Tuesday, 26 September 2017

The Manche to the Med - Day 7: Confolens to Rochechouart

The night was peppered with nightmarish dreams of five year old sausages crawling from the river like giant slugs and dragging us and our bikes down into the sewers. Breakfast was the usual affair - croissants, bread, cheese, jam, honey - I'm starting to get the hankering for an English breakfast - but hold on the sausage please.

Our bikes had been conveniently stabled in what was probably an old stable - in any event it afforded Gary some valuable space to further tinker with his brakes - while I went out shopping for water and any other bits I could find to sustain us - but, being a Wednesday, everywhere was closed.

We felt the need to savour some more of the town this morning, and duly rode around, taking photos and sitting at a cafe with a couple of cups of strong coffee. Finally we got moving and the GPS directed us through some narrow cobbled streets where there was a sudden, violent uphill climb. There was a group of French daytrippers walking down the hill - they looked at us with amazement - with our bikes loaded to maximum as we struggled to move upwards "Chapeau, Chapeau" they cried whilst clapping their hands. Five seconds later their cheers turned to groans of disappointment as we came to a sudden, stumbling standstill - beaten by the severity of incline. This was to be the only time we had to get off and push - and pushing was almost as difficult as riding. The steepness was so great that getting up meant taking a few steps, heaving the loaded bikes, then applying the brakes to prevent the bikes rolling back, getting a better grip on the slippery cobbles, then taking a few more steps. It was tough. When the incline lessened so that it was possible to attempt riding again - we were still on an upward trajectory - and would be for the next mile or two.

Today is fair weather, so much so that I have my washing line bungeed onto my back panniers with shorts and socks hanging out to dry. We're domesticated New Men you know. We've been washing kit most days and lycra does dry fairly quickly in the right conditions. We stop at a village called Chabanais - there's another pretty river bridge and a weir to look at and we sit in the sunshine enjoying another strong coffee. After that it's more climbing, mostly, until we arrive at Rochechouart.

Rochechouart labels itself 'the town of the meteorite' - because 214 million years ago an enourmous six billion tonne meteor smashed into this spot. We hope that meteors don't strike twice as we roll up to our small hotel situated on the very edge of town. It's glorious, hot sunshine and we sit outside with a couple of glasses of Cidre. Earlier I'd sent a text to New Paul (the guy we left on the boat at St Malo) - he hasn't made particularly good progress and was slightly behind on the schedule he never made. He said he'd meet us here and stay the night.
Our hotel at Rochecouart

We get our bags unpacked, shower and enjoy some more cidre as new Paul rolls into sight. He's been camping so far, so tonight, staying in a hotel will be a treat. We take a stroll to another bar and Paul gets a round of Pastis. We sit under shady trees sipping at the cloudy aniseed aperitif like proper Frenchmen. Later we eat at our hotel, taking one of their 'complet' menu options along with a couple of bottles of local wine. The food is reasonable and the general ambience good. New Paul suggests we finish off with Cognac - at €10 a glass we feel it's overpriced - it is harsh and acidic I struggle to finish mine - New Paul takes care of it for me.

Pastis under the trees
Next morning after another bread-based breakfast we pack our stuff and part ways. New Paul is heading in a different direction to us - we wish him well and promise to stay in touch. Gary and I have a ride around the town - there's a marvellous Chateau at the end of the village - The Chateau de Rochechouart - currently undergoing some rennovation and now home to a Museum of Modern Art. The streets all around are decorated with enourmous stone troughs brimming with flowers and there are equally impressive hanging baskets all around. The church here has an interesting twisting octagonal spire. We look for a shop, having the idea of taking a few pastries with us for lunch - but it's Wednesday - nothing is open.

Flowers around the village
At the Chateau
The Chateau
The church with twisted steeple

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