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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!

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Day three – chateaux, cider apples, cocktails and caves

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

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

tdf-wine-september-5x7Day three dawned for Team Tandem Ecosse and the schedule promised a blissful day with a ride of over 40 km along the banks of the Loire, from Tours to Azay-le-Rideau, taking in charming villages, beautiful French chateau gardens, orchards, forests and even troglodyte caves! As the “old gal” said “Oh well, if you insist – I mean, what’s not to like?”

And after yesterday’s holy trinity of punctures – and the divine intervention of our very own ‘St Michael’ to rescue us – my dynamic duo were hopeful of a more relaxing, stress-free day in the saddle. I must admit that’s what I  was hoping for as well, as yesterday was a trifle undignified for this “old lady” being turned upside down at the hands of a strange Frenchman!

However he did restore the “old git” and the “old gal’s” faith in human nature and allowed Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem to continue.

So before setting off today we searched for supplies in the old town part of Tours, to be directed to the most amazing fresh food market – with separate fromagerie, charcuterie, boulangerie and fruit stalls – where a fabulous selection of Loire valley cheeses, cold meats,  grapes and a fresh baguette were purchased for today’s smorgasbord picnic. Oh and there may be have been a bottle of Cremant de Loire sneaked into our shopping baskets too!

You can check out the details of  our route on the third stage of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Tours to Azay-le-Rideau on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (The actual trip was 43 kms however – with some bits missing due to “operator error”!)

lvday3stravaSo off we pedalled with Team Yukon heading out of Tours on the fabulous Loire a Velo cycle path network, along the edge of a huge golf complex, before picking up the path which hugged the side of the Cher river. The tandeming was great as everywhere was so flat – although it was a bit cloudy.

After about 17km we entered the village of Savonnieres and had a coffee break with John and Nancy. Interestingly there was a bicycle pump at the bike halt just to add to the feeling that the area really did try to do everything possible for cyclists. After yesterday’s tyre problems my spokes were firmly crossed that I wouldn’t need to make use of the free facility!

Parked up at the air pump for cyclists - but fortunately no air needed today!

Parked up at the air pump for cyclists – but fortunately no air needed today!

In just another 4km we came to the highly recommeded Chateau de Villandry and its beautiful gardens. The chateau dates back to 1536, and is recognised as being the last of the great chateaux built along the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance.

The "old git" getting delusions of grandeur at the entrance to Villandry.

The “old git” getting delusions of grandeur at the entrance to Villandry.

So before entering the hallowed walls of the chateau there was the important job of devouring the tasty picnic to be done – and fortunately the sun had decided to join the party at this point.

Fed and watered I was parked in a very nice bike rack as my dynamic duo headed in for a tour of the chateau and its gardens. Given that we were decked out in our full Team Tandem Ecosse Saltire cycling jerseys, it was quite amusing at the pay desk when the charming French member of staff asked what country we came from!

Team Tandem Ecosse at Villandry - wonder which country they are from then?

Team Tandem Ecosse at Villandry – wonder which country they are from then?

The chateau rooms were very decadent and interesting and then we emerged into the wonderfully manicured gardens.

One of the highlights was the intricate and symmetrical love garden – with four squares featuring tender love, passionate love, flighty love, and tragic love.

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

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

The vegetable garden was equally fascinating with nine squares of equal size but with different geometric patterns in each. And the squares are planted with vegetables of alternating colours to create the illusion of a multi-coloured chess board.

There are definite Italian influences all round the garden – none more so than at the Water Garden which leads to a Venice-style canal which runs the length of the gardens.

The "old gal" posing beside the Venice style canal - but without gondolas!

The “old gal” posing beside the Venice style canal – but without gondolas!

So having enjoyed a relaxing wander through the gardens – and purchasing a few gifts – it was time to hit the road again. Almost immediately after we started out we encountered one of the biggest hills of Le Tour. It was a struggle after our lunch stop – but we climbed high above the village of Villandry – cycling past more beautiful vineyards – to Valleres.

Orchards with cider apples for as far as they eye could see at Valleres.

Orchards with cider apples for as far as they eye could see at Valleres.

Here we came across acres of amazing orchards groaning with cider apples. The apples were huge and crying out to be tasted! So naturally the “old git” obliged – and his verdict was that they were delicious! Almost French Golden Delicious in fact!

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

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

We then tandemed on through some fantastic forest area before crossing the main railway line and a brief stop at (the private gates of) Chateau du Gerfaut – which is run as prestigious hotel.

The "old gal" at the entrance to Chateau du Gerfaut - now a prestigious hotel.

The “old gal” at the entrance to Chateau du Gerfaut – now a prestigious hotel.

Just a couple of more kms and we had a welcome downhill stretch into the quaint town of Azay-le-Rideau which hosts the magnificent chateau of the same name.

Welcome cocktails to celebrate our arrival in warm sunshine in Azay-le-Rideau.

Welcome cocktails to celebrate our arrival in warm sunshine in Azay-le-Rideau.

It was only mid afternoon when we arrived so my dynamic duo had some celebration cocktails – which were very welcome in the warm sunshine.

Because we were all enjoying ourselves so much we then decided that instead of heading direct to the hotel, we would do an additional 10 km detour to an ancient troglodyte village – called La Vallee des Goupilleres – where they have painstakingly re-created the life of peasants.

Since the Middle Ages, and up until the last century, peasants from the Tours region lived on these troglodyte farms as cave dwellers. In winter they worked as quarrymen extracting the beautiful limestone used in the construction of 200 chateaux and 700 churches across the Loire Valley.

We even met the owner of the site, Louis-Marie Chardon who uncovered the troglodyte habitations when clearing brambles and fruit trees and had the vision to imagine the place inhabited and lively.

Louis-Marie Chardon who created the torglodyte Valley of the Goupillieres with Team Tandem Ecosse.

Louis-Marie Chardon, who created the troglodyte Valley of the Goupillieres, with Team Tandem Ecosse.

It was fascinating visit and Louis-Marie was more than happy to pose for a photo with me – although given my age I was a bit worried he was eyeing me up as an exhibit for his working museum!

A quick canter took us to our hotel for the night –  Le Grand Monarque – a fabulous ancient post house from the 18th century which has become a charming boutique hotel.

The “old git” and the “old gal” tell me their room was gorgeous, and I have to say my digs in a safe bike garage were probably the best of Le Tour so far!

Just time for a quick shower and out for a lovely authentic meal in the town square with John and Nancy as we sat and recounted a great day in the Loire Valley and contemplated how different it was to either Scotland or the Yukon.

Here’s hoping for another wonderful day tomorrow as Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem heads towards the wine capital of Chinon.

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Day two – vineyards, punctures and ‘Saint Michael’!

The wonderful vineyards of the Vouvray region - the calm before the storm!

The wonderful vineyards of the Vouvray region – the calm before the  triple puncture trauma!

tdf-wine-september-5x7Day two dawned with us all having an early alarm call in Amboise so we could be on the road in good time for the second leg of the joint Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon adventure – a mere 33 km tandem ride to Tours through the rolling French countryside, taking in the vineyards and a sparkling wine tasting at Vouvray. What could possibly go wrong?!

A triple puncture which resulted in a divine intervention of a rescue from a stranger who is now dubbed Saint Michael – that’s what! It was the kind of day that when things start to unravel, it almost falls totally apart!

It’s a long story and the day started so well with the “old gal” and the “old git” wakening in good spirits, with no ill effects or strains from the first leg of Le Tour de Loire Valley du tandem. But before breakfast, we had to go through the daily ritual of packing up.

A quick word about how we travel here. First of all I have been kitted out with some rather fashionable panniers – top and sides at the back, and a top one at the front. They are used for daily essentials such as cycling jackets, towels, sun creams, snacks and drinks and a full picnic kit.

The good thing about this trip is that the bulk of my dynamic duo’s luggage is transferred from hotel to hotel by the French-based cycle touring company Cyclomundo – leaving us free to concentrate on the tandeming.

But I am still fairly heavy as given my age I am a traditional “old lady” tandem made of steel – none of the modern lightweight aluminium for me! So, with the added weight of the panniers, I am certainly no light thing – as the “old git” and “old gal” will tell you if we hit a hill or even an incline!

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Synchronicity is the key to great tandeming momentum!

However the positive side is that since I am a classic tandem, I am finely balanced, and highly tuned, so that means on the flat I can whiz along without too much effort. Combined with my dynamic duo’s fitness regime, it means I can build up a fair momentum to help us cover the miles, or kilometres since we are abroad!

Leaving Amboise was a little more complicated than it needed to be due to some confusing instructions on the route direction “bible” – which left all four of us scratching our heads. I guess it is all about interpretation – but sometimes the directions don’t appear as clear as they could be.

You can check out the details of  our route on the second day of our Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Amboise to Tours on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics! (The actual trip was 33 kms however – with some bits missing due to “operator error”!)

lvday2strava

But after crossing the bridge over the Loire, and taking a tunnel under the railway line, we were soon pedaling deep into the countryside and tandeming up gentle inclines through the blissful tiny wine hamlets of Vauadeland, La Souchardiere and La Bicetterie.

Smell the grapes! Here I am taking in the stunning views of the Vouvray vineyards.

Smell the grapes! Here I am taking in the stunning views of the Vouvray vineyards.

Here we all enjoyed being in the middle of the picturesque vineyards – with the cycle track going right through the centre, with vines groaning with grapes waiting to be harvested  on all sides.

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!

Whisper it, but the “old git” decided to sample the grapes – just for research purposes to get an indication of how good the wine from this year’s harvest would be! And they tasted amazing. So fresh, and sweet. The “old gal” thinks 2016 is going to be an excellent year for the local Vouvray fizz!

The vines were literally groaning with ripe grapes ready for harvest.

The vines were literally groaning with ripe grapes ready for harvest.

Given the "old gal's" fondness for the end product - it was great to see the grapes at first hand.

Given the “old gal’s” fondness for the end product – it was great to see the grapes at first hand.

Team Yukon's Nancy and John enjoyed tasting some black grapes.

Team Yukon’s Nancy and John enjoyed tasting some black grapes.

As I say it was all going so well! The first sign of the impending problems came when we were coming down a steep hill and the “old git” felt an unusual vibrating feeling. But the “old gal” reassured him that all was well, only to issue the P-word – hated by all cyclists – a few moments later as we went up a hill in front of the classy Chateau de Noizay, now a luxuryhotel.

Yes we had a puncture and my rear wheel was totally flat. But after the usual words which cannot be repeated here on a family blog, the “old gal” quickly took calm control of the situation and moved the “old git” from panic mode into repair mode – as John and Nancy retreated to the village bar!

I was unceremoniously upended in a handy inset off the road and I have to say I was impressed as they quickly edged off my rear tyre, found the hole in the tube and proceeded to repair it, before putting the tyre back on again. The only problem was that in their haste to carry out the puncture repair they forgot to check the inside of the tyre for what may have caused the puncture in the first place. So when the tyre was fully inflated it started to slowly deflate again. Unsure why this was at the time, my dynamic duo decided to apply the bottle of tyre sealant they had with them in the hope that it would seal the leak.

And it seemed to work – so after gathering all the tools together again and repacking them – my dynamic duo were set to pedal off when the “old git” asked the “old gal” where the plastic  map holder was. It was nowhere to be seen – which was a tad worrying as it contained the route maps for the rest of the week!

The “old gal” searched before looking over the adjoining wall to see in horror that it had been blown over the wall from where it had been left as the puncture was repaired. Only problem was that it had fallen down an almost vertical  drop of about 60 metres into a garden – with no way of climbing down the wall to get it back as it was so such a steep drop.

The only solution was for the “old git” to walk down the hill and round a long route to the road at the front of the properties to try and identify which house he had to go into to find the maps. After about a half mile detour he found the correct garden guided by the “old gal” who waited with me to direct him via his walkie-talkie earpiece!

The "old git" in the garden retrieving the maps - showing the dramatic drop from the road.

The “old git” in the garden retrieving the maps – showing the dramatic drop from the road.

The “old gal” took a photo for posterity to show just how steep the drop was as the “old git” retrieved the map holder. Then it was a half mile walk back up the hill to where we were parked.

To lighten the mood on the walk back, my dynamic duo were laughing about the bizarre scenario on their walkie-talkies and decided to make their own video impersonating Chris Froome in this year’s Tour de France when he memorably started to run up a hill, following  a crash, without his bike. 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.)

We headed down the hill to find John and Nancy at the Noizay bar – which interestingly also doubled as the village post office – for a welcome coffee. But as we arrived the tyre was starting to go soft again. Zut alors!

The "old git" and the "old gal" at work attempting to fix my punctuie for the second time.

Teamwork – the “old git” and the “old gal” at work attempting to fix my puncture for the second time.

So after a coffee it was time for another attempt at a puncture repair – while we also discovered that there was a bike shop about four miles away . But the second repair didn’t seem to seal the tube, so the rest of the sealer was used. Just as it seemed that it was holding, we got back on board only for it to go flat for the third time.

Unfortunately the best efforts of my dynamic duo were in vain.

Unfortunately the best efforts of my dynamic duo were in vain.

My dynamic duo had a spare tube in my panniers for my back wheel – but that involved removing my rear wheel which they freely admit is beyond their mechanical ability given the gears and more importantly the connections for my drum brake.

Panic was now setting in, but clearly the gods were looking down on us. As a van towing a trailer of lawnmowers and gardening equipment arrived in the car park the “old gal” gamely tried to engage the driver in conversation. Her idea was to try to hitch a lift the four miles to the bike shop. But instead we encountered what we are now describing as the divine intervention of ‘Saint Michael’, who saved the day.

Essentially a very friendly Frenchman, who we now know is called Michael, took pity on our dejected faces and although he spoke very little English – tried to understand what the problem was. He urged us to “come” – and I was pushed to his nearby workshop just a few hundred yards away.

At this stage, Michael thought that we just needed a pneumatic pump to fill the tyre with air – and switched on the generator and put air into the tyre. Almost immediately it went flat again. He said “ah puncture” with a thick French accent – which made it sound almost romantic!

But a puncture is a puncture in any language. We brought out the spare tube at this stage and he immediately grabbed a spanner and started attacking my back wheel. Now as I have said before, my rear end is quite a complicated set up – but this didn’t phase him a bit.

The “old git” and the “old gal” were having palpitations by this stage – but they were reassured when they noticed an old racing bike in the corner of the workshop. On pointing this out Michael signalled that he was a cyclist. Quelle relief as we now realised we were in the hands of an expert!

Expert really is an understatement as Michael showed his engineering skills and had the wheel off in seconds – despite the complications of the drum brake set up. However he then wanted to repair rather than replace the tube – “reparer, reparer” he kept repeating before the “old git” managed to get the message across that we wanted to put the new tube on so there would be no more punctures. Fortunately he agreed and the new tube was on within what seemed like a minute and Michael checked the inside of the tyre for any debris before replacing it and reinstating my wheel.

And miraculously when it was blown up, the tube held. What a feeling – and the “old gal” almost hugged Michael with delight. But our ‘Saint’ wasn’t finished yet as he demanded to repair the other tube – pointing out no less than three punctures in a small area.

With time ticking on we were keen to get back on the road but Michael was meticulous in his work and was one of those people for which time didn’t matter. But the tube was duly repaired using the old fashioned patches – none of these new fangled self-adhesive patches for him!

So all back together, and after stuffing some euros in his dungaree pockets for his efforts, Michael wanted a picture on his mobile phone to show to his female friend – who the “old gal” had to speak to in her pigeon French during part of the repair.

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

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

Finally we thought we were free to go when Michael then demanded we come back inside to the kitchen of the workshop where he brought out a bottle of unlabeled local wine for a friendship toast!

Now before we left home, the “old git” had been doing a bit of research into the Auld Alliance links between Scotland and France and was able to impress Michael with a toast of  “Vive la Vieille Alliance” – or long live the Auld Alliance!

I have to say the whole experience moved my dynamic duo and gave them a new belief in the kindness of a total stranger – especially one within the global cycling fraternity.

After exchanging email addresses – and the promise of using the picture and our experience in my blog – we were back on the road. So what better way for my dynamic duo to recover from the trauma of my triple puncture – and wheel removal and replacement – than by heading to a wine tasting! So that’s exactly what we did!

Team Yukon solo cyclists John and Nancy had cycled ahead to look for a bike shop before we received the help of St. Michael. We texted them news of our most welcome personal repair man and they moved on and told us they had booked the English tour at  4pm at the Cave des Producteurs de Vouvray to get an introduction to and sample the sparkling wines of this area of the Loire Valley.

As Team Tandem Ecosse finally left Noizay – singing the praises of our very own Saint Michael – the “old git” looked at his watch and discovered that left us just under an hour to travel 15 kms to the cave. So after some tentative pedalling to test everything was in order – which thankfully it was – he and the “old gal” put in some serious cycling and at exactly 3.57 pm we arrived outside! And that was despite taking two wrong turnings where the “bible” gave confusing directions! But we made it and despite our flustered arrival my dynamic duo enjoyed an informative tour of the facility which is a co-operative of 40 local producers whose wines are sold under the collective Vouvray umbrella – including the underground cellars where the Vouvray is fermented.

The underground cellars etc etc etc

It was fascinating to see the underground cellars where the Vouvray is stored during production.

Unsurprisingly the tour finished with the opportunity to sample three different variations of Vouvray – providing a perfect antidote to the drama of the punctures! The “old gal” quickly snapped up a bottle to be enjoyed later by way of recuperation.

Back on the road – with the bottle safely in my panniers – we headed towards our base for tonight – Tours old town with its half-timbered houses.

Before we got there however there was further frustration as we somehow managed to lose contact with John and Nancy – which caused my dynamic duo more than a little consternation, especially given how the day had gone.

As they waited and searched in vain, contact was made by mobile phone only to discover they were several kms away at the pedestrian bridge across the Loire into the town. We quickly pedalled on and caught up with them as they had the instructions to our hotel!

Tours is famous for its original medieval district, called le Vieux Tours. Unique to the Old City are its preserved half-timbered buildings, and our base for the night, the Hotel L’Adresse, was bang in the centre of the bustling medieval area. Although, to keep in tune with the day we were having, we only found it after getting directions from a helpful waitress in an Irish pub – as you do!

Slightly alarmingly I had to be left out of the street, before the “old git” persuaded the hotel owners that I would be safer in a quiet downstairs corridor. On getting to their room, my dynamic duo quickly opened the Vouvray and indulged in a couple of glasses to help wipe away the memories of the triple puncture while having a very late – and much needed – bite to eat as today’s picnic lunch was a victim of the technical problems.

Revived and showered the four cyclists headed out into la Place Plumereau, a square with busy pubs and restaurants, whose open-air tables fill the centre of the square for cocktails and dinner.

These very welcome cocktails helped erase the trauma of the triple puncture!

These very welcome cocktails helped erase the trauma of today’s comedy of catastorphes!

The food and drink was very welcome, with my dynamic duo reliving today’s comedy of catastrophes – with everyone earnestly hoping that tomorrow’s third stage to Azay-le-Rideau would pass without incident! But we had a few laughs too – it is funny how you can laugh about something – albeit only after the event!

Suitably replenished we returned to the hotel and it was time for lights out and some deep snoring (on the “old git’s” part anyway”!) as tiredeness took over. Let’s just say we dreamed about the remarkable mechanical talents of our Saint Michael!

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Day one – sunny tandeming on the Loire a Velo

Team tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon ready for Le Grand Depart at Blois.

Team tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon ready for Le Grand Depart at Blois.

tdf-wine-september-5x7It is Tuesday morning and after a sound night’s sleep after the long drive, the “old git” and the “old gal” were raring to go on Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem – taking in the majestic fairytale chateaux and vineyards of the area on a near 200 mile trip from Blois to Angers.

Breakfast time at the La Maison de Thomas – our luxury Chambres d’hôtes – saw Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon wearing their new multi-lingual dayglo lime green cycling tops for the first time! Let’s just say that the group of four cyclists are going to get noticed along the way.

Pouring over the map over a double espresso revealed that yesterday’s decision to visit the iconic Chambord chateau by car was definitely the correct one. The route outline for the direct stage 1 route to Amboise is measured at 42 km, while the option of an initial detour cycle to Chambord would have added some 48 km to the day. This “old lady” thinks that trying to tandem 90 km on the first day would have been a cycle too far!

So the two teams were in boisterous spirits as we met the representative from the French-based cycle touring company Cyclomundo who explained the itinerary of the self-guided tour and handed over the hired solo bikes to Team Yukon riders John and Nancy.

My dynamic duo - the "old git" and the "old gal" - ready to go!

My dynamic duo – the “old git” and the “old gal” – ready to go!

I was retrieved form my cosy overnight safe spot of the inner courtyard, and after a quick photo call, it was time for Le Grand Depart. But before we headed out of the beautiful town of Blois there was the important job of procuring supplies for the first picnic of Le Tour!

Now you know the “old gal” and the “old git” are connoisseurs of the grand picnic and the first key ingredient was the purchase of a couple of bottles of the local Cremant de Loire – a locally produced fizz which is effectively their version of champagne, but with a little less fizz. So the prosecco picnics, much enjoyed when back home in Scotland, will now be known as Cremant picnics for the duration of Le Tour!

Then some nice hams, cheese and grapes were purchased – along with a freshly made baguette. All was safely packed away in my shiny blue and white stripped cool bag – complete with detachable freezer blocks. Very cool!

We headed out of town over the landmark long stone bridge – the Pont Jacques Gabriel which dates from the 18th century – before turning on to the cycle track which runs along the banks of the river. This was our first experience of the much anticipated Loire à Vélo – an immense 800-kilometre cycle tourism route. It is a véloroute like no other in France – running along the banks of France’s longest river, the Loire, through a valley dotted with countless treasures.

And my dynamic duo’s immediate impressions were very favourable – being highly impressed at the smooth surface of the cycle friendly paths and all the clear signposting.

You can check out the details of  our route on the first day of our Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem from Blois to Amboise on Strava below – and don’t forget to click on the map image to get the full date and statistics!

lvday1strava

We soon picked up a good steady pace of 15 km/hr as we headed out into the countryside, hugging the Loire, before heading slightly inland and crossing the Cosson river and tandeming through quaint small villages of Chailles and Cande-sir-Beuvron. This included some lovely tracks through a forest including a scenic tree tunnel, which required the “old gal” to dismount and take a quick selfie!

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!

In what seemed like no time we reached the half way point, the village of Chaumont-sur-Loire – the venue for our first Tour picnic, against the backdrop of the fabulous Chateau de Chaumont right on the banks of the Loire. The “old git” had even thoughtfully got me a new “Bon Appetit” sign to add to the decadence of the occasion.

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

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

A suitable picnic area was found in a park, and with temperatures reaching a somewhat toasty 30C corks were popped on the bottles – with the cold Cremant was a welcome way to rehydrate!

Cheers! the Cremant toast on the first picnic of the Tour - in warm sunshine.

Cheers! the Cremant toast on the first picnic of the Tour – in warm sunshine.

The French bread, ham, cheese and grapes were all quickly devoured in a bid to restore energy levels.

Double Cremant de Loire picnic carnage - hardly a crumb left!

Double Cremant de Loire picnic carnage – hardly a crumb left!

At this point we met up with an American family, who lived in Saudi Arabia, who were doing a similar Loire valley ride. The Mum and daughter (Sarah and Grace) were on a parent-child tandem while the Dad (Mark) was on a solo bike hauling all their luggage on a cart. My French horn proved to be a great attraction to Grace and it was dutifully parped several times before the obligatory photo.

My dynamic duo with Sarah and Grace from Saudi on their parent-child tandem.

My dynamic duo with Sarah and Grace from Saudi Arabia on their parent-child tandem.

After our alfresco picnic was enjoyed by all, the “old git” and the “old gal” decided to seek some shade from the fierce sun for a little rest. And of course they couldn’t resist playing up the effects of the Cremant with a couple of silly photos!

The "old gal" pretending (I think!) to be spangled after the Cremant picnic!

The “old gal” pretending (I think!) to be spangled after the Cremant picnic!

Me and the "old git" having a quick post picnic snooze!

Me and the “old git” having a quick post picnic snooze!

After lunch it was time to visit the Chateau de Chaumont, which hosts a feast of artworks in its lavish grounds as well as hosting an annual International Garden Festival.

My dynamic duo having fun in a selfie showing the gorgeous lavender in the gardens.

My dynamic duo having fun in a selfie showing the gorgeous lavender in the gardens.

One of the many artwork installations is an infinity platform looking out over the Loire – giving impressive views.

To infinity and beyond! The "old gal" at the infinity viewpoint overlooking the Loire.

To infinity and beyond! The “old gal” at the infinity viewpoint overlooking the Loire.

Every year, more than 400,000 visitors flock to Chaumont-sur-Loire, which has hosted the International Garden Festival since 1992. This year it was celebrating its 25th anniversary with a “Gardens of the Coming Century” theme.

It was a fascinating showcase of garden designs which addressed the big questions of our time – such as climate change, rising sea levels, “floating gardens” and the link between habitat and gardens. One garden – called Frankenstein’s Nature – caught the eye in more ways than one with an interesting double mirror set-up.

The "old git" and "old gal" in reflective mood in the Frankenstein's Nature garden!

The “old git” and “old gal” in reflective mood in the Frankenstein’s Nature garden!

After enjoying the gardens in the heat, a recuperative soft drink was required before setting off on the final 20km to the next overnight stop in Amboise. My dynamic duo decided to pick up the speed for this leg and pushed along at about 20km/hr, at times hitting a top speed of 36km. I must say I was impressed with their fitness, and the pre Tour training regime has certainly paid off as I was fair flying!

With a few undulations and the temperature rising further the “old gal” thought it would be a good idea to stop at a bar for another cool drink. And would you believe the place they stopped at – called Volupia Cave – was indeed a bar but also a wine cave and deli offering tastings of locally made wines and goats cheese. The “old gal” who is an expert in both, thought she had died and gone to heaven!

The “old git” amazingly even found a local red with the his name on it! So a bottle of Chateau de Colin was duly purchased, along with some cheese for tomorrow’s picnic.

The "old git" had to buy the Chateau de Colin red wine.

The “old git” had to buy the Chateau de Colin red wine.

Then it was time to get back on the road for the final few kms into the medieval town of Amboise, known for its chateau and for hosting Clos-Luce, the last mansion of Leonardo da Vinci.

We arrived at our residence for the night, Maison Blanche,  set in a beautiful private  grounds about 2km on the outskirts of the town. After a quick inspection form the “old gal” in her role as “Chief Engineer” I was locked up safely for the night after a successful first day tandeming with no mechanical problems. Let’s hope it stays that way!

After a ritual tasting of the Chateau de Colin – and a nice vintage it was! – Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon headed into the old town centre and enjoyed a savoury galette (pancake) meal washed down with some cider while discussing events of the first day of Le Tour and planning the second stage from Blois to Tours.

And after the exertions of the first day sleep soon followed – with everyone very glad we had not gone for the 90km option!

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Nous sommes arrivé

tdf-wine-september-5x7It’s Monday and “Team Tandem Ecosse” – the name used by Team Matilda on foreign soil! – have arrived safely in Blois deep in the heart of the Loire Valley region of France – and are already sampling the local produce!

Between them the “old git” and the “old gal” have driven the 800 miles or so since leaving central Scotland – and heading for the French autoroutes , via the Eurotunnel – and arriving in the atmospheric town of Blois at the start point for the 7 night self-guided Le Tour de Vineyards et Chateaux de Loire Valley du Tandem!

Safely in Matilda Transporter on Eurotunnel for the crossing to France.

Safely in Matilda Transporter on Eurotunnel for the crossing to France.

My dynamic duo were almost deliriously happy when we first set wheels on French soil as we drove off the Eurotunnel train at Calais, as that meant we had finally arrived in France – after almost a year of planning. I guess this poster sums up how we all felt in the last few days!

Neatly summed up!

Neatly summed up!

It seems a long time since Saturday night when the pair served up a toast of French fizz – the final remaining bottle from last year’s trip to Bordeaux! – during a tasty Scottish-themed meal at local restaurant Mimi’s.

Dinner - pre dpearture for Le Tour - with a champagne toast, naturally!

Dinner – pre departure for Le Tour – with a champagne toast, naturally!

But the good news is that they do lots of fizz in the Loire Valley – the Crémant de Loire comes particularly recommended – so that will obviously have to undergo several strict taste tests by the “old gal” and the “old git”  to see it is up to standards!

So Sunday dawned and after some much-needed sleep, the alarm was duly set for 7 am and, after much checking, double checking and even triple checking, we set off at 9 am.

Here I am carefully loaded and strapped in to Matilda Transport for the journey to France.

Here I am carefully strapped in to Matilda Transport for the journey to France.

We quickly ate up the miles on the M74 to stop at Gretna for breakfast before heading  south to the M25 and then the tunnel at Folkestone. This time the “old gal” and the “old git” were in firm agreement to stick to the tried and tested west coast M6 route south than try the roadwork-hit A1(M).

First pit stop and time for a welcome breakfast coffee!

First pit stop and time for a welcome breakfast coffee!

Lunch was a picnic stop (no prosecco on this occasion however!) It was a long trip but I was very comfortable in my new fancy Matilda Transporter. I was ratchet strapped in and I even had two inflatable pillows to rest on, so that my ageing frame was protected from too much shaking en route! You know, the old dears really do look after me like the “old lady” that I am!

The “old gal” and the “old git” also really enjoyed testing out the new vehicle on such a long drive – and found it very comfortable and spacious.

The "old gal" enjoying a cup of her favourite double expresso after a driving stint.

The “old gal” enjoying a double expresso after a driving stint.

As you know the dynamic duo are so committed to the cause of tandeming, that in order to fit me into the vehicle, they have to sit in tandem while driving, with one occupying the driving seat, and the other sitting in the single “back seat” that is usable. The new Matilda Transporter has lots more room and we all really felt part of the team. The “old gal” can drive, while the “old git” has a chill and a snooze – and then they swap over every two hours.

At the Eurotunnel terminal there was time for a quick pit stop of a burger, before driving on to the train for the short 35 minute crossing. Just enough time for a selfie-video on the train! (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.)

Arriving in Calais at around midnight French time, we had decided to simply start driving towards Blois and the Loire Valley.  Fortunately the new satnav helped guide us onto the toll roads and even though it took us almost right though the centre of Paris on the suburban motorway network – including a diversion for roadworks which saw us right outside the Stade de France in the Saint-Denis suburb – we made good time. And just after 4 am – some 19 hours after we left Matilda’s Rest we pulled into a service station on the outskirts of Blois for a few hours kip.

As forecast, it was fairly hot and sticky in the car, and I was “fair meltin’” in Matilda Transporter – even with the air-con on! With the mercury set to hit 30 C, I therefore predict some very sweaty riders over the next few days as we head off on the grand adventure.

That means I will need to remind the “old git” regularly to apply the sun screen however – as he is very prone to sunburn with his sensitive skin. The “old gal” has just said: “It’s the only thing that is sensitive about him!”  But I feel sure she is kidding! Right?!

SLV Cyclomundo logoo demain (getting right into the lingo here!) – that’s Mardi (Tuesday) – we head off on stage 1 of the grand tour we have chosen for this year – the Fairytale Castles and Vineyards along the Loire Valley which will see us tandeming around 200 miles through the world-famous vineyards and stunning chateaux of the region.

The self-guided tour is organised by a French-based company Cyclomundo as they seem to know the area inside out. The seven day tour starts in Blois and finishes in Angers.

The route of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem

The route of Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem

You can see the route map above, and you can check out the the full daily itinerary of the tour  by clicking here.

The good thing is that the luggage gets moved by vehicle from hotel to hotel by the travel company, so I wont have to carry all that excess weight!

So after some much needed kip – and negotiating the complicated one way system around the town of Blois no less than three times – we we all arrived outside the La Maison de Thomas – the first of our luxury Chambres d’hôtes, or bed and breakfasts, of the tour. I was unloaded, tested, and parked up in a very safe inner courtyard. Clearly other people are doing similar cycling trips – but on single bikes. I am chuffed to say there are no other tandems around! Quelle surprise!

Unloaded, and fully tested - outside La Maison de Thomas in Blois.

Unloaded, and fully tested – outside La Maison de Thomas in Blois.

The “old git” even got me a nice new saltire flag to hang from the “lollipop” which not only warns drivers that we are a wide load but that we are from Scotland, as well as a trendy flashing red light for when dusk sets in. And the “old gal” dutifully remembered to switch it to the other side of the bike as we are going to be cycling on the wrong side of the road for the next week! Combined with the hi-vis yellow team t-shirts, we are not going to go unnoticed! But whisper it, I think that is part of the plan!

Safely locked up in the inner courtyard - spot my saltire flag!

Safely locked up in the inner courtyard – spot my saltire flag!

I was safely deposited in a very nice inner courtyard before my dynamic duo set off on a quick exploration of the town, and find out where the parking was for Matilda Transporter.

Then it was finally time for Team Tandem Ecosse to meet Team Yukon  – solo cyclist friends Nancy and John who we met in Burgundy during our week long tour there in 2014. They live in Whitehorse, which is the capital of the remote Yukon territory in northern Canada.

The Yukon is a mere 3,930 miles (or 6,319 kilometres) away from Matildas Rest in Perthshire – so logistically it all seemed a trifle mad. But Nancy and John flew from Canada to France – they are hiring bikes in the Loire Valley – and amazingly we all managed to meet up!

My dynamic duo even surprised them by picking them up from the station and driving them to the hotel for a quick toast to the impending Tour with a rather tasty Cremant de Loire – I mean it would have been rude not to sample the local brew!

Cheers! The first of many toasts with Team Yukon - Nancy and John.

Cheers! The first of many toasts with Team Yukon – Nancy and John.

It was great to meet up with Nancy and John again – with everyone greeting each other like long lost friends! And I know Team Tandem Ecosse and Team Yukon can’t wait to get pedalling.  Given that everyone has a great love for good French food and wine … and a similar dislike for hills, it is going to be a great trip!

We had decided we would kick the chateaux part of the tour off with a visit by car to nearby Chambord – described as the jewel in the crown of the many chateaux of the region. There was an option of visiting it on the first day of cycling tomorrow, but it entailed a lengthy 30 mile additional detour from the original planned route of 28 miles – so car seemed the sensible option!

Chambord - the jewel in the crown of the Loire Valley chateux.

Chambord – the jewel in the crown of the Loire Valley chateaux.

The royal Château de Chambord  is one of the most recognizable châteaux  in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The huge château features no less than 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Or as the “old gal” said: “I wouldn’t like to be in charge of the hoovering!”

The "old git" looking every bit the tourist while taking in the sights at Chambord.

The “old git” looking every bit the tourist while taking in the sights at Chambord.

So after a self-guided tour – to get us in the mood for the self-guided tandeming – we headed back to hotel before a pre tour dinner at a recommended restaurant in Blois – which involved a walk across a beautiful bridge over the Loire.

The beautiful bridge over the Loire at Blois - lovely walk to dinner.

The beautiful bridge over the Loire at Blois – lovely walk to dinner.

After a very convivial meal – and drinks! – my dynamic duo managed to squeeze in an amazing late night son et lumiere performance at Blois chateux. Then it was time for some very necessary zzz’s before an early rise as we set off on the start of our 200 mile adventure tomorrow.

Fingers crossed! A bientot !

P.S. Eagle eyed readers will be aware that the blog is being written after Le Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem was completed, due to lack of time.

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The final countdown to Le Grand Depart and a new Matilda Transporter!

tdf-wine-september-5x7I have to admit I am getting uber-excited about the imminent “Grand Depart” for the Tour de Loire Valley du Tandem. Just a few  more sleeps then me, the “old git” and the “old gal” – aka ‘Team Tandem Ecosse’ – will be heading south from Matildas Rest to the Eurotunnel.

Then it’s a drive down the auto routes to the wine region of the Loire Valley for the start of the 7 night tour of Le Tour de Vineyards et Chateaux de Loire Valley du Tandem!

I am actually finding it difficult to sleep as there are lots of preparations and packing to do before the off. And it won’t surprise you to know that the “old git” has drawn up list upon lists – and there is even a list of lists!

The “old gal” just rolls her eyes and smiles sweetly, knowing it is easier, and far less hassle, than to argue! But she gets her own back sometimes, putting her foot down and saying “No, we will do it this way” and the “old git” sheepishly has to agree, because he knows it makes sense, even though he is loath to admit it!

But the “old git” always manages to turn the “old gal” round with the promise of filling up my bidons – or water bottles – with wine direct from the vat of wine in one of the many wine tasting caves along the route! How she smiles at that!

Apart from all the usual packing stuff, there has been the added excitement of a new arrival for Team Matilda! Yes we are now the proud owners of a new Matilda Transporter! We took delivery over the weekend of a brand spanking new Peugeot 5008!

My dynamic duo decided that the old version of Matilda Transporter – a 9 year old Mitsubishi Outlander – had done good service but it was time to change for something more fuel economical and which hopefully wouldn’t cost as much to maintain.

So there has been much pressing of buttons on the new vehicle over the weekend to see what all the techno gadgets do! I really have to say I am most chuffed that they decided that the first point on their checklist when comparing new models of car, was that it had to accommodate me! Isn’t that sweet?! I mean they really do look after me!

The natty new Matilda Transport - a Peugeot 5008 with loads of room inside for me!

The natty new Matilda Transport – a Peugeot 5008 with loads of room inside for me!

A quick plug for the Peugeot dealership here – Hardie of Stirling – and their excellent sales person, the ultra-friendly Scott Douglas. My dynamic duo tell  me that from start to finish Scott was a delight to deal with – and couldn’t have made the whole process of buying a new car any easier and stress free. He was not at all flummoxed when my crew first went into the dealership and said: “We have an unusual request. Before you start talking to us about the performance and price of the car we need to see if our tandem fits in the back!” Scott was more than happy to indulge my duo, and even helped get all the seats lying flat to ensure I fitted in.

In fact, you often hear people say of their experiences with car salesmen: “Don’t buy a used car from this guy”. Well my crew are turning that on its head and saying: “Buy your new car from this guy!” I am told you certainly won’t be disappointed with the customer service!

Now I know many of you have spent sleepless nights wondering about how a grand “old lady” like me gets transported to the south of France by car. Do I go on the roof, or on the back of the car?

Well, the answer is neither. Because I am a “real” bike made of steel, I am too heavy to go on the roof, and I am rather too long to go across the back on a standard bike rack. So here is the answer:

How I travel inside Matilda Transporter - it really is very comfortable you know!

How I travel inside Matilda Transporter – it really is very comfortable you know!

Yes, my dynamic duo fold most of the seats down in the new Matilda Transporter, including the front passenger seat, and I can squeeze in taking up every inch of length from the dashboard to the tailgate.

Then one-third of the rear seat comes back up. As you can see the dynamic duo are so committed to the cause of tandeming, that in order to fit me into the vehicle, they have to sit in tandem while driving, with one occupying the driving seat, and the other sitting in the single “back seat” that is usable.

Oh the glamour! All 3 of us packed into Matilda Tranporter!

Oh the glamour! All 3 of us packed into Matilda Transporter!

And that is how we will all travel the over 800 miles from Auchterarder to the start of the tour in Blois, near Le Mans! Although there’s more room than the previous Matilda Transporter it’s still a bit of a squeeze – but we all feel part of the team, and it is actually great fun. One can drive, while the other has a chill and a snooze – and they will swap over every two hours.

My dynamic duo have also been testing out the map reading system they have come up with – so they can follow the in-depth directions of the self-guided tour at the same time as cycling.

As you will see, they have devised a see-thru plastic map reading folder which hangs on the “old git’s” back. This contains the instruction manual – aka “The Bible” – and will stop it getting wet. This means he can focus on his duties as Chief Pilot and keep us going smoothly as he is in control of the steering!

The see-thru plastic map reading folder which hangs on the “old git’s” back.

The see-thru plastic map reader which hangs on the “old git’s” back.

Meanwhile, the “old gal” can read the instructions – as the map reader will be hanging just a few inches in front of her nose – while she focuses on her role as Chief Stoker. That means she can do the map reading and shout instructions to the “old git” as to whether they are turning right or left.

And, yes, obviously that will be “à droite” or “à gauche” once we are en France!

Now I have to tell you that the “old git” has been getting into the French spirit – literally! To gel with the French and in the spirit of keeping alive The ‘Auld Alliance’ between France and Scotland he gamely decided to get his big toe nails painted – one with the Scottish saltire flag and the other with the French blue white and red tricolour flag!

The "old git's" rather eye-catching 'Auld Alliance' nails!

The “old git’s” rather eye-catching ‘Auld Alliance’ nails!

He got the treatment done professionally by Louise Raphael Nail Artist who works with the “old gal” in her salon! And I must admit the results are quite spectacular and impressive! They will look fab in his desert sandals when he doesn’t have his cycling shoes on!

Anyway, I must stop writing this blog and go and get more things ready – the “old git” is speaking loudly about some other list! Seems we have still to check the tool kit and the first aid kit. Oh joy!

But the good news is that it will soon be Sunday morning and time for Le Grand Depart from Matildas Rest – so not long to go now!

So please do “follow” the blog to keep track on our adventures. Please also get in touch – by leaving a comment on the blog – to wish us “Bon Chance”!

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