France Part 8
Tuesday 31st May, Tavers to Limeray 44km
A short stage today that will allow time to explore, hopefully that is. Up early again, the lady proprietor did curtail our enthusiasm slightly with a later rise than we first requested to suit her breakfast arrangements but we managed to get on the road for 8.30am. Breakfast was similar to the one at Ferme de La Borde the day before but with less input from the host, who left us to it with the other guests. However the food was spendidly set out for us on a large dining room table and sideboard. Plenty of jam, cheese, sweetmeats, fresh bread, milk and coffee. Among the other guests were a tall German gentleman and his wife who were touring in a large silver BMW car. Despite their rather opulent demeanour he and she were very friendly and spend some time with us chatting afterward in the courtyard about our bikes in perfect English. It was rather refreshing to have someone who looked like a company CEO be interested in our bikes, gear, what we were doing and where we were bound. Just a different attitude from what you might expect back home or perhaps more mannerly. So it was back into the room to check everything was packed, nothing left and that it was presentable, then it was time to pay our bill of 37 euros each and get on our way.
The weather was warm with a clear blue sky and a low wind. We wheeled off via the streets of the small quiet town of Tavers, taking a south easterly direction towards the Loire river bank where we took the road to Lestiou. This road led to an opening on to another bike path ouside of Lestiou. This path took us south west for a short spell then wheeled directly to the south, a large power station was seen on the other bank. The bike path wound its way to the south west again, through a crossroads and on to a levee where it continued for several kilometres. The cycling on the path here was very enjoyable, being well away from traffic and affording stunning views of the river Loire in a rural setting, except of course for the power station we passed earlier on, but then some engineering affectionados might appreciate this feature as well. This turned out to be St-Laurent Nuclear Power Plant but this fact was unknown to us at the time. It was after stopping on the path to answer the call of nature that I realised I should try to address a problem I had identified with the pedals I had fitted to my BJ tourer. After stops I was being left behind for some time, chasing to catch up with the others. Although they would wait for me eventually, I was fed up trying to get my feet into my Shimano A520 SPD single-sided pedals. These would always be sitting upside down, blank side up and with no appreciable lip to kick over with the toe it was a pain to get one's foot engaged. This performance became really annoying and somewhat dangerous as I was tempted to look down at them during the struggle to clip in but more on that later.
The cycle path took us slightly inland for a short way then led us into a small place called Le Vivier. Here we were able to navigate through some narrow streets that got us back on to a riverside track. We were headed in a south westerly direction again along this path which bordered the northwest bank of the river and the rear of cottage properties. We stopped to take in drink and food at a point a kilometre or so from Le Vivier on the path. At this point there was a break between the densely surrounding trees. Just behind us were some impressive wrought-iron gates which were situated at one corner of an ornately walled estate. The gates were closed. We couldn't see much beyond them but it was obvious to us that it was the site of a large chateau. Due to the length of the driveway beyond the gates and the tall pointed trees the house was not visible. However I made note of it and subseqently found that it was the Chateau Menars. This building is open to the public, accessible no doubt from the town of Menars to the immediate north of us. The gardens were well kept and the house I subsequently determined was once famously occupied by the Mme de Pompadour, formerly Jean Antoinette Poisson, who resided there in the first half of the 18th century. This fashionable and finely educated lady, the daughter of a financier, was a member of the French court and was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to her early demise in 1764 from tuberculosis at the age of 43. The name 'Pompadour' was a title bestowed for the purpose of Royal court attendance but it later it became a term for a certain hair style worn by both genders. Resurrected in the 1950's in Britain with it's teddy boys, Tony Curtis, Eddie Cochran, Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers, Liberace, early John Lennon and even cycling's 5 times Tour winner 'Jacques Anquetil' and of course our Ernie Scally of the Nightingale CC, the 'Pompadour' was a generic hairstyle of our youth for a decade until the Beatles changed the fashion.
From Menars the path followed a dense tree-lined route several kilometres to the town of Blois. We stopped half-way along this section as there was a large bench in a clearing by the traffic-free road to sit on. Often in France there are benches in the middle of nowhere to allow some small repast en-route. The pleasure is quite unique as the 'France' element is one of a restful solitude in pastoral surroundings or gentle riverside locations such as this one. One can languish a little on the seat with legs stretched out and listen to the rushing of the leaves in the light wind. The absence of midges being a blessing here, you could take a nap if your buddies will let you. This was not for us as it was only the back of 10am and we were eager to be on our way albeit only a short stage today. It wasn't long before we entered Blois on a more urbanised riverside road. This took us up to a large main bridge crossing. It was around 11am by now and we decided to look for food for our lunch. We turned right at the bridge into a street called Rue Denis Papin where we found a smart urban Patisserie who served us sandwiches made to order from a display of meats, cheeses and salads. We were hungry and didn't look at the price but it was geared to city types rather than say a farmer's labourer. We came out with a loaf each filled with every conceivable offering and several cans of soft drinks. Being on a bike there now becomes a challenge of where to carry all the stuff whilst in our search for a quiet location to consume it. Carrier bag handles are ideal for twisting and tying round your seatpin and the remaining bulk rests between the panniers on the carrier. I would suggest leaving this space available for this purpose. There was also a cash machine next door for topping up holiday money, installed possibly as a requirement for customers to bear the cost of the urban Patisserie perhaps. We carried on past the bridge, Pont Jaques Gabriel, for a kilometre or so until we came upon a tree lined area opposite a street called Quai-de-Foi and this had a small park area with stone garden seats under the shade of trees. This was ideal, a place to lean the bikes and a place to sit down and with a seat each. What more could you desire?
After lunch, around 1pm, we headed up though the tree lined area, avoiding the main road. This took us to the next southernmost bridge named Pont Francois Mitterand. We turned left here and crossed over the to the south east bank. At the far end there was a large roundabout and we cruised an easy exit round to the right onto a riverside road. From here there were a number of fine photo opportunities. The Loire river has lots of old fishing vessels sitting on the sandy banks here with a backdrop of trees and an atmospheric light so I kept stopping to snap. Of course I had the challenge of racing after the group to catch up again and with one foot disengaged, resting on the slippy clipless side of the pedal. Very awkward and needing urgent attention to resolve. Several kilometers later we reached a small place called Chaumont-sur Loire which had another imposing chateau standing high at the back of the houses. The weather was clouding up a bit which gave the chateau a rather forboding look against the leaden sky. It was another kilometre down the road that we pulled away from the river bank slightly onto a proper road. My bike suddenly slowed up violently with a rubbing squeaking noise on a short steep incline that was going up to the junction between the road and the path. I quickly dismounted and discovered that my rear skewer was loose. A quick tighten soon resolved the problem but I had to chase the other three who were unaware and with one foot disengaged again. This now a testing nuisance! We were now on the Rue Nationale D751, a long straight stetch of main road taking us through the villages of Rilly-sur-Loire and Mosnes. The road was fairly quiet and the riding was fast on the good surface. Eventually we reached a main interchange with the D31 at Pont Michel Debre but we had to be careful here negotiating the ramps and with fast traffic on the bridge we were glad of the walkway at the side of the bridge roadway going over. A concrete separation kept us safe until we reached the other side but I got spooked as I crossed a filter exit on my right as we were going straight ahead. There was no situation but a car sped in front of me down this ramp, very scary. After we got beyond the bridge the road was straight with an avenue of trees either side of it. The sun was out again and a roundabout at the bottom was signposted Limeray. We pulled off to the right down through a pleasant grass verged road going through the small hamlet of Monce. Chateau Monce lies here and we passed this fine house on our left side as our leader was checking his sat-nav to get a bearing on our destination. As always when you haven't visited the area before you are clueless to where your destination lies. In this case there was a small road on our left at Monce a short distance past the Chateau which went up a steep incline. Although this levelled out after a few hundred yards we turned left again up a long steep hill through a gloomy tree lined gorge that took us to our gite. I was punch-drunk heaving my bike and panniers up this rough steep road and was ready for collapsing at the summit. Fortunately we emerged in blazing sunshine in a flat treeless short cropped area. The 'Le Clos' gite was round the back of some farm buildings on a large plateau at the top of this access. We pulled up at the most delightful farmstead in warm sunshine in surroundings that belied those of our traverse.
The lady owner came to the door of the house. We weren't sure if it was the right place at first but she welcomed us very warmly, stepping out to show us round to our lodgings. These were inside a long converted farm building with attic rooms at one end over a garage with a table tennis board inside. The well decorated downstairs area on the near side had a large room with a vaulted ceiling, a tiled floor made of sandy coloured tiles in a regular pattern and a large rustic looking fireplace. The far side of the room had a huge dining table and sideboard. A cooking area sat on the space under a wooden staircase that led to the attic rooms. Each room had a split area and a corridor led to toilets and shower at the far end. These were immaculate like the rooms themselves and afforded us a comfortable stay for two days as planned. We clunked up the wooden stairway to our rooms and threw down our panniers. A shower and change then we went down to the garage to stow the bikes. Like most farm gites the security for bikes relies on being remote off the beaten track but instinct kicks in to us as cyclists and out comes the heavy lock and chain.