Bumbling round Brittany

A couple of weeks ago Dennis and I headed to Brittany where we attempted to combine a bit of a cycle tour with an ordinary family holiday. Nothing will induce Dennis to ride a bike so he travelled by car, leap-frogging and waiting for me to catch up. On quiet roads this works pretty well. Trying to cross large towns in this way tends to be a nightmare so the plan was to visit parts of Brittany that we hadn't seen before while steering well clear of any larger towns. The obvious ferry crossing for this would be Portsmouth to St Malo but as this is much the most expensive option we chose the cheaper route via Le Havre although this did involve rather more extra driving than I had realised!

The plan was to head down to Concarneau where a previous trip had ended then make our way back up towards Morlaix, another turning point on a previous trip. It has to be said that I really don't enjoy motoring and was very happy to call a halt on the first day at Vitre, still a good way from Concarneau. Our arrival coincided with a heatwave. I had a very pleasant ride through quiet countryside to the megalithic monument of 'Les Rocques des Feux', one of the least visited of Brittany's megalithic sites. No one really knows its purpose but its an impressive sight and the lack of other tourists gave it quite an atmosphere.

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Les Rocques des Feux

It had been pleasantly hot on the way there but it was stiflingly hot on the way back and the warm, plastic flavoured, water in my bottle was doing nothing to slake my thirst. I was delighted to come across a small supermarket but amazed to discover that there were no chilled drinks on sale. Unusually they did have chilled fresh milk and I put away a litre of it in very short order. I should have known better than to complain about the heat. That evening, as we started to explore the medieval town of Vitre, a tremendous thunderstorm broke leaving us sheltering under an ancient archway as the water streamed down the cobbled streets. We didn't see the sun for quite a few days after that!

We continued our drive south to the small seaside town of Larmor -Baden from where I cycled off to visit more megalithic sites. It was Sunday and the roads were all very busy as we made our way to Carnac. When we first visited a few years ago we had never heard of the Alignments of Carnac and only visited them because they happened to be on our route. We were absolutely amazed by the number and scale of the stones there, they go on for miles! They didn't have the same impact on a second visit and they were heaving with tourists but they are still mighty impressive.

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A few of the stones at Carnac

We finally made it to our intended start point of Concarneau where the weather turned wet and windy. Again the roads heading west along the coast were very busy and I was beginning to wonder if my memory had been playing tricks – my memory of Brittany was of miles of quiet lanes and rugged coastline. Fortunately as we left the south coast and began to head north up the west coast that is exactly what we found and from then on the cycling was delightful. A marked cycle route led along the coast from Penmarch out to France's most westerly point the Pointe du Raz. The Pointe du Raz is the French equivalent of Land's End – a large car park and lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. However once you leave this behind it is a spectacular headland covered in bright yellow but very low growing gorse. A road leads to the lighthouse cum military post and this is out of bounds to both cars and pedestrians. It didn't mention cyclists so I had it all to myself! What's more the sun came out!

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The Lighthouse

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View from the Lighthouse

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Dwarf gorse

It was a great ride from here to the former sardine capital of Douarnenez with a splendid tail wind allowing me to average an effortless 20 mph. Judging by the number of windmills the wind is a constant feature!

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Windmills old....

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....And new

The next couple of days were spent exploring the Crozon peninsula, a mix of sandy beaches, rocky headlands and pine forest, and lots and lots of wind! The traffic in Crozon itself came as a bit of a shock after miles of quiet roads but we were soon out the other side and back onto quiet roads again.

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An infrequent passenger (and bike) ferry ran from close by our campsite at Le Fret over to Brest from where we could have continued along the coast but we chose to head inland towards Morlaix. It turned out to be an excellent choice. The roads were virtually traffic free in a landscape of green rolling hills and forest that reminded me of mid Wales. The bridge across the river Aulne is magnificent and what's more it has a wide cycle lane that is completely separate from the traffic. I enjoyed crossing it so much that I was sorely tempted to turn round and have another go! While the rest of the traffic continued towards the expressway to Brest we turned immediately onto the D47 which was both deserted and spectacular.

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Note the lovely red cycle lane!

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Another highlight was an excellent view of a Pine Marten which ran along the base of a hedge in broad daylight. Here you would have to go to the Scottish highlands to stand any chance of catching a glimpse of these shy and largely nocturnal mammals.
Undulating wooded roads led us to our final destination of Morlaix. That leaves the coastline from Morlaix and Roscoff round to Brest to explore next year!

6 comments on “Bumbling round Brittany”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Good photos Hilary. The bridge is fabulous, like many others in France. Shame about the fresh milk – well, you got some, but French people seem content with long life (at least it tastes better than it used to).

    Nowadays to Europe we also opt for cheaper crossings with more driving. Portsmouth-St Malo or Caen seems a ridiculous price, even without a cabin. Traversing France by car is much nicer than driving from the north to the south of England (and back again in our case).

  2. Kern wrote:

    Crossing large towns is always frustrating. Last year Anita and Andrew rented a car and met us in Spain, doing the leapfrog thing. We would rendezvous before entering a town, where Andrew would plot the route through on his GPS. They then acted as guides, pausing for us to catch up. It actually worked pretty well.

    It sounds like you found some good roads, Hilary. We have never been to Brittany and I don't know if I have a hankering to go back to France for a while. My impression last year was that France has preserved itself as a living museum – initially fascinating but ultimately sterile.

  3. Patrick wrote:

    That is an interesting remark about France – a strange country in many ways but beneath the surface there is depth to it, I think. Of course the weather is nicer than in the UK and for us, together with its proximity, that is a plus. I have not yet cycled in Brittany (my father did as a Boy Scout and he enjoyed it).

    Whatever... we'll be in France again in September!

  4. Hilary wrote:

    Hmm....... that is an interesting comment. Parts could certainly be described as 'a living museum' but in other places historic and modern seem to coexist side by side. French buildings also seem to have been all built individually rather than the English way of building whole streets in one go.

    I like it. They respect cyclists, they are far more polite than English people and did I mention the cake shops? :)

  5. Patrick wrote:

    I like it too, on the whole (it's a big subject).

  6. Garry wrote:

    I've been cycling in Brittany at least 10 times (Cork-Roscoff is easy). I've been over that bridge more than once and I've been to Point du Raz several times. It's great. I don't get tired of Brittany, or indeed of most places I revisit!

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