A no-nonsense bit of cycling from A to B (well, N to P I suppose…) today in an almost straight line. Quite a short cycle – just over 40 km – but that was planned after having stayed up to watch the election coverage last night. I did fall asleep for a couple of hours around 2am (at the moment Ed Balls first got a mention I think) but it wasn’t really sufficient to prepare for a longer, even ‘average’ length ride of 75 km today. So Parthenay was always going to be the stopping point, two-thirds of the way to Saumur.
But back to Niort! I was the only guest in the small hotel last night. It was a very nice place but didn’t break the budget. I was waited on like a prince in his modestly-sized palace this morning at breakfast with a whole array of food to choose from on my table. It could have fed a large family never mind just one person; curiously five hard boiled eggs had been prepared for me. Five?! I felt obliged to eat one but left the others for, well, who knows? Perhaps they have them back to the chicken. Great service and highly recommended. It was called the Hôtel Particulier – La Chamoiserie. There was a suggestion last night that I would have to pay €9 for storing the bike in the car park area which did make my eyebrows rise somewhat but this morning the fee was waved. Sensible decision as it’s things like that that make me think of reactivating my Trip Advisor account. Tourist information bit done. On with the cycling.
The weather wasn’t looking that great when I set off along the D743 this morning. Dark sky and chilly compared to recent mornings. Mercifully not much wind and for the first 10 km nothing changed, i.e. it just remained cloudy and chilly. You’d think that the longer the name of the road, the less busy it would be, no? The A1 in Britain is busy, the A64 (Leeds to York) a bit less so, the A273 quieter still (I made that one up by the way; I’ve no idea where it starts and finishes but I’m assuming it is quieter as that’s how things work back home). So I was expecting the D743 to be a bit of a backwater despite its straight-as-an-arrow route. Think again. Mercifully there were few lorries – today is a Bank Holiday in France and so restrictions apply – but there were plenty of cars. After several days of following mainly cycle tracks it took a bit of getting used to again but the vast majority of the drivers were playing ball (should that be playing boule?) and giving me plenty of room. I didn’t follow the route of La Vélo Francette incidentally simply because I just wanted to get to Parthenay with the minimum of fuss on a good quality surface. The cycle route couldn’t have been too far away however, following countryside tracks, as it too was fairly direct.
Then the rain did arrive. It’s not the first bit of cycling in rain of the trip or indeed the most intense downpour (remember my approaches to Salamanca and then Pamplona?) but it was the longest period of sustained heavy rain. It continued for perhaps the next 25 km. I stopped, put on my helmet, sealed myself inside the rain jacket (the hood fits very snugly over the helmet) and pedalled… I actually don’t mind cycling in the rain, as long as it’s an occasional thing. The bike works more smoothly when covered in water and strangely, I think I do too. There is a certain auto-schadenfreude about the whole thing. (The Germans probably have a specific word for that slight adjustment to the basic act of schadenfreude.) The cars continued to zoom past, I continued to cycle and eventually I arrived within a stone’s throw of Parthenay. Well, it was actually about 5 km but I’ve got a very good wrist action.
I needed a coffee to warm me up so I headed to the town centre. Well, my toes were the only frozen part of my body but the heat seemed to penetrate down there. Goodness knows how. First impressions of Parthenay weren’t great. A bit drab, run down, grey and there were very few people about as, being the Bank Holiday, all the shops (apart from two or three cafés) were closed. The French really do have much to learn about making money on days when everyone has little else to do apart from shop. Such a radical approach to profiteering has yet to reach the Hexagone, or at least Parthenay. Combined with the general downbeat nature of the town it made for a rather depressing place to visit.
I turned my attention to the campsite – Camping du Bois Vert. Great little site although almost as quiet as the town. Reception wasn’t officially open but I rang the bell and the nice lady took my €9 (good price!) and I set up camp, crawled into the tent and vegetated for a couple of hours. I did eventually appear from the tent to take a shower and decided to give Parthenay a second opportunity to impress. The writer of the Rough Guide talked about a ‘spectacular view’ from the town walls built at the top of a steep embankment. I found the view – see the panoramic picture below – and it was spectacular but only at the ‘Mmm… that’s nice’ end of the spectrum rather than the ‘What the….!’ end.
I’m now back at the campsite and the sun is shining for the first time today. It’s still chilly and the wind is picking up a little but I have good news. Over the next few days, according to Metéo France, there is going to be a marked improvement. Indeed no rain is forecast until later next week. Joy! It’s a 75 km cycle to Saumur tomorrow. I’m not yet sure if I will try to follow the Vélo Francette route or the roads. Perhaps a combination of the both. I’ll sleep on it, talking of which, I am looking forward to getting some sleep tonight. Sleep deprivation must surely overcome my normal reluctance to sleep under canvas. I hope.