8 days along canal towpaths and small roads in Britanny and Normandy from Roscoff to Caen via the Loire
I planned this little circuit from one Britanny ferry terminal (Roscoff) to another (Oustreham - Caen) and to last just 8 days. Using canal and river towpaths and small roads, it worked really well with a good peppering of campsites throughout the route. Routes were all plotted using an android tablet and the Google 'My Tracks' app. The disadvantage is that the maps do not show the canals well so you may need a Regional France map alongside (I used Michelin 1:200,000- 512 Britanny, 517 Loire Valley, 513 Normandy)
9 August - Ferry to Roscoff from Plymouth and a short (10k) ride to the pre-arranged campsite at Camping Le Troglet withing sight of the Armorique from which I had disembarked (green pointer on map above).
A night of drizzle and packed up in the wet - an enthuastic shake of the tent to remove as much wet as possible and 'snap' an alloy pole breaks - not good on day 1 but thankfully there is a little sleeve with the tent to do a makeshift repair.
Left at 8.15am and travelled along the lovely coast road to Morlaix where a couple of Tarte aux raisins provided fuel for the 25k of gente climb to the watershed in this part of Britanny. Nice quiet roads too. From Carhaix ended up on a horrid motorway style A road for 10k - never any sign saying not for cyclists though several car drivers signalled I shouldn't be there, Reminded me of a similar piece of road south from Perpignan. That evening a chat with some local gendarmes indicated I was right to be there (as far as I could understand anyway) but I
jumped over the crash barrier and found a small local road then to the canal towpath of the Nantes-Brest canal. Did 20k along the towpath of variable quality then took a small road to find the small campsite 'Fleur de Bretagne' - quite difficult to locate - easiest way would be to get to centre of Rostrenen and take the D764. Turned out to be run by a cockney lady who made me a great omlette and chips. About 105k for the day.
Day 2. An 8am start and got to the canal in about 5k. Put up 2 herons but otherwise very little wildlife and the canal banks have been mowed already (early August). Managed to lose the canal about 5k past Guarec so took the chance to take a road direct to St Aignan - very up and down and wooded country. After Pontivy the towpath is tarmac and many locks take me up to the watershed perhaps 15k further on. Some light tourist traffic on the canal now. Found campsite early at Josselin - about 104k today. Josselyn quite touristy with a striking Chateau but no food shops in evidence. Ended up having a revolting pizza at the campsite and despite being ravenous I failed to finish it. - if you eat here avoid the 'Auvergnois' pizza - actually on second thoughts best to avoid the campsite cafe altogether.
Leaving Josselin at dawn.
Left Josselin promptly at 7.30am, cycle track of good quality for much of the day - most of the way to Redon is tarmac. But after Redon when one leaves Britanny and enters the Pays du Loire the track becomes a horrible loose yellow gravel which gets exhausting. I gave up on this about 20k short of Blain and took to small roads - a great relief. Very little wildlife - I reckoned that about 2ks of the Grand Western Canal in Devon delivers more ducks than 200k of the Nantes-Brest. The municipal campsite at Blain the cheapest so far at 5.40 euros and wifi included. 115k for the day.
Nantes-Brest canal towpath at St Martin - on map above.
Ecluse - lock - near Saint-Martin-sur-Oust on the Nantes Brest Canal.
Day 4 Aimed for a leisurely start but was still away by 7.30am. A wet night so everything damp. Took the canal towpath initially because it looked like it was going to be tar but quickly reverted to loose gravel so took small roads - onto the D164 to Nort sur Edre - stopped for coffee and pan aux raisins then onto Ancenis for bread/mayo/ compte cheese and tomatoes. The loire valley has well marked small cycling roads on the south bank and I followed these upstream to Montjean. Saw 3 clouded yellow butterflies, a red squirrel and a fritillary butterfly but not sure which one precisely. A pleasant and easy day unbroken by showers until after the tent was pitched. Nice site but another town with no small food shops - just a single boulangerie and a supermarket
El Poderoso on the Loire at Ancenis
Ingrandes sur Loire and near the end of my cycling day.
Day 5. Rain last night meant everything damp and dawdled around packing so didn't leave til 8am. An unhurried day and just 72k to Chateau Gontier. Passed a road kill which I later identified as a Coypu from an information board - like an enormous Guinea Pig but with a rat's tail. Travelled along many small roadsthrough St Augustin, Becon les Granits, St Clement (good coffee), La Membrelle Pruille where I got onto the riverbank of the Mayenne - this bit was just a slippery footpath but after 2k became a good cycle track at Grez Neuville and remained so all day.
The Mayenne is a big river with locks for navigation and a little used an excellent cycling resource.In my search for lunch eventually found one of those old style little holes in the wall which have almost died out but sell everything in the small town of Daon - about half way between Lion d'Angers and Chateau Gontier where the five roads meet on map above - an epicerie and depot du pain where I got a fabulous cheese called St Fiacre to go
with the bread and tomatoes.
A lock - Ecluse - on the Mayenne River
Day 6. A showery afternoon the previous day dried up overnight and a gentle 8am start. Pleasant day along towpath, saw 4 kingfishers (possible 6), 2 red squirrels both quite dark in colour. All shops shut in Mayenne for national holiday (Aug 15). Campsite very good with the bonus of a family of spotted flycatchers catching insects from the boundary fence.
Day 7. Mayenne to Flers. All along departmental roads today in gently rolling countryside which got a bit steeper around Domfront and after. CeaucÚ had a good cafe (there were two) and had not been eviscerated by out of town supermarkets like so many of the French towns I have been through on this trip. The centre was really thriving. To Flers and a lot of granite evident - while the town is good the stone adds a touch of austerity to the appearance which sandstone does not have. Good (municipal?) campsite on the NE edge of town. 72k
CeaucÚ - a small town on my route in Mayenne, France with no out of town supermarkets and a thriving centre
Day 8. Flers to Oustreham. Early Sunday morning so nice quiet roads. At Conde I looked at the map and decided to take the D36 to Aunay having failed to notice that it went right up Mont Pincon - the highest local point and venue for the TV and Radio transmitter for the area - big mistake! Also an important venue in the days following the D day landings. A lot of climbing then a lot of descending to Caen. Aunay is a lovely sand coloured stone and so is Caen and odd bits of granite here and there. Approaching Caen on busy roads not much fun until I found cycle track 3k from centre - routefind on a bike is easy - just keep asking - straight through the middle of town and a Sunday market and onto the excellent cycle track along the canal to Oustreham and spent the night in campsite which seemed to be full of folk from Paris area on modest holidays. 85k
Just short of 800k in total, no punctures, no mechanical issues and El Poderoso has been excellent. Deliberately did higher mileage on first few days so could be more leisurely towards the end. Decent food a bit of an issue - forced to resort to my emergency rations (bulgar wheat or rice and sardines) for a couple of evening meals. The Mayenne was the best bit and so underused.