(Summer Blog Sprint: post 3 of 7)
We planned to leave home on our cycling trip in the early hours of this morning and reach a campsite near Angoulême by the evening. But we left late, and our resolve to cycle far into the night has dissolved in our glasses of beer.
We can’t camp at the Gabariers pub, but we remember there used to be a campsite in Sireuil, which is 5km away.
When my youngest daughter was a baby, we drove there and camped for a day. It was the kids’ first camping trip. During the night, our baby developed cystitis, which meant that every half hour we had to unzip the tent and take her to the toilet. Meanwhile, a huge storm raged around us. In the morning, we found several trees skewered across neighbouring pitches. We didn’t go camping again for several years.
We push aside our dark memories, opt for the road rather than the riverside track, and veer unsteadily into the gateway of the Nizour campsite.
Luckily, it’s still open. There are plenty of trees left, which means it’s shady. The ambiance is friendly and, since we completely forgot to buy food for dinner, we’re pleased to see we can eat a snack in the bar. The only downside is the discovery that the water in the showers is lukewarm.
It’s chilly beside the river – but we’re hardy cyclo-tourists now, and the cold won’t put us off. We pump up our mattresses, roll out our sleeping bags, say goodnight to our trailer – at least I do: my partner seems a little less keen on it than he was this morning – and fall asleep.
Thanks to the trailer, we’re sleeping in comfortable camping equipment. But is it too comfortable? This morning we’re snug inside the darkness of our Fresh & Black tent, and it’s fun to discuss the day ahead.
Today will be true adventure, since we don’t know the river beyond Sireuil. We have all day to cycle, so we can cover at least a hundred kilometres.
We get up stiffly into the clear light of day and face reality: it’s eleven o’clock and we have nothing to eat except emergency rations of one dried sausage. Had we opted for my tiny tent and skinny mattresses, we’d have been up since dawn.
We cycle back to the bakery in Sireuil and buy crusty bread, chocolatines and pains aux raisins. With all this sport, there’s no need to watch the calories, is there? I add a warm croissant to my order.
The mini-supermarket is closed, but we’re sure we’ll find another before lunchtime. We continue on our way, talking about the merits of single-wheel trailers compared to double wheels.
To our surprise, we pass an electric bicycle company in the village. Our trailer discussion leaps into the realms of electric trailers, big enough to carry cushions for our saddles without causing the muscular aches we’re suffering from this morning. I don’t remember being saddlesore when I was 20. Maybe I should eat a few more croissants for extra cushioning.
Upstream of Jarnac, the towpath comes and goes, making the river harder to follow. While we study the map, a friendly fisherman stops to help. He directs us along the path between Sireuil and the Meure bridge, and tells us about the 88cm pike he caught here. Fishing is popular on the river, and we pass many clearings on its woody banks, ideal for sitting with a fishing rod and contemplating the water. Or, in our case, just contemplating the water.
We leave the Sireuil tanneries behind us, and head towards Angoulême on the wild right bank of the River Charente. The countryside has changed.
I’m starting to appreciate the value of change: wide tracks are easy to follow, but become monotonous and can be stony. Grassy tracks, though bumpy, are pretty. Roads make conversation between us more difficult, but they’re so much more comfortable on the body. By which I mean on my backside.
We’re making good headway until the riverside track stops and we take the lane to the village of Trois-Palis. I stop to admire the Romanesque church – but my partner has found something of more interest. I join him and we both enter the door to chocolate paradise. Chocolate is cultural too, right?
I knew that Chocolaterie Letuffe was near Angoulême, but I imagined a factory on an industrial estate, not this little stone building in a hamlet.
We dream and drool, and decide we need a sachet of chocolates. And to keep it cool we need a frozen-solid tub of chocolate ice-cream. We’re tempted to do a chocolate-making workshop, but it requires 6 people. We can’t avoid our bikes any longer. We cycle on a few kilometres to Fleurac, where we discover the ice-cream is soft enough to eat.
There’s a snack bar at the Fleurac lock, and I’m intrigued by a sign asking visitors keep their dogs on leads so as not to upset a goat called Belle, who grazes freely in the area. I search, but am disappointed not to find her. I also search for somewhere to buy food for a picnic, with the same result.
We discover this familiar town from a different viewpoint, and are charmed.
But there are more people around, and the noisy roads make our journey less peaceful. We eat our emergency sausage with a squashed baguette, and then continue onwards.
At the end of ‘La Coulée Verte’ is the huge Saint-Yrieix lake, which is also a nautical base and tourist attraction. There’s a campsite here, but there are also crowds of holidaymakers. We want somewhere quiet, somewhere more authentic, somewhere without evening entertainment. But we don’t know of any other campsites. The situation requires an information search.
I phone my secretary.
“It’s lucky you called,” says my younger daughter, “because there’s a problem here. The water in the toilet won’t stop running.”
This only happens when we’ve got a houseful, which isn’t the case because my daughters are alone at home.
My partner takes the telephone and talks about taps and joints with my daughter. Then we get her to connect to the internet (we don’t have smartphones) and look for campsites near Saint-Yrieix.
There’s nothing until the village of Montignac-Charente, which is way upstream – at least 12km if we cycle in a direct line on a busy road (which will be hellish with a trailer). We’ve already done the same distance as yesterday – 30km – and are tired. Our fatigue must be due to sleeping too late this morning, because 100km should be well within our reach. Or perhaps we should have had a siesta in the hammocks we brought.
There’s no cycle path beyond the lake. Should we find a place to camp in the wild (which is illegal in France, though tolerated in national parks)? Or push on? Or stay here and risk being subjected to camping karaoke until the early hours?
I say goodbye to my daughter, who seems eager to return to cleaning the house. In the background I can hear someone playing the piano. My elder daughter must be learning a new piece, because I don’t recognise the tune.
We stop and eat an ice-cream while we discuss our options and watch people enjoying water sports on the lake.
There’s nothing like an ice-cream to help you make a decision.
(Do you know the River Charente? Have you got a favourite spot there? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it)