A day at the sea: (Rennes - St-Malo) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

April 26, 2012

A day at the sea: (Rennes - St-Malo)

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ALL JOURNEYS come in stages. Today wasn't the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning, as Winston Churchill said of a far less frivolous moment in life. It was the day I reached the coast, the beautiful old town of St-Malo that sits within its walls and can be entered only through gates made no wider than the demands of a man on a horse.

It seems odd to be a cyclist yet at the same time be glad that the tailwind has lessened. The paper this morning had photos of destruction by the wind and of huge foaming waves blown over sea walls. That is no weather to be out on a bike, even when it's behind you.

I took the outer ring road west of Rennes this morning, a fast and busy way to skirt the city accompanied by an audience of drivers who knew how to behave around a cyclist. That is a blessing of France, that while not all drivers are God's chillun, most do at least know what it's like to ride a bike.

I escaped after half an hour and rode a rolling way across the grain of the land. I passed through Geveze, where I'd planned to stay last night, then passed into a more gentle paysage, although not without the occasional leg-chastening hill. It rained, it stopped raining, it hesitated and dithered and didn't know whether it was raining or not, and then finally it gave up and I rode in shorts.

This way to Germany: the voie de la liberté
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I suppose the Roman road I was on yesterday originally led to the sheltered harbour at St-Malo. Two thousand years later that road guided another invading army in the other direction, as the kilometre posts along the Voie de la liberté and the date, 1944, showed.

Most traffic these days no longer takes the invasion route. It goes on a newer and faster road built just to its west. Drive there and you reach your destination in far less time but without ever gazing on a village church or buying a pain au chocolat or any of the other pleasures of travel in rural France. It is a factory road, a production line producing drivers who want nothing more than to get somewhere fast without the inconvenience of hearing birdsong.

The original road is still there. For cycling it's ideal because most of the traffic has gone, the distance is minimised by the directness, and the hills aren't demanding. But that's not the way the planners want you to go, so all the signs for places straight ahead point instead to the left. To this new road. And now and then there are big intersections and sections of road closed to cyclists.

The first time this happened, I rode off six kilometres in the wrong direction. It was only when I got back to the roundabout at which I'd strayed from the straight and narrow that I saw the small blue sign fixed to a lamp-post. 'St-Malo', it said, white on blue with a little picture of a bike. I hadn't seen it before because I hadn't been looking for it. Now, praise to civil servants everywhere, I had these signs from 40km out. Not at every junction but, reassuringly, whenever things grew tricky. I promise that, when I become president, all these people will be given twice their pay.

And so I bowled along, blown along, until I reached St-Malo after a little excursion through the hills.

Coffee break
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St-Malo sits across a bay from the posher town of Dinard, which is the Hove-actually of Normandy. I should explain that, on the English south coast, the gaudy and rowdy city of Brighton is neighboured by the more genteel town of Hove. Where, when people are asked if they live in Brighton, they reply 'Well, Hove actually.'

St-Malo, behind its city walls
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I went straight to the port to buy my ticket for tomorrow, then amazed several thousand fellow tourists by demonstrating just how obstructive it is to walk along narrow roads brimming with people while pushing a dirty bicycle loaded with full camping gear. When even I realised the time had come to stop, I set off to find Thomas and Marion, my hosts for tonight.

They are cycle-touring, jazz-playing physiotherapists. Somehow I think conversation will not be lacking.

Today's ride: 95 km (59 miles)
Total: 655 km (407 miles)

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