Rhapsody on the Rhône - A country hidden by a large dog - CycleBlaze

August 1, 2019

Rhapsody on the Rhône

Bourg-St-Andréol to La Voulte-sur-Rhône

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IT is a fact these days little contested that I am among the world's most blameless men. A little reward now and then is therefore not out of place. And this morning it came.

Soon after wishing the Dutch campers a good ride, we turned on to the lane that ran beside the campground and, after a little turning this way and that, found ourselves on the Via Rhôna.

A little scene-setting is in order.

The Rhône runs from the mountains of Switzerland down to the Mediterranean. It's not to be confused with the Rhine. In Switzerland it is little more than melting snow but by southern France it has become a wide waterway that through erosion has created one of Europe's biggest and most crowded travel corridors. There is an autoroute, many secondary roads that support it or which it replaced, and rail lines and factories and nuclear power stations. Plus the houses of all the people who work in all those places.

And flowing almost imperceptibly through the middle of it, but separated from it all, is the Rhône.

And alongside the Rhône, for day after day of riding, the gods have closed the paths, minor roads and trails to all but cyclists, walkers and the occasional roller-skater. It is called the Via Rhôna, in  these parts country lanes fringed by trees or edged by the water and all closed from everyone else by barriers. We had expected a dull but practicable ride on a conventional cemented towpath and we had been given perfection.

The Rhône paths vary every few kilometres. Here, half the road has been lifted to discourage traffic and make a path for cyclists
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Of course, even paradise has its problems and for us it was a headwind that threatened to nail us to the path. It shook the trees and blew the leaves and put intolerably smug smiles on those coming the other way.

French winds have romantic names, which people use without blushing. There is the Vent d'Autan, for instance, and there is the Mistral. It was the Mistral that was troubling us now, a feature of the Rhône valley, although we were getting off lightly. Sometimes it can be blow so hard and for so long that legend said it drove people mad. Legend also said that no court would convict a man because the wind had driven him to kill his wife.

This tradition ended when coachloads of people started arriving but only the men leaving. People on the beaches of the Mediterranean began complaining about the dead wives the river was washing up on them...

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Today's novelty was the sleek suspension bridge at Rochemaure, a single lane which rises and sinks at the grace of the supports. repeatedly hit by ships over time, or blown down, or blown up by careless drivers in petrol tankers, and deliberately blown up in the war.

It had been there for decades when the French army blew it up as it retreated in 1940. The Germans mended it and stood guard to make sure it couldn't happen again. But it did. In 1944 the Allies bombed it and next day the Resistance finished the job by blowing up the central support.

By this time the Germans had given up and the bridge stayed a wreck until France found the money to repair it in 1946. Things went well until in 1968 an overloaded lorry dropped through the roadway, after which the bridge was rebuilt once more but closed to all but cyclists and pedestrians.

Travelling cyclists, always a model of elegance and taste
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I too was blown up today. Or shattered, anyway. The sandwiches we ate at a park bench in the shadow of the bridge didn't last the afternoon and by La Voulte I was a whimpering wreck, attended to by the Patient and Lovely Mrs Woodland who, unabashed, cooked chicken curry in the town square and insisted I ate it.

It did the trick, of course. If a cyclist feels grim, it is rarely the distance. It is almost always lack of water or food. Mrs Woodland knows that. I, however, am too stupid to remember.

Cyclists' underpass at Rochemaure
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Alternative exit
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We are camping tonight in a field just beyond the town, the river on the other side of a hedge beside us and a road audible but not disturbing in the other direction.

I leave you with two observations. The first is that we are riding up the river while most are riding down. Those riding down have the gentle slope in their direction and the wind behind them. And yet, other than those with the maniac smiles, they look more knackered than we do.

The second observation is that when we asked at the tourist office if there was a hotel in La Voulte, the fey and helpful man in charge said there was but urged us not to stay there. This not being the usual way of tourist-office staff, we asked why. Usually tourist offices brim with eagerness about a town's attractions however pitiful.

The man paused and smiled sympathetically.

"Well," he said, "if you go to TripAdvisor, you'll find it has a rating of 0.5."

Which leads me to wonder if, somewhere in the world, there is a hotel that scores exactly 0.

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Keith KleinHI Leo,
I saw the picture of the bridge at Roquemaur and I thought, « hey, that looks familiar » and sure enough, looking back through my journals I had been there. No murals when I was there, but I did stay in a hotel in Roquemaur which was neither terrible enough nor wonderful enough for me to comment on it. I checked to see if I had been through La Voulte, and I had. I had even stopped at the tourist office, and they put me onto the hotel in Roqumaur, so I guess even when I was there they were not encouraging overnighting in their town. The via Rhona was very nice to ride on, and its a very good place to meet members of the cycling fraternity, as you have plainly told us. Great reading your journal.
Cheers,
Keith
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2 years ago
Leo WoodlandYes, always fun to see where you've been before and what others make of it. Thanks for riding along, Keith.
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2 years ago