BLiSSful (but Baltic) Loch Earn Loop

blah blah caption here and also here

Picture postcard Loch Earn – with the added attraction of me on a jetty!

Reveille on Sunday morning at 7.30 am. The “old gal” muttered: “You can’t be serious!” But the “old git” was a man on a mission! And despite the gloomy low cloud and drizzle outside at Matildas Rest in Perthshire, the “old gal” was persuaded that it was dry and sunny at today’s venue of Loch Earn.

The route appealed because it is a naturally beautiful area within the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park – with a relatively easy 16 mile loop round the loch – which is only about a 40 minute drive by car through Crieff and Comrie. Despite it being so close, it was new territory for Team Matilda.

Now my dynamic duo – and me – always like new areas. But believe it or not, we were recommended to try it by my good tandem friend Bluebird – and her crew John and Jane, who live almost 500 miles away outside Southampton! How did this happen? Well John and Jane really enjoyed their Travels with Bluebird tandem trip to Loch Earn on a day when Team Matilda couldn’t be with them during our joint Le Tour de Perthshire du Tandem back in August … and said we needed to try it.

Now the “old git” is known to do a bit of research – in fact the “old gal” swears his middle name is google! – but often it pays off. And in his mission to familiarise himself with the new route he discovered the added attraction of a new art trail linking locations within the National Park area.

The unique BLiSS Trail links the villages of Balquidder, Lochearnhead, Strathyre and St Fillans – deep in the heart of Rob Roy Country. The trail – made up of a series of ornamental metal and wood sculptures mostly by various artists – commemorates the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.

The brainchild of LETi, the local Loch Earn Tourism Information group, the trail is also designed to encourage more visitors to the area – to boost tourism and the local economy. And it certainly worked – in as much it was the added factor to persuade Team Matilda to make a visit.

So I was packed in Matilda Transport and the (infamous) prosecco picnic was packed and off we headed to the scenic village of St Fillans at the top of the loch on the eastern edge of Perthshire. As we parked the car the weather was just starting to dry up – and the “old git’s” research had unearthed an ideal spot for good coffee (and parking) at the St Fillans Village Store.

Great coffee stop! All 3 of us were made welcome at the St Fillans Village Store.

Great coffee stop! All 3 of us were made welcome at the St Fillans Village Store.

It was as good and as friendly as all the recommendations and reviews suggested. And the warmth of the welcome – and the strength of the coffee! – certainly helped heat all three of us up before we started off on our loop in temperatures which were barely touching 6 C.

You can check out the details of our scenic route on the loop round Loch Earn from St Fillans on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! 

loch-earn-strava

Now Loch Earn itself is a freshwater loch and the name is thought to derive from “Loch of Ireland” – from a time when the Gaels were expanding their kingdom eastwards. The loch is the source of the River Earn which starts at St Fillans.

As we tandemed away from St Fillans the “old gal” was heard to exclaim: “It’s Baltic!” To which the “old git” retorted: “No, its Loch Earn!” Oh how he laughed! Lets just say that what was said in the ear piece of his walkie talkie by the “old gal” in response cannot be repeated in a family friendly blog!

Still - Loch Earn's mirror man sculpture.

Still – Loch Earn’s mirror man sculpture at St Fillans.

Although we were only doing the loop of the loch – from St Fillans to Lochearnhead – we were promised that there were plenty of other art installations on the BLiSS Trail to look out for.

But unfortunately the most photographed one at the start – the iconic Bliss – wasn’t there! You see Bliss – more affectionately known as Loch Earn’s mirror man was nowhere to be seen as he had been removed for the winter season from his position lookout standing in the loch just by the jetty at the Four Seasons Hotel.

The larger than life sculpture – by Rob Mullholland – was feared to have been destroyed in 90 mph winds last January which knocked him from his perch. But the half-tonne statue was recovered and underwent substantial repairs – including re-attaching his head (which sounds painful to me being another iconic metal structure!) He returned to the water in June but has been put into hibernation to avoid a repeat this winter.

So that meant that Team Matilda had to make do with another artwork at the start of our tour – called Fish Out of Water situated in the Achray House Hotel garden. This impressive piece of galvanised metal has been sculpted by artist Lynne Schroder into the shape of “a fortune telling fish – like the ones you place in your palm to tell your fortune!”

Fish out of Water - mind you I could have told the fortune-telling miracle fish that the water of Loch Earn looked a tad chilly!

Fish out of Water – I could have told the fortune-telling fish that Loch Earn looked a tad chilly!

Let’s just say that I could have told this fortune-telling fish that Loch Earn looked just a wee bit chilly today! So off we pedalled down the main A85 road towards Lochearnhead.

Since this could be a busy road, the “old gal” ensured Team Matilda could be seen with her flashing red light on the back of her helmet and my very trendy hi-vis flashing light attached to my lollipop which ensures cars have to give us room when they pass.

My dynamic duo soon got into sync and struck up a good pace and we whizzed along the side of the loch – probably in an attempt to keep warm! We were going so fast that we nearly missed two more of the sculptures nestling in the gardens of the beautiful thatched Briar Cottages.

The first was the impressive Stan the Stag who looks out over the loch like a stunning Monarch of the Glen.

The "old git" pretending he is a rutting stag - with me at the artwork at Briar Cottage garden.

The “old git” pretending he is a rutting stag – with me at the artwork at Briar Cottage garden.

The stag structure is an incredibly detailed sculpture by Kev Paxton – and is made of steel flowers, leaves and a thistle.  Over 500 hours went in to making it. And, as the “old git” and “old gal” did,  if you peep inside its flowery body you will find treasure; a humming bird drinking from its heart, a butterfly and a cute-as-anything mouse with a block of cheese!

After making my acquaintance with Stan we then moved a few yards – within the same garden – to see Blawn wi the Wind – a sculpture of giant thistles, which has also been created by Kev Paxton.

Two metal structures together - me and the giant thistle artwork.

Two metal structures together – me and the giant thistle artwork.

A quick pedal on and Team Matilda turned into the Lochearnhead Hotel where we met Bill the Bull – a colourful take on a Highland coo or bull to be exact! In fact Bill the Bull is described on the BLiSS Trail notes as being a “psychedelic party animal who hates to miss out on anything fun!” So naturally the “old git” had to see if he lived up to his reputation!

Bill the Bull and the "old git" getting friendly while I watch on at the Lochearnhead Hotel.

Bill the Bull and the “old git” getting friendly while I watch on at the Lochearnhead Hotel.

We tandemed on and arrived at Lochearnhead at the western end of the loch, which is a popular centre for fishing and a wide range of water sports including sailing, water-skiing, wake-boarding and canoeing.

Continuing our tandem in an anti clockwise direction we turned on to the A84 briefly to take in our final artwork called Dragon Bike – made out of wicker by artist June McEwan. It sits proudly outside the Mansewood Country House which is a popular stop off point for motorcyclists.

Dragon Bike wooden sculpture - and me - at Lochearnhead.

The Dragon Bike willow sculpture – and me – at Mansewood Country House at Lochearnhead.

The Autumn colours were quite spectacular on our travels, none more so than as we rounded the end of Loch Earn to be met with what seemed like a vivid red tree.

Amazing Autumn colours on show at Lochearnhead, half way round our Loch Earn loop.

Amazing Autumn colours on show at Lochearnhead, half way round our Loch Earn loop.

My dynamic duo then continued our loop by turning left along the much quieter single track South Loch Earn Road – complete with passing places. This is actually part of Sustrans Scotland Route 7 and is quite undulating to begin with with a couple of fairly steep hills, which I am pleased to report my dynamic crew conquered due to their new found fitness.

Edinample Castle- with my friend Bluebird..

The first of many points of interest on the narrower road was the spectacular Edinample Castle – which is now a private family home.

The castle has quite a history – originally built by ‘Black’ Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy.  It is built on land acquired by the Campbells after their campaign for proscription and subsequent demise of the MacGregors.

It is said that Black Duncan pushed the castle’s builder off the roof, in part to avoid paying him, but also because he omitted to construct the ramparts that had been requested. It is also said that the ghost of the builder has been seen walking on the roof.

The “old git” was so intent on keeping up the momentum for the next incline that he forgot to stop here so I have borrowed a photo showing my pal Bluebird – and her crew – from their trip around Loch Earn during our recent Tour de Perthshire.

A mile or so on, on a less undulating section, there was time for a selfie – though quite why the “old git” always throws his head back as if wont get in the shot beats me, and the “old gal”!  

Selfie time on the south side of the loch - the "old gal" does look cold!

Selfie time on the south side of the loch – the “old gal” does look cold!

The "old git" - at the ancient woodland - decided it was perhaps foolhardy just to wear shorts

The “old git” at the ancient wood. Whisper it but he decided it was a tad foolhardy to wear shorts!

About three quarters of the way round Team Matilda found a perfect isolated spot for their (infamous) prosecco picnic – right on the banks of the loch with a fabulous view up and down the water.

Cheers! The prosecco picnic on the loch side was a welcome distraction from the cold!

Cheers! The prosecco picnic on the loch side was a welcome distraction from the cold!

My dynamic duo were feeling the cold a bit by now as the “old gal” in her (not very) infinite wisdom had decreed that she and the “old git” wouldn’t need their thermal leggings today! She was wrong!

So that’s a schoolboy error that won’t be repeated on future rides during the rest of the year! Although one good thing was that low temperature meant that the prosecco was nice and cool after being carried in my very fetching red leather la bouclee wine bottle carrier – which of course matches my frame!

Fortitude, endurance, invigoration .... and prosecco!

Tandem riders lunch box – for fortitude, endurance, invigoration …. and prosecco!

The water of Loch Earn was very calm today but the “old git” couldn’t resist recounting the interesting fact that Loch Earn is one very few freshwater bodies of water that has its own seiche – a tidal system which is caused by the action of the prevailing wind blowing along the loch.

This wind pressure on the surface causes the water level to build up at one end of the loch.  This in turn results in oscillation and the water will return to the opposite end of the loch over time. In the case of Loch Earn, this takes around 16 hours and although the effect can be measured, it is difficult to observe. But the resulting currents can create complex turbulence patterns, as higher layers of warmer waters mix with the lower lying colder waters of the loch.

Loch Earn is fairly unique in this – and is illustrious company of a few other bodies of fresh water which experience this seiche effect including the Great Lakes, Lake Garda, and Lake Geneva.

You can see what the “old gal” thought of that piece of information in the cheeky selfie pic below!

Never takes your eyes off your stoker! The cold temperature led the "old gal" to pull a funny face!

Never takes your eyes off your stoker! The cold temperature led the “old gal” to pull a funny face!

Just before we left the picnic spot we uncovered another dark secret of Loch Earn when we discovered an old gravestone at the side of the road, which on closer inspection carried the inscription:

The old gravestone dates from 1660.

“This stone marks the place of interment of Major James Stewart afterwards removed to the family vault at Dundurn died about 1660.”

It seems the chief of the Clan Stewart had made many enemies, but always managed to avoid them.  He died peacefully in bed but his enemies – possibly Grahams or MacGregors – heard of his death and, furious at having been cheated of their revenge, swore to desecrate his body on its way to burial at St Fillans.

The funeral procession, having left the Stewart home at Ardvorlich house further down the road were forewarned and buried their chief in a shallow grave down the hillside close to the loch where he was left for several years until more peaceful times. He was then dug up to be safely buried in the proper place at Dundurn, burial place of the chiefs of the Clan Stewart. The gravestone marks the spot where his body was hidden. So now you know!

Back on the saddles my dynamic duo quickly picked up speed again in a bit to thaw out – but still found time to admire the scenic beauty of rapidly changing Autumnal colours as we tandemed along. The “old gal” even found enough movement in her hands to take a video of the wilderness as  we pedalled along. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Next time I promise that I will try and get the “old gal” to keep one hand off my handlebars in order to film a downhill stretch so you can see how I can fair pick up speed – well as you know I like being referred to as a “racy old lady!”

We continued along at a fair lick concentrating on pedalling in order to try and avoid looking at the ugly sprawling caravan site near the end of the loch, with the “old git” wondering aloud: “How on earth did the local authority planners allow that to happen at such a beautiful spot?”

Over an old bridge and we rejoined the main A85 for a short sprint back into to St Fillans to complete the route. The sun had decided it would make a belated appearance at this point which allowed my crew the perfect opportunity to take a few more pictures.

Team Matilda after completing the Loch Earn Loop on the bridge over the River Earn.

Team Matilda after completing the Loch Earn Loop on the bridge over the River Earn.

A picture postcard shot looking down Loch Earn from St Fillans.

A beautiful picture postcard shot looking down Loch Earn from the bridge at St Fillans.

Then the “old git” had to get in on the act and while the “old gal” was happily snapping away, he led me down a steep grass banking and on to a slippy wooden jetty out onto the loch! I thought we were going to fall in at one point!

Lets just say that precariously reversing back off the jetty was interesting. The “old gal” couldn’t look! Though she was heard to shout: “If you fall in I’m not coming in after you – its too cold!” But I am sure she was joking!

The "old git" and me precariously balanced on a slippy jetty on the loch.

The “old git” and me precariously balanced on a slippy jetty on the loch.

Anyway we safely negotiated our return to terra firma and Team Matilda returned to the St Fillans Village Store for a reviving coffee in its cosy cafe area. This allowed my crew to have a look at Strava which officially recorded the ride as covering a distance of 15.8 miles with a total moving time of 1 hour 29 minutes, at an average speed of 10.6 mph.

Total elapsed time was just 2 hours 16 minutes due to not hanging about during the picnic! Top speed was 24.4 mph and the elevation covered was 714 feet. We managed to burn up 1,315 calories and produced an estimated average power output of 219 W.

After body temperatures returned to normal I was packed back into Matilda Transport and we took our leave of a beautiful area – with Team Matilda vowing to return.

On return to Matildas Rest – and after I was safely returned to my warm garage – the “old git” put our Strava route around Loch Earn and some pictures of me enjoying the BLiSS Trail on social media. Interestingly my notoriety as a tandem who writes her own blog was almost immediately recognised in a series of tweets from the area including the Rob Roy Country tourist body and Kim Proven, the chair of Leti, the Loch Earn Tourism Information Grouptw-2-loch-earn

tw-3-loch-earn

tw-4-loch-earn

tw-1-loch-earnMy personal favourite – as  tandem who just revels in all the publicity! – is the “a blogging bike with taste” comment and the fact that I have got #ScotSpirit (whatever that is!)

So fame indeed! And – according to the tweets – it seems Team Matilda may in fact be invited back soon on a return visit to the Loch Earn area so I can be guided to the other areas of Balquidder and Strathyre.

I will ensure that my dynamic duo are kitted out in their thermals this time! Meantime I am basking in the glory of being “infamous Matilda!”

NEWS UPDATE on BLiSS Trail!  On November 10, LETi – The Loch Earn Tourism Information group, which organised The BLiSS trail of art installations – won the regional Central, Tayside and Fife trophy at Visit Scotland’s Scottish Thistle Awards, for “Working Together for Tourism.” Congratulations! 

UKBA finalist_twitter

Advertisements

Wilderness Loch Rannoch in Autumn splendour

Basking in the Autumn colours with my matching red leather la bouclee wine carrier!

Basking in the Autumn colours at Loch Rannoch with my matching red leather la bouclee wine carrier!

On returning to Scotland from the adventure of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem, followed by a week in Normandy in northern France, the “old git” and the “old gal” – along with me – were really missing our long days in the fresh air as we tandemed along.

So after two weeks my dynamic crew could stand it no more and decided on an uplifting trip to the wilderness beauty spot of Loch Rannoch in Highland Perthshire.

The “old gal” invited good friends, and solo cyclists, Gillian and Craig along as they had heard all about our trips to Rannoch and Tummel and wanted to experience it for themselves.

The spectacular images started with the view from the bridge over the River Tummel.

The spectacular images started with the view from the bridge over the River Tummel.

After driving up the busy A9 my crew enjoyed the spectacular image that is the view from the bridge over the River Tummel – with the trees on its banks just starting to change colour.

We stopped at the Queen’s View visitor centre – run by Forestry Commission Scotland – and met up with Gillian and Craig for coffee and a chat, and a walk to the viewpoint.

On a clear day ... overlloking Rannoch and Tummel from Queen's View

On a clear day … overlooking Rannoch and Tummel from Queen’s View

With it being such a clear day the views were eye-catching to say the least. We then drove down to the bottom of Loch Rannoch and parked up just past Bridge of Gaur,

Gillian and Craig with their solo bikes and their shiny new car.

Ready for the off! Gillian and Craig with their solo bikes and their shiny new car.

We quickly unpacked the cars – admiring Gillian and Craig’s shiny new white car as we did so – to ensure we got the best of the weather. Then, in perfect Autumn sunshine we  off on our usual clockwise route. You can check out the details of our scenic route on the loop round Loch Rannoch on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! strava-loch-rannoch

My new red leather bouclee accessory agains the perfect backdrop of Loch Rannoch

My new red leather bouclee accessory against the perfect backdrop of Loch Rannoch

Despite not having tandemed for nearly two weeks, I am pleased to report that Team Matilda had lost none of the fitness we had in France. We were soon rolling along at a good pace, and whisper it, but Gillian and Craig seemed to be struggling to keep up!

Maybe they were just drinking in the amazing views across the loch to the mountains, or just making my dynamic duo feel good – but they were definitely lagging behind!

The “old gal” decided a quick stop was required at the wild camping area about two-thirds of the way up the loch – which offers a perfect opportunity for pictures with the majesty of the perfectly conical shape of Schiehallion – one of Scotland’s most recognisable mountains – in the background.

This area provides easy access to rocky beach and the loch was looking beautiful reflecting the bright sunshine off its surface.

The brightness of the sun made it difficult to get that group shot with Schiehallion in the background.

The brightness of the sun made it difficult to get that group shot with Schiehallion in the background.

Tandeming on we soon arrived in the town of Kinloch Rannoch at our regular picnic spot – overlooking a waterfall and the surrounding trees just starting to change colour. Perfection!

This was time for Team Matilda to introduce Gillian and Craig into the delightful benefits of their (in)famous prosecco picnics – which in fact today was a Cremant picnic as the bottle was one of many the “old gal” brought back from France.

And I am delighted to report that my new very fancy red leather la bouclee wine bottle carrier accessory did its job perfectly – with the air flow created by our tandeming keeping the bottle cool!

The "old git"expertly popping the cork - and not a drop was spilled!

The “old git”expertly popping the cork – and not a drop was spilled!

Cheers! The "old gal", the "old git", Gillian and Craig toast the Cremant picnic!

Cheers! The “old gal”, the “old git”, Gillian and Craig toast the Cremant picnic!

There can't be many more perfect spots for a picnic - complete with waterfall!

There can’t be many more perfect spots for a picnic – complete with waterfall!

After a most enjoyable picnic we set off down the quieter south side of the loch – which if anything is even more scenic than the north shore. The B-class single track road never seems to be more than a couple of yards from the loch itself.

The wilderness factor is underlined as it winds its way through the magical Black Wood of Rannoch – one of the largest areas of ancient pine forest left in Scotland.

Photobombing! Gillian making sure she gets in the picture on the banks of Loch Rannoch.

Photobombing! Gillian making sure she gets in the picture on the banks of Loch Rannoch.

It certainly lives up to its Forestry Commission billing as “a living growing monument with some trees thought to be about 400 years old, and is home to a wonderful variety of plants and wildlife, including deer, pine martens and red squirrel.” It is little wonder that it is designated a Special Area of Conservation and was looking magnificent in all its Autumn splendour.

And it wouldn't have been fair to leave Craig out of the picture either!

And it wouldn’t have been fair to leave Craig out of the picture either!

We stopped again to bask in the warm sunshine by the side of the loch to take in more of the views – and for some more fun pictures.

Gillian and Craig balancing on a rock overlooking the beauty of the loch.

Gillian and Craig balancing on a rock overlooking the beauty of the loch.

Never trust your stoker has to be the caption for this photo with the "old git" in blissful ignorance of the "old gal;s" funny face!

Never trust your stoker – the “old git” in blissful ignorance of the “old gal’s” funny face!

The “old git” and the “old gal” were really in the zone today and we were pedalling along at an average of over 12 mph – a good bit above our usual which hovers around the 10 mph mark.

I was uber impressed with my dynamic duo, and none more so towards the end of the loop where there is a fairly steep double hill. But we sailed up it as if it wasn’t there! So much so that the “old gal” was heard to say: “Is that it?!”

After completing the circuit, and clocking up 25 miles, it was back to the cars and I was packed away before a short 6 mile drive to the end of the road and the wonderfully remote Rannoch railway station. The “old git” had got the timing right today and was delighted to report that the amazing Rannoch Station tearoom was still open – and my crew and Gillian and Craig piled in for some welcome coffee and cake.

End of the line! One of the remotest and most scenic stations in Scotland overlooks Rannoch Moor.

End of the line! One of the remotest and most scenic stations in Scotland overlooks Rannoch Moor.

The station is just one stop down the line from Corrour station – where parts of the new Trainspotting 2 movie were recently filmed.

The final stop for the day was to walk across the road from the station to be met by Scott and Steph, mine hosts at the oasis which is Moor of Rannoch Hotel.

A toast to a successful circuit of Loch Rannoch from the gin bar at Moor of Rannoch hotel!

A toast to a successful circuit of Loch Rannoch from the gin bar at Moor of Rannoch hotel!

It is hard to describe this hotel to fully justify what it offers but essentially it is probably best summed up in the four headline words they use on their website – Retreat, Relax, Unwind, Escape.

The hotel’s major selling point – apart from the gin bar (obviously!) is that there is no tv signal and no wifi. You are quite literally cut off from the modern world.

Spot the "stag party" of friendly deer merging in with the bracken on the moor.

Spot the “stag party” of friendly deer merging in with the bracken on the moor.

But that is a huge benefit, and the scenery provides the stimulating brain food as the hotel looks out over the wilderness of Rannoch Moor to the Glencoe mountains. And right on cue as we relaxed before dinner the friendly “stag party” arrived – a herd of deer who come off the hill for food from a local who leaves vegetables out every evening for them.

The “old git” and the “old gal” had worked up an appetite with their route round the loch in a record time of under 2 hours, so along with Gillian and Craig thoroughly enjoyed a superb meal – with the kitchen presenting Highland Perthshire’s larder at its very best!

Another gin as a night cap – along with the cheeseboard which is offered free after dinner – neatly rounded off the day! But not before hotel owner Scott asked if any guests wanted to go outside and see the stags as it was the middle of the rutting season.

My crew went out and Scott used a high powered torch to identify a couple of the magnificent ‘Monarchs of the Glen’ who he caught in his spotlight.

Caught like a stag in the headlights! A magnificent deer just outside the hotel.

Caught like a stag in the headlights! A magnificent deer just outside the hotel.

Another stag on the edge of the moor issuing its rutting season roar!

Another stag on the edge of the moor issuing its rutting season roar!

What an end to a truly memorable day in a fabulous wilderness area with good friends! What could be better?!

Next morning we awoke to an amazing vista from the window of the luxurious bedroom – with a view right across Rannoch Moor.

Not a bad way to start the week - Monday morning coffee and the view across Rannoch Moor.

Not a bad way to start the week – Monday morning coffee and the view across Rannoch Moor.

As the “old gal” said – it’s not a bad view to start the week! After a hearty breakfast we checked out of the hotel feeling fully refreshed.

And on the drive back to Matildas Rest we took in more amazing Autumn views – while identifying a potential new route for Team Matilda to try out … along the side of Loch Tummel.

Loch Tummel in reflective mood. The calm weather showed off the area at its best.

Loch Tummel in reflective mood. The calm weather showed off the area at its best.

As we headed back out of the Rannoch and Tummel area, my dynamic crew said it won’t be long before all three of us are back tandeming in one of our favourite wilderness areas.

UKBA finalist_twitter

Tandeming relaxation around Bayeux in Normandy

The sunny warm weather was just perfect for some gentle tandeming and sightseeing.

The sunny warm weather was just perfect for some gentle tandeming and sightseeing.

Monday 19 September – final lunch in the Loire Valley and travelling north to Normandy

So after Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem it was time for Team Tandem Ecosse to enjoy some rest and recovery by heading north to a mobile home near Bayeux in Normandy.

Before we could head off to Normandy there was the small matter of getting back to the start point of Le Tour at Blois to recover Matilda Transporter. My dynamic duo were not sure about taking me on the French trains you see! Bikes are common place, but tandems can often present a problem on trains.

As it turned out, it wouldn’t have been a problem as the “old git” reported there was plenty of room on the fast 2-hour train trip he took back to Blois, accompanied by John from Team Yukon. The “old gal” and Nancy decided they would stay behind for some sightseeing around Angers.

After recovering Matilda Transporter from the car park, and stopping off to buy some local wine, the the pair drove back down to Angers and I was carefully packed in for the journey north.

Just time for a quick final lunch with John and Nancy – which appropirately was held at a nearby Scottish pub, called the Black Peat. However my dynamic duo said it was just a Scottish-themed tourist attraction rather than a traditional Scottish pub.

The Black Peat Scottish pub in Angers - venue for lunch.

The Black Peat Scottish pub in Angers – venue for the final lunch in the Loire Valley.

One final toast to Team Yukon, and Team Tandem Ecosse were on the road for the three hour drive to a mobile home and camping site called Camping Port’land – situated on Ohama Beach at Port-en-Bessin just a  few miles from Bayeux.

And the good news was that we were meeting Ann and Jack there – good friends of all three of us! – after they had driven over from the UK in their motor home to meet up with us.

We met up at the local supermarket – as you do! – to stock up on supplies for the week, before a celebratory first meal on the campsite and a toast to real friends!

Tuesday – a restful day of acclimitisation!

After a welcome sleep – without being wakened by an early morning alarm call – the first full day saw my dynamic duo explore their luxury chalet mobile home and the campsite.

Our "cottage luxe" - fantastic chalet at Camping Port'land at Port-en-Bessin.

Our fantastic “cottage luxe” – luxury chalet – at Camping Port’land at Port-en-Bessin.

The chalet was described as a “cottage luxe” and was a brilliantly designed modern chalet with not one, but two en-suite bathrooms as it could easily take a family of 5. It had every luxury – equipped with a television, a dish-washer, and an outdoor terrace with a lake view. And as it said in the brochure, it provided the ideal base to relax and unwind.

The campsite itself was beautifully landscaped and also featured a bar restaurant, shop and two swimming pools – an outdoor one (only open in July and August) and a heated indoor one.

After Matilda Transporter was unpacked I was parked up against the front of the chalet – and allowed a day’s rest with the promise of a ride to stretch my spokes tomorrow.

After a smorgasbord alfresco lunch on the terrace – my dynamic duo headed for a walk with Ann and Jack to the nearby fishing harbour village of Port-en-Bessin. This was a lovely working port with some beautiful seafront bars, cafes and restaurants – and a well stocked deli and wine shop.

This visit obviously required the purchase of some wine for that nights bbq, and the sampling of some local cider in one of the bars – before heading back up the steep hill to the campsite. On the walk back up the 18% gradient, the “old gal” firmly stressed that she wasn’t cycling down this road to the port! Fortunately there were other roads into the town!

On returning to the campsite the “old gal” and the “old git” decided a bit of fun was in order and went to the swimming pool.

Camping Port'land had a great indoor heated swimming pool.

Camping Port’land had a great indoor heated swimming pool.

After much laughter – involving playing with a ball – they worked up an appetite and eagerly joined Ann and Jack for a bbq, washed down with a few glasses from the 3 litre bag of red wine that we bought on day 5 of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem! And, I am told, very tasty it was too! Well worth me carrying it around that day on my ageing frame it seems! Glad to be of assistance!

Wednesday – tandem ride to Bayeux – market, cathedral and tapestry 

Wednesday dawned and I was so excited as we were heading back out on the road again today – with a leisurely tandem ride to the the medieval city of Bayeux, just 13 km away.

I was really looking forward to getting some air between my spokes again – and my dynamic duo were keen to get on my saddles again.

And there was the promise of a market in Bayeux, as well as a visit to its famous cathedral and of course the world-renowned Bayeux Tapestry.

You can check out the details of our route on our trip into Bayeux and back to the campsite on the scenic cycle path on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! 

normandy-bayeux-map

We went on the direct route, on the local veloroute paths, easily getting into our stride again. Synchronicity took over and my dynamic duo were pedalling along at an average speed of 16 km/hr. An uphill stretch towards the city proved no obstacle – and we were soon pedalling down through the quaint historic streets to a bicycle parking area near the town hall.

First stop was the local market which was in full swing – with the “old git” and the “old gal” making a few purchases – with local fromage again being one of the key elements on the shopping list!

A few presents were also purchased, then it was a visit to the magnificent Bayeux Cathedral, described as “a gem of Norman architecture”.

The magnificent Bayeux Cathedral dates back to 1077.

The magnificent Bayeux Cathedral dates back to 1077.

The cathedral was consecrated on 14th July 1077, by Bishop Odo of Conteville, in the presence of his illustrious brother,William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy and King of England.

It is believed that Odo commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry. The masterpiece from the Middle Ages was probably intended to be hung in the cathedral nave.

Selfie time for the "old git" and "old gal" outside the Cathedral complete with hivis Tour shirts!

Selfie time outside the Cathedral complete with hi-vis Tour shirts!

After a selfie outside the cathedral – with the “old git” and the “old gal” still attracting attention in their lime green hi-vis t-shirts, despite me being nowhere to be seen – it was time for lunch. The traditional meal in Normandy is a galette – or savoury pancake – washed down with local cider, which was enjoyed by all.

Refuelled the tour of the conservation area continued with a walk to one of the “must do” visits when in the town – the Bayeux Tapestry.

At the entrance to the World Heritage site of the Bayeux tapestry.

At the entrance to the World Heritage site of the Bayeux tapestry.

Now it would need to be said here that the “old git” wasn’t overly enthusiastic about going to see a tapestry – thinking it would be quite a dull experience. But he soon changed his mind, when on entering the museum visitors are kitted out with a head set which – complete with music and illuminating commentary – brings the historic tapestry to life.

The tapestry itself is nearly 70 metres (230 ft) long and 50 cm (20 in) tall, which depicts the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England, culminating in the Battle of Hastings, 950 years ago in 1066.

And believe it or not this “old lady” is depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry! Well at least someone called Queen Matilda is – or Mathilde de Flanders. This turns  out to be the wife of William the Conqueror, and not a classic tandem! Shame!

Famous! Matilda gets a mention in the Bayeux Tapestry - but unfortunately not as a tandem!

Famous! Matilda gets a mention in the Bayeux Tapestry – but unfortunately not as a tandem!

On return to the bike parking area, we found lots of other Mathilde references – a street, a bridge and a hotel! Fame indeed!

Along with Ann and Jack we headed back this time following the more scenic cycle path through some beautiful countryside to the campsite – with one downhill stretch seeing my wheels fair whirring round to hit 47 km/hr!

A quick swim, a meal and some more excellent local wine finished off an interesting day.

Thursday – trip to see Mont-Saint-Michel and the start point for Le Tour de France 2016

The captivating sight of Mont-Saint-Michel the most visited etc

The captivating sight of Mont-Saint-Michel on the edge of Normandy and Brittany.

Today’s schedule was for a visit by car to the famous sight of Mont-Saint-Michel. Now I was getting very excited about this as the landmark was the spectacular starting point for this year’s Tour de France and I had visions of re-creating the start on the causeway.

Unfortunately however, with the “old git” the “old gal” and Ann and Jack in the car there was no room for me, so I had to stay at home. But I knew my dynamic crew wouldn’t forget about me – and they didn’t disappoint!

One of the first things they did on arrival at the massive car parks was to take a picture at the official sign marking the start of the race.

The "old git" and "old gal" at the sign marking the official "Grand DEpart" of the 2016 Tour de France.

The “old git” and “old gal” at the sign marking the official Grand Depart of the 2016 Tour de France.

The Mont-Saint-Michel is one of Europe’s most unforgettable sights. Set in the mesmerising bay where Normandy and Brittany merge, the island draws the eye from great distances.

Selfie time at Mont-Saint-Michel on a brilliant sunny clear day!

Selfie time at Mont-Saint-Michel on a brilliant sunny clear day!

Apart from monuments in and around Paris, Mont-Saint-Michel is the most visited tourist attraction in France. This remarkable mediaeval walled city, crowned by its great gothic abbey, is built on a small granite outcrop standing all by itself in the flats of the estuary of the Couesnon river, in an area now known as Mont-Saint-Michel bay. It was one of the first monuments to be classed as a UNESCO world heritage site, as far back as 1979.

The views from the top of the Mont are amazing and mesmerizing in their beauty.

The views from the top of the Mount are amazing and mesmerising in their beauty.

On arrival we headed for a tour of the Abbey situated right at the top of the Mount. Again it was brought to life with a highly informative and interetsing electronic tour guide.

The "old git" at the end of a row of pillars on the edge of the cloisters.

The “old git” at the end of a row of pillars on the edge of the cloisters.

Amazingly the Abbey dates back to the early 8th the construction itself was clearly an amazing achievement. One of the most interesting areas is the cloisters which seem almost to be suspended between the sea and the sky.

The "old gal" in the spectacular cloisters of the Abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel.

The “old gal” in the spectacular cloisters of the Abbey on Mont-Saint-Michel.

After a fantastic tour my dynamic duo explored the walkways around the Mount and had a quick look at the busy tourist shops which cling to the narrow steep streets.

After a cooling drink it was time to head home, but the “old git” it seems couldn’t resist a picture as if he was on the start line of the Tour de France! The fact that he didn’t have a bike with him didn’t seem to bother him – although I am reliably informed he got a few strange looks from passers by!

The "old git" doing his start of Le Tour photo - minus a bike!

The “old git” doing his start of Le Tour de France – minus a bike!

As my crew travelled back across the causeway to the car parks, they found an eye catching sculpture made out of bikes – which again had been installed to mark the departure point of Le Tour de France.

The "old git" and the "old gal" at the sculpture made out of bikes to mark the start of Le Tour de France 2016.

The “old git” and the “old gal” at the bike sculpture to mark the start of Le Tour de France 2016.

Jack and Ann also found the sculpture interesting - with jack attempting to blow up some tyres!

Jack and Ann also found the sculpture interesting – with Jack attempting to blow up some tyres!

The holidaymakers headed home via dinner at a fantastic seafood restaurant at Port-en-Bessin where the “old gal” and the “old git” were able to induldge in a wonderful fruits de mer (seafood) platter which included some fanastic local oysters!

The gorgeous fruits de mer platters for dinner at a great seafood restaurant near the campsite.

The gorgeous fruits de mer platters for dinner at a great seafood restaurant near the campsite.

All in all a great day it seems. the “old git” said it could only have been bettered by arriving at Mont-Saint-Michel by tandem! Next time it seems!

Friday – tandem run to visit war sites at Arromanches and Gold Beach

Team Tandem Ecosse in all our resplendent glory on Gold Beach in the sunshine.

Team Tandem Ecosse in all our resplendent glory on Gold Beach in the sunshine.

Today was forecast to be the best day of the week for warm sunshine – and it didn’t disappoint as we woke to bright early morning.

The “old git” had planned a ride for today to visit some of the World War 2 landing beaches and museums along the Normandy coast at Arromanches.

So after  a hearty breakfast Team Tandem Ecosse – accompanied by Ann and Jack – set off on what turned out to be a beautiful ride through relatively flat countryside and scenic villages. And the good thing was that it was if they hadn’t been away for my dynamic duo – with even the “old gal” admitting to how easy it was to pedal today.

You can check out the details of our route on our trip to Arromanches and Gold Beach on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (The actual distance was 44km but again we had post picnic operator error!)

normandy-arromanches-map

On arrival at Arromanches the “old git” and the “old gal” decided to bypass the little sea front town and head on to Arronmanches 360 – a circular cinema which sits on a point high on the clifftops above the town and which overlooks the spectacular bay which was the focus for the D-Day invasion on 6th June 1944.

Selfie time for Team Tandem Ecosse at a viewpoint near the Arromanches 360 circular cinema.

Selfie time for Team Tandem Ecosse at a viewpoint near the Arromanches 360 circular cinema.

After taking in the views, my dynamic duo and Ann and Jack watched the excellent “Normandy’s 100 Days” short film made up of 19 minutes of unseen archive footage which depicts the horror of the terrible 100 days of the Battle of Normandy on 9 massive HD screens. The film is a tribute to soldiers from all countries and to the 20,000 civilians who were killed during this battle for the liberation of Europe, battle which gave rise to so much hope.

The most moving part for the “old gal” was the fact that there was literally a stunned silence at the end of the film – with people leaving the circular cinema shaking their heads in disbelief, many in tears.

After that sobering visit, we tandemed on in beautiful warm sunshine further along the coast to Gold Beach – which was the beach where the British forces came ashore. Today it is just a wide open beach, and it is difficult to imagine what it would have been like all those years ago when the British 50th Infantry Division stormed ashore, meeting stiff resistance from the German 352nd Infantry Division.

The "old git" on the spectacular wide open expanse of Gold Beach.

The “old git” on the spectacular wide open expanse of Gold Beach.

After a walk along the beach it time for a picnic – but only after I got to show off my new shiny red leather accessory – my la bouclee wine carrier – which perfectly matches my paintwork! And it looked all the better in the sun.

My new red leather bouclee wine bottle holder accessory!

My new red leather bouclee wine bottle holder accessory!

And it clearly works as, despite the warm temperature, the clever design keeps the bottle cool with the air flowing past the bottle generated by cycling.

After I was parked up, it was time to introduce Ann and Jack to the delights of a Cremant picnic – on a picnic bench which had the most amazing view overlooking Gold Beach.

Cremant picnic time with Ann and Jack right on the edge of Gold Beach.

Cremant picnic time with Ann and Jack right on the edge of Gold Beach.

After demolishing the picnic, the “old gal” and the “old git” decided it was the perfect spot to take a view “portrait” shots of Team Tandem Ecosse. Ann was roped in as photographer and did a great job capturing the team. Indeed the “old git” was so pleased with the results that he is talking of using the shot in this year’s Team Matilda Christmas card!

A contender for this year's Team Matilda Christmas card photo - expertly taken by Ann!

A contender for this year’s Team Matilda Christmas card photo – expertly taken by Ann!

Back on the saddles we tandemed further along to Ver-Sur-Mer to sit and enjoy the sun while having a much needed coffee. The temperature was probably the warmest it had been today, and the “old gal” was lapping up the sunshine. And despite having to apply regular coatings of factor 30 suncream, the “old git” was enjoying watching his skin turn brown instead of bright red!

The "old git's" Auld Alliance Scotland and France wristbands showing off his tan!

The “old git’s” Auld Alliance Scotland and France wristbands showing off his tan!

As we pedalled back towards Arromanches the sun was perfectly placed for the “old gal” to take an arty shadow shot of the three of us tandeming along. You know, she is getting quite good at this photography lark!

The sun was perfectly placed for an arty shadow shot featuring Team Matilda!

The sun was perfectly placed for an arty shadow shot featuring Team Matilda!

As we tandemned into Arromanches you cannot fail to notice the military reminders as no other port is more closely linked with the liberation of Western Europe after D-Day.

Arromanches is a very moving place. Here, in the midst of the D-Day beaches, you still get a strong sense of the huge effort involved in the Allied invasion to liberate France and the rest of Western Europe from June 1944 on. Troops deliberately did not land at Arromanches on D-Day itself, to leave the coast here clear for a portable harbour (nicknamed Mulberry Harbour) being tugged over from southern England to be put in place, free of any debris.

The port was meant to be temporary,  lasting maybe three months. It served for some five months. The Arromanches Mulberry Harbour became known as Port Winston, after British wartime leader Winston Churchill, who was closely involved in its conception. A staggering 2.5 million men, 500,000 vehicles and 4 million tonnes of supplies arrived via Port Winston.

The "old git" outside the Musee du Debarquement - beside one of the many reminders of its military history.

The “old git” outside the Musee du Debarquement – beside one of the reminders of its military history.

A visit was paid to the Musee du Debarquement which is built looking out to the staggeringly big concrete blocks which remain in the sea. This central museum focuses on the D-Day landings and the crucial months of Allied action afterwards. It goes into fascinating detail about the setting up of the Mulberry Harbour via models and displays.

Despite all its somber reminders of the shattering war effort, Arromanches has a good deal of charm and after the museum visit, I was parked up in the bike parking area and the “old git” and the “old gal” wandered round the town.

An old military bicycle caught they eye of the "old gal" in a shop display in Arromanches.

An old military bike caught they eye of the “old gal” in a shop display in Arromanches.

There are reminders of the military links everywhere, with most shops having artefacts in their shop windows and shop front displays. An old military engine-powered relic of a bicycle caught the eye of the “old gal.”

Perhaps the most thought provoking image of the day was painted on a wall just beside a main road junction at the main square – depicting the plea from children for “please no more war”.

The thought provoking wall mural at a busy road junction - nothing more needs to be said really.

The thought provoking wall mural at a busy road junction – nothing more needs to be said really.

It was time to tandem back to the campsite and I must say my dynamic duo had one of those moments on the return journey when all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse feel as if we are part of a finely tuned machine! We climbed hills as if they didn’t exist and effortlessly tandemed along on the flat – even outpacing Ann and Jack in their pesky e-bikes!

A quick stop at the supermarket resulted in every corner of my panniers stuffed with supplies, before we returned to the campsite after a fabulous – but very moving – day.

Jack’s impressive skills with the bbq provided a fitting meal to end the day – with the wine I carefully carried up from the supermarket providing suitable refreshments!

Saturday – Omaha Beach and the American Military Cemetery

After yesterday’s Team Tandem Ecosse pedal to Arromanches and Gold Beach, today my dynamic duo decided on a morning visit by car to the American sector – Omaha beach and the American Military Cemetery.

Along with Ann and Jack my crew drove just a few miles to Colleville-sur-Mer where you overlook what is now known as Omaha Beach where the American forces landed on D-Day – 6 June 1944.

Overlooking Omaha Beach - where it is easy to imagine the D-Day invasion scene.

Overlooking Omaha Beach – where it is easy to imagine the D-Day invasion scene.

Today the beach itself is beautiful, but it is easy to imagine the D-Day invasion scene – and what a frightening prospect that must have been for those involved.

The "old gal" overlooking Ohama Beach which stretches for miles and offers little protection.

The “old gal” overlooking Ohama Beach which stretches for miles and offers little protection.

On walking down towards the beach there is a Monument to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade – built on the remains of a blockhouse – which commemorates those who died protecting movements between the landing craft and the beach.

The monument to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade above Omaha Beach.

The monument to the 5th Engineer Special Brigade above Omaha Beach.

Next was a though provoking visit to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer which contains 9,387 white marble gravestones which are perfectly lined up on the field that overlooks Omaha beach.

The American Military Cemetery is a thought provoking visit - with its 9,385 stark marble crosses.

The American Military Cemetery is a thought provoking visit – with its 9,385 stark marble crosses.

An impressive memorial includes a massive bronze statue, “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves.”

On the Walls of the Missing, in a semicircular garden on the east side of the memorial, are inscribed 1,557 names. Rosettes mark the names of those since recovered and identified.

The impressive visitor centre contains numerous exhibits which bring home the stark reality of the D-D Landings. The cemetery itself receives more than 1 million visitors a year.

The visitor centre brings home the stark reality of war.

The American Military Cemetery visitor centre brings home the stark reality of war.

As the “old gal” said – you cannot fail to be moved by the size of the cemetery and that it contains the graves of so many soldiers. Thought provoking indeed.

The "old git" at the viewing platform which outlines the D-Day battles fought on Omaha Beach below.

The “old git” at the viewing platform which outlines the D-Day battles fought on Omaha Beach below.

Back at the campsite, a relaxing afternoon followed – allowing the “old gal” a chance to chill and do a bit of reading. Evening saw a lovely dinner at the Camping Port’land restaurant – including the now almost obligatory cocktails to mark the last full day in Port-en-Bessin.

Unfortunately we start the journey home tomorrow ….

Sunday – packing up, market day, fabulous lunch, the British Cemetery and the long drive home

Sunday was our last day and the morning passed in a flurry of cleaning and packing with me safely secured in Matilda Transporter for the journey home. The “old gal” was delighted with the extra space around me in the new vehicle – allowing plenty of room for the boxes of wine that she and the “old git” had purchased during the holiday!

After checking out of Camping Port’land – and thanking them for a most enjoyable stay – it was time for a farewell lunch with Ann and Jack in Port-en-Bessin. But only after we discovered that it was market day in the town and my dynamic duo eatgerly rushed around the stalls buying up some wonderful looking local cheeses from the various fromagerie stalls.

Ann and Jack had the luxury of going to be spending at least another week touring around in their motor home – but sadly Team Tandem Ecosse had to head home. But there was a wonderful final lunch of moules-frites to be eaten at a brilliant restaurant looking out on to the fishing harbour.

A final lunch of moules-frites (in white wine sauce) - proved to be a gastronomic delight

A final lunch of moules-frites (in white wine sauce) – proved to be a gastronomic delight

After a long – and most enjoyable lunch – it was time to bid “au revoir” to Ann and Jack after a great week of companionship.

Having visited the American Military Cemetery the “old gal” and the “old git” were keen to see the British version and allowed time for a visit to The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery – which is the largest Second World War British military cemetery in France.

The visit to The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery was moving.

The visit to The Bayeux Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery was moving.

A fitting tribute to a young Scot - aged just 19 - from Glasgow who lost his life in the Battle of Normandy.

A fitting tribute to a young Scot  who died aged just 19.

The Bayeux War Cemetery marks the graves of nearly 5,000 soldiers. This includes nearly 4,000 British soldiers but also graves for military personnel from ten further nations, including a large number of German soldiers. A memorial honours the memory of a further 1,807 Commonwealth soldiers missing-in-action.

Construction of the Bayeux War Cemetery began two days after the D-Day landings. Since then, the simple crosses on the graves had been replaced by stone headstones. In contrast to the American and German war cemeteries, headstones here are not totally uniform with the top ends slightly different for the respective nations.

Also, in contrast to the American practice, the inscriptions on the headstones in the Bayeux War Cemetery are personalised. In addition to the traditional names, rank, dates of birth and death, headstones here also carry images of the regiment or country, as well as personal messages from family members.

After a truly moving visit, with the clock ticking towards 6pm it was time to bid farewell to Bayeux and get into Matilda Transporter and start the 800 mile trip direct back home to Matildas Rest in Perthshire.

And with the two hours on – two hours off – rota system employed by the “old gal” and the “old git” we whizzed up the French motorways arriving in plenty of time for our Eurotunnel crossing.

Then the last part of the journey, round the M25, up the M6 and M74 before the welcoming A9 and back to Matilda’s Rest where we arrived before 6am – just 12 hours driving from our departure from Bayeux.

And although I was missing the warm French sunshine – it is always nice to be back home. And the “old git” and the “old gal” had even got a new French-style sign for my garage signifying it was a “Place des Cyclistes”! How very true!

Here I am glad to be back home safely at Matilda's Rest - complete with my new French sign!

Here I am glad to be back home safely at Matilda’s Rest – complete with my new French sign!

So the end of another fabulous French adventure – which leaves only two things to say – what a holiday … and when can we do it again!!!

I hope you enjoyed reliving the adventures of Team Tandem Ecosse through my Musings – and I promise I will have the “old git” and “old gal” back in the saddle very soon so I can continue to recount my adventures as we travel around Scotland. Speak soon!

UKBA finalist_twitter

Reflections on Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem 2016

Big smiles from the "old gal" when she saw how flat the cycle paths were!

Big smiles from the “old gal” when she saw how flat the cycle paths were!

tdf-wine-september-5x7During the week of relaxation and recuperation further north at Port-en-Bessin, near Bayeux in Normandy, there was plenty of time for Team Tandem Ecosse to reflect on what was an incredible Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem – and an amazing sense of achievement in completing the route.

Although it was hectic, and very full-on, the “old git” and the “old gal” are already missing their days of togetherness in the saddle while on the the quiet cycle lanes and back roads of the beautifully scenic Loire with its chateaux and vineyards.

This shot really sums up the "We're here for the ride ... and the wine" message on the dayglo shirts!

This shot really sums up the “We’re here for the ride … and the wine” message on the dayglo shirts!

The scenery was fabulously eye-catching and a real joy to experience and provided real brain food with stunning images as we  tandemed along – experiencing an incredible contrast between the serenity of the vineyards to the bustling towns along the route – while all the time being at one with nature.

Before we set out we always said that “the journey” was going to be the holiday – not racing from place to place – and sticking firmly to that agenda Team Tandem Ecosse all enjoyed long warm sunny days on the road giving a fantastic in-depth experience of the vineyards and chateaux of the Loire – and the area’s friendly people.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo overlooking the ornamental love garden.

Selfie time for my dynamic duo at an  ornamental love garden at a chateau.

That journey was so much more satisfying for my dynamic duo being self-propelled at the slower pace of a tandem, rather than travelling by car. Every view of a vineyard or eye-catching chateau lasted so much longer – as did the picnics and wine tastings en route!

Travelling by the relatively fragile mode of transport that a tandem is certainly exposed us not only to the warm sunshine – and one day’s biblical rain! – but to the physically demanding exertions of progressing from place to place.

Ready to ride again - Team Tandem Ecosse in their official matching ponchos!

Team Tandem Ecosse posing as drowned rats in their official matching ponchos!

It also brought us into close interaction with lots of local people, many of whom tooted their support and issued friendly “bonjours” as they passed Team Tandem Ecosse – unmissable in their multi-lingual day-glo cycling shirts. Many enjoyed pointing out our tour tag line of “We’re here for the ride … and the wine!” And of course the other cyclists we met along the way – with whom we shared a special bond, even if some had those pesky e-bikes! – and not forgetting our saviour ‘Saint Michael’!

'Saint Michael' - the man who came to Team tandem Ecosse's rescue with his divine intervention!

‘Saint Michael’ – the man who came to Team tandem Ecosse’s rescue with his divine intervention!

But perhaps the most important thing is that my dynamic duo of the “old gal” (aka Diane) and the “old git” (aka Colin) did it as a real team – laughing and smiling all the way even when frustration levels increased as energy levels fell! And that was the case even when pedalling back on ourselves to the previous junction to take the “correct” turning; or when we emerged from the trauma of the holy trinity of our triple puncture; or when we left the maps behind and had to go back and retrieve them; or when neither could see an inch in front of their face for the monsoon-like rain!

After all my dynamic duo believe in the twin mottos of: “It’s the Smiles that count, not the miles!” and “Its always better when we are tandeming together!”

The route passed through a number of tree tunnels in the forest with the sun rays shining through.

Having a laugh – showing it is the smiles that count, not the miles.

Here is a video montage of our amazing Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem back in September – featuring lots of pictures of the trip set to music. It brings back wonderful memories for all three of us  in the sun-kissed French countryside, tandeming through vineyards against a backdrop of fabulous chateaux, going from wine tasting to wine tasting, and of course our now infamous Team Tandem Ecosse cremant picnics! (And don’t forget that if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

In conclusion, this “old lady” is proud to say they resolutely supported each other every pedal and every kilometre of the way – and emerged from the experience even more together, and in love!

And even after 260 kms and 18 hours in the saddle all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse experienced another fabulous adventure – and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world!

Now where is that brochure to start planning next year’s trip!

Cheers! End of Le Tour toast for my dynamic duo after xx hour sin the saddle!

Cheers! End of Le Tour toast for my dynamic duo after 18 hours in the saddle!

LV Cyclomundo logo

Finally here’s the review that Team Tandem Ecosse posted on the website of the French holiday company Cyclomundo. You can also read it on-line on their website here  – (scroll to October 15 2016 if necessary). It also appears on TripAdvisor under reviews of Cyclomundo here.

Incredible journey on two wheels – cycling, chateaux and cremant in the Loire Valley.

We cycled the Fairytale Castles along the Loire River tour from Blois to Angers on our classic tandem – called Matilda – which really did offer double the fun on a bicycle made for two!

This trip is based in the majestic beauty of the Loire Valley with spectacular scenery every day. The route involved tandeming a route through amazing French countryside which provided an ideal contrast from the serenity of vineyards and forests and scenic villages to imposing chateaux and the bustling main towns. I mean – what’s not to like!

Selfie time for the "old gal" and the "old git" at Chateau de Villandry.

Chateau de Villandry and its wonderful gardens was one of the stops on Le Tour.

Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem was made all the more memorable by the warmth of the sunshine – and the friendliness of the many locals we met along the way who – despite our lack of French – were understanding and helpful and enjoyed the spectacle of our tandeming efforts.

One of the highlights for us was undoubtedly cycling through some of the most famous vineyards in the world which were literally groaning with grapes ready for harvest and into beautiful wine villages keen to offer tastings in their caves – which allowed us to sample many of the local wines and Cremant en route! It more than lived up to our own tour t-shirts which bore the logo: “We’re here for the ride … and the wine!”

Cheers - The "old git" at the wine tasting in the trog cave.

A great tasting of  Saumur wine in a troglodyte cave at Turquant.

The organisation by Cyclomundo was exceptional – all hotels knew of our impending arrival and the luggage transfer was brilliantly easy. Our bags were actually waiting for us in our rooms when we arrived at our accommodation each day. And each hotel was a joy to stay in – more than living up to their reputation for being cycle-friendly.

Special mention for the Hotel Plantagenet in Chinon where the owners went the extra mile to dry out all our cycling gear and make us warm and comfortable when we arrived looking like drowned rats after a day of cycling in biblical rain!

The "old git" in her fetching poncho! To say it was unseasonably wet would be a huge understatement!

Arriving at Hotel Plantagenet in Chinon like a drowned rat! But the hotel went the extra mile.

As regards the directions and cue sheets and maps we would recommend a thorough read-over of the day’s route before leaving each day – including double checking it on the maps provided  – as some of the directions can be ambiguous and open to interpretation … and result in “discussions” between couples – especially when, as we were, on a tandem!

We got badly “lost” on the last leg from Saumur to Angers due to unclear directions which resulted in us taking an alternatively signed route to our destination – disappointingly missing out on some of the key attractions of the final day.

Unusual road sign targeted at cyclists - does it apply to us tandems?

Just before we got “lost” – an unusual road sign aimed at cyclists, but does it apply to us tandems?

Also you need to be aware that the detailed directions provided are only to/from a central point in the towns where you stay, like a railway station. This therefore requires a bit of self-navigation on departing and arrival in order to find the route out of town, or your hotel – which can be a bit stressful. This is one aspect which could be improved upon as we have travelled with other tour operators in previous years, who provided individual tailored instructions direct to and from accommodation.

With most of the route along designated cycling paths – including the wonderful Loire a Velo – it felt very safe and the area is perfectly set up for cyclists. Coming from Scotland – where there are very few dedicated cycle paths – it was amazing to see the cyclist being given such a high priority. The paths themselves were mostly flat and well surfaced which made tandeming a real joy and easy to cover the distances required.

The cycle paths of the Loire a Velo were mostly flat and included many wonderful tree tunnels.

The cycle paths of the Loire a Velo were mostly flat and included many wonderful tree tunnels.

Another key element of our enjoyment of our tandem tours is our picnics and the comprehensive route notes contained several good suggestions for picnic stops – follow these and you will have wonderful venues for alfresco lunches.

We were easily able to stock up on supplies of local bread, meats and cheese from the boulangerie, charcuterie and fromagerie in towns before heading off for the day on our tandem. And of course there was a bottle of local Cremant to wash it all down with!

My new "bon appetit" sign completed the decadence for the Tour picnics.

The “bon appetit” sign added to the decadence for Le Tour picnics – complete with Cremant!

In conclusion this tour was one of those rare occasions when you wish you could award six stars in the ratings!

Doing a trip like this really is a fantastic experience and will provide a wealth of great memories!

And if you do it on a tandem – like we did – it does bring you closer together!

You owe it to yourself to do it!

We wrote a blog of our adventures on our tandem – called Matilda’s Musings – where our tandem (aka Matilda) gives her in-depth account of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. You can read our adventures here: https://matildasmusingsdotcom.wordpress.com/

Have a bite! Delicious fresh apples straight from the tree!

Have a bite! Delicious fresh apples straight from the tree!

UKBA finalist_twitter

Day six – getting properly lost on the last leg of Le Tour

Team Tandem Ecossee walkie-talkies - the chat was interesting when we got lost!

Team Tandem Ecosse walkie-talkies – the chat was somewhat fraught when we got lost!

tdf-wine-september-5x7

Day six  for Team Tandem Ecosse and wakening up in the splendour of the Hotel Saint-Pierre in Saumur, the sad realisation dawned that today was the final stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du tandem!

The sun was shining as Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon feasted on a wonderful continental breakfast, while looking over the maps and guide for the day for the last leg from Saumur to Angers.

The “bible” – the guide and detailed directions provided by French-based cycle touring company Cyclomundo – said: “Today’s journey gives you the opportunity to fully enjoy the beauty of the Loire Valley – discovering many scenic villages, medieval churches, chateaux, forests and rivers.”

Sounds idyllic – albeit a longish tandem of around 70km – but what could possibly go wrong?! Well the little matter of crossing the Loire at the wrong place and getting totally and utterly lost by going in completely the wrong direction, that’s what! But more of that later!

You can check out the details of  our route on the sixth and final stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Saumur to Angers on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full scale map and statistics! Note where we crossed the river – while the planned route was to continue along the left bank of the Loire to Bouchemaine then up the side of the Maine river to Angers. And the actual distance covered was 72 km – but some bits missing due to operator error again!

lvday6strava

As they say it all started so well as we tandemed out of Saumur on a blissfully sunny Sunday cycling along the banks of the magnificent Loire full of the joys of life. The first section was extremely busy with cyclists all fully kitted out in team colours,  and then the “old git” noticed the road had all been very recently resurfaced and all the traffic calming and pavement areas had been spruced up. It was only when we stopped a bit further on were we told that this section had been used as the start of Stage 4 of the 2016 Tour de France – the longest stage of this year’s race from Saumur to Limoges.

So this “old lady” can honestly now say she has tandemed along the Tour de France route – albeit just a few kms of it! And all the lycra clad fit cyclists were all part of the huge groups who cycle the whole Tour de France route just for fun! Not sure why the “old gal” was spending so much time ogling at the cyclists – but I guess it must have been their bikes she was looking at rather than their ultra fit bodies and steel like bums!

Soon we were in the town of Gennes which traces its history back to the prehistoric period as it has several dolmens – megalithic tombs – in the vicinty. More recently during the Gallo-Roman era it was a busy crossing point of the Loire. Today it was an ideal spot for a morning coffee for my dynamic duo, marking the 20km mark!

Here I am with the "old git" and another stunning view over the Loire at xxxxx

Here I am with the “old git” and another stunning view over the Loire at Le Thoureil.

Back on the saddles we tandemed on taking in the amazing scenery of the villages and chateaux of the Loire before heading into Le Thoureil  – which is known as one of the prettiest riverside villages. It was truly beautiful.

Then just about the 30km mark we entered the village of Saint-Remy-La Varennne and had to carefully negotiate our way round some slippy cobbled areas under a bridge – taking care not to fall in.  This was where we saw a most unusual sign – warning cyclists of the dangers of pedalling into the water!

Unusual road sign targeted at cyclists - does it apply to us tandems?

Unusual road sign targeted at cyclists on river bank – does it apply to us tandems?

Maybe that took minds and focus off the map reading – but this is the point where things went very badly wrong – or at least in the wrong direction. Looking back at the “bible” afterwards the “old git” agrees it is at best confusing! And it wasn’t helped by the fact that there are two signed Loire a Velo cycle route options into Angers – although to be fair Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon were not aware of that at the time! But a little more time discussing the directions would have helped and ensured we headed the desired way!

So despite the map clearly showing we stay on the left bank of the Loire, the majority verdict (but not including me and the “old git”) conspired to rule that we cross the Loire on a busy bridge and head into the town of Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire where there were cycle path signs for Angers. “So it must be right, then”! Wrong!

We then headed off on totally the wrong cycle route to the maps and ended up tandeming away from the Loire inland. Again to be fair the “old git” realised we were going on the wrong route to Angers at this point – but the corporate decision was taken to keep going as it was signposted for Angers anyway. The chat on my dynamic duo’s walkie-talkies was somewhat fraught, as you can imagine the “old git” was not best pleased at this point – especially as we then cycled for dull km after dull km through uninteresting farmland. So dull that the most exciting thing that  we saw was a field of asparagus growing – exciting as the “old gal” had never seen that before!

But even the “old gal” agreed that even the excitement of the asparagus didn’t remotely make up for missing picture postcard villages and riverside restaurant boats – called “guinguette” – and other highlights like Les Ponts-de-Ce – a town which has the characteristic of being crossed by three rivers – the Loire in the centre, the Authion at the north  and the Louet to the south.

It would need to be said that this was a low point of Le Tour! However one benefit of the “wrong” route into Angers was a first for this “old lady” and indeed a first for both Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon was a trip on a self-propelled chain ferry!

All of a sudden the path we were tandeming along came to an abrupt halt at the river’s edge with a small boat at the other side. Closer inspection revealed a chain at a small concrete jetty and a sign (all in French) which indicated it was indeed a small self-operated chain ferry.

The "old git" and John from Team Yukon loading the bikes on to the self-propelled chain ferry across the Authion.

The “old git” and John from Team Yukon loading the bikes on to the chain ferry across the Authion.

It seems we were on the Authion river, a canalised river which is controlled by 8 dams, which flows into the nearby Loire. So once the boat was pulled over to our bank I was loaded on board  along with the two solo bikes and then both crews boarded before the “old git” took command and started  to heave on the chain and pull us all across the other side. I was impressed as he quickly pulled the load of bikes and passengers across the almost still water to the other bank to allow us to disembark.

The “old gal” decided that Team Tandem Ecosse’s first trip on a chain ferry was way too good an opportunity to miss and decided to film the incident in a video the “old git” has dubbed: Who Pays the Ferryman?! Watch the video by hitting the play button below, spotting the now redundant map reader on the “old git’s” back! (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Safely across the water we continued along the “wrong” cycle path for the last 10km to our destination. This involved pedalling through the startlingly bleak landscape of the former slate mines at Trelaze. But then we came into a picturesque forest stretch complete with more tree tunnels, and therefore a quick stop was required for another selfie.

A break in the dull landscape with a wonderful tree tunnel o the "wrong" path to Angers.

A break in the dull landscape with a wonderful tree tunnel on the “wrong” path to Angers.

And would you believe it – just as energy levels were dropping, and frustration levels were rising – we ended up tandeming the final few kms through an industrial estate desert. We also narrowly avoided a road which would have taken us on to the city motorway – which would have been interesting to say the least – as we headed into Angers the back way, thus missing out completely on the beautiful countryside around the confluence of the Loire and Maine rivers and along the Lac du Maine.

It was at this point that John had a full scale strop and decided to head off on his own, following his sat nav on his mobile phone, to the end point – the Hotel d’Anjou in Angers. The “old git”, the “old gal” and Nancy from Team Yukon gamely stuck together, cycling through some rather dismal backstreets before emerging into the centre of Angers.

A quick pedal down one of the main thoroughfares of the city and its was time for high fives and a euphoric cheers to mark the end of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. Except that there were only three people involved in that little ceremony as John was nowhere to be seen!

At the end point - take one! The "old git" and the "old gal" at the hotel in Angers.

High fives! The “old git” and the “old gal” celebrate the end of Le Tour – take one!

About 20 minutes later John somewhat sheepishly reappeared having got even further lost! Unfortunately for him when he headed off  alone, he had simply entered the name of the hotel – and not its checked its address – and ended up a similarly named, but much more downmarket property, in a completely different part of the city!

It was still early in the afternoon and it was a beautiful warm day, so my dynamic duo decided to head off and follow the map in reverse to see some of what we’d missed and to have a private moment for Team Tandem Ecosse to celebrate the end of Le Tour on their own.

We headed down past the imposing Chateau d’Angers and easily found the “correct” cycle path which took us through the massive Park Balzac and down the side of Lac de Maine. And my crew were so glad they did as it was a gorgeous area which reminded the “old git” of Central Park in New York.

Cheers! End of Le Tour toast for my dynamic duo after xx hour sin the saddle!

Cheers! End of Le Tour toast for my dynamic duo after 18 hours in the saddle!

We all tandemed on a few more kms to the path down the side of La Maine river near where it joined the Loire at Bouchemaine to find an ideal picnic spot. Plenty of time too for a cool celebratory drink of Cremant de Loire – with the “old git” raising a toast to the “old gal” and to the fact that it is “truly always better when we’re together” – even after 18 hours in the saddle! Awww shucks!

The "old git" proposed a toast to the "old gal".

The “old git” as Pilot, raised a toast to the “old gal,” as Stoker!

While enjoying the fizz and the tasty picnic the “old git” checked my trip computer – with today’s 72 km stretch taking the total to 260 km for this trip. With a moving time of 18 hours, our average speed saw us tandem along at around 15 km / hr.

And over xxx kms my dynamic duo were still talking - albeit sometimes via the walkie-talkies!

After over 160 kms my dynamic duo were still talking – albeit sometimes only via the walkie-talkies!

For Team Tandem Ecosse the whole journey is always very much the experience – its not  a race to get to the next destination as quickly as possible – so with the multiple stops for chateau, wine tastings and picnics the total journey time was well over 30 hours. And for the record, our top speed of the trip was a staggering 58  km/hr – actually achieved on not one, but two separate occasions!

For the record, all three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse – otherwise known just as Team Matilda when back home – had a tremendous sense of achievement and satisfaction – mixed with general knackeredness –  at completing the trip.

The "old git" celebrating on the banks of La Maine - complete with riverboat!

The “old git” celebrating on the banks of La Maine – complete with riverboat!

And this “old lady” was fair chuffed when both “old gal” and the “old git” happily did a joint toast to “Matilda as she was the star”!  Fortunately I managed to complete the whole trip with not even the slightest mechanical breakdown along the way – other than the holy trinity of a triple puncture – much to the relief of the “old gal” who didn’t need to use her skills as chief engineer!

After the last fabulous picnic of the tour we cycled back along the lake and through the park and into the city – with the “old git” having to use all his “pilot” skills to guide us through the rush hour traffic back to the hotel – and a final cheer to mark journey’s end!

The end of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem - take two!

The “old git” and the “old gal” at the end of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem – take two!

At the hotel I was parked in an underground car park room especially for bikes, before Team Tandem Ecosse met up with Team Yukon’s John and Nancy again for a final toast to the Le Tour – opening another bottle of fizz in a lovely sun-kissed terrace. The “old git” and the “old gal” were almost moved into singing a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” Almost!

There was even some talk of my crew visiting the remote Yukon area of Canada – though quite how they will transport me there could prove a bit of problem.  I mean, surely they wouldn’t go without me … would they?!

The end of Le Tour toast for Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon.

The end of Le Tour toast for Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon.

It was then time for my crew to enjoy a most welcome shower and change for an end-of-trip dinner. As it was Sunday many places were closed so the hotel restaurant was the venue for a celebratory meal – with the dynamic duo in the mood for some wonderful food. And to add to the celebrations the “old gal” decided that some local Saumur wine was in order – purely to toast the success of the trip!

What with all the Cremant this afternoon, and then the fruity red, whisper it again, but the “old git” and the “old gal” were just a tad tipsy by the end of the meal. But I guess that’s allowed to celebrate the end of the trip! After a quick check that I was ok, my dynamic duo retired for some much-needed sleep!

And although it was officially the end of the Loire Valley part of the trip,  Team Tandem Ecosse are tomorrow heading north to the Normandy coast to a lakeside mobile home park in the shadow of the WW2 landing beaches near Bayeux – to meet up with our good friends, Ann and Jack, for a week’s rest and recovery! And after the intensity of the last week, that sounds like an enticing prospect!

There will however be time for a ‘Reflections of the Tour’ Musings …. as well as a couple of more leisurely tandem rides. So stay tuned!

UKBA finalist_twitter

Day five – sunny tandeming to more wine tastings

Team Tandem Ecosse - in Canadian cycling shirts - with Team Yukon at the Joan of Arc Monument in Saumur.

Team Tandem Ecosse – in Canadian shirts – with Team Yukon at the Joan of Arc Monument in Saumur.

tdf-wine-september-5x7Day five for Team Tandem Ecosse and the first thing to be done today was to retrieve the cycling gear from the laundry room. And good to their word, the staff at the Hotel Plantagenet  had dried everything after yesterday’s soaking it received when the monsoon-like rain hit.

In fact the very first thing the “old gal” asked when she awoke from her slumbers was: “Is it raining?” The “old git” made her very happy when he reported that the biblical rain had disappeared completely overnight – as had the clouds, leaving a bright blue sky with warm sunshine forecast for the day ahead.

After a somewhat difficult – and indeed uncomfortable – day in the saddle the three of us on Team Tandem Ecosse were looking forward to getting Le Tour de Loire Valley du tandem back on track with stage five from Chinon to another wine city of Saumur. The “bible” promised a 30 odd km canter along the Vienne river, through beautiful villages, to join the Loire again – with a wine tasting in the troglodyte caves before arriving in Saumur dominated by its chateau. Sounds blissful! Oh and the paths are flat most of the way which is a bonus for this “old lady” who is feeling a bit creaky after all the water got into my joints yesterday!

You can check out the details of  our route on the fifth stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Chinon to Saumur on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (Note no operator error again today!!)

lvday5strava

Team Tandem Ecosse in their maple leaf Canadian cycling tops.

Team Tandem Ecosse in their maple leaf-designan cycling tops.

Today was deemed Canadian day in honour of Team Yukon, so after breakfast it was time for a joint picture with John and Nancy who had kindly presented the “old git” and the “old gal” with maple leaf-design cycling shirts.

The huge Joan of Arc statue in the square that bears her name provided an inspiring backdrop for the photo. In 1429 the teenage Joan of Arc came to Chinon to meet the Dauphin Charles VII, who was holed up after losing most of his kingdom. Joan succeeded in inspiring Charles to reclaim his kingdom, after which Chinon became his capital and enjoyed a century of prosperity.

A quick stop for picnic supplies and we were off, immediately crossing the impressive Quai Danton bridge over the Vienne river. The “old gal” was so traumatised by the rain yesterday that she had to take a photo of the sun on the bridge – just to prove it existed!

The day started in glorious sunshine on the bridge over the Vienne river.

The day started in glorious sunshine on the bridge over the Vienne river.

We then tandemed along some beautifully flat cycling paths along the side of the river before heading through a forest area including some wonderful tree tunnel sections – which with the sun streaming through were just demanding photos.

The route passed through a number of tree tunnels in the forest with the sun rays shining through.

The route included some spectacular tree tunnels in the forest.

I have to say here that despite the rain yesterday this “old lady” was in fine form today. It was one of those brilliant tandeming stretches where the “old git” and the “old gal” were pedalling in total synchronicity and with the ultra flat paths we were moving along without any real effort at around 30km/hr, reaching a top speed of over 40km/hr at one stage. It really was one of those moments when my pilot and stoker both felt they were part of a finely tuned machine – that’s me we’re talking about incidentally!

The sun shining through created a nice effect in the tree tunnels.

The sunshine streaming through created a nice effect in the tree tunnels.

A rather amusing aside here was that John from Team Yukon was always looking for ways to shave a few km off the journey. Today he decided that he would take what he saw as a direct route to where the Vienne and the Loire rivers meet – while Nancy joined us in cycling through the forest. So he headed off on his so-called shortcut, allowing Nancy to cycle along at a faster speed than normal with us – even taking the time to carefully photobomb one of the “old gal’s” photos.

Nancy of Team Yukon photo bombing the "old gal" in the forest.

Nancy of Team Yukon photo bombing the “old gal” in the forest.

The funny part came when we arrived at the bridge where we were to meet up with John again – only for there to be no sign of him! Several minutes later a rather flustered and somewhat out-of-breath John arrived from behind. His planned shortcut had in fact hit a dead end and he had to retrace his route, before taking the path we had cycled. The “old git” had to be careful not to snigger under his breath too much!

The "old git", the "old gal" and Nancy on the bridge overlooking Candes-Saint-Martin.

The “old git”, the “old gal” and Nancy on the bridge overlooking Candes-Saint-Martin.

After a brief stop at a farmer’s market to add some local goats cheese to the picnic supplies – we pedalled along the Loire a Velo into the idyllic adjoining villages of Candes-Saint-Martin and Montsoreau –  officially classified in the list of most beautiful villages in France and featuring picturesque small houses built in white limestone as well as troglodyte houses dug into the cliffs.

Here I am parked up outside Chapel Saint Martin. blh blah

Here I am parked up outside the impressive Chapel Saint Martin.

The imposing Château de Montsoreau.

The imposing Château de Montsoreau.

The highlight of Candes-Saint-Martin is the fortified church and the Chapel Saint Martin, which dominates the village. The church was built in the 12th century, although much of the decoration was added three centuries later. It is especially known for the many statues that decorate its facade, and for the stained glass windows tracing the story of the relics of Saint Martin.

A coffee pit stop was followed by a tour of the impressive chapel before tandeming through the charmingly quaint cobbled streets of Montsoreau which lies at the foot of the imposing chateau immortalized by Alexandre Dumas in his novel La Dame de Montsoreau.

Montsoreau is a former fishing village and the small harbour is now home to a variety of houseboats and restaurant boats built along the lines of the traditional gabare boats.

The "old gal" beside the restaurant boats based on the old gabares design.

The “old gal” beside the restaurant boats based on the traditional gabare design.

The next stop – on what was a truly fabulous day of tandeming – was a Saumur wine tasting at Domaine des Amandiers, one of the small family run businesses in one of the original and fascinating troglodyte caves at Turquant. The owner, Marc Rideau, took lots of time to ensure my crew tasted everything they wanted, which had been produced directly on the premises.

The “old git” tells me he felt sure the atmospheric surroundings added to the taste – but he assures me the wines were among the best sampled during Le Tour!

Cheers - The "old git" at the wine tasting in the trog cave.

Cheers – The “old git” enjoying the wine tasting in the troglodyte cave.

I had a 3 litre bag attached to my frame as a wine carrier!

All of a sudden I had a 3 litre bag attached to my frame as a wine carrier!

Some purchases were obviously made – including the obligatory bottle of Cremant de Loire for the picnic and a 3 litre wine bag which was duly strapped to my frame for ease of carrying!

Just before our picnic the “old gal” got Nancy to take a video of us tandeming in our matching maple leaf cycling tops for posterity! You can watch the video by hitting the play button below. (Remember if you are reading this on email, you need to click on the blog first – via the link at the bottom of the email – to view the video.)

Team Yukon and Team Tandem Ecosse then found a picnic table and the bottle of Cremant had one of the shortest ever “wine miles” trips – being consumed within a couple of kms of the cave during a sun-kissed picnic! As the “old gal” said: “What a difference a day makes!”

Picnic time after the wine tasting and the opening of the local Cremant!

Picnic time after the wine tasting and the opening of the local Cremant!

Revived after the picnic goodies, it was an easy tandem the last 5 km of the day along the banks of the scenic Loire to our base – the Hotel Saint-Pierre in Saumur.

This very stylish hotel had a perfect place for me to park, in a beautiful inner garden courtyard – even if it did raise a few eyebrows as I was was pushed past reception.

Since it was so sunny and it was early afternoon Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon decided on a relaxing toast to Le Tour’s self-proclaimed Canadian Day – just to ensure that the earlier bottle of Cremant was as good as this one!

A toast to Team Yukon and Canada with all decked out in Maple Leaf-design cycling tops.

A toast to Team Yukon and Canada with all decked out in Maple Leaf-design cycling tops.

La bouclee image here

La bouclee

After a shower and change, there was time to explore Saumur – with a look at the local market and some of the interesting shops.

One of the things the “old git” and “old gal” couldn’t resist was a present for me – a bright shiny red la Bouclée, which is a cleverly designed leather wine carrier which safely holds  a bottle and neatly attaches over my handlebars, mainframe  or panniers. It has “Les Vins de Saumur” tastefully engraved on the front – and the red colour perfectly matches my frame. It is going to look so cool back home in Scotland. I am fair chuffed! My dynamic duo really do look after me you know!

After a bit of retail therapy my dynamic duo took to another form of transport – the local tourist train which went around the city pointing out the sights including the wonderful Chateau Saumur.

The tourist train allowed my dyanic duo to get a good shot of Chateau Saumur.

The tourist train allowed my dynamic duo to get a good shot of Chateau Saumur and its vineyards.

day-5-velo-vintage-logoSaumur is a major cycling centre and a the guide on the tourist train said it was a real hotspot on the Loire a Velo – being at the crossroads of a number of cycle friendly routes which criss cross the region.

The city is also host to the famous retro cycle festival, called Anjou Velo Vintage, for two days every June. Thousands of retro fashionistas and vintage bike lovers descend on Saumur for a weekend of rides and partying.

The “old git” and “old gal” were really taken with the potential of attending the Anjou Velo Vintage in the future – and with me already being a classic tandem then Team Matilda is perfectly suited for such an event!

The tourist train disembarked my crew right at the door of Les Vins de Saumur which were offering another wine tasting, which of course they felt duty bound to sample – picking up another locally produced Cremant for tomorrow’s picnic!

The evening ended with a tasty dinner with John and Nancy in a busy square in the city while discussing the final 66km stage to Angers tomorrow. Yes you read that correctly – a 66km final stage for Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem!

And after such a fabulous day’s tandeming in the French sunshine it was soon time for sleep!

UKBA finalist_twitter

Day four – biblical rain and unflattering ponchos!

The "old git" in her fetching poncho! To say it was unseasonably wet would be a huge understatement!

The “old gal” in her fetching poncho! To say it was unseasonably wet would be an understatement!

tdf-wine-september-5x7Day four for Team Tandem Ecosse and the promise of a modest 34 km ride through some of the most scenic areas of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. The schedule was for a ride from Azay-le-Rideau along the banks of the river taking in Sleeping Beauty’s chateau, before heading inland through the area’s spectacular regional nature park, and ending up in the medieval town and wine capital of Chinon. Sounds perfect for my dynamic duo and John and Nancy (aka Team Yukon) who we have teamed up with for Le Tour.

Even the forecast of the odd heavy shower didn’t dampen spirits as we looked over the maps for today’s stage, over a wonderful continental-style breakfast. I mean there’s always a chance the weather folk will have got it wrong? Yes? Well in this case most definitely not!

We had all enjoyed a good nights sleep at the highly recommended Le Grand Monarque boutique hotel,  so were in buoyant spirits as we hit the road – after stocking up on some local produce from the boulangerie and charcuterie (which the “old gal” was delighted to find doubled as a fromagerie!)

As we cycled out of Azay-le-Rideau – passed the magnificent chateau which bears the town’s name (or is it the other way around?!)  the clouds started to build rather ominously with both Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon deciding that perhaps it wasn’t going to be t-shirt weather after all and stopping to put on cycling jackets.

If the weather was a bit dubious, then the cycling was idyllic and it was a real joy to be tandeming along another great stretch of the Loire à Vélo.

You can check out the details of  our route on the fourth stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Azay-le-Rideau to Chinon on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (Note no operator error today!!)

lvday4strava

A quick 10km later we were in the quaint riverside small town of Brehemont where we saw a number of sail powered traditional barges known as gabares or toues – which are designed with a flat bottom for better handling on the shallow river. Many are now converted for pleasure trips.

On the banks of the Loire at one of its widest points a Brehemont - just as the rain started>

On the banks of the Loire at one of its widest points a Brehemont – just as the rain started.

Just as the “old git” and the “old gal” took a photo the first heavy drops of rain began to fall which made John go into a shop and buy a see-through poncho. This was of course the subject of much mockery – and was immediately dubbed the “condom” poncho for reasons you will see in the photo!

John from Team Yukon posing as a macho man wearing his "condom" poncho!

John from Team Yukon posing as a macho man wearing his “condom” poncho!

But maybe John was not so daft, because as we pedalled on the rain really started to fall. My dynamic duo were glad we only had another 6km to tandem to our target chateau for the day. The “old gal” kept saying it was somewhere on the horizon – but it was raining so heavily the “old git” was having difficulty actually seeing where we were heading.

Chateau d’Usse is not only one of the most magical chateaux of the Loire, but famously it was the inspiration for the famous Sleeping Beauty fairy tale by Charles Perrault.

However it would need to be said that the chateau didn’t have an immediate magical spell on my crew as they were – to use a real Scots word – drookit!

Team Tandem Ecosse was so wet that they could literally wring the rain water out of their cycling jackets and gloves. So the first step was to make an emergency purchase of two fetching ponchos from the chateau shop – in matching blue!

My dyanamic duo looking less than dynamic and more like unhappy bunnies taking refuge under a tree!

My duo looking less than dynamic and more like unhappy bunnies taking refuge under a tree!

After taking refuge under a large tree from the water which was literally cascading down from the sky like a waterfall, they were able to try the garments on! Lets just say it was an interesting look!

The "old git" making the best of the day in his most welcome poncho!

The “old git” making the best of the day in his most welcome poncho!

The “old gal” chose this point to remind the “old git” of the ribbing that he had given good friend Jane Termini Taylor when she produced a red cape-type poncho when it was pouring as we travelled round Loch Leven during our recent wonderful Tour de Perthshire du Tandem with their tandem called Bluebird. It appears at that time he had said something along the lines of “I’ll never be seen dead in one of those things!”

Well today was the day that he had to eat humble pie and was actually very grateful that the chateau shop sold them! Although in his defence, the “old git” did keep pointing out that to say it was unseasonably wet would be a massive understatement!

So with no option but to make the best of things we decided to continue with a tour of the very interesting chateau – and the amazing Sleeping Beauty display which brings the fairy tale to life!

The chateau itself has a long illustrious history – being originally built as a stronghold in the Middle Ages but developed over time to become a jewel of Renaissance architecture, before later becoming a splendid residential home in the 17th and 18th centuries.

"Welcome to my new home" I think is what the "old gal" is saying! or maybe its just "Its very wet!"

“Welcome to my new home” I think is what the “old gal” is saying! or maybe its just “Its very wet!”

The elegance of its architecture, its rare furnishings and the perfection of its gardens make it a showpiece of national heritage. The geographical location is quite amazing – leaning against the large Chinon forest on one side and bordered by the Indre and Loire rivers.

Oh yes, and the leaflet – which by now was waterlogged – kept telling my now somewhat less than dynamic looking duo that there were wonderful views from the castle windows! There may well have been but it was difficult to see anything but the heavy rain!

Team Yukon in rain gear - with the magnificent chateau in the background.

Team Yukon in rain gear – with the magnificent chateau in the background.

I was protected from the worst of the rain by the massive tree I was parked under. We all still hoped the weather would ease during the chateau visit – but if anything it was getting heavier.

So to try and shrug off the continuing downpour Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon visited to a cave under the chateau for a wine tasting! And amazingly the “old git” found a slightly sparkling rose wine named after me! So naturally a bottle of Cuvee Mathilde was purchased for later when my team got to the dry of their hotel room in Chinon!

Again there was no option but to continue, so decked out in our new Team Tandem Ecosse official kit of matching blue ponchos we headed off again – with the rain pouring straight down from the crash helmets, down the inside of my team’s glasses and bouncing off their noses!

Ready to ride again - Team Tandem Ecosse in their official matching ponchos!

Ready to ride again – Team Tandem Ecosse in their official kit of matching blue ponchos!

Just after we started off again there was one of those “discussion moments” between my dynamic (and now very wet) duo! We had cycled about a km when the “old git” asked the “old gal” for the next direction only for her to exclaim: “Where’s the map reader?!”

When collecting all our kit from the chateau cafe – where we had left it in a futile attempt to dry it out a bit – we forgot to pick up the map reader. So it was time for a u-turn and cycle back the km to collect it! Oh how we laughed … not!

Believe it or not the rain was getting heavier and was now truly what can only be described as rain of biblical proportions. What a sharp contrast to the fierce sunshine of the first stage of Le Tour. It was so bad that at one stage  – as we pedalled through a flooded area – that I thought this “old lady” would need water wings!

I mean I have an ageing old frame and I am most certainly not used to aquaplaneing being a factor on my rides! But it was very slippy on the roads. Add to that we had a minor mechanical when the chain slipped off my back ring due to the excess water – but the “old gal” very quickly eased it back on.

One of the highlights of today was supposed to be cycling through the Loire-Anjour-Touraine Regional Nature Park on the stretch towards Chinon – but my team literally couldn’t see further than the end of our noses! And as for how wet my spokes were, don’t get me started!

We pushed on taking care not to skid at corners and then faced a treacherous drop down cobbled narrow streets into the medieval old town of Chinon – on the Vienne River … just as the rain subsided!

The "old git" posing as an example of French sartorial elegance in his very wet poncho at the hotel.

The “old git” – an example of French sartorial elegance in his very wet poncho at the hotel.

The sight of our base for the night  – Hotel Plantagenet – was most welcome for everyone. Although – all joking aside – the ponchos were a highly effective barrier against the deluge of rain.

The staff at the cycle friendly hotel really couldn’t have been more helpful when we arrived – offering a dry undercover area for me to be parked then saying they would dry out the “old git” and the “old gal’s” now soaked cycling gear.

What a spread! The indoor picnic was very welcome for my dynamic duo!

What a spread! The indoor picnic was very welcome for my dynamic duo!

The “old gal” and the “old git” revived themselves with a hot shower before enjoying a veritable feast of an indoor picnic. And it went down a treat as they were both somewhat hungry by this stage!

The most appealing Cuvee Mathilde - obviously named after me!

The most appealing Cuvee Mathilde – obviously named after me!

And it was washed down with the bottle of Cuvee Mathilde – with my team almost deliriously enjoying the light bubbles of the wine, while recovering from being almost washed away!

Revived, and with the rain off and the sun breaking through – it was time for a walk to see Chinon. And the guide books say it has quite a reputation: “Chinon … an evocative name. Foodies will recall an excellent bottle of Chinon wine, while history enthusiasts will be reminded of Joan of Arc and Richard Lionheart.”

There is another amazing imposing chateau here – known as the Fortresse de Chinon – but it was too late to pay a visit. Team Tandem Ecosse therefore decided on a bit of retail therapy to try and wipe out the memories of the rain, with the “old gal” being treated to a trendy new dress by the “old git.” Awh shucks!

After the shopping a tasty dinner was enjoyed in the hotel’s restaurant before my team retired for the night – dreaming about cycling again in the warm French sunshine that is forecast for tomorrow’s fifth stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem!

UKBA finalist_twitter