CURRENT LOCATION: Camping la Goelette, Bernerie-en-Retz
Up early again this morning and almost the first off the site. I was beaten to it by a French solo cyclist, about my age who I exchanged a few words with before he set off home at the end of his week long jaunt along the Loire. The Loire à Vélo is, I suspect, what the majority of cyclists on last night’s site are there to ride. Perhaps a few for the Velodyssée but as it’s so close to the mouth of the river – about 25km – it’s a good place to set up camp at the end of day 1 taking into account you will probably have travelled from elsewhere to get to the start of the route. It’s also, of course, the start of the EuroVelo 6. I suspect (there’s a lot of suspecting going on tonight – perhaps someone can confirm) that the EuroVelo 6 is one of the most cycled routes, if not the most cycled, vying for position with the Rhine Cycle Route or EuroVelo 15. I digress…
I set off west beside the Loire and after around 10km arrived in Paimboeuf for breakfast. Shortly afterwards, the St-Nazaire bridge came into view. Built in 1975, its curves give it the credentials that would warrant honorary Norwegian citizenship, curves that improved the nearer than you got. Take a look:
If only, I thought, it was possible to cycle across and allow me to get to see those U-boat World War II docks that I’ve heard so much about over the years. Perhaps for another trip. But hang on… there’s a free shuttle bus for cyclists! What? I went off to find said bus and duly boarded Wanda and myself along with various other cyclists including a family of four from Scotland who were at the end of their own Loire Valley cycle. We had a nice chat that will probably feature in the next episode of the podcast. Within 30 minutes I was cycling past huge ocean liners in construction in the direction of the St-Nazaire u-boat monstrosity.
Let’s be fair, it is. I don’t suppose the Nazi’s applied for planning permission from the local authority back in 1941 when they decided to start pouring 450,000 cubic metres of concrete – reinforced – and create a building that would keep their submarines safe from the RAF. Many years later the French finally admitted that they couldn’t afford to pull the building down so they have created a sea-themed attraction that gives you the choice of exploring a 1950’s French submarine, life on board cruise ships or an eco-museum. I chose none of those options as my interest was in the building itself so I spent an hour or so wandering around trying to imagine what it might have been like for the forced labourers who built it and the rank and file German submariners who toiled there during the war. It is, substantially, as it was when they were forced to abandon it and is a monument to the utter folly of war. All that time and effort… I’m glad I went.
Back over the bridge in the shuttle bus. I’ve knocked 18km off today’s today bringing it down to 75km to take into account my little trip back to the northern side of the Loire. The rest of the day I plodded around the coast on the well-signposted route of the Velodyssée. All increasing reminiscent of cycling north from Royan to La Rochelle back in 2015. Fatigue hit me but time mid-afternoons and, after noticing a campsite next to the route I went to explore.
“We can give you a pitch for €53” explained the woman at reception. Perhaps she was trying to get rid of me. If so, her plan worked. I went on line and located a potential 2-star place the other side of Pornic. Their website listed prices for cyclists that wouldn’t provoke a coronary so I set Camping La Goelette as my target and started pedalling.
I passed through Pornic itself without stopping. Busy would be an understatement. I kept cycling until told to dismount from my bike by an official with initials on his shirt that I didn’t understand. I suspect it was a private security company rather than anything official. His actions were a little useless as when I asked where I could start cycling again he pointed at the crash barrier which was about a metre away. Just in case his initials were for a crack team of commandos drafted in by the local gendarmes, I didn’t make any smart comments. I left that to the two teenagers on scooters who were also given the same instruction. They’ve now been deported to a remote atoll in the South Pacific. (Could be worse.)
The campsite is a gem. Run by what I assume to be mother (in charge) and two sons (who have been drinking since early afternoon) it’s a simple, laid back place. Perhaps 30 pitches? But its best feature is that it is right next to the sea. I’ve been promised that the sun will set over my left shoulder. My GoPro is poised…
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