France: South to north

Climbing towards ‘Coll de Banyuls’, I entered France. I found myself a nice wild camping spot near the pass, right at the Spanish / French border. Next morning I continued climbing from the pass towards the ‘Tour de Madeloc’ (at 650 m). It’s an off-road climb, only for the last part I joined the really tight asphalt road. It’s my second visit to this tower. I made a detour to this point in 2013 already, when I cycled the ‘TransPyrenees’.

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My wild camping spot at the Spanish / French border. Tour de Madeloc tower is already visible at the mountain top.
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The climb towards Tour de Madeloc from Col the Banyuls.
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Approaching Tour de Madeloc.

Up and over the hill, I descend towards Collioure at the Mediterranean. A truly nice place, but too busy for me. Via Argelès-Sur-Mer I continue riding north along the coast. This is not a place for wild camping and I’m forced to go to a campground. Camp grounds make me unhappy.

Just south of the city of Narbonne, I’m cycling between two lakes just of the coast. Nice area with some spectacular bird life.

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Two days near the coast proves to be enough for me. I head inland, going north from Béziers. This is the famous Languedoc area.
While I crossed the Cevennes region east to west two weeks earlier during Patrick & Peter’s visit, I’m now riding the region south to north.

First highlight is the ‘Gorge de L’Hérault’. Saint-Hippolyte-Du-Fort sounded like a nice place to spend a night, but I found it a depressing little town, so I continued riding back into the hills and camp wild. That night, a car came a couple of times close to the tent (doing what ???), but I think they never saw me.

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Gorge de L’Hérault
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Saint-Guilhem-Le-Désert
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Gorge de L’Hérault
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Languedoc = wine country

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From ‘Les Vans’, another beautiful, moderate climb awaits me through the Parc Naturel Régional des Monts d’Ardèche. First I ride through canyon of ‘Le Chassezac’ river, after that along ‘La Borne’ river.

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While I intend to ride on paved roads after leaving Spain (my back started suffering too much from riding on trails with a back pack), I sometimes got homesick and couldn’t resist returning to off-road sections when I found them 🙂

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Picture taken at the highest point of the route between the Pyrenees and the North Sea (1.253 m)
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One of the many beautiful war memorials
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First crossing of the Loire river, still in it’s early stages here.

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Some of the visitors I receive whilst wild camping.

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Just before ‘Le-Puy-En-Velay, we are in the Auvergne region now (famous for it’s wonderfull cheeses 😛 ), I hit a very nice ‘voie verte’ (old railway line turned into unpaved bike track).
There were four or five tunnels, each several kilometers long, but lighted. Perfect cycling.

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Old railway bridge turned to cycle path
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The voie verte.

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Le-Puy-En-Velay is a famous pilgrim town with all the historical sights that go along with it. The Tour de France was passing here in a couple of days, and the town was really getting ready for it. Almost every shop, whether it was a bakery, a bookshop, pharmacy or real estate agent, they all had some kind of cycling theme in their shop window. Mostly old bike or cycling jerseys and some black & white pictures.

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Inside the cathedral of Le-Pue-En-Velay

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After Le-Puy-En-Velay, I cycled towards Vichy, just for the historical significance of the place.

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Some of the beautiful buildings in Vichy

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Via the cycle paths along the Allier & Loire rivers I went further north. In Saint-Firmin-Sur-Loire, I made a right turn, taking the ‘Chemin de Halage’ along the ‘Canal de Briare’ and ‘Canal du Loing’.
These two canals connect the Loire with the Seine river. There’s some hight to tackle, so there’ a network of + 50 locks.

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Loire river.
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The Loire on fire, just before a heavy thunder storm.

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Each lock has a ‘lock man’ (often a woman) servicing the lock when a yacht has to pass. One night, upon passing a lock, I asked the lady working there whether I could pitch my tent. She doubted this was allowed, but said she wouldn’t mind. But she recommended me to push on a bit. Two locks further, there was a nice grassy field with a table, not far from the lock.
Arriving at that lock, I told the young lady her colleague had sent me here, and she was fine having me there for the night.
The weather was turning foul rapidly, so I pitched the tent, and had the great idea to jump in the canal to refresh myself, and wash my clothes of the day. The water level in the canal was pretty high, so I thought it wouldn’t be a problem to get out again. I had a nice swim, washed my shirt and socks, threw them to the border of the canal already, but thought it would be better to put my cycling shorts back on again to crawl out of the canal.
This is where the problem arose. I just wasn’t able to lift myself out. My toes were bleeding already from trying to push me up the concrete side wall. To no avail.
I couldn’t get out of the water.
Only thing I could do was swim to the lock, hoping there would be some kind of ladder over there.
There was a slippery, overgrown, concrete ‘ladder’ ( not worth that name), via which I could leave the canal. I was glad I ‘d put my cycling pants back on.
With bloody toes, I ran to the tent, quickly made diner before the storm burst out.

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After crossing the Seine river, I went a bit northeast to avoid the traffic around Paris.
At ‘Ussy-Sur-Marne’, I crossed the Marne river and followed it for a bit.
Next, I took a right turn, following a small side river, the ‘L’Ourcq’.
On my gps, I found a small track along the ‘L’Ourc Canaisé’. There are signs everywhere that it’s not allowed to cycle on the path along the canal, but I choose to neglect that. It was such a quiet and beautiful area, it would be a crime taking busy dangerous roads instead. And anyway, you pass some villages, and there, locals are riding the path as well.

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At the town of ‘Soissons’, I crossed the ‘L’Asne’. Pressing on further north, I wanted to follow the cycle path ‘Véloroute de la Somme à La Marne’. This appeared to be a ghost route, only existing on your gps, but not in reality. There was nothing, only bushes and overgrowth along the canal.
After some improvisation, I reached the ‘Canal Lateral à L’Oise’ and later the ‘Canal de Saint Quentin’.

The bike route along the Somme river again appeared to be just fictional in many parts. A local fisher seemed to remember there was something of a path, about 20 years ago, but not a trace is left in many places.

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Camping right next to the Canal de Saint Quentin.

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‘Canal de la Deûle’ was my next water way, before reaching the far north of France. The region, being hit hard during world war I has a lot of war cemeteries. Same at the Belgian side of the border. A border I crossed at the village of ‘Ploegsteert’, which I wanted to visit as it was the hometown of one of the bigger talents in road cycling, Frank Vandenbroucke.

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I first visited a German cemetery.

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Common Wealth Cemetery.

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Amiens

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War cemetery in Ploegsteert.

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I visited more war graves, German, British and Common Wealth ones, before reaching Ieper, with the famous ‘Menepoort’. This monument is one of the few where every single night, to this day, a ceremony (The Last Post) is held for the victims of the war.

More waterways, like the ‘Ieperleekanaal’ and the ‘IJzer’ river brought me right to the North Sea and the end of the European leg of my trip.

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@ the Irish Peace Park in Mesen. Replica of a typical Irish ’round tower’.

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@ Ieper
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Ieper: Menenpoort
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‘Ijzertoren’ in Diksmuide
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“Here the invader was brought to a standstill”.

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France south to North
Distance: 1.529 km
Average km per cycling day: 84,94 km
Altimeter: 13.061 m

Nights slept inside: 0
Nights slept outside: 19 (of which 11 wild camping)
Flat tires: 3

The GPS track can be downloaded from ‘Wikiloc’.

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3 thoughts on “France: South to north”

  1. Wow what a pretty amazing trip! I hope it didn’t rain a lot during it…

    Would you be able to contact me to the address that you can find in the information box please? I would like to give you more information concerning bicycle paths in the Paris region area.

    Thank you!

    Like

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