After a long day yesterday, today had to be shorter, and I could tell I was incubating a headcold (probably picked up in the Youth Hostel at Jordans…..the likely culprit prepared the salad for the BBQ).
Landscape. It was changing as I forged south. Brittany was what would be termed in the cycling world as “lumpy”. Now into the Loire et Atlantique, followed by a traverse of the Vendee, the contours were much gentler, fresian cows were much in evidence, and now I am cycling through extensive vineyards, the buds of the new growth just beginning to show, heralding the autumn al harvest.
Auberge de Jeunesse, Nantes. When I proffered by membership card to the lady warden, her eyebrows lifted and she said in that beautiful gallic way: “You must be a very important person”. When I enquired why, she said “Because you ‘ave a gold card”. So I expected to be presented with a bottle of the best champagne, but didn’t want to burst the ‘bubble’ of her surprise by telling her that becoming a life-member of the YHA back in the 80’s only cost me 25 pounds!
As I was settling down to sleep last night, two late check-ins came to disturb my early slumbers, followed by a din of ‘teenage-hood’. I recognised the sounds of sweet merriment of teenage girls on a school trip abroad! Their German leader was profusely apologetic, but I told him over breakfast he
had nothing to worry about, they had settled very quickly and I wasn’t phased by teenagers on holiday. “Been there, done that, but didn’t have the tee-shirt with me to prove it”! We shared a lot of chat about things educational and international, and he bemoaned the gradual demise of French in German education (everyone wants to learn English) and was mildly astonished at the growth of Spanish (yes, I said to myself!)
Nantes. The cathedral had a side altar dedicated to the forthcoming World Youth Day, to be held in Madrid in the
summer. And I noticed the logo of Santiago had been inserted into the publicity. The altar was brightly decorated with the Spanish flag and colours. But a question that’s been nagging me as I approached Nantes, and it’s still unresolved. If Nantes and its surrounds are in the Loire
region, why do so many towns and villages have “….en Bretagne” as part of their name. And why do many places have their names written in Breton as well. Perhaps some expert can post me a reply.
A word about cemeteries. My several visits to cemeteries along the way have not been for morbid reasons. Any long distance traveller across France should know that cemeteries are a reliable source of fresh water and, carefully calculated, you should never need to buy the bottled stuff.
To be a pilgrim. What is to be a pilgrim. This thought has been occupying my thinking for years. If the authorites
in Santiago and Rome are to be heeded, walking, cycling or horse-riding the distance are the only qualifying criteria. But the debate amongst Confraternities of Pilgrims is still an unresolved one. In the modern age, travelling under our own steam is a refreshing, invigorating escape from modern means of transport. For medieval people, it was their only means of transport, and if they could have found an easier way of getting to their destination, they would have used it. Unlike today, they didn’t walk for the sheer pleasure and the freedom of the countryside. If Ryanair had existed then, they would have bought their cheap tickets and gone. So, why should we make such an issue of methods of transportation today.
I’ll remember that question the next time I arrive at a pilgrim bunkhouse and find its filled with car-transported “pilgrims”.
A night sleeping on the floor in a ferry lounge, constantly disturbed by drunken Morris dancers, didn’t lend to a fresh start on the first day in France, and a 25mph head wind meant that Sant Iago was definitely not on my side!
I picked up the first traces of Brittany’s Celtic (even pre-celtic) past immediately, passing ancient dolmens and pausing for breath in
Dinan, a town of ancient Celtic roots ( later to be ‘colonised’ by incoming Brits in the 19th century). Further proof of Celtic roots was the Celtic Cross in an isolated churchyard outside Tressaint, but with obvious Roman decoration in its design. The Celts (Gauls) had been romanized (just like the Anglo Saxons), which led me to ask ‘why hadn’t Asterix and his crew sorted those Romans out’ before it came to this?
I wanted to make up for the lost mileage of yesterday, so it was “Nantes here I come!” Several interesting serendipities crossed my path today:
*First of all, the wind was still from the south, but not as strong as yesterday (phew!)
*I was constantly surrounded by birdsong that was so persistent, I couldn’t ignore it. The cuckoo announced several times that the sanctity of
yet another nest had been invaded. I was distracted frequently by hunting kestrels and kites, and villages were once again hosting the return of the swallows.
*In France today they are commemorating those who had died in WW2 fighting for the Resistance. As I sped through St SenouxI caught sight of an elderly gentleman proudly wearing his medals, stopped, took his photo, engaged him in
conversation…………..only to discover that he was profoundly deaf! We slapped each other on the back, bid each other farewell, and parted company.
*Picked up the riverside bridleway along the Vilaine, only to meet a couple riding tandem, and they were astonished to chance by someone on a dirt track cycling all the way to “St Jacques de Compostelle“. Being a tandem rider myself, we shared a lot of cycling experiences in 15 minutes.
*That very track alongside the river was closed at one point because of a fishing competition. I was tempted to
ignore their closed sign, but then remembered I was a pilgrim……………:O(
*Approaching Nantes I chanced by a major protest movement against the building of an airport near N.D. de Landes. It reminded me forcefully of the peace garden and mass protests against nuclear power at Molesworth, near where I live. (For those who remember them, they were led by Mgr Bruce Kent.)
My general impression of crossing Brittany has been one of enjoying the quietness of the open road, crossing huge landscapes marred little by passing traffic…………….and the road surfaces are smooth and clean. How do they do it?