Saturday, 7 August 2010

Oloron Ste-Marie, France - Camping it up

Those of you who know me will be shocked by the following two facts. First, I have been wearing stockings and second, I have been to MacDonalds! The sun has been blisteringly hot of late and because of the position on the bike, my arms get it full blast all day. So I cut the toes from a pair of those robust stockings that maiden aunts wear and I pull them over my arms. They keep the sun off without adding too much warmth to one's ensemble. The visit to MacDonalds was to appease Tigger for not making it to Eurodisney!

August seems to be the month for village fetes in France. As if the little hilltop villages are not charming enough, they are now bedecked with colourful bunting that flutters in the breeze like Tibetan prayer flags. Yesterday I reached the hilltop village of Arthez de Bearn which marked my first 1000 miles. I also got my first glimpse of the Pyrennees, a hazy blue wall of rock shimmering in the sun. Today I began the climbing into the foothills. All this is very exciting but not half as exciting as finding gluten-free raspberry cookies!

The last proper bed I enjoyed was on the ferry to the Zeebrugge but this is no hardship as I love camping. Though I will need a room soon to charge camera batteries. Mostly I've used campsites in France which are everywhere. I love pitching my tent and watching camp life. The French seem to like to just relax, share food and good company. Then perhaps a game of petanque will start up. Of course, there is drinking but never any rowdiness and everybody is quietly off to bed by 11 except on karaoke nights. The French find my tiny tent very amusing as they don't go camping in anything smaller than a wedding marquee! I've also camped wild to save money or where there is no campsite on my route. My routine is to have a light supper and stock up on water in the last town that I pass through.
Then at about 8pm I'll find a quiet track off a deserted road that leads into a wood or a hidden field margin. I wait till it's actually getting dark before I put the tent up in case I've unwittingly picked the local lovers haunt! Then I'm away next morning about 7am. The nicest wild campspot so far was in the margins of a vineyard along a cycle route on a disused railway line. As I sat by my tent in the warm evening glow, the sun dipped below the horizon, a cacophany of insects started and as it got dark I heard porcine gruntings that I assume could only be wild boar.

The climbing now in the hills is pretty hard and I was exhausted with one steep hill late in the afternoon when a couple working in their garden invited me to stop for a cold drink. This made me think what a unique persepctive travelling by bicycle brings. People notice you on the bike in these quiet villages and at the speed I travel it's easy to call me over to stop for a chat or a drink. The traveller in a car would speed through these places in seconds and miss all these chance encounters.

Over the next few days there's a lot more climbing to do higher into the Pyrennees - in my stockings!


  1. Hi Pauline Saw where you are on my map and when you see the Pyrenees it is an awesome sight. Hope you enjoy your climb over them mountains and if you get time cycle in the Picos de Europa. Mickey

  2. I hopefully have joined the merry bunch of followers, Pauline.
    Keep going woman.

  3. Joe - thanks for getting in touch and getting on board. Hope you're doing OK.