Santander to Le Havre - July-Aug 2011

Map of the route - opens in new window which you can zoom to fullsize and move around as you follow the route Each days ride is shown as either red or purple - or green on one bit.

The ferry from Plymouth to Santander offers a fast and easy, though not cheap, access to the NW of Spain. The boat arrives at midday which gives plenty of time to get on the road that day. My son and I were travelleing with all camping gear - the extra weight, I feel, is worth it for the extra flexibility and . . . I just love camping in Europe during summer. We had a complete set of the Michelin 1:200,000 maps (scale varies a bit on the Spanish version) to cover the journey. My bike is a robust but old double butted tourer with metric wheels, Schwalbe tyres and a Brooks saddle. Jack's a lighter and much newer alloy road bike onto which he put panniers. We intended to enjoy the journey - lots of stops for croissants, cafe, pan aux raisins (my favourite) and those wonderful whole baguette sandwiches stuffed with cheese, tomatoes, salami - which heavy duty cycling allows you to eat with great frequency and enjoyment.

Day 1

Right by the ferry terminal - well a few hundered metres to the north is a passanger ferry which runs across the bay to Pedreña for €2.40 per person and per cycle. It must offer the most enjoyable and painless way to get out of the city - it also happens to be heading in the right direction. We cycled to Argoños in humid and drizzly weather the picked up the N634 and camped at Islares - humid, low cloud and a damp night but a decent paella in the campsite restaurant. 58k.

Santoña and Laredo, Cantabria, Spain.

Day 2

Left at 8am having packed in the rain and cycled in the rain to Bilbao - fairly quiet roads - the old main road in places with an autopista nearby. A massive queue for the Guggenheim meant that we didn't have time to go in - still a spectacular building from the outside but very poor cycle parking provision. Left Bilbao at 1pm still following the N634 - quite busy at times where the autopista was not yet finished. Relieved to turn off up the BI-633 towards Ondorroa - first 5ks or so was a steady climb and then all downhill to the coast - a good road and the rain mostly held off. We camped just after Ondorroa on a site at the top of a hill close to the Cantabria - Pays Vasco border. 125k

Guggenheim in the rain with our bikes in the single miserable little bike rack.

Day 3

Another wet morning and we got away by 9am and towards the hilly outskirts of San Sebastian where the weather was starting to improve just as we started to get concerned about getting trench foot having been continually wet for the last 48 hours or so. Arrived at St Jean de Luz at 4.30pm with very busy roads for the last 30k. 90k

Jack with our bikes on the San Sebastian seafront.

San Juan de Luz.

Day 4

Left St Jean at 8.15 and we called in a couple of bike shops to get a set screw which must have shaken loose from Jack's front derailleur. The first one in St Jean was useless and said we'd need a whole new derailleur - it is new you dork it just needs a screw! But the next one about 30k up the road was absolutely brilliant and even fitted it - all for nothing so Jack bought some brake blocks to make it worth their while. We left all the traffic behind in Bayonne and started on the mostly good cycle tracks through the pine forests of Les Landes. Arrived at Mimizan plage and found an outrageously priced campsite - €42 so went to Mimizan Bourg and got a good one for €17. A good day and weather now dry and sunny 129k

Jack and Martin, Mimizan Plage. Jack's bike is an alloy road bike but it did very well.

Campsite Mimizan.

Good appetites now! - Cycling Lunch.

Day 5

Another early start and miles and miles of straight roads and very little gradient meant we could make good progress. We take turns at slipstreaming each other at 24-27km per hour. Both quite tired by 4pm and we were pleased to stop at a small site in Lacanau town for just €11 and we hade a poullet roti. The last 30k was along the alignment of an old railway with various old stations along the route. Jack saw a dead and we both saw what may have been a live Pine Marten. Also a deer tan colour, no white on its bum. 106k.

Day 6

Got away by 8.30 towards Lacanau Ocean until we found the cycle track north - got lost around Bombannes and wasted half an hour but finally picked up the main drag running north - a tarmac forest track cum cycle path up towards Montalivet - a bit like Blackpool. All the route for the last three days has been through pine forest and in many places masses of Cicadas have been calling - I was surprised to hear so many this far north and west. Caught the quite large ferry across to Royan and found a pleasant site just 3ks from the centre in roughly the right direction. Cycled into town for a Moroccan meal and Jack got a puncture on the way back.

Day 7

OK, now we are in proper rural France, got away by 7.30 and trucked on through attractive and fairly level country with vines, sunflowers but the maize looked drought stressed in place, also some Chestnut orchards. Via Cozes, Pons to Cognac and Rouillac to Ruffec. Continued slipstreaming on largely quite roads. As the day wore on the hills became more obvious and I was starting to have spoke troubles with my back wheel which meant I hade to stop frequently to tighten just one or two - that meant that something more was amiss I felt sure. Beautiful vernacular buildings of limestone from Pons eastward. The planned campsite at Ruffec no longer existed so we decided to keep going towards Civray until we found one - which we did only 10k further down the road at Lizant. Low key rural site run by a couple of Brits and a bar in nearby village where we had a pizza each for tea.

Angles-sur-l'Anglin old chateau.

Day 8

We are now 860k from Santander and the weather the last few days has been good. It's 1st August and about 1.5 days to our friends in Loches where we will stop for a day and we are OK on time to reach the ferry. Delightful rolling country and getting quite warm 28 degrees today and we finished at 2pm and camped at the side of the River Gartemp at St Pierre de Maillé. This river joins the Creuse about 10k downstream. Quite a bit of canoeing on the river here. Beautiful square, simple churches in this area. 90k

Day 9

We left the site at 8am and overcast weather meant more comfortable cycling for the last 60k to Loches,. Found some cracking horse mushrooms in a couple of places which we collected to share with our friends in Loches. Arrived Loches at lunchtime 63k.

Garden of the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire.

Our friends garden in Loches with Le Donjon in background.

Day 9

A day off today so we went to Chaumont to visit the display gardens there. Bought some horse steaks to cook for supper!

Day 10

Back on the road, left at 8am heading towards Amboise and quickly arrived at Saligny, north of Montoire sur Loir. We both felt and cycled better for our day off. I was plagued by loose spokes on back wheel. I had retensioned the whole wheel after earlier problems but I now keep the spoke key in my pocket and have to retension about every 10k. Thankfully it seems to be settling down by the end of the day but I'm contemplating a wheel rebuild with butted tandem spokes when I get back. I've noticed before that when you get 100 k north of the Loire the climate suddenly feels much more influenced by the Channel and so it was on this trip. 97k.

An appropriate display in the excellent Musée de automates in Falaise

Day 11

A damp and cloudy morning which slowly got better. A bit more hilly as we skirt around La Perche. Jacks rear wheel starting to complain after a fast and bumpy downhill section. Chasseurs were out shooting game of some description. Went via La Ferté Bertrand, Bellême, Le Mêle to Sées with its cathedral - stonework in terrible condition. Arrived at 3.30pm 107k total 1133k.

Day 12

Left at 7.45am directly to Argentan and then to Falaise where we wanted to visit the great museum shown in the pic. We arrived there at 9.45 and the museum opened at 10am. Bought a ready meal on the local market of cous cous - drizzling now and got worse as the day wore on. Realised some time after that delicious meal that cous cous is rubbish for stamina. Made worse by heavy rain around Lisieux and a front!! spoke breaking on my bike shortly after - the easiest to fix and we both carry a few spares so no big deal. Arrived at Pont L'Eveque campsite at 5pm wet, tired and hungry. Delicious omlettes and chips for tea. 107k

Oxford Ragwort - Senecio squalidus - growing alongside railway tracks as we entered Le Havre.

Day 13

A much better day and a ferry to catch. Left at 8am and cycled uphill towards the coast and over the bridge at the estuary of the Seine. The CTC notes
were helpful here. The important thing is to follow the cycle track signs from the roundabout on the D144 to the east of Honfleur and then get off the bridge as soon as you can and where indicated on the north side. This route follows a railway track for kms in a sort of nomansland but gets to Le Havre quite painlessly - it's flat! We cycled around the town to clock up a few extra k's and get to the magic figure of 1301k from Santander. 40k

Afterthoughts

The trip was 1300k and we did it in 11.5 days of cycling but the day off was well worthwhile and gave our bodies a chance to recover. We both had spoke problems and Jack had a couple of punctures but he didn't have Schwalbe tyres! I parted with Jack at Portsmouth who travelled by train to London. The ticket machine in Portsmouth managed to sell me a ticket for a journey it was impossible to finish that day (Sunday evening) but I got as far as Exeter and decided to cycle back to Tiverton the following morning. I broke a rear spoke cycling back from Exeter and another one failed a few days later. I have since respoked the rear wheel with heavier butted tandem spokes and it seems rock solid now. The next trip will test out its load bearing capabilities though!