Day 1 - 25/6/2013
Start Location - Bournemouth, Dorset, UK
End Location - Camping Saint Michel, Courtils, France
Mileage - 130miles
Woke to the alarm at 5:45 only for Karen to discover that it
is really 4:45 as I never reset my phone time after returning from Spain. Soon
the alarm went off properly and I was up and at it. Even so it was already
after 6:30 by the time the bike was loaded so I was away with minimal fuss.
|Old Harry Rocks from the Barfleur on my way to Cherbourg|
Rode down via Hamworthy to avoid the lifting bridge and was swiftly processed and onto the ferry. Only 6 other bikers unlike the Santander ferry. What a tiny little thing the Barfleur is after the Pont-Aven. Had a quick scout around and then decide on a similar quasi full english, ordered in full french, including mais non tomates. Almost fluent!
Wandered looking for a nice place to have a snooze on a couch and when I awoke we were in Cherbourg. Rapidly disembarked and I navigated Cherbourg sans SatNav successfully (and in fact got onto the dual carriageway before any of the bikes that got off before me as they all passed me on the road. I just kept plugging on to Mont St Michel apart from a failed detour for fuel and a waste of time as the satnav took me off the big road and directed me onto the minor road alongside.
|Mont St Michel|
Back on the bike I retraced my route the ***campsite I had passed 6km outside MSM and was soon booked in for 11Euros. Couldn't be arsed so I just settled down to write my diary and read a book. Feeling a little unenthusiastic right now. I was having a lovely relaxing time at Karens and I have tossed that out to put myself into difficult situations again. Wasn't worried about going away this time, but just not feeling the joy. And that is on the first day!! oh well. We'll see.
Day 2 - 26/6/2013
End Location - Camping le Sabot, Azay le Rideau, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 201/331miles
Woke at 6am and was tempted by the pre dawn mist and promises of superb dawn shots of MSM but just couldn't be arsed! I dithered and so wasn't on the road until just before 10am headed for Vitre.
Very nice too. Parked the bike in a cycle parking area (and then worried constantly about it falling over) and set off to the awesome looking chateau across the road. Lovely wiggly old streets with overhanging houses and tempting cafes. The castle was being worked on so only a few bits were open but it was only 4euros so what the heck. Unfortunately the sun went behind a cloud and sulked there until I came out . Walked around the rest of the town and had a Croque Monsieur and Frites in one of the Cafes. It is very odd that I seem to be more worried about saying things incorrectly in French now than I was in Spanish!! Maybe I feel I should be better with my learnin'!
Back on the road and heading for Azay le Rideau the satnav
failed to tell me that I needed to branch off 1.5km before the actual turning
so I ended up crossing the loire in both directions which was a reasonable
compensation and then I followed the road along the northern bank until Saumur,
where I fuelled up at 100mile plus again. Need to get a bit more disciplined
about this or I will end up running out. France is not a fuel station rich as Spain
that is for sure.
|Chateau de Montsoreau|
Made a stop at the Chateau de Montsoreau which was apparently the title of a novel by Dumas. THe view from the roof was nice apart from the 'steam' from the Chinon nuclear power station just down the road.
Finally made Azay at about half seven and found a campsite just on the outskirts of town. No one in reception but it said just take a pitch so I did. Had a chat with an English bloke walking his dogs who had been here for two weeks and got his advice about the best chateau (Blois, Angers and Chambord). After putting the tent up I wandered into town. Now I need to decide whether to stay here for another night or move on tomorrow. Weather is improving apparently! Needs to be less bloody humid that is for sure (and less mozzy laden would help too!!) Oh well.
Day 3 - 27/6/2013
End Location - Camping le Sabot, Azay le Rideau, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 84/415 miles
|Chateau at Azay-le-Rideau|
Swiftly down to the Chateau here in town on foot for first opening at 9:30. What's going on? This isn't like me! Anyway, weather was a little overcast and the chateau was picturesque but not earth shattering compared to my expectations. I wandered round the gardens waiting for the chateau interior to open and discovered the source of the godawfulnoise that helped keep me awake last night. Bloody frogs in the moat! What a racket, bearing in mind the campsite is at least 250m from the Chateau. Inside was a fairly sparse display of historical objects with each floor decorated as the chateau would have looked at a different time period. Anyway, it was reasonably priced so no worries.
Once I had finished with the chateau I was feeling a bit groggy so |I decided to hit town and have some breakfast. I got a croissant, coffee, real pressed juice and some french stick and jam and much better I felt for it! Sat and watched the world go by for about 45 minutes and then decided I was ready to set off on my quest for adaptors!
|Dry Moat at Breze Chateau|
With my task complete I headed towards another chateau at Breze with a much lighter mood. How easy was that? It was a Breze!! Actually, the Chateau was impressive from the off, even if the heat was a little oppressive. First stop were the tunnels and moat and what a treat that was. I love any kind of troglodite dwellings and this Chateau had the 'deepest dry moat in Europe' and it was riddled with tunnels and caves. Very happy wandering about for an hour or more checking out every nook and cranny, and then back up stairs to the chateau proper.
There wasn't a great deal to see but what there was very interesting with little stairways and siderooms. No photographs policy although it didn't seem to stop most people. Was tempted by both Fontevraud Abbey and Chinon Castle but Usse was calling and I thrashed the bike to get there as quickly as possible as there was only just over two hours of opening left when I left Breze.
|Chateau and Gardens at Usse|
I decided to check out Chinon before going back to the tent (Not enough to justify coming back tomorrow, particularly with the huge plastic dragons on the roof!!) and walked down to the Cite Medieval which was very nice. Lovely square with loads of cafes and bars and I was very tempted but I wanted a beer which meant walking distance from the tent.
Back to the campsite I had a conversation with Father Abraham and his goddaughter. She was so cute in her purple dressing gown and gave me the biggest grin.
Day 4 - 28/6/2013
End Location - Camping le Sabot, Azay le Rideau, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 86/501 miles
|Tempting isn't it! Chateau at Villandry|
On the bike to Villandry which was found easily enough but in pretty grim conditions, although not actually raining. I went in and had a look around. Pretty standard chateaux fare although the gardens were probably the highlight for most but the weather really didn't do them justice.
Back on the bike and I was away to Chenonceaux but stupidly let the satnav plan the route and it took me through Tours at rush hour, which meant that I didn't even achieve the time planned by the shitty piece of junk.
|Bridge Chateau at Chenonceaux|
Outside I wandered the riverside gardens trying to find the best viewpoints but the sun resolutely refused to appear and even at the very end when the sky was clearing I was tempted to hang on for the last rays but it wasn't to be. A quick look at the very pretty 16th Century farm and I was back on the bike.
Heading south early tomorrow and hoping to be close to Puy by the end of the day. Might have to hotel it tomorrow too as I need to charge phone and batteries. Just hope the weather is better.
Day 5 - 29/6/2013
End Location - Hotel de la Poste, Culan, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 120/621 miles
Woke bright and early after what was, to be fair, a pretty
unsettled nights sleep! I was up at half seven having coffee and biscuits,
followed by a shower. Unfortunately, it was the precipitation from the skies
|Bizarre four spired church at Loches|
First stop was Loches which was only 50km away but the satnav decided that we needed to get there off road and sent me down a rutted grassy track for 2 km where I had one nasty dab that made me sweat about the implications of dropping a pannier laden bike on my trailing leg!! Back on the tarmac in progressively dimmer conditions until I arrived in Loches and parked up.
It was market day so the town was heaving until I got up to the Cite Medieval and happened on the Museum Lanyer which just happened to be on one of it's rare open sessions. Next was a very strange old basilica with two spire on the towers and then two small spires where the roof would normally be. Very bizarre!
|Donjon of Fulk Nera at Loches|
Back on the bike across some rolling farmlands but I could see the grey squalls ahead and to my right and sure enough before long it had started in earnest so I pulled over and geared up for wet weather. Not cold but the simple grimness of riding in such shitty conditions made everything a bit more aggro. Make a couple of stops just to shelter and on the second one in a town called Culan the weather blew in big style so I parked up and checked into the hotel in the town square.
Feeling a bit uninspired today, although the weather really wasn't helping. Forecast is better for the next two days then shit again just as I should be hitting Switzerland! Great.
Day 6 - 30/6/2013
End Location - Camping Bageasse, Brioude, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 204/825 miles
|Chateau at Culan|
Back on the bike through lovely winding river valleys much like the Ardennes towards Pontgibaud which was a purely arbitrary destination that took me in the right direction for Mont Dore as the satnav was having none of it. Loved the look of the burst volcanoes of the Auvergne as I approached.
Pontgibaud had a bizarre black chateau build from volcanic basalt. I bought my ticket and then climbed the first tower where I met a Couple from the Tyne who were in a hire car waiting for their campervan wheel bearing to be replaced. After a look round the rest we had a guided tour of the keep. Inside it was impressively cosy as it was very tall and was originally open to the sky, but had been glazed over and was very pretty with painted walls and wooden balconies.
|Black Basalt Fortress at Pontgibaud|
Mont Dore was a Ski Resort and very impressive, even with only a very small amount of snow on the most sheltered patches. I took some pics, and set off out of town being tailgated by a Renault Laguna that overtook me just before we hit the national speed limit sign. What a cock!! It took me about 15 seconds to overtake and disappear off up the road.
Finally admitted defeat at Brioude about thirty miles short
of Puy and pulled off into a lovely campsite at 8.20 Euros. Did some washing
and then hit the cafe for a tasty pizza and a beer for 12.5 Euros!!
|Landscape in the Auvergne|
Really nice day; lovely weather, beautiful scenery and awesome roads. Let's hope the weather stays good for a few days. What a difference it makes.
Day 7- 01/7/2013
Up and packed and ready in super quick time and with no
detours I was rolling into Puy. Saw the dramatic volcanic plug with the Statue and
stopped for a photo and didn't really see the Aiguille de St Michel until I was
right in the town. I set off with the barest essentials to climb the 286 steps
to the chapel. That didn't count the serious slog just to get to the entrance
of course and I was sweating properly before I had even set off up the stairs.
It wasn't as bad as it might have been but it didn't cool me down any.
After another sit down in the shade and a can of Gini
(remember that from the '80s?) I yomped to the top and took the photos I wanted
of the Aiguille from above. It was absolutely blistering so I had a quick climb
up to the cupola in the head of the statue (unfortunately a plastic dome which
was sweltering, somewhat opaque and full of flies!!) then back down and,
mindful of my budget, avoided the Cathedral cloister for the free pleasures of
the cathedral itself.
Initially I headed for Pont-en-Royans which was nice enough
with overhanging houses lining the cliff down to the river flowing through the
town but then traversed the Gorges de la Bourne and it was really very
impressive. Initially very high bluffs set way back from the road but as I
pushed on it got closer and windier until it was basically carved out of the
cliff face and had about a 20 foot overhang in places! Awesome.
Moving on I set off on the road to Briancon which was simply
awesome. Massive cliffs and mountains either side with pine woods coming down
to the valley floor. I stopped a couple of times but couldn't do justice to the
beautiful vistas I was riding through. I was hoping to find the Oratoire de
Chazelay but before I knew it I was in La Grave. What an excellently situated
ski centre that is. Pretty extreme stuff though.
Day 9 - 03/7/2013
The first set of switchbacks were very long straight
inclines with very sharp hairpins at the end and no barriers to prevent you
taking a fall of several hundred very sheer metres. I was quite cautious and
luckily there was relatively little traffic the other way. Having said that
there was a fair number of local van drivers with an obvious death-wish as I
had two incidents where they were overtaking a line of cars leaving me no
alternative but to move right to the edge. The thought of planning your
overtake or making sure you have room obviously not a priority. Almost Turkish
I woke relatively early and was on the road before it had
got too hot and on my way to Breuil-Cervinia to check out the Matterhorn.
I rode into town and found a place to stop with a decent
view but with an awkwardly parked truck marring it somewhat. I had a snack and
then decided that if I just crossed the stream and crested the hillock on the
other side I would get that fabulous view but without the truck. Typically it
got out of hand and I ended up spending three hours walking up the trail,
getting different vistas and bits of foreground interest. In addition I got so
hot that I made the mistake of taking off my shirt for a bit. Unfortunately the
peak was pretty much shrouded in cloud with just occasional glimpses and it was
clearly not going to magically clear completely any time soon so I had to admit
defeat (and exhaustion) and walk back down to the town.
This was yet another awesome mountain pass but it had the
distinct advantage of being completely sunny compared to all of the others so
far. Loads of motorcyclists on the roads but no Brits. Bizarre how they all
seem to have congregated on the Col D'Iseran in the shittiest weather!
Day 11 - 05/7/2013
There were two awesome castles on
hills above the town of Sion that I had seen last night so that was my
destination. I was on the road by nine and cursing the useless swiss road signs
where they tease you with one and then don't bother for the next three or four
junctions. Eventually I did a whole lap of the town to get more or less exactly
back where I started and I was parked up and on foot in no time.
The scenery was incredible, if a
little chilly and there were bikes everywhere. Literally hundreds; mostly Swiss
and German, and some of them were obviously showing how quick they were so I
elected to just keep to my own speed with picture stops as required.
Day 7- 01/7/2013
End Location - Camping Combe d'Oyans, Rochefort Samson, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 140/965 miles
|Chapel de St Michel at Puy-en-Velay|
After a quick lap of the chapels exterior balcony I was greeted by the scary sight of a 60 something French woman in unflatteringly tight leggings leaning backwards in from of me at the top of the steps giving me a sight of her aged camel toe!! Not nice!
I had realised that the other volcanic plug with the statue is considerably higher than the Aiguille de St Michel so I decided to climb that too as I could see a barrier up there with a telescope. Despite walking most of the way up in the shade of a high wall it was still frying me alive.
|Ruins of the Chateau de Crussol at St Peray|
It was plain, old and impressive, and like most of the buildings around here, made of black basaltic blocks. The most bizarre feature was the main entrance was a stair way coming up into the middle of the church itself. Very unusual and rather impressive, particularly looking down from inside or up from the street below.
I decided to check out the Chateau de Crussol just outside St Peray and when I arrived it looked both dull and closed so I headed off but just on the edge of town I saw a huge ruined Castle on the hilltop. I had got the wrong Chateau!
Back on the bike I set off with the jacket fully undone and the visor up but the satnav very helpfully took me right through the centre of Valence at rush hour and both the bike and I were overheating. When I finally did get out of town the satnav was one short of exits on the roundabout and I ended up on the Motorway to Marseille. I headed out across country just to be free of the traffic and ended up riding along parallel with some awesome cliffs. A campsite beckoned and almost before I knew it I was booked in.
I set up camp, showered, and checked out the campsite and found that it had a pool. The manager tried to dissuade me saying it was only 20degrees but that sounded great to me so I had a lovely cooling dip whilst looking at the evening sunlight on the jagged cliffs above me. Quite blissful.
The alps and Italy tomorrow is realistic, but only if is a little cooler. the heat today was crippling.
Day 8- 02/7/2013
End Location - Camping Le Marentin, St Michelle de Maurienne, France
Mileage (Day / Total)- 145/1110 miles
|Suspended Houses at Pont-en-Royans|
|Telepherique at La Grave|
Just after that was the
turn off for the Col de Galibier so I swung left and headed up a narrow, steep,
and very windy road that climbed another 700m and was just a series of
astonishing panoramas. I passed the same vehicles over and over as they
leapfrogged past when I stopped to take picture after picture.
|On the road up to the Col de Galibier|
Much the same going down again, although the mountain sides were more verdant. There wasn't a lot of room for error in many places and the sky was beginning to cloud over so I elected to find a campsite sooner rather than later as I didn't think it wise to attempt the col de L'Iseran without a healthy margin of extra time.
Forgotten detail of the day - Almost hitting a jay-walking Marmot on the mountain top.
Day 9 - 03/7/2013
End Location - Camping du Parc, Morgex, Italy
Mileage (Day / Total)- 122/1232 miles
Woke early but it was dull and dry I thought the weather that was predicted for last night had passed. Typically as soon as I had let my sleeping mat down the drops started so I showered and returned to the tent. Did I set off in grim conditions or wait it out? It looked like it was getting worse rather than better and this town has little to recommend it with it's limited entertainments and fine selection of boarded up shops. I quickly struck camp in a rare burst of sunshine and set off for the Col d'Iseran.
The valley was impressive even if it wasn't at it' most photogenic, but if it wasn't great at least it wasn't raining. Followed a couple of Swiss bikers up from Modane; a couple riding a Harley and a Vespa - unusual combination but it seemed to suit them. There were several minor cols before I arrived at Bonneval which was the start of the climb proper and typically the rain started up again, although not too heavily.
|Grim conditions on the Col de L'Iseran|
Once I got to the snow line the terrain became incredibly dramatic with jagged overhangs and the road carving round the outside of huge outcrops of rough rock face. I manage to stop for a few pictures but it was a little risky unless there was a pull in as in places snow was encroaching on the already narrow carriageway. Just as I was coming to the top the visibiity worsened and as I stopped for yet another photo I was caught by the Harley/Vespa combo. We all stopped at the top for a chat and according to the bloke there was another pass in the western alps even higher than this one!! Maybe next time.
I did a not stop run down into Val d'Isere which was wet and somewhat hairy as there were drifting clouds that meant that visibility could drop to as little as 50 feet or so at times, but eventually arrived at Tignes Le Brevieres where I detoured in for a look. It was like a ghost town. Literally nothing was open so I had a snack and then set off down to Bourg St Maurice.
Going up to the Col de Petit St Bernard the road was wet and a little treacherous but it was tree lined initially so quite sheltered. A fair few bikes coming up too. I pulled over to put on my wets and thought they were going at a fair clip but when I pulled back onto the road I was going pretty much exactly the same speed. Quite deceptive when you're on the bike - I felt I was taking it pretty easy!
Once I had cleared La Rosiere I hit the clouds and it got proper rainy with strong winds and poor visibility. I stopped for a very quick photo at the top but it was very nasty - akin to my trip over the Stelvio in 2010 so I was relieved to be on the way down but although the visibility improved slightly the rain got worse if anything. Just to add to the difficulty the road edges were giving way so the width was reduced and there were potholes, cracks and coned off areas all the way down. Very tricky but it would have been fabulous in nice conditions.
At the bottom I saw a campsite just outside Morgex and as the weather was coming in again I went for it, even though it was pretty early. Too far from town to walk in and too wet to bike it so I have spent the afternoon route planning, reading and listening to my mp3 player and singing for the enjoyment of the other campers. Hopefully tomorrow will be clearer and I will get to see the full spectacle of the Val d'Aosta.
Day 10 - 04/7/2013
End Location - Camping Segunum, Sion, Switzerland
Mileage (Day / Total)- 162/1394 miles
|The Val d'Aosta with Mont Blanc in the background|
Made several photo stops along the way as the valley way just gorgeous in the bright morning light. I passed several nice italianate castles(?!) that I thought I might visit on the way back if I had time. The standard of driving was pretty good compared to my previous experiences - maybe it is the Swiss Influence?
The bike was feeling a bit rough again so I checked out and adjusted the chain oiler but to no avail. Anyway, the run up to Breuil was fabulous with glimpses of the Matterhorn way up along the valley.
|The Matterhorn with irritating cloud cover!|
I returned to the bike with jelly legs and dehydration but that was soon sorted by another snack and much water. I freed up the chain oiler and ensured that it was bled through and working and then set off back to Aosta and the Col du Grande St Bernard.
|Crazy pinnacle on the Passo de Gran St Bernard|
The bike was still feeling rough as I rolled down to Martigny - I was now in Switzerland and I headed off towards Sion keeping my eyes peeled for campsite signs. I followed two which, despite asking locals, seemed to have disappeared but the third in Sion itself came up trumps with two opposite one another.
My foolishness in removing my shirt has resulted in sunburn to my back and shoulders. I guess it must be the thinner atmosphere at altitude as it really wasn't very long. Oh well. Hotter tomorrow apparently!
Day 11 - 05/7/2013
End Location - Hotel Aurora, Andermatt, Switzerland
Mileage (Day / Total)- 147/1441miles
|Chateau de Valere at Sion|
There was a street market going on in the town so I had a good look round and ended up following the towns Historic Building Trail which, after checking out the cathedral and the Sorcerers tower eventually led me up to the Chateau Tourbillon and the Chateau Velere.
The higher of the two was the Chateau Tourbillon and it was hot work slogging all the way on foot and, to be fair, was probably not quite worth it. It was basically a shell apart from the tower and the chapel, both of which were closed. The best thing was the view of the Chateau Valere and another ruined Chateau on a hill further up the valley.
Back on the bike and on the road and the roughness from yesterday was still present. I stopped for fuel in Brig and then checked the obvious stuff. Chain lubed, wheel bearings okay, tyres not delaminating, engine not particularly vibey at standstill.
I rode on feeling very down on
the trip. The vibration was so bad that my hands were getting numb just holding
the bars. Something had to be wrong and I racked my brain trying to work it
out. Then I thought that if there was excessive slack in the chain then on an
open throttle it would drag on the rubber blocks that prevent it damaging the
frameI set off. Astonishingly that seemed to have made the difference. The
chain was replaced when the bike was being worked on and obviously it was just
|KTM on the way down from the Grimsel Pass|
This improvement was only just in time as I arrived at the Furka pass turn off and started to climb some impressive switchbacks. Nowhere near as impressive as those where the Grimsel pass split off and I was a little torn. I had intended to ride figure of eight to do all the passes around Andermatt but with the gripes with the bike I had changed my mind and decided that pushing on was more sensible. However, seeing these awesome roads in front of me I elected to do the Grimsel pass first and then come back and do the Furka pass after and on towards Lichtenstein.
|A choice of crazy!! - the roads for the Furka Pass and the Grimsel Pass meet!|
Eventually I returned and headed up over the Furka pass. If anything even more dramatic than the Grimsel pass on the way up, although the clouds just loitering around the peaks made it very photogenic all round, but on the way down it was much plainer and gentler, although two tailgating sportscar drivers had to be let past, even though they weren't going significantly faster than I was. Once in Andermatt I fuelled up and then decided that I would try and find a hotel here for the night
Did the San Bernadino pass (cobbles!) and the Oberalp Pass in the evening light which was lovely, aided by the fact that the roads were very quiet compared to earlier.
Back to the hotel to do admin, charging and chores. Liechtenstein tomorrow!