Sunday, July 06, 2014

Pyrenees Tour

Foreword
Helen and I have recently returned from a 2 week motorcycle tour of the French Pyrenees via the Cathar Castles and Andorra. We covered approximately 2800 miles on our tour and the bikes performed superbly this time. We didn’t have any issues this year apart from my bike needing about 0.5 litres of oil. But I had already anticipated that so I had packed a litre in my topbox before we set off. We had generally nice weather and only really had rain for a few half days here and there. The overnight Portsmouth to Caen ferry was certainly a much better option than the fast ferry from Poole to St.Malo. We would certainly recommend this crossing over the other one for ease and reliability.

Saturday 21st June - Home to Portsmouth
Bikes ready for the off. We left home at around 9:00am, the weather was nice and sunny as forecast. We used our tried and tested route down to Tamworth, which is  down to Mottram on the motorway, then our sneaky way around Hadfield and Glossop, via Broadbottom. Then onto the A624 to Chapel en le Frith then the A6 to Buxton. Then the A515 via Ashbourne towards Lichfield. A nice flowing road but is spoilt by the unnecessary 50mph speed limit. Just before getting to Lunch at Tamworth services.Lichfield we turn left onto the A513 at Kings Bromley. We then follow this road through Tamworth and then stopped at the M42 junction 10 services for lunch. 

We left the services and then headed on the motorway network to junction 14 on the M40 just south of Warwick. From this point on we were on new roads that we had not ridden before. We mainly use the Best Biking Roads website in combination with the Best Rides Motorcycle Atlas to plan our routes. Generally this enables us to find decent roads most of the time.

Rollright Stones We left the M40 and joined the A425 and then turned south on to the B4455 (The Fosse Way an old roman road that linked Exeter to Lincoln). We then joined the A4300 to Chipping Norton and stopped briefly at Rollright Stones – it was Summer Solstice and people were setting up for a musical celebration. We then filled up will fuel at a Shell garage just outside Chipping Norton.

Minster Lovell ChurchWe left the garage and followed the A361 to Burford. We  then joined the A40 briefly before turning off and visiting Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote. It was a nice ruin but was infested with people sitting about in the sunny weather, so we were unable to get any decent photos of the ruin.

Ludgershall Castle

 

We continued on the A4095 to Faringdon then the A417 to Wantage. From there we joined the A338 and followed that all the way to our next visit at Ludgershall Castle and Cross. This was a small ruin with some nice earthworks and was nice and quiet as well. We also had some more food and water in the carpark before heading off.

We left and headed on the A342 to Andover and then turned onto the B3049 Bishops Waltham Palaceand headed into Winchester to visit Wolvesey Castle (Old Bishops Palace). Due to it being after 5:00pm the gates had been locked and we were unable to get close enough to take any photos. We left Winchester and headed on the B2177 to our next visit at Bishop’s Waltham Palace. Although technically it also closes at 5:00pm the gates were still open so we were able to go in and have a quick look around.

Porchester CastleWe left there and continued on the B2177 to Wickham. We then turned south and headed for Fort Brockhurst close to Gosport. We knew that it wouldn’t be open but thought that it looked like a worthy visit anyway. It was an  impressive looking fort but unfortunately the sun was in the wrong place to enable us to get any decent photos. We then headed for Portsmouth to have a look at where we need to catch the ferry. On the way we stopped at Portchester Castle to take some photos. We arrived in Waiting to board the ferry at Portsmouth Portsmouth and sussed out where we needed to check in for the ferry. We then filled up with fuel and had something to eat at the nearby Travelodge pub. The food wasn’t anything special but filled a hole and passed some time and the cold diet cokes were welcome.

After our meal we headed over to the ferry port and checked in. We had no problems getting onto the boat, but the actual strapping down of the bikes was not great. The Red wine on board. French deck hands put our bikes so close together that Helen actually became trapped between them with no way out. She managed to get out when one of the deck hands lifted her bike upright to create a gap, but we had to have a cushion put between our panniers to stop them bashing against one another. We then headed to our cabin (we got swipe cards when we checked in at the port) and dropped off our gear. We then headed up to the bar for a much needed glass of red wine before we turned in for the night.

Sunday 22nd June - Caen to Gueret
After a smooth crossing and decent night’s French Breakfastsleep in the 2 berth inside cabin on deck 7 we were awoken by the ships automatic system at 5.45am French time (an hour before arrival and 4.45am UK time!!) and arrived at Caen on time at 6.45am and disembarked at around 7:00am. We stopped just outside the port to sort ourselves out and get ready for the days riding ahead and were pleased that it was bright and sunny. We set off and immediately rode over Pegasus Bridge. Martin had visited this bridge before and felt it was poignant to go over it this year after the recent 70th anniversary of D-Day. We then joined the motorway Le Mans Museum Displaynetwork for the first 30 odd miles before leaving it at Falaise as it was about to become a Peage. We then joined the D658 and stopped briefly in Occagnes at a boulangerie selling some much needed croissants and hot drinks. We then continued on to Argentan and then the D2 to Alencon via Carrouges. The D2 was pretty good road for northern France as it had a few decent corners on it to negotiate. We then turned onto the D338 and headed for  Le Mans. We arrived in Le Mans just after 10:30am and stopped at the Le Mans Circuit Museum. It is a worthwhile visit as there’s lots to see and a lot of the cars that have won the 24 hour race over the years are on  display. They also Our Bikes at Le Mansprovide free lockers which are great if you have motorcycle gear you need to store while you visit the museum.

We left the museum and headed out of Le Mans along the D338 again and down the Mulsanne Straight. We stopped at the first chicane for a photo - we had to really! We then continued on the D338 to Luceau, where we stopped briefly to take on fuel at the local Intermarche. We then continued on the D938 towards Castle Loches DonjonTours. We then joined the outer motorway ring road to by-pass Tours and then joined the D943 south of Tours and headed for Château de Loches. It was an impressive walled village with a large Donjon at one end.

We left Loches on the D41 and headed south and then turned onto the D241 and briefly stopped at Chateau de Bridore. We then joined the D943 and followed it to Chateauroux where we filled up with fuel at the Intermarche. We then headed south on the D990 to Aigurande where we joined the D6 which had a few twists  and turns in it. We followed this road and the D940 to Gueret and are hotel for the night the Kyriad Gueret. Castle BridoreA really nice brand new hotel with Aircon. We ate in the evening across the road at the Campanille, for which we had a discount voucher via the Kyriad hotel. There’s also a supermarket opposite with a 24hr petrol station.


Monday 23rd June  - Gueret to Narbonne 
Unfortunately we awoke to heavy rain and had to load up the bikes under one of our umbrellas. As we left Gueret the rain stopped Water break stopbut obviously the roads were still damp. We headed south on the twisty D940, even though the roads were damp we were still able to enjoy them. This was due to the excellent Michelin Pilot Road 4 tyres we had fitted before the tour. They performed beyond expectations and gave a very pleasing level of confidence on wet roads. We stopped for breakfast briefly in Peyrat-le Chateau at a small Spar Supermarket with amazing views.

Entraygues-Sur-TruyereWe continued on from here on the D940 all the way to Seilhac where we joined the D1120 and headed into Tulle to fill up with fuel. Helen also had to fill up with Super Unleaded here as the only other option was normal unleaded with 10% ethanol added (SP95E10), which I don’t think would do a motorcycle engine much good.  From here we continued on the D1120 and D120 to Aurillac and another set of lovely twisty roads. By now the roads had Estaingdried out and the sun was shining. We then headed south on the D920 via Entraygues-Sur-Truyere and Estaing to Espalion. Another great flowing road that for the most part followed the river Le Lot. We crossed over the river at Espalion and then joined the D988 which we followed to Rodez where we joined the D902 to Requista and our next Intermarche fuel stop. Another set of great flowing twisty roads negotiated.

We lefHaribo stop with Settlet Requista and continued on the D902 to Lincou. Here we joined the super twisty D33 to Saint-Sernin-Sur-Rance. We then followed the D999 which soon became the  D607 to Lacaune. This then turned into the D907 before turning back into the D607 again which we followed all the way into Narbonne. Around 10 miles from Narbonne the clouds started to darken and it tried to rain on us. It was so hot that it never really turned into anything more than a brief sun shower. We then rode around to the southern side of Narbonne and arrived at our hotel for the night the Brit Hotel Le Plaisance.

We had already checked oCourtepailleut local restaurants and decided it would be best to stick with what we know and so ate at  the Courtepaille adjoined to the Ibis hotel we had looked at staying at, but dismissed it due to poor reviews and higher price. The Brit Hotel was cheap and cheerful, perfectly adequate and clean - it ticked all the boxes for us. Although the day started off with some rain it really didn’t detract from the amazing roads we experienced over the long 329 miles we covered today.

Tuesday 24th June - Narbonne  to Os de Civis
We left Narbonne at around 8:00am in lovely warm sunny conditions. It had already got up to Chateau de Villerouqe-Termenesabout 23°C when we left and was only going to get hotter. However, the weather forecast for Andorra didn’t look to good. We first filled up  with fuel at a nearby Geant supermarket. I only managed to get about 4 litres of super unleaded before the pump ran out so I had to put 95 unleaded in instead. We left Narbonne and soon joined the D613 and headed into Cathar Castle country. We soon arrived at our first castle of the day, Chateau de Villerouqe-Termenes. We knew it wouldn’t be open yet but we were still able to have a look around the outside. 

From here we continued on the D613 and then Du Chateau D’Aguilarturned onto minor roads and headed for Termes. We stopped only briefly to view Château de Termes from afar and then headed on the D39 towards Tuchan. We then made the climb up to the base of Du Chateau d’Aguilar. We decided that in this heat (must have been 30C by now) that we would only actually walk up to one of the Cathar Castles. We stopped to take some photos and then left. We headed back into Tuchan where we managed to find a Boulangerie, Helen went in and got some Du Chateau de Queribuscroissants and a baguette. We then headed for Cucuqnan  on the D14 via Padern, which high on a hill above the town was Chateau Padern. In Tuchan we joined the D123 and then headed up the approach road to Du Chateau de Queribus. We parked up and decided that this was the castle we were going to visit. We locked up our gear on the bikes and then headed up the steep path to the Chateau. It was only a relatively short climb but in the bike gear it was not very easy. We had a good look around and got to see some amazing views from the top of the Donjon. We then headed back down to the carpark and got a coffee from the shop and then had lunch on a picnic bench.

We leftView from Du Chateau de Queribus here and rode a short distance to Du Chateau de Peyrepertuse. This looks the most impressive of all the Cathar Castles, perched up high on a rocky outcrop. It did, however, look like a lot of effort to get to by foot and we think it was wise that we had already visited Du Chateau de Queribus instead. They have also allocated some motorcycle parking spaces in the carpark on a small concreted area. It is very rare that people actually think about how motorcycles are going to park!

Du Chateau de PeyrepertuseWe headed back down the road again and stopped briefly in Duilhac-Sous-Peyrepertuse for a drink and an ice-cream. We then continued west on the D117 calling briefly at Chateau de Puilaurens on our way to Axat. It had started to rain slightly by now but once we arrived in Axat it was getting heavier. We then started the climb up the D118 before joining the D25 at the foot of Chateau d’Usson. We then started the tricky climb of the Col de Pailheres, which was even harder with the heavy rain that was now falling. As we climbed up the Col we came across some cows in the middle of the road, this is a fairly common occurrence in the Pyrenees. We managed the climb to the  summit at 2001m but only stopped briefly because of the heavy rain. Unfortunately the amazing views that we expected to see were spoiled by the low cloud and rain.

Col de Pailheres SummitWe continued down the other side of the Col which was quite an easy descent and eventually arrived in Ax-Les-Thermes. We then joined the N22 and started the climb towards Andorra. As we neared Andorra we were both getting very low on fuel and both of our onboard displays  started to flash reserve warnings. We got across the border into Andorra unmolested and then proceeded to start the  climb of Port d’Envalira. It was raining now very heavily and the temperature had plummeted to around 6.5C. As we approached the top we stopped for fuel in one of the many garages. We had got our fuel range perfect so we were able to get nearly full fuel tanks of cheap View from Col de Pailheres Summittax free fuel. I had to fill up Helen’s bike as by this point she couldn’t feel her hands due to the cold temperature. We stopped briefly under the protection of the garage’s roof  to take on refreshments and to warm up a bit.

We left the garage and went over the summit at 2407m before descending down into Andorra La Vella. We eventually turned off the main road and headed up the CS11911 to our hotel for the night Parc d’Os which is located in Os de Civis in Spain. Although it is in Spain the only decent asphalt road is the one we travelled up from AndorraAndorra petrol station, so there is no border crossing like on the main roads. As we arrived in Os de Civis by the hotel we noticed three goats running around the road being chased by their owners. We then parked under the hotel in the dry and found out that we were the only people staying in the hotel that night. We ate in the hotel and were treated to excellent service and made to feel most welcome. We would highly recommend this lovely and excellent value hotel if you need to stay near Andorra and don’t want the hassle and cost of actually staying in Andorra itself.

Wednesday 25th June - Os de Civis to Argeles Gazost 
We left the fantastic Parc d’Os after a superb breakfast and excellent hospitality. Unfortunately it had just started to rain again, although it was only lWater stop near Sortight and sporadic. We headed down into Andorra and across the border back into Spain without any trouble. We then headed on the N145 to La Seu d’Urgell. Here we joined the N260 and then started the climb at Adrall up to La Parroquia  d’Horto. We stopped briefly at the top under cover to put Helen’s chin guard back into her helmet. It was a shame it was raining as the road had a fantastic surface and lovely sweeping hairpins and the view would have been great for photos. We then rode along the top for a while before we started the descent into Sort. Unbelievably the road suddenly dried and we were able to enjoy the hairpins on the descent. We stopped at the bottom while it was dry to take on some water.

We then headed through Sort and joined the C13 towards Rialp. It had started to rain a little again and the roads were also damp. We continued along the C13 via Esterri  d’Aneu and Salardu to Vielha. On the way to Vielha my bike reported that the oil was low and Lunch Stopto check at our next stop. We stopped at the planned Repsol petrol station for fuel and to also top up my oil. After last year I came prepared and brought a litre of oil with me.

We left the garage as the rain was pretty much easing off and then the roads quickly started to dry. We then joined the N230 and headed for Bossot then joined the N141 and started the climb of the Col du Portillon. We passed over the summit at 1293m and headed back into France.  As we descended back into France we stopped for lunch just outside Bagneres-de-Luchon. After lunch we Col d'Aspincontinued on the D618 and started the climb of the Col de Peyresourde. We quickly reached the summit at 1569m and then descended down into Arreau. Here we joined the D918 and started the excellent climb of the Col d’Aspin. The conditions now were dry and hot with very good visibility. The climb out of Arreau is the best way to tackle this Col with its numerous sweeping hairpin bends. We stopped at the top to take in the great view and came across a pair of English bikers.

We descended down into Ste-Marie-de-Campan and then started the world famous climb of the Col du Tourmalet. If Col du Tourmalet you can, it is best to avoid this Col at the weekend as it will be infested with cyclists taking on the challenge of the Col. This is by far the easiest side of the Col as the road is quite wide up to La Mongie, presumably for the winter skiers to get up in coaches. After La Mongie the road gets narrower and the hairpins tighter. We stopped briefly at the top to take some photos by the cycling monument at the top. For once it was quite quiet at the top so it was easy to park.

We then started the long descent to Luz-St-Sauveur. The Tour de France is coming over this Col again this year so they have been very busy resurfacing the road. They have also closed the really twisty and tight part of the old road and have upgraded the other existing road. This they have  now made the main road which has made this side of the Col a lot easier and in my opinion taken a lot Col du Tourmalet Summitof the challenge out of it. Further down the Col in Bareges we came across them doing some more intensive resurfacing work. We were directed all over the place past no entry signs to get around the workers, Helen got stuck behind a motorhome with an incompetent driver who caused issues, and the bikes got absolutely covered in tar and mud. We eventually arrived in Luz-St-Sauveur and then joined the D921 and headed along the Gorge de Luz to our Gite in Ayros-Arbouix. We quickly unpacked and then headed to the local Carrefour to get some shopping in. We then had our customary first night pizzas with a well earned bottle of red wine.

Thursday 26th June - Cirque de Troumouse 
We decided to stay fairly local today as the forecast for the afternoon was light rain. We set out quite early as neither of us slept very well in the small double bed. We headed down the D913 to the D921 and the Gorge de Luz. We then continued down the D921 and the Gorge de St Sauveur to Gedre. From there we continued on the D921 to Gavarnie Sheep on Port de Boucharoand then joined the D923 and the climb to Port de Boucharo. Last time we attempted this climb four years ago we were stopped about 2 miles from the top by snow and a huge green Unimog.

As we started the climb it became obvious that we would encounter low cloud, but we hoped we might push through it. Near the top our progress was temporarily halted by a large herd of stubborn sheep that had camped out on the road. They moved very reluctantly as we rode towards them and once we’d passed by they started to sit back down on the road  again. We soon arrived at the summit at 2208m having  passed some small snow Port de Boucharobanks on the way, but unfortunately the cloud was too low to see anything.

We left and headed back down again - we had to upset the sheep again on the way down! We then headed back to Gedre and then joined the D922 to the Cirque de Troumouse. The first three miles of this road was loose resurfaced chippings so we had to proceed with caution. We then arrived at the peage booth for the last few miles to the top. The visibility looked reasonable so we decided to pay the 2 euros per bike to ride up to the top. It was a quite tight and twisty road but we soon arrived at the cafe half way up. We stopped here to take some photos and have a coffee before we carried on.

Cirque de Troumouse CafeAfter the coffee we took on the final challenge of the climb of up the last bit to the capark at the Cirque de Troumouse. It wasn’t completely clear but we were able to  get a decent view of the cirque as the cloud layer moved over it. We headed back down to Gedre and then to Luz-St-Sauveur. We then started up the climb to the ski station at Luz Ardiden. It started to rain slightly as we started up but it was dry part way up the climb. We soon arrived at the top, but as expected we couldn’t see anything at all. We had a brief chat with three English cyclists, two of which lived quite local to us back home and the third now lives in the Pyrenees (you can tell from the speed of his descent!). We then descended back down to Luz-St-Sauveur and to more rain, then back down the Gorge de Luz to Soulom. We decided to head up to Pont d’Espagne for coffee and Crepes but turned back due to roadworks and heavy rain. The weather didn’t look like it would clear so we decided to head back to the Gite and cut our losses.

Friday 27th June - Lakes and Spain  
The weather forecast for today was for plenty of sunshine and not any chance of rain. So with that in mind we decided to do a long loop over many Cols into Spain and back. We left the Gite and headed to Luz-St-Sauveur and  then joined the D918 and started the climb of the Col du Tourmalet. We got through Bareges slightly easierCol du Tourmalet today but the bikes got covered in mud and tar again. We got to the summit in no time and were able to park up right at  the top near the cycle monument, as it was very quiet. We then noticed a large group of Llamas milling around at the top and loitering about and lounging in the road as if they owned the place. It was very clear at the top today so we were able to take some good photos and see all the mountains around.

We then started the descent to Ste-Marie-de-Campan via La Mongie. Just after La Mongie we can across some more Llamas walking across the road. Once down in Ste-Marie-de-Campan we started the ascent of the Col d’Aspin but turned off near the bottom onto the D113 and instead started the climb to Houquette Col du Tourmalet Llamasd’Ancizan. We stopped briefly on route to the top to take a photo by the river before stopping at the top at 1538m to take some more photos. 

We then descended down the other side to Guchan, where we joined the D929. We then climbed up slowly to Fabian via St-Larv-Soulan. At Fabian the D929 turns off the main road and heads up to some dams. We joined this road and climbed up to Lac d’Oredon first. We then started the steep climb up to Lac de Cap de Long at 2160m. We took some photos at the top but they don’t really capture the magnificent setting of the dams. We then headed back down to Fabian and joined the D173 and headed for Spain. Descent off Houquette d’AncizanWe climbed up to the Aragnouet-Bielsa Tunnel and passed through this 3km tunnel to Spain on the other side. At this point the road becomes the A138 and you can tell you’re in Spain by the excellent asphalt surface. The Spanish generally don’t patch the road like the French, they either resurface it or put in crack sealer (usual only on minor roads though). We stopped at an abandoned border crossing for lunch, it was a bit overgrown but we managed to find a fairly clear picnic bench to use. 

After lunch we continued to descend on the A138 to Ainsa-Sobrarbe. There we joined the fantastic N260, this road runs from the east coast to the centre of the Spanish Pyrenees and for its majority is very twisty. We stopped for some fuel at a Repsol petrol station before continuing on the N260 to Fiscal, part way along the roads narrows and starts to become twisty. The roads splits into two at Fiscal and we technically joined the N260a and headed north. We followed this road to Broto at which point you start to really Lac d’Oredonclimb and then the road turn west. At this point the road becomes pretty exceptional, loads of tight twisty bends with superb tarmac and very little traffic (biker heaven). We followed this road all the way to Biescas where we turned north on the A136 and headed for France. At this point we started the climb of the Col du Pourtalet on our way to the top we passed Búbal Reservoir and Lanuza Reservoir. The road towards the top of the Col was quite poor and had suffered from subsidence. The Spanish had decided to put yellow lines all along it and slow you down rather than repair it. We soon arrived at the summit at 1794m and stopped to take some photos.

We then started the descent into France towards Laruns on the D934. The asphalt on the French side was in excellent condition and we quickly passed by Lac de Fabrèges. We hit a bit of traffic on the way to Laruns but was able to pass most of it with ease. On the outskirts of Laruns we turned right onto the D918 and started the climb of the Col d’Aubisque. Last time we  negotiated this Col it was blowing a gale and the road surface was loose chippings, thankfully this time the road and weather conditions where perfect. We first climbed up to Gourette via Col d’Aubisque CafeEaux-Bonnes, at this point the climb opens up and you start to get some excellent views. Just before the summit of the Col we stopped at the cafe/hotel that I got blown into 4 years ago. We had a coffee here and sat and admired the views. The view from here is better than at the actual summit of the Col.

We left the cafe and headed over the summit of the Col at 1709m. After the summit the road descends slightly before you travel across part of it that is cut into the side of the mountain. The only protection from a sheer drop is some concrete blocks, that would never stop a bike. So if you don’t like heights it is best to avoid this road. After a while we climbed up slightly and then went over the summit of the Col du Soulor at 1474m. From here we descended down into Argeles-Gazost via Aucun. We then headed back to the Gite via the Carrefour.

Saturday 28th June - Local Dams and Zoo  
We left the gite and headed into Argeles-Gazost and then joined the D918. We followed this to Arras-En-Lavedan Lac d'Estaingwhere we joined the D103. We followed this road all the way to its end at Lac d’Estaing. We stopped briefly  here to take some photos and then headed back the way we had come. Part way along this road we turned left onto the GR10 and headed over Col des Borderes to Le Barri. Here we joined the D105 and followed that to its end at Lac de Suyen. We stopped here briefly to take some photos and video.

We left and headed back down the D105 to Arrens Marsous where we joined the D918 again. We followed this road all the way up the climb to the top of the Col du Soulor. We turned left here onto the D126 rather than go over the Col d’Aubisque. We followed this nice twisty descent down into Las Ganques at which point we encountered a herd of goats and sheep. We then continued on the D126 to Asson where we turned left onto the D35. We Helen's Parma Wallaby friend soon arrived at the turning for Zoo d’Asson and headed for the carpark. We parked up and packed up all our stuff and then headed in.

We had decided to visit this zoo as they have a White Tiger, which are very rare. They also have quite a few of the animals loose in a large enclosure. On our way in a woman leaving offered us her left over corn to feed the animals with. Helen first offered this up to a monkey who seemed well used to getting food as you can see from the video below. She also made friends with a Parma Wallaby who was very keen on eating as much as he could. We really enjoyed the visit and were pleased to see that the majority of the animals had plenty of room in their enclosures.


After an enjoyable visit we headed back to Argeles-Gazost via Lourdes. We then decided as the weather was still nice to go and have coffee and crepes at Pont d’Espagne. So we headed down the D913 to Soulom and then joined the D920. We followed this road along the pretty Gorge to Cauterets and then started the climb up to Pont d’Espagne. At the top are barriers to the  large carpark, but it is easy to get the Pont d'Espagnebikes past without having to get a ticket. What is even better is that they have bike parking right by the entrance. We parked up and then took the short walk up to the bridge and sat down to have coffee and crepes. Just as we finished it started to rain so we headed back down to the bikes and stood undercover while the rain passed. After the rain had eased off we headed back to the gite via Cauterets and Soulom.

Sunday 29th June - Grottes de Betharram  
The weather forecast for today was rain and unfortunately they got it right and we awoke to drizzle. We had planned that on a rainy day we would visit Grottes de Betharam, as it isn’t to far away and is underground so the rain wouldn’t affect us. We set out just before lunch as the rain had eased slightly and headed for Lourdes. As it was a Sunday I decided that we should  go through Lourdes as it wouldn’t be that busy today. We passed through Lourdes and then followed the D937Grottes de Betharram to Grottes de Betharam. As we headed to the carpark we noticed a sign that said it was closed between 12:00 and 1:30pm. As it was only about 12:15pm we decided to have lunch and then hang around till it opened.

At around 1:30pm we boarded a coach which to us a steep road to the top entrance to the caves. We then got off the coach and entered the caves. After we had all paid we then joined our tour guide and moved into the first big cave chamber. The tour is in French, Spanish and English. Actually being English was an advantage as we got more one on one time with the tour guide. The cave system is massive and photos can’t really do it justice. The tour lasted a long time and during it we made our way down through the caves. The top part of the tour has been made disabled friendly but the rest of the tour isn’t as lots of steps are required to descend into the caves. At the end of the tour we boarded a boat that then took us to a land train which in turn took us to the gift shop. We had a quick look round the shop and then headed back to the carpark. It had stopped raining by know so we headed back to the gite, the roads where still damp though.

Monday 30th June - Pyrenees Park & Beaucens  
The weather forecast for today was for plenty of sunshine so we decided to stay local and visit some attractions. We decided to visit two places that we previously visited 4 years ago because we enjoyed both of them last time. 

Brown Bears We left the gite and headed into Argeles-Gazost and parked up at Parc Animalier Pyrenees. Much of the original part of the park is still as it was 4 years ago. However they have since expanded and added a vast open area at the top of the hill. This time we where also able to go into the marmot enclosures and get to grips with some of them. They have also provided a type of stile to enable access into the goat enclosure as well. The marmots and goats were all very calm and happy to interact with visitors, even over excited school children. Deer, sheep and ibex now roam free in the new area at the top of the park. The ibex in particular look spectacular as they stand high upon 2 large cut off tree trunks surveying their territory. We were glad we visited the park again and felt it was good value for money. 

Chateau de Beaucens After lunch we headed down to Beaucens to visit Donjon des Aigles which is located at Château de Beaucens. They have flying shows every afternoon in summer which are spectacular. Before the show you can walk around the castle and have a close up look at all the birds of prey that they have on display. The show itself is a sight to behold (if you don’t like birds don’t go here) and doesn’t compare to anything you would see in the UK. Due to the castle being high up it provides the birds with excellent flying conditions as they can use the natural air currents to gain height and therefore conserve energy. At various points throughout the show up to 15 birds can be flying at any one time. Please see the video below to give you some idea how good the show is.


Tuesday 1st July – Luz Ardiden & Hautacam  
Due to us leaving the gite tomorrow we decided today that we would not stray very far. The sky was very clear and blue so we decided to head up to Luz Ardiden again to see if we would be able to see anything this time.  

We left the gite and headed to Luz-Saint-Sauveur on the D913 and D921. We then started the twisty climb up to Luz Ardiden. Luz ArdidenAs expected the conditions were perfect and once we arrived at the top we where able to see for miles. We spent a bit of time at the top watching a military helicopter performing manoeuvres before heading back down again. On the way down we stopped just above Luz-Saint-Sauveur for some lunch.

After lunch we headed into Luz-Saint-Sauveur and parked up on the edge of town as we wanted to visit Château Sainte-Marie. It was only a small climb up to the Chateau but due to the heat it still took a bit out of us. It was a nice ruin with an excellent view down to the valley below. 

Chateau Sainte-Marie We left Luz-Saint-Sauveur and headed back towards the gite on the D921 and D913. For once we had a decent run down the D921, presumably everyone had stopped for lunch. Just before the entrance to the gite we made the right hand turn which started the climb of the Col de Tramassel and Hautacam. Due to a stage of the Tour de France coming up here this year a lot of work was being carried out on the Col. We managed to negotiate around all the workmen and soon arrived at the top. Work was also underway at the top to improve telecoms and a big satellite dish was also being installed. The road to the very top is steep and only gravel so we didn’t attempt it on the bikes. After taking in the views we headed back down and soon arrived back at the gite. We know started to think about packing up for our departure tomorrow morning.

Wednesday 2nd July - Argeles Gazost to Bergerac  
We left the gite in the dry although the forecast had been for rain and the sky didn’t look that great either. We headed straight into Argeles Gazost and then joined the D918 and started up the climb to the Col du Soulor again. We continued over the Col and headed for the Col d’Aubisque. Part way up the climb we ran into low cloud and were really struggling to see the edges of the road. The low cloud remained with us until we started to descend down into Gourette. After Gourette the cloud had completely cleared and we had a Dog at Picnic Spot good run down into Laruns. We then joined the D934 and headed north away from the Pyrenees. As we followed the D934 towards Pau it started to rain, but the rain only lasted about 20 minutes and we soon got back onto dry roads again. We rode around Pau on the D2 and D509 but it was slow going due to the traffic. In hindsight it would probably of been better cutting across Pau on the D834 as I doubt it would have been any busier. We left Pau on the D834 as there where no better roads really heading north. We followed this road for a while until we reached Sarron where we turned right onto the D946 towards Riscle. We stopped in Riscle to use the toilets but as we pulled up Helen lost her front tyre on the mud and dropped her bike. Fortunately it was a slow drop onto soft ground so apart from the odd scratch no damage was done.

Supermarket CoffeeWe left Riscle and headed north on the D935 and then the D25 towards  Nogaro. From Nogaro we followed the D931 to Eauze where we filled up at a local Leclerc supermarket. We then followed the N524 to the D10/D37 which took us north to Gabarret. Here we joined the N524 again for a short while before turning right onto the D933. We followed this road for a while and stopped at a picnic area in Houeilles for lunch. While we were having lunch we found a friend in the form of a dog loitering around for food. It didn’t look like a stray but we were still a little wary of it. Helen give it some leftovers as we packed up and it then went away happy.

Buffalo Gril We then continued on the D933 heading north again towards Marmande. From here we joined the D708 and headed to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande via Duras. From here we turned east onto the D936 and headed into Bergerac. We soon arrived at our hotel for the night the Ibis Budget Bergerac. We checked in and had a quick shower and then headed out to the local Leclerc supermarket. We had a coffee and then got some supplies for tomorrow and then headed back to the hotel. In the evening we ate at the local Buffalo Grill next door, we always have a meal in at least one Buffalo Grill. As always the food and service didn’t disappoint and the bonus discount voucher from the Ibis was welcome.

Thursday 3rd July – Bergerac to Château de la Motte d'Usseau  
We left the hotel and headed around Bergerac on the N21 ring road. Rather than heading north on the N21 we decided to follow the more twisty D21 and Chateau Bourdeilles D8 north. It was a wise choice as the road was excellent and quiet, neither of which could be said about the N21. We then headed on the D113 and  minor roads to pass by Perigueux, which was to our east. We then followed the D1 and then the D78 to Bourdeilles. We stopped here to have a look at the Chateau and we also had a coffee at a lovely cafe, where we came across a couple from Leeds.

We left Bourdeilles on the D106 which we followed west to the D2. The D2 thenChateau de La Rochefoucauld took us in a  north-westerly direction towards La Tour-Blanche.  We then turned north and headed on the D12 towards La Rochebeaucourt Et Argentine. Here we joined the D939 and then turned northeast and followed the D16 through Rougnac and Marthon on our way to Montbron. We stopped here at the local Intermarche for fuel and also stopped under cover to have something to eat out of the sun.

We left Montbron on the D6 and headed for La Rochefoucauld. We decided to pass through this town to have a look at the picturesque Château de La Rochefoucauld. It is actually a hotel now but you can get some some excellent photos of it across the river. After a brief photo stop we left La Rochefoucauld on the N141 which weChateau de la Motte d'Usseau followed only briefly until we joined the D951 to Saint-Claud. Here we joined the D28 which took us north to  Champagne-Mounton. We then followed the D176, D177 and D35 through Surin to Genouille. We then followed the D36 to Savigne and the we joined the D727. We followed this road through La Chapelle-Baton, Jousse, Usson-Du-Poitou and Bouresse to Mazerolles. Here we joined the D114 and then the D749 which took us north towards Chauvigny. From here we continued on the D749 towards Chatellerault. We stopped here to fill up with fuel at an Intermarche and then headed on the D9 to Usseau. We soon arrived at Château de la Motte d'Usseau our wonderful hotel for the night.

Friday 4th July – Château de la Motte d'Usseau to Caen  
We didn’t have a great nights sleep due to heavy rain and the wind blowing the noise across from the motorway. But we did have a hearty breakfast and by the time we where set to leave the rain had stopped, so we where in a buoyant mood nevertheless.

Chateau de Chinon We left the Chateau and followed the D749 north to Richelieu and then the D757 to L’lle-Bouchard. We then joined the D8 and headed alongside the river La Vienna to Chinon. We stopped in Chinon to visit the impressive Château de Chinon. We spent a good 2 hours looking around the Chateau and by the time we left the sun was out and the sky was a lovely shade of blue.

We left and headed on the D749 again towards Port-Boulet. Here we took a slight detour to ride passed Chateau des Reaux. Chateau de ChinonWe then continued north again on the D749 which we followed all the way to Rille. Here we turned west and headed through a lovely lake complex where we expected to find a  nice place for lunch. But alas there was nowhere suitable to stop with the bikes. We continued passed Chateau du Lathan at Breil and joined the D62 to Mouliherne. Here we had to make a detour around the town due to a closed road, fortunately this detour took us passed a beautiful lakeside picnic area. So we parked up and had lunch under the shade of the trees. Apart from the workmen cutting the grass we had this large area all to ourselves.

We left and joined the D58 and headed via Le Guedeniau to Bauge-En-Anjou. Here we stopped briefly to take a photo of Chateau de Bauge. We left on the D18 and could see some ominous looking very dark clouds to the northwest.  As we got nearer we could see rain off in the distance further into the cloChateau Baugeuds. We decided that wee didn’t need to change gloves as it looked like we where only going to pass under the very corner of the clouds and then turn away from it. However in between Montigne-Les-Rairies and Durtal we suddenly rode straight into a massive downpour that came out of nowhere. We had to stop and change gloves and my topbox then decided that it wouldn’t close for what seemed like two long minutes. We then continued in the heavy rain, but in no time it had stopped and we where in bright sunshine again. We then joined the D24 and headed through Sable-Sur-Sathe on our way to Evron. Here we stopped at a local Intermarche for fuel and a break.

We  left Evron but unknown to me during the fuel stop the tankbag must have caught the Garmin and removed the next waypoint. So the satnav had decided to now route us to Caen via the fastest route it could. So instead of heading northwest we headed northeast heading across to intercept the A28 motorway. I didn’t realise we had gone wrong for the next 30 miles as we Buffalo Grill followed the nice D310. I only realised when the Garmin tried to make us join the motorway. We didn’t joint the motorway and eventually pulled up to check what was going on. Here I consulted a mapping program on my phone and found out were we where. I knew that we where way of course and could know not complete my route. We weren’t far from intersecting our route on the way down from Caen, so we decided it was best to rejoin that route at Alencon. From Alencon we followed the nice D2 to Argentan and then the D958 to Falaise. Here we joined the non peage N158 to Caen and stopped on the outer ring road at a Buffalo Grill for tea. We left and headed over to the ferry port to catch our overnight ferry back to Portsmouth. As on the way down the boarding was well organised and so we set off on time again. We headed up to the bar on the top deck for a glass of red wine before settling down for the night on the ferry.

Saturday 5th July – Portsmouth to Home  
We arrived on time at Portsmouth and disembarked the ferry quite quickly. We passed through customs and left the ferry port at around 6:50am. It had been raining so the roads Donnington Castlewhere wet although the rain had eased off for the moment. We joined the M27 and then left at junction 10 and joined the A32  and headed north. We stopped briefly to fuel up and then followed the A32 all the way through the South Downs National Park at which point it started to rain again. We continued on the A32 to Chawton where we joined the A339 and headed for Basingstoke. We skirted around Basingstoke and continued on the A339. We soon arrived in Newbury and called in at Donnington Castle for a quick visit.

We left Newbury on the B4494 and followed that all the way to Wantage. From here we joined the A417 to Faringdon and then the A4095. We then cut across to the A361 on minor roads, which we then followed all the way to Chipping Norton. We stopped at the same Shell garage we did on the way down for fuel and coffee. We then retraced our route on the way down to get us back home and from Chipping Norton onwards the weather brightened up and we had dry roads again.

1 comments:

Françoise Gondrée 7 July 2014 at 20:42  

PEGASUS BRIDGE

I--Une Histoire à diffuser
http://www.editions-pantheon.fr/francoise-h.-gondree/essais/pegasus-bridge-le-pont-de-l-espoir.html

2--Un scandale à dénoncer
https://www.pegasusbridge.fr/conflit-musee-memorial/


Sommes à votre disposition pour toute information complémentaire….interview……..
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