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Brittany by Bike

Josselin – Mur de Bretagne – Moncontour

Another hot and sunny start to the day as we said our goodbyes to our fellow cycle tourists. As usual, we were last to leave camp – we don’t like to rush these things! The day was spent travelling west on the Nantes-Brest Canal. Again, a fantastic cycling surface… until we reached Pontivy, when it deteriorated to loose gravel (I think we’d been spoilt by the previous excellent surface). The ride continued in the same vein as the day before – varied scenery, weirs, locks and pretty lockside houses. One part of the canal was being cleared of weeds and we were interested to see the unusual machines used to cut and remove the weeds for loading on to a waiting truck.

It was along this part of the canal that Chris learned an important lesson! As it was hot and we were off road, she had decided, for the first time ever, to cycle without her helmet. However, just past Pontivy, a piece of wood got jammed between her tyre and mudguard, causing the front wheel to grind to a sudden halt and send her elegantly flying through the air to land – fortunately – on the grass at the side of the canal, but rather scarily close to a tree trunk. As Chris picked herself up off the floor, I rushed to the aid of Rosie (Chris’s bike – Rosie Ridgeback), who seemed to have come off worse, with a bent mudguard! Chris only had a badly bruised and swollen knee!!! Fortunately, I was able to repair Rosie by straightening her mudguard but there wasn’t a lot I could do for Chris, except to tell her that it might be advisable to put her helmet back on!

To end the day, we came off the canal only to be faced with a very steep and testing hill. Sadly, we failed the test (!), as by this time we were both melting in the heat and our energy levels were depleted after cycling 43 miles. After a quick phone call to Pete (from Chester) to check directions, we arrived at the campsite, which fortunately was only a couple of kilometres away.

Our guidebook describes Mur de Bretagne as a ‘lively little town’ so we were somewhat surprised to find it completely dead! Pete went into town that evening to find somewhere to eat but everywhere was well and truly closed. Instead, he had to tuck in to his last emergency meal back at the campsite. We delved into our panniers and triumphantly came up with a couple of tuna meals.

While in town, Pete discovered that it has in the past been one of the stages on the Tour de France and looking at one of the hills going out of the town, I can understand why. Fortunately, it wasn’t the road we had to take out of town! Looking at the hill left us with a feeling of awe and respect for the TDF cyclists.

The following day was a rest/sightseeing day so we cycled into town to explore and buy some food. We were dismayed to find that the only shops selling food were a butcher and a baker, so still no fresh fruit and veg. Oh, for a banana or two!! However, we soon cheered up in the evening when the three of us shared a bottle of wine and plotted the next day’s route.

The next morning, for breakfast, we munched our way through yesterday’s croissants, which were by now, stale and very chewy! Then we set off with Pete, as we were making for the same town. We headed out of town on the D35 and undulated (more hills!) our way to the medieval, walled hilltop town of Moncontour. After a little confusion, we eventually found the campsite on the outskirts of the town. Having set up camp, we wandered into town looking for some liquid refreshment and some supplies. Oh joy of joys, we spotted a Carrefour supermarket! We decided to explore the town first and shop later, so set off to look around. Moncontour is an interesting little town with a nice feel about it – it has ramparts, winding cobbled streets, ancient 16th and 18th century half-timbered houses and shops and businesses with attractive wrought iron picture signs hanging outside. In years gone by it was one of the main areas producing leather and linen, which brought prosperity to the town. We also brought prosperity to the town when we hit the supermarket and stocked up on lots of fresh food! With some dismay we realized that we’d gone a little overboard when we couldn’t fit our supplies into our daypacks and had to buy another bag!

After some good food, good beer and good company that evening, we decided to move on to the coast the next day.


Brittany by Bike

Malestroit – Josselin

The municipal campsite at Malestroit is situated next to the Nantes-Brest Canal – a pleasant, flat site set amongst trees and all for €5 a night for the two of us! We have yet to find an English campsite that cheap! Unlike some French campsites, this one did have separate male and female shower blocks, although Chris was rather amused to find a guy in his dressing gown shaving his head in the ladies washroom!! She did a double-take to look at the signage on the door to make sure she was in the right place! The French don’t get so hung up about privacy as we Brits do!

We had decided to spend a day exploring the old medieval town of Malestroit, so the next morning we set off over the canal bridge on the 10-minute walk into the town centre. As we stopped on the bridge to look along the canal, we spotted two cycle tourists coming towards us along the towpath. Suddenly we realised it was the two Kiwis we had met in Dinan. What a coincidence! When we left them last they were heading for Rennes and we were heading for the coast. We had both changed our plans, so it was a real surprise to bump into them again. After a long chat, we wished them well on their journey along the Nantes-Brest Canal to connect up with the Eurovelo 6.

Malestroit is an attractive thousand-year-old town, with cobbled streets and old timber buildings, some with strange wooden carvings, such as a bagpipe-playing hare, a sow in a blue-buckled belt, a man beating his wife…! The church is decorated with drunkards and acrobats outside – not quite what you’d expect on a church – but unfortunately was being restored at the time of our visit so was covered with scaffolding.

The following day was bright and sunny and we headed off on the canal towpath towards our next destination, the town of Josselin. The towpath close to Malestroit was quite popular with day walkers and cyclists but very soon emptied and made for some very peaceful (and flat!) cycling. We had wondered whether cycling a towpath for some distance would prove a little boring, but we found the section we were on was interesting, with varied scenery interspersed with pretty lock-keepers houses. The towpath surface was of a very good standard, much better than some British roads, i.e. smooth and no potholes!!

On entering Josselin, the first thing you see from the canal towpath is the famous ‘fairytale’ castle, which makes an impressive sight. Whilst I was trying to get my bearings, I was approached by another cyclist, who also happened to be English, a cycle tourist and, even better, was staying at the campsite we were heading for so was able to help us with directions! On booking in at the campsite reception, we were amazed to be followed by two French Canadians, one Australian and his American girlfriend, a couple from Tasmania and Pete from Chester (whom we’d met in Josselin) – all cycle touring!! All were heading in different directions and the Ozzie and his girlfriend were travelling on a tandem recumbent trike – an unusual-looking contraption – all the way to Istanbul.

One of the most memorable things about cycle touring – and travelling in general – is the camaraderie you get when you meet like-minded people. We had a great evening listening to everyone’s travel tales, chatting about gear, bikes, routes, having a few drinks and sharing a massive pile of ‘frites’ outside the campsite bar in the warm evening sunshine. Delightful!

We can thoroughly recommend this campsite at Josselin – Le Bas de la Lande. The facilities were very modern and clean and the owners were such a great couple, who couldn’t do enough to help you. The campsite even had a dedicated area for cycle tourists/walkers… with no cars!

We discovered that we were heading in the same direction as Pete from Chester, so the following day arranged to meet up with him at Mur-de-Bretagne, our next stop… (to be continued)