Sunday 22 July 2012

Of Frogs and Birds of Prey

Lizards dart away from our wheels, a fox studies us from across a field,  birds of prey hover overhead and frogs croak and gargle in the still waters of the canals. At dusk we watch fearful as two rats swim silently towards five ducklings. Mother duck shepherds her young onto the river bank and the next morning we’re relieved to do a headcount and discover all are safe.

They’re not perhaps the most immediate images that spring to mind when people think of France, but for me they are just as evocative as the culture, the history and the food and wine. We’ve been pleased by the amount of wildlife we’ve seen – even if it’s not lions or tigers – but disappointed not to see a single deer despite the frequent signs warning drivers to take care.
Judy's pastime - spottng wonderful
vegetable gardens. This one is in

The morning routine includes the hunt for coffee. 
Our France over the six weeks has been a gentle affair – The Eurovelo 6 has led us from West to East on purpose made bike paths, quiet roads and back streets with just a few kilometres of handlebar-clenching highways where the traffic has hurtled by and we’ve been intimidated by roundabouts. On the whole the Eurovelo 6 signage has been pretty good although we can’t count the number of wrong turns we’ve taken, usually in towns where finding our way back onto the route has not always been easy.

From our campsite in Seurre, where we
met a fun Swiss couple Simon & Sabine.
And we’ve been adjusting to life on the road. After years of deskbound jobs, the sudden change to living in a tent, the regular exercise, and the constant exposure to the weather have not always been easy.

It’s Judy’s first experience of cycle touring – we’ve now clocked up nearly 2,000 km on the tandem – and she’s been surprised at how much time is taken up finding somewhere to sleep each day and buying our food. Often supermarkets are some distance from our campsites and once we have erected our tent we have to make a separate journey – it’s time consuming but necessary.

And like me, Judy has found the vagaries of the weather challenging. We seem to lurch from days of blazing sunshine and sunblock to lightning and thunderstorms that rage around us. Sometimes, the latter is just too much and like today, we retreat to the shelter of the tent and give up on the idea of cycling.

The result is that our daily distances are sometimes very short – I think our record shortest ride is 25 km. In good weather, 80 km is no problem. In heavy rain there’s not much fun in it.
"You know, it's pretty near idyllic this
 spot," Judy discussing a canalside vista. 
View at L'Isle-sur-le-Doubs

Judy says the drawbacks are outweighed by the ever-changing landscape and the encounters with people along the way – those who want to help and those who want to pass the time of day.
Sailing downwind

Judy also says she’s delighted how quickly things can turn around – just as the heat or the rain is becoming too much, we’ll pedal into a town square and there’s a café beckoning. And just down the road will be a campsite with hot showers.

Stork on final approach.
And who knows, there may be time to catch a spectacle at dusk. For example, two rats swimming against the current in an unsuccessful bid to turn ducklings into dinner.       
Meriton and Timon acted as guides,
riding ahead of us through the streets
of Basel (Switzerland) soon after we
crosed the border with France.

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