Tues 14th May
Staying on the canal, wandering through the south.
I packed up with no problems, although slightly wobbly start from sinking the best part of a bottle of red I picked up from a supermarket the day before for €3. I was starting to see the advantages of living in France.
Back on the canal, the only interruptions to the flow of cycling are the occasional bridge and crossing to the other side to follow the path.
Sebastian had written a list of small towns that were worth paying a visit. Somehow, I had managed to lose this list and felt terrible that Sebastian’s efforts had been lost among my bags. I had remembered a few names and with the help of a map, had picked a few places for detours from the canal. I had about enough time to do about three.
The first was Aiguillon which was another small beautiful town adorned with old (what would be Tudor in England) buildings were the wooden frames are visible on the outside. There was also a curious building in the middle of the town that was a mezzanine, with a courtyard beneath it, open to the public. I sat here, after picking up a baguette and had lunch.
I overheard some English voices nearby and on further inspection there was a group of four who had either made it out for holiday, or lived here. It was nice to hear familiar accents, but I feared it might spark the old Brit abroad stereotype in my head. I left before too long.
I headed south to a larger town of Lavardac, that was built up of two areas in striking contrast to each another, old and new. The new home to a modern town centre, the old was a cobblestone maze, with a few sharp hills and windy roads.
By now I’d taken more time then planned and although it’s nice to this side of France, with no knowledge it’s a bit pointless. I was glad to have put Sebastián’s recommendations to use.
The canal remained to be very pleasant and consistent. Before too long, I was in the city of Agen, where I would encounter my first aqueduct on entering the city. This is a phenomenon I had never seen before, and is a bridge for boats with walkways either side. This one in particular went over a river, so if you were in a boat, drifting over the bridge, looking down at boats 30ft below. A feat of French engineering
I picked up a few essentials in Agen and headed out. Just outside the city I had passed an older guy on a bike that was jam-packed full of things and moving steadily with no luggage on the front. I thought nothing of it.
On the paths that leaving the city –after a break– I passed him again, he remarked as I passed “Aye, I saw you earlier, on’t canal.”
I was taken aback by the boldness of this man, and surprised he would talk to a stranger he didn’t know on the pretense he had seen him (me) earlier. I slowed and started chatting to the guy.
We cycled for an hour or two, swapping stories and experiences and getting a feel for why we were both out here. He lived worked on a caravan site near Perpignan, where he fixed small things that went wrong. He looked about 55-60, had a small frame, but an obvious strength and had eyes that were magnified by his thick glasses. I can’t remember if he was semi-bald or just kept his grey prickly hair short.
He worked on the site for a year or two and after failing to get work back in England, he returned to the caravans. The site visitors were mostly English, so he never had a reason to learn French. A shame I thought, but I wasn’t going to judge.
Before too long, we established that we were both camping in the wild and he was keen to find a spot and get down soon and was happy to have company, as was I. At around 8 o’clock, we found a bit of grass on the side of the path that was wide enough to house our tents. We set up, locked our bikes and prepared food.
I had a beer from Sebastien that I popped open and shared. It had fizzed in the bags from travelling and on pouring it he exclaimed “I thought you were a bleeding barman”. I put on a brave faced and felt the pride from that work dissolve.
Despite camping with him that night, I never caught his name, so I will call him Bill.
We talked about a lot of things. My jobs, what I was doing out here, where I was heading next and how long for. He had lived in Thailand for a few years and told me about besets that had communal gyms and swimming pools for £15 month. A guy he knew out there was selling one for £5000, which he would’ve taken if he’d had the money.
You could say he was a man who evaluated how good things were by starting at the price and going from there. His tent cost €20 and did the job. Mine was £160, I kept that quiet.
He had been up the canal to the west coast and was heading back. All in about two weeks, living on roughly €5 a day. He said that the Canal du Midi wasn’t so good. It was busy and the track was overused as a result. I was determined that a site so famed wouldn’t decline so badly and was determined to not be put off, but for the first time, had a negative association with it.