The Gorge de L’Ardeche.

Monday and a weather front has moved over us, leaving in its wake high winds. Monday as ever is laundry day, and Mrs. Hubbard’s cupboards were once again in need of replenishing, so no cycling today.  

So to our tale, the Gorge de L’Ardeche.

I was planning my next cycling trip to France, and for reasons known only to myself, decided that cycle the Loire from source to its termination at the Atlantic Ocean. The Loire passes though some of the most spectacular countryside in France, along with many of the cities worthy of a visit, and the real reason for choosing this journey.

The mighty Loire Rivers starts its journey, near to a large volcanic plug in the Massif Central. Travelling first north, then west, the river maps its way across the central belt of France, all the way into the Atlantic Ocean, on France’s west coast. The nearest town to the source, that I could find was St-Laurent Les-Bains.  Now as I planned my route to St-Laurent Les-Bains, I found that the Gorge de L’Ardeche was only around 200 km south of that town. I was by now licking my lips, less than a days cycling ride. This was too good an opportunity to let pass.

The King sits in Dunfermline town

Drinking a blood red wine,

“Where can I get a good sea captain

To sail this ship of mine?”

My journey started by settling my mother into rest/care in Shipley West Yorkshire, and making the four hour drive north to Dunfermline in Fife, the home of my sister. It would be she who would be look after mum’s Yorkshire terrier, Tim, for me for the duration of my three weeks holiday in France.

That evening I travelled by bus over to Edinburgh and boarded the overnight National Express coach, for London, a short journey since I slept most of the way, arriving at Victoria Coach Station around 6am next morning. I only had time to catch a quick cup of coffee before boarding the bus for Paris.

The ferry from Dover to Calais was a welcome break from the coach, as I sat up on deck, with my coca cola and munching on mutton pies, that had come all the way from Bains on the High Street in Dunfermline, you don’t buy food and drink on a ferry unless you have money to burn.

The best laid schemes of mice and men……..

I had planned to stay overnight in the outskirts of Paris and spend some time there before pushing on south.  It was six-thirty in the evening when I arrived at Pont National Quai de Bercy, the bus station in Paris. The air was heavy and the skies black, thunder storms had been forecast for later that evening, not wishing to wake, in a soggy field with everything I owned sodden I chose to take the Metro across the city to the Gare du Nord, and catch the TGV, a 557 kph train south all the way into Orange.

The high speed train departed Gare du North at midnight; it was comfortable and warm so my eyes started to close as soon as I was settled. It was a fitful journey; I kept wakening up ever half hour or so to check the time, not wishing to sleep through my station. When I did lighten from the train at Orange it was onto an almost empty platform with the sun just starting to make an appearance. I was tired, bleary eyed, and the last thing I was thinking about was unfolding my bike, repacking it and taking off for Pont-St-Esprit. I did peddle away from the station but only as far as the first campsite I came to, a small patch of ground down by the sandy bank of the river.  Once established I curled up upon my sleeping bag and slept the sleep of the gods until late morning. I sat by the waters edge, dressed only in swimming trunks and a T-shirt, refreshed by the cold water of the river. The village shops had supplied me with bread and milk so I brewing up a pot of tea, the pot was then recharged with porridge, (I away carry a large bag of the stuff with me).

This was a defining day for me for I had truly arrived in the South of France. The climate, the pine forests, the valleys of Ardeche, crammed with vineyards and fruit orchards awaited my arrival. I felt I already knew the area for I had been inspired to come here after reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s account of his travels in this part of France.

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints. Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a good thing that must be worked for. To hold a pack upon a packsaddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind. And when the present is so exacting who can annoy himself about the future?

Robert Louis Stevenson set off from Le Monastier-sur-Gazeille with Modestine the donkey on a 12-day hike through the Cevennes. Modestine turn out to be a bit of a handful and a very reluctant travelling companion, a great read.

My journey would be less troublesome, for I would not be employing a stubborn donkey to carry my load. I struck camp with the sun at her zenith, refreshed, and in good spirit for

Pont-St-Esprit and the start of a 47 kilometre ride above a limestone gorge cut over the millennium by the Ardeche River. The road is like a ledge following the curves of the river; it is narrow, a cliff face on your right and not much on your left until you reach the bottom and the river. Passing places have been provided at some of the best viewing points as you travel towards Pont D’Arc.

The spectacular ride along the gorge was breathtaking but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come. The Pont D’Arc, this is the only example of a natural stone arch spanning a river in France. I arrived late in the day, the sun was already well over the yardarm and the Pont D’Arc under the soft evening light was to behold. I stripped; and lying on my back floated under the arch, life just does not come much better than this.

Next morning I travelled into St-Laurent Les-Bains, where I camped for the night, many of these camp sites are attended by students over the summer recess; likewise this one and the girl told me to bring my bike into her office for safety overnight. These are the sort of details you always remember, an act of kindness. The village is dominated by a large plant bottling water that tells you it came from the volcanic rocks high above on the Massif Central, and the source of the River Loire.

and where I would be going tomorrow, but that is another story.  

Stay safe

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