Tuesday 16th May
Gouarec to Pontivy: 41km, 142m climbed, 2hr 46’
Total Distance 175kms
It’s 30°C in Pontivy this afternoon. Pontivy is an attractive little town at the confluence of the canal and the river Blavet that made it a key centre of commerce. It’s got more than its fair share of narrow windy streets of half-timbered shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. Wendy has made a note of those we have to investigate further this evening.
Our campsite is only 10 minutes from downtown Pontivy and we are here thanks to the dilatory nature of the Bourg and its employees. We had struggled to find a site anywhere near the route until I looked it up on Park4night, a website that I had heard others recommend. It came up with a site that had only been rated 2 stars out of 5 and the photo didn’t look very appealing, but needs must and Wendy put its coordinates into the sat-nav. When she rolled up this morning there was only one other van on the site that was just leaving. The chap driving said that the site shouldn’t really be open. It was open at the weekend for a local festival and they had let him stay for a third night. They hadn’t come back to move the rocks back in front of the entrance. It’s flat, got showers, water and EHU (electric hook-up – keep up) and so far there is no one to pay!
Back to the cycling. I shaved 5 minutes off my personal best departure time this morning, leaving at 0955. This was in no way related to the fact that Wendy wasn’t planning on leaving until later on.
Wendy is feeling a little uncomfortable that our growing readership might think badly of us that we seem to take so long to be off in the morning and wants me to explain our morning routine. Alarm clocks are forbidden; we had enough of those when we were working. One of us is usually wide awake by seven o’clock, but the effects of the cycling and the rural nature of our campsites means that I am not waking until about half past and then its thanks to the cuckoo. We then take Alf for a walk for 40 minutes or so and go and buy the bread. After breakfast we have a full pre-ride briefing including any changes to standing orders. Then follows the striking camp and bike bag packing rituals, which we are still honing, to a state of perfection. A sign of 21st Century camping is that it can take up to 10 minutes to take everything electronic off charge and packed away.
Today the route was to be all along the canal including the banks of Brittany’s largest lake the Lac de Guerlédan. The Lac is actually a reservoir (I wonder what is French for reservoir?) made by damming the canal further down and effectively halting the canal’s commercial future. My legs felt stiff this morning but I thought I could use the nice flat section to improve on my best time for 40k. It started well, the canal was looking stunning in the sunshine, it was another T-shirt day and my legs soon eased. I was going along nicely and confident enough to risk a stop at the Abbaye de Bon-Repos to take a few photos. I even stopped a few ‘clicks’ further on to take pictures of the head of the Lac. One hundred metres later my route was closed! The path ahead was shut because of undescribed dangers ahead. I wasn’t going to cycle along the shores of the lake instead I had to follow the ‘deviation’. Those of you with A-levels in geography will know that reservoirs are usually found at the bottom of valleys. Even in France there are few exceptions to this rule and this was a textbook example of the kind. The sides of the valley were steep and the deviation went right up it. I am not ashamed to say dear reader – I pushed.
At the top of the hill the new route was on yet another old railway track converted into a ‘voie verte’. This meant that I could whizz along at speeds exceeding 20kph. Not only did I hope that this would put me back on track to beat my record but in the increasing heat it kept me cool. The heat and humidity was the sign for all the local bugs and flies to come out and cheer me on and just as some of the berks on the mountain stages of the Tour de France so did some of the insects! I soon seemed to be inhaling enough calories not to need to stop for lunch. I tried to breathe through gritted teeth in the hope of filtering them out but it just meant that they collected in my mouth and tasted horrid. It was much better to use the bush tucker trial method and swallow them in one.
The diversion finally directed me down a hill to rejoin the path. Unfortunately it was well past the dam so I didn’t get to see it. For the next two kilometres there were banners up with pictures of famous dams from around the world as if to say look how impressive our dam could have been.
There weren’t as many locks today as yesterday but a new feature was that every so often a mill had been built alongside the dam to use the sluice to the side as a mill leat. Also evident was the way the engineers had redirected the flow of rivers and streams to keep the canal topped up. Oh and their 21st Century counterparts were busy building a road to nowhere.
With the Garmin counting down to Pontivy I was feeling pretty pleased with being able to pedal such an impressive distance as 40k. That was until I realised that 40k is only 25 miles the same distance I used to cycle home from work via Hilton and Long Lane in 2012.
Another disappointment was that I arrived just outside the record time; the deviation and my callow pushing had taken their toll.
A gentle stroll around Pontivy and a cold beer has raised my spirits. We even found that it has a Chateau dedicated to one of my favourite outdoor clothing shops. It seems that Rohan began to make his money in the 15th Century and put it straight into blocks and mortar.
In the time it has taken me to write this episode three English cyclists and a French one have turned up. Wendy has taken on the role of Adjutant, shown them to their pitches and invited them to join us for a barbeque later! Apparently the Frenchman is heading to Quimper and then on to the Black Sea!
If this wasn’t enough excitement for one day; here is some jeopardy. It looks like rain tomorrow!