The One Where Things Get a Bit More Enjoyable…

[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.]

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After two days of rest and hot weather, thunder echoes around the hills the night before my departure from Clermont Ferrand and in the morning I pack up a wet tent and, eventually – my admin is slow after two days of rest – pedal off eastwards to pick up the Grand Traversee du Massif Central (GTMC) mountain bike route, at Laschamps. The route runs for around 450 miles heading generally southwards from Clermont Ferrand to the coast just south of Montpellier. Of course the first few miles out of Clermont Ferrand are uphill – I was foolish to expect anything else – despite the fact that the campsite seemed to be on the very top of a hill itself. I’m not sure how its possible, but it seems that perhaps this part of France is one of those optical illusions where the stairs just keep going up…

As I pick up the trail, I am apparently in the middle of a number of extinct volcanoes. I can only assume this is true based on the map contours and route guide as the mist allows me just glimpses of the surrounding landscape as I head slowly upwards along forestry roads and trails.

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The ride from Laschamps down to Murol is slow – the trails are in poor condition because of the rain, and later in the day in particular, some sections involve slow, slippery pushing along long, mud-clogged sections of forest. A few tarmac shortcuts eventually avoid the worst and speed things up once again. I can see the advantages of being a roadie at these times. The GTMC guide seems to underplay the first couple of days of this route – the trail that I rode in reverse through Volvic would have been very steep riding the opposite way, and this day south of Laschamps has been muddy and hard going. Every journey is different and I guess that trail conditions play a massive part in the nature of the riding on any particular day. Thankfully, things dry out over the next few days and the riding is much more enjoyable (despite the guide suggesting that things would be tougher). It’s amazing what a difference a change in texture of the trails makes…

Muddy

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Stony

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The better weather allows the unfolding landscape of the Massif Central plateau to shine through, castles and all. A couple of days of more descending than ascending follow as I leave the high Auvergne plateau, riding down into the valley between it and the Margeride which is to follow.

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I spend a couple of nights in gites with a simple but delicious set menus, and then end up in a cheap hotel in Saint Flour after having pedalled all the way up to the old town to find that the campsite closed the previous evening. Despite the majority of shops and restaurants being shut when I arrive because its a Monday (something I’m still struggling to get used to), the old town is lovely worthy of a little exploration, although even the small choice of places to eat somewhat overpowered me a little. This French habit of closing everything on Sundays and a lot of things on Mondays keeps catching me out and has made finding food on those days a little difficult. In one little village, not one cafe was open for coffee on Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. Someone had however decided that the pedal-powered train was important enough to be open for its last day of business this summer. I’m all for pedal power but someone needs to talk to these guys about their priorities. I miss my morning Aeropress brewed coffee and haven’t got a replacement (lightweight) setup yet so am dependant on cafes for a daily does of caffeine…

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The Margeride is a remote area that was used as a base for the French resistance during the Second World War. Many undercover operations began here and there was much bloodshed between the German and French forces. For a few days the trail passes through just small villages, all of which are dominated by some common themes.

Water troughs, flowers and churches…

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Crosses…

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War memorials (with crosses)…

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Village cemeteries on the outskirts of town (with more crosses)….

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There’s definitely a focus on the basics of life and death here.

The area is lacking campsites and a lot is farmed so I stay for another couple of nights in cheap hotels / gites. The menu is usually simple, and there is just once choice, but four courses. A starter of some kind, perhaps a local meat terrine, or a fresh salad. Then a meat based dish. Chicken with lentils, or at the wonderful family run gite in Le Giraldes, cheek of beef from their own rare breed cattle (only raised in 5 locations in France), which after having been cooked for three hours literally dissolves on the tongue. Then cheese. And then a dessert. Wonderful. I share the gite here with three middle aged French women who normally accompany their husbands on walking holidays but who wanted a week of slightly less climbing than they are normally subjected to. They chat around the table with our host Marie. I struggle to keep up, grasping the theme of the conversation but not the detail, and they break occasionally and give me a little overview in English. Its a welcome change to share dinner after a few weeks of eating by myself in camp, or being often the only guest in previous gites.

During the day I sample some local cuisine…

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And meet with the locals…

Horses

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Some of whom seem to have a curious sense of fashion…

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Whilst still following those little signs…

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Mountain biking seems popular here. Rather than specific trail centres that we might get in the UK, local trails are waymarked and mapped for all to use.

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The trails continue to get drier and dustier… reminding me of last years trails through Spain.

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Colour is everywhere.

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The route takes me through much forestry land…

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And open trails lined with meadows of wild flowers…

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I’m still loving my Brooks Cambium. I’ll never buy another saddle – its just so… comfortable. It doesn’t cause any pain, and I’ve never had a saddle like that – may arse seems particularly sensitive to saddles. But not to this one.

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This route is starting to be rather fun…

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Posted in Bikepacking London to Seville (2014) and tagged , , , .

7 Comments

  1. Hello – nice pics. Does the train need to be full to move? Perhaps it’s the future of obesity free, community spirited London travel. Is Boris following you? Left a voice message on your French phone: can you speak or do you only message? Safe travels

    • Ah the message was from you! I can see it but can’t access it for some reason. Can call you/speak on that number. I think each individual velo train ‘pod’ can move separately. But there’s no overtaking ;-). Hope all is good in the Midlands…

  2. Glad to see you slowed things down and are able to stop to smell the flowers. 🙂 Those horses are so beautiful, and I’m loving the donkey’s boho-chic look. Can i ask what are the features on your helmet are, especially the one that looks like a mini claw?
    I look forward to reading about your adventures continued after Montpellier… x

    Ps Is it wrong for me to be a little jealous of the fondness you have towards the saddle?

    • Haha… I’m going to sidestep the saddle love and move straight onto the helmet ;-). The claw holds an Exposure Joystick torch / headlamp. The other one is a mount for the GoPro, which I should have sent home with the actual GoPro…!

      The only reason I could come up with for the donkey’s hippy looks were that they kept the flies away from his eyes… But perhaps it’s just fashion…?

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