Tag Archives: Fleurac

Infidelity

(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.

If we want to be ready for tomorrow’s 85km journey home, we must eat properly.

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.

We take the same route back, adding a couple of kilometres to see Balzac chateau. We also include a detour to discover the village of Marsac, which is worth the extra time it takes.

 

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.

Could we hitch her to it? She could be part of our quest to see whether the source of the River Charente is comparable to that of the Touvre.

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.

They look tired, as if they’ve hardly slept. Was it the worry about being responsible for the house?

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.

Cheers!

***

Congratulations if you’ve read all 7 posts of my summer blog sprint. You’re probably as exhausted as me!

Camping Calamities

(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 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.

Fleurac is the starting point of ‘La Coulée Verte’, a cycle route that takes you through the outskirts of Angoulême.

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)