Brittany: Bicycles and Baguettes

6 May

It’s funny how things work out. This final month of our five-month trip was unplanned, except for the notion of going to the International Rugby Sevens tournament in Paris (which we still hope to do).
We monitored long range weather forecasts and assessed Stuart’s dodgy knee regularly. It became clear his sore ligament wasn’t going to allow distance walking, but that he could cycle painfree. The cause for concern was that cold, wet weather was heading towards England and looked to be sticking around.

 

After a couple of happy days with Stuart’s sister, Catharine, in London, which included a day trip to St Alban’s, we flew (Gatwick to Rennes with Vueling) into what was supposed to be the sunnier clime of central Brittany. We collected a rental car (my turn to drive – a Nissan Juke) and drove 180k to our destination.
I’d located a British business, Breton Bikes, based in Gouarec, a tidy village beside the Brest-Nantes canal tow path and connected to dedicated cycle trails. Deep in verdant farmland we also had miles of easy cycling on quiet back roads to choose from. At short notice Geoff and Kate, the owners who live nearby, fixed us up with a self-catering gite, Quarry Cottage, 500m from the centre of the village, good maps and directions plus two hybrid touring bicycles with paniers and clip on handle bar boxes.

 

The best feature of the cottage is its fireplace with a generous supply of wood. One metre thick stone walls take a while to warm up. With no TV, mobile signal or wifi our evenings have been filled with French radio (mostly talking heads discussing the looming final round of the French Presidential election), reading, writing, yoga and crosswords (Stu starts them and I finish them, well most of them).

First day out we started with a gentle 22k ride on the well signed V6 cycle route to Rostrenen and looped back to pick up the tranquil tow path home. So far so good!

 

Bravo to the vegan cafe-restaurant in Rostrenen – I wish them success!Rostrenen street art.

Day two looked like the best weather of the week so we jumped back on the bikes for a rather hillier 24k to Perret, St Brigitte and Bon Repos Abbey, again returning along the tow path. A highlight of the morning was stopping in at Maddison’s Bar in St Brigitte to chat with Richard the owner, who relocated from Newcastle to run the bar (named after his British bulldog). He seems to have life nicely sorted.

With a sunny evening ahead we drove the thirty minutes to stately Pontivy, formerly Napoleanville, to stroll around medieval Rohan Castle and browse the half timbered shophouses in the town’s main shopping street.

On day three wet weather set in. We made do with a rather damp 12k cycle to Bon Repos for the Sunday market.

We concocted a plan to get fit enough to tackle a week of bicycle touring in Alsace, starting and finishing in Strasbourg. But being fair weather cyclists, on the rainiest day we opted to drive to the coast and take the ferry to Ile de Brehat. I was especially keen for Stuart to see Ile de Brehat as the island stopover was one of my fondest memories from my first Provident cross channel trip. Even on a blustery, squally day it was lovely, especially when we tucked in behind a pink granite dry stone wall at a beach cove for our picnic lunch closely watched by two sea gulls.With no cars on the island bicycles, trailers and tractors are the way to go!

On the way back to Gouarec we stopped in at Paimpol, Port Quay (nostalgic as we both went there during the second Provident trip) and Binic. All three have interesting, immaculate harbours crammed with boats, but on our cursory look Binic seems the most interesting with its seaside boulevarde busy with petanque pitches and a broad golden beach. We watched a rider with her sheep dog trot down to the beach, have a gallop then walk the horse back up. Look hard at the photo and you’ll just make them out.

In reading books about Brittany from Quarry Cottage library I came to realise how connected Brittany is to Cornwall. I knew from watching the marvellous ‘Coast’ series that Brittany was once part of the same land mass in the millenia before the English Channel formed, but I hadn’t known about the forced mass migration of Celtic Britons from SW England (and Ireland) across to what became Bretagne. The Germanic tribes of Angles, Jutes and Saxons pushed into the British Isles and moved westward thereby displacing many Celts.

 

Language, the colours of the flag, customs, there are enduring parallels between Cornwall and Brittany. Interestingly the Celtic Brits were entering long held Gallo-Roman territory yet it was the Breton language, social structure and customs that endured, not the Roman. Is it any wonder Bretons still have a strong sense of identity and regional pride? A Breton fisherman probably feels he has more in common with a Cornish fisherman than a Parisian politician.

On our last day in Gouarec we cycled to Rostrenon on market day, reversing the route we took earlier in the week. Stuart had a much needed haircut and I observed the locals, some interesting eccentrics amongst them.

The route back cycling side by side on the V6 was idyllic. We took lunch outside the cottage for the first (and last time) and spend a lazy afternoon reading in the sunshine. Our strategy has worked, our legs and lungs are coping better with the hills. We’re ready to tackle Alsace!

Notes:

Breton Bikes: http://www.bretonbikes.com/

Ile de Brehat is reached by foot ferry from Point d’Arcouest with Vedettes de Brehat. 10.50 euros return for an adult and boats leave every half to one hour depending upon the season and tides.

2 Responses to “Brittany: Bicycles and Baguettes”

  1. Heather May 7, 2017 at 4:37 pm #

    Really interesting blog Sharon. Can’t wait to get there. Leaving USA next Sat.

    • Sharon Tickle May 7, 2017 at 5:10 pm #

      Hope it warms up a bit for you Heather. Travel well! S&Sxx

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