On a day when I feel as though I have done much it’s ironic that I’ve struggled to start writing this.
I first came to the Loire Valley back in 1993 to work for Eurocamp as a campsite carrier in… Saumur! I subsequently came back – to Tours – in late 1994 to teach English as a foreign language until my return to the UK in 1999 to sort out the Millenium Bug. Just joking! The Millenium Dome. Joking again… To become a French teacher. (No, I wasn’t joking.) Anyway back to early 1993 when I was told that the Loire Valley would be my home for about five months, I imagined it to be a, well, valley. Having previously worked for Eurocamp when I was a student back in 1989 (this is more of a history lesson than anything else) in the Dordogne where the valleys are green, verdant (tautology?) and deep, I was expecting something similar in the Loire. I was surprised to find what I considered to be a flat plain… until, that is, today. Look at the cycling profile that I have generated:
It’s a valley! I knew I was correct all those years ago. OK, it’s not quite the Grand Canyon but it’s a valley nevertheless.
The cycle from downbeat Parthenay, with the wind mainly behind me, was a pleasure. I stayed on the main road for much of the time as the traffic was light, the surface good and my average speed probably the highest it has yet been (22.3km/hr for the record). Perhaps this speed was the reason why, before I arrived in Sid James’ hometown of Thouars (no? It fell flat on Twitter as well…), my legs were aching like they have not ached before on this trip. Could it have been after effects of the wet conditions yesterday? A coffee and a croque monsieur which stretched the definition of ‘croque monsieur’ beyond the limit (two pieces of white toast, a slice of ham and a slice of cheese – actually that is what a croque monsieur should be but…) seemed to have the desired effect of making the pain vanish. The remainder of the trip was ache free.
By early afternoon the weather had most definitely picked up. I have been told that a large area of high pressure is moving up from the south of Europe. Was this proof? The area around Saumur is undeniably pretty and these two things – weather and views – made for a delightful final 20 km. it was with a broad smile on my face that I entered the town centre of Saumur. No requirement to fumble around with Google Maps trying to find out where I needed to go. Here was a town that I knew well. Apart from where Vélo Spot – the bike shop I had researched last night – was located. So I ended up doing the Google thing anyway…
Patrice was the guy in charge at Vélo Spot and I rattled through the issues with the bike. Le bottom bracket (yes Jim, it did work, although Patrice clearly was very proficient in English so that might have helped), le reglement des vitesses (‘le réglage?’ corrected Patrice), le stand (“je ne sais pas comment ça s’appelle en français” I admitted), le bit of plastic to fit the CatEye computer. I didn’t say that. I just pointed. Yes, Patrice had the parts. Could I come back at 5pm? I checked my diary and there seemed to be a window at 5pm.
With my tent and clothing I walked onto the island in the middle of the Loire to the campsite. It hadn’t moved since 1993 but had been sold off to the private sector. No longer a camping municipal, it does however only charge a very camping municipal €9 for a ‘randonneur’ like myself. Wooden huts seem to have taken over from tents nowadays. I can see the attraction. Eurocamp are no longer here but I wandered past the pitch where I slept for five months all those years ago. Memories were evoked…
In the next two hours I did my washing, pitched the tent, had a shower, bought some food, and had my hair cut. My request for a number 3 on top and number 2 on the sides invoked some alarm in the mind of the coiffeur. He even pointed at the chap in the next chair: ‘comme ça?!’ I explained that it had been quite some time since my hair had been cut (the last week in Cádiz) and he appeared to relax before setting to work with the shaver. I have to admit that even I was a little taken aback as to how short ‘numéro 3’ was. It’ll grow back.
My final job was to pick up Reggie from Patrice at Vélo Spot. We chatted about bikes and Saumur. Nice chap. I did test the bike out with a quick ride up the road and everything seemed fine. Back to the campsite to eat. I was somewhat alarmed to hear a few noises coming from the area of the bottom bracket as I neared the site but I’m just praying that tomorrow when I cycle to Tours everything will be in order. Fingers crossed.