Hello and welcome to the latest blog from The Olivia Rose Diaries on March 27th 2022.
As the price of diesel is so high at the moment we decided to use pedal power for a short break away this week. The weather had turned gloriously spring-like and we wanted to make the most of it.
‘What’s the maximum distance you’d feel happy cycling in one day?’ asked Michael, who was in charge of planning the trip.
‘Around forty kilometres, maybe fifty.’ I replied. ‘I’m not bike fit at the moment so I wouldn’t really want to do any more than that.’
‘I’ve found something fifty-six kilometres away, self-contained, with a bedroom and a bathroom. It’s in a tiny village called Viozan. in the middle of nowhere but there’s a boulangerie and a restaurant so we can eat out instead of taking food with us.’
And so it was decided. We would leave on Friday, stay one night, and then come back the next day. On Thursday afternoon, as I began think about what we needed to take, I called the restaurant, just to double-check on their opening hours and whether they needed a reservation. Their website and Facebook page both stated that they were open, but this was France and you never took anything for granted.
They were no longer doing food in the evening. The couple who ran the place lived some miles distant and had just had a baby. Juggling a baby, evening meals and travelling was proving too difficult so opening hours were restricted to lunchtimes only until the summer season.
‘Why couldn’t they put that on their website?’ demanded Michael. ‘Would it have been so difficult?’
I dug out a bag of pasta and a tin of ratatouille from the cupboard.
‘Who needs a restaurant? We’ll take our little one-pot camp cooker, grab a bottle of cider from a supermarket along the way and ask to borrow some plates and glasses at our accommodation when we arrive. Perfect.’
We live in wonderful cycling country, quiet country lanes with hardly any traffic, but it is deceptively hilly. Imagine a landscape that has the shape of a corrugated tin roof and that your journey is taking you across the contours rather than along the grooves– lots of long, slow pulls up and then a speedy, heady descent that winds through woodlands until you reach the valley floor where the landscape changes again, becoming agricultural.
Whilst the woods are bursting with young green leaves, most of the fields at this time of the year are brown, ploughed and harrowed to a fine tilth, not yet sown with the sunflowers and maize that are a feature of this region. The blandness of these empty fields was broken up by bright yellow crops of rape and even some early plantings of beans, the breeze just enough to waft their sweet scent under our noses as we cycled past.
We arrived at our accommodation mid-afternoon and were invited into the house for a cup of tea, a tour of the garden and an introduction to the donkey and the turkey. We ate our tasty, makeshift meal on a little patio area outside our window and were asleep by 9.30pm. It had been a hard day!
Next morning it was back on the bikes and as I suspected, whilst my legs felt fine, my seat bones were not so happy at the prospect of another long day in the saddle. Nothing to be done about it other than grimace and bear it.
The French love their dogs, but as a cyclist, or a walker, we didn’t always share that affection. In cities they have fluffy little poodles or miniature dogs that they put into their bags and take out to the restaurant when they go for a meal. In the countryside they have bigger dogs, often two or three to a property, and these dogs are less cute.
Most of the time they are either chained up or fenced in, but not always. We have learnt to keep a sharp eye out for possible trouble spots.
‘What have you stopped for?’ Michael asked as I waited for him about a hundred yards before a farm.
‘Shh.’ I whispered. ‘There’s a dog asleep by the road. If we go quietly we might get past before it realises we’re there.’
There was a low growl from the high bank behind me. The dog was no longer asleep by the road and it wasn’t alone. There were three of them, all mixed breeds, one with a bit of collie in it, another a bit of husky and the third with too much Alsatian in it for my liking.
‘Time to go,’ said Michael.
They shadowed us from the bank, protecting their property, barking and growling, hackles up, but they didn’t jump down into the road. As we neared the entrance to the farm I thought we’d made it but then the leader of the pack, the cross-bred Alsatian, shot out of the open gates and into the road and started to chase me in earnest. I went to change my bike up into turbo mode but pressed the arrow the wrong way – I do that when I get panicky – taking it down to the lowest setting which bought a set of gnashing teeth disturbingly close to my ankles. A second later, I got the bike into turbo and off I shot, pedalling for all I was worth. I thought the dog would give up after a few yards, they usually do, but it stuck with me for what seemed ages before deciding that it had made its point. It turned round and headed back down the hill towards Michael, who didn’t have his Rubbee (electric motor) turned on at that point, and was having to rely on his own steam. Much to my surprise and relief the dog disappeared inside the gates and ignored Michael completely. We didn’t stop until we got to the top of the hill, both of us breathing hard.
‘I like the way you just left me to it,’ said Michael, plaintively.
‘I was all set to come down and rescue you. I was just psyching myself up to it, not that I know what I would have done.
Dogs aside, it was a lovely trip. Our charming room, which we found through Booking.com, cost us the princely sum of £47, including breakfast, and you can’t ask for better than that. We both resolved that we would do it again some time, although it would be nice to find an area that didn’t have quite so many dogs to contend with.
A week tomorrow we should be back on the boat, spending a couple of weeks doing maintenance and painting before we put her back in the water. We have exciting plans this year, including heading up to Paris on the Seine, but more of that over the coming weeks.
And while we’re on the subject of dogs, Michael has drawn a picture of one of our dogs, our first dog in fact, who was called Jessie.
I’ll leave you with a picture of dandelions, taken from our lunchtime picnic spot on our way back home.