Days 605 to 613. Saint Nazaire to Arromanches

June 7th to 15th. 382km

Our night in a hotel turned out not to be as restful as we hoped. The bar over the road was pumping out the tunes until about 3 in the morning, so we didn’t sleep too well. I suppose that’s what we get by going for the cheapest room in town on booking.com, I far prefer a nice quiet forest! Leaving St Nazaire, we left the ocean and headed north, past the airport and Airbus plant, avoiding the big bridge. More by luck than any real planning, once we were away from the centre, we joined a path running next to a disused railway line. This gave us a flat and traffic free ride for about 20km, until it got a bit overgrown and we headed back onto the roads. We were up into rural Brittany now, on very quiet farm roads, some paved, others dirt, but all very quiet, and easy to find a place to camp. We were early to bed and slept very well, both tired from the lack of sleep.

We slept in the next morning, neither of us waking till 9 o’clock, luckily our tent was well hidden so it was no problem. We packed up slowly to continue north towards Rennes. Midway through the day we crossed the Nantes-Brest canal near Guenrouet and stopped for lunch. There was another cycle route following the canal so we had a constant stream of cyclists riding past saying hello. The rest of the day was all on farm roads, riding through tiny little hamlets, not shown on the map. We were feeling our way a bit, just heading generally north until we got to a bigger town, Bain de Bretagne. We stocked up on food at the supermarket then found a camp spot next to a little river just outside of town. We ate early as the dark clouds were rolling in. Just as we finished our canned cassoulet, we heard thunder and got into the tent expecting rain, but luckily only a few drops fell.

It was to be a short ride the following day. One of Clare’s friends from uni, Helen, reads our blog and left a comment on a recent post. Her parents have a house in this part of France, so offered us a place to stay if we happened to be passing. Luckily, our route took us very close to their place in Janze, so we took her up on her kind offer. We took the address and made our way there down tiny lanes to find a beautiful old farmhouse where we were welcomed in, even though Helen’s parents, Ted and Joan, had ever met us before.

We spent two nights there, eating well, sleeping in a bed and meeting the neighbours and all the other locals that Ted and Joan have got to know over 40 odd years of visiting the area. On our day off, we went with them by car to Rennes to visit the Saturday market, gorging on more delicious local treats. Then when we left the next day, we were waved off by a small group, and followed in the car with Ted hanging out the window filming us on his GoPro! Thanks to Helen for getting in touch, and to Ted and Joan for your hospitality.

We were still heading north, now focused on reaching the Channel coast at Le Mont Saint Michel. We split the ride over two days, camping overnight in a big forest, cris-crossed with cycle paths, north east of Rennes. The paths were mostly quite good, but quite overgrown at points which slowed our progress a bit. Back on the main road we cycled much faster, especially once we were away from the rolling hills and onto flat ground near the coast. By early afternoon on the second day, we picked up another Eurovelo route (4, I think) to take us the last 10km to Mont St Michel, which we could just about see in the distance, rising above the horizon. We checked into a campsite in the town and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.

Once we’d had some dinner and the sun was starting to dip we got back on the bikes, leaving our stuff in the campsite, to ride out to Mont St Michel itself. We’ve both been here a couple of times before, but it’s still a very impressive place. I think they’ve changed the road layout since we last visited, as it’s there’s a new bridge and the road is closed to traffic so visitors have to take a shuttle bus out along the causeway. Cycling out was great, especially in the evening as it was very quiet. We walked around the old town area and climbed the walls to check out the view. Then we headed out onto the sand below the walls to get a different perspective. We noticed that the tide was coming in though, so we turned around and headed back. This area is well known for its very fast moving tides and we didn’t want to end up as those ignorant tourists who get caught out and need to be rescued. Sure enough, once we were back on the road we looked back to see the sea moving in and a small wave advancing up the river. We sat around for a bit watching the water rise and the sun setting before riding back to the campsite and getting into the tent and away from the hungry mozzies.

We took a small road the next morning, taking us around the bay with Mont St Michel still in view. We crossed a small river and then had a steep climb towards Avranches, perched up on a hill. It was very steep, and even had a couple of switchbacks which we weren’t expecting, we thought it was all flat around here. For the rest of the afternoon the road dipped and climbed, which made the cycling quite tiring.

Clare and I visited this area about 12 years ago on one of our first trips together. We drove through Brittany and Normandy, camping along the way. One of the places we remember is Jullouville. It’s a strange little seaside resort which felt very run down and tired. It was a bit quirky, and we liked it, especially watching an amazing sunset from the beach, so we decided to head back and camp in the same campsite. The town felt much more lively when we arrived, it was September when we visited previously, so it was probably out of season. We found our way back to the campsite and pulled in. Two campers standing near the gate were wearing browny-beige coloured swimwear so, with just a quick glance, Clare thought they weren’t wearing anything. She kept trying to nudge me to get my attention until she had a second look and realised that we weren’t trying to stay at a naturists’ campsite. We had some dinner then went for a walk on the beach. The evenings are getting really long now, sunset wasn’t until 10:10pm, but it was worth the wait.

We went north along the coast the next morning, riding past some really nice looking beaches , towards Granville. We turned inland there to cut across the Manche peninsula towards the D-Day beaches. It was another day of energy sapping ups and downs. The roads were often dead straight, with the dips extending ahead in the distance. The downs were really fun, but short lived and always followed by a far longer lasting up. We got our heads down and plodded along, on a very sunny and hot day.

We worked our way to the outskirts of St Lo, where our road crossed a river, and another cycle path, and it looked to be a good place to camp. We sat out for a while, and a couple of women came past and asked us how much our bikes weighed. One of them knew quite a lot about cycling, and also about Central Asia, so when we told them about our trip, she started grilling us down to the very fine details, quite a challenge on my French. It’s nice to be able to chat to people here though, the first time we’ve been able to have a conversation with the locals since we left Japan. Once they’d headed off to continue their evening stroll, we pushed through the undergrowth into some woods. The vegetation seems to be particularly thick here, so it wasn’t an ideal spot. Then to top it off, there was broken glass under our tent, which I cut my hand on when I reached under to pull it out. Most of the time it’s a lot of fun wild camping, and we’re usually able to find great spots, but on the odd occasion it feels like it’s not worth the hassle! All was forgotten in the morning though, waking up to sunlight shining through the trees on to the tent definitely does something good for the soul.

Luckily we were feeling good in the morning, as we started the day with a very steep climb up over a ridgeline to get us onto the St Lo bypass. Once that was out the way, we turned to head north east with a strong tailwind behind us. We were flying along, the tyres humming, cruising at speeds in the high 20s, very rare for us these days. After an hour or so, we ticked over 344km on our speedo, which means nothing really, but add it to the distance we’d clocked on the old speedo before we lost it and it meant we’d passed 23,000km for the trip. We stopped for a photo, and as we happened to be in a nice sunny spot, we got the tent out to dry and had a tea and biscuit break.

Our next waypoint was Bayeux, home of the famous tapestry and cathedral. Clare’s seen the tapestry before, and I’m not too fussed, the only interesting bit is where Harold takes an arrow to the eye, so we made our way to the cathedral and found a restaurant. It’s was our final thousand kilometre milestone, so we celebrated with a menu du jour and a glass of wine. It was really nice sitting out in the sunshine eating lunch in the shadow of such an amazing old building. Europe really does have some incredible sights that I suppose we take for granted as they’re on our doorstep.

From Bayeux we continued to the north through the countryside, then had a steep downhill into Arromanches, on the coast. This coastline is where the D-Day landings of the 2nd World War took place in 1944. Arromanches is particularly known for the Mulberry harbour here which landed troops and supplies. The remains of the harbour are still visible in the sea just of the beach.

From here, we’ll need to put the breaks on a bit. We have a week until our ferry, and only a couple of hundred kilometres to go. We’ll follow the coastline (slowly) along the Normandy beaches past Le Havre, to arrive in Dieppe on the 22nd. Here’s our route from Saint Nazaire to Arromanches:

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