(Summer Blog Sprint: post 7 of 7)
King François 1st said that the River Charente was the ‘plus belle rivière du royaume’ (the most beautiful river in the kingdom). Even before spending five days following it and exploring its banks, I agreed with him.
I see our river every day, in its good and bad moods. I swim in its deep waters and watch it change over the seasons. Its reflections and gentle meanders mean ‘home’ to me. I love the River Charente.
But the moment I see the source of the River Touvre, a flash of intense delight overwhelms me. This river has hardly left the earth, yet its colours, the limpidity of the water and its wide expanse seduce the viewer and invite wonder. I desire nothing more than to explore its intimate depths.
To do that, I’d need diving equipment, because the Touvre is actually the second biggest source (resurgence) in France. The water flooding out of the deep holes – which are popular with professional divers – fills the wide valley with pools of intense blue.
Refreshed by the sparkling water, we cycle back along the Touvre to Angoulême, taking our time to turn down side streets and enjoy the sensual pleasures of this wide, shallow river.
We arrive at Montignac campsite at 7:30pm, having completed 63km and completely forgotten about the campsite aperitif. At least, I forgot. Now I think of it, my partner did launch into some desperate pedalling over the last few kilometres.
The party is in full swing. We join the group of 15 people, including the village mayor, and collapse into the comfort of plastic chairs. A Mojito and a Ricard are placed in our hands, and our fellow campers’ discussions gradually revive us.
One man is walking from Norway to southern Spain, pulling an adapted sack barrow; another has come from Normandy. They ask about our origins – no doubt thinking we’ve cycled from England, given my accent – and are amused to think we‘ve come on holiday to a village that’s only a 40-minute drive from home.
Many of the campers return to Montignac every year, and I’m not surprised.
Montignac has stolen my heart (and that of our bike trailer, I’d say). Not only is the campsite peaceful, the village has all you need for a countryside holiday – including a restaurant.
We excuse ourselves from the party and, after a shower, head to Le Taillefer. Imagine our pleasure as, for 14€50, we’re served a freshly cooked, delicious 4-course meal. We chat to the owners and take a card: we’ll be coming back.
When we return to the campsite after a night walk around the village, the aperitif gathering has become a digestif party. We’re invited for a glass or two of gnôle (also spelt gnole, gniole or gnaule, and meaning ‘hooch’).
But we’re exhausted – and experienced, where gnôle is concerned. We know it won’t help us cycle 85km tomorrow. We decline and say goodnight.
The next morning is our final one. It’s Day 5 and we once again plan to leave early. In reality, we only finish tending our sores, packing, saying goodbye and hitching up the trailer at eleven o’clock. It doesn’t matter: we have bike lights. We can cycle the last part in the dark.
Have you ever noticed how things look different when you see them on a return journey? Here are some of the sights I missed on the way to Montignac.
It’s really hot today. We pause regularly for refreshments and to rest our backsides. At Thouérat lock, we stop for an ice-cream and test the inflatable chairs, wishing that bike saddles were as comfortable.
At Fleurac lock, where we buy a coffee, I’m chuffed because I finally meet Belle. The roaming goat comes to greet us and takes an interest in our trailer.
My partner doesn’t comment on my idea. I’m not sure he’ll be up for another cycling tour, unless he invents a bike with inflatable-cushion seats.
We’re still a fair way from Saint-Simeux, but the pub Gabariers seems to call us from afar.
Our daughters would surely love the pub as much as we do. We should thank them for looking after the house while we’ve been away. Why don’t we invite them to meet us there for a drink and a meal? It could be fun.
Fun? It’s a brainwave.
What’s more, when we arrive at Les Gabariers, we learn there’s going to be live music tonight.
We phone our daughters, and suggest they might like to bring the big car. Oh, and the bike carrier. It would silly not to benefit from the main advantage of doorstep holidays.
They seem delighted, which makes sense: they’ve been diligently house-sitting for five days. They need a break too.
All that remains is to take a dip and wash away the day’s sweat and dust. The pontoon is right on the river, so in we jump. The cool water is a balm and, as ever, I remind myself how lucky I am to be able to swim in my local river.
Getting out is another matter. Have you ever tried to climb onto a pontoon with no steps? Luckily, my partner is here to haul me out. Luckily, my partner is here to order the beers, book a table for dinner and sit with me on the luxuriously deep cushions.
And, luckily, my children are here to pick us up and take us home – which amuses me, considering the number of times we’ve picked them up.
But they also look happy. Already, they’re urging us to do the same thing next year – though preferably with a bit more notice, please.
I can’t think why. I look at my partner to see his reaction.
To my surprise, he’s bubbling with ideas for next time. His favourite is a Craft Beer tour, which he thinks would be even more inspiring that following a river. Of course, we’d need a trailer to carry the beer. And wouldn’t it be good if we could persuade a beer-loving, cycling friend to accompany us: one who’s training for an Iron Man and could tow a trailer full of bottles?
At home, there’s a mountain of washing, including a pile of bed laundry. Although everything is tidy, the furniture isn’t in exactly the same place. It’s no doubt a sign of thorough cleaning.
It’s also the proof we can leave the kids in charge next year. Next year, we’ll definitely train beforehand. We’ll both wear cycling shorts and invest in new gel seat covers, which we’ll keep exclusively for Day 4. If we win the lottery, we may even invest in an electric bike. Or two.
It doesn’t matter that we didn’t achieve our objective. I’ve learnt that it’s fun to let yourself get sidetracked. An objective should only ever serve to get you started.
Having said that, combining the continued exploration of the River Charente with discovering craft beer may take some organisation.
I’d better start planning right now. Once I’ve finished my celebration beer.
Congratulations if you’ve read all 7 posts of my summer blog sprint. You’re probably as exhausted as me!