Sun 2nd June.
I left perfect little nook where I had slept for the night and got back to the road via the skatepark I had passed on entering the area and headed for Biarritz. I had forgotten where I was and before long was reminded by the road signs that I was in France, the country that had felt like home since I started travelling.
Green trees, grey clouds and the seaside. What I found quite odd about this part of France is that it felt so similar to Cornwall. The south-west of France looking and feeling akin to the southwest of England. Not forgetting how similar the spot I’d camped on the day before, felt to Dartmoor in Devon. Again, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony, that I had come this distance to get away from England and see something new, yet it’s resemblance to my home county (Devon) and neighbouring county (Cornwall) was uncanny.
The previous day I had purchased a map for the west side of the Pyrenees and coast. I’d hoped to get one for the whole Pyrenees, but it seem didn’t exist. I had been apprehensive about map purchasing, as I had a GPS and an iPad with maps, but with very little detail of the areas I was exploring, requiring power and internet connection.
Although on a budget, I decided a map would be worthwhile for detail and it didn’t matter if I got ruined in the rain, unlike the electronic equipment. Also, most people I knew who’d done something like this were usually well prepared with maps, so for the treacherous terrains of the French mountains, I decided it would be wise.
While getting the map, I also popped into a supermarket, to make the most of the French foods I had become so used to and missed during my two weeks in Spain. Namely Prince chocolate biscuits and Ovaltine crunchy chocolate spread.
I continued up the coast-line, passing a few large hand painted signs for ‘La Licorne’ a small local discotheque and shortly after some modern sculptures positioned in the foreground to a large super-modern building, made mostly of glass, with a rooftop resembling a half-pipe. It looked like a science lab or like some newly funded public library as part of a plan to get the young people into reading. It over-looked the sea and had a large car park.
I continued up the road by this part of the Biscay bay and before long I found myself at my first of two main destinations for the day, Biarritz. A small, humble seaside city.
I looked around trying to get to the centre and get a feel for what it was like, before having to move on and I stumbled across some kind of open public dancing in a small square in front of a shopping centre. Speakers played some strange traditional horn music while couples danced merrily in the square. An unusual glance at a quaint past-time for the locals and a surprising first glance at a city, but it was Sunday, and I always champion things that bring people together, so I couldn’t complain.
Before long, the sky released pressure and the ceremony was rained off, with couples running and laughing to get out of the rain. I decided to move on to Bayonne. The two cities are about 8km (5 miles) from one another and well connected by roads. I soon found myself following the ‘L’Adour’ river, heading towards to the capital of French surfing, Bayonne.
Biarritz struck me as having quite a Spanish/Basque look and feel in its villa-type houses and orange/pink rooftops among an english-like coast. While Bayonne seemed to be more typically French (although quite similar to Bath in England) with small cobbled roads, fashion shops and intimate alley-ways.
Something that stood out to me was the external wooden window shutters that made me think of how something so simple can completely transform the feel of a house. If I installed these shutters to the windows of my old London flat it would change it completely from both outside and in, perhaps making it less English and more European. I desirable treat, but alas, the windows of London would have to wait.
I sat down for a spot of lunch on a bench that overlooked a churchyard below. I peeped over the wall watching people to-ing and fro-ing and others walking their dogs or pushing their prams. As much as I liked what I’d seen of Bayonne, I could stay too long, as I had to head east and face the Pyrenees.
After eating (and a bit more wine) I left the city and made plans to follow the river, as the trails along river had always been pleasant and much nicer then any road.
I had no solid destination for the next day or so, other than to head east towards Pau, via Mourenx.
As I had predicted, I got onto the river and it was tranquil, beautiful and free of cars. The river to my right and fields full of golden corn and the occasional house to my left. To my surprise there was a strong tailwind, pushing me up to about 30kph without much effort. A welcome change.
I breezed along the river and after an hour or so I had to leave. It was the best cycling I’d had in about three weeks.
When I left the main river I went onto a smaller network of canals and streams that made navigating difficult. I pushed on a bit further and found path that was unlike any other I’d seen yet, as either side of it was still, crystal clear water. Imagine a gravel cycling path raised a few feet about the water, gliding through a lake and that’s would I had found. A wonderful sight and a sensational treat, considering it could’ve been another mud path for all I knew.
Sooner after I stopped to set up camp. I was within viewing distance of a house nearby and could hear a road in the distance, but it wouldn’t be a bother. The sun was setting so I decided not to worry about imposing on anyone as it’d be dark soon. I had a tree and my own picnic bench to myself. After setup, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting down properly to my meal.
Not only did I have all this by a river, but one a bronze and yellow sunset, settled in the sky that seemed to last for about an hour. Once again, I came out of touring and planning mode, soaked up the beauty of nature and how lucky I was to be there.