving at the weekend when (officially) no work is done. Richard and I are keen to make a good impression (and earn the great food we are receiving) and so ask for a project to keep our hands busy. We spend the weekend building decking and steps for the home made, wood fired, hot-tub. We use our spare time to get to know our hosts Peter and Julie.

No dig beds for tatties
 Several years ago the had there own “fuck it” moment. They upped sticks and started a tour of Europe in their camper van (which now sits in the barn and is used as the guests accommodation). They then settled in Le Cruise and got stuck in to the self sufficient farming lifestyle. It's just the kind of place Richard and I had been looking for. Their one hectare plot now provides them with all the food they can eat year round. The daily yield from the resident chickens is sufficient to supply the entire region with organic eggs.

Our accommodation - hopefully it will see the road again!
The major project during our stay is to complete the “no-dig” beds and to get the potatoes, onions and parsnips planted. We weave Hazel whithies around chestnut stakes to form the circular beds. Then layers of cardboard, shit and straw. And potatoes!

The evening meals are a highlight each day. Julies cooking is fantastic – I think if my tastebuds had the choice they would remain here forever – rather than be subject to the bread and jam that my typical road diet dictates. The homemade cider goes down very well. And each dinner is an opportunity to have a giggle and learn more about eachother.

Trimming up some whithies
As the days pass I familiarise myself with the farm animals. That is, apart from the goose – who tries to pick a fight at every opportunity. After hearing about it's infamous “bite and twist” fighting style and give it a wide birth – not sure my Kung Fu is upto “goose standard” just yet. I find the goats to be quite personable. Richard and I take turns to milk them in the evening. The two dogs (wolf hound/great dane cross) Hamish and Willow are great. With their help I continue to solidify my wounded relationship with the canine species.

Propper Spoon!
On the weekend we take a trip to the woods. The two hectare plot (also owned by Peter and Julie) is a short ride from the farm. We collect more fire wood and whithes while there. Our visit to the woods is well synchronised with the bluebells. I take the time to traipse through the trees and enjoy the carpet of blue. Richard and I opt to stay the night. Strike up a fire and roll out the sleeping bags under the canopy of oak overhead. In the flickering light we whittle away at hazel branches crafting our first “bush spoons” 
Night in the woods - wouldn't be complete without a fire
Eventually the time comes when we have to leave – there is still half of France waiting to be crossed after all. Had I known how much I would enjoy my time here (and indeed Helpx/wwoofing in general) I would have dedicated a larger proportion of my trip to doing it. Particularly with the farming its of far more benefit to you, and your host, if you can stay longer. The benefit being you can learn more and become more of an asset to them. And in return establish a stronger connection with the farm and your hosts.
The gang

France - Massif Central

13th April, 74km, Cohade - Aydat

Surprise frosty morning. I exit the tent feeling some strange joy at the return of the chilly morning. With a cup of coffee I go to watch the mist rising from the river until my body feels ready for further exertion.

Our days ride starts slowly - this is entirely my doing. I take the time to try and bodge up the cracked weld on the trailer and some other bike tinkering.

For the first few hours on the road we see only a handful of cars. As the pattern goes - we climb steadily for some time. Once in the high country we get great views out over the rolling hills.

All bus stops should look like this!

Food of champions!!

All day Red Kites escort us. The riding is slow but very pleasant. I we decide to finish off a long climb before stopping for lunch. Thanks to an insufficient breakfast I get dizzy at the half way point. A handful of peanuts and scoop of dodgy Nutella copy sees me back in the game to finish the climb.

Equally bliss afternoons ride. In the evening we head for a lake on the map in hope of some camping opportunities. We cook up a huge feast on the lakeside and then seek out a campspot. Dedicated camping car area fits the bill.

14th April, 66km, Aydat - Mainsat

Snoozing trout

We get moving early and get a good mornings riding out the way. We stop at Carrefour for lunch and hit the jackpot. We pilfer enough “bingredients” to make Spagetti Carbonara. Win!! We bask in the sun with full bellies for some time.
Bin Carbonara - yum!

After an easy afternoons ride our thoughts eventually turn to camping. Our hope is to find a good spot at which we can have a fire. Richard asks at a house for some water and our plans soon change. Veronique fills our water bottles and then invites us to unofficially CouchSurf at her place for the night – result! Richard leads the conversation most of night – his French being better than mine. He also wins Rock Paper Scissors for the spare bed and so I roll out my matt on the floor.

15th April, 88km, Mainsat - La Cellette

Breakfast with Veronique

In the morning we are treated to a typical French breakfast (much like we often eat on the road) but with one very important addition – real butter. Veronique very kindly gives us the butter and jam for the road. We say our thanks and goodbyes and get on our way. Today we hope to reach the Helpx farm.

In search of some fresh drinking water - many of the wells in the area are no longer used

A wee note on Helpx. Much like Wwoof it's an online database for voluteers to find work. There is a fair old variety of placements available including organic farms, building work, hostel work, ski seasons etc. The deal is always similar – work a set amount of hours each day for your food and board.