Le Grand Tour: Day 34 – Agen To Grisolles (94km)

CURRENT LOCATION: Camping Les Terrasses Occitanes, Grisolles

I judge my WarmShowers hosts on how I provide for WarmShowers guests when I host back at home. Alas in recent years this has been less frequent. When I lived in that beautiful tourist hotspot that is, err… Reading, I hosted quite regularly in the summer. Since moving back to rural Yorkshire I’ve hosted just three times. In Reading I was half-way between London and Oxford or en route to the West Country. In Yorkshire, despite it being far nicer, I’m not really on anyone’s cycle route (although not very far from the Pennine Cycleway – take note!). Anyway, aside from a warm shower, I provide food, drink, Wi-Fi, clothes washing, advice, deep-tissue massage… Well, most of those. 

So far on this trip I’ve been hosted three times by WarmShowers hosts and all three have met my needs fabulously but last night Merick in Agen was brilliant. I was hardly though the door when she offered me a beer, made it clear she would be cooking, instructed me about the washing machine, spoke at length about the local area… She couldn’t have done any more. It’s worth noting that she also responded to my late request on the day within a couple of hours. Just fantastic. Just one issue: mosquitoes. In fairness, not Marick’s responsibility but I was bitten to buggery last night. I’m currently overdosing on antihistamine tables.

After breakfast I headed off along the canal once again but not before I’d paid a brief visit (had a good nosey) at the Vélo Café hub. Marick had said there was a dormitory in the building and I was intrigued. I’d seen the place upon arrival in Agen – it’s just below the aqueduct that takes the canal across the valley –  so found it quite quickly. The only person around was a Swiss cyclist who had had a few issues with a broken bike. He was also on a long tour around France but I think he was just happy to see a human face. Presumably he’d been alone in the dormitory all night which must have been a bit creepy. 

I won’t bang on about the canal cycling. It wasn’t that dissimilar to yesterday’s cycling so go back and re-read day 33 if you need a fix of that. There were, however, two attractions on the list. First up was the village of Auvillar. Today’s cycling would have been around 85km had I not detoured away from the canal to find it. But I’m a sucker for those ‘plus beaux villages de France’ epithets and off I trundled in search of Auvillar. Merick had recommended it but she omitted to mention it was at the top of a very steep hill. 

As I started pushing my bike up the incline, I got chatting to an American teacher – his name was Ron – about the village and his writing retreat. He was hoping to find inspiration for his next novel before returning to his job at Albany University in New York State in the autumn. Perhaps he will write about a cyclist and the story start with said cyclist panting his was to the top of a hill. He asked if my accent was from Birmingham. Mmm…

Auvillar was indeed beautiful. Take a look: 

A fair bit of canal later I found something that had been mentioned by David and Christine Naylor yesterday but which I thought I’d missed. The ‘Pente d’Eau de Montech’. Strewth. Where do I start with this? There are a couple of pictures below and more in the video. I’m not sure if I watched the video for the first time I’d have any idea what that section was all about. Basically, opened in 1974, it was a way of pushing boats up a slope in a large bath tub of water rather than the boat having to navigate a series of five locks. 45 minutes was saved per boat. It closed in 2009 due to lack of canal traffic but is now a visitor attraction. 

It reminded me of the bike lift I discovered in Trondheim back in 2015. Both are technically superb but both remain to be the only example in the world. Enough said. It’s a credit to the French and the Norwegians that these lifts exist. But entirely understandable that no other country had bought into the concept.

More canal followed then the campsite. It’s run by a man with approximately two teeth and his wife who, I think, was using the campsite computer for the first time today as she checked me in. She told me I sounded as though I was Belgian. I told her I was from Birmingham… 

Tomorrow: Toulouse. Night in the centre of the city to allow time to explore tomorrow afternoon? (It’s only about 30km from where I am today.)


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