Poetry in the streets: Clisson - Parthenay - North to the Loire, monsieur... and home again - CycleBlaze

August 10, 2013

Poetry in the streets: Clisson - Parthenay

A road-junction scarecrow, just for the pleasure of having a scarecrow in town and hanging some poetry on it
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FRANCE, I REMEMBER, used to be a grey sort of place. Not the countryside, which looks good almost everywhere, but the towns and villages. Well, the towns, I have to admit, are still often a mess. But one summer the electricity people came along and took up the spaghetti of cables that hung above the streets and it put fresh heart into people.

They persisted in their fear of fresh hair and warmth and the shutters on houses stayed closed by day, giving the impression of a population that had fled the plague. But now those shutters were painted and their sills smiled with flowers. And many villages went further and painted murals and planted flower beds - France now has national awards for villages with plenty of flowers - and put in chicanes and even cobbles to slow the traffic.

I forget where it was we stopped for buns this morning but the village had gone even further. It had hung hand-written poetry outside the shop and it had left out pots of flowers where there didn't need to be pots of flowers and it had planted an épouventail, a scarecrow, on a roundabout that could have been there only to slow those passing through the village.

France has gone in for roundabouts with enthusiasm these past few years, all of them perfectly round and trimmed in black and white and with red and white triangles warning that Vous n'avez pas la priorité.

And so, today, we smiled. We have passed from the stubbornly industrial agriculture of the Loire valley, moved into a succession of puffing but pretty hills, and moved back into the Vendée.

The Vendée has gone in for cycling in a big way. You'll remember that the Europcar professional team is based here and the Vendée has put money into the riders' jersey pockets. But it has done much more. Pick up a brochure from a tourist office and it buffs its nails on its lapel and tells you there are thousands of kilometres of bike paths and trails.

Just a simple path but so much better than the road
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And there are, too, marked with discreet green signs with a picture of a cyclist and the names of villages. Like you, maybe, we are cautious about following these invitations. If they're thought out by people who don't ride a bike and who want just to boast at some administrative conference that they have more bike paths than ever, the result can be "facilities" hillier and narrower than the road and certainly a lot longer and even badly signposted.

Not in the Vendée. Several times today we branched off on to trails of compressed earth and made, it's true, slower progress. But we had great time with it.

Repainted stations where puffers once panted importantly before pulling their train of shabby carriages
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To get into Parthenay this evening, we had no less than 16km of old railway, the track lifted and compressed earth laid and signposts and traffic barriers installed. We passed old stations where puffers once panted and steamed before pulling away with short and shabby carriages. We spotted old signal gantries. And while, it's true, we were glad in the end to get to the end of it, there was no better way of getting where we wanted.

And it's not every day you can say that of a bike path, is it?

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