Puffing on the Francette - Pedalling to the pictures - CycleBlaze

March 24, 2022

Puffing on the Francette

Niort to Parthenay

France's bike routes can be signposted in surprising ways
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I MENTIONED the festivals we have here. Another  novelty is that France is criss-crossed by signposted cycling routes. The longest, as you'll guess, are part of the trans-continental Eurovélo network. Many are less ambitious, linking regions or cities, others just a delightful circle of two, three or four days.

  The Francette links the ferry port of Ouistreham, near Caen, with the old maritime town of La Rochelle, on the Atlantic (https://cycling.lavelofrancette.com/cycle-route). Niort to Parthenay isn't flat. France generally isn't flat and bike routes hardly ever so, choosing the quietest, prettiest way and not the shortest or flattest.

  "We rode this way with a friend loaded with full camping gear," Patrice explained as we worked across successive short climbs. "He was in ruins."

  The département of Deux-Sèvres is named after branches of the river that cross it. It is physically but not so often visually demanding. Windy plains succeed winding, bumping lanes, often within minutes. Once the verges would have been shorn and blackened by weed-killer. Now saner minds have their way and flowers are left to grow, often buttercup-like blooms that salute the sky with happy, raised arms.

  There's not a lot to provoke later conversations of "Do you remember that day when...?" but we did see a château, or the bits not hidden by trees, and outside it a coach that suggested a school party forced to absorb culture when most were no doubt happier on their mobile phones.

Little to provoke a "Do you remember...?" but quiet roads and tracks galore
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  Villages followed at polite intervals, only one with a place to eat. Everything was pleasing but can I tell you much or anything about what we saw? Not really.

  There was a lovely old codger, though, disgracefully agile and enthusiastic for a man of 92.

  He was preparing a lawn of impressive flatness.

  "All I need now is rain," he said. We agreed it had been dry for weeks.

  Steph explained that we wanted to peek at the campground that the village had provided for walkers and cyclists. It was behind a wall opposite his house. And it gave him an excuse to stop raking.

  He crossed the road with us, holding a key suitable for a dungeon. And he gestured at the lock.

  "I use it a lot," he said "That's where I get the water for my garden." He was bright-eyed, and dressed in old clothes.

  Steph put the key in the slot. It didn't turn. Clearly it was because the job had been entrusted to strangers. So he took the key back, refitted it into its hole, and turned it. It wouldn't turn.

 "No idea why," he said.

  "Honestly," we insisted, "it's no problem."

  "They said it would work."

  We were never sure who "they" were.

  "Doesn't matter - we weren't going to stay anyway."

  But it did matter. To him.

  "Sorry," he said. "I'll go and see the mayor." Or someone who could be called to account for changing locks or providing useless keys. He walked back to his garden, holding the key, wished us bonne route and waved as we pedalled away.

  This evening we are in Parthenay, an old fortified town that has turned its attention to gentler business now there is little probability of invasion. I am drinking a Belgian beer and the moment is one of contentment.

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Jacquie GaudetI’d like to assign multiple hearts for this bit of writing!
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Andrea BrownTo Jacquie GaudetYou and me both.
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Leo WoodlandTo Jacquie GaudetJacquie, you may have my heart any time you choose!
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Leo WoodlandTo Andrea BrownBless you, Andrea. May the wind be forever at your back.
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