(Dordogne Cycle Touring 6/6):
A visit to the upper Dronne isn’t complete without a visit to Brantôme – or so the friendly locals in the village bar at St.Pardoux-la-Rivière told us.
It didn’t look too far, so we decided to follow their advice and cycle there the next day, taking only small roads, as usual. An idyllic lane ran parallel to the river on the far side of the main road. It was perfect cycling territory and we even took chances on some tracks. This Abandoned Parent Training (APT) was heavenly!
Brantôme, like many picturesque towns in summer, was crowded with tourists. Despite this, it was worth the visit.
It’s the kind of place you want to visit on a crisp, winter’s day. In fact I’ll definitely be going back this winter because I found treasure there.
My treasure was a little shop called BookStop. It sells English books, holds art exhibitions, hosts visiting authors and even an English writing group.
Best of all, given the morning’s cycling, it has a tea room. The owner, Howard, was serving tea in its little garden overlooking the river. Not any old tea: cream tea! Along with fish’n’chips, cream teas are one of the things I miss about the UK.
Howard’s cream tea was delicious and I loved the British feel of the garden. If you’re in Brantôme, call into 19 rue Victor Hugo and say ‘Hi’ to Howard.
To vary the return cycle ride from Brantôme, we decided to take a series of lanes a little higher in the hills. Our large-scale map didn’t show all the roads but, luckily, my partner navigates with the sun and the lie of the land, (meaning that when the sun sets it’s night and that downhill is towards the river) so I knew we’d be fine.
It was hilly but we were here to train. And then it was even hillier and the sun didn’t seem to be in the right place. There was a distinct lack of roads heading in the direction we wanted. The tracks didn’t lead anywhere either.
At last, we arrived at the campsite, exhausted, with 56.1km on our counter.
Luckily, the two bears were having a party that evening, which meant there were at least six of them waiting for us.
We found the former railway line rather boring because there weren’t many unexpected sights. Thiviers, at the end of the line, was a disappointment too.
But St.Jean-de-Côle was stunning! With its rustic buildings, car-free centre (almost), narrow alleys and roman bridge, it’s a village stuck in a time warp.
We were charmed by the setting of a restaurant called Le Temps des Mets and decided to treat ourselves to lunch there. The tables are on the village green under plane trees and the quality of food was excellent.
Restaurant lunches were something we’d rarely done before, and we certainly couldn’t have afforded it with the kids in tow. You see how our APT senses were sharpening? Thanks to days of hard training, we were finding new possibilities.
Our last day of training took us northeast, with an attempt to find a passage across the River Dronne upstream of the unimpressive Saut du Chalard. We gave up when the track turned into brambles and tree stumps. Our circuit took us past the Arboretum de Montagnac, so we stopped for some contemplative tree-bathing before heading back to the campsite to pack up.
We had successfully spent four days without contacting the kids and had hardly even thought about them. OK, that last part is a lie, since they featured largely in our conversations. Still, I felt fully qualified in APT, ready to become an Abandoned Parent at the beginning of September. My partner and I would join a rock-climbing club. We would cycle together. We would eat at restaurants and leave on long camping weekends to discover new guinguettes and local breweries.
Our car packed, I phoned my daughters to tell them we’d soon be home. It was only fair to give them some warning so they could lay the table and demonstrate the life skills they’d learnt during our absence.
“Oh good,” said my youngest.
I was pleased to know we’d been missed – until she added that her older sister had a fever and was in bed.
We jumped in the car and raced home (though we did stop to buy a few boxes of Two Bear beers).
We were ready to be abandoned, but abandoning our children was a different matter.
Thank you for following my cycle touring ‘adventures’ in the Dronne valley.
If you enjoyed them, you may like to read about my ‘Doorstep Cycling’ trip along the River Charente, which you can find here, or my ‘Writing Residency’ experience discovering the Val d’Azun in the Pyrenees mountains here.