We’d been to and over the Millau bridge several times and were quite busy so hadn’t planned to attend this RTE. A couple of weeks before it, during an unrelated conversation with Paul (‘Tydee’), he asked if we were going. Paul was riding down with another Paul (‘Westie’) and always finds good routes so we had an instant change of mind. A rather belated call to Eurotunnel to book the train and some last-minute hotel bookings had us all ready to go.
For once in our lives we were packed before midnight the night before and set off nice and relaxed in the morning to meet The Pauls ready for the 07.20 train. We checked in about 29 minutes before the train was due and the system put us on the 07.50. It was half-term so the terminal was heaving. Luckily The Pauls weren’t there yet so it didn’t matter and it later transpired we’d booked on the earlier train by mistake, it was the 07:50 we were supposed to be on.
We were at opposite ends of the train for the crossing and met The Pauls on French soil to hear Paul T’s sorry tale about his new suit getting soaked in oil from somewhere on his engine.
About an hour later we stopped by a service station where Paul decided it was necessary to sort out the leak. Luckily, removing the camshaft cover and re-seating the gasket seemed to do the trick and we were on our way again.
Tony and Wendy from Rider’s Rest, our usual stopping place in the Limousin region, were in the UK so we were trying a new-to-us bike-friendly stopping place – Ridelimousin. We arrived just before it got dark and, after a bit of confusion as to where it actually was (which was solved by Ro standing in the road and waving at us), we were welcomed by Ro and Torsten who led us to the barn to put the bikes safely under cover. We were then shown our rooms and offered drinks. We sat in the dining room learning about all sorts of things – why an Englishman was named Torsten, the Ridelimousin project and the fact that we were the first biker guests (although they’d already had some ‘normal’ guests previously). We enjoyed a good 4 course meal with ‘the best chocolate mousse’ pudding although there was some confusion when I thought Ro was asking if we wanted Lemon Tart. What she actually said was Emmental! We turned in early expecting a cold start in the morning.
Ridelomousin is a nice, comfortable place with warm and friendly hosts; definitely worth a visit.
By then we were about 40 minutes away from our target at Millau and as we descended into the valley the weather improved. By that I mean it stopped snowing. We got off the bikes to meet our friends and to catch up and get the photo taken, it was BLOODY cold. The wind was whipping through the valley and there was nothing except 15 bikers to stop it.
As we climbed out of the village we saw the roads were not as clear as they had been lower down so everyone took it very carefully. We eventually climbed to about 1600m (Climb? 1600m? I thought we were going to stay low!) and the snow and ice varied from ‘abundant’ to ‘patchy and unpredictable’.
(Un)Fortunately the GS has a cold temperature warning sign on the dash and it flashes if it gets near to freezing. This morning it was showing 2deg C. Except then we noticed the little ‘–’ next to it, it was a lot colder than we originally thought. Sitting on the back it’s easy to become obsessed with the readouts and I found myself with a morbid fascination for the temperature gauge. I watched it go down and down and down and it reached -5. There was plenty of snow around still and everyone was on their toes keeping an eye out for slippery bits. We also went through some areas with nasty gusts of wind. The wind was a bit strange as we were never sure which side it was going to hit us from.
There were clear bits where it was possible to get a lick on closely followed by damp patches (was it black ice?) followed by patches of leaves (what’s underneath?) and sometimes just a dusting of plain old snow. By mid-afternoon as we were riding further north the snow had been replaced by sunshine and the roads were much easier to ride.
The next morning we woke up with some trepidation – would the snow have moved in? was it going to be another brass monkey day? As Kevin wandered out to check our rear tyre (which had lost a few pounds – obviously not eating as much as we were) it felt like it was starting to rain but it was a very half-hearted attempt and we left in the dry. Thanks to Paul whose eagle eyes spotted Kevin’s valve cap which had fallen on the drive and disguised itself very well as a piece of gravel.
The plan was to ride some D roads for the morning then to blast back on the motorway in the afternoon. We got off to a slow start, Paul’s Sat Nav not recognising that we were underway, but it gave me a chance to admire the beautiful white cows which seem popular in this area. There do seem to be a lot of cows in France (about 20 million, apparently) and each region seems to have its own special breed. I particularly liked these white ones and the ginger Limousin cows.
Paul seemed to have developed a bit of a blind spot for signs that told him the road was closed. That’s the only explanation we can come up with for him ignoring them and going down such roads until he was forced to turn round; three times. We eventually got past the closed section and were able to progress north east past cultivated fields. The fields look very messy on approach – especially as the autumn colours are quite patchy and varied – but as you go past they resolve into serried ranks of short grape bushes, specially cut for ease of harvest.
We finally moved towards Fontainebleau where we stopped for lunch just opposite the palace and by then the day was glorious – full sunshine and it was even warm (ish). We speculated about the palace but I think we had it all wrong. It was originally started by Francis 1st and added to by many monarchs. After the Revolution Napoleon Bonaparte took it over to show how grand he was. It certainly is an impressive building. The waitress in the café was very complimentary about our Pidgin-French, but her English was much better. At least we thought so until she delivered a cheese omelette instead of a ham one.
Our last bit of travail was to have been a quick blast up the A1. Unfortunately it was closed which necessitated a very long detour and we spent forever trickling through the traffic that was stuck on roads not designed for the volume of vehicles it was trying to cope with. Eventually we did get onto the motorway where for the last 50 miles or so the clouds got darker and darker and suddenly we were deluged. Ah well, we were nearly home and it did wash much of the salt off that had become encrusted on the bike. The detour meant we got to The Tunnel about an hour and a half late but were whisked through and onto the next train with no delays and soon back home, rather damp but happy that we could now have a decent cup of tea.
Thanks to both Pauls for their excellent guiding (height and closed roads notwithstanding!), I think this is the first time we’ve ever been away and not looked at a map once. Thanks also for their great company throughout the weekend; that also goes for Gordon and Jeanette for Saturday and Sunday and Robert for his company on Saturday evening.