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Slow Road Bicycle Touring - Roscoff to Santander Part 1

The rattle of chains as the ferry door opens the cargo door kicks me into life after an uneventful overnight ferry crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff. It is a little misty outside, however, it doesn’t stop me from having the first glimpse of my destination.  I am excited about this trip - like my 10-year-old self with my new bicycle on Christmas Day - desperate to get outside and ride enthusiastically down the road.

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain

 

The vehicle deck of the ferry is full of exhaust fumes – the small group of cyclists I’m waiting with finally get the nod to go from the man in the florescent jacket, and I’m off over the ramp sprinting towards passport control.  A quick flash of my passport and my tour has started. No more daily grind for a while - it is time to chill and go cycle touring.

 Cycle Touring France to Spain

 

I head away from the port at my slow lane speed – something I told myself to do before setting off.  This wasn’t to be a race or a Sunday morning ride with my local cycling club. This was a chillout and take-in-the-world approach to cycling. It is the freedom and excitement of wondering what will come each day, that is what I love about cycle touring. For the most part, it was to be unscripted – just the ferry journeys and a quick rail journey were the only plans I need to keep to.

For this trip, I was heading off on a milestone birthday treat to myself - two weeks cycling from the top of France to the top of Spain. No pressure, just a slow journey through France, over the Pyrenees, and into northern Spain. Gone away are the pre-planned routes that always go wrong. I would head in the right direction without caring where I ended up. 

The start would take me on some familiar roads in northern France, with everything south of Nantes taking me along a healthy dose of unfamiliar roads, discovering new places along the way. The weather forecast looked bloody amazing, which made me grin knowing I wanted to camp all the way.  And who doesn't like cycling in the sunshine?!

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain 

 

This first day was to be a little chilling out and pootling around Roscoff, before heading off towards the town of Morlaix where I planned to jump on a train to Rennes.  Having spent many years cycling the roads in northern France (I often visited when living in Jersey), I wanted to fast-track myself to new areas to maximise my time. I also didn’t want to be under pressure to do x amount of miles in a day, so getting ahead early on was a good idea.

It was still fairly early when rolled off the ferry into the port town of Roscoff.  The local shops were a hive of activity, and after a needed energy boost from a boulangerie (I was pleased with my decision to hold off eating on the ferry in favor of waiting for something much better), I found a nice spot on the coast and dug out my trusty JetBoil stove to brew a coffee. With cake and coffee in my hands, I relaxed and took in a huge breath of sea air.  With no work pressure or children getting ready for school, I took the opportunity to take a couple of minutes to enjoy my peaceful surroundings and close my eyes. 

 

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain

 

Next up, off to the town of Morlaix along some wonderful marked cycling routes called the 'Atlantic Way'.  What a great way to start - a quiet winding route along coastal areas. It was a much-needed wake-up call for my legs, with some lumpy roads all the way to Morlaix.

Two hours later I was in Morlaix sitting down outside the station having a coffee, people-watching and revising my French phrasebook after my dreadful attempt at ordering my coffee and explaining where I was going. The sight of panniers often brings questions about where you are going. Some map pointing and a mixture of my bad French and the waitress’s much better English helped me explain.

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain

 

My time in Morlaix was limited, but what I did see was nice - pretty stone streets, beautiful buildings, and boats on the estuary. I wandered around pushing my cycling along the streets, sat in a churchyard, took in the harbor, and watched people getting on with their day while eating some lunch. By the time I had eating, it was time to head to the train station. I do love traveling by train, especially in France as the train services are fantastic – I really enjoy the local TER trans as they are often slow journeys through the rolling countryside, stopping in the smaller towns and villages along the route. Next stop Rennes!

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain - Morlaix

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain

 

Rennes is the capital of the Brittany region and is a great city to explore, with wonderful architecture, history, and great places to eat and drink. It is a busy place, and I was glad to have had the pleasure of visiting Rennes before, making navigation a little easier – in theory anyway!  I have great memories of finding the wonderful canal paths from St Malo to Rennes a few years back.  It reminded me of the equally wonderful canal path from Brest all the way to Nantes.  Do check them both out if you are in the area and like the simplicity of riding these types of paths.  Especially good if you have younger children cycling with you.

I often get off the bike in busy places and wander around taking in the sights of where I am - it also makes it easier to avoid bumping into people with the fully loaded bicycle!

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain - Rennes 

Cafe culture in France is something I love as it makes a great way to see a city in action. In France, you are never far from a cafe or restaurant with somewhere to sit outside. I always take a very basic bicycle lock with me to make it a little more difficult for someone to take your gear when you pop in somewhere – always remember to take the critical items with you, then you can chill out.

I spent a couple of hours enjoying the nice weather, people-watching, and eating some noodles – not very French I know, but great food for boosting the cycling energy levels that I would need for my late afternoon/early evening ride to my chosen campsite that I had randomly chosen earlier whilst enjoying a beer in the sunshine.

After an initial ‘getting lost’ phase, I found the right road out of Rennes towards a small town called ‘Heric’, whilst taking a small detour to 'Brie' - one of my favorite cheeses warranted a little detour!  A mere 40-50 mile ride that would take me well into the evening - maybe a little optimistic amount of miles for my bicycle touring plodding pace, however, the sun was shining and it really didn’t matter when I arrived. I try not to stress too much about sleeping plans – worst case I end up finding a camp spot and checking in the following morning. Failing that, wild camping or find another site. I never book anywhere anymore, as it just heaps pressure on you to be somewhere, and who knows what you may find along the way that makes you change plans.

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain - Brie

 

As I escaped the busy Rennes roads full of commuters and tourists, I got into the flow of cycling on the quieter back roads without the constant noise of cars, buses, and lorries. I must have had a tailwind as the miles soon passed by – forgetting about time, I focused on what was in front of me. It was a great few hours passing through beautiful hamlets and seeing families together in the smaller towns and villages. A quick stop off by a lake for a well-earned can of drink. There were a lot of families and friends chilling out by the lake - the temptation for me to stay was great, but I had mi.  I do love summertime in France (and many other European countries) - it always feels like a slower pace of life that is centered around friends and family and the enjoyment of life.

It wouldn't be long before darkness came as I rolled into the campsite (La Pindière). Sorting out the booking in the office, I headed into a slightly busier campsite than I would have liked; more for families, however, it was very neat and tidy, and set in a lovely woodland. It was a shame the swimming pool was closed for the evening – it would have been a perfect way to end my long day. A shower would have to do today!

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain - Heric

 

With my camp set up and a hot shower, it was time to chill and cook dinner. No gourmet eating tonight – dinner was some amazing sausages and baguette I picked up in a market along the way. A couple of beers from the campsite shop helped me settle down for the night and reflect on a great first day.

 

Cycle Touring France to Spain

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