Making it to the North: (Les Herbiers - Nantes-Brest canal) - When we were two little boys - CycleBlaze

April 24, 2012

Making it to the North: (Les Herbiers - Nantes-Brest canal)

Small, quiet rivers flow towards the gentle but deadly Loire
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I AM in the North. I realised it for the first time yesterday, to be honest. I found a call box to ring home and found the number had changed from a 05 prefix to 02. France is divided into quarters when it comes to phone numbers, with a fifth area, an enclave, just for Paris. The south-west is 05 and the north-west 04. I am Up North.

But today I also crossed the Loire. To those of us who live deep in the south, where the people are happy and smiling and play boules and drink pastis, the Dordogne valley marks the start of change. From there to the Loire is the Midlands. Then comes the Seine, which means Parigots with their superior ways and their clipped accents. And, while few southerners have ever been troubled to find out, there is the string of France along the Belgian border where everybody votes communist, spends the evening in bars for ex-miners and talks like a Belgian. Most people have little idea what goes on up there.

Crossing the Loire: I had an odd feeling as I crossed the road that ran alongside it, for it was that road a few years ago that led me from the Atlantic to the Black Sea of Romania
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I crossed the Loire on a grey metal bridge east of Nantes. The river looked as peaceful and quiet as ever. It's hard to remember that it holds the national record for drownings.

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After yesterday's tailwind, today I had the gale in my face. The forecast called, as Americans say, for a day of rain as well. But forecasting can sometimes be as dependable as noticing if cows are standing up or sitting down. Not only did it stay dry but I rode in shorts for a couple of hours.

But then someone spotted what I was up to and resented the mockery. The revenge was that the sky didn't merely turn grey; it became black. The rain hosed down hard enough to knock leaves off trees. It took on an ugly mood and sent hail dancing on the road. It rained, it stopped. And then it started again. Over and over. I grasshoppered from one bus shelter to the next as I moved through villages.

Well, the weather aside, it has been an uneventful day. The countryside was as green as ever - greener, probably, thanks to the rain and to that curious oblique light of the sun shining beneath clouds. I paused to read the inscription on a huge column marking a religious massacre now forgotten while those at the time must have thought it would mark centuries.

Sic transitgloria.

Tonight I have the canal to myself
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...but it's dark and the ground is sodden
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My target for today was the Nantes-Brest canal. In summer it is a favourite for parents introducing their children to touring. Tonight I have it to myself. I watched a boat bounce off both walls of a bridge only just wide enough to take it. And then I found a pitch for the tent.

The ground is sodden. I fear it will be a cold night.

Today's ride: 106 km (66 miles)
Total: 455 km (283 miles)

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