But yes, of course! - Pottering round Poitiers - in the rain - CycleBlaze

April 11, 2018

But yes, of course!

Cheese of all colours in Montmorillon's street market
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St-Sauvin, Autigny, Montmorillon, Saugé, Fouchardieère, Nérignac, L'Isle-Jourdain

"Es-"... I didn't get any further.

"Oui!", a lean, bright-faced man laughed, as though he'd been waiting for us all day.

Well, he could have guessed easily enough, of course. He ran a bed-and-breakfast and the moment he saw two worn-out cyclists on his step it was clear they hadn't come to read the meters.

"Est-ce que vous auriez une chambre?", I was going to ask. But by the first syllable, we had our reply. And we were deeply grateful because we'd already been turned away at two other places.

"Bring your bikes indoors," he said. "Here, I'll help you. Put them anywhere you like."

He looked 70 and going well on it. It turned out he was 87, with the energy and enthusiasm of a teenager. He did some cycling "back in the day", he said. He knew how hard it could be. And today had been hard, especially the afternoon. We hadn't ridden so very far but it had rained most of the day and the afternoon's repeated hills had taken their toll. One per cent of climbing - up 10m for every kilometre of progress - may not sound much. But do that for a long day and you'll have risen enough to clear the Tourmalet, the classic climb of the Pyrenees. We had neither ridden nor climbed that far but it felt like it. Most of that heffing up hills had been in the afternoon.

A recovery sleep was in order, especially for Steph.

"I was riding on willpower towards the end," she said, "and I didn't realise how tired I was until I stopped."

I wasn't a great deal better. We got straight into bed and slept for an hour.

Montmorillon's old bridge from the point we assume was the old ferry landing
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The one town of the day was Montmorillon, with its 14th-century river bridge. We stood and admired it from the end of a street that ran straight into the water with a short outbreak of cobbles. To judge by a grassy bank rising to the road on the other side, this was where the ferry once ran. The bridge had been there for centuries but perhaps the toll to cross it was greater than the ferryman's price. But I'm guessing.

Montmorillon - full of open-air market today - was big in the book and paper-making trade. The guide to the town says bookshops line every corner, but not where we looked. There's a Cité de l'écrit on the other side of the river, with a museum of typewriters and calculating machines (admission free) but for us it remained unexplored.

The one sign we saw of the industry was an abandoned factory with a tall chimney beside the river as we rode out. Paper factories, in my limited experience, are always beside rivers. They need a lot of water. But time caught up with this one before we got there.

Happy mural along the road
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The afternoon alternated flat and desolate grazing country and small but empty fields behind walls of trees and bushes, on narrow roads that rose, fell and rose again with unbridled enthusiasm. And so we reached L'Isle Jourdain, a workaday place gathered around a square and known to motorcycling fans but nobody else for its small race circuit. There was a wall of motorcycling pictures opposite our room at the bed-and-breakfast.

We will sleep well tonight.

Today's ride: 62 km (39 miles)
Total: 171 km (106 miles)

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