Each day on the Jura route seemed to follow a similar pattern. Head off and fairly soon hit a hill. Pedal upwards slowly. Try to avoid cows. Follow the route as it peels off the roads onto forest tracks or rocky, slippery ascents. Push. Sweat a lot. Cross the plains on the top through forests and across fields. Pick my way down singletrack and gravel tracks. Be caught out (and depressed) by late cheeky climbs seemingly thrown in to beat you when you were hoping it was finally all downhill. Finally drift along and down to the campsite for the night. Every day felt a bit epic.
Heading through Sainte Ursanne (it seemed a shame not to stay but there was no campsite) I was turned away at two campsites marked on the map which were apparently ‘private’ (seriously, why have them marked on an outdoor activities map then?) but camped at the third site, in a valley on the banks of Le Doubs near Montmelon.
The fourth day was the first encounter with cow and bull obstacles and ended in a wonderful campsite near Saignelegier, with free camping in the woods, open fire pits all over the place and a whole range of local ales for sale. After pushing up hill a lot and having to avoid many cows that day this perked up the day and I could have stayed for a few days.
Leaving Saignelegier, things really started to look like the wild west. Here on the tops of the Jura are rolling plains, ranches with herds of cattle and fields full of horses, and big skies. The route went over Mt Soleil with it’s covering of solar panels, groups of horse riders passed heading the other way, and I’m absolutely sure I could see a gas platform on the top of the mountain on the other side of the valley! I haven’t checked this out yet but if anyone knows whether this is what it was, let me know (maybe they have some jobs going….?!)
Night 5 was spent in a campsite just outside (and up an end of ride steep hill from) La Chaux-De-Fonds. Here I met Uwe, a Swiss guy from Zurich on a week long (on road) ride through the Jura. My legs were getting pretty tired now after 5 days of hills. Looking at the map for the next day, I decided I could face what looked like a climb up a hill with no particular purpose, only to come back down and cross the road that I could just leave town on. Uwe could actually understand the guidebook though (which is in German) and it turned out that the route went that way specifically go past the Saut du Doubs which are apparently the largest (by volume) waterfalls in France (according to Uwe anyway). The following day the route would then also climb a big hill (probably the biggest non stop climb of the route) without really needing to, but this was to view the Creux du Van, a famous u-shaped cliff formation.
I was a bit torn here, feeling like I should fit in some sights but also wanting to get some distance covered whilst at the same time starting to feel the hills. In the morning, I decided to head along the valley on the road and then double back along the mountain bike route to the falls. This I’d avoid the big climb over the hill to get to the falls directly. I’d still have to do the climb back up from the falls, so wasn’t cheating completely. I’d see how time went and then decide whether I tied to see the Creax du Van in the same day, making up some time, or perhaps bypass that section too. Heading down to the Saut du Doubs I was a little worried about how much steep down there was, which I would have to come back up! Given that it is the end of a hot summer, the falls were not actually that impressive, and the climb back up to Le Locle in the valley took quite a while.
Stopping for a late lunch in Le Brenets I realised I was going to struggle to cover more distance than normal that day, even though I’d avoided the big climb and that perhaps I’d chosen the wrong sight given the unimpressiveness of the Saut du Doubs. Because I’d taken the route to see the falls, I was now a couple of valleys away from the Creux Du Van and by the time I’d got across them I was knackered and it was too late to do the climb to see the Creux du Van and get back to find a campsite before dark. If I wanted to see it I would have to go in the morning or just skip it completely. Even though I’d cheated by skipping a bit of the route I hadn’t made any more progress.
Resignedly heading down the cycle route towards Couvet to find a campsite, who should be coming the other way but Uwe. He was just heading up to go to see the Creux du Van and would wild camp somewhere at the top. Did I want to go with him? A knackering, never ending, 10 mile climb later, and 800 metres higher we were at the top and took a last light view before finding a spot on a small copse of trees to camp. Wild camping is technically not legal in Switzerland but by all accounts as long as you are subtle, cause no damage and are not on farmland without asking permission then nobody minds. This was my highest point so far, at 1386 metres.
The ground was comfortable to sleep on, and being under the trees, I woke up for the first time with no condensation on the tent, but even so didn’t sleep all that well. We’d been pretty sure that we were outside any fields with cows in them, but there’s always that nagging doubt. Most of the cows here have giant bells around their necks. You can hear them from miles away. Sometimes, every cow in a herd has a bell and as the move around and munch on the grass, they sound a little like a slightly out of time kettle drum band. All through the night as they got closer to our field (though still far away) the bells would wake me up with that slight worry that one was about to sit (or shit) on my tent. Apparently Uwe had the same kind of night. ‘Hell’s Bells’, he calls them.
The end of day climb was well worth it for the stunning views of the valleys below at sunrise and also because this now meant I was ahead of myself for that day, having already done the major climb! A slightly disappointing day had turned into one of the best.