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Our man on a bike raises money for CAFOD

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Our man on a bike raises money for CAFOD

CAFOD Normandy to Northern Spain Bike Ride. An Experience Shared.

Why cycle? A handbook I read many years ago stated that cycling embraces the Puritan virtues of humility, hard work and thrift. Whilst found wanting in the first two of these virtues being a Yorkshireman I was born with the thrift gene.

This together with a sense of freedom, recapturing a bit of youth, the physical challenge and your senses attuned to all around you are good enough reasons for cycling.Why choose to cycle through France into Spain? The route chosen roughly followed a 900-year-old pilgrimage route and both countries respect cyclists, so the choice spoke for itself. Within minutes of arriving in France with nephew Alex on 13th June we crossed the Pegasus Bridge North of Caen on our way to our overnight stop.

It was very poignant to read the memorials and wreaths laid the previous week in commemoration of the D-day landing. The next day we covered 74 miles in warm sunshine and finished in Alencon, the birthplace of St. Therese of Lisieux. A beautiful town but full of ageing Jeremy Clarksons! How were we to know the nearby 24-hour Le Mans race had just finished? We set off in heavy rain the next morning, took the wrong road out of Le Mans and finished the day at the lovely town of La Chartre sur le Loir.

The only hotel in the town closes Sundays and Mondays but we were fortunate to find the Le Grand Moulin, a chambre d’hote, for the night, which we highly recommend, although Alex had to sleep in the nursery! After a brief visit to the cathedral in Tours the next morning and our first encounter with pilgrims on the Route de St. Jacques we cycled past miles and miles of fields full of wheat, barley, oats and sunflowers to reach our next overnight stop at Chatellerault.

The next day riding around the Poitiers ring road in hot sunshine we had a refuelling stop before rejoining the pilgrim route along quieter roads through the pretty villages of Lusignan and Chenay with beautiful light sandstone Romanesque churches. We finished the day with a torn tyre at Melle. Accommodation was yet again a problem and we eventually found a chambre d’hote run by an architect and his wife. With a patched up tyre we reached the town of Aulnay the next morning and were able to buy a new tyre, cold drinks and sandwiches. Cognac was our next refuelling stop and the heat was melting the tarmac when we left.

Our destination for the night was Jonzac and we arrived in time to find a chambre d’hote in what was intended to be an antique shop and was fully stocked for the purpose including fully dressed mannequins in the bedrooms. The first stop the following morning was the town of Montendre. Unable to find a food shop I went into the tourist information and asked in my best French if anyone spoke English only to be told by the woman behind the desk “Aye, I’m from Barnsley”. Later we crossed the Dordogne at Libourne and spent the night at a motel in Creon. From Creon we crossed the Garonne and spent the day cycling through 70 miles of forests and what seemed deserted villages on quiet, flat roads to Mont de Marsan. This is Basque country and is reflected in the lively nature of the place.

That evening we enjoyed a choral concert of sacred and secular music in the local church. After Mont de Marsan the foothills of the Pyrenees start and we spent 78 miles in hot sunshine before we arrived at the first available place to stay at St. Jean Pied de Port (St. John at the foot of the pass). St Jean is a popular resort and pilgrim staging point.

In the late evening we climbed the cobbled streets to the Citadelle to watch the sunset over the Pyrenees. Leaving St. Jean the next morning I quickly realised why cycles are called pushbikes and spent four hours on foot up the mountains. Alex stayed in the saddle the whole day and reached Pamplona two and a half hours ahead of me. As arranged we met up outside the Plaza de Toros (the Bullring) which had been our starting point in 2007.We spent the next two days relaxing and sightseeing before our return ferry from Santander to Plymouth. Seeing me safely home Alex was glad to report “mission accomplished” to Linda.

Gordon Hodgson

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