France Part 11
At 7.30am we collected our bikes from the shed after paying our bill of 27.5 euros each, loaded up our panniers and set off down the steep hill of Rue des Lezards for the centre of Loches. It was to be a 100km stage today and an early start seemed appropriate. A brief stop at Rue Descartes saw us look for a supermarket to buy some provisions in case of unavailability during the day ahead. Once we had loaded up with cans of juice, meat and bread we set off along the road we had entered the day before, Rue du Docteur Paul Martinais. After a short distance we took a right turn at Rue de I' Abbaye which took us on to the D92 southward. This road took us through the small hamlets of Saint Germain, Saint Hippolyte, Saint Cyran du Jambot, where our route had now become the D28. Our D28 route choice was a good one as it avoided an alternative parallel route to the west of us (the D943) that took in larger towns like Chatillon-sur-Indre. The narrower roads we were on today were quiet and the scenery a little more rural. This afforded us a more relaxed ride. We were headed toward a small town to the south of us called Clion on the D18. At the end of the D28 we turned left then immediately sharp right on to a small but good surface road at Saint Martin where we came upon a tall white painted metal shed on our right. This road was called Prairie Saint-Martin and the interest for me was a large tin shed standing next to an old railway line. It looked like a grain loading bay as there was a weed covered rail siding running alongside the building that branched off the line. Anything connected with railways always has my enquiry and we stopped in a white gravel clearing at a rail crossing next to the building. The white gravel and the white building reflected the late morning sun very effectively making us squint our eyes and we could feel the reflected heat from it on our arms and faces. Keith lay down across the track using the rails as an anchor for some push-ups whilst I had a drink from my water bottle. Looking at the rails, they were rusty, the wood sleepers dried out but there was still evidence of usage, all be it infrequent. It's not wise to play around at such sites as you never know what traffic might suddenly appear on the line. I imagined the roar of a powerful diesel engine, thumping down toward us with a frightening weight, thudding over the rail joins. As it happened, I noticed the rails were welded together and nothing came along them anyway. The railways in France don't seem to be fenced off in the same way as in the UK. However we could see for quite a distance in either direction down the track and a fast TGV would be unlikely to appear on such a weed infested railway. We set off again down this minor road (still the D28) to the hamlet of Le Tranger where we turned right on to the D18. This took us into the small town of Clion after 0.5 km where we stopped outside in the street looking to buy food before the mid-day closure. We eat some cake bought from a nearby patisserie and we bought baguettes and coke for our lunch later on. After this brief stop we continued our journey south out of Clion on the D24. This took us on a pleasant route with gentle slopes and straight stretches of rural landscape with the odd barn here and there. It is worth planning your route carefully in France as sought out alternative routes, of which there are many, provide the cycling pleasure you often dream of. Thus, avoiding roads with white centre lines is to be a preferred choice. These roads usually connect slightly larger towns together, so parallel routes taking you through the nearby skirting hamlets will serve just as well to take you to your destination but offer the pleasurable tranquility that your bike holiday needs to include for maximum enjoyment. In the UK you might exclude roads like this due to mud and potholes, especially going through farmsteads but with the milder weather in France these back roads remain in the most, well surfaced so this issue is less of a concern. The route took us through the small hamlet of Arpheuilles and on to a small village called Sainte-Gemme where we pulled up at a large open white gravelled square in the centre.
The square had some trees at one end, a wooden bus shelter and some wooden benches were placed under the shade of the foliage. A little oasis out of the mi-day sun and out of the glare coming off the white gravel. We sat down and relaxed on the seats to consume our baguettes and coke bought in Clion earlier. After this lunchtime respite we left Sainte-Gemme on the D24 and came upon a split in the road in a heavily forested region. The D24 carried on to Vendoevres but we veered left on what was the D24A. A sign on this route said Meobecq 12km. We carried on down this road surrounded by trees for 2km until we came to a junction with the D11 also signed Meobecq. We turned right here to come upon another junction taking the D11 through it and guiding us south into the dense woodland again. I should indicate that so far today the terrain was in the main flat and the weather bright, warm and sunny but not sweltering. This made the ride, so far, fairly comfortable and easy.
The road continued on through the trees for a few kilometres. I noticed that the verges were lined with the same whitish-cream coloured gravel that had covered the square in Sainte-Gemme. Perhaps this was a readily available stone from a nearby quarry and suggested that the black tarmac road was laid over it. Eventually the D11 came out of the trees into flat farmland and we stopped at a small bridge over a gully about a kilometre out of Meobecq. The road was dead straight at this point and you could discern the town buildings some way in the distance. We leaned our bikes against the bridge parapet and consulted the sat-nav to get our bearings for the remaining kilometres to the day's destination. The D11 looked like a main road, with it having a white line up the miiddle, but the traffic on it today was almost non-existent. I guessed that Meobecq lying ahead of us was only a small place. We alighted again and as we passed through the centre of my correctly estimated small town, I saw a road sign pointing in the direction we were going saying Argenton. This was the first indication of anywhere near our destination because Argenton lies a short distance to the north of Celon. The D11 continued on southward on it's rather typical long straight flat stretches. "If this is going to be what it's like in France", I thought "then bring it on!". Happy days of cruising!... Oh! how wrong I was. I was later to find out the truth of the matter the following day. I carried on in my blissful ignorance throughout the remaining kilometres of the mid-afternoon. On we pedalled through the hamlet of Nuret-le Ferron down the remaining straight of the D11 covering the 6 km into the town of St.Gaultier. It was now about 3pm and we stopped at some tables in a cafe in the centre of town.
St Gaultier is a small town with streets dating back to 1500 and takes it's name from the church there. From Google Earth I could discern a path running from east to west across the river Creuse that divides the town. This is almost certainly an abandoned railroad from the contours it delineates and it rather shatters my theory about preserved rail routes in France. This way is now a path for walkers and cyclists but unfortunately it serves us no good as a route on our traverse south as it goes both ways in the wrong directions. We exited Saint Gaultier on the D29 heading south for about 10km until we reached a left turn on to the D55 marked Argenton 11km. The reason for taking this route was lost on me at this point as I was beginning to tire and just wanted to get to our destination. Our leader was busy trying to work out the best route to take as the roads to Celon were complicated. There was a previous left turn at Landes farm on the D66 to Argenton but as I found out later, this road did not indicate a direct route down to Celon. However our D55 took us eastward but connected in a more southerly latitude to Celon via a less complicated route and without taking us into the big town of Argenton-sur-Creuse. At the end of the D55 and before it crossed above the A20 'Le Occitane' motorway, we took a filter road off to the right at the top of the rise up to the bridge. This road ran parallel with the motorway towards the south and quickly became a dusty white gravel track. We carried on bumping down the track for about a kilometre until it looped slightly and joined the D1 coming out of Argenton. We followed this road for a short distance until we entered an unsheltered sun-bleached rise in large open fields with a road going left half way up marked 'D920 Celon 4km'. By this time I was beginning to bonk, possibly due to heat and exhaustion from carrying the weight of my panniers and couldn't wait to get off the bike. The route disappeared into the distance in the heat haze which was slightly daunting but soon we reached a bend in the road taking us by the motorway again for a short spell. Soon we began to move away from this autoroute in a slightly downhill run until we could see a main street with houses ahead. We passed the Celon sign and I gave a sigh of relief, thinking, "Now we just need to find the gite!" The first road went left but there was no sign so we carried on to the next left turn, the D54 and I spotted a small sign Le Canard au Parapluie Rouge (The Duck at the Red Umbrella). Who could forget a name like that?
This was our gite booked by yours truly. The proprietors Martin and Kathy Missen, who originate from South West England, greeted us warmly on our arrival at the large farmhouse building. The garden and the house are very evocative of the typical French farmhouse with creepers on the wall and high sloping roof. Martin ushered us to put our bikes in the large barn attached to the property and then we were taken into the house proper and sat down on large sofas in a comfortable shaded room with lush rugs, tapestries, polished tables and beautiful dark pink walls with hanging pictures. Kathy immediately asked us what we would like to drink and we all sat back with a cold beer in this pleasant sitting room next to a huge fireplace. This all happened so quickly as not ten or so minutes before I had been labouring out on the road in a somewhat exhausted condition under a merciless sun. The contrast was such that it was a heavenly end to the day's cycling. Later Martin came in to the room and said "Does anyone fancy a swim, I've just finished filling the pool" Strange as it may seem I was the only volunteer for this activity and I rushed upstairs to change. It sure was the answer to a quick cool down. Kathy handed me some fresh towels and I went out into the garden to see this raised wooden staging with steps leading up to a platform. When I ascended the stairs I saw this beautiful oval pool with a cool blue reflection shining up at me. This was a Swedish style garden pool with a wooden surround and it was gloriously cold. I removed my shirt and dived in to the still water, embracing the shock. What a remedy for being boiled on a bike! My body temperature instantly reset itself to a healthy normal state and I had the most relaxing swim of my life in an empty deep pool. As I glided back and forth around the perimeter I could hear the birds chirping in the tall trees bordering the garden. Afterwards I sat in a deckchair amidst a beautifully landscaped setting letting the sun do the work of drying me off. What a welcome! The rooms in the gite were in the attic space with dormer windows. They had very comfortable beds with an en-suite bathroom and toilet. It was a pity that we were only here for one night. I could have stayed for a week. Later we had our dinner out in the garden under a gazebo by candlelight with the other guests who were in the main from England. This made for a very entertaining evening exchanging our life stories with one another with the guests who began asking questions in wonder at us attempting to cycle 1000km in two weeks. To us it was nothing special but I guess to folk who are used to the comfort of a motor car it must have seemed rather eccentric. Martin and Kathy dashed about serving us with excellent country faire and some jugs of local wine to relax us even further. This was easily the best overnight stay so far and I can only urge anyone who likes France for a holiday to stay here, be it on two or four wheels. It's hard to imagine that any other hotel or gite could offer the hospitality that Martin and Kathy offered us on this single overnight stay.