A short cycling day – just 56 km – but it was planned that way and puts me within a normal cycling day’s ride of the centre of Paris. But back to Montargis…
I’m pretty good at telling how good or bad a campsite will be within moments of arriving and I could certainly have told you that there was something not altogether right about Camping de la Forêt in Montargis. Dark, quiet, functional, a little dated, the odd old caravan gathering moss… The reason I stayed was simply that there were also new camper vans also dotted around the site and three tents. I was given free reign to choose a pitch and after circling the site for a few minutes found one that wasn’t too far away from some camper vans and two of the tents. Men in their late 20s turning up without any transport later in the evening had me questioning my decision to stay there. They made me feel uneasy, lighting a fire (which according to the signs was banned) and staying up until well past 2am. There was no security of the site to tell them otherwise. What were they doing? I did fall asleep but also spent significant chunks of the night wide awake, listening. It’s not good for the soul… Waking for the final time and finding it to be light outside and seeing that the bike was still where I had left it was of sufficient relief to warrant a post in itself – see below.
The night did leave me somewhat knackered so having already chosen to cycle only as far as Fontainebleau was fortuitous. However, once packed and back on the road, I still hadn’t worked out the route. Over coffee in Montargis centre I looked at the map (which ran out just north of Nemours; I was hoping that my maps for the central and north eastern regions of France would overlap and cover Paris but they don’t) and my eye followed the line of the Canal du Loing – which is supposed to form the route of the Eurovelo 3 – before it fell off the edge of the page. I didn’t really want to end up on thin towpaths similar to those of the Canal d’Orléans yesterday so focussed my attention on the roads instead. The D207 looked pretty heavy duty – red dual carriageway on the map – so turned to Google cycle directions. It was a good decision.
Most of the first 10km from Montargis was along a quiet access road following the route of the canal, the adjacent railway and also the D207. Another one of those places where all the infrastructure seems to have been squeezed into a narrow strip of land, just like I found along the Ruta de la Plata in Spain (and back in 2010 along the valleys of Switzerland). Alas it wasn’t to last and for the next part of the journey – what remained of the cycle to Nemours – I was directed back into the main road. Traffic was fine however; few lorries, just the cars going about their Saturday morning business.
In the centre of Namours, Google’s directions sent me down a steep flight of steps to the canal. Mmm… Perhaps not so great after all. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and found an alternative route before following the suggested path along the canal. This seemed to be working fine; it was a proper path rather than a thin line of gravel until… a footbridge. Ah… Abort! I found a nearby road and followed the directions for Fontainebleau.
Next up was the first bit of climbing since… Well, I suspect since I left Pamplona in the direction of the French border and Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (I’m getting excessive hyphen flashbacks). It appears that the forest of Fontainebleau and the chateau itself are built upon a great ‘massif’ as the French call it. The road was similarly ‘massive’ – a great wide corridor through the trees – and I think that George Patten lead his troops along this road in the days leading up to the liberation of Paris. Several monuments along the way implied as such. More research needed later.
After the climb there was a bit of downhill before arriving in the town of Fontainebleau. I always imagined the chateau to exist in glorious symmetrical isolation. More of the symmetry in a second but as for isolation, well, far from it. The towns of Fontainebleau and Avon have grown to feed off the chateau in the same way that Windsor feeds off the castle. I cycled past the chateau preferring to find the campsite, erect the tent and return to explore. I did just that adding an extra 6 km to the day but it was the best thing to do.
However, by the time I had made it back to Fontainebleau chateau, fatigue was kicking in big time. A combination of lack of sleep the previous evening and combining a sightseeing event with a cycling day. I queued to buy my €11 ticket and wandered around the apartments of Kings, Queens, Emperors, Empresses and one Pope fairly half-heartedly. I spent just as much of my time people watching as I did looking at the furniture, ceilings, (short) beds and the like. Not a bad little place in which to live but I’ve seen better. Even the French live of symmetry seemed to have been abandoned at Fontainebleau. On another day with more energy I would have cycled away with a very different impression about the place but today, I just wanted to get back to the campsite, sit in the sun, relax and do very little until writing this. That’s exactly what I did…
Tomorrow: Paris and then Monday a proper day off with… a bunch of teenagers that I used to teach. What could possibly be more relaxing that that?!