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Old 11-01-2012, 09:52 AM   #1
MikeO OP
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It was a dark & stormy night, and the rain came down in torrents...

1st November 2012

It's been an odd year, both at work and in my private life. I have lots of leave left to take and decided that a solo trip to Europe on the Adv might clear my head a bit. I took three weeks off and booked a two-week return trip on the Eurotunnel, with no real plan in mind.

As the day to depart approached, I had no real enthusiasm for the trip and had to force myself to get organised for it...

So - the plan:

Eurotunnel to Pas de Calais on 1st November. Eurotunnel back to UK on 14th November.

I eventually get the bike completely prepped and packed on Halloween evening - interrupted occasionally by giving the local kids who were trick or treating some sweets I'd bought. Half the ungrateful little sods didn't even say thank you...

I looked at the weather forecast for France. I sort of have in mind heading towards the Mediterranean, on the grounds that it'll probably be a bit warmer there.

It seems the first of November isn't going to be a good day for anyone wanting to stay dry in France. I book a B&B Hotel in Reims - about 250km from Pas de Calais - and decide to get to bed around 21:30 and set off whenever I wake up.

I wake at 02:30. Hmmm...

I look out of the window and am pleasantly surprised to see that it is dry...

I have a shower and make some breakfast and then walk out to the garage to get the bike out. As I do so, the first drops of rain start to fall...

By the time I've finished putting on the tank bag, rain cover etc, and sorted out my iPod, it's 03:40. I start the bike and ride away immediately (trying to keep on as good terms as possible with my neighbours).

There's a problem with my iPod (actually it's the iPod part of my iPhone). I can't seem to find the 'shuffle' function, which allows you to listen to random pieces of music you didn't realise you had. The best I can do is to get it to play all my music in alphabetical order.

Hey-ho. David Bowie starts the journey with Absolute Beginners.

It’s raining steadily as I ride the dark and wet road towards Thetford. I am always a little unsettled when driving this route in the dark – Thetford Forest has a large deer population and I have no wish to make the acquaintance of any members this morning. There is a lot of vegetation on the roads – fallen leaves as well as small twigs, suggesting that there have been some squally showers in this area.

It soon becomes apparent that my left waterproof glove isn’t. Poo. The little and ring fingers get wet, then the wicking effect ensures that the whole glove liner is soaked. I switch on the heated grips to make sure my hand doesn’t get too cold. In fairness, I think I bought these gloves when I bought the bike (in 2002), so they’ve done OK.

After a while I feel the unpleasant sensation of my left leg getting wet. My Daytona boot, faultless and waterproof, is doing a good job of catching the water the trousers are letting in…

I’ve taken the precaution of wearing my Gerbing heated jacket, and the toasty warmth it provides takes my mind off the discomfort I’m feeling elsewhere.

I get through Thetford without any close encounters and join the A11 and ultimately the M11 towards London. Despite the hour, there is lots of traffic and the spray on the motorway is unpleasant. I stop briefly at Birchanger Green Services to sort my gloves out a bit (and to try – unsuccessfully – to change the iPod from alphabetically playing –I’ve just endured Across the Lines by Tracy Chapman – I really don’t need any more depression right now ).

I set back off to Adam Raised a Cain by Bruce and the E Street Band…

Soon I’m on the M25, where the traffic is even heavier, crossing the QE2 Bridge at Dartford and then turning onto the M20 towards Folkestone. It’s still pissing down and I’m feeling quite miserable. Still – I’m not in the office…

I arrive at Maidstone Services and fill up with Super Unleaded. I find that the waterproof pocket I put my wallet in – isn’t. Bugger



This is the first time I’ve been able to take the camera out – exciting pic, eh?

Having filled up I squelch my way back to the bike and set off again. In 25 miles or so I arrive at the Eurotunnel tollbooths. I explain I’m a little early, as I’m actually booked on the 15:50 train this afternoon. Completely unfazed, the lovely Suzanne gets me on the next train (the 08:20) for no extra charge. This type of attitude is why I really like using the tunnel rather than ferries.

I ride straight up to the boarding lines, where they have merged two trains worth of passengers into one for the previous departure.



I wander over and have a cup of tea and a bacon sarnie with Joy and Susan.



Joy is so shocked at how cold my hands are when I pay, she puts a couple of paper towels on the griddle for a few minutes and gives them to me as a hand warmer…

There seems to be some hold-up – or perhaps it’s just a really full train – and the lines next to me seem to be stationary for a long time.



Eventually the blockage clears and, not long afterwards, my line is called forward. I board as the fifth vehicle in one carriage (all the other four being cars) and wait for the train to depart.

And wait.



For the train to depart.

Eventually there’s a Tannoy apologising for a technical fault and we’re moved to the next train over.



All told this puts a further hour’s delay on proceedings. Not a problem to me, as I only have 250km to ride when I get to France anyway…

Ultimately we get going, arriving at Pas de Calais 35 minutes later – just like the advert says.

There is a little light rain as I depart the station complex, but I have all my waterproof gear sorted in preparation. It’s a lot windier here – a nasty gusty wind from the right side to begin with, but then increasing in speed and becoming a steady gale. The bike’s leaned over as I head southeast towards Reims. The wind is having one unusual effect – it’s pressing my helmet into the right side of my head sufficiently that there is a lot of wind noise in the left ear, as a small gap develops there as a result. The only way I seem to be able to overcome this annoying turn of events is by moving my shoulders up – effectively ‘retracting’ my neck slightly. I must look like that chap on Fantasy Island “Ze Plane, ze Plane”…

At last the weather clears and I catch sight of a watery sun breaking through the clouds.



The wind is still very strong and I note that they’ve feathered the blades of the wind turbines...



...which line the AutoRoute here.

I stop for fuel about 100 miles from Reims...



...and have a hot drink (coffee of dubious parentage) , a Panini (well, I am in France ) and some flan…



Cruising at 130kph wreaks havoc with the Adv’s fuel economy – I’m getting just under 40mpg. French AutoRoute speed limits are interesting, in that they vary according to the weather. The normal maximum of 130kph is reduced to 110kph if it is raining. I decide to ignore this, as it will take me longer to get to my hotel otherwise…

Recaffinated and warmed through I set off once more into a bright afternoon.



Unfortunately it was only toying with me and pretty soon I am making an unauthorised ( and almost certainly illegal) stop under a bridge to put the shower cap back on my tank bag.

I come off the AutoRoute at Reims (€12.70 toll) and follow Bettie’s directions for the B&B hotel at the village of Bezannes.



This is apple country - old presses like this are in evidence (presumably as ornaments) in a few places around the village...



The hotel is impossible to find, despite using the map reference supplied with my booking. I wander around, coming across roads which have had earth banks bulldozed onto them to block them, before eventually sighting the hotel across a couple of fields.

I work out how to get to it and find it a completely new build – on a road that doesn’t exist on any GPS mapping.



Lisette at reception said that the map reference was for a point you could see the hotel from…

I check on and park the bike in plain sight of a CCTV camera, then take my stuff up to the room.

It seems my right pannier isn’t wholly waterproof either…



No matter – everything in there was vacuum bagged anyway - I unpack.

This…



…looks like a low budget remake of Indecent Proposal – but I’m just drying my wallet out…

I have a cup of something brown and foul from a vending machine in reception and hang everything up to dry. Time to check the weather forecast for tomorrow and see which way I’ll be heading…
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Old 11-01-2012, 02:48 PM   #2
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So what are your next destinations?

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Old 11-01-2012, 03:31 PM   #3
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good,in...

nice plate on your ADV

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Old 11-02-2012, 12:44 AM   #4
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The good news - a bright sunny morning.

The bad news:

a) It isn't going to last, so I need to get going
b) In some freak event, I have lost the maps off my GPS and it is taking a long time to reload them
c) I've broken the charging cable on my phone, so need to find a new one.

On balance - no snags. Getting a replacement cable should be simple - I'll pack the rest of the crap whilst I wait for the maps to finish loading.

More later...
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Old 11-02-2012, 02:51 PM   #5
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2nd November 2012

I planned a route on the MacBook last night and, on downloading it onto my GPS, found that I had not got the latest map set on the unit. I’ve got to say that, having been a GPS user for ten years now, I think Garmin have made the art of downloading maps and planning routes WAY more difficult than it should be. Of course, I have the temerity to own a Mac, so it’s probably my fault…

The obvious thing to do was to download the maps. It warned me this would take a while. It did, and after an hour I went to bed leaving it to do its thing overnight. This morning I get up to a message saying these maps were too big a file.

Couldn’t have told me when I pressed ‘continue’ last night?

Of course not

No matter, I’ll run with the maps I have loaded. Except they’ve disappeared and I’m only left with the base map. I quickly get the thing coupled up again and download the UK, France and Spain – I’ll sort it out when I get home. This takes an hour and a half, which kind of puts a spoke in the plan to be on the road at 0700 to race the weather heading south.

I have a generous breakfast at the all-you-can-eat buffet (note to self – do this literally one day) and load the bike…

I kick my heels watching French TV and being saddened by how much I don’t understand – I used to be fluent in Franglais, but now it’s sometimes a struggle to order a meal.

OK – bad example – I’ve never struggled to order a meal…

At last the maps and route are uploaded and I set off into the cool bright (and – so far – dry) morning at 0915.



I’ve booked a room in St Etienne for this evening. The route I have programmed is almost entirely D (Departmental) roads and Bettie reckons it’ll take me a good eight hours, plus stops.

I have brought several pairs of gloves with me and this morning I am modelling BMW Lightweight Waterproofs. I feel moderately optimistic about the weather as I make my way through a series of roundabouts that form the outer ring road for Reims…



…where the circus is in town. Can’t remember the last time I saw a circus tent in the UK.

Onwards!

My optimism last about twenty minutes, when I crest a rise and I am confronted with this...



I mean, there's no need for that, is there?

I put the shower cap on the tank bag and put the camera away (but not before spotting one of Moet's barns)...



I head into the weather. Hey ho...



Pretty soon I come across one of these - a speed camera, combined with Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR). These are dotted all over the place in France, but they are always marked with warning signs like this...



Recently, though, the government has announced that they are going to remove the warning signs. This has not been taken well by the general public, apparently. In fact, a little while later I found this painted on a tree...



I'm not sure what would happen if I got caught by one of these - whether there is some EC protocol for sending me a fine through the post or something...



I ride on through showers - nothing too heavy, but it means that the road is always wet and - on D-roads - you have to be looking out for crap on the road surface everywhere.



Occasionally it will brighten up sufficiently to tempt the camera out of its waterproof home...



...and the low sun will remind me that at least I'm not at work...

At 1025 I stop at a service area to fill up. The pump is 'card only' - despite the shop being manned. I'm please to see that the keypad gives you a language option...



When I press 'English" it tells me to put my card into the machine. Every instruction from then on is in French...

Someone has spilt some diesel at this pump and they've put some absorbent powder down on it...



...but - critically - failed to sweep it up. This leaves an area of slippery porridge that could easily catch some unwary rider out. I point it out to them and they respond with a very Gallic shrug and say they'll deal with it...

Whilst there I bought a new cable for my phone...



...for an extortionate €9.50 (I think I paid £1.95 for two off eBay - including postage). I think I'll buy a few more when I return and leave them sealed up on the bike - they're pretty fragile and it doesn't cost a lot. I put the phone on charge and - having done my best to wipe the diesel porridge off my boots - set off once more...



Piles of sugar beet are stacked at the roadside awaiting collection - just like home...

It starts raining steadily now - and it looks like it's in for the duration. I pull into a lay-by and put the camera away again...



Only to stop and get it out again in the next village...



What a weird looking building. Stranger still was the fact that the wind turbine wasn't turning, despite it being quite breezy. The house was in a village in a small sheltered valley...

The camera goes away again and it starts to rain in earnest. It's cold and hard, my left leg gets wet very soon and, after an hour or so, my left glove starts to give up the struggle. The roads are twisty and badly surfaced - if the weather was good I'd be really enjoying it. As it is, I'm continually forcing myself to relax on the handlebars and am feeling cold, wet and miserable.



To distract myself (and give myself a rest) I take a short ride up a dirt road into one of the vineyards that occupy every south-facing piece of land here...



Then I get back on the bike and ride on. One positive thing - the strong wind from yesterday is missing...

I see a flash of black and white in my right peripheral vision, as a small bird decides to fly across the road at the wrong time. Damage is limited to a riding lamp that has been turned down.



I need to tighten the mount back up. My Leatherman won't do the job, so...



...it's time for the serious toolkit. I tighten it back up, put the tools away and get back on the road...



A restaurant comes into view and I decide I've earned a rest and a warm up. I have the 'special', comprising salmon pate...



...followed by a steak with a very zingy pepper sauce (I think I can still taste it)...



...and chocolate and pistachio ice cream...



Probably should have taken that last picture a bit earlier.

The family nearby were teaching their son table manners...



I had a feeling it was his first lesson...

Fortified and refreshed, I put my wet kit back on and head south...



It starts pissing down...



... and the camera has to go away again. I'm now getting pretty demoralised. I still have nearly 200 miles to cover and, looking ahead, I can't see any let up in this weather. I plug in some music and start listening in alphabetical order again. I think I must have my Amy Winehouse songs wrongly titled (ie with her name at the start of the title), because I am treated to the entire Amy back catalogue.

Which is no bad thing.

I am going to keep this route and do it again in the summer - it's really good, but today it has become an endurance test.



Don't know where it is - it was interesting enough to make me stop and take a pic...

I stop for fuel and keep pressing on. Bettie says I should arrive around 1800 - that's after dark...

I overtake a group of four cars and, as I am pulling back in, I see a flash in my mirror. I guess I'm going to find out for myself then...

Then the weather breaks - at the same time as the last Amy Winehouse song ends - spooky...



I start making tracks on good dry roads, but there is heavy traffic coming out of St Etienne and overtaking is difficult. The sun sets at 1730 and I'm still 30 mins away.

At last, a very welcome sight appears...



I check in, unpack and spend a LONG time under the shower. After starting to upload pics, I wander over to the Campanile next door and have dinner at their restaurant. I choose the "Starter and Dessert Buffet Special", with a half litre of draft lager to accompany it...



Starters



Desserts

I eat until I hear my skin creaking, then waddle back to my room. It's been a tough day's riding - not helped by having kit which leaks - something I'll have to address when I get home.

I think I'll sleep well tonight.
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Old 11-02-2012, 02:55 PM   #6
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It's been a while. great to see you again

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Old 11-02-2012, 03:33 PM   #7
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i got flashed near Dunkirk last year.......heard nothing.....was back a couple of weeks ago and nothing happened,...so.............


enjoying the tale......
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Old 11-02-2012, 03:35 PM   #8
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i got flashed near Dunkirk last year.......heard nothing.....was back a couple of weeks ago and nothing happened,...so.............


enjoying the tale......
Good to hear!

Mike
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Old 11-02-2012, 04:31 PM   #9
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I feel your pain...but from the "comfort" of a desk chair at work....
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Old 11-02-2012, 04:57 PM   #10
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I feel your pain...but from the "comfort" of a desk chair at work....
Hi Jorge!
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Old 11-02-2012, 06:02 PM   #11
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About these speed cameras. Look out for the ones at traffic lights and for these signs. you have 2 out of 3 chances that a camera is 2 kms behind it.
http://www.oxygeneradio.fr/public/ne...mobile0822.jpg
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Old 11-03-2012, 01:16 AM   #12
MikeO OP
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3rd November 2012

I put the light out at about 2300 last night and woke about an hour later needing to take a leak - to find I'd actually slept through to 0700.

I guess I must have been tired...

I look out of the window and am greeted by a bright, cool and sunny day...



I go into the reception area and help myself to the buffet breakfast. It's OK, but the dining area is a bit institutional, like a prison canteen (I should think), and the trays etc make me feel like an extra in the Shawshank Redemption...



Having finished breakfast (and avoided being stuck with a chiv as a message from Jimmy 'the Elbow' Bomparino) I repair to my room to pack. I've booked a room in Narbonne this evening - about 250 miles - and the weather forecast is good...

More later.
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Old 11-03-2012, 07:41 AM   #13
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This is excellent. I miss France.
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Old 11-03-2012, 08:04 AM   #14
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always a pleasure to read your ride reports mikeo
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Old 11-03-2012, 01:51 PM   #15
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3rd November 2012 - Continued…

The Adv’s packed and I’m on the road at 0900 heading towards dry weather and perhaps a little sunshine…

I get both straight away, as Bettie directs me onto a wide, fast N-road (National) heading vaguely southwest.



The road is the outer ring for St Etienne, by the look of it. There are some huge Stalinist apartment blocks built on the hillside

For the first time this trip, I’m not wrapped to the eyeballs in waterproofs and I feel that I can take time to smell the roses – which is what travelling is all about (to me, anyway). There is a blue sky, decorated with a mackerel skin of stratus, a light breeze from the right and it’s about 55° F.

Life is good…

My target for tonight is Narbonne, where I have a room booked. Bettie reckons I’ll be there for 1430 if I don’t stop.

I intend to stop.



For the time being I'm going to let Bettie get me away from the city - we're heading for a favourite destination of mine in this part of the world - Le Puy-en-Velay.



I use the 110kph limit as a guideline. The Adv is running well and all's right with the world. The misery of the last couple of days fades into memory.



I see a lot of these - each signifying someone killed in a road collision at that spot. Sometimes three or four together...



Onwards!



I start the descent into Le Puy - I intend to refuel here...



Always time for a bridge shot, though...

Le Puy is famous for the enormous volcanic plugs that rise out of the valley floor...



...and more so for what they've built atop them...



I went up there one summer. There isn't a lift, you know...



The red sandstone Madonna & Child on the other outcrop is obviously having a makeover.

I fill the tank at an Intermarche and set off back onto my planned route...



Stopping for a couple of pics as I climb out of Le Puy...



Aah - the pleasure of wearing unlined gloves...



I'm smiling behind the visor...



I get cracking again - great roads and a route I'll definitely be keeping to redo on a summer trip. There's some weather on the horizon to my right, but that's not where I'm headed.

The road climbs and the temperature - in Le Puy a comfortable 58° F, drops to the mid 40s. The humidity is high, which makes the change more noticeable - I switch the heated grips on and ease the power on to my heated jacket.

Well, any fool can be uncomfortable, can't they?



The chap in the silver car was doing 45kph in a 90kph zone - with solid lines preventing overtaking. The Golf and I were forced to sit behind him for eight kilometres, before we both turned off to the right at the same junction.



I'm soon past the Golf as well, heading down some narrower, more interesting D-roads, ultimately heading towards the city of Mende...



Just short of Mende, I pull off into a roadside Aire to have a breather and spend some time chatting to some friends at home. My Vodafone £3 per day Euro Traveller deal means I get to use my phone anywhere in Europe as if I was at home - in my case unlimited calls & texts and 2Gb of data...

It's now a beautiful morning, with the temperature brushing 60° F and bright sunshine. It feels a lifetime away from yesterday afternoon.



Time to move on.

As I enter Mende, I remember that this is the stepping off point for the Gorges du Tarn - a route I discovered by accident when travelling solo several years ago and which Peter and I revisited in 2009 (I think). I turn off my pre-planned route and head for the gorges.

Until I'm distracted...



OK - I need some lunch...



I get a ham salad baguette and a bag of assorted pastries, together with Lipton's Peach Iced Tea.



My tank bag has an extending zip, which I undo to allow storage of said lunch. My bike gear is not so equipped, alas...

There's a considerable climb over a col to get to the gorge on the Tarn valley - several sets of really tight switchbacks - I'm having flashbacks to the Alps...

Once at the top, there's a lovely area of heathland...



...which gives me the perfect place to stop and have lunch...



The baguette was delicious. Unfortunately, it would appear the bag of pastries was a special offer and they were stale, so went to feed the local wildlife (well, except for one pain-au-raisin).



I ride slowly down the gorge - it's very different from riding here in the summer, where there is a continual stream of riders from all over Europe tearing up and down. It's nice to take a little time and enjoy the views...



It is a great road on a bike, though...



I don't know what effect this deviation from my planned route will have on my ETA - but don't really care...



...which is one of the luxuries of travelling solo...



There are houses built in seemingly impossible places...



...and the Tarn has beautifully clear water. It's full of kayakers and rafters every summer - in fact, dodging crew-buses towing boat trailers is an occupational hazard then. But not on this early November afternoon...



Today it's just me and a load of other (four wheeled) tourists...



Another good reason for taking it easy is the work they've been doing on the road surface. The dreaded Gravillons are everywhere - and quite good at disguising themselves...



It's a great afternoon...



...for a ride though...



I'm smiling inside



Onward!



A crafty bonus for bridge fans...



...and for the sub-set of tunnel freaks...



Can't help myself - I duck when riding along here



This is the Hotel Les Detroits...



Closed for the season, but Peter & I stayed here when we last came through and can recommend it...



I duck through the last of the overhangs and then start making tracks towards Millau - some 20km away...



Famous for its breath-taking viaduct - seen here on the distance - Millau will see me re-join my original route. We won't be going much closer to the viaduct, as I steer the Adv up the twisty and fast D999...



Well, one quick snap then...

I'm too busy to take pictures on the way up, but the road is superb and it crests onto a good fast dual carriageway...



...which is exactly what's required to make some progress towards Narbonne - still 100 miles away...



Strange rock formations on the horizon to my right look like ruined castles, but are completely natural...



A great road with very little traffic...



I'm steered through a small town (Cavaliera??), where they've sympathetically renovated this stone barn as a sort of function centre in the village...



I'm soon back out of town. This was obviously the old road before the AutoRoute was built and it's good and fast...



Sometimes it runs directly alongside the AutoRoute for several miles...



Apart from the crucifix, all this is a natural rock formation...



The village of Le Caylar is big on wood carving, apparently...



That reminds me - it's past my teatime...



This is a beautiful part of the world - and, with the leaves turning, a great time of year to see it...



...as usual, the camera doesn't even begin to do justice to it...



I carry on down the 'Grand Route' and seem to be heading directly for the setting sun...



Through some beautiful avenues of Plane trees...



...and past what - if memory serves me correctly - is a six foot replica of a Humphrey Davy safety lamp. Clearly a mining area, then. It was a town called Le Ruffas.



I've hardly seen any other bikes. This clutch were heading in the opposite direction, then turned around and passed me...



Giving me a racer's wave with their right legs as they did so...



Bridge fans are getting a treat today, aren't they?

I turn off the road where that picture was taken and ride up through the town, where the viaduct just continues...



I'm riding into a low sun now - it's very bright and I really miss the peak on my XD.



I notice a natural phenomenon and stop at the roadside. There are tens of thousands of starlings 'murmating' (I had to look it up). They are moving in a swarm, but with some organisation to it. I watch for several minutes and try to capture it on video. I may try to post a link if I can work out how. It's awe inspiring to stand and watch...

But I must move on.

At 1645 I'm about ten miles out from the hotel and I stop for fuel.

Getting back on the road, I'm relieved to see that the sun's behind a cloud formation...



...that looks disturbingly like a scorpion heading for me - or perhaps I've been on the road too long...

Soon...



I'm given Room Number One - with a parking slot right outside - excellent. I unpack and start to upload 230 pictures.

It has been a very good day...

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